the pendulum now seems to be moving in the opposite direction. Our schools and students are performing at an all-time low, and unless we begin to take a hint from our competitors, the future is looking bleak for public education.
According to the most recent report from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) which assesses the academic abilities of 15-year old students from 70 different countries, the United States placed 25th in mathematics, 17th in science, and 14th in reading.
These discouraging results have dire implications, not just for the public education system, but for the American economy as a whole. As more and more companies are outsourcing work to other countries and the Internet is bringing us all together in a global economy, the students of today will need to be prepared to compete—not just with one another—but with their peers from all over the world.
What’s A Nation to Do? Learn How to Study the Competitor’s Strategies
Despite innumerable attempts to reform our public education system, not the least of which was the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, our education rankings have continued to decline. The new strategy according to the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) report, “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: An American Agenda for Education Reform,” suggests that the best way to learn a new and effective approach is to learn from our competitors, namely China, Finland, Canada, Japan, and Singapore. The goal of this new reform is to apply the strategies of these leading countries to match their performance, and then eventually exceed it.
Learn How to Study, Learn How to Compete
In order to take back our place as an international leader in the educational realm and prepare our students for the fierce competition they will face in the global economy, the NCEE recommends several measures:
Learn How to Study
To learn how to study —how to truly study—students have to do more than just know how to study for a test. If you want to know how to study better, you can start by training your working memory. Your working memory is the ability to store information for brief periods of time and use this information to better understand what you read, solve math problems, and focus on the test you’re currently taking. Studies have shown that taking measures to sharpen your working memory can lead to significant grade improvement. One of the most effective of these study methods appears to be an exercise called Dual N-Back training in which you are asked to store pairs of audio and visual information simultaneously and then recall the matching pairs.
Learn How to Write
The NCEE report suggests that we take a hint from countries leading in education by making our standardized tests “essay-heavy.” This recommendation makes a lot of sense. While students may be able to learn how to study for a test in isolation, outsmart a multiple-choice question, or simply guess the correct answer, gaining points due to pure luck, expressing complex ideas about a subject by writing an essay requires that students learn how to study content in depth. The associate executive director for advocacy and communications at the American Association of School Administrators, Bruce Hunter, echoes the report’s recommendations, saying “You have to focus more on mastery of the content, and how to think about the content, and how to apply it. And we don’t do that. Our tests that we use now are focused on recognition and recall. Recognition and recall are necessary to do critical thinking and to apply the knowledge, but they’re not sufficient.”
Learn How to Study The World
The interconnected, technologically advanced world we live in is changing so rapidly, and new information is making its way into our collective knowledge every second, thus it is no longer enough to simply memorize and recall a set of facts. Today’s students (i.e. tomorrow’s workforce) will have to be able to consume new information efficiently and use that information to solve real-world problems. That’s why the NCEE recommends that teachers go beyond knowledge-level teaching strategies and begin to rigorously promote critical thinking skills that don’t simply teach students to learn how to study, but to learn how to study about the world that we live in, one that is constantly re-defining itself.
Learn How to Study to Exceed Standards
One thing most all educational reformers agree upon is that the one-size-fits-all standards we have in place are too low for students who are truly capable of competing in the global economy. In the words of New York Times columnist, Tom Friedman, average is no longer good enough. Yet, with tough accountability measures for teachers, it is commonplace for the majority of time spent in the classroom to be focused on teaching to the test. If that all-important test is based on standards for the “average” student, then what happens to the above-average bunch? They get bored, lose interest in school, and find other outlets to feed their curiosities. While raising the standards at a federal or even state level may seem an unreachable goal in the short-term, teaching our kids at home and our students in the classroom to learn how to study beyond the test is certainly doable.
Although the current climate in the world of education isn’t ideal, there are certainly ways that we can turn the ship around. To get our heads above water once and for all, it may indeed require standing on the shoulders of giants, at least for a while. At the same time, we should never underestimate the innovative spirit of our country. Once we humble ourselves enough to learn how to study the teaching and learning strategies of the current educational leaders, we can begin to make these strategies our own, tweaking and revising them to exceed not only their strategies, but our own self-expectations.