International Summit Puts Best Reform Ideas on the Table
By Tim Walker
High-performing countries have strong unions. They also support teachers and engage them in the reform process. Many right-wing politicians in the United States may want to ignore these facts, but in Finland, Canada, Singapore, and other nations, collaboration with teacher unions has been a keystone in their successful efforts to improve student achievement – along with vigorous policies to recruit, retain and support their teachers.
These and other best practices will be spotlighted at the first International Summit on the Teaching Profession (ISTP), which convenes today and tomorrow in New York City, bringing together education ministers, national union leaders, and accomplished teachers from countries with high-performing and rapidly-improving educational systems (as measured by the 2009 PISA results). In addition to the United States, fifteen countries will be participating: Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China/Shanghai, Demark, Estonia, Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Singapore, Slovenia and the United Kingdom.
The National Education Association, who is co-hosting the summit, strongly believes that consultation and collaboration with other countries is essential to create great public schools. Joining NEA as co-hosts are the U.S. Department of Education, Education International, the American Federation of Teachers, the Organization of Economic and Social Development (OECD), the Asia Society and public television station WNET.
All issues will be on the table – teacher preparation, recruitment, evaluation and compensation, and teacher engagement in education reforms efforts.
“We will learn much over the next two days,” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said. “My fervent hope is that we can take a good, hard look at what is working – and what is not – and apply those lessons to schools here in this country.” According to the 2009 PISA results, U.S. students are ranked average in reading and science, and below average in math.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, a key participant in the summit, is also looking forward to a frank exchange of ideas.
“We need a high quality system for recruiting, training, retaining, and supporting teachers over the course of their careers to develop an effective teaching force,” Duncan said. “This summit is a tremendous opportunity to learn from one another the best methods worldwide to address our common challenges.”
Coinciding with the teaching summit is the release of a new report called “What The U.S. Can Learn From The World’s Most Successful Education Reform Efforts,” which makes the strong case that the United States needs to restore dignity and respect to the teaching profession. The report was co-authored by the OECD’s Andreas Schleicher, who will be participating in the summit this week.
Finland has long been held up by public education advocates in the United States as a model of effective education reform, specifically in regards to how it upgraded the teaching profession. Teachers spend nearly half of their time in school in high-level professional development, collaborative planning, and working with parents. As a result, more people have been attracted to the profession. Once ranked at the bottom of international standings, Finland now outperforms virtually all developed nations on language, science and math literacy.
Finland has received its fair share of headlines for these efforts, but U.S. policymakers should look no further than neighboring Canada, a country that is in many ways a better fit than Finland, particularly in terms of student demographics. Canada is one of the top-performing countries in PISA, and one of very few that show no gap between immigrant and native students. And, as in Finland and Singapore, teachers in Canada enjoy a high professional status and high level of trust.
What the NEA is confronting in the United States is obviously in stark contrast to what exists in these high-performing countries. The unprecedented attacks on teachers’ collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Idaho and elsewhere triggered an outpouring of support from many of the unions represented at the summit this week. Collective bargaining has a proven track record in the United States and elsewhere, says Van Roekel, in bringing together the stakeholders in identifying solutions.
This collaborative dynamic will be highlighted during the summit this week. According to OECD in its 2009 PISA report, “Without the active and willing engagement of teachers, most educational reforms fail.”
Van Roekel is also interested in hearing more about how many OECD countries benefit from collaboration as they invest resources where the challenges are greatest. Focusing attention on high-needs schools is the essence of NEA Priority Schools Campaign, NEA’s flagship effort to help transform low-performing schools.
“The high-performing schools systems around the globe depend on input and buy-in from teachers and their unions,’ said Van Roekel. “Teachers and their unions here in the United States deserve a stronger voice at the table so that they can become even stronger partners in education transformation.”