Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Ten things we can learn from high performing education systems in other countries. (Update)

You may be aware of America’s recent dismal performances on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).  PISA was created to compare educational systems across the world. According to PISA (2009), students tested in the United States were average in Math, Science, and Reading.  In Surpassing Shanghai (2011), Mark Tucker defines what makes countries like Finland and Shanghai successful on the PISA.  It is clear that our current reform efforts in America seem to be going the opposite direction of other high performing education systems.  Current US reform efforts include: teacher evaluation tied test scores, merit pay to reward high-performing individuals, and sanctions on schools that do not perform well on state assessments.  According to Fullan (2014) these are the wrong drivers and will not improve our schools.  These efforts instead create fear and further reduce the number of people interested in the field of education.  The list below tends to focus on building capacity rather than the use of sanctions due to low test scores.  The right drivers should include: capacity building, developing social capital (the quality of the group), improving instruction, and systemness.  I think you will find elements of the right drivers found throughout the list below.

Ten things we can learn from high performing educational systems:

(1) High performing systems pay their first year teacher the equivalent of a beginning engineering salary.

(2) High performing systems have rigorous teacher preparatory programs. Finland requires master’s degrees for all teachers and also includes 2-3 years of practical training in schools.

(3) High performing systems view teachers with great respect, and the top quarter of students become teachers. Finland's most popular profession is teaching.

(4) High performing systems view classrooms as learner-centered.

(5) High performing systems focus on educating the whole child.

(6) High performing systems have moved away from rote learning.  Shanghai focuses on 21st century skills like, communication, teamwork, problem solving and includes many real life experiences.

(7) High performing countries have a national curriculum, but are given autonomy over how they teach the material.  Finland's curriculum is seen more as a framework.

(8) High performing systems seldom use standardized testing.  Finland tests only in grades six and nine, and all other assessments are established by the master teacher.

(9) In high performing systems education is the corner stone of their culture. 

(10) High performing systems work closely with teachers in developing policy and the education system is run by the educators themselves.

We are going the wrong direction in terms of accountability.  Merit pay and punishment will not change and motivate people.  We need the best of the best to go into teaching.  Teacher pay needs to increase substantially and teacher prep programs need to include more training in schools.   Teachers are not done learning after they graduate from college and it’s important that school districts continue to build the capacity of their teachers.  We can learn from these countries, but we have to be open to new ideas that challenge the status quo.  

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Public Preschool now accepting applications for the 2015-2016 school year.

The first year of the Rugby Early Learning Center (RELC) has gone extremely well.  I have spoken with numerous parents and have received very positive comments regarding our program.  Presently we are serving 37 four-year-olds in our two classroom facility.  Staffing consists of one highly qualified early childhood teacher, a para-professional, and an additional aide in each classroom.   Our low student to teacher ratio helps provide individualized experiences for students.  The Rugby Early Learning Center is a full day preschool that operates four days a week.  We believe the full day program helps parents with daycare, and employment responsibilities.  The only cost of the program is for the child’s lunch and breakfast. 

North Dakota is one of the few states that does not provide state funding for preschool.  A small step was taken after last legislative session.  The legislature allowed local school districts to use their general fund to implement preschool programming.  The board of education jumped on the opportunity to provide preschool for the parents within our community.  There is extensive research behind preschool and the positive impact it has for students at all income levels.  The Rugby Early Learning Center provides kindergarten readiness, social, and emotional experiences for students.  The educational experience is largely done through organized play and small group activities.  Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York recently said, “The statistics are overwhelming.  Children who receive early education perform 25% better on math by the second grade, 20% better on English, 30% are more likely to graduate from high school, and 32% are less likely to be arrested as a juvenile.” The more we learn about the brain the more important it is to create a solid foundation during the early years. 

The Rugby Early Learning Center assesses preschool readiness standards by observing children through play and small group activities.  Based on these observations students have shown tremendous growth in the following areas: School Readiness, Early Math, Social and Emotional Development, Creative Arts, Language, and Literacy.  Our program accepts all income levels and is free other than a small fee for meals. 

The Rugby Early Learning Center will begin taking applications on February 2, 2015.  Applications can be picked up at Ely Elementary, Rugby High School, Rugby Early Learning Center, and they are available at our school website.  The deadline to return your application is on April 10, 2015.  Priority will be given to children that will attend kindergarten during the 2016-2017 school year.  Applications may be returned at any of the locations mentioned above.  For more information please contact Jason Gullickson (Principal) at (701)776-5757 or Brenda Olson (Site Director) at (701) 776-5721.