Thursday, March 3, 2011

Education Reform: Let's Do Things Like Singapore

Posted For

Sandra in Brevard

The headline reads "Wake-up call: U.S. students trail global leaders." This is not the first time other countries had a higher number than the U.S. What does that mean exactly?

If you watch CNN, you'll recognize journalist and author Fareed Zakariya. In 2006, he looked at the international test scores by Singapore's 4th and 8th grade students, who score #1 in global science and math rankings, but fair "poorly to American kids...down the road." Zakariya finds that "Singapore has few truly top-ranked scientists, entrepreneurs, inventors, business executives or academics."

To find out why this exists, he turned to Singapore's Minister of Education, Tharman Shanmgaratam.

“We both have meritocracies,” Shanmugaratnam said. “Yours is a talent meritocracy, ours is an exam meritocracy. There are some parts of the intellect that we are not able to test well ─ like creativity, curiosity, a sense of adventure, ambition. Most of all, America has a culture of learning that challenges conventional wisdom, even if it means challenging authority. These are the areas where Singapore must learn from America

The information that is obtained from the international tests has value and the recent results confirm what we have already known for sometime without this test data. There is a widening student achievement gap based on socio-economic factors. This gap is a serious problem and needs a targeted solution; but a meaningful solution does not equal that we need to be more like Singapore. On the contrary, turning our school system into an "exam meritocracy" is no goal at all and harmful to what has made this nation a global leader.

Responding to this "crisis", Singapore Math textbooks and teacher training has hit the U.S. educational publishing market. In a 2009 press release announced that "global education leader Houghton Mifflin Harcourt today launches Math in Focus, an innovative new math program based on the highly acclaimed Singapore approach to mathematics." The program is described as on the expensive side, both in materials it requires and teacher training. (Notably, the Florida Department of Education selected Houghton Mifflin Harcourt as its consultant to assist school districts in implementing new evaluation systems based on student achievement.)

Politicians, legislators, and professional educational reformers are going to have to be more precise as to how we are not able to compete in the global marketplace. That rationale is not enough to support legislation like SB736/HB7019. In fact, it is reason enough to reject the bill.

Missed blogs on educational reform efforts in Florida? There are all here.



  1. I apologize, I missed adding the reference on the interview. I'll add it tonight. Two days in a row I've overslept. If you missed "If the roof leaks, dial 911," consider looking for it here or on Grumpy Educators. I tried to explain a little about this international test that causes the headline and narrative that we are in "crisis." On Friday, President Obama and Jeb Bush meet in Miami at a high school in some kind of odd couple love fest over how they are steering the country away from a "crisis".

  2. Seems like the ultimate in odd couples.. guess the old saying is true;

    Politics DO make strange bedfellows..

  3. Feels a little like Alice in Wonderland. I predict this bill will pass, flaws and all, and the Gov. Scott will sign it. I also predict that it will undergo reconstructive surgery frequently and the costs will be seen by a tax. Privacy and disclosure issues will not be addressed until someone's child's data is misused. The questions are simple enough, but no one is talking turkey. Attention is on other fires.

    One more blog, folks, on what value-added measurement is according to the experts. I hope the series helped to understand what this change is all about.

    Please remember that some well-liked and respected members of Grumpy's community have close family members who are teachers....good, hardworking folk, who care about educating kids. One wrote privately that she expects to see her salary reduced to about $16,000 a year and because she's at a low performing school, she can't figure out how she'll ever get merit pay. The kids take longer and some get there, but not quick enough to make an impact on her pay. I hope the school district does right. I will follow the story as best I can, as long as it is useful and there is interest.

  4. More from the interview and the missing link:

    "...though Singapore’s students do so brilliantly on these tests, when you look at these same
    students 10 or 20 years later, few of them are worldbeaters anymore."

    "American kids, by contrast, test much
    worse in the fourth and eighth grades
    but seem to do better later in life and
    in the real world.

    The Minister does repeat that the international tests indicate a widened gap in U.S. achievement scores based on poverty levels.


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