By Steve Hansen
QCS Managing Editor
My column’s loyal following (and thank you, sir or madam) may remember that I recently took our education system to task.
“We don’t respect education like Finland, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore,” the top five nations in education, I said.
Comes now John Draper of the National Schools Public Relations Association, who fired up the teachers of Quay County in the week before school started for two hours with some very encouraging words about the state of American education.
We have not fallen among the nations of the world in education, he said. We never scored that well to begin with, and, he pointed out, as I did, that we seem to be getting better.
Besides, he said, the only measure used is performance on standardized tests. He said he recently learned that Singapore’s educators do little but “teach to the test.”
In other countries, he pointed out, poor performers get siphoned off early to learn trades, leaving the better performers to advance to college prep programs. If only the better performers are testing, higher average scores are inevitable, Draper said.
In Finland, he said, the culture is homogenized and everyone is pretty well off, and education receives the resources it needs. Asian cultures, he said, have a near obsession with academic success and don’t question the standard by which it is measured.
A recent New York Times story described South Korean teenagers as spending all day in school, then all night with tutors in order to remain competitive in a draconian school system. They get five hours of sleep a night and suffer chronic stomach cramps and even lose their hair. My conclusion: They learn the answers, but no one under that much stress can learn creative thinking and problem-solving.
And the creative thinking and problem-solving, Draper said, is what America teaches very well. American teachers like to think their job includes teaching things like creativity, self-discipline and values like fair play. And, Draper said, it works.
Foreign-based companies, he said, hire Americans to manage innovation and creativity. America is still rapidly jump-starting game-changing businesses.
I still have questions, though. Why do American companies have to hire foreign engineers and doctors in droves? Why do skilled and professional jobs go begging while American pay and job growth have remained flat over the past two or three decades? And why do most American college students have to learn remedial math and grammar?
While I’d like to find answers to those questions, I agree with Draper’s evaluation of American teachers as hard-working, dedicated professionals. Incentive pay does not incentivize them. Conditions that let them teach effectively do. They aren’t the union-protected drones that some depict them to be. They live for the times when kids come up to them five years later and tell them that they, as teachers, changed their lives.
Draper’s point is that American schools do better than many think they do. He also made the point, however, that if schools need to improve, we are going the wrong way by relying solely on standardized tests and thinking incentive pay for “high performing” teachers will make the difference.
We educate everybody in an increasingly diverse population, he said, and that is our key strength.
I have to agree with that, too.
Steve Hansen is the managing editor at the Quay County Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org