Sometimes these international conversations get a little baffling. In this case, I don't get Ewan's Scottish spin on this McKinsey (i.e., American) study of educational systems around the globe. I mean, from the US perspective, this study says "spending money alone will not improve your schools, but we are going to recommend doing several things to improve schools which will be expensive."
I don't understand why Ewan seems enamored with the idea that better schooling doesn't cost money. For example, he said this about The Met:
As I've said, the amount spent on a student in a MET school and the amount spent on a regular state school are roufghly the same. But in the MET about 80% of student 'cost' is spent on salaries of staff, to make class sizes no more than around a dozen. They're not spending on textbooks or large scale facilities, their schools being so small, which means there's that much more to invest in what really matters: the teachers.
Unfortunately, that's not even close to true:
Also, the current state statistics for The Met differ in some cases significantly from what they told you. For example, their per-pupil expenditure is 50% higher than the state average. They spend significantly more on "operations" than the average school, less on classroom teachers, significantly more on technology, materials, trips, etc. and over twice as much on "leadership."
I don't have the slightest idea what school budgets look like in Scotland, so maybe over there it is appropriate to put across the message that more funding isn't necessary to improve education, but on this side of the pond, even this study makes it clear that improving American education requires spending more money, even if "more money" just means "as much as Boston," since that's the shining US example in the McKinsey study. To most of this country, you might as well suggest they emulate France. Sure, spending more money doesn't guarantee better educated students, but buying a more expensive dishwasher doesn't guarantee cleaner dishes. It is pretty obvious.
Ewan also reaches a strange conclusion about the main recommendations of the study:
There are three key points to getting this point of success:
- Getting the right people to become teachers
- Developing them into effective instructors
- Ensuring that the system is able to offer the best possible instruction for every child
Improvement is therefore possible in a very short period of time, if the will and brains are there, and adjusting these three areas will have an enormous impact on improving school systems.
Those aren't three quick steps. That's a generational scale change. Step one is reforming pre-service education for teachers, which is itself a microcosm of the problems of schooling in general. You actually have to repeat those three steps in teacher education: get the right people to become teacher educators, develop them into effective teacher educators, ensure that the system is able to offer the best possible instruction for every teacher. Teacher education has proven to be just as intractable as educating kids.
Now, that doesn't mean it is the wrong answer, but it certainly isn't the quick answer. The quick answers are the familiar ones the study dispatches from the beginning: smaller classes, charter schools, etc.