How to Bring Our Schools Out of the 20th Century

The world has changed, but the American classroom, for the most part, hasn't. Now educators are starting to look at what must be done to make sure our kids make the grade in the new global economy

  • Share
  • Read Later

(3 of 6)

This public elementary school has taken the idea of global education and run with it. All students take some classes in either Japanese or Spanish. Other subjects are taught in English, but the content has an international flavor. The school pulls its 393 students from the surrounding highly diverse neighborhood and by lottery from other parts of the city. Generally, its scores on state tests are at or above average, although those exams barely scratch the surface of what Stanford students learn.

Before opening the school seven years ago, principal Karen Kodama surveyed 1,500 business leaders on which languages to teach (plans for Mandarin were dropped for lack of classroom space) and which skills and disciplines. "No. 1 was technology," she recalls. Even first-graders at Stanford begin to use PowerPoint and Internet tools. "Exposure to world cultures was also an important trait cited by the executives," says Kodama, so that instead of circling back to the Pilgrims and Indians every autumn, children at Stanford do social-studies units on Asia, Africa, Australia, Mexico and South America. Students actively apply the lessons in foreign language and culture by video-conferencing with sister schools in Japan, Africa and Mexico, by exchanging messages, gifts and joining in charity projects.

Stanford International shows what's possible for a public elementary school, although it has the rare advantage of support from corporations like Nintendo and Starbucks, which contribute to its $1.7 million-a-year budget. Still, dozens of U.S. school districts have found ways to orient some of their students toward the global economy. Many have opened schools that offer the international baccalaureate (I.B.) program, a rigorous, off-the-shelf curriculum recognized by universities around the world and first introduced in 1968--well before globalization became a buzzword.

To earn an I.B. diploma, students must prove written and spoken proficiency in a second language, write a 4,000-word college-level research paper, complete a real-world service project and pass rigorous oral and written subject exams. Courses offer an international perspective, so even a lesson on the American Revolution will interweave sources from Britain and France with views from the Founding Fathers. "We try to build something we call international mindedness," says Jeffrey Beard, director general of the International Baccalaureate Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. "These are students who can grasp issues across national borders. They have an understanding of nuances and complexity and a balanced approach to problem solving." Despite stringent certification requirements, I.B. schools are growing in the U.S.--from about 350 in 2000 to 682 today. The U.S. Department of Education has a pilot effort to bring the program to more low-income students.

Real Knowledge in the Google Era

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6