“We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us. We already know more than we need to do that. Whether or not we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven’t so far.” –Ron Edmonds

There are three things I always find interesting in many of these “international school culture comparative studies/papers/articles”. One is (1) the missing commentary on race and national culture; either they touch briefly on it, or in the case of this article, totally ignore this important factor, and the role racial homogeneity (RH) plays in what is expected from each student; and what the adults in that nation, the educational professionals, expect from themselves. I think RH is an important factor, and an essential research variable that must be considered when trying to explain the different outcomes of European and Asian educational systems, when compared to the US system. What this article somehow manages to do, is to talk about national culture, without really talking deeply about national culture!

(In Korea) “…Students are under enormous, unrelenting pressure to perform. Talent is not a consideration — because the culture believes in hard work and diligence above all, there is no excuse for failure. Children study year-round, both in-school and with tutors. If you study hard enough, you can be smart enough…”

(2) There is a great deal of misconceptions (mostly on the US side) as to what is really going on in these “outside of the US” educational systems. This is in part due to the fact that we choose to ignore how the culture of class and race is so central to the operational philosophy of our own school systems that we don’t look for it in other educational systems. This then amounts to a form of not helpful “theoretical cherry picking” without the properly associated historical, political and/or cultural analysis. For example: Looking at other nation’s teacher pay and benefits; and not at their teacher selection and preparation process. How is job retention (tenure) expressed in that nation, and the commitment to continual professionalism? One could focus on the huge (more than the US) amount of “prep-time” granted to Japanese teachers; while at the same time ignoring the much larger class sizes, or the high degree of personal responsibility and pride (for student success) borne by those Japanese teachers expressed in a tremendous form of what we would define as “efficacy”. Even in the area of administration there are some very unaccounted for stark differences in almost every other nation’s school system. In one of two meetings I had with an educational delegation of administrators from People’s Republic of China (PRC). There was not one person from a “Regional Superintendent” (I.e. Guangdong Provence) to a school principal who had not literally moved up the educational professional ladder. I had no words (even though some of them spoke English, and we also had a translator to explain why: someone would “jump in and out” of education for a 3 year stint; or how a principal could supervise (and evaluate) teachers, and have no expertise or experience in teaching. This made no sense to them!

If there were no American misconceptions concerning other nations school systems; perhaps other critical questions would emerge: If the “highly structured” and “regimented” Korean system, and the more “liberal” Finland (and I want to be careful here, for US “liberalism” cannot be universally applied) both seem to turn out high numbers of high achieving students; why does that occur? And what “qualities” do these two school systems have in common? Contrary to popular belief, most nations (including those “outperforming” the US) do indeed employ a national common core curriculum (an in most cases a national school system); and to some degree or another (some more than others) engage in a rigorous national system of standardized assessment. But our solutions are always simplistic; and thus unproductive: (a) evaluate teachers utilizing standardized exams; or (b) Throw out all standardized exams, as not useful.

“…In Finland, only one in ten applicants to teaching programs is admitted. After a mass closure of 80 percent of teacher colleges in the 1970s, only the best university training programs remained, elevating the status of educators in the country…”

(3) I find it interesting that one nation with one of the highest literacy rates in the world is always omitted from these discussions, and that nation is Barbados. I was able to spend some time observing these very successful schools in Barbados; and in many ways they mirror their “high achieving” European and Asian counterparts (including the benefit of the “RH” factor). Ironically, they do many of the “things” that American educators sight as the “problem” with US education: They test and assess students a great deal. Schools are measured by the number of students who “qualify” for a particular “gate-keeper” exam. They have a common core curriculum, and a national school system. But what I also saw in Barbados (and again missing from this article) that made it work was: first, a national cultural belief that it was worse to be illiterate, then to be poor. Further, the “RH” factor. The teachers taught a student body that looked just like them; and since the teachers felt that they were intelligent, and capable of mastering the work; they simply transferred that expectation onto the students they taught.

Nations that decided (unlike the US model) that their children are as an important national resource, as any the nation produces; and that the education of these children is vital to national security and development of the country; make a national collective decision to make sure that those children are properly educated. The US on the other hand is not fully committed to educating certain classes of children. Now, this has actually worked in the past, as we have been able to fill our talent needs with U.S. White males and foreign nationals. But as the US population profile, and the world shifts dramatically. The world by creating the infrastructure to absorb their own trained professionals particularly in the STEM professions; and inside of America due to the trajectory of demographics that will radically change the majority complexion of our public school population. These “facts on the ground” will doom the present working theory of educating the favored few, at the expense of the many. A prison to pipeline, rather than a STEM pipeline will not sustain the first place skills status of America in the future.

Finally, with many of these educational “miracle” nations, there exist a collective sense and will of responsibility for the academic achievement of that nation’s children; this ‘will” is a responsibility that is shared by the entire nation, community, family, child, and yes the school personnel. Perhaps a good international comparison would be to see how these “Educational Disneylands” of the world do with their “less desirable”, the poor, or emigrant populations. Returning to my PRC delegation; who admitted that there was a tremendous qualitative difference between their rural, and urban school systems; and that (one of the reasons for their visit) they realize that closing that gap is a national priority. The U.S. could actually transform its diverse population into a strong advantage over other “culturally diverse limited” nations. (That’s a topic for another essay!) And with the financial and intellectual resources at her disposal; America could easily produce the largest number of the best students on the planet; but that would mean that the nation saw the success of the students of color as important, and their educational success in the national interest of the country. And until elected officials, educational policy makers, and the educational professional community see these students as their own children; as the caretakers of the nation’s success legacy; the schools won’t improve outside of celebrated and isolated pockets of success.

No nation in the world (including South Africa) faces the unique set of challenges connected to race that you find in the U.S. Our news media can pretend that the Netanyahu “invitation”, and the exchange of stolen spy information between a foreign nation and U.S. elected officials, is just: “partisan politics”; but the world (and many of us in the US) saw it for what it really was, pure racism. And as long as Mr. Obama can sit in the White House, and not be seen as worthy of respect; then the children who look like him, and who sit in US public school classrooms across this nation, don’t have a chance; no matter what international seasoning you bring to the table!

“WHAT THE BEST EDUCATION SYSTEMS ARE DOING RIGHT”; Amy S. Choi… http://ideas.ted.com/what-the-best-education-systems-are-doing-right/