May 21, 2008

The Use of International Data to Improve U.S. Schools

  • Dane Linn is the director of the education division of the National Governors Association, a Washington-based research and advocacy organization that has taken an active role in examining how states might align their academic standards and practices to those of top-performing nations.
  • Iris C. Rotberg is the co-director of the Center for Curriculum, Standards, and Technology at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C.
Kathleen Kennedy Manzo (Moderator):

Good afternoon everyone and welcome to Education Week's online chat on international comparison data and the potential lessons that top-performing nations may hold for U.S. schools. Our guests have some compelling insights on this issue. Dane Linn is working on the NGA's initiative to help states align standards and assesments with international benchmarks, and Iris Rotberg has written extensively about the strengths and shortcomings of school systems around the globe, and the reform efforts undertaken by other countries over the last two decades. We already have a lot questions, so let's get started.

Question from Kathleen Kennedy Manzo:

Dane: In a recent Ed Week story (America Scouts Overseas to Boost Education Skills you suggested that states could benefit from aligning their academic standards and assessments to the best in the world. Can you explain NGA's efforts in this area and what benefits there are to international benchmarking?

Dane Linn:

Kathleen, Thank you for the opportunity to share NGA’s work on international benchmarking. Former NGA Chair, Governor Janet Napolitano, led the Innovation America initiative which was an effort aimed at helping governors develop a policy agenda to build stronger state economies. Recent results from state and international assessments (e.g., PISA) led us to create a new effort in collaboration with Achieve, Inc. and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Our goal is to move beyond comparisons among the states and, more importantly begin comparing ourselves to top-performing countries such as Finland, China and others. We are in the process of forming a national advisory group that will help states identify the actions they can take to benchmark their systems. A report will be released in early fall along with a companion paper that will identify the ways in which the federal can support states efforts to create an educational system that prepares students to compete with students from other countries. Beyond the report, the three national organizations will identify the actions that we will take to help states move beyond the rhetoric.

Question from Kathleen Kennedy Manzo:

Iris: You have been skeptical of the attention focused on international comparison tests and whether states and schools in the U.S. should align standards and content to those of top-performing countries. Can you tell us your thoughts on this issue?

Iris Rotberg:

It would be unrealistic to attempt to align standards and content to those of top-performing countries. First, each of these countries has different standards. Second, we know from experience that "transplanting" educational models is difficult even within the same country as we have found, for example, when we have attempted to implement new science and mathematics models. Of course we can learn from other countries but, in my view, not by using the test-score rankings as a criterion, but by gaining direct knowledge of what is actually happening in schools and classrooms in those countries.

Question from Pat Buoncristiani, retired principal, educational consultant:

While TIMSS measures the effectiveness of the taught curriculum, PISA measures the ability of students to apply what they have learned and is, therefore, a far more powerful tool. The USA performs below OECD averages in almost everything in PISA in spite of being one of the highest spending per capita OECD nations. My experience with policy makers and educators is that little notice is taken of PISA and many educators are virtually unaware of its existence. Why is this so?

Dane Linn:

Pat, You’re absolutely right. Few policymakers and educators have paid attention to PISA until recently. More individuals are aware of TIMSS and the United States’ performance. Despite their differences, both assessments are valuable in helping the U.S. understand the achievement of our students in comparison to other industrialized countries. Recently, NGA has been working to help governors and others in the national policy community understand the value of PISA. This is particularly important as the countries who participate in PISA represent 90 percent of the world economy. PISA is one tool that can help governors better understand how to improve their education systems and student achievement in their states so that our children are truly able to compete with students from some of the top-performing countries such as Finland. NGA is currently working to solicit interest from governors who may want their state to participate in the 2009 administration of PISA (Note: At present, the U.S. participates as a country. Unlike other countries, we currently do not have any states participating in PISA).

Question from David Donaldson, Education Specialist, The U.S. Peace Corps:

Is it fair to compare the United States with other countries? Some countries track their students openly. When they (other countries) test, are they only including the scores of the students in the highest track? Or, are they testing a random sample of students from all ability levels?

