The United States is spending twice as much on education today than we did 20 years ago. Of course we have 20% more people than we did then (U.S. Census), and we have a much more diverse society than most of the others. However, the fundamental difference between the U.S. and other countries is raising eyebrows. U.S. students ranked 17 th in science, 25 th in math, and 14 th in reading in the latest data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the most widely used global assessment of student achievement. Who’s beating the U.S. in these important categories – and how?
As I had mentioned in my previous blog, Vivien Stewart in her book, A World Class Education , looks at five countries—Singapore, Canada, Finland, China, and Australia. These are nations where students are doing significantly better on global assessments than students in the U.S. despite differences in the demographics, political systems and cultural contexts, there are some common policies and practices that drive success. Understanding how other countries are succeeding can offer insights that help us do a better job here in the U.S. (Stewart, 2012)
As Stewart points out, even a small improvement in the skills of a nation’s labor force can have a big impact on its economy. What kind of input could a mid-size Lehigh Valley Christian school have? Although we are located in a small part of Eastern Pennsylvania, we are in a global market. And, in a global market where companies can find well-educated workers in a growing number of countries —often at lower-cost— the U.S. will face greater competition if this trend continues. Our students are no longer competing against just within the borders, they are competing against billions around the world. Salem Christian School envisions that its students are impacting the world in whatever vocation they find themselves. To do this they need to rise above and compete with the best of their peers. Salem Christian School has the similar challenges to nations trying to rise to the top and compete strongly within the global market.
Finland has demonstrated a strong commitment to education and its results demonstrate this commitment. Finland is an interesting example because as recently as 1970, only 40 percent of Finnish adults held a high school diploma. Today, its students rank among the top on global assessments of student learning. Current parents (Partner Survey, 2017) and prospective parents (Barna, 2017) desire strong academics in a nurturing and spiritually rich environment.
Stewart points out, one key to Finland’s success was the decision in 1979 to require a two-year master’s degree for all teachers, even those teaching primary school. Teachers are trained to spot students who aren’t doing well early on, and each school has a multidisciplinary team of education professionals available to support students and help them catch up. In addition to the number of teachers pursuing or have obtained graduate degrees, Salem Christian School has invested in professional development significantly. Teachers are engaged in Professional Learning Communities, continuing educational opportunities, seminars, and practitioner research. There is a significant dedication to the development of the teachers at Salem Christian School.
Similar to Finland, we also did away with traditional structure and replaced it with a more flexible approach that encourages creativity and problem solving, individualized learning, and a wider range of academic and vocational options. The elementary has brought in Daily Five method in language arts and is researching guided practice in mathematics. The high school has developed block scheduling, dual enrollment, Math Lab, and other creative and innovative methods to ensure there is a strong liberal arts program. Additionally, the school has developed things such as Middle School challenge, First Fridays, and other school cultural events to expand the learning and engage students through an infusion of fun activities.
The modernization of our education system has helped put us in the ranks of the most innovative and prosperous in the Lehigh Valley and Northeast region. We hope to make a significant impact with our small portion.
Like Finland, Singapore decided that its future lay in tapping its only resources, human capital. In the Singapore system, all the key elements work closely together to produce continuous improvement. This has been the direction Salem Christian has taken over the last few years. It must be purposeful and intentional. It must fit the mission and vision. Similar to Singapore, we have introduced innovative and flexible learning choices for students. This is especially noticeable in our Language Arts program and you can see this developing through our research in guided instruction in math. Singapore has a policy called “teach less, learn more” that’s designed to encourage more innovative curricula and use of classroom time. This is the movement that we are taking. How can we ensure that our students are learning? Students should be the center of the classroom, not a system or teacher. It will be exciting to see how we use data and research to learn how to continue our path towards this goal.
I agree with every expert I have read that the quality of student learning is only as good as the quality of the teachers. This requires investing in strong evaluation and development systems that involve teachers from the start, include multiple measures of effective teaching, and that fuse teacher evaluations with high-quality professional development. This happens behind the scenes at Salem Christian School.
As an administrator it is exciting to help our teachers reach their goals. Each year (or continued from previous years) the teachers articulate their goals for teaching and learning. Each classroom visit, evaluation, and professional development is primarily focused on these goals. This focus, like in Finland and Singapore, will help Salem Christian School demonstrate what a world class education is. Moreover, what a world class education is that is wholly developed, because it is infused with the Gospel. After all, the Gospel changes everything!
Barna and ACSI Research, 2017
Ng, P.T. Educ Res Policy Prac (2008) 7: 5. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10671-007-9042-
Partner Survey 2017
Stewart, Vivien. World-Class Education : Learning from International Models of Excellence and Innovation, (2012). ASCD, Alexandria, VA.
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