Foreign Countries Find Common Challenges

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and England Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove discuss the common challenges of school reform in the United States and England.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and England Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove discuss the common challenges of school reform in the United States and England.

This week, I traveled to London where I met with England’s Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove and several of England’s education leaders to discuss our common challenges and goals for reforming education. We talked about our shared understanding of education that education is a moral responsibility and an economic imperative.

We also face common challenges. Like the United States, England’s education progress has fallen behind international peers over the past decade. England also is struggling to turn around low-performing schools and is working to prepare and recruit the next generation of talented principals and teachers.

Throughout our discussions, I found that the U.S. and England are taking similar approaches to addressing these challenges and we have much to gain from sharing our experience.

Like the Department of Education, England’s education department works with local school officials to identify and turnaround low-performing schools. One method is to close a school down and reopen it as an academy, an independently managed school run by sponsors from business, faith or charitable organizations.

I had the opportunity to visit one of the most successful academies, Mossbourne Community Academy. Mossbourne was formerly Hackney Downs School before it closed. Hackney was known as one of the worst schools in England, having fallen victim to the neighborhood violence and poverty that surrounded the school. In 2004, Mossbourne opened in its place under the leadership of Sir Michael Wilshaw who helped implement dramatic improvements by extending the school day, creating professional working groups for teachers and building a culture of high expectations around academic performance and positive behavior. This year more than 90 percent of Mossbourne students taking the national exam received the highest rating. During a brief classroom visit, a group of 11th graders shared their appreciation for the Mossbourne school environment. They told me they feel “challenged” and “cared for” by adults. Mossbourne and schools like it, in both England and the United States, are testaments to the ability of adults to transform the lives of students.

Education leaders across the world share a common goal to empower our youth and invest in our nation through education. As I continue to meet with leaders from England and other countries, I look forward to learning about their experiences so we can pursue their best ideas in the United States.

Secretary of Education made his first official trip to Europe this week. After his visit to England, he travelled to Paris for meetings with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.