NCTL Goes International

This is a guest post from NCTL's Co-Founder & President, Jennifer Davis.

I was in Washington, D.C. when President Obama outlined his education agenda at a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce meeting in 2009. The President raised his concern about the American school calendar:
We can no longer afford an academic calendar designed when America was a nation of farmers…That calendar may have once made sense, but today, it puts us at a competitive disadvantage. Our children spend over a month less in schools than children in South Korea—every year. 
At NCTL, we welcomed the President’s call to address this disadvantage and were eager to better understand the larger questions:
1. How much time do students spend learning in high-performing and rapidly-improving nations?
2. How is time organized across the subject areas?
3. How do teachers in these counties spend their time?
For the last three years, NCTL has investigated these questions and found the data to be inconsistent.  To truly learn about time practices in other countries, we knew we not only needed more data, but to also consult experts and policy leaders from those nations.
Last Friday morning, in New York City, we convened a conversation with education leaders from a group of high performing nations from around the world – Hong Kong, the People’s Republic of China, Canada, Finland and the United States – to discuss the intersection between the quality and quantity of learning time students experience in these countries. Hosted by NCTL and the Ford Foundation, the two hour conversation-- facilitated by our partner Anthony Jackson of the Asia Society-- exposed a fascinating narrative.
The conversation began with a rich discussion of the purpose of public education across the world.  Is it enough for students to score well in math, language and science?  Should learning be broader to include skills to better prepare students for our complex, interconnected world?  Are schools helping to impart problem solving, communication and team building skills?  Strategies for using learning time to promote educational equity were the focus of the second discussion topic.  Lastly, the allocation of teacher time between instruction and collaboration with peers raised a series of important issues for the U.S. to consider.   
This is dialogue was just the beginning. NCTL will be building on the data we have collected as well as this conversation to create a full picture of learning time policies and practices in high performing nations of the world. It is clear that every education system is striving to improve and no one has all the answers. But perhaps through more conversations like the one we had Friday morning – the answers will become clearer.