November 5th, 2011
11:00 AM ET

GPS Special: Fixing education

This Sunday, a Fareed Zakaria GPS primetime special – “Restoring the American Dream: Fixing Education”. The show airs at 8p and 11p ET/PT.

While America was once tops in education, we are now ranked 15th in reading, 23rd in science, and 31st in math.

What happened? How can we dig ourselves out of this deep hole?

For inspiration, we go to South Korea and Finland – two nations that consistently rank highly on education. Interestingly, the two have very different approaches. South Korea has long school days and school years with a strong focus on standardized testing. Finland is much more lackadaisical – except in its approach to teachers and teaching. In Finland, teachers are revered; it’s tougher to get into masters programs for teaching than it is to get into higher education for medicine and law.

So what can we learn? We talked about the priorities of teachers, testing, and technology with Microsoft chairman Bill Gates whose foundation has given $5 billion to education so far; we speak with former DC schools chair Michelle Rhee, and education activist Diane Ravitch. We look at a novel way of teaching, started by a former investment manager who stumbled upon a formula for student success: Sal Khan is the creator of the Khan Academy, a YouTube-based “classroom” that so far has gotten over 80 million hits - and reports of success using it in real classrooms.

Finally, Fareed offers his take on what will fix our troubles.

Here are some excerpts:

The secrets of Seoul

Welcome to Seoul, South Korea – capital city of one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. There are many reasons to be impressed with this Asian tiger that rose from the ashes of a civil war. But South Korea’s crown jewel is its education system. Thanks to a militant drive for success, this nation’s students have outperformed the rest of the world for the better part of a decade. On the most recent Pisa exam, the benchmark international test, South Korea ranked first in reading and second in math among all nations.

President Obama has noticed, singing Korea’s praises on a regular basis. On a visit to Seoul in 2009, he asked South Korean president Lee Myung-bak what his biggest challenge was in education. The president’s reply? Korean parents care too much about their children’s success. We visited the Cho family on a typical day for their son, Sung-do. He gets up every day at six a.m., jumps rope as the sun comes up. Then eats a massive breakfast his mother has prepared. She says a healthy meal helps his concentration. Sung-do goes to school from eight a.m. to four p.m. on most days – much longer hours than most American students. There are about two hundred and five schools days in the South Korean calendar – twenty-five more than the typical U.S. schedule. Over the course of their academic careers, South Korean children will spend almost two more years in the classroom than their American counterparts.

Insights from Bill Gates

Fareed Zakaria: If you were the secretary of education, well, let’s say you have - even more powerful than the secretary of education. So suppose you could change something about the structure of American education, the, you know, the system, what would it be?

Bill Gates: If I was in charge of a school district, it would be about hiring the best teachers. And how do you get them to learn from each other and how do you make sure you’re bringing the really good ones in. So the basic research about great teaching, that’s now become our biggest investment.

It could be a very smart investment. One study says that if students had a top teacher for four years straight, the achievement gap between blacks and whites would disappear.

The Gates foundation has launched a massive effort to figure out how America can foster great teaching – collecting data from thousands of educators and even videotaping their lessons.

Fareed Zakaria: What do you think makes a good teacher?

Bill Gates: Clearly, there's something about engaging the student. As I've watched the videos of great teachers, they are constantly looking out and seeing that the kids are starting to fidget. They're bringing up the energy level. They're calling on this kid. They're using examples.

Fareed Zakaria: But Gates’ research is not only about identifying great teachers.

His team is also figuring out how to grade the teachers – just like they grade their students.

They’re looking at different ways to reward and motivate good teachers – like adding to their paychecks based on a principal’s evaluation or their students’ performance.

Bill Gates: Why is teaching going to be better 10 years from now, 20 years from now, than it is today? Well, partly because we’re going to have these feedback mechanisms. Now the way you weigh the different elements, how much tests weigh into that, how strong the other elements are, that’s what we’re investing in.

And that’s where things can get controversial – because when it comes to education policy, the politics are nasty.

Topics: Education • GPS Show

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soundoff (228 Responses)
  1. Dr Tim

    If we're talking facts – then let's use real facts. You can have your own opinions (Dan Davis) but not your own facts.
    The problem with Bill Gates and other "Free Market" for education proponents is this:
    Children are not widgets – education is not business – learning cannot be standardized – if we spent more time teaching and less testing we might improve. One thing they should know from business – you can't improve quality simply by testing. You have to include the people who are responsible for the process – like Toyota and Scania have shown in production.

