When Will American Parents Get a Grip About Education? - Page 2
“Yes, your child might know more of his letters than the child who spent Saturday in the sandbox.“ But the people who are team players, who are creative innovators, they are the ones who are going to invent the next iPad. The kids who are just memorizing are going to be outsourced to the kids in India who have memorized the same stuff.”
U.C. Berkeley psychologist Alison Gopnik agrees with what Hirsh-Pasek says about the futility of formalized early-childhood learning, saying, "The best you can say is that [supplemental early education programs] are useless."
So, then, let's get back to the issue of Chinese kids learning math while American kids sing about playing. If Chinese kids are learning math when they're three years old, and those same kids go on to outscore American kids on the PISA when they're 15 years old, shouldn't American education do more to emulate Chinese education?
Well, yes, Americans do have a lot to learn from the Chinese about education. However, Chinese students' success has nothing to do with what does or does not happen in kindergarten, at least not according to the OECD in a document it put out following the 2009 PISA results, entitled, "Lessons from PISA for the United States, Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education" (PISA, 2011).
As the title suggests, the 257-page document outlines educational systems and reforms in high-performing countries, then summarizes some takeaways that the United States might incorporate into its own educational reform. Obviously a complete synopsis of this lengthy document would be beyond the scope of this article, but a few key points are:
- Shortcomings in American education cannot be blamed on teachers' unions, since many high-performing countries, including education powerhouses Japan and Finland, are countries with strong teachers' unions. (p. 238)
- The argument that the U.S. educates every student while other countries only educate the elite has not been true for decades. In fact, among the OECD countries, the U.S. had the third-lowest percentage of 15-year-olds enrolled in high school, only 82%. Further, while the U.S. has a high percentage of minorities, immigrants, and/or non-native English speakers, "many countries with equal or higher proportions of immigrant students and non-native speakers of the local language are outperforming the United States and show a more moderate relationship between socioeconomic background and learning outcomes." That is, socio-economic background is more strongly correlated with academic success in the U.S. than in other countries. (p. 230)
- The United States is wealthier than any of the comparison countries in the OECD study, spends more on education, and its number of socio-economically disadvantaged students is around the OECD average. (p. 238) The difference between the U.S. and other countries, however, is that the U.S. tends to spend its money differently: allocating more funds to extracurricular programs, school services such as janitors and cafeterias, and overhead costs like textbooks and building maintenance. (p. 246) Further, because the U.S. educational system is partially funded with property taxes from individual tax districts (and the U.S. is the only country among those in the study where tax rates can be set by individual districts), there is a tremendous disparity between the budgets of schools in socio-economically advantaged areas and their more economically-modest counterparts. (p. 247)