U.S. education is still the best in the world—but here’s what we can learn from others

The fact that we have to defend U.S. public education in the first place is puzzling.

“Learning Leadership” column, January 2012 edition of eSchool News—Defending public education in America is a daunting task. The fact that we have to defend public education in the first place is puzzling. Here we sit as the most powerful country in the world, with the largest economy, and the system responsible now and in the past for the education of close to 90 percent of our children is under attack. It makes you wonder how we ever became so prosperous.

Last year, I developed a PowerPoint presentation I named “The 95/5 Dilemma.” It is available on the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) web site at http://www.aasa.org/AASAblog-95-5-dilemma.aspx. In it, I provide benchmark statistic after benchmark statistic that prove conclusively: America’s public school system today is the best it has ever been. Graduation rates are the highest. Dropout rates are the lowest. Reading and math performances on the National Assessment of Educational Progress are the highest. College attendance rates are the highest. The rigor of the high school curriculum is the strongest ever.

These results support America’s economic and political leadership in the world. Those of us who are fortunate to travel around the world are not surprised when our overseas colleagues refer to our school system as the gold standard and when parents in every corner of the world want to send their children to American schools.

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Last November, I was pleased to lead a group of educators and school board members to Vietnam and Cambodia as part of AASA’s annual international seminar. We were surprised to see that even a Communist country like Vietnam acknowledges the quality of an American education and that their students aspire to come to our high schools and colleges. Today, there are thousands of Vietnamese students getting their education here. The same can be said for thousands of other students from throughout the world.

One of the reasons we engage in these international excursions is to learn from what other countries are doing and to see if ideas can be imported to make our system better. It is interesting to note that, when the performances of our students on international exams are compared to the performances of students from other countries, we often simply look at the test scores but never bother to delve deeper into why the results might be higher for students in other countries. On our trips, we visit schools and talk to students, teachers, parents, and education officials. This is what we have learned.

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