Go to this website for the actual, downloadable report recently out of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
The bad news is most state education systems are falling dangerously behind the world in a number of international comparisons and on our own National Assessment of Educational Progress, leaving the United States overwhelmingly underprepared to succeed in the 21st century economy.
The U.S. workforce, widely acknowledged to be the best educated in the world half a century ago, is now among the least well-educated in the world, according to recent studies.
At this pace, we will struggle to compete economically against even developing nations, and our children will struggle to find jobs in the global economy.
States have found little success. Recent reforms have underperformed because of silver bullet strategies and piecemeal approaches.
Meanwhile, high-performing countries implement policies and practices and build comprehensive systems that look drastically different from ours, leading them to the success that has eluded states. Pockets of improvement in a few districts or states is not enough to retain our country’s global competitiveness.
The good news is, by studying these other high-performing systems, we are discovering what seems to work. Common elements are present in nearly every world-class education system, including a strong early education system, a reimagined and professionalized teacher workforce, robust career and technical education programs, and a comprehensive, aligned system of education. These elements are not found in the U.S. in a consistent, well-designed manner as they are found in high performers.
We have the ability to turn things around. Much higher-performing, yet less-developed countries—such as Poland and Singapore—have made significant progress developing their education systems in just a decade or two because they felt a strong sense of urgency.
State policymakers, too, can get started right away to turn around our education system by taking immediate steps to:
- Build an inclusive team and set priorities.
- Study and learn from top performers.
- Create a shared statewide vision.
- Benchmark policies.
- Get started on one piece.
- Work through “messiness.”
- Invest the time.
State legislators must lead this work. Education is first and foremost a state responsibility. Each state can develop its own strategies for building a modern education system that is globally competitive, similar to the approach taken by other high-performing countries.
But we must begin now. There’s no time to lose.
A bipartisan group of 28 veteran legislators and legislative staff, along with several partners from the private sector, began an 18-month study in 2014. They focused on the highest performing countries on PISA to discover commonalities across their policies and practices. They met with education leaders from these countries, along with national and international experts who study their systems. They also visited several countries to see the differences firsthand.
This first report explains why there’s no time to lose in rebuilding state education systems. However NCSL’s study group still has questions—and surely the reader does too—about how to design and implement these systemic changes in the states. Where should legislators begin—teacher recruitment or preparation, standards, assessments, early learning? How should states realign their resources? Do some of these policies fit together better into an actionable package? There is still much to learn and discover.
The study group members will continue to meet through 2017 to find the answers to these and other questions by continuing to study and learn from other successful countries, as well as districts and states here in the U.S. Upon completion of our study, the study group will produce a policy roadmap that states can use to guide their reforms, as well as provide support to states ready to embark on these efforts