For the third time key national policymakers, OECD experts andteaching stakeholders will convene to discuss best practices forteaching and education policies. This yearly event has taken placetwice so far, both times in New York. For the 2012 edition, 24countries sent delegations that held an open debate on successfulpolicymaking, challenges and opportunities in education and therole teachers play in this context.
The U.S. Department of Education
Arne Duncan’s lessons learned
“We are thrilled to have such an extraordinary and unprecedentedarray of education ministers, union leaders, great teachers, schoolleaders, top researchers, and multinational leaders here today. Weare eager to learn from the experiences of high-performing andrapidly-improving countries and regions about both their successesand their shared educational challenges.
I want to especially thank the conveners of the summit, whichinclude OECD and Education International, in addition to our U.S.Department of Education. Here in the U.S., our sponsoring partnersinclude our two teachers’ union organizations, the NEA and the AFT,and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Our sponsors alsoinclude the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, theAsia Society, and our local public television station, WNET. Oursponsors have been great partners in reform.
Before we start, I want to say that our hearts are breakingtoday for our Belgium colleagues and friends after last night’stragic school bus crash in which so many children and teachers losttheir lives and were injured. Know that you are very much in ourthoughts today.
U.S. has a great deal to learn
Turning to this year’s Summit, I’m pleased to report that lastyear’s Summit, and the lessons learned from the practices ofhigh-performing systems, has already had a big impact on ourthinking in the United States. We come to this work with realhumility, coupled with a tremendous sense of urgency. The truth isthat the U.S. has a great deal to learn from countries that areout-educating us. Today I want to give a brief progress report onthe evolution of U.S. policy since last year’s summit.
For U.S. leaders, the message of last year’s summit was plain.High-performing countries provide more professional autonomy andaccountability, more collaboration, and more high-qualitypreparation and professional development for teachers than we do inthe U.S.
They do a better job of recruiting talented teachers and schoolleaders. And they do a better job of preparing, supporting, andretaining them in the classroom. As my good friend Randi Weingartenhas said, other nations not only out-educate us, they out-prepareand out-respect us as well.
Unlike the U.S., high-performing countries typically pay teachersalaries that are much more competitive with other professionsrequiring a college degree and advanced certifications. And unlikethe U.S., high-performing systems offer teachers career ladders andopportunities for professional growth that do not require them toleave or abandon the classroom-the work they love most and do best.Teachers themselves have a real role in informing policy to drivebetter student outcomes.
Last, but not least, high-performers pursue all these practicesin a deliberate, systemic way over a period of years-not throughpiecemeal policy changes in separate silos.
Focus on teacher profession
We heard that message and understand its significance. And ithas powerfully helped shape a new, five billion dollar program tostrengthen and elevate the teaching profession in America. Withteaching morale low, and with a real need to recruit about onemillion more teachers into the profession over the next four to sixyears, we must take a challenging situation and use it as anopportunity to drive transformational change.
Last month, President Obama proposed this new competitive grantprogram to empower states and districts that commit to pursuingbold reforms at every stage of the teaching profession. This is nottinkering at the margins, or incremental change. The new program iscalled RESPECT. That acronym stands for Recognizing EducationalSuccess, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching.
Educational Success is all about improving student outcomes.Professional Excellence means that we will promote continuouslyimproving practice-and recognize, reward, and, most importantly,learn from great teachers and school leaders. And CollaborativeTeaching means that we will concentrate on shared responsibility.Successful collaboration means creating schools where principalsand teachers work and learn together in communities of practice,hold each other accountable, and lift each other to new levels ofskill and competence.
The RESPECT program has six elements to it. I won’t run throughall of them here, but I’ll mention a few key elements.
RESPECT will support state and local efforts to attract top-tiertalent into education and prepare them for success.
It will support creating a professional career continuum withcompetitive compensation.
It will support evaluating and strengthening the development ofteachers and leaders.
And it will support getting the best educators to the studentsand communities who need them the most.
Vision and enthusiasm
To my knowledge, an ambitious program like this, with the goalof fundamentally elevating the teaching profession, has never beentried before in the United States. Let me emphasize that teachersthemselves have had-and will continue to have-a major voice inshaping RESPECT. Our development of RESPECT has benefittedenormously from the input of Randi Weingarten, from Dennis VanRoekel’s leadership, and from the groundbreaking, courageous workof the NEA’s Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching.
Our amazing team of Teaching Ambassador Fellows-active classroomteachers who spent a year at the U.S. Department of Education-havealready held more than 100 roundtable meetings with teachers acrossthe country. In coming months, the department aims to holdroundtables and town halls for at least 5,000 teachers. I havepersonally met with hundreds and hundreds of teachers across thenation, and continue to be inspired by their vision and enthusiasmfor what we can accomplish together.
