To discover the answer, I turned to the top eight ranked countries on the 2012 International PISA Test. To come up with the top eight, I dropped China from the list because Shanghai, Hong Kong and Macao do not represent all of China’s 15 or 16 year old children. I’ve also dropped Liechtenstein and Estonia, because it’s ridiculous to compare the United States—with more than 316 million people and almost 50 million children in its public schools—to Liechtenstein with a total population that’s less than 37 thousand and Estonia with about 1.3 million.
To repeat, the United States has almost 50 million children attending K–12, 4 million teachers, and 1 in 4 children live in poverty—the United States is much more diverse and has challenges the top ranked countries don’t have to deal with. Liechtenstein, for instance, has one of the highest standards of living in the world with one of Europe’s most affluent communities. Estonia has 589 schools and compulsory education only goes to 9th grade.
Fair Test.org reports “The U.S. is the only economically advanced nation to rely heavily on multiple-choice tests (But Pearson is working hard to change that and add more countries. To learn more, I suggest you read No profit left behind). Other nations use performance-based assessment to evaluate students on the basis of real work such as essays, projects and activities. Ironically, because these nations do not focus on teaching to multiple-choice and short-answer tests, they score higher on international exams.”
Truth Out.org reports, “Among the most prominent members of the testocracy are some of the wealthiest people the world has ever known. Its tsars include billionaires Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and members of the Walton family (the owners of Walmart), who have used their wealth to circumvent democratic processes and impose test-and-punish policies in public education. They fund a myriad of organizations—such as Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, Teach for America, and Stand for Children—that serve as shock troops to enforce the implantation of high-stakes testing and corporate education reform in states and cities across the nation.”
I also think it’s important to compare the racial diversity and total population of the United States with the eight top ranked PISA countries. It is also worth noting that children represent more than one-third of the 46.5 million Americans who live in poverty. In addition, blacks and Hispanics are more likely than whites to be poor and to be in poverty and deep poverty (For instance, only 10% of Whites live in poverty compared to 27% of Blacks and 24% of Hispanic/Latino – The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation). The poverty rate (the percentage of all people in the United States who were poor) also remained at high levels: 15.1% for all Americans and 21.8% for children under age 18.
- 77.7% of Americans are White – 248 million
- 17.1% Hispanic or Latino – 54.5 million
- 13.2% or Black – 42 million
- 5.3% are Asian – 16.8 million
- 1.2% are American Indian and Alaska Native – 3.8 million
2014 population estimate = 318.8 million
Singapore – 5.4 million and 26% or 1.4 million live below poverty line compared to 46.5 million in the United States or 861% of the total population of Singapore. BBC.com reports, that in Singapore everyone is provided an education, health care and public housing if they can’t afford their own. What they pay for housing is based on what they earn. If one compares the poor in Singapore to those in countries such as India and China, or even the homeless in the US, it is indeed true that the situation here is not as dire. ”Singapore has an extensive social safety net,” said a ministry spokesman. ”Singaporeans enjoy subsidized housing, healthcare and education.”
- 77% Chinese
- 14.8% Malays
- 7% Indians
- 1.2% Other
Taiwan – 23.34 million and 1.16% or 27 thousand live below the poverty line compared to 46.5 million in the United States or 199.2% of the total population of Taiwan.
- 84% Taiwanese (including Hakka)
- 14% mainland Chinese
- 2% indigenous
South Korea – 50.22 million and 15% or 7.53 million live below the poverty line compared to 46.5 million in the United States or 92% of the population of South Korea.
- Koreans except for 20,000 Chinese
Japan – 127.3 million and 16% or 20.3 million live below the poverty line compared to 46.5 million in the United State or 36.5% of the total population of Japan.
- 95% Japanese
- 5% foreign citizens
Switzerland – 8 million, but only 1.93 million are permanent residents (23.8% of the total population), and 6.9% (not sure if this is based on permanent or total) live below the poverty line compared to 46.5 million in the United States or 581.25% of the total population of Switzerland.
Netherlands – 16.8 million and 10.5% or 1.764 million live below the poverty line compared to 46.5 million in the United States or 277.78% of the total population of the Netherlands.
- 78.5% Dutch
- 5% EU
- 2.2% Indonesian
- 2.3% Turkish
- 2% Surinamese
- 2% Moroccan
- 6% other
Finland – 5.4 million. Finland has one of the lowest poverty rates in the world compared to 46.5 million in the United States or 861% the total population of Finland.
