Thursday, December 1, 2011


This is a big number.  It’s over a third of the TARP bailout fund.  It’s a little over a third of what we spend on Medicare and Medicaid.  It also about 42% of what we spend on Defense.  What this number is is 2% of our Gross Domestic Product. 
This is a significant number in that it represents education spending, and is what parents in the United States would collectively need to spend if they wanted to match parents in South Korea.  But this is not the cost of education in Korea.  No, 2% of GDP is the cost Korean parents are willing to pay for after school tutoring for their children over and above what the country spends on education.  In the States we spend about $625B on K-12 education now so spending another $290B would amount to almost a 50% increase in expenditures.  This sort of increase is unimaginable and yet our educational system continues to be excoriated over the results it produces while no one is willing to spend more for better results.
Time magazine talks about this in Their December 5th issue in the article: “Teacher, Leave Those Kids Alone”,9171,2094427,00.html which paints a startling, and perhaps frightening, picture of where teaching to the test can lead.  Students and parents are so concerned about performance on high stakes testing that they spend many hours and dollars on tutoring.  It has gotten to the point that the South Korean government raids “hagwons” or cram schools that operate after 10:00 PM in an attempt to break this obsession with cramming for the test.
This obsession with achievement is telling in two ways: 
1.       South Korea is always near the top of the OECD PISA scores and
2.       South Korea is trying to break the addiction of teaching to the test in order to ensure that its students are competitive in the future
In fact South Korea and other Asian countries that are top scorers on the PISA tests are concerned that they are turning out knowledgeable but dull students.  Students who know facts but have not been taught to apply what they know in creative ways.  Believe it or not, many Asian countries are looking to US schools as an example of how to better teach creativity to their students which they know is key to success in the 21st century. 
“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted"                                                                                                    Albert Einstein

The PISA tests may be measuring knowledge but the knowledge they are measuring may not be what’s important for success in the 21st Century.  In the meantime, the United States is moving toward the Asian model and increasingly teaching to the test which has the potential to harm the acquisition of the very skills our students will need to succeed in the future. 

What’s all this got to do with school facilities?  To me it reinforces the need to create facilities that encourage both academic rigor and creativity.  When America finally wakes up from its testing obsession schools need to be able to accommodate curricula that encourage creativity and the use and analysis of knowledge.  This is likely to mean project based learning, collaborative learning, and technology rich learning.  Learning that encourages exploration and analysis, critical thinking and debate.  Facilities that accommodate these endeavors will not be desks in rows but rather agile spaces that can change as do the activities of their occupants.  Facilities that show that education is valuable and a priority.

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