Tuesday, May 30, 2006

What makes a great competitor: precision, creativity -- or both?

Okay -- I take it back. If you read only one article this month, make it "Are We Fixing the Wrong Things?" by Yong Zhao, in Education Leadership (the monthly publication of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, or ASCD).

Yong Zhao, Distinguished Professor of Education and director of the U.S.—China Center for Research on Educational Excellence at Michigan State University, discusses the panic caused by the 1983 report, A Nation At Risk, which still reverberates today. That report questioned the United States ability to compete against countries like South Korea and Japan because of its educational shortcomings in science and technology.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, and the hand-wringing over America's ranking in the education world continues, despite the fact that it has survived -- even thrived -- as an economic powerhouse. The worries are spurred on by reports such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and even day-time talk show host Oprah Winfrey, who featured Bill Gates in a recent discussion about how the American education system's failures are hurting the nation's competitiveness.

Yong Zhao wonders, "Is it possible that U.S. schools were not in trouble after all? Or were they in a different kind of trouble? Did reforms overlook the real problem and try to fix something that wasn't really broken?"

He speculates that "the secret weapon that has helped the United States remain an economic leader and innovation powerhouse is the creative, risk-taking, can-do spirit of its people. This spirit is not normally measured in standardized tests or compared in international studies."

Hmmm, interesting. Yong Zhao goes on to note:

Whereas U.S. schools are now encouraged, even forced, to chase after test scores, China, Singapore, South Korea, and Japan—all named as major competitors—have started education reforms aimed at fostering more creativity and innovative thinking among their citizens. China, for example, has taken drastic measures to reform its curriculum. As the United States raised the status of standardized testing to a record high in 2001 with No Child Left Behind, the Chinese Ministry of Education issued an executive order to significantly minimize the consequences of testing (2002). As the United States pushes for more centralized curriculum standards, China is abandoning its one nation—one syllabus tradition. As the United States moves toward a required program of study for high schools, China is working hard to implement a flexible system with more electives and choices for students. As the United States calls for more homework and more study time, China has launched a battle to reduce such burdens on its students.

So we're not alone here in Jakarta trying to figure out what works. In his blog Learning is Messy, 6th-grade math teacher Brian Crosby talks about an interesting visit to his Nevada classroom by two principals and two superintendents from Singapore (worth a look).

Learning is messy, indeed -- but it's worth the struggle to get it right.


At 10:32 PM, Blogger Lynn Green said...

I am going to bookmark this blog. I'm a teacher in Oklahoma City, OK

At 6:54 AM, Blogger Cheryl van Tilburg said...

Hi Lynn!
Thanks so much for your vote of confidence -- it means a lot. And let us know what's happening in your neck of the woods!

At 11:12 AM, Anonymous Giti said...

Catherine ad Cheryl,
Congratulations on your appointments yesterday. I for one am glad that the PTA will enhance the scope of its activities by including education related issues as well. All the best in your endeavours.
I am amazed at the amount of research you guys manage to unearth and post on this blog. Also noticed a couple of negative comments but I believe any expression of ideas whether positive or negative always provides a perspective.

At 4:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope that the PTA can change from a confrontational group to a member of a global community. New leadership is needed. You past leaders were immature, accusatory and just plain unprofessional.

At 10:50 AM, Anonymous giti said...

I don't know the basis of your opinion of the PTA's past leadership. When you say "confrontational", what exactly do you mean? Perhaps you are privy to some information that I am not aware of.
As a member of the PTA, I have not known Mary or Natalie to shy away from bringing up issues for open discussion, even those uncomfortable to them. When any change of consequence is initiated, there is always discomfort and apprehension isn't there? It takes guts and courage to stay the course. I believe that is what they did. I am not saying they didn't make mistakes. Perhaps they did and that is only human. But " immature, accusatory, unprofessional"?
I believe that that is your perspective and not a general opinion.
I also believe the new leadership will build on what Mary and Natalie started, and will help the PTA move into a higher orbit and they will need all our support.

At 3:46 PM, Blogger Cheryl van Tilburg said...

Dear Giti,

Thanks for your vote of confidence. Catherine and I are humbled by the support we've received. We also echo the thank-you's conveyed by our headmaster, school council, and many others to Mary and Natalie for their hard work on behalf of students and their families at JIS.

And to Anonymous, we share your goal of working as members of a global community at JIS. Doing so requires us all to work together, support each other, and most of all, to keep our "eye on the prize": improved student achievement. This happens best when we focus on issues, not personalities, and look to the future, not the past.

We welcome your comments on JIS Topics and understand that there will be disagreements -- sometimes big ones -- about the school and the adults involved in it. But please think back to how this blog began on March 9:

"The rules of engagement: treat others as you would like to be treated. Value each other's ideas, even if you disagree. Think collaboratively. We all share the same goal...improving the school on behalf of our children/students. So remember the wise words of the poet WH Auden when you comment: 'love each other or perish.'"

At 1:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can you state that PTA members never verbally attacked people and only addressed school related issues?

At 10:26 PM, Blogger Cheryl van Tilburg said...

Dear Anonymous @ 1:22,

In all honesty, I don't know what's happened in tha past that's gone wrong for you, but I'm hopeful that you'll speak to either Catherine or I via email (or phone in the fall when we're back in Jakarta) so that we can address your situation personally. (Click on my name at the top of this comment to send an email note directly.)

Catherine and I both feel strongly that every parent has an important role to play at JIS, and that we need to work hard as a community to support and care for each other. That means treating each other with care and love, even when we disagree. There is no place in the PTA -- or at JIS, in general -- for personal attacks. We need to stay focused on what matters: the kids. Thanks, Anonymous, and hope you're having a good break.

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