Iris Rotberg:

The goal is to test a representative sample of students at all ability levels. But, in practical terms, there is a lot of slippage. There are, inevitably, major practical sampling problems--even with the best intentions and most sophisticated sampling designs--which make it extremely difficult to ensure that comparable samples of students, schools, and regions are tested across countries.

Question from Etta Kralovec, Associate Professor of education, University of Arizona South:

If we are going to use international data to benchmark our schools, shouldn't we be using international research on improving schools as well as just using data comparison? For example, CERI of the the OECD has done lots of case studies of schools around the world that have been achieving at high levels, how do we incorporate that research into the education conversation in the US?

Iris Rotberg:

I certainly agree that in-depth knowledge of practices in other countries would be useful. In my view, it would be much more productive to make that information widely available than to initiate a benchmarking exercise.

Question from Dave Smith, Teacher, Canandaigua School District:

There is indeed a rising tide of mediocrity, but not because we don't have enough tests or international comparisons. In your view, what good are any more tests if they don't align to a national curriculum that promotes the knowledge we want our children to have? All we would be doing is continuing to compare apples to oranges.

Dane Linn:

Dave, As a teacher, I’m sure that you have a real appreciation for the number of tests that we’re administering to students throughout the school year. NGA, in collaboration with other national organizations, will be producing a publication to help states consider ways to create a more streamlined and internationally benchmarked assessment system. At the same time, there are efforts underway to help states revise their standards based on the work of national experts who draw from the assessment results in other countries. In some cases, this work will be done on a state-by-state basis. In other cases, states may form regional collaborative to complete this work. One example is the work that several New England states are doing on developing a common assessment. These states decided that it was more efficient for them to pool their resources—financial and intellectual—together to develop a common assessment. Assuming that we can help states develop internationally benchmarked standards and assessments, we should leave the development of curriculum to school districts. However, we are beginning to see some states (e.g., Delaware) develop a voluntary curriculum as one tool for teachers as they implement the standards.

Question from N.Stepanian-Bennett, Resource Teacher, Baldwin Elementary:

How can we compare to countries that "weed" out students around ten years old? We teach everyone....they teach the cream of the crop that have been identified long before they enter any rigorous academic programs. Even the required assessments (for state and federal) include everyone....even special education students unless they are cognitively impaired.

Dane Linn:

As a former teacher and elementary principal, I completely agree with your point that the U.S., unlike several countries, attempts to serve all students. But, there are also countries that outperform the U.S. on international assessments (e.g., TIMSS and PISA) who are also serving all students. Clearly, the goals of No Child Left Behind are an attempt to help the U.S. do a better job of improving student achievement. But, we still have a long way to go. TIMSS and TIMSS-R are two assessments that illustrate the challenge before the U.S. For example, our performance on TIMSS and TIMSS-R is slightly better than the international average in math and science (grade 4). But, performance declines for U.S. eighth graders in math while their performance in science is above average. More troubling, the performance continues to decline as student progress through school (twelfth grade). TIMSS-R, an assessment that measures knowledge of advanced math and science (e.g., physics, pre-calculus and advanced placement courses), shows that a majority of countries who participate in these assessments outperform the U.S. These examples illustrate the importance of both revising our standards (including the possibility of reducing the number of academic standards we expect students to meet in one year) and assessments so they can be internationally benchmarked. Lastly, we need to consider creating a system of supports to help students meet these higher standards.

Question from Lynnette Sullivan, teacher, Lake Hood Elementary:

When do our professional discussions of educational excellence, responsibility and accountability start including the family and home factor? How do family and home factor into international educational progress?

Iris Rotberg:

The major problem internationally, as in the United States, is the achievement gap based on family socioeconomic status. Other countries have very similar problems to those we encounter here. Gains in educational achievement depend at least as much on broad societal policies as they do on educational practices.

