What We’ve Learned About Learning

July 26, 2012
By Jenny Li Fowler

Eighty percent of Americans believe the nation's schools are in crisis, yet 80 percent of parents think the schools in their own communities are fine. That being the case, “how do we establish a sense of urgency?” asks Jon Schnur, executive chairman and co-founder of America Achieves and co-founder of New Leaders for New Schools.

Schnur was one of four panelists during the keynote session on Thursday (July 26) at a conference titled “Learning from Improving School Systems at Home and Abroad,” sponsored by the Kennedy School's Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG).

The panelists provided their insights in response to the findings in a new PEPG study on international and U.S. state trends in student achievement growth. The study revealed that the United States is squarely in the middle of a group of 49 nations in 4th and 8th grade test score gains in math, reading, and science over the period 1995-2009. Meanwhile, students in three countries – Latvia, Chile, and Brazil – are improving at a rate of four percent annually, nearly three times the growth rate in the United States. read study (pdf)

Other panelists included Eric Hanushek, senior fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University; Michael Barber, chief education advisor, Pearson PLC; and Andreas Schleicher, special advisor on Education Policy, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Secretary-General. Edward Glaeser, Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics and director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government and the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston, served as moderator.

Schnur argued that educators, parents and policymakers require “more localized data” in order to incite them to take the necessary action to improve the nation's schools.

Hanushek stated there are the study proves three important points: student achievement in the United States is improving; the U.S. is lagging behind many other countries; and there are some significant differences among the states.

“Many countries are plateauing out,” said Barber. “Even though we have a lot of information about benchmarking, there are some real challenges in implementation.” Barber stressed that political continuity is key to changing the system, but also rare. “It’s a great time in education because we know what to do but the big challenge is in getting it done.”

Schleicher observed that in those countries where students performed very well on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) exam, student achievement was consistently high across the board, and therefore those countries attracted the most talented teachers to the most challenging classrooms. The top scoring countries also illustrated strong leadership, strong government policies and fidelity of implementation, he said.

“If you look at Finland,” said Schleicher, “only 5 percent variability lies between the schools; all the schools are succeeding.”

The PEPG conference concludes on Friday (July 27).

Print print | Email email
photograph of panelists

Conference panelists Edward Glaeser (L); and Eric Hanushek (R) 

“It’s a great time in education because we know what to do but the big challenge is in getting it done," says Michael Barber.

photograph of panelists

Conference panelists Michael Barber (L); and Andreas Schleicher (R)