Undoubtedly, low student achievement is the most pressing concern among American educators and policymakers, particularly the gap in achievement between disadvantaged students and the rest of the student body. A recent report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shows that 12% of 15-year old students in the U.S. are performing below basic proficiency in the core subjects.
Is It Really about Income?
It is frequently suggested that the US has a high percentage of underprivileged students and this reality is reflected in student performance statistics. However, according to an OECD report, released in 2016 countries where incomes are much lower are out-performing the States. The report also reveals that in high achieving countries like China, Vietnam, and South Korea fewer than 5% of 15-year old students are performing below the basic proficiency level. This data begs the questions - what are they doing differently and what can we learn from them?
Perhaps the most important difference is one of attitude. Asian educators know that the longer a student struggles, the more permanent his or her failures will become. Therefore, they identify the problem as early as possible, and address it through thorough and specialized work, building the student's confidence and developing his/her skill-set. For example, students in Singapore are assessed on their mathematics and literacy skills when they begin first grade. Any student displaying a deficiency is immediately placed with specially trained teachers who use every strategy available to bring that student to the required level of proficiency. In Hong Kong, students who have just immigrated to the country are offered a rich preparatory program and their schools receive extensive resources to help them assimilate and succeed in their new educational environment. Shanghai utilizes a very successful pairing system whereby urban schools are teamed with rural schools to bring valuable teaching resources, curriculum, classroom management tools and educational strategies to every classroom.
The idea that some students will fail is not on the agenda in these Asian countries. With the expectation of success comes the belief in every student's ability to succeed and the responsibility to facilitate it, regardless of ethnicity or economic status. Perhaps it's time we took a page out of their book, perhaps it's time we truly believe in all our children and their ability to learn anything and achieve everything.