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Global Learning Matters

Look around. The world is changing in incredible ways. Increasingly sophisticated and accessible technologies are driving social, political, environmental, and economic systems at an unprecedented rate. What does this extraordinary level of interconnectedness have to do with education?


Sure, foreign relations and trade have shaped the world for centuries, if not millennia. But for the first time in history, individuals are competing for jobs and economic opportunities with those who may not be in their communities, states, or countries. Getting a job is increasingly a worldwide competition: It matters less and less if the person who can do the job is in Birmingham or Beijing or Beirut.

The global marketplace doesn't signal risk alone. It also holds a great deal of opportunity. Already, one in five American jobs is tied to international trade. The number will continue to increase because foreign markets and outsourcing represent the greatest growth opportunities for American businesses.

Beyond economic competitiveness, global collaboration is needed to avert national-security risks, natural-disaster damage, and global epidemics. And it's through collaboration that we can learn from other countries' school systems to improve our own. Connecting ideas globally drives innovations that can improve the livelihood of people throughout the world. Indeed, the reasons and ways people connect, compete, and collaborate around the world are nearly limitless.

Some school systems today are training students in how to succeed in this vastly interconnected world, while many more strive to do the same.

—Anthony Jackson


Are Teachers Overpaid?

No, the headline is not a typo. It's the conclusion of a new study, "Assessing the Compensation of Public-School Teachers," by Jason Richwine, senior policy analyst in the Center for Data Analysis at the Heritage Foundation, and Andrew Biggs, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

They attempt to show that public school teachers receive compensation far more generous than is widely believed. They cite summers off, job security, and fringe benefits (health insurance, etc.) that make "total compensation 52 percent greater than fair market levels, equivalent to more than $120 billion overcharged to taxpayers each year."

Let's look at those "generous" salaries paid to public school teachers.

The average starting salary is $39,000. After 25 years, it is $67,000. Richwine and Biggs would argue that these numbers are misleading because they do not reflect fringe benefits. But even when those are factored in, they still price teachers out of home ownership in 32 metropolitan areas.

If an author wants to make headlines, the surest way is to be provocative. But just because charges appear valid at first glance doesn't necessarily make them so.

—Walt Gardner


Stop the Pendulum, I Want to Get Off

The best argument for emphasizing evidence in educational policy and practice is what happens when evidence plays no role: Practice and policy swing like a pendulum from one enthusiasm to the opposite, and then back again, but no progress is made.

This is typical in fashion, where hemlines rise and fall and ties get wider or narrower just because people get tired of the current fashion. Similar swings are common in any field where taste, rather than evidence, is what drives change: Art, architecture, cooking, and so on.

The education pendulum is frustrating not only because it puts our field in such evidence-free company, but also because the pendulum makes irrelevant a lot of the research that does take place. A huge proportion of research funding in education goes to evaluating government policies, for example. Because research takes time, it is quite often the case that by the time the findings appear, the policy is already gone. For example, evaluations of various components of No Child Left Behind are now appearing, long after anyone cares. Politicians always support the doing of such studies, because they need to appear to be accountable, but they rarely read the reports, as things have invariably shifted (politically) since the evaluation began.

The solution to the pendulum problem is to have a wide array of research going on at all times that is creating and evaluating promising solutions to long-standing problems, including teaching methods as well as policy options. Then both practice and policy can begin to learn from the evidence and move forward together toward a better future for children.

—Robert Slavin


'South Park' Takes On AYP

Is it fair to have one underachieving student's physical-fitness scores bring down his entire school's average?

The cartoon "South Park" took a satirical stab at answering that question last week, in a jab at the No Child Left Behind law and its response to a single subgroup failure in a school.

It all started with South Park Elementary learning it had scored the lowest in the U.S. on the presidential fitness test.

Actually, the overwhelming majority of students had scored at a normal level. But one overweight student (who had a "terrifying body-fat score, high blood pressure, and the cholesterol level of a 70-year-old man") scored so low, he dropped the entire school's average to the lowest in the country.

In response, the President's Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition recommended that each class take turns giving up recess for extra physical education every week.

It didn't take long for students to single out their overweight peer. The episode only escalates from there, as anyone who's seen "South Park" can well imagine.

Of course, this blog does not consider childhood obesity to be a laughing matter. A number of studies published this month underscore the severity of the problem. But in true "South Park" style, this episode tiptoed between "offensive yet funny" and making a salient point.

—Bryan Toporek

Vol. 31, Issue 12, Page 12

Published in Print: November 16, 2011, as Blogs of the Week
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