Question from DIANE Aoki, teacher, Kealakehe Elementary, HI:

Should we follow Finland's example, as a country who does not practice high-stakes testing, has well-run social programs, such as universal health care and college for all citizens, and ranks at the top in international comparisons?

Dane Linn:

Diane, Thank you for the question. We clearly have a lot to learn from Finland as well as other top-performing countries (e.g., Signapore). For example, Signapore does an exceptional job of training (pre-service) and providing high quality professional development provided to their teachers. The U.S. focus on measuring student achievement and attaching consequences, both rewards and sanctions, is a key feature of the U.S. system. I would suggest that we need to do a better job of providing student and family supports—academic and social—to improve student achievement. NGA has been working over the past several years to help states create a system of supports in the form of extra learning opportunities (before/after-school; extra learning time). I encourage you to visit our web page to learn more about this work. I also want to respond to your point about the provision of “college for all” in Finland. Our country’s ability to compete with top-performing countries will depend, in part, on our ability to have more students attending and completing a college education. We have to do more than improve the completion rates (56%) for a postsecondary credential. The U.S. must make a college education much more affordable, especially for low-income and minority populations. Otherwise, our nation’s competitiveness is at stake.

Question from Bev Nielson, North Dakota School Boards Assoc.:

How many of the countries in the comparisons provide full spectrum education to special education students and include those students test scores in their reporting? How many include immigrant students who are illiterate in the testing language?

Iris Rotberg:

That's an excellent question and a good example of why it is so difficult to draw representative samples--and make valid comparisons--across countries. Using the example you gave in your question, without much more comprehensive studies than are now available, we simply don't know the extent to which each country includes these children in the schools that are sampled and, even if they do, whether the children are then tested.

Question from John Stallcup Co Founder APREMAT/USA:

In the past AFT published booklets that showed what high school students in other countries had to learn in subjects like biology. Why is there no effort to provide parents with specific information on the specifics of the subject matter (math, vocabulary, science, etc) being learned by students in other countries to allow them to compare their students performance to students in other countries? If you look real hard you can find some of this information online, but is not accessible to the average parent. It should be provided to all parents on a regular basis.

Dane Linn:

John, As a parent of a recent high school graduate, I want to echo the importance of providing “user friendly” information to parents. But, I don’t know that we necessarily want to provide information on what students in other countries are learning. Rather, states should find ways to provide information and materials that show parents how the subject matter their child is learning is as equally rigorous as other top-performing countries. It’s equally important to help parents understand the importance of taking rigorous courses, especially when they enter high school. Recent town hall meetings convened by Governor Tim Pawlenty (Minnesota) are a good example of how to show parents the expectations employers have for high school graduates. These town hall meetings gave parents and students around the state to understand the importance of taking four years of math and its relationship to being prepared for college and ultimately obtaining a high-wage/high-skills job.

Question from Bev Nielson, North Dakota School Boards Assoc.:

How many of the countries in the comparisons provide full spectrum education to special education students and include those students test scores in their reporting? How many include immigrant students who are illiterate in the testing language?

Iris Rotberg:

This is a good question and, as I mentioned in responding to a similar question, a good example of the sampling problems inherent in international test-score comparisons. We simply don't know the extent to which special education and language-minority students are included in the test-score comparisons in each country and, therefore, cannot give accurate estimates about the extent to which the test-score rankings have been skewed by inconsistencies among countries.

Question from Jack Mitchell, Educational programs ConsultantCalifornia Department of Education:

In trying to access international subject matter content standards, is there a "clearing house" or on-line reference site one can access. I am looking specifically for Career and Technical education(Media Arts or Visual and Performing Arts standards, not Language Arts, Math and Science. Regular attention is given to Math and Science but I have trouble finding information about creative content areas that foster "global thinkers" or employability skills. Are these content imbedded in foreign


Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, your moderator, here: This is a useful clearinghouse for policies in other countries, and includes some studies of content standards... I'm not sure if it includes the exact info you're looking for, but might be worth taking a look... International Review of Curriculum and Assessment Frameworks Internet Archive. You may also try Several U.S. organizations, including Achieve, are working on identifying the content standards in several top-performing countries. Ed Week will be following those developments.

