In February, the Getting Smart Podcast featured a conversation with me and Tom Vander Ark about my new book The Education We Need for a Future We Can’t Predict. Tom talked with me about the key stages of my career and we walked through the key sections of the book. I was particularly interested to learn that Tom first encountered my work through my article “When Improvement Programs Collide,” published almost 20 years ago. That set us off on a discussion of how I see may work as focusing on what we need to do to improve school reform and to build the capacity of the whole eco-system of organizations, agencies, services, and people who are engaged in the work of school improvement.
What do we need to do to improve school reform efforts and build the capacity of the whole eco-system of organizations, agencies, services, and people who are engaged in the work of school improvement?
Here are some of the key takeaways that Tom highlighted: [:51] Thomas shares the origin story of NCREST as well as its mission. [3:01] Tom shares his appreciation for Thomas’s early work on the concept of coherence. [3:39] Thomas takes us to the early beginnings of his work around coherence and explains what it is and why it is important. [7:54] Thomas tells about each of the sections in his book, starting with part 1: “Why Should Schools Change?” He headlines the case for change and provides some suggestions on how to create agreements around them. [11:40] Tom shares the key insights he appreciated in the first section. [12:27] The second section of the book covers barriers to change. Thomas lists some of the barriers and what we can do to make progress in overcoming them. [15:39] In section three of Thomas’s book, he writes about how schools can improve. In particular, he focuses on high-leverage problems. Thomas explains what these are, why they’re critical, and shares some examples. [17:33] The next section of Thomas’s book is on how education can change where he introduces the concept of micro-innovations. Thomas explains what these are and what they can do to move a system agenda forward. [20:18] Tom shares how 4.0 Schools have been teaching this idea of micro-innovations. [21:07] Chapter 5 of Thomas’ book is on systems change. Thomas speaks about two critical elements of systems change that are covered in this chapter: capacity building and collective responsibility. [25:28] Would Thomas agree that it takes a decade-long push on all three of these primary levers to really promote systems change? [27:44] Thomas reflects on his career, professional learning, and how he has seen education change over the years. [30:29] Would Thomas say that writing is part of his learning process? [32:00] What’s next?
Along with the devastation of the coronavirus outbreak and widespread school closures come hopes for reimagining schools as they reopen. These hopes for the future, however, rest on making the concrete improvements in schools that we know we can make today.
Despite the enormity of the challenges and the massive race and income-based inequities in society and schools that the coronavirus exposed – again – the pandemic has also made visible the fact that many communities already have the capacity to address at least some of these challenges. In New York City, in the first month of the school closure, the Department of Education worked with businesses like Apple and Microsoft to provide almost 500,000 computers and iPads to students who needed them. Across the US and around the world, even with limited digital infrastructure, communities are opening up hotspots for public use, equipping buses with Wi-Fi (and sometimes solar power), and pursuing other innovative ways of getting students online. Given the existing possibilities, one commissioner for the US Federal Communications Commission testified that the connectivity gap could be closed “virtually overnight.” If it can be done, then it should be done. No need to wait any longer.
Getting students connected to the Internet is no panacea for educational challenges, however, particularly in many parts of the developing world, where almost half of all students don’t have a computer at home and over 40 percent lack access to the internet. We also know that even with Internet access and online opportunities, significant improvements in students’ learning depend on developing more powerful instructional practices and providing better support for educators. Nonetheless, the responses to the coronavirus show that we have the capacity to address some inequitable learning opportunities, and we can take these steps right now by responding to high-leverage problems.
High-leverage problems concentrate on issues widely recognized as central to the development of more equitable educational opportunities and outcomes.
They present opportunities for visible improvements in relatively short periods of time.
They establish a foundation for long-term, sustained, systemic efforts that improve teaching and learning.
