A few smart Danish kids

Yesterday afternoon my colleague Chris Irvine and I sat down with three of Denmark's most promising. They're elected leaders of the Association of Danish Pupils, the nation's student-run education-policy organization. (Think: a national student council, or a stellar group of model Congress participants, only the model Congress actually gets to influence policy.)

A few highlights stood out to me as we explained the American education system and federal and state policy, and heard a bit about the issues facing Denmark's schools:

  • The Danes are struggling with how to incorporate virtual learning into the classroom in much the same way that the United States is. For these intrepid youth, intent on discovering means of diversifying instruction and providing targeted, individualized instruction, digital learning wasn't really on their radar. According to the youth, Denmark is behind when it comes to virtual schooling. We commiserated over that fact?and I wondered silently how long it would be before each of our nations were so far behind in this domain that it is noticeably and negatively affecting our global competitiveness. Hopefully we push the throttle forward on digital learning and don't see that reality come to pass.
  • We talked briefly about how our two countries handle special education. The students raised an important issue?special education is extremely expensive in Denmark?and no one really knows how the money is being allocated, or if the money is being well-spent. Yet, while the high schoolers eagerly explained that the percentage of funding that goes to special-education students is unfairly high compared to those resources allocated to the general-education classrooms, their advisor was quick to chime in: ?Well,? he reminded, ?it's a politically volatile situation and one that can't easily be remedied.? True, Mr. Advisor. But, maybe your students are onto something.
  • The three were there as representatives of their country. As high school students, they had a greater understanding of the American education system (never mind their own) than most of America. One of the three had even read Checker's Troublemaker to prep himself for the meeting. These high schoolers were, in a word, crackerjack. They also asked what examples they could pull from American education?of student groups focused on improving policy for the students, of advocacy groups that pushed forward an agenda presented by students, or that asked student input before designing their own agenda. Chris and I sat there, probably looking quite silly, as we replied: ?Well, there aren't really any.?

In the end, though, I left the group feeling like we disappointed. They were searching for that next great innovation?the idea that would bump their country's student achievement. We talked charter schools, teacher quality, rigorous standards, school turnarounds, and governance models. But we never gave them the silver bullet they longed for. I don't know if we even gave them viable ideas they could easily package into policy back in Denmark. Because, the truth is, we've got a long ways to go ourselves.

?Daniela Fairchild

Daniela Fairchild
Daniela Fairchild is a Development Manager and Policy Analyst at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute