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Guest Thinkers

SETDA – What it takes to compete

Notes from the 2007 SETDA Education Forum

What it takes to compete: Seeing U.S. education through the prism of international comparisons

Prof. Andreas Schleicher
Head, Indicators and Analysis Division
OECD Directorate for Education

  • Finland gets 9 applicants for every teaching post because it is considered a profession worth working in
  • Jobs in lower skill sectors, and indeed entire sectors of the workplace, are disappearing
  • In the 1960s, the U.S. was first in the world re: percentage of persons with high school or equivalent qualifications (ages 25 to 64). Today it is 13th. Within two generations, the educational landscape has changed dramatically.
  • College-level graduation rates: U.S. international rank dropped from 2nd to 15th between 1995 and 2005
  • By 2015, China will have twice the number of college graduates as the U.S. and EU combined
  • PISA – international assessment of what students know and can do – covers 87% of world economy – how well can students extrapolate from what they have learned to novel situations
  • U.S. fell below the OECD average when it came to the performance of 15-year-olds to extrapolate and apply in mathematics (dozens of countries were ahead of U.S.)
  • Levy and Murnane have analyzed demand for skills between 1960 and 2002
    • Demand for routine manual skills has declined
    • Demand for nonroutine manual skills has declined steeply
    • Demand for routine cognitive skills (that are easy to teach, easy to test, easy to break into small pieces) has declined steeply
    • Demand for nonroutine analytic skills has increased sharply
    • Demand for nonroutine interactive skills has increased sharply
    • Percentage of students at Levels 5 or 6 on PISA has an almost linear relationship to the number of researchers per thousand people
    • Money explains about 1/3 of cross-country variation in mathematics performance – U.S. and Italy have expensive education systems but get lower payoff than other countries that spend less but differently
    • Best-performing educational systems have both high challenge and strong support systems
      • Low challenge and weak support = poor performance and stagnation
      • High challenge and weak support = conflict, demoralization
      • High challenge and strong support = systemic improvement
      • Best-performing educational systems have high ambitions, teacher access to best practice and strong professional development, intelligent accountability and intervention in inverse proportion to success, devolved responsibility so the school is the center of action, integrated educational opportunities, movement from prescribed forms of teaching and assessment toward personalized learning
      • Only 12% of variation is across schools: the overall system predicts most of math performance
      • “Knowledge poor” profession and national prescription = uninformed prescription, implementation of curricula = U.S.
      • “Without data, you are just another person with an opinion.”
      • A perfect storm

        Michael Flanagan, Superintendent of Public Instruction, State of Michigan

        • “Can we agree that our kids aren’t going to work in a verb conjugation factory?”
        • Michigan is facing a perfect storm: changing global workforce needs combined with declining ability of automobile factory workers to make a decent living (or even a living at all since jobs are being exported)
        • Many, many educators said “those kids can’t do Algebra 2”
        • Trying to move Michigan from teaching to learning
        • Requirement for students to take one online course before graduation is an attempt to jump start the situation, turn pedagogy in another direction
        • No longer automatically accrediting teacher education institutions every 5 years; now leaning on universities to change their preparation practices
        • Showed the video of Paul Potts to emphasize that there is hidden talent in everyone and that we can bring that out if we choose

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