Addressing high-leverage problems depends on developing a keen sense of what matters to people and what matters in an organization. It requires careful analysis of multiple problems and continuous reflection on the process of addressing them. It relies on a powerful repertoire of strategies that meet the specific demands of different situations and on developing new practices and resources when necessary. All together, these steps can lead to the “quick wins” that help propel organizational and social changes in many sectors.
#Learningloss & Learning to Read
Take the critical concern for the “learning loss” likely to be created by the massive disruptions to schooling that so many children around the world are experiencing. That term – now almost a one-word hashtag – actually obscures a host of challenges that have to be unpacked to be addressed productively. First, different children experience learning loss to different degrees; they may experience it in some academic areas and not others; learning loss may also be affected by experiences of trauma and the stresses and socio-emotional challenges that come with the pandemic; it may result from inaccessibility to online learning and school support services including free meals and counseling; and it may stem a loss of relationships with peers and teachers, disengagement with school, and prolonged absences from learning in person or online. Such a litany of problems can make any first step seem inadequate and pointless. Nonetheless, breaking down a high leverage problem like learning to read yields a coordinated series of strategies that many communities already have the capacity to pursue:
Make books by authors from a variety of backgrounds freely accessible.
Find children with vision problems and provide them with glasses.
Develop and understanding of why some children are chronically absent from school/online learning and support regular attendance.
Identify children who are struggling to learn to read and provide targeted interventions.
The logic is simple: when children have access to books, when they can see, when they’re in school, and when they receive targeted support if they’re struggling, they’re much more likely to learn to read.
The logic is simple: when children have access to books, when they can see, when they’re in school, and when they receive targeted support if they’re struggling, they’re much more likely to learn to read.
Even in countries like the United States, children in high-poverty areas have a much harder time getting books than their peers in middle-income areas, but a number of programs (including one sponsored by the country singer Dolly Parton) have taken advantage of book vending machines, doctor’s offices, and other mechanisms to address this issue. Organizations like EmbraceRace and the Jane Addams Peace Association post lists of books by authors from different racial and cultural backgrounds so that there’s no excuse not to provide all children with access to materials that reflect their heritage.
Of course, making books and print materials available in a variety of languages, by authors from a range of backgrounds, is just one step. Children still need to be able to read those books once they get those books into their hands. Nonetheless, 25 percent of school-aged children in the United States have undiagnosed eye problems that inhibit their ability to read, and one in three children haven’t had their vision tested in the past two years (if at all); but relatively low-cost programs to test students’ vision and get glasses to those who need them do exist. In the developing world, it may be complicated to create a supply chain that makes print materials readily available and ensures every child who needs glasses gets a pair, but it can be done.
We know that chronic absences from school have a devastating effect on children’s learning and have a disproportionate impact on students in communities of color, but that knowledge has also led to the development of a number of successful strategies for helping many children to get to and stay in school. Despite the re-emergence of the “reading wars” over the best approach to teach reading, there are a number of well-established strategies and supports that many teachers and schools are already using that target the specific needs of at least some of the students who experience difficulties in learning to read when they are in school.
Improve Schools and Transform Education
These first steps may not reach every student right away, and any initial success has to be followed by developing educational activities that foster more advanced skills and a broader set of developmental needs – an even more challenging proposition. Ultimately, addressing these challenges will depend on truly reimagining schooling, and, reconceptualizing notions like “learning loss” that ignore the mile-wide and inch-deep curriculum and age-graded pacing that make it almost impossible for students to catch up once they’re left behind.
We need to reimagine schooling, reconceptualizing notions like “learning loss” that ignore the mile-wide and inch-deep curriculum and age-graded pacing that make it almost impossible for students to catch up once they’re left behind
In short, the pandemic itself will not change schools: Nothing will change in schools unless we change it. Yet the strategies to provide glasses, to address chronic absences, and to provide targeted support in reading can lead to real improvements in schools – even in the midst of a pandemic – if we choose to dedicate the time, resources and commitment to put them into practice on a wide basis. We can take these critical steps to make the schools we have more efficient, more equitable and more effective today and to lay the groundwork for transforming education as a whole in the future.
