A report issued by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) during its annual Legislative Summit has detailed the steps to help states compete on an international level with K-12 education as a result of the passing of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
The report, "No Time to Lose: How to Build a World-Class Education System State by State," is the result of almost two years of work by the bipartisan NCSL International Education Study Group, which is made up of state legislators and legislative staff representing a total of 26 states. The report looks at what the top performing countries have in common, while going on to recommend steps states can take in order to become internationally competitive.
"The passage of ESSA gives states the opportunity and the incentive to reimagine what our education systems look like and, then, to make it happen," said study group member Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos (WA). "The lessons shared by the NCSL International Education Study Group are a valuable place to start."
The top performing countries were found to have a total of four commonalities, including children who come to school ready to learn with extra support offered to those who struggle, with high-quality teachers being implemented in all schools at all grade levels. In addition, each country is found to have a "highly effective and intellectually rigorous" system for career and technical education, and individual reforms are connected as part of a "clearly planned and carefully designed" system.
Rep. Howard Stephenson noted that while many US citizens and policymakers believe the country is incapable of being competitive on an international level, the report suggests that this should not be made into an excuse for the continuation of poor student performance across the US. He adds that while the US continues to show the same results year after year, other countries are searching for ways to improve the educational experience and reduce achievement gaps.
The latest reports show that out of 65 countries, the US ranks 24th in reading, 36th in math, and 28th in science. Meanwhile, a separate report looking at millennials in the workplace found the US to come in last out of 33 countries in problem solving.
Sen. Joyce Elliot said that while many states have tried to implement one or two reforms in an effort to boost education systems, she states that very few states have been strategic in their efforts. She continues to say that while some states have implemented reforms such as charter schools, reduced class size and teacher evaluations, all of which could be effective, they are not connected in a strategic way to a long-term vision or a set of statewide goals.
The study group has a number of suggestions for steps states can take to improve their education systems on an immediate basis. These include the creation of an inclusive team with priorities set, as well as the creation of a shared statewide vision. They continue to suggest benchmark policies, that top performers should be studied and learned from, and that more time be invested.
"We need to shift the focus of these comparisons from the United States to the states," said Rep. Robert Behning (IN)." "Actually, Finland, Poland, Singapore and some of the other top performers compare quite favorably to our states – in terms of diversity, governance of education, and local control. The states are really the places with the responsibility and ability to provide high quality education to citizens and improve results."