    No Child Left Behind is the largest failed social experiment in our history. Education experts – as opposed to billionaires (many of whom did leave elite schools early) agree. Standardized testing and business model accountability simply leads to teaching to the test, fudging numbers, casting out failing students to pump up results and other draconian measures.
    Research shows Mr. Gates and his ilk (Mayor Bloomberg, Democrats for School Reform etc etc.) are wrong.
    Only 10% (at most) of student outcomes is attributable to in-class factors. Of those experience of teachers and class size are the only two that really matter.
    Fully 60-% of student outcomes are due to factors outside school: Poverty, Hunger, Homelessness, Health, Racial isolation.
    You want to fix education? If we really want o put students first and improve our education – start with those intractable problems.Fareed is correct – inequality is the root. Not just income inequality (but that's a good place to start) – but social inequality.

    PLEASE – if you happen to believe teachers are to blame for the condition of our education system – try doing their job for just one week. I guarantee you'll learn something valuable.

    December 13, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Reply
  2. frosifer

    Ever since my wife told me about this episode, I've been searching for ways to view it (in vain). But I think I just saw that it will be re-aired this Saturdary (1/7) at 8 PM EST/ 5PM PST. I hope that's true, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing it in its entirely, rather than the small clips I've found here and there.

    January 6, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Reply
    • frosifer

      Ah:
      http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2012/01/06/gps-special-re-airs-fixing-education/

      January 6, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Reply
  3. In South Korea

    I hope you address the fact that in South Korea it appears from your report, that they do not have coed schools.
    Let's compare apples to apples and organges to oranges.

    January 7, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Reply
    • Grace Kim

      They do.

      January 8, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Reply
  4. Denise Phillips

    I just finished watching portions of Fixing Education and I have a few observations/comments. I began teaching physics and chemistry in 1976 and things have changed quite a bit since then. The comment was made near the end of the program that we have lost many good teachers because talented, educated women have gone into other fields.( I'll hold off on several comments about that to keep from losing my real point.) What wasn't mentioned was at about that same time someone decided that every child in America needed to graduate from high school. That is a worthwhile goal. Democracy can't exist without well educated voters. But how we tried to do that was horribly wrong. We started by keeping all of the difficult, demanding, students: the hyperactive, the poor, the uninterested, the slow to learn, the trouble makers, etc. Then we changed absolutely nothing else. We have been trying to recover and do better ever since. We didn't suddenly all become bad teachers. We were overwhelmed. We were not trained to do this new job. No one sent me back to school to teach me how to modify tests, or cope with an austic kid in meltdown, or earn the attention of a kid who was shot at on the way to school, or refocus the kid whose mom is absent due to drugs. One day these kids in the "old school " would just drop out and we could teach the rest. Now there is no dropping out. I repeat that a good education is vital for these kids, they should be in school. But they are not in a position where they value that education. My point is that we still have good teachers, teaching skills are not the problem. Cultural values are the problem. How do you convince a 3rd generation welfare kid that getting a good education and a good job is important? How do you convince a poor kid that has never traveled outside of his home city that knowing where Iran is is important? Finland is doing a great job, do they have 45 % of their students on free and reduced lunch? Is South Korea having a huge surge of illegal immigrants to educate ? We have always hoped that education is the cure for society's ills. I think we are finding out that we must cure those ills first, or education withers.
    One comment on Khan schools. In 1976 I was introduced to the concept of "modules". Units of material that students could learn at their own pace. I still have some of my original "modules". They were not successful. Slow students would cheat and ask quicker students for answers. Some would fly through material and be bored, some would never finish material that was important. So I abandoned the idea as did many others. It was a good idea, and with computers it is a workable idea. But only if we abandon the idea that an 8 year old should be in 3rd grade. And only if we step away from the concept that a child must be in 3rd grade math and 3rd grade science and 3rd grade english at the same time. Our entire system must be reinvented. But how do you get an entire school, an entire district, an entire community to embrace such a huge change ?
    Back to losing talented women teachers – I think my male and very talented co-teachers would be more than a little offended.

