Today’s guest post has nothing to do with Canada vs. USA when it comes to women’s hockey (although, fellow Canadian readers, how amazing was that hockey game today?! America, we still love you – thanks for the excellent competition!) This post has everything to do with Canada vs. USA when it comes to education.  Our friend, and fellow UVic trained teacher, Renee Jordan, writes from New York City, where she is currently completing her Masters Degree in Special Education at Columbia.  Here is what Renee has to say about her American educational experience thus far.

Hi lovely readers of Tale of Two Teachers,

My apologies in advance, this is a touch of a long read.  I even thoughtfully culled it down to highlight only the most pertinent information, but what was left is still a lengthy, detail, rich account of the differences between the Canadian and US school systems that I have experienced thus far.

Before I dive in I will begin with a little background on me. Like the (exceptional, beautiful, talented, awesome) authors of this blog I am a graduate of the University of Victoria’s B. Ed program and went on to snag a place on the Greater Victoria TOC list two weeks after I finished my last practicum.  I worked for SD61 until my husband got promotion the day after I landed a place in my long-shot master’s program at Columbia University.  These two events led us to pack up a car and drive across the United States, only to wind up in Manhattan, where I am currently undertaking graduate studies in Special education.  I am also working part time in a grade 3 classroom in an inner city Harlem Public School, as well as helping with a Saturday afternoon Autism Education program for new immigrant families in Chinatown.

The USA loves data

Data is a huge buzzword in education across nations, but it has heavy prevalence in US schools.  We Canadians tend to shy away from standardization and number crunching in education.  Whereas, in the United States the affinity for data leaves standardized testing massively prevalent (I know we Canadians have our own battles with the FSAs also).  To take it even further, often school post their “data” on school websites, which details teacher performance, the test scores they garnered, student achievement across grades and subjects and overall functionality of the school.  This ideology is probably baffling my fellow Canadian teachers, so for better understanding of what I mean you can review the statistics of my school here.  Another huge push in the USA data realm is the notion of teachers employing evidence based practices in their classrooms.

I do like theory behind these pushes for data, because I am excited that with it comes a push to explore and hone our understanding of learning and teaching.  However, at the end of the day I think there is more to good teaching than a data set can reflect. In my experience, so much about exceptional teaching is knowing your students, understanding their needs and realizing learning is individualized.  So although I do believe that data can help inform strategy, I also believe that at the end of the day all research studies are conducted on such heterogeneous (because really have you ever walked into two classrooms that were exactly the same?) that universal generalization isn’t always possible.  So as an educator, I tend to digest all the information the research has propagated and apply from it what works for my unique, dynamic groups of students.

The USA loves hierarchy and rankings

Stemming from the love of data comes a fixation on hierarchy and rankings based on that data.  There are websites, consultants and governing bodies all dedicated to ranking educational institutions in the United States from preschools through to universities.  My personal experience with this comes from currently attending an Ivy League University.  There is a type of prestige and superiority in US education that is not the Canadian norm.  As such, I had really no idea until afterward that what I set out to achieve when I applied for entrance to Columbia was such a big deal.  Since then I have been stopped in a SoHo clothing store to be asked by a parent what my parents did to get me here (the answer is just be awesome and love me) and queried by a waiter on how a girl from a small town, no named university with no inside connections got here because you can’t get in on merit alone (he was wrong).  The US’s idea of exclusivity in education baffles me as much as it bothers me.  My very Canadian belief is that a high quality exceptional education should be available to all, free of cost.  So as such, I think improvements need to be made to the state of US public education.  Although, as I proclaim such a lofty goal I have no answers on how one would go about achieving it.  The way I see it is that I am product of the Canadian public school system but also had the privilege to attend a private school for two years.  For me there was no difference in quality of education I received, the overall aptitude of my teachers or even the facilities themselves.  This is how it should be.  Education should not be a competition.  No one should be fearful that they would be limiting their child’s life trajectory by sending them to a public school.

The USA approaches inclusion differently

The US has a thing called inclusion classrooms, and it took me a good three months to figure out what they meant because in my home district (which I am biased to I think is amazing) all our classrooms are “inclusion classrooms”.  Whereas, in the United States you will still have the option to send your typically developing child to a general education classroom which means that no child with special needs will be educated in the same environment, or an inclusion classroom which will have some students with IEPs in the class.  Even so inclusion is still highly promoted and respected in the US educational communities, but it is still not the gold standard for all classrooms.

The USA loves innovation in education

My huge resounding love of education in the US is that people are passionate about it.  Education is a hot topic down here so people are talking about, entrepreneurs are pioneering ahead to make it better and venture capitalists are actually paying for it.  My undergraduate research for our Spec Ed Faulty at UVic revolved around Assistive Technology and this passion has seeped into my graduate education also.  So needless to say I am excited by how many Ed Tech companies there are in the United States that are devising amazing, new innovations that will no doubt change the face of education in the coming years.   One of my favorites as a special educator and Ed tech nerd is Goalbook.  Goalbook really takes the mystery out of IEP writing by helping educational professionals collaborate and communicate to devise meaningful, achievable goals for their students, as well providing amazing tools to track each student’s progress.  Their entire system is aligned beautifully with all US standards and UDL, while also offering instructional approach ideas to achieve set goals.  So, to all my US special educators, go check it out it will make your lives blissfully better (and save you a few hundred paper cuts).  As for my fellow Canadian teachers, hopefully one day they will expand to the Canadian market, but until then follow their blog for great resources and get excited that innovation is happening.

For more insight into my experience in NYC or if you to get in touch I can be found at www.thejordanproject.ca .