Last week the papers were filled with news about America's plummeting education system. Shanghai took top PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) awards in math, science, and reading. The United States came in 31st in math, 23rd in science, and 17th in reading.
While the PISA tests raised alarms, the revelation that America's schools are failing many of our students is no surprise.
In 2007, The Future of Children's Excellence in the Classroom issue evaluated K-12 education in the United States and recommended policies for reform. Research on teacher quality showed not only that students who have good teachers learn more, but that their learning is cumulative if they have good teachers for several consecutive years. A child in poverty who has a good teacher for five years in a row could have learning gains large enough, on average, to completely close the achievement gap with higher income students.
According to a December 10, 2010 New York Times article, What Works in the Classroom? Ask the Students, students themselves identified which teachers were most effective. Based on preliminary research from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, researchers found that there was substantial agreement between students' ratings of teachers and teachers' value-added scores.
Students know quality teaching when they experience it.
As No Child Left Behind comes up for re-authorization in 2011, it is critical that we advocate and engage students, as well as teachers, policy makers, and community members, in conversations and initiatives that will improve education in the United States.
The Gates Foundation provided support for the Future of Children's journal on Fragile Families, and will provide funding for our upcoming journals on Immigrant Children, Work and Family, and Post Secondary Education in the United States, all of which devote significant attention to education policy and practice.