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Lessons From Abroad

Gene R. Carter, executive director and CEO of ASCD.
On a recent trip to India, Gene Carter sits in on a classroom to learn about the teaching styles and learning process.

Gene R. Carter is a veteran educator with experience as a private and public school teacher, public school administrator, university professor and author. In 1992, he became executive director and CEO of ASCD, an educational leadership organization with members in more than 145 countries. As ASCD’s leader, Carter has participated in educational seminars all over the world. In 1988, he was selected the first National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators.

DA: What are the biggest lessons we can learn from foreign education systems?

Carter: Finland, Singapore and Ontario are probably at the top of the food chain. The area that continues to strike me is the role of teacher effectiveness and the relationship of quality and productivity of the teachers and students in these countries. Teachers are revered, and education is revered as a profession; as a consequence, there is a great deal of respect for the professional role teachers play. The United States needs to focus on strengthening teacher education programs so that they help teachers become innovators and researchers in education, not just deliverers of curricula.

In Finland, they select only the best and brightest applicants. Only one out of 10 candidates is recruited, and all teachers have a master’s degree. The government provides all that’s required to educate teachers. They are encouraged to be lifelong learners, especially as it relates to child development. In Singapore, teachers are as respected as those in the legal and medical professions. And these three countries have strong proactive leadership development programs. The relationship between teachers and principals is a critical one.

You recently returned from a three-week trip to India. What did you learn?

Carter: I traveled with a study group sponsored by ASCD that looked at potential opportunities for us to help Indian educators be effective, proficient and productive. The other goal was to look at what’s happening there as compared to the United States and other parts of the world.

We don’t want to mimic their system, at least what I’ve seen. There is a greater spread between the haves and have-nots, and there are challenges with the professionalization of teaching and attitudes of teachers toward professional development that we take for granted. The gaps between government and private schools are immense in terms of infrastructure, the quality of teachers and resources.

Is our nation’s education system in crisis?

Carter: I think we have some real challenges, and we are not going to be successful if we continue to be partisan in our views. NCLB has to be reworked—definitely. We have some major challenges to shift the focus of our schools from the 20th century into the 21st century.

If you look at the experiences that young people have outside school, they are often very different from what they experience in school. That is to suggest that schools must be a microcosm of the communities they serve and that teaching and learning extend beyond the traditional school building.

Leveraging our technologies, emphasizing the value of growing our human capital, taking into account the connection between effective schooling and a productive economy—those elements are discussed, but they do not appear to gain traction. We need to be focused on bolder action than we have been in the past.

How do you propose fixing this?

Carter: We’d like to focus on the relationship between what’s best for our children and our nation’s future. ASCD would like to push its Whole Child initiative, which is a holistic approach to the education of young people.

It underscores the importance of the health, safety and engagement of students in the learning process. We also must continue to provide greater clarity, not only about what students should learn and how to prepare them for opportunities beyond high school, but about the whole notion of citizenship and having young people lead purposeful and meaningful careers.