How Districts Can Prepare Students for an Interconnected World

Are you giving your students what they need to succeed in a globalized world? Photo: Annetta_R/

Local school boards and district superintendents understand the need to prepare their graduates for the world of the future and are exploring steps to integrate an international dimension into their schools. Districts can have a considerable impact by beginning with a few small initiatives or by launching comprehensive, districtwide basis. Each district’s international vision for its schools and students can be tailored to its own circumstances. Asia Society has worked with a variety of school districts--in urban, suburban, and rural settings--over the years. Here are some common leverage points most districts tend to focus on when implementing reform efforts in this area:

Envision Success in a Global Age
Just as individual schools have done, a district should determine what critical knowledge, skills, and values it believes every graduate from its schools should have. Use our guidebook, Going Global, and the companion DVD, Putting the World into World-Class Education as a point of departure for a community-wide conversation involving district leaders, school board members, principals, school staff, parents, and community members on the global competencies needed by graduates. Establish a committee to review the district’s current assets and barriers and develop a plan to increase students’ global knowledge and skills.

Review Policies
What policies could promote greater international knowledge and skills? Where can change begin? Evanston Township, Illinois, for example, introduced an international studies requirement for graduation and teachers then developed a range of courses to meet that requirement.

Audit Academic Programs
Within the parameters of state content guidelines, districts determine what students have the opportunity to learn. Conduct an academic and program audit of the district's current efforts to teach about the world. Consider how international content could be infused into existing courses, examine how langauge offerings could be expanded--including through online options--and set a plan with specific goals for increasing the number of students taking internationally oriented courses.

Recruit and Develop Personnel
Educators are a district's greatest assets. See our article on how to recruit, hire and sustain teachers and other personnel that have the skills and desire to emphasize international content and perspectives. Ask what local universities are doing to internationalize their teacher preparation programs and explore available professional development and travel opportunities that can strengthen teachers' international knowledge and experiences.

Use International Education to Drive School Improvements
Districts can use international educaation as a focused approach to transforming poorly performing schools or creatingnew schools that promote improved student achievement. For example, Asia Society's International Studies Schools Network has shown success inpreparing low-income minority student to be both college-ready and globally competent. In 2008, Seattle Public Schools announced that it would open ten international schools, envisioning K-12 nternational tracks across the city with two international elementary schools, an international middle school, and an international high school in each track. An International Education Administrator was appointed to spearhead this new effort.

Create Community and International partnerships
Local business, cultural, and community organizations can support your district's international work. Conduct a communiy audit to assess which potential partners can be most helpful. International partnerships can also expand the horizons of schools in your district. For instance, the Chinese program in Chicago Public Schools is built on an international partnership wtih Shanghai to provide Chicago schools with visiting language teachers.

Review Resource Allocation
Review time and fiscal resources that can be allocated to achieve the district's global vision, and determine what new capital is needed. Appoint someone to lead the district's international education efforts an give teachers time to plan. Carefully review existing revenue sources and budget priorities to see where funds might be channeled toward this goal. Also, consider how time, a critical asset for planning change, can be used to support integration of a global focus.