This is not particularly shocking. What's the quote? Doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity, or something to that effect. So here we are again, with teens in the US slipping even further in the international rankings and Asian countries coming on strong.
And what does Arne Duncan suggest is the key to turning this around? More preschool, more access to college, raise standards and, last in the list, recruit better teachers.
How about these ideas:
1. Design education so it reflects the reality of the world. We are not all technological in the world, but that is the way things are headed. Stop with banning devices and incorporate them into learning. Let kids move around the class and collaborate. That's what the real world does.
2. Include students in their learning. Make them responsible for themselves by giving them a say. Let them decide what to study, even if it's just a list of possible things to study. You will get far better results when kids pick their focus than when it is assigned wholesale to a class of thirty individuals.
3. Stop holding kids back (or rushing them along). Be adaptive. Be reflective. Let gifted kids soar, and let kids who need more time to master the material take it. Truly differentiate in your classroom. How? By incorporating #2, first and foremost, you will reduce (or eliminate) discipline issues so that kids will be less likely to get off task if a teacher isn't in their face. Then plan and find a variety of resources so kids can get the help they need in the manner in which it works best (one-on-one with a teacher, out of a book, off a computer, etc).
4. Make everyone in the school responsible for the education of the students. Everyone. From the custodian to the principal to the crossing guard. All hands on deck. More adults focused on students means fewer students per adult means more focus on students and earlier intervention if any issues arise. There are ways to do this; I have worked in a school where every adult has an advisement.
5. Get off the agrarian schedule. We are no longer a nation of farmers, dependent on our offspring to bring in the crop, so why are we still scheduling school to follow the seasons? Flexible scheduling, including evening hours for teens who work or parents who want to participate in school but cannot so it during the day, hybrid models for parents who want to homeschool but need guidance, and year-round (for real) schooling that offers extra help during the short breaks are all options that can easily be implemented.
6. Institute more hands-on, trade-type options. And I don't just mean lathering about the mouth on STEM education then giving the whole class the same problem to solve (how to protect an egg with a toothpick cage, for example). If you are going to do STEM, DO IT. Find a problem in the community and SOLVE IT. And for that matter...
7. BE REAL. Fake problems that mean nothing are boring and inauthentic and don't engage kids. Real problems that kids can tackle and fix promote student engagement in school and community, a double bonus in our ever more transient culture.
And finally (or finally for now, because I could go on)...
8. Hire and train teachers who genuinely care about student learning, and administrators who genuinely care about teacher success and engagement. All this focus on crappy educators who don't care and just want a paycheck, and very little about administrators who use their job as a stepping stone to the Central Office, a resume builder, if you will. Teachers are on the front lines, and it is the administrator's job to staff the school with teachers who want to be there, and then to protect them from idiotic tasks that have nothing to do with teaching and everything to do with busywork.
You want school to get better and students to shine? Stop waxing the same dull penny and start with real solutions.