Thomas Hatch on improving U.S. education

A stadium full of people chanting “We’re number one!” sounds a lot better than “we’re average.” But when it comes to ranking our education system with those of 64 other countries and economies, that’s the unpleasant truth, according to a new global study from the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which was released this week.

It measured student achievement in reading, science and math. We’re in the middle, along with countries like Norway, Germany and the U.K., while countries like Singapore and China are speeding ahead of us. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is calling this a “wake-up call” and President Obama has said that this should be our generation’s “Sputnik moment.” And if you don’t know what a Sputnik moment means, you probably wouldn’t rank well in American history, either.

How can educators make this a moment when America resolves to improve its academic standing in the world, lest we be overtaken by competitors? To get some answers, Need to Know’s Jon Meacham sat down with Thomas Hatch,  an associate professor of education at Columbia University’s Teachers College. He is also co-director of the National Center for Restructuring Education, schools, and teaching.

 

Comments

  • Michael Wolff

    What about the underfunding of education, especially the low pay of teachers? What about comparing the status and pay of teachers in the USA with those of Finnish teachers. Who will lead us, especially federal, state, and local governments as well as parents and the general public to value education? I’ve just finished watching the interview with Tom Hatch from Teachers College. During the Hatch interview and its sequel about Finland’s success, your interviewer never once elicited anything about the failure of US education through inadequate support. Money isn’t everything, but in this country it’s a significant indicator of what we think about something (say the pay of sports and entertainment figures relative to that of teachers and miners. Why was the low incomes of teachers and their lack of status compared to those factors in Finland never brought up?
    Michael Wolff
    Amherst, MA

  • Ellen Mellon

    Are you talking about Singapore (the country) or Shanghai (the city)?? I think your education in geography was either lacking or you were not paying attention. How embarrassing! A report on education that interchanges Shanghai with Singapore says a lot about your (and your editors’ ) education (or lack of)!

  • Ron Zigler

    Unlike other countries with which the United States is often compared, we do not have a national system of education. Our schools are administered by the states and thus we should compare states: either to each other or to other countries. For example, let’s start comparing Massachusetts to Japan or Finland, and perhaps Mississippi to other, less developed nations. Grouping North American states as if they are one educational system is not much more valid than a grouping of all Central or South American countries.

  • Shelley Lewis

    Both Meacham and his guest, Professor Tom Hatch were talking about Singapore, the country, and Shanghai, the city, which was chosen to represent China, the country. We could not substitute “China” for “Shanghai” because the testers acknowledge that Shanghai’s students are the creme de la creme (or whatever the Chinese equivalent of that is). Having said that, we probably should have been clearer as to why we were talking about Shanghai, and not all of China. The full PISA study can be found here

    –Need to Know Executive Producer

  • Pmha1956

    I was educated in Minnesota, at the time one of the highest ranked states in education. But already in these schools the idea that everyone was suited for college, and the concentration of attention on the bottom third of the class had begun to effect those of us at the top who were more like the sunflowers we grew in the area where those plants whose flowers stood taller than the others had their heads cut off. This false application of “all created equal” has decapitated our system of its brightest and best.

  • Xrismark

    And how about making pay match success in the classroom? Why pay for teachers that do not produce results? The failure in paying adequate income for teachers stretches beyond that. We need to restructure the tenure system and reward teachers that perform above and beyond, and stop rewarding teachers that perform at adequate levels.

  • Bbwhimsies

    Maybe we also need to realize that the United States educates all, not just a select group of the best and brightest. I agree that our class sizes need to be smaller, or teachers need to be paid on par with other professionals, or that science and math teachers could be paid ten times as much in the private sector. However, we do educate all, not just the best.

  • VJ

    Pay for teachers and better text and better evaluation tools and testing is all great. I believe the problem is deeper than that. I have been involved in 3 generations of students as a parent and student. As have many of us. The whole system needs to be revamped. We are still primarily on a rural school system, that follows the seasons needed in agricultural areas. We educate our children as if they we on an assembly line. When are we going to put the money into educating children with all the knowledge and technology that is available. The studies are out there as to how to treat children to enhance education. Let us put the money into what will work for a change.

  • Llsexton

    How do we decide whether lack of results is a problem of teacher performance, as opposed to a lack of student performance? If all classes were equal, then we could judge based solely on student performance. The reality is that some schools serve students who change residences (therefore schools) a lot, started at a disadvantage because of a lack of stimulation in early childhood, are undernourished, both physically and emotionally, and whose families do not support them in educational activity. Of course, we know how to “fix” most of those kids–have them in school more, give them enriching activities and serve them more days than we serve other kids. Ante up.

