What Can US Schools Learn from Other Countries?

Monday, March 29, 2010

classroom, teacher, student (flickr user billerickson (cc:by-nc))

All week long we are 'Getting Schooled' on the Takeaway — talking about the big issues in our schools today and how things are changing, now that No Child Left Behind is being revamped and the Department of Education is disbursing $100 billion in stimulus money. We kick off the conversation by taking a look at why American schools do so poorly in comparison to other industrialized countries and what we can learn from them.

We speak to Linda Darling-Hammond, Professor of Education at Stanford University and author of the book “The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future,” and Tony Wagner, co-director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School and Author of “The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach The New Survival Skills Our Children Need and What We Can Do About It.”


Linda Darling-Hammond and Tony Wagner

Comments [8]


I'm sending my daughter from Finland to the USA as a foreign exchange student, so I try to get an idea of the education she will be getting during her year there. I had the same experience myself back in the 1970's, so it is interesting to see if anything has changed.

Academically, the USA seems to be falling behind on High School level - however, life is super complicated and academic performance at that age is just one road to possible success. The US seems to have quality Universities and higher education and the young seem to catch up really fast, so I would recommend a US University to my daughter over a Finnish one. What happens between the High School and College in the US is a mystery to me, as the academic difference between the US and Finland seems to evaporate overnight.

To Kristy I would like to point out that boys and girls are different, but equal. The difference is not a distraction, it is a strength in society and a strength in school. Where should boys and girls learn to get along with each other, if not at school?

And to Pat: my mother was a teacher, and she did not allow us kids do any work during the ten week Summer holiday. A long Summer vacation is necessary and useful, otherwise the learning during the year will be superficial and the pupils just too tired to actually learn. The Finnish school kids spend less time at school than any other school kids, do less homework, and like their school days the least. This seems to prove that it is the hard work and efficiency that give good results, and hard work a child can only do very little at a time, and long periods of recovery are needed. During the vacation the kids really have time to think independently and can put to use what they have learned.

Apr. 05 2010 05:12 PM
Kris Sredich

Wow! I couldn't agree with these comments and suggestions more. As a teacher in a high school of 800 students, I get frustrated with the lack of support that teachers are given in our legislation to do the job of teaching We are sacrificing creativity, critical thinking and compassion for our community's future, by teaching to the test standards, using 'data' performance to assess real learning, and expecting teachers to act as parent, disciplinarian and entertainer. How can we get the government to listen???

Mar. 31 2010 12:55 PM
Michael Kesti from Miami, Florida

I was shocked by John Hockenberry and his expressions pertaining to the education system in Finland compared to that of the US. He spoke as if the system in Finland could not dare challenge the system here. I imagine that he would be surprised to learn that the Finnish people are extremely intelligent, cultured, and civilized!

Mar. 30 2010 03:57 PM

First of all, why can't we Americans pull our heads out from our collective behinds and look out at the world and start emulating those systems others are getting right?
healthcare(Switzerland), economy (Brazil), and education (Finland, South Korea)

Second, education Reform must meet the educational needs of the kids:

1.Kids need consistency. Try to keep the kids together rather than splitting them up every new school year. (Finland does this)

2.Kids need to play (a lot) everyday. Give them a break (even if it's 10 minutes) in between lessons. (Finland does this too)

3. Kids need time for self-directed exploration. How else will they know what they want to do when they grow up?

4. Boys and girls are different. During puberty they all discover this fact and it is very distracting. Kids need to be separated during middle school by gender.

5. Kids need parental involvement in their education (or committed adults in a child's life). Essential literacy skills are largely gathered during the first 5 years of a child's life. The more words a child hears, both spoken and read, the better.

6. Each child has different talents and abilities, but each child has a natural inclination for something. Each child's propensity needs to be nurtured.

Yes, everyone should be adequate in math and reading, however; stripping down the curriculum to the exclusion of everything else will create a country full of mindless robots who can compute, but not contemplate.
That may be tricky to pull off with all of those powerful lobbyists pulling the strings in Washington: For, action without thought is the point of corporate advertising.

Mar. 30 2010 09:15 AM
Pat Richardson from Harrah, Oklahoma

I am a retired teacher. I think longer school hours and a longer school year could improve our nation's educational results. The school day is chopped into so many little pieces; therefore, it is hard to cover essential facts, AND be creative, AND encourage critical thinking skills. A longer day would encourage viewing a particular subject or issue in several different ways. Also, a longer day helps working families. As a teacher, I thought 'hurray' at 2:40, but, actually, this is just the middle of the afternoon. Children with working parents must be shuffled off to a day care, or, worse yet, be home alone. A longer school year with a three to four week vacation in the summer and week breaks during the rest of the year makes a lot of sense. It encourages continuity and discourages reteaching. Many, but not enough, children read for pleasure during the summer, but very few children sit around doing math during the summer. A more unbroken school year would address this problem. I know these suggestions come with a price tag, but isn't it time we invest seriously in our children's educational futures?

Mar. 29 2010 12:20 PM
Ron Benoliel from Miiami, FL

The failure of U.S. schooling rests most possibly with our culture which does not place importance on authority and respect for parents and teachers but on the individual's mistaken belief that the "self" is everything. It must be demonstrated that a civil society woven within the community is the key ingredient needed to motivate them to compete successfully in the world today.

Mar. 29 2010 10:58 AM
Alan Goodin from Seattle Washington

Unfortunately, the thinking on today's educational reform is left over non-passed bean counter prescriptions for creating automatons for industry, left over from the "W" Bush administration where the level of intelligence was often displayed by an ignorant president.

What is needed is education which brings out the best in every individual. Examine the books by Stephen Glenn and Jane Nelson.

Go to the website http://www.capabilitiesinc.com/glenn.html to find a list of his books on education. The following paragraph is taken from this site:
Stephen is the author/coauthor of 7 Strategies for Developing Capable Students, Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World, Time Out: Abuses and Effective Uses, Positive Discipline in the Classroom, Positive Discipline: A-Z, and Positive Discipline for Blended Families, as well as the author of several outstanding training series, including Developing Capable People and Basic Substance Abuse Counseling. My favorite of the lot is Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World.

Also go to web site: janenelsen.com

To produce citizens that use higher order thinking skills and contribute to USA and World society, we must stop thinking that testing is the answer. So much of today's testing is a waste of time and makes our educational system have a low bar for success. We need students who ask " what can I do differently next time" and " how can we work together to get results that are win-win."

Enough of this current thinking which is characterized by the idea that " we make people do better by making them feel worse". The current ideas punish "poor performing schools" which is stinking thinking. The philosophy of our Educational system should be like that expressed in the radio program Prairie Home Companion ....”Our women are strong, our men are good looking and all of our children are above average.”

Mar. 29 2010 10:26 AM
David Seeley, Professor Emeritus, City University from 66 Harvard Avenue, Staten Island, NY 718-447-6978

On education reform, the media focus too exclusively on what schools can do, and too little on what whole communities need to do to improve learning results. Education is a shared responsibility of home, school, and community, not just a responsibility of schools. The community schools movement and some whole cities, such as Lincoln, Nebraska, and Syracuse, New York are trying to shift over to this approach, but it's difficult if the media keep emphaizing the "schools alone" mindset. I hope WNYC can do better on this score.

Mar. 29 2010 10:08 AM

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