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Read Dr. Larson's earlier Community Columns below or here.

The U.S. Senate confirmation hearings for the proposed Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, bring attention to the important question of what are the factors or qualities of a high achieving education system?  While parent choice, market competition and vouchers are key ideas that Mrs. DeVos is advocating, let's review just what works for consistently high achieving countries around the world.  

The United States recently received the results of the PISA test, sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).  This international assessment given every three years to half a million 15 year olds in 69 countries focuses on math, science and reading. The PISA test is one of the few metrics used to compare and contrast the quality of the educational systems of all developed countries.  Unlike other tests, the PISA does not assess what teen-agers have memorized.  Instead, students are challenged to solve problems they haven't seen before, identify patterns that are not obvious and make compelling written arguments.  As predicted, the United States’ performance was in the "middle of the pack," falling just below average in math and maintaining above average in reading and science.

Along with the scorecard comparing each country's performance, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development coordinates a research study that analyzes the conditions or elements that seem to make smart countries smart.  The study highlights the factors that influence and contribute to higher achievement for greater numbers of students.  The following is a summary of the success factors that each of the higher achieving countries exhibited:

1.  A key factor was the country's diligence in making the teaching profession more prestigious and selective.  Teachers in higher scoring countries enjoy high levels of social standing and professional dignity among the general public. Teacher education programs are selective to ensure only the brightest individuals enter the profession. Teaching is perceived as a noble, prestigious profession - akin to lawyers, physicians and economists.

2.  Greater resources are directed to the neediest children. There are no ZIP codes and boundary lines that prevent the best practices, materials and programing from reaching students who need the attention and focus.

3.  The top scoring countries had greater numbers of students benefiting from quality preschool programs.  The 2 to 4 year olds from these countries have a head start on vocabulary development, math concept formation and executive functioning and skills.  These skills, acquired during these crucial developmental years, provide a strong foundation for academic success in later years.

4. Teacher development, professional growth and constant improvement is a priority in higher scoring countries.  The highest scoring country, Singapore, regularly incorporates best practices from other countries.

5.  The top scoring countries applied rigorous and consistent standards across all classrooms.  Students from all geographic areas, income levels and social standing are expected to meet these high academic standards.

As a part of the democratic process, it's important for us to debate and discuss ideas that can improve and strengthen our local public schools.  But let's not be fooled by policy approaches that divide communities, drain resources and distract from pursuing the goal of each student achieving at a high level.   

As we look for improvement, let's pursue the ideas that are proven and effective.  Elevating the teaching profession, intentionally providing resources to needy students, funding strong preschool programing and having the same rigorous high standards for all students -- these are the factors that will strengthen local public schools. Any new Secretary of Education should rally attention and support around these key factors, which are proven to result in success for our students.

David F. Larson, Ed.D.

Read Dr. Larson's earlier essays below

2016-17 Community Columns

Leveraging the election for growth here

Glenbard emphasizes importance of service to others here

Challenging courses prepare teens for college, careers here

High School Parenting is Gardening, Not Carpentry here

Fight the Summer Slide here

2015-16 Community Columns

Equity in Advanced Placement here

Growth Mindset Makes a Difference here

Send Consistent Message Opposing Underage Drinking here

Hold Hands and Stick Together here

The Value of Rigor in the Classroom here

Studying the Arts Enhances Student Achievement here

Parent Involvement is Important here

Making America Great Again here

Property Tax Freeze Would Harm Students here

Teachers Advance Their Craft During Summer here.

2014-15 Community Columns

Be Wary; Education Cuts Never Heal here

Increasing Responsibilities of Public Education here

The Governor's Playbook for Compassion here

Important Partnership here

Strategic Planning Key to Success of iPad Implementation here

The "Year of Over Testing" here

School Funding Reform Act Senate Bill 16 here

Watch the Screen Time here

2013-14 Community Columns

Attack Season here

Impressive Community Support here

Referendum Focus here

New Year's Resolution here

Celebrating Diversity here

Shrinking Middle Class here

Future Ready here

Fight Summer Learning Loss here

2012-13 Community Columns

Public Education is Inclusive, Diverse here

Transparency Builds Community Trust here

Technology Will Transform Learning here

High Levels Of Communication here

Pension Reform Observations here

Key Habits of Fiscally Responsible Districts here

Doubly Impressive here

High Expectations For All here

Democracy here

Those Special Teachers here

Football Start here

Freshman Transition here