In a recent article in Forbes, Tom Vander Ark outlined 15 “invention opportunities” that can support the development of equitable high-quality learning opportunities in the future. Among the fifteen are challenges to create “accountability 2.0” and develop the mechanisms that can bring people together to share diverse perspectives and support community agreement on the aims and purposes of education. These mechanisms are essential for fostering the common understanding and collective responsibility that fuel the social movements we need to dismantle systemic racism, create equitable educational opportunities, and transform education.
Re-defining accountability itself serves as a first step in developing these new mechanisms. For too long, accountability in the US has been synonymous with answerability: Answerability reflects the beliefs that individuals and groups should be accountable for meeting clearly specified and agreed-upon procedures and/or goals. Yet the focus on answerability ignores responsibility another crucial aspect of accountability. Responsibility reflects the belief that individuals and groups should be held accountable for living up to and upholding norms of conduct and higher purposes that are often ambiguous and difficult to define in advance.
Individuals and groups should be held accountable for living up to and upholding norms of conduct and higher purposes that are often ambiguous and difficult to define in advance.
Although carefully specifying outcomes that need to be achieved and establishing consequences for failing to meet those targets can increase efficiency, it also ignores many other valued outcomes, and it can undermine the discretion and expert judgment that may be needed to make many decisions. When taken to extremes, this approach spawns a compliance mindset and leads to efforts to game the system that make it look like the goals have been achieved when they haven’t.
At the same time, simply leaving individuals and groups alone is not the same thing as supporting the development of individual or collective responsibility. Developing responsibility also involves developing the capacity—the investments, materials, abilities, commitments, and relationships—needed to carry out responsibilities effectively. In short, accountability comes from the capacity to support a balance between answerability and responsibility.
Finland’s PISA scores have slipped a bit in recent years, its education system still excels in many respects and continues to stand out as one of the most equitable high-performing systems. Even though many analyses highlight the autonomy of teachers as central to that performance, those analyses often fail to mention several other key aspects of Finland’s education system that support the development of the relationships, trust, and common understanding in education so central to developing collective responsibility and achieving equitable outcomes:
A well-established social-welfare state that supports all members of society by connecting education, health, social services, and other sectors
A national curriculum framework and a strong, coherent infrastructure of facilities, materials, assessment and preparation programs to support teaching and learning
A curriculum renewal process in which stakeholders from all parts of society participate in reflecting on and revising the curriculum framework
The use of a variety of high-quality informal and formal assessments that inform efforts to improve practices and performance throughout the education system
The Finnish approach to assessment play a particularly important role in supporting the development of common understanding and common aims. That approach includes diagnostic and classroom-based assessments that elementary teachers can use early in children’s school careers to identify those who may need some additional help with academics and to ensure that all students stay on track. In secondary schools, well-known exit exams anchor and focus the system. The National Board of Education in Finland also regularly gives tests to samples of students and schools, providing an overview of national and regional performance in key subjects, such as Finnish and mathematics. Although the National Board doesn’t use that information for ranking (and can’t, because not all students and schools are assessed), it shares school-level information with the schools that participate and municipal-level data with the municipalities involved. In addition, the National Board makes these sample assessments widely available for free, so that any teacher, school, or municipality that wants to administer these tests can do so. As a consequence, even without national testing, Finnish schools and municipalities have government-paid tools that link directly to the core curriculum that they can use to benchmark their performance against regional and national samples.
Under these conditions, students don’t have to pass tests that require them to demonstrate proficiency by third grade; they hardly ever “fail” or have to be held back; and most students reach at least a basic level of educational achievement. At the same time, this approach both supports considerable autonomy for educators and schools and builds the common connections that steer the system toward broad education goals without having to rely heavily on rewards or punishments.
