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Suggested Citation:"7 OBSERVATIONS AND UNANSWERED QUESTIONS." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. Mathematics Curriculum, Teacher Professionalism, and Supporting Policies in Korea and the United States: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21753.
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7
OBSERVATIONS AND UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

In the final session of the workshop, U.S. and Korean participants presented what they had learned and questions that remained. Each presentation discussed the organization of the education system, curriculum and textbooks, and teachers and teaching practice, and ended with concluding remarks.

The U.S. Perspective

David Barnes of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) presented remarks from the U.S. participants.

He noted that it was very helpful to see the structure of the Korean educational system, with its ministry and research arm. The United States does not have an organized research arm that studies education. One of the most important aspects of the Korean organization is that research is used to make educational decisions. In the United States, that is not always the case, even though relevant research may exist.

The U.S. participants also learned that Korea has regular cycles of curriculum analysis and change—sometimes large and sometimes incremental. In the United States, curriculum change happens when it is initiated by organizations such as NCTM. These changes occur at irregular intervals and with different processes.

Participants found differences in achievement by location very interesting. They noted the graph presented by Hee-Chan Lew showing that Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores increase from rural to urban communities (see Chapter 2). That is not what occurs in the United States.1

Questions lingered concerning political forces in Korea and how they affect the educational system. In the United States, political forces seem to be having a growing influence on the educational system. Education is a political football and there are wild shifts. What happens in Korea? Questions also remained about the factors that influence the differences in achievement by locale.

Another collection of questions concerned university admissions tests, tutoring, and “education fever.” What is the influence of university testing and its effect on teacher

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1 The 2009 PISA data show that large urban–rural score gaps did not occur for the United States, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. (See, e.g., PISA 2009 Results: Executive Summary [OECD, 2010].)

Suggested Citation:"7 OBSERVATIONS AND UNANSWERED QUESTIONS." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. Mathematics Curriculum, Teacher Professionalism, and Supporting Policies in Korea and the United States: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21753.
×

education and student learning? How does private tutoring influence the educational system? What about education fever? There was a comment about cooling it down in Korea. Perhaps it needs to be heated up a bit in the United States.

The inclusion of character building as part of the new curriculum, even the use of the term, was interesting for the U.S. participants. There were varying comments about the use of teachers in classrooms and testing of curriculum, but the U.S. participants were not quite sure what the process was. Other questions concerned the use of textbooks. Do Korean teachers have choices in selecting textbooks? How does the effort on individualized instruction and emphasis on creativity mesh with education fever? It seems as though the Koreans are trying to get the students involved and cultivate a love for mathematics. How do those fit?

Learning trajectories seem core to Korean curriculum. And there are very clear structures for lesson development. The five-step structure is consistent across the curriculum and across grade levels. To what extent are learning trajectories based on conceptual analysis of mathematics and to what extent on mathematics education research on student learning? Is there a melding of mathematical content development along with instruction? Do those contribute to learning trajectories? What is the basis for lesson design as part of the curriculum development movement and is there a mechanism for changing this structure?

Observations about teachers and teaching practices were that it was very clear that Korean teachers work together. This is embedded into the school; there is a location and time for teachers to work together. Professional development is expected, rather than required, that is what professional teachers do in Korea.

Questions concerned the small proportion of students that can become teachers and the employment test. If becoming a teacher is a very competitive process, is collaboration for preservice teachers a part of the program? Also, is there an expectation in the schools that could account for part of the urban–rural achievement difference?

Barnes ended by remarking that the education systems in both countries were in a state of change—moving toward each other. Both systems see the value of broader aspects of mathematics: creativity, problem solving, sense making, communication, proof, engaging students, and developing their love for and interest in mathematics.

The overall question that the U.S. participants had was about better understanding how the Korean system responds to struggling schools. How do Koreans address developing a positive attitude for students? How do they cope with problems of attitude?

Suggested Citation:"7 OBSERVATIONS AND UNANSWERED QUESTIONS." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. Mathematics Curriculum, Teacher Professionalism, and Supporting Policies in Korea and the United States: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21753.
×

The Korean Perspective

Rae Young Kim of Ewha Womans University spoke about the Koreans’ reflections on the workshop.

She commented that the education systems in the United States and Korea have different characteristics, that is, uniformity vs. diversity, centralization vs. decentralization, fidelity vs. flexibility. The Korean curriculum seems to be changing rapidly. Action is taken promptly and quickly in alignment with the changes. On the other hand, the United States seems to go through curriculum change slowly and implementation takes a longer time. It might appear that the two countries have very different characteristics, but their directions seem to be converging toward the middle. The following table summarizes the key differences of the Korean and U.S. education systems, which were identified by the workshop participants.

