To the editor:

I share Mr. Phillips' concern for education (June 7, Letters) and his insight to look at positive outcomes from other countries.

Journalist Amanda Ripley did so in her 2013 book, "The Smartest Kids in the World" which examines data and the experience of three teenagers who spent a school year in South Korea, Finland and Poland. Ripley’s key observations about high performing countries (HPCs) were:

Outcomes changed significantly a few years after reforms were implemented. U.S. outcomes have changed little in decades, despite massive investment and interventions. 

Teacher-training colleges in HPCs are very selective. Training is rigorous and degree requirements are high. Teachers are treated with the same respect as we treat doctors here. They are well-paid, accountable for results and given autonomy for their methods.

Curricula are designed for rigor and progression from grade-to-grade. HPC students are introduced to advanced topics many grade levels before U.S. students who revisit the basics year after year.

Students are not tracked until age 16 in HPCs. The premise is that all students can learn the curricula and resources are provided to help them. U.S. students are tracked into levels or concentration areas much earlier which sets expectations and opportunities for the rest of their lives. 

Funding for teachers and student support is prioritized over technology like electronic white boards and iPads.

HPCs separate sports from education. Sports are enjoyed by young people independent of the school setting. 

Parental presence at school is rare in HPCs. Educators are trusted partners while students are in school. Parents aid student learning at home by regularly reading to their young children and engaging older children in dialogue about their courses and world events. This form of parental involvement is shown to be hugely beneficial.

Funding in HPCs is well below U.S. levels. It is based on need, grounded in the belief that all students can learn and deserve to learn. Unlike the U.S. where property values determine funding, there are not significant differences in HPC student outcomes based on race, ethnicity or economic class.

For decades the U.S. has invested in systems that are inequitably funded, that prioritize technology and sports, and under-value teaching. Our outcomes are mediocre. Yes, radical change is needed — not as Mr. Phillips has suggested — but as other countries around the world have done with measurable success.

Jean Costello


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