What the World Can Teach Us: International Lessons on Choice and Innovation in Education

Every student in the United States deserves a great education. And, every parent in this country – regardless of background, income or zip code – deserves the right to choose the school that is best for his or her child.

To achieve that goal, Secretary DeVos has called for “a transformation that will open up America’s education system.” If we’re going to meet the diverse needs of today’s learners, we need fresh thinking and innovative approaches.  There’s plenty we can learn from other countries, as they strive to prepare their students for 21st century realities.

Those lessons were the subject of a recent briefing at the Department – the first of a new series of learning sessions the Secretary has launched, focused on effective, student-centered education. The speaker was Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education and Skills for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Schleicher’s message was simple: Around the world, nations are finding that choice programs can and do contribute to better results for students. If we want school choice to promote equity and excellence for all students, we need to keep it real, relevant, and meaningful. And, we need to ensure parents have the information and support they need to make the right decision for their kids.

Schleicher cites England as an example of a country that’s taken a proactive approach to sharing information with parents about school choice. Here in the United States, several districts – including New Orleans and Denver, which the Secretary highlighted in remarks at the Brookings Institution – provide families transparent access to the information they need to make sound choices on behalf of their children.

“As a parent, you can’t take advantage of a choice you don’t know exists,” said Secretary DeVos in her remarks to Brookings. “We need to find ways of better connecting citizens to the information they need.”

Schleicher also emphasized the fact that countries that provided more autonomy at the school level saw greater student achievement. When those closest to the problem – teachers, parents and administrators – were given greater decision-making power to find solutions, the data showed that students performed at much higher levels.

Some OECD countries, like the Netherlands and Belgium, are implementing safeguards on the national level to increase choice, quality and opportunity for all students, regardless of background. They’re instituting weighted-student funding formulas, which ensure funding follows each student to the school they choose to attend, and calculate the amount provided based on his or her educational and economic needs. This type of funding promotes equity, transparency and flexibility.

Another key point of Schleicher’s is similar to the situation in the United States. Just like every state faces different educational challenges and opportunities, Schleicher asserts that one country can’t just “cut and paste” another’s system. That’s why, in recognition of this reality, the Every Student Succeeds Act allows each state the flexibility to find creative solutions that work best for that state.

We can all learn from Schleicher’s presentation of the facts surrounding choice and innovation in education throughout the world. To learn more, click here.

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