    January 7, 2012 at 10:06 pm | Reply
  5. S. J. Rose

    http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-727771

    *K-12 MAPS TO A STEM EDUCATION By SJRose

    http://www.plantagriculture.org to Read the Bill Proposal and the story of a
    little girl whose heart to help others inspired this bill proposal

    This is a "Call to Action". We need your help to get the "K-12 MAPS to a
    STEM Education Act of 2012" bill proposal to congress and passed.

    This bill has the potential to not only help to close the educational
    gaps, help our students become leaders nationally and internationally, but
    also help to save the lives of children who suffer from childhood hunger
    and childhood obesity.

    We need this bill passed as soon as possible and it won't happen without
    your help.

    The current educational system within the United States is not able to
    provide all students an equal educational opportunity for success.

    Unfortunately, statistics show that not only are there educational gaps
    between the educational scores of White, Black and Hispanic students that
    have continued for years, despite the "No Child Left Behind Act of 2001",
    but also, students in the United States are failing to obtain high scores
    in Reading, Mathematics, and Science, when compared to their international
    peers; scores for students in the United States were "lower than" the top
    30% in Reading, were "lower than" the top 70% in Mathematics, and were
    "lower than" the top 45% in Science; according to the National Center for
    Education Statistics, "Current Figures", Section 2, Learner Outcomes, for
    15 year old students in the United States, International Reading Literacy
    Figure 15-1, and International Mathematics and Science Literacy Figure
    16-1.

    Our students are struggling and they are being educated in the United
    States of America. They need our help.

    Please contact your congressperson today and ask them to present and
    sponsor this bill. https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml

    January 8, 2012 at 1:21 am | Reply
  6. peter

    Also, Finnish is a very easy language to learn because it is much more phonetic than English which is highly irregular and illogical: http://finnish-and-pisa.blogspot.com/

    Moreover, Finnish-speaking Finnish students do better than their Swedish-speaking Finnish counterpart, so language does matter because they get the same education, except that it is conducted in a different language.

    If English were to be reformed and some of the elements given here were added, the US education system would be better. The Canadian system would be better. It is partly related to the language.

    January 8, 2012 at 2:17 am | Reply
  7. peter

    Here is the website: http://finnish-and-pisa.blogspot.com/

    January 8, 2012 at 2:19 am | Reply
  8. S. J. Rose

    Gotta say I was very shocked while watching the program tonight or last night! I was shocked because I just finished working on a bill proposal to address these very issues! Second, I was shocked to see how much money was going into trying to help our kids learn, when if we could just get this bill passed, it would not cost much at all to implement it and it has the potential to help children of all races and ethnicities to make the valuable synapse connections to all school subjects, including Mathematics, the Arts (Language Arts+), and Science, but to the Technology and Engineering too.

    Please help me out here and read it and use it to help us get this bill proposal to congress. I'm not a politician! My expertise is in education. I can put the information together but we need your help. Please write a letter to your congressperson and ask them to present and sponsor this bill. We need to advocate for our kids, they need us. We gotta give them a way to love education again, and not dread the standardized test.

    K-12 MAPS TO A STEM EDUCATION, 2012 EDITION
    1. Book Description
    2. A Call to Action
    3. Bill Preview
    4. Copyright and Permission to Copy
    5. Contact Information
    6. K-12 MAPS to a STEM Education Act of 2012 bill proposal
    7. The Story of a Little Girl Who's Heart to Help Others Inspired this bill proposal

    1. BOOK DESCRIPTION:
    K-12 MAPS TO A STEM EDUCATION is the very first of its kind! It's a whole new approach to educating K-12 students. The primary focus is providing all students a strong and relatable plant agriculture foundation upon which all educators can help build, simultaneously, K-12 MAPS (Mathematics, Arts, Plants, and Science) synaptic connections to higher level STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields of study.

    The current educational system within the United States is not able to provide all students an equal educational opportunity for success. Unfortunately, statistics show that not only are there educational gaps between the educational scores of White, Black and Hispanic students that have continued for years, despite the "No Child Left Behind Act of 2001", but also, students in the United States are failing to obtain high scores in Reading, Mathematics, and Science, when compared to their international peers; scores for students in the United States were "lower than" the top 30% in Reading, were "lower than" the top 70% in Mathematics, and were "lower than" the top 45% in Science; according to the National Center for Education Statistics, "Current Figures", Section 2, Learner Outcomes, for 15 year old students in the United States, International Reading Literacy Figure 15-1, and International Mathematics and Science Literacy Figure 16-1.

