Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Why the United States Poses No Competition to Singapore in International Education Race

I stumbled across an article entitled “Singapore Looks at Strengthening School System Further.” The country’s prime minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, states in the article that while his country performed reasonably well on the latest PISA assessments, they must keep up the efforts of continual educational improvement. Interestingly, he cited the reasons for this was because of stiff competition from “European countries like Finland and Asian giants such as Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, and Shanghai.” Notice there was no mention of worrying about stiff competition from the United States. Perhaps we’re too busy chasing educational fads and fashions and magical silver bullets to pose much of a threat to Singapore or any of those other countries at the top of the PISA list.

Ultimately, what was more interesting to me were the measures Singapore is considering as they try to strengthen their educational system, or rather the measures they were not considering. No where in the article is there mention of  1) increasing testing and accountability, 2) providing merit pay for teachers, or 3) privatizing education for the sake of competition. Instead here’s what Singapore is looking at:

  • Strengthening teacher-student relationships in secondary schools: They want to increase the level of social-emotional support for students and career guidance. What are we talking about doing in the United States? Bill Gates and Secretary Arne Duncan are talking about increasing class sizes which will make it even more difficult for teachers to provide levels of support for the students they teach. Also, our ed reformers want to dangle carrots in front of teachers so that they will work harder to increase student test scores.
  • Singapore wants to strengthen core skills in English and mathematics. How? Certainly not by doing what corporate education reformers are proposing by increasing the number of tests students take, and then tying teacher tenure and pay to those test scores. Instead, Singapore is looking to produce better instructional materials and provide “allied educators” to support teachers as they learn to teach and use these new materials. In other words, they are looking at improving teaching practice and professional development support instead of more tests and searching for bad teachers to fire.
  • They are looking at their investments in education including the levels of access to education because they note '”the widening income gap” in their country. What do our education reformers want to do? Secretary Duncan and the corporate reform crowd ignore our widening income gap and high poverty rate among children. Instead they are looking for “supermen” who can walk into classrooms and magically provide high test scores in the face of one of the highest rates of poverty among developed nations.

Perhaps Singapore’s prime minister is correct in not worrying about competition from us any time soon. There’s nothing to worry about because Secretary Duncan and his education reformers are looking for someone to blame (teachers and their unions), trying to find magic silver bullets (charters, more testing and accountability), and trying to de-professionalize education, while ignoring real issues like poverty. I would not worry about any threats from us either.

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