What do the high performing nations of the world have that the U.S. lacks? Rich, deep academic content, according to a new report.
“Each of the nations that consistently outrank the United States on the PISA exam provides their students with a comprehensive, content-rich education in the liberal arts and sciences,” writes Lynne Munson, the executive director of Common Core in Why We’re Behind, a study that compares America’s educational quality to Finland, Hong Kong, South Korea, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Netherlands and Switzerland.
The nine nations studied differ greatly in how they deliver their broad, rich curricula. “Some have a national curriculum and standards but no tests,” Munson notes. “Others have both, and some leave everything up to the states. Interestingly, no state-based nation in our sample currently has a national curriculum or standards, though one is attempting to develop some.”
So what is the common ingredient across these varied nations? It is not a delivery mechanism or an accountability system that these high-performing nations share: it is a dedication to educating their children deeply in a wide range of subjects.
It’s not possible to prove with absolute certainty that there is a cause and effect link between the content taught in high-performing nations and their performance on the PISA exam, Munson notes. ”But, considering these nations’ enormous geographic, demographic, cultural, and governmental differences what other explanation could there be?” Common Core’s report calls for more research into the relationship between content and achievement. “This research should be done now because if what this report suggests is true—that a comprehensive, content-rich curriculum is the key to high achievement—than we have a lot of work to do here in the United States,” she concludes.
What do we have that better performing nations lack? Data, perhaps. And if we’re reading it right, it’s telling us we need to start spending a little more of our ed reform capital looking at what our children are actually doing in class, and a little less time on structural issues. If you want to fatten the calf, surely we can do better than our present steady diet of thin gruel in between all those weighings.