Kathleen Kennedy Manzo (Moderator):

My colleague, Michelle McNeil, wrote about the NGA and CCSSO's international benchmarking initiative here:

Question from Dr. Linda Schoen-Giddings, Education Associate, S.C. Dept. of Education:

In international assessments it has been clearly shown that the U.S. is lagging behind many European and Asian nations, especially in science yet our high school science programs have been static for decades. What can we learn from the international community to reform high school science to make the U.S. more competitive?

Iris Rotberg:

I believe it is important to examine some of the premises implicit in the question: First, that high school science programs have been static for decades. Second, that the U.S. is lagging behind in scientific productivity. And, third, that a country's economic competitiveness can be predicted from the quality of its high school science programs.

Question from Peggy Sorensen, Ohio Department of Education:

In selecting countries for benchmarking, the obvious choices are those that score well on international exams. What other factors ought to be considered in the mix in identifying successful educational systems. Specifically--are there economic indicators that might signal a successful educational system?

Dane Linn:

Peggy, Your question is very timely. As NGA begins their work on international benchmarking, we are working to identify the additional indicators that states might consider. To be honest, the economic issues are exactly what's driving governors to focus on benchmarking.Their focus is on making sure their respective states are economically competitive with other countries. Thus, governors are examining data such as the education levels of their workforce (e.g., percentage of residents with a high school diploma; undergraduate degree, etc.). In addition, they are examining data on the workforce gaps that exist in their states. You can find a range of additional indicators that NGA, in collaboration with Monitor (Harvard) and the Council on Competitiveness, has compiled for governors. While not specific to your question, I do want to mention that as NGA moves forward on their benchmarking work, we are interested in how other countries are benchmarking their standards, assessments, accountability systems and workforce (teachers and principals).

Question from Jan Morrison, Executive DIretor, TIES, Sr. STEM Consultant, BMGF:

Dr. Rotberg: We speak with local educators and decision makers about the need to align all education decisions with economic development and workforce. They find it impossible to align to the state standards--what do you feel is needed to help supt.s to understand this change, expand their thinking and embrace the global vision?

Iris Rotberg:

Although I'm not sure it would be feasible--or desirable--to attempt to align "all" our education decisions with economic development, I do believe it would be extremely valuable for U.S. students--and adults--to have a much better understanding of the broader international political and social context.

Question from Pat Smith, Education Consultant, Capital Partners,Ohio:

Is any research or organization comparing the standards and assessments of the countries that are doing well on the international assessments with those of individual states in this country? What are these more successful countries teaching and testing that we are not? Are their tests more content rich than ours? Are they attempting to assess "critical thinking skills"? Which of our states' standards and/or assessments come the closest to those of the top-performing countries?

Dane Linn:

Pat, I’ll do my best to answer some of the questions that you’re asking me. First, there are organizations such as Achieve, Inc. that are examining standards across the states. It’s also my understanding that Achieve is also beginning to examine the standards in other countries in math. You should also look at the work of Bill Schmidt at Michigan State University. He co-directs the Education Policy Center and the US China Center for Research. His work on TIMSS offers valuable insight into the differences between state academic standards and assessments in comparison to other countries who perform well on TIMSS. In response to your second question (what are other countries teaching), it’s fair to say the top-performing countries have a more focused set of standards and, as a result, their curriculum is more focused. Additionally, these same countries don’t spend the first quarter of each grade re-teaching content from the previous year. You’ve also asked about the content of the tests from other countries. This is an area that we (the U.S.) need to learn more about as we try to reasons behind the success from top-performing countries. NGA, in particular, is interested in understanding how these countries are developing assessments that require students to solve complex problems while, at the same time, not abandoning the content that students should master. And lastly, I suggest that you examine Massachusetts’ work on standards and assessments. The state’s performance on NAEP and TIMSS clearly shows their moving in the right direction. I hope that I’ve responded to most of your questions.

