For as long as I have been a state representative, education has been a top priority for House Republicans. Through our efforts, we have made great strides. As the chair of the House Committee on Education, I am constantly working to find new and innovative ways to strengthen Indiana’s education system.
Unfortunately, even though Indiana is experiencing success, recent reports show the U.S. is falling behind other top-performing countries in education. Half a century ago, the U.S. workforce was widely acknowledged to be among the best educated in the world. Now, our workforce is one of the least educated among wealthy, industrialized nations.
The reality is the U.S. has drastically lost momentum in education. The Programme for International Student Assessment ranked the U.S. 14th in science, 15th in reading and 19th in mathematics out of 32 countries. This assessment, along with others, shows we have room to improve.
In response to these assessments, the National Conference of State Legislatures created a study group on international comparisons in education. Over the past 18 months, I participated in this study with a bipartisan group of state legislators and legislative staff from 26 states. Our charge was to find commonalities between the U.S. and top-performing countries to discover what steps we can take to better prepare our students to compete in a global economy.
A vital part of this study was visiting other countries and experiencing their school operations. I had the opportunity to travel to China. I was able to observe classes, teacher and student interactions as well as collaboration between teachers and their colleagues. Seeing their daily practices was very eye opening.
One thing that stood out to me was the amount of collaboration Chinese teachers included in their daily professional routine. For both veteran and new teachers, a large portion of their day was devoted to peer observations, feedback and collaborative brainstorming. These teachers had set aside a great deal of time to improve lesson plans, classroom interactions and to develop as professionals.
While many international policies are not feasible in the states, we found key commonalties between top-performing countries in terms of both education policy and practices. They included support for struggling students, a professionalized teaching corps, highly effective career and technical education programs, high standards, early education opportunities and clear workforce education options.
Although this study was conducted on a national and international scale, states are in the best position to implement solutions. Indiana has already done a lot to strengthen our education system – particularly with our choice scholarship program. Recently, we expanded innovation network school opportunities, giving teachers and principals more freedom and flexibility to focus on student learning.
Already, I’ve met with numerous superintendents and educators across the state to find out what ways we can implement and maintain a world-class education system. Many schools have begun looking into programs to bridge student learning gaps and increase educator collaboration.
Through conversations, I’ve heard one question often repeated: How can we keep great teachers in the classroom, while allowing them to advance professionally? Implementing career ladders is one way we can do this. Teacher mentor programs, something I am very passionate about, allow experienced teachers to share their first-hand knowledge and instill best practices in new teachers. This is just one of the many additional roles and responsibilities veteran teachers can assume as they advance on the career ladder, while remaining a classroom instructor first and foremost.
There is still much to do. The international study committee will continue meeting to delve further into our findings. I will keep meeting with Hoosier superintendents and educators to drive our own education system reforms and innovations. I am confident that Indiana schools will continue to improve and prepare Hoosier students for the globalized, hyper-competitive 21st century.
State Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis) represents portions of Hendricks and Marion counties.
Behning serves as the chair of the House Committee on Education.
A high-resolution photo of Behning can be downloaded by clicking here.