- 89.33% Finish
- 5.34% Swedish
- 5.33% Other Ethnic groups
Canada – 35.1 million and 9.4% or 3.3 million live below the poverty line compared to 46.5 million in the United States or 132.5% the total population of Canada.
- 86% White (European Canadian)
- 8% Aboriginal
- 5% East Asian
- 4% South Asian
- 2% Black
- 4% Southeast Asian
- 9% Other
After eliminating China, Liechtenstein and Estonia, from the 2012 International PISA Test ranking, Singapore became #1, Chinese Taipei #2, South Korea #3, Japan #4, Switzerland #5, the Netherlands #6, Finland #7, and Canada #8
There are about 25,000 teachers in its primary and secondary schools.
Edutopia.org reports “Teaching is a highly respected and well-compensated profession in Singapore. All teachers are trained at the country’s National Institute of Education (NIE) (one training program). All new teachers are paired with experienced teachers for mentoring, and peer feedback is built into the schedule. Teachers are entitled to 100 low or no-cost hours of professional development each year. There are approximately 522,000 students attending about 350 schools in Singapore’s education system.
- Chinese Taipei
There are more than 300 thousand teachers who teach in preschool, primary school, junior high school, and senior high school (teaching about 4 million students). The teachers are trained in universities of education with teacher training programs or centers. These institutions are also responsible for providing in-service training and guidance for local education practitioners.
- South Korea
Teaching is a highly respected profession in South Korea, and among the most popular career choices for young South Koreans. This is largely due to competitive pay, job stability, and good working conditions – for example, there is a high degree of collaboration among teachers. Elementary teachers must attend one of 13 institutions to become qualified whereas secondary school teachers have multiple pathways into teaching and often attend comprehensive universities. Teachers are paid well in South Korea. Lower secondary teachers can expect a mid-career salary of $52,699, much higher than the OECD average of $41,701. There are about 7 million K-12 students in South Korea.
In Japan, teaching is a respected profession, and teachers have traditionally been paid better than other civil servants. Japan’s average teacher salary for a lower secondary school teacher after 15 years of service (the number that the OECD typically uses for international comparison) is $49,408, as compared to the OECD average of $41,701. The teaching profession in Japan is also highly selective, at both the program admission and the hiring phase. About 14% of applicants are admitted into schools of education, and of those who graduate, only 30-40% find work in public schools. Eric Digests.org reports, “Many Japanese believe that the examination system is too stressful, that the schools are too rigid and don’t meet the needs of individual students, that contemporary students show little interest in studying, and that the educational system needs to produce more creative and flexible citizens for the twenty-first century.”
Stanford.edu says, “In 2002 the Ministry of Education began to implement educational reforms that officials labeled the most significant since the end of World War II. In an attempt to stimulate students to be independent and self-directed learners, one third of the content of the national curriculum was eliminated. Japanese students in grades 3-9 are now required to take Integrated Studies classes in which they and their teachers jointly plan projects, field trips, and other ‘hands-on’ activities. Students in Integrated Studies learn about their local environment, history, and economy. … and teachers are not allowed to give tests on what students have learned.”
The goal is to impart adequate knowledge and competence for educating and teaching pupils and students at the various educational levels, as well as children and adolescents with special needs. Teacher education and training is realized within a two-tier model with Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programs.
During the 2008/09 school year there were 1.266 million students in the K-12 Swiss educational system, who were taught by more than 100,000 teachers.
But Susan Ohanian.org reports teachers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland are seeing their school ranked by the Bertelsmann Foundation (using achievement tests) comparing the school of all districts with each other—the teachers are protesting and fighting back. Because compulsory achievement tests are planned in all three countries, they are wary of school rankings that lead to a “senseless competition” among schools.
About 2.6 million children attend k-12 (European Agency.org).
In 1917, private and public schools were given equivalent financial status under the Constitution. As a result, the Netherlands is in the unique situation, compared with the rest of the world, of having 70 percent of its schools administered and governed by private school boards. The Constitution thus guarantees “freedom of education”, which embrace the freedom to set up schools, freedom to determine the principles on which they are based (freedom of conviction) and freedom of organization of teaching.
State University.com reports, There is an extensive amount of parental involvement in Dutch schools. … In addition, many schools also have a separate parents’ council or committee.
Teacher training in the Netherlands continues to undergo an overhaul. In 2008, the government, following the recommendations of an advisory council, formulated an action plan to tackle the teacher shortage and improve the position and quality of teachers. Given the high performance of its students and its teacher salaries, which, at $60,174 for a mid-career lower secondary school teacher far outpace the OECD average of $41,701, there is still a teacher shortage in the Netherlands due primarily to the aging teacher workforce.
