Webinar Teaches Lessons from Abroad

November 10, 2009

You might say the United States is the California of countries when it comes to how our students score on international exams. We're not the worst, but we have an uncomfortably close view of the bottom.Among the 30 nations in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the United States is the only country where people 25-34 years old are not better educated than those ages 55-64. On the OECD's international exam, we're 22nd in science, right behind Iceland.

So, what do the other countries do? And what can we learn from them? That's the focus of two webinars on November 17 presented by Edutopia and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education in collaboration with the Council of Chief State School Officers. One webinar is tailored toward policy makers and administrators, the other for teachers and parents.

Noted Stanford University professor and researcher Linda Darling-Hammond will report on what she found in her multicountry study of standards and assessments. The subject is so timely and crucial to the U.S. Department of Education's new policy direction that we're offering these webinars free. Here's a sneak peak at Darling-Hammond's results:

"Whereas U.S. tests rely primarily on multiple-choice items that evaluate recall and recognition of discrete facts," she writes, "most high-achieving countries rely largely on open-ended items that require students to analyze, apply knowledge, and write extensively."

The disparity in exams is breathtaking -- meaning, you'll need to remind yourself to breathe when you look at them. For example, fifth-grade students in Sweden might see this question on an assessment:

"Carl bikes home from school at four o'clock. It takes about a quarter of an hour. In the evening, he's going back to school because the class is having a party. The party starts at 6 o'clock. Before the class party starts, Carl has to eat dinner.

"When he comes home, his grandmother calls, who is also his neighbor. She wants him to bring in her post before he bikes over to the class party. She also wants him to take her dog for a walk, then to come in and have a chat. What does Carl have time to do before the party begins? Write and describe below how you have reasoned."

Questions like that require a deeper level of engagement in subject matter than U.S. students typically receive, and remind me of one of Darling-Hammond's most memorable lines: During a presentation I attended several years ago, she referred to California's academic standards as "a mile wide and an inch deep."

The webinar is for anyone who wants to learn how top-performing countries -- including Australia, Canada, Finland, and Singapore -- flip that metaphor on its side. It may also provide policy makers with some nuggets that could prove golden in the competition for the DOE's $4.35 billion Race to the Top fund and for $350 million set aside for states that develop new standards and assessments to boost learning for students and teachers.

Learn more about the webinar, and sign up now. Registration is filling up -- be among the first to hear Darling-Hammond report on lessons from abroad and what it will mean for the United States to be internationally competitive starting in the classroom.

Update following the webinars: More than 800 participants joined the live webinars on November 17th. Edutopia has posted a resource page which includes a downloadable copy of Professor Darling-Hammond's presentation, related resources and a link to an online discussion on assessment.

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