Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Who is Racing To The Top? Apparently not the US

After a long hiatus in blogging, I finally found something to blog about.

I have been following the drama surrounding the first round of awards for the Federal government Department of Education "Race-To-The-Top" funding. Apparently, there is a $4.3 billion slush fund that Arne Duncan has been given by President Obama to dole out to states that sign up to reform education, with measures like implementing world class standards, taking limits off the number of charter schools, merit pay for teachers, shutting down poor performing schools, etc. Those states that have laws that are already close to meeting these requirements (Massachusetts and Indiana come to mind), will probably be shoo-ins for the first round of awards. Then there are nine states, including the state of Washington, that have chosen not to apply for the first round of financing. Why? My guess is because the states are so far behind in implementing any of the reforms, that they don't feel they have a shot at all. Then there are the "far right" states, like Alaska and Texas, that have predictably thumbed their noses at any hint of a Federally imposed measure. At this rate, it will proabably take years to see a set of common, world class standards, and a system that graduates world class students. This, some people argue, is the hallmark of American Democracy, where local control of schools is paramount, and any Federally imposed program needs to be looked at with skepticism, with lots of debate before each state or district takes action.

To this, I say, "Well, maybe if we lived in a cocoon, isolated from the rest of the world." But the 21st century came with it "3 Billion New Capitalists" according to Clyde Prestowitz's popular book by the same title. About a third of them are from China, and we are all being reminded daily, when we buy stuff at Wal Mart or hear about the trillions they own in our Treasury bills. Their education system, which cranks out more than half million engineers a year, has been labeled autocratic, dictatorial, and draconian in its ways, even though one can seldom argue with the results in the marketplace. OK, it may not be fair to compare China to the US, but how about the largest democracy in the world, which has more students in its K-12 system than China?

I am talking about India, of course. For a brief background, China has about 195 million students in its K-12 system, India has over 210 million. For comparison, the US has about 54 million. Almost all students in China attend public schools, about 88% do so in the US, and perhaps less than 50% in India (stats are unreliable, but most experts say this is a good guess). Urban Indian students from the booming middle class attend private schools (ironically, the moniker "Pubilc School" is commonly used in the titles of private schools). The private schools are reasonably affordable to the newly affluent middle class, they provide a lot more choice in the rigor and breadth of education given to students, and they are stubbornly insistant on high standards. This is a natural evolution of having competition in the education sector, because schools openly advertise their pass rates in state sponsored exit exams and acceptance rates in prestigeous technical and medical colleges. But recently, the choice became a problem because states had varied standards, especially in math and science. When it came to passing entrance exams for prestigeous national universities, the state of residence became a prominent factor. This problem was highlighted in 2009. Within months, all state boards of education came to a consensus that the curriculum should be standardized for math and science in all the states, and in within a span of two years, the new standards and curriculum will be implemented in all the states. In all likelihood, these standards will be as stringent as , if nor more than, the most stringent of state standards. Not a watered down "lowest common denominator" that most committees have been churning out in the US during the last couple of decades.

Here is the link to a newspaper article:

Some relevant quotes:

"Today is a historic day for all students. There will be a core curriculum in the science stream (both science and mathematics) for all school boards across India. This will be implemented in 2011," "It's a milestone that all school boards are one on this and want a core curriculum.. We hope it augurs well." - Kapil Sibal, Mister of Human Resource Development, Govt. of India

"In science, all students are competing at the national level. So the science course should be similar across the country. We are fine with this move and hope that students will benefit the most," - C.L. Gupta, chairman of the School Board of Education, Himachal Pradesh state.

"With this move, all students will have similar opportunity in facing competitive examinations in streams like medicine and engineering." Principal, Ahlcon International School, New Delhi

Evidently, different democracies look at the same issue differently, when it comes to the time it takes to come to a consensus. The more time the governments spend on making key reform decisions, the more handicapped our graduates become when they apply for college of get into the workforce. Maybe the government bureaucrats and elected officials in India have a better grasp of where their education priorities lie, and how to really "race to the top".


Anonymous said...

IS VERY GOOD..............................

concerned said...

I always enjoy your posts and have missed your blogging. I hope that all is well with you and yours.

I've posted some information I've found useful on Common Core and RttT here:

best wishes...