Archives for category: International

Back in 2009, when Arne Duncan announced the Race to the Top competition, he said we as a nation would literally be “racing to the top” of international competition by adopting his favored ideas: expanding charter schools, evaluating teachers to a significant degree by the test scores of their students, “turning around” low-scoring schools by radical measures such as closing them, creating state and national data storehouses to track students, and adopting “college and career-ready standards” (aka, the Common Core). Almost every state fell in line, because they had to do what Arne wanted in order to be eligible for a share of $4.35 billion.


But the report cards have not been kind to these “reforms.” When the National Assessment of Education Progress issued its regular report in 2015, test scores were flat or declining in most states.


Now the latest international test scores are out, and the U.S. has made no gains. We are not racing to the top. We are standing still. Why? Because Race to the Top did not address the root causes of academic failure: poverty and racial segregation. Charter schools have produced marginal gains at best, with some far worse than public schools. Evaluating teachers by test scores has been an abject failure, criticized by the nation’s leading scholarly organizations, including the American Statistical Association, which is not an arm of reformer-dreaded teachers’ unions or the “status quo.”


Here is today’s report from


PISA RESULTS: BAD NEWS IN MATH: American 15-year-olds are getting worse at applying their math skills in the real world, when compared to their international peers. The 2015 Program for International Student Assessment results are out and they show a drop in “mathematics literacy” scores for U.S. students since 2012 and 2009. “Of particular concern is that we also have a higher percentage of students who score in the lowest performance levels … and a lower percentage of top math performers” compared to the international average, said Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which released the results. The disappointing numbers come after results on another international study – the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study – recently showed gains made by U.S. fourth and eighth graders in math since 1995.


– U.S. science and reading literacy scores weren’t much different from previous years. Boys outperformed girls in science and math, while girls outperformed boys in reading. Scores for Massachusetts, North Carolina and Puerto Rico were broken out for international benchmarking purposes, and revealed that Massachusetts students, on average, are outperforming students in the U.S. and worldwide in all three subjects. North Carolina students were comparable with U.S. average scores and Puerto Rican students fared worse. PISA measures the performance of 15-year-olds every three years in three subjects across dozens of education systems worldwide. Check out the results here .


– Education Secretary John B. King Jr. is in Massachusetts today to hail the state’s success with PISA – while noting that the nation as a whole is “losing ground.” According to prepared remarks, King will say that it’s “a troubling prospect when, in today’s knowledge-based economy, the best jobs can go anywhere in the world. Students in Massachusetts, Maryland, and Minnesota aren’t just vying for great jobs along with their neighbors or across state lines, they must be competitive with peers in Finland, Germany, and Japan.” King will say that Massachusetts embodies the importance of perseverance. “The PISA results announced today for Massachusetts didn’t happen instantly or by accident,” he’ll say. “It has taken years of people showing courage – principals, teachers, parents, students, and state and district leaders. It has taken years of overcoming challenges. It has taken years to make real and meaningful change happen. And it will take time to see the work we are continuing to do today truly pay off for students.” More on King’s visit.


– Other noteworthy highlights: U.S. students value a career in science and have high expectations of having a science career, but they’re falling short when it comes to skills. Countries like Finland, Germany, Switzerland and Japan are also seeing better student outcomes than the U.S., while investing fewer hours in actual teaching – giving teachers more time for professional development and advancing their careers.


As I have often written before, the international test scores do not predict the future of our economy or anything else. Scores on standardized tests measure family income and income inequality. If you want to know more, read my chapter in “Reign of Error” on international tests and what they mean and do not mea.

As I have reported on many occasions (see here and here and here and here and here and here), a for-profit company called Bridge International Academies has been building a market for low-cost, for-profit schooling in Africa. It has been negotiating with the government of Liberia to take charge of all primary education and expanding in Uganda. Investors in BIA include Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.


Last summer, the Ministry of Education and Sports ordered the closure of 87 for-profit academies, including the 60 or so managed by BIA, on grounds that they did not meet minimum standards or appropriate facilities for students. Teachers’ unions objected to the academies’  use of un-credentialed teachers. This month, the Uganda High Court ordered the closure of all of BIA’s schools in Uganda.


BIA has 63 campuses and 12,000 students in Uganda. They will remain open until December 8, when students take their exams.


CNN reported:


A legal tug-of-war between Ugandan authorities and a for-profit international chain of schools has led to the education provider being ordered to shut down in a matter of weeks, leaving the lives of thousands of pupils in limbo….



