Editor’s Note: Last fall, Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, shared with the Governor’s Commission on 21st Century Education how the leading education nations in the world built their public school systems.

His presentation, “9 Building Blocks for a World-Class Education System” was offered as a blueprint for what Michigan could do to rebuild its faltering public schools. What follows is an outline of his presentation.

Building Block #1: Provide strong supports for children and their families before students arrive at school

This includes prenatal care, mother and child nutrition, universal access to health care, quality childcare for working mothers, and high quality pre-school.

Building Block #2: Provide more resources for at-risk students than for others

To ensure all students are educated to the same high standards, invest more resources in disadvantaged students than in advantaged ones to level the playing field.

Building Block #3: Develop world-class, highly coherent instructional systems

These are well-developed and demanding systems that incorporate student performance standards, curriculum (what is to be learned), assessments, and instructional methods to achieve the educational goals. The focus is on deep learning that includes complex knowledge, a conceptual understanding of the subjects studied, the ability to write well, and strong analytic, creative, and innovative capacity — none of which can be measured by computer-scored, multiple choice tests. Though schools are expected to create their own lesson plans for teaching the curriculum, the state provides extensive guidance and curriculum support for teachers.

Building Block #4: Create clear gateways for students through the system set to global standards, and with no dead ends

Instead of a blanket high school diploma that doesn’t reveal what a student actually knows, certificates are issued indicating the specific courses a student has passed and their grade. The certificates make clear to everyone exactly what the student knows. Students are motivated to take the courses they want whether they want to be a brain surgeon or an auto mechanic. However, students are free to switch path from technical to university as their career goals change.

Building Block #5: Assure an abundant supply of highly qualified teachers

Recruit teachers from the top quarter of high school graduating classes, place education training in the top research universities with tough admission standards, require at least a year of in-school training before leading a classroom, start teacher salaries at the same level as beginning engineers, and build career ladders that allow teachers to increase their compensation and responsibilities as they progress.

Building Block #6: Redesign schools as places in which teachers will be treated as professionals, with incentives and support to continuously improve their practice and the performance of their students

The development of teacher career ladders is critical to improve the skills of existing teachers as well as new teachers. Teachers at the top of the career ladder serve as mentors to less advanced teachers and lead teacher teams to solve school curriculum and instructional problems. Teachers meet each week by grade and subject to develop better instruction. Larger class sizes than those typically preferred in the US free teachers to teach fewer classes, allowing more time to participate in peer instructional planning and improvement processes.

Building Block #7: Create an effective system of career and technical education and training

Career and technical education (CTE) is not a place where students are sent who cannot do academics. Rather, it is a place where students go who want to learn their academics in an environment in which they are constantly applying what they know to real world problems. CTE is structured to provide high-level technical skills in a wide variety of fields. For some students that will mean earning an industry-recognized certificate and beginning a career when they leave high school. Others may pursue a university degree if they choose.

Building Block #8: Create a leadership development system

Identify and develop school leaders with the ability to mobilize students and staff around demanding goals, build strong teacher career ladders, recruit top staff, and create a school culture that believes that effort determines student achievement and that it is the job of schools to get all students to perform at high levels.

Building Block #9: Institute a governance system with the authority and legitimacy to develop good policies and implement them at scale.

Create a place where the buck stops, that has full responsibility for all policy making, and is held accountable for student outcomes and the design and functioning of the education system as a whole. In many nations, this is the function of the Ministry of Education.

An ongoing series

This is part of a series of editorials, columns and commentaries that will appear throughout the school year exploring ideas for improving our state’s schools. Follow along at

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