Yesterday, President Obama announced a plan to revamp the
nation’s education system in a speech before the United States Hispanic Chamber
of Commerce–a group afflicted by historically low educational achievement
levels among minority youth.
While many are focusing on the president’s calls to expand investment
in charter schools and performance pay for teachers, plans that have met with
opposition from some teachers’ unions and public schools advocates, I’m
choosing to highlight–you guessed it–geographic elements of the proposal.
Obama’s language was replete with references to the global
economy and nationalistic appeals to prepare students for competitive success. He
stipulated the specific goal of leading the world in graduation rates by 2020,
citing this attainment as critical in a 21st century environment where
the growth in communications tools like the internet has brought opportunity to
many and helped level the playing field.
“Let there be no doubt,” Mr. Obama said. “The future belongs
to the nation that best educates its citizens — and my fellow Americans, we
have everything we need to be that nation (as quoted in the NY Times).”
President Obama also addressed geographic developments of the past century and associated
implications for the education system, offering a suggestion to expand the
school day and calendar year based on changing urban – rural demographics: “We
can no longer afford an academic calendar designed for when America was a
nation of farmers who needed their children at home plowing the land,” he said.
I wonder how modern-day farmers felt about that one!
All this ambitious goal-setting got me thinking: How does our education system compare with
those of other leading nations across variables such as funding for public v. private
schools and enrollment, length of the school day and year, and emphasis on subjects
like reading, math, science, social studies, and foreign language?
Next week, I’ll offer a few examples of different approaches
to education around the globe. In the meantime, check out the following
resources to whet your whistle:
To help me get started, I
invite those of you who have studied abroad at any age, or enrolled your
children in foreign or international schools, to share insights on different
types of schooling and educational approaches from your experiences.
Sarah for My Wonderful World
Image courtesy ikologiks.com