Context: New Zealand and American education

Ty Cobb hit .366 over a storied baseball career. Sir Don Bradman posted a 99.4 mark in cricket. Both .366 and 99.4 fall under the category of “batting averages.”

While I can immediately place Cobb’s batting average in context, it takes some furious googling to know what goes into “The Don’s” mark.

I’m facing this kind of challenge daily as I try to acclimate to a new education system. A “standard” here isn’t necessarily a standard there, a college in one place is a high school in another, and all sorts of other terms need clarification (an early thanks to those who’ve paused to explain the basics, repeatedly).

The implications for the speed at which I’m able to work or dig into details are large. To summarize some cognitive science for a second, when you have limited background knowledge on a topic, your working memory (which processes information in the moment) is easily taxed. The more background knowledge you have stored in long-term memory, the quicker you’ll be able to process new or unfamiliar bits of information.  

In the U.S., I’m fairly fluent on the mechanics of most education systems – how many students are served, how success is measured, how organizations are typically staffed and structured, etc. I take a lot of this knowledge for granted as it’s been built up for years as a student, teacher, and professional. It enables me to immediately register basic facts and keep conversations moving beyond widely understood information.

In New Zealand, I’m still developing that fluency. And while being a newcomer allows me to ask some simple questions that might prompt reflection on assumptions that haven’t been tested in awhile, those questions can also slow things down quite a bit.

So in an effort to lock in some essential facts about the scale and operations of education in the U.S. and New Zealand I’d like to spend a bit of time today focused comparing some of the basic features that have frequently come up in conversations so far. (comparison being an effective method for learning).

Continue reading “Context: New Zealand and American education”