    Our students are struggling and they are being educated in the United States of America. They need our help.

    2. A CALL TO ACTION:
    This is a "Call to Action". We need your help to get the "K-12 MAPS to a STEM Education Act of 2012" bill proposal to congress and passed. This bill has the potential to not only help to close the educational gaps, help our students become leaders internationally, but also help to save the lives of children who suffer from childhood hunger and childhood obesity. We need this bill passed as soon as possible and it won't happen without your help.

    Please contact your congressperson today and ask them to present and sponsor this bill. https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml

    Please feel free to share this book and use the information in this book and the website http://www.plantagriculture.org to use as needed to help prepare your letters and emails to your congressperson and also to help gather support for this bill.

    January 8, 2012 at 2:23 am | Reply
  9. S. J. Rose

    Continue: K-12 MAPS TO A STEM EDUCATION

    3. BILL PREVIEW:
    An Act
    To make "Plant Agriculture Education" (the teaching of skills needed to grow plant life forms to sustain life) the foundation of K-12 education with accountability, flexibility and choice, so that no child is left behind and all races and ethnicities receive an equal educational opportunity to learn and develop the skills of growing food and to use the food growing skills, food growing educational experiences, and food growing practice experiences to provide direct synaptic linking K-12 MAPS (Mathematics, Arts, Plants, and Science) to a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Education.

    Preamble
    WHEREAS, a Plant Agriculture Education has the potential to help give all students of all races and all ethnicities, an equal educational opportunity to make synapse connections to Mathematics, Arts, and Science, creating K-12 MAPS to a STEM Education; a Plant Agriculture Education has the potential to help decrease childhood obesity and increase students ability, at an early age, to develop a taste for, to grow and select healthier food choices; a Plant Agriculture Education has the potential to help decrease childhood hunger and increase student's ability to grow and select healthy food choices; a Plant Agriculture Education has the potential to help students in the United States better relate to their education, to become leaders nationally and internationally; and therefore, should become law as soon as possible.

    4. COPYRIGHT AND PERMISSION TO COPY
    Note to Reader: Permission granted to use the information and photos in this book as needed to help create, prepare, and present the "K-12 MAPS to a STEM Education Act of 2012" bill. Permission granted to use the information and photos in this book as needed to help support the passing of this bill. Permission granted to educators and parents to use the information and photos in this book as needed to teach a, K-12 MAPS to a STEM Education. All parties are given permission to copy, distribute and use this book in any way that is positive and helpful to advancing K-12 educational goals. The use of the information or photos in this book or the website to profit financially, is not granted. These same permissions are given to any and all content on the Plant Agriculture Website: http://www.plantagriculture.org

    S. J. Rose is dedicated to providing helpful educational information and due to differing conditions, tools, and individual skills, S. J. Rose assume no responsibility for any damages, injuries suffered, or losses incurred as a result of following the information published in this book or on the http://www.plantagriculture.org website. Before beginning the growing process of any agricultural plants, educate the students on the parts of the plants that are safe to eat. Just as children need to be taught, not to eat hand soap or even garden soil, educators need to teach children not to eat parts of the plant that are not considered safe food parts. Choose agricultural plants that are age appropriate for your students and remember that some foods could cause chocking, especially for young students or students with special needs. Educators may need to cut foods into smaller pieces, make sure to keep plants out of the student's reach if there is a chocking concern, or choose a variety that is more age appropriate and growing skill level appropriate for your students. Always use good agricultural practices and always teach safety and use safety when using tools. Only use tools that are age appropriate.

