January 6th, 2012
12:13 PM ET

GPS Special re-airs: Fixing Education

This Saturday at 8pm and 11pm ET/PT, Fareed Zakaria's GPS primetime special – “Restoring the American Dream: Fixing Education” will re-air. So if you missed it in November, make sure you catch it now.

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.

Remember to tune in this Saturday at 8pm and 11pm ET/PT for Fareed Zakaria's GPS primetime special – “Restoring the American Dream: Fixing Education."

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Topics: Education • GPS Show

soundoff (73 Responses)
  1. Jinny

    I love the tripod analogy! The problem is these three legs of the tripod are often pitted against each other and the blame finger points in a circle. There has to be some way to bring the legs together and work towards building a system that has the children in mind. Also, the "equal share" is idealistic. There must be checks and balances for each "leg" to bear more weight when the other(s) fail. ...... Easier said than done!

    January 8, 2012 at 10:30 am | Reply
  2. Jinny

    Second hooray for Webster!

    January 8, 2012 at 10:32 am | Reply
  3. Ellen

    American parents should spend more time to discipline and educate their own children rather than complaining to teachers and school system. Some American parents try to place their children into academically advanced classes even though the children are not capable to follow, and fix the school system including curriculum to fit into their own children's capability. This is actually lowering down academic level in advanced classes. Simply teachers do not have authorities and too much parents influence in school system. In addition, the school system should have some standard for placing individual students into academically appropriate classes. In order to achieve this, each classroom should be designed to have different academic level. Standard testing for each month for placing students should be held for placement. Also they should have standard text book system for each grade such that those books are readily available at low cost to anybody. The copy right should be owned by the government. These text book should be developed by well known group of teachers funded by government, so that anybody can copy, use, and develop the content without worrying about copyright. This will motivate secondary market to develop additional educational method based on the standard that set by the text book without incurring any royalty payment to the standard text book authors.

    January 8, 2012 at 11:41 am | Reply
  4. Mary J Mills

    I was surprised that FZ summarized by saying that American workers are "too expensive and too poorly educated". Wages have been declining for over 20 years. He didnt mention the deplorable way education is funded in America - out of property taxes for the most part. Americans are among the most productive workers in the world when they are working. At the heart of our problems is the poverty and social dislocation in so many of our lowest performing schools. Illegal immigration takes jobs away from teenagers and retirees who used to do some of these part time and summer jobs. Americans are expensive because they dont want to work for $11 an hour. They are burdened with a health care system that is monstrously expensive. Sick people cant work. People dont job share in this country, and they must pay for their college educations by themselves. All of this is crazy. Why blame Americans, and not the multinational corporations who have been allowed to run our government?

    January 8, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Reply
    • cw1545

      I don't think it was a swipe at teacher's and their salaries; more so, a swipe at the bureaucratic garbage that goes into buying books, and what they cost, things of that nature. Teachers are poorly compensated for what they do.

      January 9, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Reply
    • bunga

      How can you educate a child who srufees to learn? Sit in on some of the public school classrooms & watch what happens. Teachers are ignored and if the troublemaker is confronted, the teacher is threatened. I've personally heard from teachers, some of whom are my friends and relatives, about the nightmare of trying to teach these kids. Some are terrified of the students, some just quit because they can't take it anymore. The parents & lawyers are to blame. If you look menacing at one of these kids, they threaten to sue, and there are plenty of lawers waiting in the wings. The principles & school boards are scared to death of being sued. But lets just keep throwing money to the education systems & watch it go down the drain. If parents can't control their kids and give them incentives to learn & grow into productive adults, then the do nothing congress should pass some effective laws, prohibiting lawsuits from being filed on teachers, principals & school boards if they do the parents job. With the exception of extreme crulty, a teacher should be allowed to controll unruly children without the worry of a lawsuit. I've heard it time and again, "my child is a good child,he wouldn't do that. It's the teachers fault". We're too politically correct in this country. Always worried what somebody thinks of us if we say something that offends someone else. Bull!

      March 12, 2012 at 2:42 am | Reply
  5. Ralph Cahn

    Bill Gates lied when he said that his KIPP schools have the same costs per students as public schools (see the NPR News Blog of 3/31/11). The KIPP schools cost the tax papers more plus they get (and apparently need) $5700 per student per year from private donors according to the New York Times. But worst is the fact according to the Baltimore Sun's Inside Ed blog that the turnover averaged 15% of students drop from KIPP "cohorts" every year compared to 3% in public schools. It's worse in grades 6 and 8 where 30% o KIPP students drop off the rolls (mostly African-American). AND it's selective about who it accepts (public schools can't be). Bill Gates is a deceiver and a liar.