TABLE 7-1 Key Observations of Korean and U.S. Education Systems

KOREA

UNITED STATES

Korea is a small country—like one very large U.S. state. The education system is very centralized, but has become less uniform regarding differentiated instruction and textbook adoption and development. The United States has many different education systems, which operate very differently and have to coordinate at different levels.
There is one curriculum for all schools. The recent mathematics curriculum revision has fewer topics, treated in more depth. Many states have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Mathematics, which have fewer topics, treated in more depth.
The government-affiliated Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation (KICE) is a major textbook developer. KICE employs teachers, mathematicians, and its resident researchers to create textbooks and instructional materials. Authors are currently creating revised versions of existing textbooks that they claim are in line with the CCSS. The content is reorganized, but its reduction is not evident. The United States has no equivalent of KICE to create textbooks and other instructional materials.
Many organizations provide online teacher training. Their programs and associated credits need to get government approval. For the recent curriculum revision, a government-affiliated institution (Korea Foundation for the Advancement of Science and Creativity) recruited teachers to design and carry out professional development. The number of professional development providers has proliferated over the last 10 years. Many are “nonsystem actors” outside of the traditional bureaucracy of education. There is no uniformity in professional development opportunities for teachers. In some states, teachers help to deliver professional development.
Teachers treat the textbook like the Bible. They share offices with teachers of the same grade or subject and meet once a week at minimum. They have established their own communities. Each year, teachers are required to do demonstration lessons. There are many funds that promote teacher research. Research groups and individual teachers participate in competitions sponsored by district offices of education. Teachers rotate schools every five years. Teachers pick and choose which parts of the textbook to use. They are isolated in their classrooms and sometimes act like independent contractors. Some very strong professional learning communities have existed for at least 30 years, but this is not widespread.
Suggested Citation:"7 OBSERVATIONS AND UNANSWERED QUESTIONS." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. Mathematics Curriculum, Teacher Professionalism, and Supporting Policies in Korea and the United States: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21753.
×
Students in grade 6, year 3 of middle school, and year 2 of high school learning the national curriculum must take the national test. Its scores have no effect on students. Instead, education fever is associated with college admissions tests. Students are tested in grades 3 through 8, and at least once in high school. Consequences vary. In some states or districts, if the students do not pass the test, they do not go to the next grade. In others, students’ test scores do not affect them.
Schools judged (according to test scores and school documents) as providing high-quality education get extra funding. Schools with many low-achieving students get other types of government support. Student test performance can be part of teacher evaluation and evaluation of the principal and other school staff.

Unanswered questions concerned the development of the CCSS.2 It appears that they were not developed by mathematicians or mathematics educators. Why were the CCSS developed by a third party? In the presentation about the CCSS, there was a mention of commonness. What is the meaning of common with respect to content, process, and pedagogy? What are the criteria for the commonness in the CCSS? Because the United States is a large and very diverse country, it must have been very difficult to come to an agreement. How did that process occur?

Ji Won Son of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville spoke about curricular tasks and classroom practice. There are many similarities between the two countries with respect to lessons, the structure of a lesson, and expectations for teachers or students.

Son noted that there is lot of research about learning trajectories in the United States, and asked how learning trajectories were reflected in the CCSS.

Even though there is much similarity between the two countries, since the cultures are so different, the Korean participants thought that the United States view of best practice must be different. How does the United States define best practice for teaching and for learning? Is there a rubric or structured system to evaluate teaching practice?

Videos of good teachers and teaching in the United States were shown at the workshop. What kind of roles do the teachers in the videos take in professional development? How do other teachers view them?

Jee Hyun Park of the Seoul Finance High School and Seoul National University presented remarks on teachers and teaching practice. In Korea, there are many forms of professional development: top down or teacher initiated. The professional learning communities (PLCs) seem quite different from these forms of professional development.

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2 The writings of William McCallum (CCSS lead writer) provide some answers about commonness, process, and learning trajectories. The CCSS for Mathematics for example, were commissioned by a third party, but developed by mathematicians, mathematics educators, teachers, and others. See The Common Core State Standards in Mathematics (ICME talk, http://math.arizona.edu/~wmc/Research/2012_07_12_ICME_McCallum.pdf) and Testimony of William McCallum (Wisconsin State Legislature, http://www.edexcellence.net/commentary/education-gadfly-daily/common-core-watch/william-mccallums-common-core-testimony-in).