Bridge International Academies said it provides the best possible education to its students and that it will do whatever it can to make sure their schools continue to operate in Uganda.
Many students, parents and teachers protested after Uganda High Court ordered the closure of the low-cost private schools, which are backed by Microsoft and Facebook founders Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.
Bridge International Academies has suggested that the opposition against their chain of schools was because the campuses competed against local state-run and private schools.
The Director of Education Standards for the Ministry, Huzaifa Mutazindwa, told CNN that the nursery and primary schools were not licensed, the teachers weren’t qualified and that there was no record of its curriculum being approved.
“The Ministry does not know what is being taught in these schools which is a point of concern to (the) government,” Mutazindwa said…

For its part, BIA — which runs more than 400 nursery and primary schools across Africa — has continuously denied the allegations that have been made by the government.
“There’s a lot of miscommunication and a lot of very serious, unfounded allegations. We would like to be given the opportunity to explain ourselves … The Ministry has been unwilling to give us an audience to set the record straight,” Uganda’s BIA director, Andrew White, told CNN.
In a statement, BIA addressed eight allegations that have been made about its operations. It said it teaches the Ugandan curriculum, all schools have good sanitation facilities and that the majority of their teachers are certified and registered. Those who aren’t certified and registered, it said, are attending in-service training.


When asked why the allegations were made if they weren’t true, White said: “We definitely feel like a lot of pressure has been applied to have a particular view of Bridge that is a negative one….”
One educational advocacy group agrees with the Ugandan authorities’ decision to close BIA.
President of the Global Campaign for Education (GCE), Camilla Croso, told CNN that the quality of their schools is “totally inadequate and unacceptable.”
“They are profit making enormously,” she said. “It’s very indecent because they are looking at poor people as a profitable market.”
“It really is incompatible to have human rights and profit making because you are motivated and act in completely different ways.”



Yong Zhao is one of the foremost experts in the nation on international comparisons. He was born and educated in China, but has worked in American universities for a number of years. He recently moved to the University of Kansas, where he holds a Distinguished Professorship.

He analyzes here how U.S. students in fourth and eighth grades performed on the TIMSS, which is focused on mathematics and science. Politicians like to bemoan the fact that U.S. students are not #1 in the world on this test or on PISA. As I have previous written, American students were never #1 on international tests. Back in the mid-1960s, when these tests began and fewer nations participated, we were dead last. I wrote about it here and here and also in my book Reign of Error, where I documented in detail how poorly we have always done on these tests, how little it means, and why these tests have zero predictive value for our economy. Also, see here.

Open the links to see the scores and graphs.

Zhao finds little change in the relative standing of American students, despite 15 years of berating teachers, students, and public schools. We changed the standards, the curriculum, and the tests, but none of that made much difference.

Zhao writes:

Reflections and Questions

Can we ever catch up? Is it necessary to catch up?…
It seems clear that after tremendous efforts to catch up to the high performing education systems in test scores, the U.S. has not succeeded. Two questions arise. First, can the U.S. ever catch up? Second, is it really necessary to catch up? My answer to both questions are no. Interested readers can read my books Catching up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization and World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students.

Is it worth the cost?

While test scores went up in math in both the U.S. and East Asian countries, more students lost confidence in math and valued math less. If it is true that whatever policies and practices that resulted in higher test scores also make students less confident and less interested in math, are these policies and practices really educationally sound? Don’t we want more people have confidence in math and value math?

How much does curriculum matter?

The U.S. has “fixed” its curriculum but has not narrowed the gap. All the efforts that went into fixing the curriculum did not produce the results promised by those who adamantly believed and argued that American schools have lower standard and fragmented curriculum. Was the diagnosis wrong? Does curriculum and standards really matter that much?

Should we keep “fixing” American teachers?

TIMSS and other international tests have resulted in waves of teacher bashing in America, suggesting that they are less qualified and less mathematically knowledgeable than their counterparts in East Asian education systems. Bashed have also been teacher education programs in the U.S.. But the data does not really support the blames. Perhaps American teachers are great at doing something more important than simply raising test scores.

My Conclusion
I have questioned the value of international tests, and for that matter any standardized test, for improving our children’s education in many places. Test scores simply do not reflect what our children need to live in the future, let alone what they need to defend and improve a democratic society. Test scores are simply the indicator of one’s ability in taking the test. We should never read too much into it and attempt to draw conclusions that fuels actions that could affect the future of millions of children and the future of our society.