    January 8, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Reply
    • Ralph Cahn

      Oh yes, I forgot. FAREED: YOU NEED TO TELL YOUR VIEWERS THE TRUTH ABOUT KIPP SCHOOLS AND THEIR PROUD SUPPORTER'S "INCORRECT STATEMENTS"..

      January 8, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Reply
  6. Vincent

    First, it begins at home. Parents need to raise their children right and be involved in their lives more and stop weining them off on tv and video games. Despite the stress, finances, and other problems, parents still have a duty and obligation to be there for their children. That should be first and foremost. No one ever said parenting was easy and it will never be easy. People need to suck it up and get the job done or just don't have kids.
    Second, the public school system as a whole needs a major refit; its not broken but its way out of wack. We need to be very militant with education. And stop idolizing professional sports stars, movie icons, and performers. We pay too much homage to them and not enough towards good education. Third, we need to take pages out of S. Korea and Finland. Then use them as a guide to create a style that works for us; but not watered down. Fourth, we need to hire the best teachers and requirements should be tightened. Lets not bring anyone off the streets to teach kids. Fifth, the proper resources and material should be allocated without hesitation to ensure teachers have what they need to accomplish the goal. Sixth, the govt needs to get itself together and stop attacking the schools and taking away resources over their petty duels for each group to out do the other. And lastly Seventh, As a nation, we need to regrow our spines. We are not that rough and tough nation we used to be. We have become soft, weak, and complacent. We need to pull it together, wake up, and stop being so stupid. Ex: research shows that most americans in general can't even find Italy on a world map. We have become arrogant and conceited we forget we are not alone on planet earth. And I have friends in Canada and Europe and this is how they say we are largely seen by the rest of the world. I'm sure this isn't what our founding fathers wanted us to be. We need to get our fight back people!!! Their is a lot more to life and the world then sports, soap operas, and video games; AND PLEASE STOP BASHING S KOREA AND/OR FINLAND! WE ARE STAGNATE AND MESSED UP. THEY MAY NOT BE PERFECT BUT AT LEAST THEY ARE TRYING TO DO SOMETHING!!

    January 8, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Reply
  7. Ferial Saleh

    Fareed, What is the role of 'natural IQ' of a nation in the success of its students at school? It appears that the estimated average IQ in the Korean region is 105 and in European region of Finland is upwards of 100. In the US it ranges much lower except the North East of United States & Canada where it averages 95. Any thoughts? Is IQ a function of education or is there any other relationship. Ferial

    January 8, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Reply
  8. barbara cherem

    Last evening in the Fixing Education program, Fareed Zakaria stated that teachers were of lesser quality today than in the 1960s or thereabouts; he stated this as a fact. I am wondering what source he used for this? From what I have read, this is not supported by factual research on the topic.
    Thanks,
    Barb

    January 8, 2012 at 9:32 pm | Reply
  9. Brian

    Where can I find a link to the full episode? I have found the transcript, but I would like to view the entire "Fixing Education" program. Thanks.

    January 9, 2012 at 8:50 am | Reply
    • Merrie

      Did you ever receive a response to your questions about viewing the entire episode of Fixing Education? I am also trying to find it.

      January 26, 2012 at 11:22 am | Reply
  10. Ray Ann

    After viewing the special on education again and reading all of these posts I can say that I think everyone is on track: 1) some parents are not involved in education , 2) some kids are not raised to see education as important, 3) some teachers are definitely not qualified to teach, and 4) some schools lack the innovation to engage their students. What amazes me is the amount of money we are spending, as a nation, to "fix" the system and we are not doing so.......it's not that hard but people have to be willing to examine the issues...Fareed, your special was well done, but you did not discuss parenting and its role in quality education, therefore you did not discuss the issue in a complete way-we all need to discuss the issues honestly and completely. Education is an issue that we can all find rallying points, but we can't be afraid to discuss it all. As a parent and an educator, it frustrates me that the solutions are right in front of us but we are not getting there.

    January 21, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Reply
  11. tk

    When are/will you post the full episode?? It was really great and I am trying to recommend it to others. Please post it soon! Thanks!

    January 22, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Reply
  12. Steven James Beto

    Many schools are beginning to experiment with self-taught, on-line formats in which teachers are being replaced by proctors who can help only with the technical aspects of starting and closing the system and none of its content. The system is lauded as the coming thing in education and is necessary to save money. As such, the hole we are digging is getting deeper and an economic heart of darkness seem to be at base; If we are not constantly growing, we are failing.

    Somewhere there is an economist behind all of this.

    Schools can increase their earnings by replacing higher paid teachers with proctors, but pinching pennies here will result in the dumbing down of America and our rankings will fall even more. Current American business practices do not have a place in the education system. There can be no bailout for our education system and at least in the classroom, the final words of Corporate Kurtz shall be, "Profit, Profit!"

    January 29, 2012 at 11:14 am | Reply
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