The principal elements of RESPECT are clear-and clearlyconsistent with the practices of high-performing systems. We arevery much looking to engage teachers in a national conversationabout how to reshape and revamp America’s teaching profession forthe 21st century.
Elevate teachers’ voices in shaping educationpolicies
The near-term aim of RESPECT is to elevate teachers’ voices inshaping federal, state, and local policy. Our long-term goal is tomake teaching not just one of America’s most important professionsbut one of its most respected professions.
Teachers, and the teaching profession, have been beaten down,and that must stop. I could not be more proud of our teachers’ hardwork and commitment, often in very challenging circumstances. Iview our teachers, as so many of you do, as nation-builders-and wemust treat them as such.
With respect to this year’s Summit, I am excited to see that wewill be addressing how to improve teacher preparation and betterdevelop school leaders. To be honest, these are not strengths ofthe U.S. educational system. We have a tremendous amount to gainfrom studying effective teacher and principal preparation programsand effective professional development from high-performingcountries and regions.
There are a number of exemplary preparation programs in theU.S., and the field is showing promising signs of reform andprogress. But we desperately need high-quality preparation programsto be the norm in the U.S. today, not a hit-and-miss proposition. Ihave yet to find a high-performing school that didn’t have a strongprincipal at its helm and talented teachers in its classrooms.
Talent is crucial
We all know that talent matters tremendously in education. Thereare no critical classroom reforms that are teacher-proof orprincipal-proof. Yet in the U.S. we often act as though talentdoesn’t matter. I have spoken out very publicly about theshortcomings of teacher preparation and principal preparationprograms in the U.S. And I am not alone in offering thatcritique.
Virtually every analysis of our preparation programs, includingstudies by deans of our education schools, and by AFT and NEA,concludes that we do at best a mediocre job of preparing teachersand school leaders. And when we listen, teachers and school leadersthemselves say much the same thing. Sixty-two percent of youngteachers in America report that their training did not prepare themadequately for working in the classroom. And 70 percent of U.S.principals report that traditional leadership programs are “out oftouch with the realities of what it takes to run today’s schools.”This is the brutal reality we must face.
Unfortunately, our record for delivering high-qualityprofessional development is equally spotty. At the federal level,we distribute $3.3 billion to states and districts each year tospend on professional development. When I talk to teachers, Ialways ask them: “How much is that money improving your job orproviding for your development?” They usually either laugh or cryin response-because they are not feeling that $3.3 billioninvestment is helping them hone their skills.
Finland, an inspiration
Many high-performing countries do a much better job than theU.S. of articulating real career ladders, from novice to masterteachers. To cite one example, a number of high-performing systemsrefuse to let new teachers sink or swim in the classroom as wesometimes do in America. In Japan and Finland, novice teachersspent at least a full year teaching under the supervision of amaster teacher. In Shanghai, new teachers are supervised by masterteachers during their first year in the classroom-and masterteachers often observe every lesson taught by the new instructorand provide extensive coaching.
In a time of extraordinarily tight state budgets, as all of usfight for additional resources, we also have to be honest aboutinvestments that are not effective. We have to invest inprofessional development that really helps teachers master theircraft. In most places in the U.S., we are not even close toreaching that goal.
In the 21st century, the role of school leaders has also changeddramatically. In decades past, principals were thought of asbuilding managers and supervisors of operations. That is no longerthe case in the U.S. Today, the job of a principal is to be, firstand foremost, an instructional leader, not just a supervisor.Top-flight school leaders are much more like lead teachers and evenCEOs than building managers.
They are responsible for building a school culture focused onlearning and high expectations. They are responsible for hiringgood instructors, distributing leadership, providing qualityprofessional development, and evaluating teachers. Great schoolleaders nurture, retain, and empower great teachers-bad schoolleaders drive them off and are threatened by them.
Do not remain in status quo
As the OECD background paper prepared for the Summit makesclear, the status of the teaching profession is not a fixedattribute of culture. It can be elevated substantially-and not at aglacial pace-through sustained government policy in countries asdiverse as Finland, China, and Singapore.
That is an enormously encouraging finding-and, for all ourchallenges, one that gives us real hope for what we can accomplish.Eleven years ago, elementary school students in Hong Kong ranked17th in the world in reading literacy assessments and primaryschool students in Singapore ranked 15th. Just five years later,they ranked 2nd and 4th, respectively.