The 2008 TALIS survey of Dutch teachers revealed that the majority of teachers participate in informal, rather than formal, professional development. This generally takes the form of informal mentorships and conversations, courses and workshops and reading professional literature. … Part of the government’s action plan is the creation of a stronger professional organization for teachers that will be able to evaluate teachers and provide teacher training grants.
There are 596,000 children in the k-12 compulsory education system. There are only 24 private comprehensive schools in Finland (0.5%). – ncee.org
Education has always been an integral part of Finnish culture and society, and teachers currently enjoy great respect and trust in Finland. Finns regard teaching as a noble, prestigious profession—akin to medicine, law, or economics— and one driven by moral purpose rather than material interests. Teachers also are the main reason Finland now leads the international pack in literacy, science, and math.
Over 5.11 million students were enrolled in public schools in 2007/08. The full-time teaching force at primary and secondary level is around 310,000. About 5.6% of students are in private schools. Private schools have historically been less common on the Canadian Prairies and were often forbidden under municipal and provincial statutes enacted to provide equality of education to students regardless of family income.
Teacher training programs are housed in Canadian universities, although separate standards for teacher qualification exist across the provinces. There are only about 50 teacher education programs in Canada, so it is easy for provincial governments to regulate quality.
For professional development, all Canadian provincial Ministries of Education support and require ongoing teacher training efforts though, like nearly everything else in the Canadian education system, this is decentralized and subject to different requirements depending on location.
The United States
First, the U.S. has 1,206 schools, colleges and departments of education that trains teachers, and they exist in 78% of all universities and colleges. There is no standard method of how teachers are trained as there are in most of the top 8 countries.
It’s also worth mentioning again that Fair Test.org reports “The U.S. is the only economically advanced nation to rely heavily on multiple-choice tests. Other nations use performance-based assessment to evaluate students on the basis of real work such as essays, projects and activities. Ironically, because these nations do not focus on teaching to multiple-choice and short-answer tests, they score higher on international exams.”
Unlike most countries that rank high on the International PISA test, teacher training in the United States is all over the place from TFA (Teach for America)—that’s probably the worst teacher training program in the country if not the world— with a few weeks of lecture/study and little or no actual experience working with children in addition to little/no follow up support.
Let’s compare TFA to the highest rated teacher training program in the United States: a yearlong residency where teachers work full time in a master teacher’s classroom for one full school year that includes follow up support after they start teaching their own students, and this seems more in line with what most of the eight highest ranked countries train and support teachers.
The AUSL Chicago Teacher Residency is a year-long urban teacher training program in Chicago’s Public Schools. This intensive 12-month, full-time, paid training program combines teacher preparation, certification, and a Master’s degree to give Residents the tools they need to dramatically improve student achievement in Chicago’s Public Schools.
In the United States, about nine out of ten (91 percent) of teachers agree that “successful completion of a teacher preparation program” and that “evaluation by an administrator that includes direct classroom observation” would be good measurements to use in determining teacher qualification.”
If you haven’t figured it yet what’s missing in the United States, I’ll tell you. The main ingredients that are missing are respect and support. In the United States, teachers have been scapegoated and blamed for just about everything for decades, and teachers get little to no support unless it is from other teachers.
In addition, based on survey responses, 53 percent of (U.S.) public schools need to spend money on repairs, renovations, and modernizations to put the school’s onsite buildings in good overall condition. The total amount needed was estimated to be approximately $197 billion, and the average dollar amount for schools needing to spend money was about $4.5 million per school. – nces.ed.gov
A few last thoughts: The top eight highest ranked countries on the 2012 PISA test have almost 36.5 million people living below the poverty line compared to 46.5 million in the United States. In addition, a January 15, 2013 Stanford Report revealed, “There is an achievement gap between more and less disadvantaged students in every country; surprisingly, that gap is smaller in the United States than in similar post-industrial countries, and not much larger than in the very highest scoring countries.
“Achievement of U.S. disadvantaged students has been rising rapidly over time, while achievement of disadvantaged students in countries to which the United States is frequently unfavorably compared – Canada, Finland and Korea, for example – has been falling rapidly.”
Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).
Lofthouse’s first novel was the award winning historical fiction My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. His second novel was the award winning thriller Running with the Enemy. His short story A Night at the “Well of Purity” was named a finalist of the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards. His wife is Anchee Min, the international, best-selling, award winning author of Red Azalea, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year (1992).
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