Suggested Citation:"7 OBSERVATIONS AND UNANSWERED QUESTIONS." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. Mathematics Curriculum, Teacher Professionalism, and Supporting Policies in Korea and the United States: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21753.
×

While she heard about the U.S. situation, she thought: Why are PLCs so well developed in Korea? And why do Korean teachers attend professional development sessions so diligently?

In her opinion, it is not because teachers want to be better, but because of social pressure for teachers to have special expertise and the social expectation that teachers should do their jobs well. For teachers to renew themselves as good teachers, they must cultivate their professional knowledge—of mathematics, of classroom management, and of teaching—from their own internal initiative.

Jae Hong Shin of the Korea National University of Education was the last speaker. He said that he was given this opportunity because he stated that he learned more about Korea during the workshop. However, he thought there were many others who felt the same way.

He noted that mathematics education professors and teachers do not often talk as intensively as they did at the workshop. Moreover, they were able to talk with Koreans who work as professors in the United States. Shin himself came back to Korea two years before the workshop, after earning a degree from the University of Georgia. Much material about Korea was presented at the workshop from those with various kinds of different experience and expertise. That helped him to learn about Korea.

Comments

Final comments on observations of both the Korean and U.S. education systems are given below.

  • Korean and U.S. systems are moving in the same direction and will eventually meet in the middle. The U.S. system is very fragmented and unfocused and is moving to the CCSS, while the Korean system is very focused (and somewhat rigid perhaps) and is moving toward a more flexible one, and opening toward more creative kinds of performances.
  • Many classroom teachers in Korea participated in textbook revision. During the last revision, many participated in professional development and gave workshops about the new textbooks. Teachers’ voices were heard and revisions were made that reflected comments from classroom teachers. Many teachers had a feeling of ownership, since they can influence policy and what is in textbooks. Korea encouraged [teacher] engagement and was connected with the effective and rapid implementation of the new curriculum and textbooks.
Suggested Citation:"7 OBSERVATIONS AND UNANSWERED QUESTIONS." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. Mathematics Curriculum, Teacher Professionalism, and Supporting Policies in Korea and the United States: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21753.
×
  • In Korea [elementary] teachers are certified as generalists to teach all subject areas, but students preparing to be teachers major in one subject3 (i.e., science education, math education, etc.).

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3 That one subject would be equal to about 22 credits in one concentration such as mathematics, science, Korean language, social studies, or music.

Suggested Citation:"7 OBSERVATIONS AND UNANSWERED QUESTIONS." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. Mathematics Curriculum, Teacher Professionalism, and Supporting Policies in Korea and the United States: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21753.
×
Page 61
Suggested Citation:"7 OBSERVATIONS AND UNANSWERED QUESTIONS." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. Mathematics Curriculum, Teacher Professionalism, and Supporting Policies in Korea and the United States: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21753.
×
Page 62
Suggested Citation:"7 OBSERVATIONS AND UNANSWERED QUESTIONS." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. Mathematics Curriculum, Teacher Professionalism, and Supporting Policies in Korea and the United States: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21753.
×
Page 63
Suggested Citation:"7 OBSERVATIONS AND UNANSWERED QUESTIONS." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. Mathematics Curriculum, Teacher Professionalism, and Supporting Policies in Korea and the United States: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21753.
×
Page 64
Suggested Citation:"7 OBSERVATIONS AND UNANSWERED QUESTIONS." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. Mathematics Curriculum, Teacher Professionalism, and Supporting Policies in Korea and the United States: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21753.
×
Page 65
Suggested Citation:"7 OBSERVATIONS AND UNANSWERED QUESTIONS." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. Mathematics Curriculum, Teacher Professionalism, and Supporting Policies in Korea and the United States: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21753.
×
Page 66
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On July 15-17, 2012 the United States National Commission on Mathematics Instruction and Seoul National University held a joint Korea-U.S. workshop on Mathematics Teaching and Curriculum. The workshop was organized to address questions and issues related to math teaching and curriculum that were generated by each country, including the following: What are the main concerns in the development of the curriculum? What issues have been discussed or debated among curriculum developers, teachers, teacher educators, and scholars regarding the curriculum? How have textbooks been developed for the curriculum? How are curricular tasks designed and what criteria are used? What is the role of learning trajectories in the development of curriculum? This report summarizes the presentations and discussions at the workshop.

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