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LJWorld.com weblogs Fourth Grade in a Foreign Country

Fourth Grade in a Foreign Country

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“Math, Science, Reading Scores Show U.S. Schools Slipping Behind”, Dec. 2010, PBS Newshour; “Other Nations Outclass U.S. on Education”, Sept. 2010, CBS News; “Poor schools undermining US national security, panel says”, March, 2012, Yahoo News. We’ve got a crisis on our hands people and before you can even register this crisis, there is someone claiming to have the solution for our educational deficits: raise teacher salaries, lengthen the school year, more testing, less testing, adopt the Montessori/Waldorf/New American Academy/put your favorite reform here education model. If you read the news you find numerous references to our world ranking on reading, math, and science as determined by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) 2009 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) test. Needless to say, we are not number one in any of these categories. Those countries scoring higher in all categories include some you might think of first, China, Korea, and Japan, but also include countries that might not jump to mind, such as Estonia, Finland, and Norway. So what are we to make of this as we send our children off to school each day? How do these other countries educate their children? Have they figured out something that we have not? Unless this is your field of research, you are not going to sift through piles data and publications that compare education systems and neither am I. But I am curious and highly skeptical of any claim that this, that, or the other thing is going to “fix” our public school system and I now have an opportunity to see first hand how another school in another country functions.

My husband and I have moved to Heidelberg, Germany for the fall semester and our daughter will be attending 4th grade at one of the city’s public schools. Germany ranks higher than the U.S. in science and math, but just below us in reading. I will be writing a regular blog in an attempt to give you an idea of what a particular German school is like, on the ground, day-to-day. My intent is not to declare one system or the other superior but instead highlight where the Heidelberg and Lawrence school systems differ and where they are similar, not just academically, but culturally as well. In the course of the semester, I expect to appreciate what it is we do well in Lawrence and possibly bring forth ideas from Germany that will be worth debating around the kitchen table and at the school board meetings.

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