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US education in focus

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s latest report finds that 42% of American adults have some higher education. But it is lagging behind compared to countries like Canada and Japan. The “No Child Left Behind” Act was President Bush’s answer to education back in 2001, but ten years later a Gallup poll shows that Americans increasingly think that it made education worse.

Revising “No Child Left Behind”

One school in New Haven does not meet the official numeracy and literacy targets and under the No Child Left Behind scheme, would have been closed or restructured but today, with extra funding and a new head teacher, it is setting an example to other schools.

Karen Lott, the head teacher said: “When I arrived here in the 2009-2010 school year, to take over as a principal, Brennan Rogers was scoring in the bottom 10% schools in the State of Connecticut. And only 30% of the 3rd graders were proficient in reading, meaning they could read solidly on a 3rd grade level.”

The school instituted a whole range of other strategies too: tailored one-on-one teaching, getting parents involved, and extending the school day. Almost 60% of teachers left. But those who stayed and those who joined the school are committed to improving outcomes for the children here.

In two years, the school went from the bottom to the top in terms of educational achievement and it is now considered as something of an example of how even the worst schools can improve.

Out of Work, Back to School

A year ago, a large car manufacturing plant near San Fransisco closed and Elizabeth, along with 4,500 other people, lost her job. So she went back to school. She was lucky to benefit from a state funded programme that offered up to 15,000 dollars towards a 2 year training course. So Elizabeth enrolled on a biotechnology course at Fremont’s Community College.

Biotechnology is a booming sector in the San Francisco area. But, since 2007, the economy has lost 6 million jobs and unemployment fluctuates between 8% and 9%. But Elizabeth graduates this December and is confident about the future: “I can at least get something entry-level and then I plan to continue towards getting my bachelor’s degree after I start working. It was very important for me to get an education to finish what I started so many years ago.”

Spotlight on Education

Everyone agrees the education reform is needed, but no-one agrees about how to do it. Marc Tucker, the President of the National Center on Education and the Economy, has been monitoring American schools since the 1980s. He shared his thoughts on the current state of education in the US with Learning World.

He said: “It’s not that we have slipped behind. It’s that so many other countries have surged ahead. Our top tenth is not as good as the top tenth elsewhere. Our bottom tenth is well below the bottom tenth of the average OECD Country.”

Mark Tucker points out that decision-making is localised and fragmented. Another complication is the way American schools are funded: both from the State and from local taxation: “If you are lucky enough to live in a school-taxing jurisdiction which is full of people who have lots of money and very expensive homes, they can tax themselves at a very low rate and produce a huge amount of money for their schools, just because they have so much money. At the other end of the spectrum, there are the people who can afford very little for their housing. They have to tax themselves at a very high rate to produce a very small amount of money for their schools.”

Learning World asked: “Clearly the current disparity between successful schools in rich areas and failing ones in poor areas is unsustainable. But what’s the answer?”

Marc Tucker replied: “Maybe in due course we will have enough humility to go and look at those countries who are beating the pants off us and figure out how they did it.”

Copyright © 2014 euronews

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