This approach contrasts sharply with those in contexts like the US that focus almost exclusively on answerability by using tests to hold teachers, school leaders, and schools “accountable” for reaching specified benchmarks and other outcomes. Rather than using assessments to look back to see whether educators did what they were supposed to do, educators and system leaders in Finland use assessments to look forward and to see if people, classes and schools are headed in the right direction. Such an approach doesn’t require data on every single aspect of student, teacher, or school performance, but it depends on making sure no one gets too far off course. It means using assessment to look for outliers and listening for signs of trouble, not to check on each individual or make sure everything is done a certain way or in a certain timeline. In the process, Finland supports the development of the collective responsibility central to guiding education into an unpredictable future.
Rather than using assessments to look back to see what educators did, we need to use assessments to look forward and to see if people, classes, and schools are headed in the right direction.
New technologies, artificial intelligence, and many other kinds of innovations can help to improve education. But those technical achievements will not accomplish much without the personal commitments and broader social movements that can transform our communities. If we are truly to develop collective responsibility in education, then we have to develop collective responsibility for education. We have to hold ourselves, our elected officials, and our communities accountable for making the changes in our society that will end segregation and discrimination, create equitable educational opportunities, and provide the support that everyone needs to thrive.
The US elections on November 3rd spawned uncertainty and anxiety across the country. In addition to summarizing the initial presidential election results (using the headline “Trump sets U.S. on course for institutional crisis”), Politico’s Global Translationsprovided links to headlines from around the world.
Beyond those headlines focusing on the Presidential election, I found a series of stories that described the implications for education at the national, state, and local levels as well as several articles and blog posts that explored how educators and students are responding so far.
As schools in the US and other parts of the world make difficult decisions about how to reopen this fall, I look at some of the concrete steps that, over time, could make schools healthier places and transform the basic parameters of schooling. This post expands on comments I made at the Education Disrupted/Education Reimagined convening sponsored by WISE and the Salzburg Global Seminar in April and summarized in a volume sharing the conference proceedings.
Have the wide-spread school closures changed schools forever? The history of school reform efforts shows that schools are much more likely to change slowly and incrementally than they are to suddenly transform, even in the face of a deadly virus. Yet we can take advantage of what we know about how students learn and how schools change to address a critical problem with the design of conventional schools: Schools are a better medium for spreading disease than they are for supporting meaningful learning.
Learning depends on healthy, safe conditions for students, educators, and all those who work in schools; but schools cram too many people into too little space, and the typical lay-out of age-graded classrooms along labyrinthian hallways limits collaboration, exploration, and engagement with the world. We’ve made things worse in the US by leaving buildings in disrepair, and failing to provide adequate ventilation, air conditioning or heating, particularly in low-income communities. Add on a draconian schedule with little time for exercise, lunch, or other healthy activities; and then ramp up stress levels with high stakes tests where students have to sit in rows in silence for hours facing a ticking clock.
But things can change. We can make schools safer for students and staff as schools reopen, and we can create a foundation for much healthier and more powerful educational opportunities in the future.
We can make schools safer for students and staff as schools reopen, and we can create a foundation for much healthier and more powerful educational opportunities in the future.
Focus on learning that matters
The school closures and the inequities of access to online learning immediately launched a spate of proposals for dealing with “learning loss.” Many of these proposals rely on intensifying work on academic subjects, yet these proposals ignore the mile-wide and inch deep curriculum and age-graded pacing that make it almost impossible for those left behind to catch-up. Addressing academic learning loss begins by concentrating on a small set of key skills and concepts and providing educators with the tools to ensure that every student actually meets those learning goals.
Although academic needs have to be met, the challenges that students face as they return to school go far beyond academic achievement and a “less is more” approach to academics creates the efficiencies that provide time and space for supporting other critical aspects of children’s development. Back in school, learning will be enhanced by creating educational opportunities for students to reflect on their experiences during the outbreak; to develop coping strategies; to rebuild positive relationships with their peers and teachers; and to get engaged in meaningful and constructive work in areas they care about. When that happens, educators can shift their focus from covering the entire curriculum to addressing the critical needs of every child.
