Americans spend a lot of time worrying about why our kids in public schools do so badly on standardized tests as compared to kids in other countries. Our relatively low scores in math, reading, history, geography (you name it) become part of the blame game that important policy makers and corporate players use to insist that teachers' unions and public education in general are the "cause" of our kids not being competitive on a global stage. They insist if students fail their end-of-grade tests, the schools should fail and be either closed or privatized: this, after all, was a provision in the 2002 No Child Left Behind Legislation (considerably tempered by President Obama, but still a threat in many states). Many also insist that teachers' unions need to be crushed for, after all, how can the most powerful nation on earth rank 17th comparatively in standardized tests?
If that kind of global comparative question is valid, then we need to crunch the rest of the comparative data and here's where things start getting interesting and throw a monkey wrench in the anti-union, anti-taxpayer supported public school, and pro-corporatizing education movement. Compared to the rest of the world, the U.S. is doing abominably--not just in how our kids do on tests but in how we treat our teachers and how we invest in teacher training.
Education advocate Steven Singer has put together an eye-popping infographic that reveals that US teachers spend significantly more time in the classroom than other teachers around the globe and our teachers receive less salary for their time. Bottom line: you get what you pay for---and the US doesn't pay for much, at least not much in the way of helping teachers to stay up to date, gain new skills, learn new methods--and earn a living wage while doing it.
Given the economistic and demoralizing comparative failure rates we hear about all the time, perhaps we also need to hear about how we are failing our teachers. Indeed, rather than more technology, more tests, and more privazing, perhaps we need to consider stop requiring teachers to spend too many hours in the classroom (rather than spending some of their forty hours a week on professional development, self-improvement, team-work planning with other teachers, and so forth). And maybe we better pay them better. It's possible that too much class time + too little remuneration = poor student test results.
I'm not sure I buy that logic since I'm skeptical about standardized testing to begn with, but I do think if we are going to look to global comparisons, we need to look harder, consider more of the data, and then think, introspectively, about a better way to solve the problems of preparing our kids for their future.
Here's the infographic, courtesy of education advocate Steven Singer, based on data from the same organization, OECD, that does the comparative test scores; this is OECD 2009 educational indicators' data (I hope someone updates it for 2013): https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BRarZHNCcAAXOKe.jpg:large
ERGO . . . if we as a nation really want better test scores, perhaps we should be investing more money in our teachers' professionalization and pay them better. That's not corporatizing the teaching profession; it is exactly, precisely, listening more carefully to what teachers themselves, in survey after survey, say they want and need.