I have also raised questions on many occasions about copying policies and practices from other systems. It is not to say that we cannot learn from others. But education is both deeply rooted in and an integral part of culture, hence they mutually enhance and perpetuate, as I have argued in my book Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon: Why China has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World. Different cultures impose different values and expectations on education. Different cultures also support and suppress different educational practices. Unless one is ready and able to redefine one’s culture and society, copying isolated educational policies rarely works.

The lesson from all these: Stop copying others’ past and start inventing our own future.

Yong Zhao, born and educated in China, is one of our  most perceptive scholars of schools and society. He holds a professorship at the University of Kansas.

In this article, he reports the results of the latest international test, TIMSS. Once again, the East Asian nations topped the charts. Aside from 8th grade math, which are up, U.S. scores are unchanged.

TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) beat PISA by two weeks. It just released its 2015 results. Within hours of the release, Google News has already collected over 10,000 news stories reacting to the results from around the world, some sad, some happy, some envious, and some confused. The biggest news is, however, nothing new: Children in East Asian countries best at maths. They were the best 20 years ago when TIMSS was first introduced in 1995. They were the best in all subsequent cycles.

Singapore, Hong Kong SAR, Korea, Chinese Taipei, and Japan are the top performers. In 4th grade, the lowest East Asian country is 23 points above the next best country, Northern Ireland for 4th grade, the same gap as was in 2011, and in 8th grade, a whopping 48 points lead ahead of the next best country, Russia, a 17 point increase from 31 in 2011.

Yong Zhao analyzes the reasons for their high scores.

I was in college in 1959 when Fidel Castro and his military overthrew the dictator Batista. College students were excited by this young revolutionary. He came to Cambridge to speak to a large audience and I covered him for my college newspaper. We had high hopes in those days.
It wasn’t long before Castro decided to align himself with the Soviet Union. Thereafter there were frequent reports of trials, imprisonment, executions, including some of his fellow revolutionaries. Disillusionment set in quickly.
I was never a fan of any dictator, including Fidel. I heard that literacy was high, and that people had access to medical care. But there was no freedom. Neighbors spied on neighbors. Cuba under Fidel was a police state.
When I visited Cuba in 2013, I saw the economic mess he had made of the country.  By the time I got there, revolutionary fervor had dimmed almost to the vanishing point. There were revolutionary posters on the walls, but they seemed faded, antique. The revolutionaries were old men, the young seem eager to join the world.


The main impression I had was of deep and widespread poverty. From everyone I met, I got the feeling that ordinary Cubans are eager to break free of the stifling orthodoxy of Castroism. Even his brother Raul is. Raul’s daughter Mariela is a rebel against the regime. Although married with children, she has been a crusader for gay rights. Fidel imprisoned and isolated gays (read Reinaldo Arenas’ When Night Falls). Here and there were signs of entrepreneurship, restaurants in homes, bed and breakfast homes, restaurants pretending to be homes.

It struck me that the best way to free Cuba is to lift the embargo, permit normal tourism, and encourage economic development. That’s the process that President Obama started. JetBlue now offers daily flights to Havana. There will be other airlines flying there.
When I went to Cuba, my group of four flew on an American Airlines charter flight from Miami. It was a 45-minute trip. Most of those on the flight were Cubans returning home for a visit, carrying appliances.
It is a beautiful and unspoiled country. I urge everyone to visit.
Maybe Castro’s death will encourage greater liberalization of ties between our countries. I hope that Trump doesn’t re-impose the embargo to please the voting bloc of aging Cubans in Florida. The best way to create Cuba Libre is to establish full relations.

Helen Ladd of Duke University debated Marty West of the Harvard Kennedy School about the cost and quality of American education. It is a podcast and I think you will enjoy listening when you have time.

They were invited to talk about whether the U.S. spends more money than other countries and gets worse performance than other countries on international tests. Ladd disputes both parts of the question, while West is on the side that says we spend more to get less quality.

I would like to see a debate about how the U.S. could have such a “terrible” school system, as the reformers allege, yet have the world’s most powerful economy, with the most innovation, the best military, and the best technology. It is a puzzle.

Carol Burris, veteran educator and executive director of the Network for Public Education, writes here about what the new Trump administration plans to do to American education. She foresees that President Obama’s “Race to the Top” will turn into President Trump’s “Race to the Bank,” as for-profit entrepreneurs find ways to cash in on the education industry. The ultimate goal is the elimination of public schools, which are a cornerstone of a democratic society.

