This Week's Herman Trend Alert

Leadership in Normal 2.0

  The Herman Trend Alert

December 25, 2013

Insights from the World's Best School

Recently, continuing its downward trend US students once again did not fare well against their Asian and European peers. The US has dropped from 25th to 28th.

Characterized by US Education Secretary Arne Duncan as a "picture of educational stagnation", US students' scores have shown almost no improvement over the last three years. They failed to score even in the top 20 on math, reading, or science. Students in Shanghai, China won the top honors in all subjects with students in Singapore, South Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong close behind.

Though this low position is often blamed on child poverty and a diverse student population, many countries that outperformed the US face these same challenges. Though Brazil's scores were not very good, and competitively, they were only 57th to 60th, the country improved in almost every category. And while Columbia scored about the same scores on the tests, its scores have not been rising, but the like the US remaining relatively the same or dropped.

While it is valuable to look at these relative scores against other countries, more compelling is the story of the highest performing school in the world. Located in Shanghai, the Qiangwei Primary School serves some wealthy Chinese, but it also serves a large migrant population.

The well-respected "New York Times" journalist Tom Friedman wrote a wonderful op-ed piece, describing his visit there with Wendy Kopp, the founder of "Teach For America" and leaders of the global version "Teach for All". What we found particularly compelling was that many of the ideas at work in Shanghai are not new. As well, they have worked in US schools.

The secret, if one could it call it that, is that they do what we have done with consistency and with an unwavering commitment to make it work. Teachers in this school invest 30 percent of their time on the job improving themselves. Like the successful Blue Valley school district in Kansas, new teachers are given mentors, experienced teachers who have "been there" and "done that".

One thing that is slightly different is that teacher peers are constantly evaluating each other---not just once in a while, but all of the time. Exposure to other teachers' ideas that work has obvious advantages for self-improvement. Poor scores are not tolerated long-term; peer pressure to perform well is alive and well.

Finally, the parents are given classes as well, so that they may help their children excel. Everyone is dedicated to student success----teachers, administration, parents, and peers. Our forecast is this formula will be applied around the world with success in most cultures. The sooner it is applied in the US, the sooner will be begin to more the needle higher. For us, it can't be soon enough.

Special thanks to Tom Friedman of the "New York Times" and to Charlie Rose of Public Broadcasting for having interviewed him.

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