Question from Milvia Concas-School Psychologist-New Haven Public Schools-Conn.:

After 25 years, there continues to be a need for discussion about school vision, goals, parent and community involvement, leadership, and teacher and student roles. In your view, what areas continue to be a significant concern impacting teaching and student learning? How is cultural diversity addressed when comparing data from different countries with the education in the United States? Could you be specific regarding the countries that were included in your research?

Iris Rotberg:

My research (that is, the book "Balancing Change and Tradition in Global Education Reform") includes 16 countries--China, Russia, South Africa, Germany, Chile, France, Turkey, Sweden, Israel, Japan, Singapore, Canada, New Zealand, England, Australia, and the United States. These countries handle diversity in very different ways. The goal for some is to educate diverse populations together in the same schools; in others, certain population groups might have their own (public) schools. The specific decision that's made clearly has significant educational and social implications,

Question from Lee, Data & Assessment Specialist, NLNS:

What data (enrollment, attendance, achievment, graduation, college enrollment - and % of those students who come to the US for college, etc) from certain nations (UK, France, Singapore, etc) indicates that including international comparisons would be beneficial for US schools?

Dane Linn:

Hi Dee, It's nice to hear from you! In some respects, you've answered your own question. The data mentioned (e.g., graduation rates and student achievement) are key indicators that would be beneficial. And, the sources of these data would come from those countries who participate in assessments such as TIMSS and PISA. I also think that it would be interesting to examine the remediation rates of first-time freshman to see if other countries have the same problem of graduating high school students who are not prepared for college.

Question from Lee, Data & Assessment Specialist, NLNS:

You have mentioned Achieve, Inc. What about the work of other groups such as McREL, ICLE, EdTrust, CES, and national content groups such as NCTM, NSTA, and others to inform the curriculum expectations of other nations, the post-school career and education expectations, and the potential for a more nationalized US curriculum?


Kathleen here: Thanks for pointing out that there is a lot of work going on in this area. Do any of you joining our chat have any specifics on the work these organizations are doing?

Question from Arnold Packer, Senior Fellow, Western Carolina, U.:

I'm sure you both have seen the oft-quoted remark from Singapore that their students are premier test-takers but less good at innovation and problem-solving. Will using international benchmarks help or hurt?

Dane Linn:

Arnold, I have visited both China and India where teachers have voiced the same concerns. While we can learn a lot from other countries, I am in no way suggesting that the U.S. should use the Signapore (or any other top-performing country) model in the U.S. But, there are lessons to be learned from these countries. For example, states could learn quite a bit from other countries on the development of rigorous and focused standards versus the current approach in most states (a mile wide and an inch deep). Simultaneously, many countries are very interested in examining the ways in which our schools are integrating what is commonly being referred to as "Twenty-First Century Skills" (e.g., problem-solving and team work) into instructional practice.

Kathleen Kennedy Manzo (Moderator):

I just came across this report from OECD: "International Benchmarking: Experience from OECD Countries" Adobe Acrobat Reader Andreas Schleicher, OECD's head of education indicators, told Ed Week ( that many other countries are already using international benchmarks for improving/aligning local and regional standards and assessments.

Question from Barbara kapinus, Sr. Policy Analyst NEA:

Dane, Are any governors working on providing the social supports from conception to grave that characterize counties with high achievement and low gaps in both achievement and wealth?

Dane Linn:

Barb, This is an area where we have some work to do. NGA's existing work on extra learning opportunities is one way that we're trying to address both the academic and social supports for students. Governor Lynch, New Hampshire, has done some impressive work over the past several years. I'd be happy to talk more with you about their work. In addition, some of the work currently being done in New Orleans is equally impressive.

Question from Patricia Nason, PhD, Department Chair, ICR:

Teachers are teaching the test rather than the objectives of the test. Could this be the problem. How can studentslearn to think at a higher level, solve problems, make scientific discoveries, invent things by memorizing and focusing on an exam? If students don't love learning, how are we going to have successful schools and school systems as well as compete with other nations?

