Opinion
International Opinion

Global Education in Context: Four Models, Four Lessons

By Laura Engel, Heidi Gibson & Kayla Gatalica — January 18, 2019 6 min read

Editor’s Intro: As part of a National Geographic Society-funded research project, a team of researchers is documenting how school systems are approaching global learning. Laura Engel, associate professor of international education and international affairs, George Washington University; Heidi Gibson, research assistant, George Washington University; and Kayla Gatalica, manager, Global Programs, District of Columbia public schools, share the lessons they have learned.

The need to build the knowledge, skills, and dispositions required for the 21st -century globalized world is well-recognized by education policymakers, researchers, and practitioners. Yet too often, there is a lack of a coherent picture of what global education looks like in the United States. The decentralized nature of the U.S. education system means that in many districts and states global education is built from the ground up. Some laudable projects have aimed to share initiatives across states and to connect state leaders. One example is the States Network on International Education, created by the Asia Society and Longview Foundation, currently involving 25 member states committed to building capacity in global education. Interactive online tools like Mapping the Nation and Global Education Certificates allow researchers, policymakers, and practitioners to learn more about district- and state-level initiatives.

Four Models

To better understand global education in context, a team from George Washington University (GW) and the District of Columbia public schools (DCPS) made a series of virtual and in-person site visits to North Carolina, Virginia, and Illinois. During each of the site visits, our team had the opportunity to hear perspectives from global education leaders, teachers, administrators, students, organizations, and policymakers. We also developed an extended case study focused on the work of the DCPS Global Education team, providing a fourth context from which to better understand global education policy and practice.

Each of these four contexts reveals a different model of global education. In North Carolina, an example of a top-down approach, the state board of education adopted a framework for global learning and created a process to assess and recognize efforts by districts, schools, and educators. North Carolina’s extensive rubric for schools and districts awards “global-ready” designations and also allows schools and districts to see where they fall on a global-ready continuum ranging from “early” to “model.”

In Illinois, a group of Naperville Central High School teachers leveraged district support and successfully pushed for legislation establishing the Illinois Global Scholars Certificate. As part of this push, global-learning advocates across the state joined forces to build a statewide global education network.

Virginia’s initiatives are currently more localized, with individual districts championing globally-focused educational approaches, especially related to schools’ study abroad and exchange programs. Advocates have also leveraged state programs, such as the Governor’s World Language Academies, and new policies, like the Profile of a Graduate initiative, in support of a focus on developing students’ skills for a global future.

Lastly, within our team, we have perspectives on the robust global programming in DCPS, which reveals a multipronged approach to global education. The DCPS Global Education team manages districtwide programs like International Food Days and fully funded study abroad as well as school-specific programs such as world-language instruction and Global Studies Schools.

Four Lessons Learned

These four distinct cases provide insights into the diversity of global education practice within the United States. They also offer common lessons on how to make progress toward global education goals:

1) The Power of the Champion
Behind every example of a successful global education program, policy, or practice were champions—often individuals with the power and capacity to leverage change—who sought to invest in global education for all schools and students. In each of the four contexts, this role varied. For example, in the case of Illinois, two highly respected teachers have spurred a grassroots statewide movement, whereas, in North Carolina, global education leadership came from a state-level champion, providing district supports such as resources and training.

2) Leveraging Partnerships
Movements in global education in each of the four contexts had much to do with the leveraging of partnerships. These partnerships involved a range of different stakeholders, including the business community, fellow schools and districts, nonprofit organizations, and the higher education community. The function of partnerships varied as well. In the District of Columbia and Virginia, for instance, partners provided global education opportunities, such as working with local embassies to give students access to experiential learning. In North Carolina, partners helped facilitate teacher exchange by sourcing educators who brought global perspectives to the classroom.

3) Developing and Telling the Story
Experienced global education advocates know that generating support for global-learning initiatives often involves pitching these programs to the right person at the right time in the right way. Policymakers who have had transformative international experiences, such as DCPS’ former Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s time spent studying abroad, are more likely to see the value of global education. Strategic use of existing policies, such as tying new global education initiatives to Virginia’s Portrait of a Graduate requirements, can help convince district leadership. In other cases, strategic thinking is needed about the best level of governance to leverage change. In Illinois, after considering a district-level approach, advocates realized they would get better traction at the state level. Building support requires a canny assessment of how to leverage existing policies and attitudes, as well as understanding how to best explain the importance of global education.

4) Building a Network
In each of the four contexts, we learned the value of cohesive networks in creating opportunities and spaces for global education policy, practice, and programs. These are cross-curricular, as well as across geographical boundaries. In Virginia, international approaches have often been confined to world-language classrooms, but advocates are beginning to reach out to other curricular areas for a more interdisciplinary approach. District and state leaders frequently remarked on the power of sharing their approaches and practices with others. By building strong networks across the state, such as the one in Illinois, advocates were able to push for change.

Across the four contexts and our lessons learned, there is a clear value added when district and state leaders connect and share practices, policies, and research about global education in K-12 U.S. settings. To further develop such cross-cutting conversations, we launched the K12 Global Forum, which hosted an inaugural convening last year at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C. We look forward to future convenings to continue to share information and advice with each other.

Connect with the authors and Heather on Twitter.

Image created on Pablo.

The opinions expressed in Global Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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