Ten Strategies to Internationalize Schools

State Governments Respond to Globalization

A Shaker Heights elementary student proudly staples her addition to a Chinese-language poster. Photo courtesy the school.

This article was written by Dorothea Howe of the Ohio State Board of Education. Ohio was recognized for its work in internationalizing schools in 2007, when it received the Goldman Sachs Foundation Prize for Excellence in International Education. Here, Ms. Howe shares Ohio's lessons learned.

If states want school districts to step out into the world, Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Tave Zelman suggests the state education chief create a position within the agency to oversee international education. “That person will have the responsibility to work across the agency to nternationalize your curriculum and development work, teacher quality initiatives, your student support systems, your community engagement strategies, and, of course, your accountability system as well,” she advises.
“Accountability means benchmarking state strategies against international best practice and engaging students and schools in international assessments, such as PISA,” she adds.

In Ohio, Donna Nesbitt leads international education at the Ohio Department of Education, working closely with Debbie Robinson, who leads the world languages program and sits on the board of the National Council of State Supervisors for Foreign Languages. Here are some of their suggestions from Ohio:

  1. Internationally Benchmark your State's Education System
    Ohio’s leadership worked closely with Achieve, Inc., and Sir Michael Barber of McKinsey & Co., Inc., to examine Ohio’s K-12 education system and benchmark it against the best practices in the world. The report, Creating a World-Class Education System in Ohio, led to the conclusion that Ohio had much to do to improve its education system if its students were to compete and collaborate in a global economy.The State Board of Education created a committee around the priority of Education in the Global Economy (EDGE), focusing on engaging business leaders on the role of education in the new global economy. The ultimate goal is to ensure that Ohio’s content standards reflect high expectations so that Ohio students can compete globally.
  2. Convene an International Education Advisory Committee
    In 2006, Zelman convened an International Education Advisory Committee (IEAC), funded by the Longview Foundation and comprising representatives from Ohio P-12 schools, college and university deans and faculty, business and industry leaders, foundations, non-profit organizations, and state government agencies, such as the Ohio Board of Regents (higher education) and theOhio Department of Development. Together, they created a vision “to provide Ohioans with the necessary knowledge, abilities and opportunities to thrive in a global society.” The committee also developed these goals:
    • Ohio citizens will understand the global context and diversity of relationships between themselves, their communities, and the world.
    • Ohio educators will deliver global content as a component of a world-class education and create systems to support it.
    • Students will become global thinkers with 21st-century skills so they can think critically and creatively across disciplines, manage complexity, embrace technology, and value diversity.
    • Ohio citizens will achieve greater economic prosperity and improved quality of life.

  3. Hold an International Education Summit
    The advisory committee sponsored an international education summit in April 2007 featuring discussions and presentations by educators and Ohio-based international companies. “This meeting took the pulse of why corporations and educators view international education as critical,” Robinson explained. Ohio’s First Lady Frances Strickland addressed participants. Michael Barber, coauthor of the international benchmarking report and former education advisor to then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, conversed with the audience via videoconference from London on his findings in the Achieve report. Five regional meetings in 2008 will also bring together business, education, and community partnerships from different regions in the state. This is part of the international advisory committee’s public engagement strategy to engage Ohioans at a grassroots level.
  4. Tap into Local University and Faculty Research and Programs
    The state education department partners with Ohio colleges and universities to strengthen international education. For instance, the Chinese Flagship Program at OSU prepares American students for China-related careers and works with school districts to develop a pipeline of K-12 students proficient in a Chinese language. OSU’s Language Roadmap Summit in June 2007 led to a proposal for meeting business and industry’s need for world languages. The state department also is working with the federal Title VI centers at state universities to provide information and services to school districts about various regions of the world.

  5. Advocate for Statewide Policies and Laws to Encourage and Fund Global Education
    The Ohio General Assembly called for creating a Foreign Language Advisory Council and an Intensive Licensure Program. The licensure program provided funds to license native, heritage speakers of Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, and French to teach in Ohio schools. This program licensed more than 200 teachers in its first two years, in addition to the 225 licensed annually through traditional means. To further alleviate the foreign language teacher shortage, the State Board of Education also created a three-year international teacher license, resulting in 22 Chinese, one Taiwanese, and 18 Spanish teachers sharing authentic language and culture in Ohio schools.
  6. Take Advantage of Federal Programs and Funding for Statewide Initiatives
    Two years ago, Ohio had 11 Chinese programs serving 300 students in K-12 schools. By 2008, Ohio had more than 2,200 public school students taking Chinese in 50 programs across the state. In 2006, Ohio was one of four states awarded a U.S. Department of Education Foreign Language Assistance Program (FLAP) grant to develop a K-4
    Mandarin Chinese curriculum. Many Ohio districts will pilot this elementary curriculum during the 2008 school year.
  7. Identify and Leverage Foundation, Community and Business Support
    “It’s often easier to include international components within existing programs than to create new ones,” Nesbitt said. For example, Nesbitt tapped into an existing annual student video contest for middle and high school students created by a public television station and e-Tech Ohio, a state telecommunications network. She suggested that the February 2009 competition include an international category where students can explore diverse cultures within their local communities. Another example of an existing partnership is the Polaris Career Center and the Karl-Schiller Berufskolleg, a vocational business high school in Dortmund, Germany. Since summer 2001, more than 50 German students have come to Ohio for American business internships. Families host German students for about three weeks, and senior students travel to Dortmund for a similar experience. In spring 2008, Sesame Workshop, the Ohio State University, and the state  department collaborated to develop and pilot the use of multimedia materials to introduce Mandarin language and Chinese culture in preschool and kindergarten. The Cleveland Foundation and the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation funded this initiative. Ohio’s continuing partnerships with the Asia Society’s States Network for International Education, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and support from business partners, such as Procter & Gamble and Time Warner Cable, continue to move international education forward
    in the state.
  8. Support School Districts Through Teacher Exchanges, Pilot Programs, and Educator Trainding
    To help foster international education, Ohio has memoranda of understanding with China, Spain, and Taiwan. China’s Hanban, the National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language, works with Ohio’s state department and school districts to place volunteer teachers in Ohio schools. “This effort brings authentic language educators and cultures to Ohio,” Nesbitt said. Ohio also is providing networking opportunities for elementary school language teachers and plans a global teacher exchange for summer 2009.
  9. Create a statewide Web Presence on Global Education
    Hosted by Time Warner Cable and the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation, the Think Global Ohio web site (www.thinkglobalohio.org) features an online multimedia toolkit that advocates for international education. This web site includes a survey of school districts to determine how much international education is being taught in Ohio schools. New content now is planned, including an interactive map that will show Ohio’s business connections to the rest of the world. Key goals of the web site are to help schools take advantage of local resources with international content or connections, provide more information on available resources and assistance with creating partnerships, and create professional development materials and content examples across the curriculum.
  10. Celebrate Best Practices
    As they say, “Nothing begets success like success.” So, when we find things that work, we need to talk about it. “By networking around best practices with other school districts interested in internationalizing their curricula, we will help build the excitement, the momentum, and the further advance of global studies,” Zelman said. “I believe through partnerships, collaboration, and a systematic approach to international education, we can cultivate students who will build a better world and a better humanity, for generations to come,” Zelman said.

Author: Dorothea Howe

Originally publishied in Phi Delta Kappan (November 2008). Reprinted with permission.