Center on International Education Benchmarking

The Study Guide

1. United States Stagnant on Latest International Reading Literacy Assessment

The latest results from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) in 2016 show that basic literacy is at an all-time high worldwide, with most of the 58 participating education systems seeing rising 4th grade reading achievement in the last decade. In the United States, however, student performance has not shown measurable improvement since the first test administration in 2001. The U.S. average score was higher than 30 countries’ systems, equal to 15 of them, and below 12 of them. PIRLS focuses on “reading literacy”—the ability to understand and use written language forms and construct meaning from texts in a variety of forms. PIRLS data highlight a growing gap in U.S. student performance, with the performance of top-performing students staying flat and the lowest-performing students declining. There also is evidence that students in wealthier schools performed at significantly higher than those in high-poverty schools. An Education Week article includes a more in-depth review of the PIRLS findings and the full report from the National Center on Education Statistics can be found here.

2. Hong Kong Teachers Call for Increased Support in STEM Instruction

In survey results released by Hong Kong teachers’ union the Federation of Education Workers,  83 percent of teachers reported that they would benefit from increased support in teaching STEM subjects, while slightly over one-third of teachers reported feeling confident in their instruction. Among the 426 schools surveyed, 99 percent of teachers expressed interest in improving their STEM content knowledge, and 90 percent of teachers were open to devoting more instructional time to STEM. The union called for HK$500,000 (US$64,040) in yearly subsidies for all primary and secondary schools to provide additional support for STEM education. Read more in the South China Morning Post.

3. Japan to Invest Billions Toward Free Early Childhood and Higher Education

This week Japan’s government is set to approve an economic package that will set aside around ¥2 trillion (US$17.84 billion) to subsidize education costs. The plan includes ¥800 billion (US$7.1 billion) toward free day care for children 3 to 5 years old and free childcare for low-income households with children up to 2 years old, starting in April 2019. The proposal also includes another ¥800 billion (US$7.1 billion) toward free university education and more grants to low-income households that will begin in 2020. The plan will also fund a salary increase for daycare teachers in a bid to address teacher shortages in daycares. The package is expected to be formally approved on December 8. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made increased spending on education and assistance for low-income families a top priority after a big win in lower-house elections in October. Read more at Reuters.

4. Helsinki Begins Foreign Language Instruction for All First Graders

In the fall of 2018, all first-graders in Helsinki will begin taking a foreign language for the first time. Previously, students had only begun to learn a new language starting in the third grade. The new policy is part of Helsinki’s broader strategic plan focused on the “internationalization” of the city. It is supported by funding from the Finnish National Agency of Education, which began giving funds to municipalities to enhance foreign language learning last year. In Helsinki, parents and students can choose from Swedish or English, offered at all schools in the city, as well as Chinese, Spanish, Russian, Estonian, French or German, which are offered at select schools.

5. Rural Primary Schools Outperform Urban Primary Schools in the Netherlands

Research conducted by Dutch news service RTL Nieuws finds that students at the most rural schools slightly outperform their peers at the most urban schools based on results from the primary school leavers attainment test this year. The compulsory primary school leavers attainment test assesses whether students have met achievement benchmarks in language and mathematics. Within a score range of one to ten, the average score of all Dutch primary schools was approximately seven; rural schools slightly exceeded this average with a score of 7.05, while urban schools fell below it with a score of 6.93. Several groups of independent schools, which are eligible for state funding equal to that of public schools, outperformed public schools. Four groups of religiously affiliated independent schools ranged in average score from 7.01 to 7.29, compared to a public school average score of 6.9. Results were adjusted to account for differences in demographics across schools. Read more from DutchNews and NLTimes.

Young Students with Globe

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