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U.S., U.K. Swap Ideas at Gathering To Launch ‘Education Diplomacy’

By Robert C. Johnston — October 25, 2000 2 min read

Education officials from the United States and the United Kingdom are laying the foundation for what they hope will be a prolific exchange of ideas on school improvement between themselves and school leaders from other reform-minded nations.

Some 75 national and local education officials from the two countries furthered that cause during an initial, three-day discussion here this month on turning around low-performing schools.

“Our conference wasn’t the end, but the start,” said Alan Ginsburg, the director of planning and evaluation services for the U.S. Department of Education. “It was not a one-shot conference.”

Top officials announced efforts under way to bridge the knowledge gap between nations.

Seeking Similar Outcomes

Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said he has designated the week of Nov. 13 as International Education Week, and has invited ambassadors here and abroad to visit schools at that time. “Although there are differences in the education systems,” he said. “We want many of the same outcomes.”

Estelle Morris, the minister of school standards for the U.K.'s Department for Education and Employment, promised to “pinch” ideas from the United States. She suggested that her education minister give a version of Mr. Riley’s annual State of American Education speech.

The two policy leaders also extolled “education diplomacy” as a new way to strengthen relations between countries. “The decisions made in the United States will affect the children and people of the United Kingdom,” Ms. Morris said. “That’s why education diplomacy is becoming an issue now.”

In many ways, the Oct. 4-6 meeting was about introductions and first impressions. Educators from across the Atlantic Ocean were impressed to see counselors and social workers in schools in the United States. They also seemed surprised that many schools give teachers time off to plan.

“I have one counselor, three days a week—and that’s a luxury,” said William Atkinson, the principal of an 830-student secondary school in London.

American educators were intrigued by the rapid pace of school reforms in the United Kingdom and improvements by its students on standardized exams.

British officials reported that 3½ years into a “major re-engineering” of education, 75 percent of British 11-year-olds are meeting national goals in literacy, and 72 percent have reached the mark in mathematics.

“What do you do to get kids a good education as soon as possible?” asked Michael Barber, a special adviser to the U.K.'s education minister. “You write an education plan, and set a target date of not more than two years.”

American educators wanted to learn more about the national, nonpartisan British inspectorate of schools. Of particular interest was the checklist of traits used by inspectors to gauge teaching.

“They are used to looking at teachers and saying what good teachers should do, and teachers accept it,” Rhode Island Commissioner of Education Peter McWalters said. “They’re very ahead of us.”

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