Recently, I had the honor of being part of an education delegation to China, sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers, Asia Society and Pearson Foundation. I had an opportunity to learn from and share with educators from Beijing to Shanghai. In this blog I want to highlight two clear choices that China has made with regard to education and relate these choices to a recent article that appeared in Education Week.
China made a choice about teacher time. In China, teachers have about 12-15 hours of instruction time with students each week, compared to U.S. teachers with 24-30 hours. The Chinese teachers utilize between 15-18 hours each week for preparation, improving instruction, collaborative learning with other teachers and support services like grading papers, as compared to U.S. teachers with 0-6 hours. The choice made by China is class size. The average class size in China could be between 40-50 students per class as compared to the average U.S. class size of 16-25.
Another choice the Chinese have made is teacher specialization. In elementary/middle grades, teachers have specialization in Chinese, English, math, science and other subjects. In the U.S., our teachers -- especially in elementary school -- are asked to be ALL things to students and teach ALL subjects. Quite often, our elementary and even middle school teachers lack the math and science content knowledge that these specialized teachers in China have.
Recently, I read an article by Frederick Hess, Greg Gunn and Olivia Meeks – Maybe the Square Peg Will Do – that appeared in Education Week’s opinion section. This article talks about teacher effectiveness and says that currently we have two schools of thought:
* Teachers are doing the best they can do given social ills like poverty and the breakdown of family, and we should support teachers with more resources and not “blame” them for poor performance.
* We need to remove ineffective teachers, and the best way to measure effectiveness is with student test scores. After removing them, we need to replace them with “superstar” teachers who have proven to be effective in raising test scores in spite of social challenges.
The article makes the point that maybe we should quit trying to fit the round peg (teacher) into the square hole (expecting superstar teachers) and just change the “hole.” The article proposes that we should start changing teaching to fit a model like the medical model. Across the U.S., there are 7 million medical professionals, and fewer than 10 percent have an M.D. Most medical professionals have an area of specialization. The authors propose that we rethink geographical limitations of teaching and utilize more digital learning, with local teachers acting as support to specialized teachers. Also, we need to rethink the tasks that we ask teachers to complete. Rather than didactic instruction, teachers should be facilitators, similar to what is happening with the School of One project in New York City. Finally, we should look at levels of specialization in our schools. A master teacher could coordinate and manage a number of technical assistants working with larger groups of students. (For more information, see the May 11 issue of Education Week.)
I am not certain where the discussion will lead us concerning class size and teacher specialization; however, these are important discussions to have, considering our comparative performance with China and our continuing budget challenges in Kentucky and U.S. schools.