She writes:

The elimination of democratically governed schools is the true agenda of those who embrace choice. The talk of “civil rights” is smoke and mirrors to distract.

The plan on the Trump-Pence website promotes redirecting $20 billion in federal funds from local school districts and instead having those dollars follow the child to the school of their choice — private, charter or public. States that have laws promoting vouchers and charters would be “favored” in the distribution of grants. Like Obama’s Race the Top, the competition for federal funds that states could enter by promising to follow Obama-preferred reforms, a Trump plan could use financial incentives to impose a federal vision on states.

The idea is not novel. Market-based reformers have referred to this for years as “Pell Grants for kids,” or portability of funding.

Portability, vouchers and charter schools have been hallmarks of Pence’s education policy as governor of Indiana. Unlike the Trump-Pence website, which frames choice as a “civil rights” initiative, Governor Pence did not limit vouchers to low-income families. He expanded it to middle-income families and removed the cap on the number of students who can apply.

Pence attacked the funding and status of public education with gusto as governor, following the lead of his predecessor Mitch Daniels:

It was promised that vouchers would result in savings, which then would be redistributed to public schools. What resulted, however, was an unfunded mandate. The voucher program produced huge school spending deficits for the state — a $53 million funding hole during the 2015-16 school year alone. That deficit continues to grow.

The “money follows the student” policy has not only hurt Indiana’s public urban schools, it has also devastated community public schools in rural areas — 63 districts in the Small and Rural Schools Association of Indiana have seen funding reduced, resulting in the possible shutdown of some, even after services to kids are cut to the bone.

In contrast, charters have thrived in Indiana with Pence’s initiatives of taxpayer-funded, low-interest loan, and per-pupil funding for nonacademic expenses. For-profit, not-for-profit and virtual schools are allowed. Scams, cheating scandals and political payback have thrived, as well. Former Indiana education commissioner Tony Bennett was forced to resign as the commissioner of Florida[1] after it was discovered that he had manipulated school rating standards to save an Indiana charter school operated by a big Republican donor who gave generously to Bennett’s campaign.

Burris shows how this kind of untrammeled school choice affected the schools of Chile and Sweden, where the far-right imposed Milton Friedman’s school choice theories. In Chile, the result was hyper segregation of all kinds; in Sweden, rankings on international exams fell. What was left of public schools were filled with the children of the poor.

Burris asks important questions:

Do we want our schools to be governed by our neighbors whom we elect to school boards, or do we want our children’s education governed by corporations that have no real accountability to the families they serve?

Do we to want to build our communities, or fracture them, as neighborhood kids get on different buses to attend voucher schools, or are forced to go to charters because their community public school is now the place that only those without options go?

Do we believe in a community of learners in which kids learn from and with others of different backgrounds, or do we want American schools to become further segregated by race, income and religion?

The most shocking instances of charter school scandal and fraud consistently appear in states that have embraced the choice “market” philosophy. Are we willing to watch our tax dollars wasted, as scam artists and profiteers cash in?

Public schools are not a partisan issue. People of all political parties serve on local school boards.

Trump’s plan is a radical plan, not a conservative plan. Conservatives don’t blow up traditional institutions. Conservatives conserve.

Now is the time for people of good will to stand together on behalf of public schools, democratic governance, and schools that serve the community.

Eduardo Andere is a Mexican researcher who has studied educational systems around the world. He wrote a book about teaching in Finland.

He is in Finland now, and he reports here about the new Finnish curriculum.

He responds to claims that subjects are de-emphasized, a concern we (I) knew nothing about. Until now.

He writes:

“Instruction subjects do NOT disappear in the new FINNISH peruskoulu curriculum. What happens is that the new curriculum for compulsory school education (effective as of 2016 for grades 1 to 6, and as of 2017 for grades 7 to 9) reinforces “multidisciplinary learning modules” where “integrative instruction” is promoted during all school years. Good to excellent teachers have known for a long time that multidisciplinary teaching and learning helps to connect subjects to real life experiences, “phenomena” or “themes” as the Finnish curriculum calls them.

