Can Indiana learn education reform from South Korea?
From A-F school ratings to termination of teacher tenure, Hoosiers have heard a multitude of education reform policies public educators and Glenda Ritz, Indiana’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction are against. One need only whisper the name “Tony Bennett” or the words “school choice” and many public educators will pour out their opinions. But with this article highlighted in the Wall Street Journal, it seems fair to ask what, if any, education reform policies the Indiana Department of Education (DOE) would adapt from South Korea’s successes?
The WSJ article points out some very interesting facts from South Korea’s education system. The fact alone that teachers in South Korea can earn as much as a professional athlete should perk some ears ($4 million in the example provided in the article). Though it is acknowledged in the article that private schools rule the realm of educational achievement in South Korea, the net gains appear to be nothing short of amazing, including the following:
- South Korea now routinely outperforms the U.S. in education (just sixty years ago, most South Koreans were illiterate while today, South Korean 15-year-olds rank No. 2 in the world in reading)
- South Korea now has a 93% high-school graduation rate, compared with 77% in the U.S.
- In South Korea, 47% of eighth graders are ranked ‘advanced.’ In the U.S.: 7%
It seems that the sky is the limit in South Korea, not just with student achievement but with the free market opportunities that teachers and tutors are making for themselves. Savvy teachers are recording their classes on video and using the internet to provide extended opportunities for tutoring and additional income for the teacher. Additionally, many follow the example of university professors, writing textbooks and workbooks.
So what aspects of the system could Indiana adopt? Ultimately this education reform will be up to parents, school administrators, and the Indiana DOE, but here are some of the most interesting aspects of the South Korean system:
- Teachers’ and tutors’ pay are heavily weighted by their demand for skills
- Teachers provide extensive after hours tutoring systems
- There is heavy, free market investment from companies in the education market by firms like Goldman Sachs, the Carlyle Group, and A.I.G. and many others
- Increased involvement in the private education market (“Nearly three of every four South Korean kids participate in the private market. In 2012, their parents spent more than $17 billion on these services. That is more than the $15 billion spent by Americans on video games that year, according to the NPD Group, a research firm.” — WSJ)
- Classrooms, especially those with teachers in very high demand, can have as many as 120 students, completely obliterating the old idea that low student to teacher ratios are integral to an effective learning environment. Instead, the focus is put on effectively teaching those numbers of students.
- Teachers are free agents. They don’t have to be certified (the market determines those who have the ability to teach, not some higher education regime). They don’t necessarily have benefits or even a guaranteed base salary; their pay is based on their performance.
As the article points out, tutoring services are growing all over the world, “from Ireland to Hong Kong and even in suburban strip malls in California and New Jersey,” so perhaps this educational support structure deserves a good strong look from Indiana’s education policy-makers. If not the tutoring system itself, then perhaps the techniques that they employ, especially with the level of engagement described in the WSJ piece:
“Once students enroll, the hagwon [private tutoring entity] embeds itself in families’ lives. Parents get text messages when their children arrive at the academies each afternoon; then they get another message relaying students’ progress. Two to three times a month, teachers call home with feedback. Every few months, the head of the hagwon telephones, too. In South Korea, if parents aren’t engaged, that is considered a failure of the educators, not the family.” (emphasis mine)
An instructor named Kim Ki-Hoon, the main subject of the WSJ piece, has some parting advice about building on our education system that may apply even if we are not yet ready to trust the free market (read: the parents) as much as South Korea does.
“Schools can also build trust by aggressively communicating with parents and students, the way businesses already do to great effect in the U.S. They could routinely survey students about their teachers—in ways designed to help teachers improve and not simply to demoralize them. Principals could make their results far more transparent, as hagwons do, and demand more rigorous work from students and parents at home in exchange. And teacher-training programs could become far more selective and serious, as they are in every high-performing education system in the world—injecting trust and prestige into the profession before a teacher even enters the classroom.”
In response to proposals allowing for education reform, we often hear that “schools are not factories,” but South Korea (and Mr. Ki-Hoon) are speaking from experience about just how much schools can learn from business, entrepreneurship, and free market principles. So, I invite the Indiana DOE to submit to the public (perhaps as a guest post here on HA?) to answer the following questions: “What should Indiana learn from South Korea’s education policy?” and “How can the Indiana DOE play a role in that?”
With the world leaving the U.S. behind on Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), and with those fields’ strong ties to our potential economic resuscitation, the answers from DOE may be more critical than we realize.