Iris Rotberg:

On the first part of your question, England--which also has a test-based accountability system, but different from No Child Left Behind--has a curriculum that drives the test, rather than vise versa. I should also mention in this context that the United States and England are two of a relatively small number of countries that hold schools and teachers accountable for student scores on standardized tests (although many countries, of course, use tests to make decisions about students or for research purposes). I find it ironic that NCLB was, at least in part, a response to concerns about our ranking on international test-score comparisons, and yet most of the countries we most admire do not use test-scores to hold their schools and teachers accountable.

Question from Deborah M. Enright, Vanderbilt University:

If we move to taking a global snapshot of how American school fare amongst other countries, what agency would you assign the task of aligning worldwide assessments that take into account varied school schedules, curriculum, and outcome goals? How would you suggest they create their rubric for alignment? Thank you.

Dane Linn:

Deborah, There are existing groups such as OECD who are bringing nations together to discuss many of the issues you raise above. For example, the OECD countries who participate in PISA meet on a regular basis to determine the assessment frameworks and consider how they might use the results. Groups like NGA, Achieve and the Council of Chief State School Officers are working to better understand how other countries, despite their differences from the U.S., achieve the results they seek.

Question from John W. Allan, Principal, Fairview Elementary, Utah:

At age 11-13, most students in Europe take a test and, based on their success, are divided into two groups -- one heading for the university and the other heading for a technical school. Only the university bound students take these international tests which are used to compare "us to them." How can we compare test scores from the "cream of their crop" to the entire crop in the USA?

Iris Rotberg:

The intention in the international test-score comparisons is to compare students of all achievement levels. But, as I mentioned in responding to related questions, there is a lot of slippage along the way and it is very difficult as a practical matter to ensure that samples are comparable. There are a lot of unknowns about the samples when the test results are finally published. For example, what are the differences between those schools and students that agreed to participate and those that did not? To what extent are children in special education and language-minority children included in the sample? What proportion of the children have dropped out of school before the test is administered--and many more!

Kathleen Kennedy Manzo (Moderator):

Kathleen here: This may be a little dated... but I found this archived chat on this topic from the Center for Public Education: Archived_chat_International_assessments_and_student_achievement.htm

Question from Joy K. Whitaker, new teacher, not yet hired:

Throughout my course of studies, I've heard alot of noise in the system regarding the quality of education in the United States and how it doesn't measure up to other countries in the world. My question has two parts: Could you list some specifics of how US education does not "measure up" and what is the most crucial "failure" to go after first ? Thank you.

Dane Linn:

Joy, Welcome to the field. I would point to a couple of areas where, as you said, the U.S. is not measuring up to other countries. According to recent results on TIMSS, an international assessment in math and science, the U.S. performs fairly well for those students who are in the fourth grade. But, the U.S. performs declines in the eighth grade. And, student performance on TIMSS-R (advanced courses and advanced placement) suggest that our highest performers in the twelfth grade is below several other countries. There are two other indicators that I would mention. Graduation rates, estimated at 71 percent nationally, are below other countries. And, the remediation rates for first-time college freshman are on the rise which suggests that our high school students are graduating from high school unprepared for college level work. The first priority should be standards. They are the foundation for helping ensure that we're clearly communicating the expectations to students, parents and teachers. The second area that I would focus on is the workforce. The standards can only be realized if we devote as much attention to the recruitment, preparation and retention of a high quality workforce.

