Schools Without Walls: Ohio's Learning Partnerships that Reach Around the World

State Governments Respond to Globalization

Visiting teachers from China gives a presentation to fellow teachers. Photo courtesy Ohio Board of Education.

With the wind whistling past their oboes and clarinets, the Ohio band students from Shaker Heights High School performed at the Great Wall of China in 2007. They marched alongside Chinese middle school students in the Beijing streets to cadences they’d learned from one another without speaking. No need for Mandarin or English translation here: Students shared the universal language — music.

In March 2008, Susan Tave Zelman, superintendent of public instruction in Ohio, walked across the stage at the Asia’s Society headquarters in New York City to accept the 2007 Goldman Sachs Foundation Prize for Excellence in International Education for the state’s global efforts in education. Forces converged to bring the East and West, business and education, international and American cultures together over the past few years as Ohio educators made strategic efforts to internationalize education.

Ohio’s State Board of Education made education in the global economy a priority, and the Ohio Department of Education benchmarked its practices against world-class standards, expanded visiting teacher programs, and promoted Chinese language instruction and curriculum development in Ohio classrooms.

“The first step is to create the political will,” Zelman said. “That really means developing strategic partnerships — at the cabinet level in state government to understand the link between international education and economic development, with our higher education institutions who share a focus on international education, and between our school districts and higher education to support the teaching and learning of world languages and culture.”

Terrence Pollack, a high school social studies teacher in Shaker Heights City School District, said district-level partnerships also are important. Some 20 years ago, Pollack worked with his colleagues and community to partner with Marjorie Williams of the Cleveland Museum of Art, creating an interdisciplinary Asian studies program that still exists today.“Back then, we felt our curriculum was too Eurocentric,” he said. “Today, we’ve entered the world of globalization. The world is much smaller.”

Infusing Community with International Vitality
Through the Shaker Heights international program, students in this Cleveland suburb are exposed to:

  • Asian and Pacific Rim art, culture, philosophy, literature, geography, and history through the Cleveland Museum of Art;
  • Instruction in Japanese and Chinese languages;
  • Student and teacher exchanges;
  • Virtual and visiting partnerships with sister schools in China, England, France, Mexico, Japan, and Germany, with additional recent student travel to Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain.

Superintendent Mark Freeman said Chinese language instruction will now expand to all students in grades 1-3, as well as at the high school. Curriculum Director James Paces believes the district’s international outlook has infused the community with an international vitality. “We’ve brought more than 50 families from 31 countries here. We are drawing an international population, and that’s part of our game plan. But we’re also creating an international perspective for our students and the community.” The district is expanding cooperative initiatives with Kent State faculty members, the Ohio State University Chinese Flagship program, and the emerging Confucius Institute at Cleveland State University.

“We’ve created a school without walls, and Asia has become part of that international community,” Pollack said. A quarter of the world’s population is Asian, he said. And 50 of Shaker Heights’ alumni now live in Asia. “Job opportunities for Ohio students will clearly be in Asia,” he said. “And whether students speak Hindi, Mandarin, or Japanese, these world languageswill open doors for them.” Paces notes that Cleveland-based companies such as Moen and Parker Hannifin have gone so far as to provide instruction in Chinese for their employees.

In partnership with the Ohio Department of Education and Hanban, the Chinese agency that promotes the teaching of Mandarin worldwide, Shaker Heights has secured three visiting teachers from China. Li Luling, the first of the three to join the Shaker faculty, has been teaching at the high school for three years. “To limit language means to limit thought,” Luling said. Teachers and students in international exchanges learn about other cultures, expand their horizons, and hear the true thoughts of other people. Referring to the 2008 Summer Olympics, Luling points out that learning world languages and cultures aligns well with that Olympics’ slogan: “One World One Dream.”

“That’s the reason we came here, like a bridge, to bring friendship from China and bring it back to the Chinese students,” Luling said. “We came here to teach Chinese so they can have friendship for the future in both countries.”