Addressing academic learning loss begins by concentrating on a small set of key skills and concepts and providing educators with the tools to ensure that every student actually meets those learning goals.
Break down the barriers between learning “inside” and “outside” schools
As we remake schools to help stop the spread of the virus, we can stagger schedules to fit students’ sleep patterns and development as they get older. We can make sure that students have regular chances to take the breaks and get the exercise that we know benefits learning and productivity. As we limit the number of people using school facilities at any given time, we can rotate students in and out of schools and expand support for students’ learning far beyond school walls. In addition to online learning, we can take advantage of possibilities for education outside on playgrounds, in the natural world, and in the neighborhood in gyms, museums, libraries, community organizations, and businesses. In the process, we can shift the focus from getting children into schools to enabling them to explore the world.
Expand the power of the education workforce
To increase the reach and power of teachers who have been limited largely to working with students in classrooms, we can engage a host of people who have the time and the capacity to play a positive role in learning inside and outside schools. Organizations like City Year and Citizen Schools already demonstrate how to mobilize volunteers young and old who can provide targeted academic support as tutors, act as mentors, or guide students’ in projects, apprenticeships, and community service. Numerous proposals could help meet the demand, whether it’s through the kind of education “Marshall Plan” discussed by Robert Slavin or by expanding National Service and Americorps as outlined by David Brooks, John Bridgeland and Alan Khazei, or bills being developed in the Senate.
Condense schooling and increase learning
All of these changes are within our reach right now. They do not require new curricula, massive professional development for teachers, or new technologies. Reimagining education depends on re-orienting our priorities, making schools healthy and safe, and focusing first and foremost on students’ needs and interests, particularly those of Black, Latinx, and immigrant students, students from low-income communities and the communities hardest hit by this pandemic. But as we change our priorities and take these initial steps, a more radical possibility emerges: Condense the school day.
Instead of extending the school day and requiring students to spend even more time on basic skills, we can concentrate more efficient academic support in more limited time slots, with educators able to utilize sophisticated materials and coordinate contributions from colleagues with specialized expertise as well as volunteer tutors, mentors, and online and offline guides. In a sense, every day could be a half-day, opening up opportunities for students to have lunch, get outside, and participate in a host of school-based, community-based, or online activities; to get any counseling they need; to pursue their own education interests; and to participate in activities that foster a much wider range of developmental and educational goals. Such an approach rejects the tacit assumption that limits education to schooling and embraces the possibilities for supporting students’ learning and development wherever and whenever it occurs.
What can we do? That’s a question we are all asking right now. For all of us that question begins with what we can do to keep ourselves and those around us safe and healthy. But parents and educators like me are also thinking about what we can do to support our children, students and colleagues as K-12 schools close and classes go online. There are no easy answers, but here are 6 things I’m thinking about to try to deal with the challenges and take advantage of the possibilities:
Focus on health and wellness. Learning is an important goal, but health and wellness for everyone has to come first. Students will learn the most from the acts of courage and kindness that help keep us all going.
Suspend Schoolwork. Suspend exams, grades, and any other requirements that may contribute to stress and anxiety – for teachers and parents as well as students. Children and parents need opportunities and guidance for engagement in positive and productive activities, not more reasons to fight over homework or “keeping up.”