Shanghai’s students currently have the highest PISA scores inthe world-and I think America has a lot to learn from Shanghai’seducators. But that high performance is not simply due to atraditional Confucian reverence for education. At one point, Chinaclosed down its universities for more than a quarter century. Butin the years since 1980, when Chinese universities started againoffering degrees, China has successfully rebuilt its educationsystem. Policy matters.
One final encouraging lesson to emerge from last year’s Summitis that many high-performing countries are evolving in similardirections-and pursuing similar policies to improveperformance.
A shared theme at last year’s Summit was that student outcomesand data matter. We cannot return to the days when educationalpolicy was primarily propelled by inputs, instead of by outcomes.In the knowledge-based, global economy, student learning andstudent growth are the ultimate barometers of success. Children areour first and foremost responsibility.
Teach skills needed in 21stcentury
To be on track on track today for college and careers, studentsneed the 21st century skills that are so vital to success in theglobal economy. They need to show that they can analyze and solvecomplex problem, communicate clearly, synthesize information, applyknowledge, and generalize learning to other settings.High-performing nations may differ on how they assess learning andthe acquisition of 21st century skills. Yet virtually every topperformer is intensively using data in one form or another toenhance instruction at the classroom level, and to monitor andimprove performance.
As the OECD Background report for this Summit states, two out ofthree OECD countries give students periodic standardizedassessments to develop information on student performance. Justunder half of OECD countries even give very high-stake exams atcritical educational gateways that can affect students’ secondaryand post-secondary educational opportunities, including theirchance to go to college.
Assessment data is used not just at the national level but inindividual schools and classrooms. The survey results of schoolleaders in the background report for the Summit show that in threeout of four OECD nations, school leaders report that they often”use student performance results to develop the school’seducational goals” during the school year.
Tailor best practices to individualcountries
School leaders also use assessment results to shape curriculum.Principals in three out of five OECD countries say that they often”take exam results into accounts in decision regarding curriculumdevelopment.” In high-performing regions like Hong Kong andSingapore, nearly 100 percent of principals regularly use examresults to help inform decisions about curriculum.
Now, while last year’s Summit highlighted common cornerstones ofworld-class education systems, it also highlighted that there are anumber of different roads and no single path to becoming ahigh-performing system. The OECD survey of school leaders suggests,for example, that school leaders in Finland and South Korea playdifferent roles in a number of key respects in their schools, eventhough both nations are top-performing systems.
I would only add that a number of high-performing systems are ona much smaller scale than the United States. That doesn’t mean thattheir successful practices are not relevant to the U.S.experience-far from it. The implication is rather that thesepractices have to be adapted to fit America’s unique governancestructure and traditions-just as would be the case in othernations. In some instances, successful models from Singapore,Ottawa, Hong Kong, or Finland can be adopted at equivalent scale-inthe U.S., at the state or district level.
Learning from one another
So, I am very much looking forward to the discussions here todayand tomorrow. If we are honest with ourselves, I think we canacknowledge that many high-performing and rapidly-improvingeducation systems continue to face a number of common challenges towhich solutions have often proved elusive. No one has all theanswers.
Many countries are facing serious challenges of recruiting andretaining top-notch talent in the teaching profession, particularlyin shortage areas. During the 2009 PISA assessment, nearly 20percent of 15-year olds were enrolled in schools where schoolleaders reported that a lack of qualified mathematics or scienceteachers was hindering instruction.
Many countries similarly struggle with how to prepare top-notchschool leaders and top-notch teachers. Throughout the world, mostteachers report that they lack incentives to innovate in theclassroom. And most governments under-invest in educationalresearch.
I am absolutely convinced that education leaders can bestaddress these shared challenges, and can better boost studentlearning, by working together and sharing best practices, insteadof by working alone, in isolation. And I am convinced that thesestubborn challenges can best be met through tough-mindedcollaboration rather than through tough-minded confrontation.
No forum for speechmaking
President Obama and I both believe that we must tackle thesechallenges with our teacher unions working as strong partners withus. That is the only way for real change to grow roots and takehold in our nation’s classrooms.
Unlike some international meetings, this Summit is not designedas a forum for speechmaking. This is not the place to let theperfect become the enemy of the good. I hope the discussions todayand tomorrow will be thoughtful and thought-provoking. But I alsohope that they will generate frank conversation among counties. Ihope the Summit will provide everyone with some smart takeawayideas when you return to your countries and organizations oforigin.
So, welcome back to New York. I look forward to learning andsharing with all of you during the next two days. You honor us withyour presence. And your gift to us of your time and energy meansmore to us than you can know.
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