Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Importing Ideas for Education: Two Legislators from Different Parties and Different Perspectives Come to Similar Conclusions about How Other Countries Outperform the U.S

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Importing Ideas for Education: Two Legislators from Different Parties and Different Perspectives Come to Similar Conclusions about How Other Countries Outperform the U.S

Article excerpt

High-performing nations set themselves on a course of steady, long-term improvement, which includes consistent practices for recruiting, preparing, and supporting teachers. That is among the big takeaways from state legislators who participated in a yearlong study of education outside the United States.

The study was convened by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) to explore how education functions in countries that are high performers on the PISA assessment. The 22 legislators all serve on their states' legislative education committees.

What they've learned so far has surprised them.

Indiana State Rep. Bob Behning, a Republican from Indianapolis, and Arkansas State Sen. Joyce Elliott, a Democrat from Little Rock, came to the exploration with different experiences and political ideas, but they sound a lot alike when they describe what they learned from studying Shanghai, Finland, Singapore, Ontario, and more.

"They set themselves on a course to create the system they want, and they do not veer from it over 25 or 30 years. It's not interrupted by the next election. They look at education as a system for continuous improvement, not a system where you keep experimenting with ideas," Elliott said.

Elliott sees the wisdom of steering a consistent course but, ever the practical politician, she also knows the reality of working in the system we have. "Every time we have an election, especially a governor's election, the new person wants to put his imprimatur on education. Every time we hear about some newfangled thing, we want to try it," she said.

Behning, too, saw the value of a uniform plan for education. "They definitely have much more consistent control all the way down the line with standards driving the curriculum and the syllabi.

There's much more consistency. That's something we should be learning from," Behning said.

But, like Elliott, Behning acknowledges the complexity of the issue in the United States. "We have to be very creative about how we embed greater consistency without jeopardizing local control. …

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