Encourage invention, design, creative expression and meaningful engagement. Instead of trying to figure out how to cover the curriculum, educators can put the syllabi aside and focus on meaningful activities – activities related to important learning goals that might be motivating and interesting for students to do while they are out of school. Instead of creating new demands, concentrate on creating new possibilities:
Encourage students to keep a weekly diary – in words, pictures or any other media
create online journals, newspapers and magazines that students can contribute to
Invite students to share artwork, music, writing, photographs, or videos in an online exhibition
Stage online “talent shows” for students to share videos they have produced
Provide links to online resources and tutorials for learning languages, playing an instrument, developing academic abilities or learning other skills and enable students to share their progress
Connect, connect, connect. Educators are uniquely positioned to provide information and support for their students, particularly those who are struggling the most. We can check-in, ask how they and their families are doing, share the latest news and resources, and help to identify critical needs. Educators can also build relationships and fight isolation by finding and creating opportunities for students to connect with one another as well with adults, particularly those in retirement homes, hospitals or anywhere else people might be disconnected and in distress
Find new ways to serve the community. Create online community service activities and virtual service projects. My oldest daughter, a senior in college, has been serving as a mentor and had to say goodbye to the elementary student she visited every week, but what if they didn’t have to say goodbye? What if they could stay in touch by text or video even for a short-time every week? With so many students of all ages out of school, we can create online clearinghouses where students – or anyone really – could connect with those looking for mentoring, tutoring, or just conversation. Reach out and partner with parents, those from community centers, after school programs, Americorps programs like City Year and Citizen Schools, museums, and libraries to find and create these activities for students to engage in online. Together educators and these extended programs can work to focus particularly on the students and their families who may be unable to get online or stay connected.
Embrace collective responsibility. From living in Norway for a year, I learned it is possible both to respect the rights of every individual and cultivate a sense of collective responsibility. There is no more important time for reinforcing our common bonds and recognizing that everything we do has an impact on our neighbors. It could be as simple as inviting children to call their grandparents or extended family once a day or a couple of times a week or just calling down the hall, leaning out the window or talking across the fence. The most profound thing we can do in difficult times can be done anywhere in any circumstances, dedicate ourselves to working with and for each other.
In this week’s post, I scan of some of education predictions in the news over the past few weeks and reflects on the possibilities schools and education in the coming years.
Last week and the week before, my roundup of key issues of the past year and decade highlighted for me the difficulty of making predictions about the future. The safest thing to do is probably to stick to ambiguous statements like “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” My recent work looking at why so many efforts to change schools fall short of their goals suggests that statement may be particularly accurate in education. That does not mean that things have not and will not change at all and scanning the predictions for the coming the year and decade (listed at the end of this post) provides a glimpse of what some commentators think might transpire. By the end of the 2020’s there will undoubtedly be many new schools, new learning experiences available outside of schools, and new technologies. Looking back at the concerns about stress, safety, data privacy, the spread of false information and other problems that emerged in the last ten years, the new developments of the 2020’s may well have some undesirable effects. But it’s possible to imagine some more positive effects as well:
Beyond school choice? Rather than arguing over whether students should be able to choose schools, students might have more opportunities to fashion learning pathways that match their specific needs and interests. Those pathways might include learning experiences in schools, but students might be able to draw on a much wider array of learning opportunities outside of schools in their own communities but also around the world, online.
Beyond the “usual subjects”? Rather than intensifying the focus on testing and basic skills, new developments might make it possible for more students to learn the basics more efficiently and in less time, creating opportunities for them to develop their abilities in many different ways. Those will likely include more formal and informal opportunities to participate in e-sports, to produce their own music and other art works, craft their own products and services, and participate in virtual communities where they can share those experiences and products far beyond their local schools.
Beyond personalization? Rather than having to rely on educators to figure out how to personalize learning or differentiate instruction for every child, students and parents may be able to play a more active role in choosing the goals of their learning experiences and the nature of those experiences as well.
More time for teaching and learning? Rather than making teachers obsolete, new technologies may tackle many of the “back-end”, administrative, and managerial aspects of schooling; in the process, those developments might create more room for teachers to work with students and other educators on teaching and learning.