“Teachers then use projects based on themes or class teaching plans that promote not only the knowledge of curriculum subjects but also transversal competences, i.e., those abilities that students need to develop in order to solve new problems and propose innovative solutions. Cross-fertilization from different subjects can help indeed. But teachers need to know their subjects in depth, and nobody is proposing their elimination (for the list of subjects in the new Finnish curriculum please look HERE). It is more about pedagogy than getting rid of subjects.

“In my opinion the new curriculum stresses three basic ideas: 1) invite teachers to combine subjects simultaneously or sequentially with the help of themes or phenomena; 2) cooperation, communication and coordination among teachers; 3) connection between theory, teaching and learning and real life examples meaningful to students’ own reality and context. For example, a theme for a class or school year or school project may be “water” or “pollution.” Both themes include aspects studied by different subjects: chemistry, biology, natural resources, physics, mathematics, law, social sciences, etc. Another theme may be “Art in the twentieth century”, and the subjects could be: art, history, social sciences, humanities, civilization. Another one, with a lot of meaning in Suomi is “Finland 100” as the Finnish will celebrate 100 years of independence in 2017.

Newsweek reports that one of Donald Trump top advisors wants to return cleric Fetullah Gulen to Turkey, which seeks his extradition in connection with a failed coup attempt. Gulen is associated with or controls about 160 publicly funded charter schools in the U.S., many of whose teachers are Turkish nationals and all of whose boards are led by Turkish men.

““We need to adjust our foreign policy to recognize Turkey as a priority. We need to see the world from Turkey’s perspective,” retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn wrote for the conservative news website The Hill.

“What would we have done if right after 9/11 we heard the news that Osama bin Laden lives in a nice villa at a Turkish resort while running 160 charter schools funded by the Turkish taxpayers?”

Sharon Higgins, a parent activist in Oakland, keeps a list of Gulen charters.

Mark Hall’s documentary “Killing Ed,” focuses on Gulen charter schools.

If Trump were to extradite Gulen, it is not clear who would take charge of the charter schools opened by his allies.

Helen Ladd, Professor of Public Policy and Economics at Duke University, and her husband Edward Fiske, former education editor of the New York Times, have written a comprehensive review of England’s radical experiment in school autonomy. The United Kingdom has been thrashing around in search of a managerial solution to school problems. It introduced a national curriculum for Schools in England, Wales, Northern Ireland in 1988, defining what every student should know in every grade, soon followed by national tests. (Wales soon delinked from the national curriculum.) Dissatisfied by the results, England is now embarking rapidly on radical decentralization of its schools.

What began as a limited program under a Labor government seeking “third way” reforms to encourage wealthy investors to take charge of some secondary schools has mushroomed under a Conservative government into a full-blown effort to devolve governmental responsibility for most of the nation’s state-run schools.

In their study released by the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Teachers College, Ladd and Fiske assess the prospects and downsides of this approach.

“While the growth of charter schools from two in Minnesota in 1992 to nearly 7,000 across the country today has been stunning, this transformation of the educational landscape in the United States pales in comparison to what has happened in nearly half the time in England.

“Authorized by legislation in 2000 and officially launched in 2002, academies are England’s answer to charter schools. They are former state schools funded by the central government and granted significant operational autonomy. There are now 5,302 academies. Free schools, introduced in 2010, are academies by another name, created by teachers, charities, parents, or religious groups. There are now 304 free schools. The former Conservative prime minister David Cameron and his education secretary, Michael Gove, pledged in March 2016 to make all of England’s 20,000 government-funded schools into academies or free schools to give parents more choice and school administrators more freedom. Their target date for this complete transformation was 2022. Cameron’s successor, Theresa May, and her education secretary, Justine Greening, have so far stood behind this pledge.

“England’s academies and free schools stand out for not only their rapid growth but also their substantial autonomy. While oversubscribed charter schools in the United States must employ lotteries for admission, academies and free schools have control over whom they admit. The result, according to an analysis summarized by The Guardian, has been significant segregation of students by class as well as academic achievement.

“In “England Confronts the Limits of School Autonomy,” Helen F. Ladd and Edward B. Fiske provide a detailed analysis of the evolution of school choice in England and address the obstacles in the way of full implementation of Conservative Party ambitions as well as its likely drawbacks. Ladd, a professor of economics and public policy at Duke University, and Fiske, a former education editor at The New York Times, ground their working paper in interviews conducted last spring in London with 24 government officials, school leaders, and researchers; and in numerous government reports and academic studies. The result is a rich depiction of dramatic change and a cautionary statement about the impact of full school independence on community input and student interests.”