Kathleen Kennedy Manzo (Moderator):

Here's a link to a UK study that might be interesting... Making Use of International Comparisons of Student Achievement in Science and Mathematics

Question from Frank Cardella, NBCT: Science, Chesterfield Education Association 1st Vice president:

I have already pre-submitted a question for Dr. Rotberg, so I will direct this one to Mr. Linn: The American Medical Association is the driving force in setting policy for American doctors and medical standards. The American Bar Association serves a similar capacity for the legal profession. These groups are respected as authorities on, as well as advocates for the practice of their craft, yet the National Education Association is seen as a "roadblock" to education reform and is rarely consulted by politicians when laws such as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, also known as No Child Left Behind) are drafted. Why are professional educators not consulted and more importantly TRUSTED to help guide policy regarding their area of expertise as those other organizations are? And as a follow up, if professional educators are not the ones to be placed in charge of improving public education, who should be?

Dane Linn:

Frank, You'll be pleased to know that NGA regularly involves teachers in our policy work with governors. For example, NGA has been working with six states over the past two years on expanding access and success to advanced placement courses. Each of our six states have partnered with several school districts and schools as a way of learning from them before developing the state policy. The work in Georgia and Maine are two good examples of how the work "on the front lines" has helped inform the development of state policy. I'm also compelled to say that we all need to focus on the prize--improving student readiness for college, work and life! Doing this will require us to move beyond the typical turf battles that often get in the way of reaching the goal. I look forward to continuing to collaborate with educators in NGA's work on education issues.

Comment from Barbara Kapinus, Sr. Policy Analyst, National education Assoc.:

In a recent keynote, Andreas Schleicher, from OECD, indicated that the characteristics of high achieving countries were a) highly professional, well-prepared teachers who were allowed to make decisions about curriculum and instruction; local control with national guidance; and positive student teacher relations according to student perceptions. Are we putting putting the cart before the horse in emphasizing achievement standards before having inplace systems that support the development of thoughtful, skilled teachers, schools that truly support students, and effective systems of shared responsibility among states, dfistricts and communities? It seem that these factors are mor worth benchmarking that simply achievement standards.

Comment from Dan Vitale, Senior Writer, ACT:

Isn't there a way to align our standards with those of other countries without necessarily importing other educational models, if by standards we mean a set of agreed-upon skills and knowledge that students should have in order to be ready for postsecondary education? If students in other countries are learning skills that benefit them in a global economy, what is wrong with also ensuring that U.S. students have the opportunity to learn these skills too?

Question from Patricia Woods, Faculty, University of Phoenix:

Because I see first hand how important it is to seek international models for education standards in the US, I am wondering how successful the outcome would be if US college students actually understood that they now have to compete with students from other countries who are much better prepared for jobs once they graduate. Our students believe that they can conquer the world with just a two year degree. Alos, most of my students do not want to go any further in their education and still others do not see the need because they are already employed for example, and feel that they will be retiring from their present situation. Will type of thinking sink our productivity as a society if this wake up call is not addressed now? Thank you, Pat Woods,PhD

Iris Rotberg:

It is, of course, very difficult to compare "our students" with "students from other countries" in terms of their preparation for jobs since there is such enormous variation in type and quality of preparation within each country. The countries that generally serve as our basis of comparison prepare many students well, as do we. And these countries also face many of the same problems that we face in providing adequate training for some of their students. There is much more commonality in problems--and successes--across countries than is generally assumed. All countries struggle to reduce the "achievement gap," with somewhat different levels of success depending on the countries' social, economic, and educational policies.

Kathleen Kennedy Manzo (Moderator):

Another study, featured in the Ed Week article I mentioned earlier by Debra Viadero: Education and Economic Growth "What we discovered gives credence to the concerns expressed in A Nation at Risk. The level of cognitive skills of a nation’s students has a large effect on its subsequent economic growth rate," write the authors, Eric Hanushek, Dean T. Jamison, Eliot A. Jamison and Ludger Woessmann.

Question from cynthia stancioff, director's assistant, Maine Afterschool Network:

Can we have a quick scan of school-day/week hours in top nations? Also, is out-of-school time used to bolster academic performance in the top nations?

Dane Linn:

Cynthia, I don't have a specific response to your question re: length of school day/week in other countries. But, we do know there is a lot of variation internationally in the instructional hours. But, we do know student achievement does not necessarily correlate with the number of hours a student spends in school. It's the quality of the time is the most important indicator. For further information, I suggest that you visit to access their report "On the Clock".

