When it comes to competing with the rest of the world in education, the U.S. is falling far behind. According to the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment, the United States ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in math. For American education reform to catch up, according to education reformer Eli Broad, we "have a lot to do."
While the amount of students advancing to higher education has risen by 48 percent since the 1990s, 70 percent of eighth graders in America aren't reading at a proficient level. The education reform movement in America is moving full speed ahead, but perhaps we can learn a thing or two from countries leading the charge in K-12 education.
Click through the gallery to see what American education reform can take away from the highest-ranking countries in the world for education.
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Shanghai, China: Strong Schools Help Weaker Ones
The city of Shanghai, China is ranked number one in the world for education. One strategy that stands out is how high-performing schools help low-performing schools. According to the Pearson Foundation, this is accomplished by "'pairing' a strong school with a weaker school or by creating a consortium in which a number of schools in a specific area are grouped in a cluster with a strong school at the core."
In extreme cases, there is something known as "empowered administration." When this happens, strong schools take over the leadership of a school that isn't performing well. They do this by sending a team of experienced teachers and school administrators to improve the management and teaching methods.
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South Korea: Early Foreign Language Education
Starting in the 3rd grade, South Korean schools begin teaching students English. Similarly in the U.K., students will be taught a foreign language beginning at age seven. If U.S. schools instate foreign language education in primary schools, students will acquire languages more easily and at a higher competency. According to the Korean Educational Development Institute, 29,511 children from elementary through high school level left South Korea in 2006 to travel to the U.S. in order to learn English more quickly.
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Finland: Less Instruction Time, More Preparation
Students complaining about long school hours may have a point. In Finland, the duration of instruction is only 600 hours per year, compared to 1,080 hours in other countries. Having less instruction time allows teachers to spend more energy on lesson preparation. While most American schools revolve around mathematics, sciences, and technology, Finnish students are encouraged to participate in groups, honing their creativity and problem-solving skills.
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Hong Kong: Parental and Community Involvement
The incredible level of parent and community involvement in the Hong Kong education system is an essential component to success. In 1999, when the Hong Kong education system was in a state of reform, 800 community leaders were involved in the structuring of the new system of schooling. Parents are highly encouraged to get involved in their child’s schooling, whether it be through volunteering at the school, meeting with teachers, or helping students with homework. In America, opening up more schools for parent involvement would give parents more tools to help their children succeed.
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Singapore: Higher Government Spending on Education
Singapore realizes the importance of education in its country and allocates 20 percent of its national budget on schooling. While America excels in certain aspects of education, such as a high literacy level and incorporating technology in classrooms, education as a whole is funded by only 2 percent of the national budget. Because of the amount allotted for education in Singapore, teachers are paid higher than lawyers and engineers.
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Canada: Cap on Class Sizes
Studies show that in early education, smaller class sizes ensure that students receive the best education possible. For this reason, the Provincial government’s Every Child program was enforced in Canada, putting a cap on class sizes through the 3rd grade. Not only will these classrooms be limited to 20 students each, the higher levels of education will also have limits of 24 students on average. The majority schools in the U.S. have an average class size of 25 students.
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New Zealand: Breaks Throughout the School Year
Schools in New Zealand are divided into four terms and have two-week breaks in between, in addition to a six-week summer vacation. By dividing the breaks throughout the year, rather than having a bulk of three months off, students can enjoy recreational activities, retain more information, and have time to relax and regroup throughout the school year.
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Japan: Camaraderie in Schools Increases Attendance
The school attendance rate for Japan is 99.98 percent while in the U.S., the average school attendance rate is 92 percent. The lowest rate in the country is 82.6 percent in Arizona and the highest is Delaware with 94.7 percent. According to research conducted at the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, students are more likely to attend school if classes are more engaging and interactive and if they have positive relationships with their teachers and fellow students.
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Australia: Interactive Whiteboards and Virtual Classrooms
While America is one of the most technologically savvy countries in the world, Australia may still be ahead of the curve when it comes to incorporating technology into classrooms. Schools throughout Australia are equipped with interactive whiteboards with Internet access which allow teachers to convert handwriting into type and print the information for their students. Additionally, virtual classrooms are being used on a trial basis. By taking the technological practices already in place in American classrooms and making teaching a more interactive process, students will learn and retain knowledge more easily.
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Netherlands: School Choice
Schooling options in the Netherlands are numerous due to the fact that the government funds private and public education equally. According to the Teachers Pay Report, private schools make up 70 percent of the education system in the Netherlands. School choice may be the reason why the Dutch are so successful in the realm of education.
Christina previously worked in production and publicity at Red Hen Press in Los Angeles. She studied modern literature and linguistics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She enjoys writing about health, culture, food, and the environment for various print and online publications. Email Christina | @christinakhar