A new report by Pearson finds that among the education systems of 40 developed nations around, the world the United States ranks squarely in the middle at #17. Among the countries topping the list are the perennial front-runners South Korea and Finland.
In its report, Pearson doesn't just seek to order the nations based on the quality of their schools, but also to figure out what steps the countries that are lagging behind can take to produce similar results within their own borders. Those seeking a simple answer, however, will not find it in the pages of the 2012 edition of The Learning Curve: Lessons in Country Performance Education, since – to echo the title of the report section dealing with economic impact of education – figuring out the inputs and outputs of a successful academic system is complicated.
The report does provide several guidelines to lawmakers and experts drawing up education policies. The first and most prominent piece of advice is to remember that there are no magic bullets and simplistic solutions such as throwing more money at the problem, or introducing a harsh testing regime — both of which rarely, if ever, produce wide-ranging or long-lasting results.
One step that every school district can take that will produce positive outcomes, however, is to invest in recruiting, training and retaining quality teachers. According to the data analyzed by Pearson, excellent instructors were found to be key to good academic outcomes.
States and local districts who work in a tight budget need not be discouraged, however. The report finds that teachers care less about high paychecks than they do about the environment they work in. They thrive when treated with respect and prefer a workplace where their contribution is acknowledged and praised.
Parents want their children to have a good education; pressure from them for change should not be seen as a sign of hostility but as an indication of something possibly amiss in provision. On the other hand, parental input and choice do not constitute a panacea. Education systems should strive to keep parents informed and work with them.
Creating an environment that's conducive to high-quality education isn't just something that's limited to the inside of the school. The best school systems aren't grown in a vacuum, the report suggests; the countries boasting the best schools are also typically the countries whose citizens place high value on academics and where parents expect their children to work hard and perform well. They are also countries where parents expect to invest in their children's education — both in terms of time and finances.