Question from Jeff Weld, associate professor in the department of biology at the University of Northern Iowa:

If one function of international comparisons of student performance is to provide an engine for reform and innovation, shouldn't we have in place the resources for addressing identified weaknesses--whether they be by region or by demographic or by discipline-- *simultaneous* to the identification? Otherwise the process results too often in hollow school-bashing and impotent hand wringing. Thanks.

Iris Rotberg:

Sounds reasonable! I also believe that our educational problems are quite clear and that using the international test-score comparisons to identify them at best doesn't give any additional information and might lead to policies that are irrelevant and distract attention from "real" problems. For example, our response to perceived low rankings on international tests is to administer more tests--a "remedy" that will do little to address our most important problems.

Question from Chris Efthimiou, Director of Institutional Research, Bronx Community College:

How is the issue of attracting the best and brightest to education professions looked at internationally?

Iris Rotberg:

Attracting students to the teaching profession depends on a range of factors--some amenable to policy and some not. They include comparative salaries, competing job opportunities, perceived working conditions, status, perceptions of professional autonomy. Apart from recruitment generally, however, most countries have what I believe is a much more serious problem--that is, the distribution of teachers between high-poverty and more affluent communities, with associated high attrition rates, particularly in schools serving children from low-income families. The United States has implemented a number of policies--signing bonuses, loan-forgiveness programs, Teach for America--in an attempt to address the problem, with varying degrees of success. France attempts to alleviate the problem by assigning teachers to schools. But as the teachers gain seniority they have more choice and as Gerard Bonnet puts it in "Balancing Change and Tradition in Global Education Reform:" "Broadly speaking, everybody wants an appointment to a good school in Paris or on the French Riviera. ... over the years teachers will get posted closer and closer to their ideal choice, so that by the time they are fifty they end up where they always wanted to be. Inevitably, the turnover in some schools is high; even within regions, teachers will often keep changing schools to avoid the more difficult ones. As the more experienced teachers are finally assigned to a school in a middle- or upper-middle-class area where teaching is not particularly demanding, absolute beginners have to teach at difficult schools in depressed areas." We share a lot of problems in common!

Question from Conrad Wildsmith, Imagine Schools:

What specific reforms can you point to in other countries that you feel would be beneficial to our public schools?

Iris Rotberg:

There are many interesting educational reforms in countries throughout the world. Most important, I believe, are the dramatically increased access at all levels of education,including higher education; the increased attention to the needs of diverse populations; and the increased attention to innovation. These reforms, particularly when implemented in conjunction with societal changes that work toward similar goals, can have much more influence than the much narrower policies, such as testing, on which so much of our rhetoric and energy is currently focused.

Kathleen Kennedy Manzo (Moderator):

That's all the time we have.. The good news is that we received a lot of great questions, and some very insightful answers from our guests... the bad news is that we were not able to answer them all.. Thanks to our guests: Iris Rotberg and Dane Linn for their thoughtful and interesting (and quick) comments during this live chat. Thank you for your participation. Hope to hear from you all again. Kathleen

Special coverage marking the 25th anniversary of the landmark report A Nation at Risk is supported in part by a grant from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.
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The Fine Print

All questions are screened by an editor prior to posting. A question is not displayed until the moderator poses it to the guest(s). Due to the volume of questions received, we cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered, or answered in the order of submission. Guests and hosts may decline to answer any questions. Concise questions are strongly encouraged.

Please be sure to include your name when posting your question.'s Live Chat is an open forum where readers can participate in a give- and-take discussion with a variety of guests. reserves the right to condense or edit questions for clarity, but editing is kept to a minimum. Transcripts may also be reproduced in some form in our print edition. We do not correct errors in spelling, punctuation, etc. In addition, we remove statements that have the potential to be libelous or to slander someone. Please read our privacy policy and user agreement if you have questions.

—Chat Editors

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