  • Ann

    I teach high school English in California. More than 50% of my students are 2nd language learners (not all of them are from Mexico). They are 16 year olds with minds of their own, raised in a country that does not value education in the same manner as ciuntries like Finland. To base my job upon the actions of others-to say that my job is dependant on the descisions teenagers make-is insane. To rate my job preformane based upon my actions in the classroom, what and how I try to reach kids and upon my continued efforts to colloborate and apply what I learn makes more sense. If you want a better picture of the situation, come do my job for 30 days and then we’ll talk.

  • Keith Pickering-Walters

    The difficulty in making pay match success in the classroom is the number of variables that take place within a classroom. In addition to the quality of teaching, an evaluator of educators must also consider how receptive students are within that particular classroom, how many other distractions are in the classroom (i.e. students who are discipline issues that the administration consistently returns to class when the teacher has sent them out for disrupting the class and other students), the study habits of the students within that particular classroom, the prior education of those students, the placement of that class in the student instructional day, the attendance of the students in that particular classroom, the parent participation for the students in that particular classroom, etc. Teachers can only control so much within our classroom and the lives of our students. Is it a teacher’s poor performance when a student does poorly on the final assessment because they were being yelled at and hit the night before (extreme example), because they were watching TV or surfing the internet until midnight the night before and didn’t get enough sleep, or because the student slept through most of the class for the entire course?
    In addition to the varying factors, there is the matter of subjects. I teach visual arts (Video Production, Animation, Photography). Some students have been learning and experimenting in the arts since kindergarten. For others, this is their first chance at it. Am I to be assessed on the final knowledge of students when students don’t come in with the same skills? More relevant – think of First Grade. Some students haven’t even attended preschool or kindergarten because it’s not compulsory in CA. A five year head start for some students compared to those who were babysat by Barney and daytime television is a huge difference.
    Finally, if teachers do not have the right to due process (the real purpose of “permanent status” in K-12 or what is called “tenure” in higher education), they could be dismissed without just cause simply because they stood up to a principal during a staff meeting, upset an influential parent, rightly failed a student with an influential parent that believes their child is an “honors student”, etc.
    The discussion of school reform is excellent – but people participating in the discussion need to listen to and consider all sides of the equation. I understand that I did not just address all sides and presented only one – but I hope that others will consider it as I am considering theirs.

    Keith Pickering-Walters
    Granada High School
    Livermore, CA

  • Keith Pickering-Walters

    The difficulty in making pay match success in the classroom is the number of variables that take place within a classroom. In addition to the quality of teaching, an evaluator of educators must also consider how receptive students are within that particular classroom, how many other distractions are in the classroom (i.e. students who are discipline issues that the administration consistently returns to class when the teacher has sent them out for disrupting the class and other students), the study habits of the students within that particular classroom, the prior education of those students, the placement of that class in the student instructional day, the attendance of the students in that particular classroom, the parent participation for the students in that particular classroom, etc. Teachers can only control so much within our classroom and the lives of our students. Is it a teacher’s poor performance when a student does poorly on the final assessment because they were being yelled at and hit the night before (extreme example), because they were watching TV or surfing the internet until midnight the night before and didn’t get enough sleep, or because the student slept through most of the class for the entire course?
    In addition to the varying factors, there is the matter of subjects. I teach visual arts (Video Production, Animation, Photography). Some students have been learning and experimenting in the arts since kindergarten. For others, this is their first chance at it. Am I to be assessed on the final knowledge of students when students don’t come in with the same skills? More relevant – think of First Grade. Some students haven’t even attended preschool or kindergarten because it’s not compulsory in CA. A five year head start for some students compared to those who were babysat by Barney and daytime television is a huge difference.
    Finally, if teachers do not have the right to due process (the real purpose of “permanent status” in K-12 or what is called “tenure” in higher education), they could be dismissed without just cause simply because they stood up to a principal during a staff meeting, upset an influential parent, rightly failed a student with an influential parent that believes their child is an “honors student”, etc.
    The discussion of school reform is excellent – but people participating in the discussion need to listen to and consider all sides of the equation. I understand that I did not just address all sides and presented only one – but I hope that others will consider it as I am considering theirs.

    Keith Pickering-Walters
    Granada High School
    Livermore, CA

  • Tokillacrow

    With the unbased pressure that will soon fall upon the scapegoats that teachers have become, I predict a mass exodus from the profession. Perhaps the government wants to stop paying teachers altogether in a plot to dismantle public education?