    5. CONTACT INFORMATION: plantagriculture.org

    January 8, 2012 at 2:29 am | Reply
  10. S. J. Rose

    Continue: K-12 MAPS TO A STEM EDUCATION

    6. K-12 MAPS TO A STEM EDUCATION ACT OF 2012 BILL PROPOSAL
    An Act
    To make "Plant Agriculture Education" (the teaching of skills needed to grow plant life forms to sustain life) the foundation of K-12 education with accountability, flexibility and choice, so that no child is left behind and all races and ethnicities receive an equal educational opportunity to learn and develop the skills of growing food and to use the food growing skills, food growing educational experiences, and food growing practice experiences to provide direct synaptic linking K-12 MAPS (Mathematics, Arts, Plants, and Science) to a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Education.
    WHEREAS, this act should take effect, As Soon As Possible, to start the process of "saving lives" by decreasing childhood hunger and childhood obesity, of which both are increased by inadequate educational opportunities to receive the knowledge, of obtaining, selecting, and even growing, healthy food choices; and to start the process of providing all races and ethnicities of students, equal educational opportunities; and, providing all of the nation's students, the opportunity to receive a K-12 MAPS educational connection to a STEM education.
    WHEREAS, it is a scientific known fact that synapse (cell connections within the human brain) are required for educational progress; it is a scientific known fact that education is taught successfully by building and strengthening theses synapse connections through experiences that build upon one another; it is a scientific known fact that synapse connections which are not used can break down making it difficult for students to make future synapse connections; it is a scientific known fact that educators have a greater success of helping students make these synapse connections, when they have a strong foundation of synapse connections to build upon and make connections to.
    WHEREAS, a Plant Agriculture Education provides a very strong and relatable foundation for all students no matter what their race or ethnicity is. A Plant Agriculture Education, "skill set", provides synapse connections for educators to use to help students make and strengthen synapse connections to Mathematics, Arts, and Science, thus creating K-12 level MAPS to a higher level STEM education.
    WHEREAS, a Plant Agriculture Education can be implemented with limited financial means by simply giving K-12 students the opportunity to observe the growing process of a variety of agricultural plants throughout their K-12 educational years. Whether students observe plants growing in a bag of planting soil with drainage holes, a container garden, a raised bed, a cold frame or even a green house, it doesn't matter; they will still gain a strong Plant Agriculture Education skill set, upon which other skill sets in Mathematics, Arts, Science, and even Technology, and Engineering can be built simultaneously.

    January 8, 2012 at 2:46 am | Reply
  11. Isabella Fisher

    The education level of our teachers has been a problem in USA . The curriculum approved by the government is not as strong and diversified as in other countries.
    The amount of hours the students spend in the school it is not directly related to how much they learn. I went to school half day, 5 days a week, and I know as much or more than my Americans friends. A student who goes to a good school in Brazil from 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 (noon) receives as much education as an American student who goes to a good school in USA from 8:00 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. Why? I constantly ask my daughter what she does in school for 7 hours and 15 minutes...

    January 8, 2012 at 3:33 am | Reply
  12. Kim

    To change education in America, we have to first change the system-STOP Standardized Testing!!!! The use of standardized testing in American Public Education has lead to a system of mediocrity. Teachers are forced to get all kids to the same level of understanding–in the end, this leads to poor interest by students, teachers who are bound to curriculums that are focused solely on score, and parents who are frustrated because a test score gives their child little hope of future success.

    January 8, 2012 at 11:02 am | Reply
  13. matthewca

    Diane Ravitch has studied education for over 20 years and is concerned about the emergence of financiers like Bill Gates. Smart guy, but should he be recommending how to run schools when he has not spent one day responsible for the education of a group of children? Heaven help us, please. Bill, put yourself on the line here and spend a week in the shoes of a teacher. The personal qualities of a teacher are more important than anything else: how smart they are, how much they know, how hard they work, none of these matter as much as whether students like their teacher. Tenure was designed to protect teachers from students who would undermine the program for personal gain. Can the system be repaired? We might never find out!

    January 10, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Reply
  14. Barbara Poling

    Once again, there's been a discussion on education and the TEACHERS have been left out. Everyone wants to criticize teachers, and yet our government refuses to let us teach. People who have never even been teachers make up so many ridiculous laws about what we, the teachers, need to do, and as always, expect us to work 24/7 to do it all. The problem with our educational system stems from our culture and from insane government regulations. Teachers have 30 kids in a classroom, many of whom are disrespectful, don't know English, and have learning disabilities. And you want us to do what? Not only teach but meet each student's individual learning needs, catch then up even if they're ten years behind in reading, and keep mountain loads of records for each student to prove that they're learning? Seriously? If you want a fair discussion of what's going on in education, try talking to the teachers who try their best against overwhelming odds. Talk to me!

    January 15, 2012 at 9:40 am | Reply
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