Lessons Learned, Strategies Affirmed

WPF Program Director Elliot Weinbaum was selected among a group of 20 U.S. leaders from government, business and civil society as a 2017 Eisenhower Fellow. In June, he traveled to China to study education policy as part of the Zhi-Xing Fellowship program supported by the Chinese Ministry of Education.

 

As my meetings and site visits in classrooms across China continued after my previous post, it became increasingly evident that the U.S. and China are tremendously similar in terms of many of the challenges they face, the goals they share, and the strategies they employ to improve the education experience for students. The levels of similarity were striking.

Challenges: We are both dealing with highly inequitable education systems that perpetuate economic and social divides, and we are both wrestling with how to help large systems meet the needs of a rapidly changing economy.

Goals: China and the U.S. are looking to transform students’ educational experiences so that they master the content and competencies that will be needed for them to thrive in a knowledge-based economy that requires continuous learning and adaptation.

Strategies: Both countries have a theory of change that requires us to articulate clear learning goals or standards, and support teachers to develop classroom experiences that help students to achieve those standards.

China demonstrated a number of attributes that will help it to improve its education system aligned with these goals. These include:

  • Centralized system in which curriculum standards are developed by experts in each of the disciplines, guiding the production of textbooks, and the preparation of teachers
  • Multi-pronged system for professional development that includes national on-line courses and locally developed in-person courses
  • Resources and support for frequent teacher collaboration, research, and productive competition
  • Tremendous faith among the citizenry in the ability of public education to transform society in ways that support individual and collective opportunity

 

(The US also brings particular assets, including a tradition of continuous evolution in educational approaches, cultural priority on creativity and critical thinking for young people, and an education system with multiple “second chances” allowing for exploration and experimentation.)

Much of the work that we are doing here at the William Penn Foundation supports similar assets to those that are helping to transform the education experience in China. For example, Pennsylvania’s early childhood quality rating and improvement system is based on the idea that there is a clear set of quality standards, developed by experts, that should guide improvement efforts. The Foundation supports several initiatives to help more childcare providers learn about and apply those standards in their work. In another example, the Foundation has made very significant investments in multi-pronged teacher professional development in early literacy instruction that is delivered in a strategic fashion, complementing intensive summer training with ongoing coaching during the year. And as we seek a more equitable education system, the Foundation supports advocacy that will lead toward a system that can appropriately resource teacher collaboration and student support.

Learning from China’s experience affirmed that we here at the Foundation and our local and national partners in this work are heading in the right direction. We are applying strategies and tactics aligned with the leading thinkers on both sides of the globe. We will continue to seek ways to enhance our local assets and to stay abreast of developments here and abroad in order to ensure that we are giving our children the best chance to succeed.