  • Kidzlibrarian

    I have been an educator for 26 years in three countries (Israel, West Germany and the USA). The bulk of my experience has been teaching in schools in two very different states in terms of education in the USA, Massachusetts and New Mexico. One factor in the newscast that was referred to without name and without elaboration is poverty. Thomas Hatch, an associate professor of education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, did mention facilities and how some schools are unsafe and do not contain adequate technology and materials. Some of the people who posted replies here also brought up unequal circumstances and that is what I would like to focus on in my reply. Some children in the USA don’t have the basics for survival, let alone what they need to perform well in school: food, shelter and safety. Our schools can help these children in some ways (free breakfasts and lunches, clothing drives, etc.) but we can’t meet all of the students needs nor can we make up for the difference between poor and the middle and upper classes in enriching experiences outside of school. In addition, many of the best teachers are attracted to work for school systems that pay better and have better benefits. Sometimes teachers work in the areas where they have been raised, ensuring a cycle of the individuals who have had less in the way of enriching, broadening experiences working with children with limited opportunities. I have met dedicated, talented teachers who prefer to work with less entitled students because they can make a bigger difference. Despite this, the inequities in children’s lives, both outside and inside the classroom, play a huge role in their performances in school. In terms of motivation alone, a student with unemployed family members, from a family in which no one has attended an institution of higher education and that doesn’t have the means to send their children to college will probably not make as much of an effort as a child in different circumstances. Poverty can lead to hopelessness. In my opinion, we need to focus on raising the standard of living of the poor in this country not on spending billions on creating, buying, administering and scoring more and more standardized tests. Finnish students were quoted as being top scorers in these international tests. I am guessing that the standard of living for the majority of their students is better than what we see here in the USA. We all know what children need to succeed (smaller class sizes, good nutrition, stimulating home and school environments, etc.). Socialism has become a dirty word in our country recently but our constitution, the amendments to it and the laws of the land outline and support equity. All of our children deserve the opportunity to thrive.

  • Kidzlibrarian

    I have been an educator for 26 years in three countries (Israel, West Germany and the USA). The bulk of my experience has been teaching in schools in two very different states in terms of education in the USA, Massachusetts and New Mexico. One factor in the newscast that was referred to without name and without elaboration is poverty. Thomas Hatch, an associate professor of education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, did mention facilities and how some schools are unsafe and do not contain adequate technology and materials. Some of the people who posted replies here also brought up unequal circumstances and that is what I would like to focus on in my reply. Some children in the USA don’t have the basics for survival, let alone what they need to perform well in school: food, shelter and safety. Our schools can help these children in some ways (free breakfasts and lunches, clothing drives, etc.) but we can’t meet all of the students needs nor can we make up for the difference between poor and the middle and upper classes in enriching experiences outside of school. In addition, many of the best teachers are attracted to work for school systems that pay better and have better benefits. Sometimes teachers work in the areas where they have been raised, ensuring a cycle of the individuals who have had less in the way of enriching, broadening experiences working with children with limited opportunities. I have met dedicated, talented teachers who prefer to work with less entitled students because they can make a bigger difference. Despite this, the inequities in children’s lives, both outside and inside the classroom, play a huge role in their performances in school. In terms of motivation alone, a student with unemployed family members, from a family in which no one has attended an institution of higher education and that doesn’t have the means to send their children to college will probably not make as much of an effort as a child in different circumstances. Poverty can lead to hopelessness. In my opinion, we need to focus on raising the standard of living of the poor in this country not on spending billions on creating, buying, administering and scoring more and more standardized tests. Finnish students were quoted as being top scorers in these international tests. I am guessing that the standard of living for the majority of their students is better than what we see here in the USA. We all know what children need to succeed (smaller class sizes, good nutrition, stimulating home and school environments, etc.). Socialism has become a dirty word in our country recently but our constitution, the amendments to it and the laws of the land outline and support equity. All of our children deserve the opportunity to thrive.

  • Al

    At 54 years of age, I’m finally learning that I grew up with a significant disability that impairs my physical and mental capacities, not to mention my self-image and motivation. I was accidentally taught at an early age how to make up excuses for failure. Test children early for problems like hypothyroid, pituitary hormone imbalances, and nutritional deficiencies.

    Is education lifelong or do we know everything when we graduate high school. Is education intended only to make us productive drones or does it support democracy, cultured, and empathetic for each other? Why do we fund education beyond high school for people with disabilities to join the workforce but not to join society?

  • FrancisM

    While our educational system definitely needs reform, it also needs some “old blood.” I say . . .bring the boomers back into the breach.

    There is a growing number of recent retirees who would welcome a chance to volunteer in our schools. Many of our seniors are well-educated engineers, medical professionals, lawyers, pilots, farmers, mechanics, bankers, chemists, chefs, pharmacists, etc. who are just waiting to be asked to participate in the rebirth of our schools. We need to design a program to get them more involved in the future of their grandchildren.

    Ask a super-qualified senior citizen to teach once or twice a week in the neighborhood school in his or her life-long specialty. Most seniors will give freely of their time and are ready to give back. Others will appreciate recognition or compensation through increased medicare benefits or free services provided by the community. Creative minds know how to design a simple way to give seniors a little help with their needs in return for their volunteer time.

    Tap this qualified and expanding knowledge resource. Many are waiting to be asked.