Monday, August 05, 2013

South Korea's Education Model

Speaking of teacher talent, this article by Amanda Ripley in Saturday’s WSJ on teachers in Korea – which profiles the fierce war for talent, resulting in one teacher earning $4 million per year – was utterly fascinating. (I can’t wait to read her new book on this, The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way, which is coming out on Aug. 13th.) Here’s an excerpt from her article:

Kim Ki-hoon earns $4 million a year in South Korea, where he is known as a rock-star teacher—a combination of words not typically heard in the rest of the world. Mr. Kim has been teaching for over 20 years, all of them in the country's private, after-school tutoring academies, known as hagwons. Unlike most teachers across the globe, he is paid according to the demand for his skills—and he is in high demand.

Mr. Kim works about 60 hours a week teaching English, although he spends only three of those hours giving lectures. His classes are recorded on video, and the Internet has turned them into commodities, available for purchase online at the rate of $4 an hour. He spends most of his week responding to students' online requests for help, developing lesson plans and writing accompanying textbooks and workbooks (some 200 to date).

"The harder I work, the more I make," he says matter of factly. "I like that."
I traveled to South Korea to see what a free market for teaching talent looks like—one stop in a global tour to discover what the U.S. can learn from the world's other education superpowers. Thanks in part to such tutoring services, South Korea has dramatically improved its education system over the past several decades and now routinely outperforms the U.S. Sixty years ago, most South Koreans were illiterate; today, South Korean 15-year-olds rank No. 2 in the world in reading, behind Shanghai. The country now has a 93% high-school graduation rate, compared with 77% in the U.S.

Tutoring services are growing all over the globe, from Ireland to Hong Kong and even in suburban strip malls in California and New Jersey. Sometimes called shadow education systems, they mirror the mainstream system, offering after-hours classes in every subject—for a fee. But nowhere have they achieved the market penetration and sophistication of hagwons in South Korea, where private tutors now outnumber schoolteachers.

Viewed up close, this shadow system is both exciting and troubling. It promotes striving and innovation among students and teachers alike, and it has helped South Korea become an academic superpower. But it also creates a bidding war for education, delivering the best services to the richest families, to say nothing of its psychological toll on students. Under this system, students essentially go to school twice—once during the day and then again at night at the tutoring academies. It is a relentless grind.

I’m not suggesting that the U.S. could or should adopt Korea’s entire model, but I think there are some important lessons nevertheless. We need to COMPLETELY overhaul how we recruit, train, support, evaluate, promote (and, yes, remove) teachers, as I discuss in my slide presentation (see attached excerpt on teacher quality, how teacher talent is distributed – I’ll give you three guesses which kids get the worst teachers – and what we should do about it). My favorite slide is page 123, entitled: A comparison of how teachers and doctors are trained in the U.S. Here’s the text:

Imagine that we trained doctors the same way we train teachers: that our least accomplished college grads went to medical schools, which were noncompetitive schools of quackery that taught students little. Upon graduating, new doctors had to pass nothing more than an eighth-grade level test (or none at all) and were immediately thrown into emergency rooms, treating the neediest patients. Of course, the mortality rates would be off the charts for these patients, almost all of whom are poor and minority.

(Incidentally, it's easy to imagine what defenders of this outrageous and immoral system would say: "It's not the doctors' fault. Look at how many of our patients are obese, have bad diets, drink and smoke too much, etc. What can we be expected to do when you ask us to treat such patients???" (This is, of course, exactly what the unions say.))

In an ideal world, the teachers in this country would go through a rigorous development program, as doctors do, that would look something like this:

  1. Ed schools would be highly competitive (the nations with the highest achieving students like Finland and Singapore only take teachers from the top 10 percent of college graduates);
  2.  Ed schools would be rigorous and provide students with real preparation;
  3. Graduates would have to pass a tough exam demonstrating that they'd mastered the content;
  4. New teachers would enter a carefully controlled and monitored environment, with seasoned mentors by their side to make sure they learned (and did no harm);
  5. Effective teachers would be rewarded and given more responsibility; and
  6. Ineffective ones would be given additional support and, if that didn't work, counseled out.

In our dysfunctional, Alice-in-Wonderland education world, not one of these six things happens with any regularity.

If we had a system to select, train and evaluate teachers that was as good as the one for doctors, the resulting quality would be as good and the public would surely support paying teachers as well as doctors.

And here’s the next page on Specific steps to improve teacher quality:

  • Tap talent pipelines like Teach for America and KIPP that have a proven ability to recruit and retain highly effective teachers
    •  In 2010, 11% of all Ivy League seniors applied to Teach for America
    • At Harvard 18% of all seniors, including 40% of African-American seniors, applied
  • If layoffs are necessary, do them based on merit, not seniority
    • A 2010 study of California's 15 largest school districts revealed that "if seniority-based layoffs are applied for teachers with up to two years' experience, highest-poverty schools would lose some 30% more teachers than wealthier schools, and highest-minority schools would lose 60% more teachers than would schools with the fewest minority students"
  • Hire/train better principals and give them more control over their staff
  • Ensure that the placements of voluntary transfers and excessed teachers are based on the mutual consent of the teacher and receiving school
    •  End the "dance of the lemons" (aka, "pass the trash" and "the turkey trot")
  • Introduce differential pay (e.g., pay more to the most effective teachers, teachers willing to teach in the schools with the greatest concentration of the most disadvantaged students, and hard-to-find teachers, such as those in math, science and special ed)
  • Improve the recruiting process: make it more selective, hire teachers earlier in the year
  • Provide better training and mentoring for new teachers
  • Improve overall teacher training; substantially reform ed schools
  • Developed value-added systems to better measure teacher effectiveness and identify the most effective and ineffective teachers
    •  Studies show that teacher effectiveness can be identified relatively quickly
  • Don't grant tenure to ineffective teachers
    • Today, virtually all teachers who stay on the job get tenure, regardless of effectiveness
  • Streamline the process of removing ineffective teachers, while maintaining appropriate protections against arbitrary firings

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