Nonetheless, as it has been in education for the past 100 years, many of the most unconventional developments are likely to be confined to the margins, to alternative schools and special populations, and to the white and/or wealthy elites who are most likely to be able to take advantage of them. At this point, I’m not sure there is any reason to revise substantially what I said when looking ahead last year: That changes in schooling happen slowly, and incrementally and that the most significant changes will come as society as a whole changes, as the environment evolves, as new economies and technologies develop. Those changes may have the most significant impact on schools when the nature of work and family life shifts and parents no longer have to rely on schools to look after their children from 8 to 3 PM five days a week. At that point, as the nature of childhood changes, schools may change and some may be left behind entirely, allowing children to explore far beyond their own neighborhoods, develop their abilities, and express themselves in ways that might change their world.
In this follow-up to last week’s post on some of the common issues and key concerns mentioned in end-of-the-year and end-of-the-decade education reflections, Thomas Hatch highlights questions about the role of research and technology in improvement efforts.
Last week’s post showed that many reviews of the key education stories of last year and the preceding decade noted some progress as well as some stagnation and continuing inequities in student outcomes. At the same time, those reviews also often came back to concerns that neither research nor technology were having the hoped-for effects in improving education.
What research adds value? The discussions of progress and stagnation over the past decade reflected continuing concerns about educational research, its quality and value. The championing of “value-added” research in the 2000’s was succeeded by an embrace of large-scale data sets and data mining which contributed to rising concerns about data-privacy and cyber-security (as Audrey Water highlighted with a link to the K-12 Cyber Incident Map).
In what Alexander Russo identified as one of the 10 pieces of education journalism that defined the decade, Emily Hanford may have both re-ignited the reading wars and made concerns about the lack of impact of research on practice a hot-button issue again. (We shared our own take on the problems of getting research into practice in blog posts and a podcast about our study of the 112 external support providers working to improve K-3 reading outcomes in New York City).
At the same time, Matt Barnum’s review of 8 lessons learned in 2019 pointed to some key of issues of equity, race, and poverty that research is shedding light on. The awarding of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics to Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, and Michael Kremer also capped a decade in which the use of randomized controlled trials expanded even more, particularly in the developing world. As Crawfurd and Hares report, a systematic review of RCTs in education research found just over a thousand unique studies between 1980 and 2016, with more than half of these produced between 2010 and 2016.
What’s changed? Technology? Schools? Even another ten years of promises of an ed-tech revolution couldn’t seem to speed up the slow pace of change in teaching and learning in primary and secondary education (as Larry Cuban continues to chronicle). Some things have changed. Students can now use their phones to access google classroom (and get texts from their parents in the middle of the day) and teachers can download lessons from a host of sites offering open and free access to tons of instructional materials (though many of those don’t appear to be aligned with academic standards). Yet, in 2019, both students and teachers still worked in the same schools and classrooms, for roughly the same amount of time, with the same instructional approaches, focusing on many of the same skills and outcomes as they did in 2009.
Looking ahead? Although many education conversations in the 2000’s in the US were consumed by debates of the No Child Left Behind Act, only a few of the reviews of the last decade mentioned the Every Child Succeeds Act of 2015 or other policy developments. Instead, partisanship seems to have overwhelmed many discussions of policy and the fractures seem to be growing. It gets harder to tell the “reformers” from the “non-reformers,” and even those who thought they held similar views – Democrats, charter advocates, free marketeers among others – find themselves trying to make sense of who stands for what in the age of Trump.
But students are standing up and speaking out. One more scan for “student activism” in the news in 2019 reveals some of the people and the stories we could be following in the coming years:
This week and next week, I note some of the common issues and key concerns mentioned in end-of-the-year and end-of-the-decade education reflections. As in the International Ed News round-ups of 2018, 2017, and 2016, many of the reflections come from US sources, but there are some global links as well. This week, Part 1 concentrates on the waves of violence and activism and the discussions of outcomes mentioned across a number of sources. Links to many of the sources that inform both posts are also provided. Next week, Part 2’s roundup focuses on common questions about the role of research and technology in improvement efforts.
