Most Important Best Practices: International Comparison

More Pre-K, More Effective Teachers, High Common Standards

The United States needs to set national priorities to improve teacher effectiveness, increase opportunities for pre-k, and integrate this work with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, according to a new report, The Competition that Really Matters.

The report from the Center for American Progress and the Center for the Next Generation examines rises in China and India’s skilled labor forces, along with best practices from the U.S. and several European countries, in order to identify recommendations for U.S. policymakers.

“To position the United States for the future, substantial investments are needed in research, infrastructure, and education. The most important of these areas is education.” The report shows that “overwhelming economic evidence points to education” as the key driver of long-term economic competitiveness. The authors explain that investments in human capital are proven to have higher returns than investments in either physical or financial assets.

Fortunately, there is progress in the U.S. in each of the three areas listed above. A broad commitment to the Common Core State Standards, bipartisan efforts to improve teacher quality, and a general recognition among the states surrounding the importance of early childhood education are promising, according to the report. However, despite understanding what the country needs to do, the “problems are related to the political will to do it.”

Meanwhile, China and India are moving forward with improving their education systems in ways that promise to change the dynamics of the global economy. Improved education in each of the two countries will mean more markets for U.S. goods and increased competition for U.S. workers.

Unlike the U.S., China’s national economic strategy includes a “public commitment to early childhood education, educational, and technological development.”

In 2007, China surpassed the U.S. in the number of students graduating from college with degrees in science, math, engineering, and technology (STEM) fields. And, in 2010 it surpassed the U.S. to become the “world’s largest provider of higher education.” By 2030, the number of college graduates in China, 200 million, will be larger than the entire U.S. workforce.

China still lags the U.S. in equality of opportunity for educational attainment, but it is focused on several strategies to improve attainment and meet its educational goals over the next several decades:

  • Family and early childhood education: The country is pushing for one year of nearly universal kindergarten for children, and a minimum of 98 days of paid maternity leave for mothers.
  • Kindergarten-12th grade education: Foreign language classes are taught in 3rd-8th grades, and the country has a goal of preparing 90% of its students for high school by 2020–up from 80% of students today.
  • Higher education: China is improving the overall quality of its universities, and it already has the sixth most universities ranked in the world’s top 500 universities.
  • Teacher quality: In the last eight years, China has increased the number of teachers with bachelor’s degrees by 66%, and since 1980 the number of secondary school teachers has doubled.

India already produces more citizens with bachelor’s degrees than the U.S., and by 2017 some 20 million students will graduate from high school annually–five times as many as in the U.S.

According the the World Bank, 40% of India’s citizens still live in extreme poverty, and–like China–its educational attainment still lags the U.S., but that is changing thanks to similar national education strategies:

  • Family and early education: By 2018, India will increase the number of children who are “school ready” to 60% from 26%.
  • Grades 1-5: The Indian federal government has constructed 400,000 elementary schools, trained (and hired) 1.5 million new teachers, and established a school lunch program to serve 100 million children.
  • Grades 6-12: By 2017, the percentage of students finishing high school will rise to 47% from 33% today, thanks to investments in the lower grades mentioned above.
  • Higher education: India plans to enroll 40 million people in colleges by 2020, up from 14 million today. According to the report, “Even if India only applies a modestly more intensive effort to increase educational access, it will produce twice the number of college graduates than the United States is able to produce annually.”

European Best Practices
In addition to looks at China and India, the report highlights similar best practices from European countries:

  • Finland’s emphasis on teacher quality has drawn the country’s top students into the profession transforming it into a “highly selective, prestigious, and rewarding profession.”
  • Germany created federal education standards due to its poor international test scores in 2000. Since then, the country has become the most-improved country in math achievement. In 2009 17% of the country’s students were competent in advanced math, while only 10% of U.S. students were. Additionally, Germany has a “dual education system” that prioritizes apprenticeships and workplace experience.
  • The United Kingdom’s universal free preschool has that began in the 1990s has been shown to have “improved child social behavior, boosted learning skills, and promoted home settings more conducive to learning.”

Among middle and high-income families in the U.S., best practices like these have succeeded in helping produce students ready for college or careers. U.S. children who attend pre-k are more likely to be employed by age 25. Children with parents involved in their schools were more likely to score well on aptitude tests and earn a college degree. And, research shows job-shadowing and apprenticeships in the U.S. to be “strongly associated with better educational and work outcomes, even when accounting for differences in parental household income.”

Click here for the report.