International Matters

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March 2014
Volume 1, Issue 3


President Obama and students

Last week, the President announced his proposed budget for FY 2015. Education featured front and center in the budget reflecting the critical role education plays in ensuring equity of opportunity for every child and in making the U.S. more competitive in the global economy.  Lessons learned from other countries are reflected in many of the policy directions in the budget.  For example, Secretary Duncan recently highlighted that high-performing countries are far ahead of the U.S. in the provision of early learning, and that this is a top reason why expansion of high-quality early learning in the U.S. is inevitableAnother example is Recognizing Educational Success Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching (RESPECT), which is part of the President's proposal to strengthen support for teachers and school leaders.  The design of RESPECT incorporates lessons from high-performing education systems around the globe.

Learning from other successful education systems to improve our own educational outcomes, increasing the global competency of all U.S. students, and engaging in education diplomacy are high priorities for the U.S. Department of Education’s international work.  Please see below to learn more about recent activities in these areas.

Maureen McLaughlin
Senior Advisor to the Secretary and Director of  International Affairs

Connecting Across the Globe

student film festival

The White House recently asked students to show why technology is so important and how it will change their educational experiences in the future. Sixteen of the more than 2,500 entries were honored at the Student Film Festival at the White House.  You can see the films here but be sure to watch Double Time and Hello from Malaysia to see two ways technology can help to develop and enhance global competency and connections across the world. Read more about the film festival here.

Importance of Education Globally

March 8th marks International Women’s Day, an opportunity for the global community to recognize the countless contributions women make to society.  In doing so, we must also acknowledge the importance of educating girls and women.  When a woman is educated, infant mortality falls and family incomes grow.  Education promotes tolerance and openness in society – a notion brought sharply into focus by the attack on Malala Yousafzai, the young woman brutally attacked for her outspoken support for girls’ education in Pakistan.  To honor the courage and conviction of girls like Malala,  A World at School released the video A New Global Power: Girls with Books.

This past December, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon designated the U.S. as a Champion Country of the Global Education First Initiative (GEFI).  In refocusing international attention on education, GEFI’s priorities are to put every child in school; improve the quality of learning; and foster global citizenship.  This is an opportunity for the U.S. to lead by example and to spur on strategic investments in education, technology and innovation that provide youths and adults with the necessary skills to succeed in a global economy.  The U.S. joins this coalition at a vital time as UNESCO recently released the latest Global Monitoring Report, Teaching and Learning: Achieving Quality for Allwhich documented significant shortfalls in progress towards the Education for All (EFA) goals. 

Learning From Other Countries 

The International Data Explorer (IDE) is an online, interactive tool developed by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) that allows users to compare international assessment data across education systems and create their own customized tables and charts.  NCES has added the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) data to the IDE.  PISA measures the performance of 15-year-old students in mathematics, science, and reading literacy.  Also, the IDE is now available in English and Spanish.  Results are available for the United States and 64 other countries and education systems, as well as three U.S. states—Connecticut, Florida, and Massachusetts—that participated in PISA in 2012.  


In February, Maureen McLaughlin participated in a Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Roundtable, World-class Education System: International Best Practices in Public Education, with IBM’s Ned McCulloch and CFR fellow Curtis Valentine.  Invited guests from the public, private, and non-profit sectors engaged in a discussion on how international best practices in education can help address skills gaps across the U.S.  One highlight was IBM’s role in creating Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools (P-TECH) in Chicago and New York City.  Through that innovative six-year high school model,  IBM is supporting reforms that better align what students learn with what the private sector needs. 

On March 5th the Department hosted a delegation of senior policy representatives from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, who were focused on policy approaches to narrowing the achievement gap and identifying successful practices.  Later that evening, discussions continued with a panel held at the British Embassy.  While there are clear differences in structure, the challenges in the UK are similar to ours.  Assistant Secretary Deb Delisle closed the session by noting the importance of reaching “Every student, every day, some success, some way”.

Higher Education


The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Education Network (EDNET), which the U.S. has chaired for the last four years, met in China last month. Historically, primary education has been the focus of EDNET, but the focus has recently shifted to include higher education quality and cross-border education.  APEC Leaders agreed to a target of 1 million students studying abroad across all 21 APEC economies.

President Obama’s official visit to Mexico

As a result of a commitment made during President Obama’s May 2013 official visit to Mexico, planning is underway for the inaugural meeting of the U.S.-Mexico Bilateral Forum on Higher Education, Innovation and Research in mid-2014. The Forum will seek to expand educational exchanges, increase joint research and broaden access to quality post-secondary education for traditionally underserved demographic groups, especially in the STEM fields.  The Department of Education remains actively involved in the planning process.    

Haitian Study Visit

Haitian Study Tour

In December, as follow-up to the Secretary’s visit to Haiti a few weeks earlier, the Department organized with USAID and IDB a study visit to Washington for senior Ministry of Education officials to learn more about U.S. education reform efforts.  This visit was arranged as part of a broader USG effort to help Haiti rebuild after the 2010 earthquake.

Have you seen this?


  • Later this month, the 4th International Summit on the Teaching Profession will take place in Wellington, New Zealand.  Education leaders from high-performing or rapidly-improving education systems will come together to discuss "Excellence, Equity and Inclusiveness – High-Quality Teaching for All".  For more information, please see the summit's website.
  • In April, the OECD will release Skills for Life: Student Performance in Problem Solving, the fifth volume of results from the 2012 PISA.  This assessment focused on students’ general problem-solving skills and was administered as a computer-based assessment.  NCES will release figures and tables presenting results from a U.S. perspective on its website.  
  • This summer, the Department’s International and Foreign Language Education office (OPE/IFLE) will hold competitions for eight grant programs that support the development of expertise and competence in world languages and international and area studies.  Proposed priorities for five of the programs will be published in the Federal Register this week. You can read more about the IFLE programs here