Although there are many educational experiences, schools, resources, technologies, companies and other ventures in 2019 that were not around in 2010, many of the key issues and stories of 2019 overlapped with those mentioned in the reviews of the decade of the 2010’s as a whole.
Progress? stagnation? Debates about whether schools are getting better or worse also continued throughout the decade. Internationally, PISA test results in 2012, 2015, and 2018 continued to highlight the high performance of East Asian countries like Singapore; showed a decline in Finland; and revealed high scores in some jurisdictions in China while raising questions about how representative and appropriate those scores were.
Globally, Lee Crawfurd and Susannah Hares of the Center for Global Development, summed things up by pointing out that progress on achieving primary schooling has stagnated but attention to learning has grown: they found that only about 50 articles mentioned the phrase “learning crisis” in 2010 but almost 300 mentioned it in 2019. For added emphasis, in 2019, the World Bank sought to focus on “learning poverty” by creating a new global target: cutting in half the number of children who are unable to read and understand a simple text by age 10 (currently at 53% in lower- and middle-income countries).
Inside Philanthropy’sDavid Callahan described the 2010’s as “a decade in which a billionaire-backed K-12 reform push largely flopped.” Those elite-backed reforms in the US included the launch of the Common Core Learning Standards and numerous state-backed initiatives to increase accountability by tying teacher evaluations to student outcomes. Yet the decade ended with reports of little evidence of positive impact of the Common Core and continuing debates about its value. In 2019, studies also found little if any positive effect of the new teacher evaluation policies on student test scores. Those top-down initiatives also contributed to a backlash against testing, and, as Madeline Will of Education Week put it, spurred teachers to take leadership into their own hands, “leading strikes and protests across the country, and even running for office.”
I was interested in doing this interview to share it with the students in my course, Leading Educational Policy and Reform, for experienced educational leaders in Fordham’s Ed.D. program. Often, when discussing policy, we only consider one policy at a time rather than examining it in the complex policy environment that educational leaders must navigate on a daily basis. In the interview, we discuss how Hatch’s work on coherence has evolved, our common interests in the social process of interpreting and making sense of policy, and connections to the work of other scholars in the field including Richard Elmore and Karen Seashore Louis.
In our conversation, Hatch describes the challenge of policy alignment as “a technical issue”; whereas, policy coherence is an issue of meaning. He was motivated to pursue this line of research when working to support educational reform in the 1990s. As he explains, “Even if all of the efforts of systemic reform in the 1990s were successful and we produced all these aligned policies, there could be so much work and so many demands on people that they’d still feel overwhelmed and fragmented. And it’s that sense of overwhelmingness and fragmentation that we were trying to address, particularly in thinking about that article around crafting coherence where I think we really emphasize that this is an issue of learning and meaning making that people and organizations like schools are engaged in.” Over time, his work has reinforced the importance of understanding the challenge of “crafting coherence” among external policies and internal goals from a collective perspective, one that takes into account the fact that educators are engaged in this meaning making process simultaneously but from their own unique perspectives.
In the interview, Hatch also shares practical advice for educational leaders at the school- and district-level who face the difficult task of leading policy implementation. As he explains, educational leaders should “recognize this is a part of the job. It’s not a sign that you’re not doing well if you’re feeling overwhelmed. It’s a reality of the circumstances in which the work is done, and you have to recognize that you’re facing conflicting incentives.” My recent article, “Principals and Teachers ‘Craft Coherence’ Among Accountability Policies,” examines how educators respond to the demands of the Common Core and a new teacher evaluation policy and reinforces how challenging maintaining this balance can be in the face of high-stakes accountability policies. In fact, the pressure from standards-based accountability policies can lead some leaders to abandon their local school goals to focus on external demands. To be successful in the long run, leaders must both respond to the requirements imposed by external mandates but also maintain a focus on the goals that matter most to the community they serve.