LEAD THE CHANGE SERIES Q & A with Thomas Hatch

The following interview comes from AERA Educational Change SIG’s Lead the Change series.

T H presenting

1) The 2019 AERA theme is Leveraging Education Research in a Post-Truth Era: Multimodal Narratives to Democratize Evidence. How can such leveraging of educational research contribute to the democratization of evidence and to educational change?

For me, the key word in the theme is “leverage.”  I see education as essential to developing the communities that enable all of us to thrive. To that end, my recent work takes off from a provocative question that Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley asked in The Fourth Way:

Should schools be improving what they already do, and undertake everything in their power to make it better, and more effective? Or should they be embracing innovation in terms of new ideas, outcomes, and practices-not merely making their existing practice more effective, but transforming that practice and perhaps even the nature of their institutions altogether? (Hargreaves & Shirley, p. 210)

I believe that we have to pursue these two contradictory goals at once.  We need to improve educational opportunities and outcomes in the systems we have right now; and we need to transform conventional education systems to make them much more equitable and effective in the future. I see pursuing what my colleagues and I call “high-leverage” goals as a key part of this endeavor.  High-leverage goals:

  • Focus on issues widely recognized as central to the development of more equitable educational opportunities and outcomes
  • Present opportunities for visible improvements in relatively short periods of time
  • Establish a foundation for long-term, sustained, systemic improvement efforts

Unfortunately, numerous problems present opportunities to pursue these kinds of high-leverage goals and research has been and continues to be central to addressing them.  For example, reducing absences and drop-outs from school are issues that concern many communities, school and districts; there are reasons to believe that addressing chronic absences in elementary school can be a key ingredient reducing dropouts among older students, and may be of particular benefit to students of color, students from low-income communities, and low-performing students who are chronically absent; and research is playing a key role in both unpacking the problems at different levels, exploring solutions, and examining the outcomes.   Creating more equitable suspension policies and reducing suspensions offers another opportunity to examine and address an issue that can have a profound impact on the lives of individual students as well as the cultures and climates in which they experience education over both the short and long-term.

These ideas build on what I learned from community organizers who begin their work by building relationships and identifying common interests and concerns.  When we build on those common interests and concerns – whether of students, members of a school community, groups of educator, policymakers or others – we’re less likely to have to explain after the fact why we did what we did or what significance it might have.  Although there are many ways to investigate any issue, being sensitive to the possibilities for action can help to develop inquiries that have immediate practical implications at the same time that they encourage broader reflection and examination of what’s happening in education and why.  Finally, by working on problems and issues that people see as meaningful and that provide some opportunities to experience success, our work can contribute to the hopes and aspirations that can bring communities together and inspire broader change efforts.

You could argue that beginning with issues and problems of central concerns in the communities where we work is one way to “democratize” evidence and research.  From my perspective, however, it’s not just about democratizing the process of education, it’s recognizing the central role that research and education play in supporting and developing democratic societies.  However, a scan of recent headlines about the mid-term elections and the past Presidential election highlights how much work we have to do. Right now education appears to be driving people apart rather than bringing them together. As an article in The Atlantic on the latest voting patterns declared “America is divided by education.” This educational divide is particularly apparent among white voters as a large majority of non-college-educated white voters vote for Republicans while a majority of college-educated white votes cast ballots for Democrats.  Nonetheless, the influence of education on voting patterns appears to be reinforced by geography and intersects with gender.  Race and education also help to explain who does and doesn’t vote, as Black voters, particularly Black women, have the highest voting rates overall, and non-college-educated Black women and men are much more likely to vote than the non-college-educated women and men from other races.  Some of the same patterns among voters also seem to have emerged in the UK’s referendum on EU membership and in the popularity of far-right politician Geert Wilder’s in the Netherlands.  But the point isn’t that those with an education make “better” choices.  These developments suggest to me that we have to remain aware of the ways that research and our educational systems contribute to the problems we have at the same time that we strive to make them part of the solution.
2) In your book Managing to change: How schools can survive (and sometimes thrive) in turbulent times, you argue, inter alia, that schools themselves need to create and design conditions for improvement.  What do you see to be some of these necessary conditions for change for improvement? Can you provide examples of such schools and their stories of success?

In Managing to Change I emphasized the ways that schools, school leaders and school communities can create the local conditions for their own success. They can do that by developing shared understanding, recruiting and sustaining a powerful staff, creating a productive work environment, and managing the external environment.  In that book I focused on a handful of schools in the San Francisco Bay Area that exemplified that approach, and more recently I’ve been looking at organizations as well as schools that are working to create the conditions for better educational outcomes in the US as well as places like South Africa, Malaysia, Singapore, Finland, and Estonia.

But Managing to Change also highlighted that, despite the successes of some individual schools, it remains extremely difficult to develop, sustain and spread more powerful approaches to instruction and schooling.  That challenge is even more difficult for those efforts that pursue a vision for education that looks substantially different from the teacher-centered, age-graded, academically-oriented, standardized tested classrooms that have developed over the past century all over the world.

The efforts to create, improve or “turnaround” individual schools remain limited by the unwillingness and inability to build the capacity for school improvement at the system level.  As Richard Elmore put it, in the US, we have overinvested in accountability and underinvested in capacity. Therefore, after I finished Managing to Change, I wanted to look beyond the US and explore what was “working” in education in other parts of the world. I hoped to visit some of the “usual suspects” – places like Singapore and Finland, at the top of the charts on international tests like PISA and stars of many media stories of educational success.  In what turned out to be a wonderful set of coincidences, I ended up spending a year living in Norway, with my wife Karen Hammerness (who’s father’s grandparents all came to the US from Norway) and three daughters.  While Norway shares many traits with Finland only one of the two regularly finds itself in discussions of educational “high performance.” On the PISA tests so often used as a measure of education systems, Norway performs about the same as the US.  As a consequence, rather than trying to figure out why the US education system hasn’t been as good as Finland’s, I found myself exploring why Norway’s education system hasn’t performed as well as Finland’s either.

Out of that set of inquiries, I developed a greater appreciation for the broader purposes of the Norwegian education system that go beyond high-performance on PISA, and I identified three key conditions at the system level that I believe we need to put in place if we want to see dramatic improvements in educational opportunities and outcomes overall. First, we need to establish mechanisms to foster common understanding of the purposes and goals of education.  Whether one sees Finland as a “high-performing” system or not, a coherence-building curriculum renewal process roughly every ten years provides a model of the kind of societal reflection required for the development of common purposes. Second, we need to recognize that powerful learning experiences depend on far more than great teaching; it depends on developing materials and resources (“technical capital”), expertise (“human capital”), and relationships (and “social capital”) among the many individuals, organizations, and institutions engaged in education that build the capacity for improving instruction at the system level.  Third, in stark contrast to the example of the US where the credit and the blame for learning often gets placed on individual students, teachers and administrators, we need to go beyond holding individuals “accountable” and develop the kind of collective responsibility that inspires and sustains educational improvements that benefit all students.  Much of my work since time has explored what it takes to create those conditions, but I still have a lot of learning to do!
3) You founded International Education News, which brings in news related to educational change around the world. Given your perspective of changes that are simultaneous yet different, what would be some major lessons we can learn from local and global changes in education worldwide?

International Education News is a weekly blog and daily twitter feed that grew out of the isolation and frustration I felt after I returned from Norway in 2010.  When I got back, I quickly found myself immersed in the same polarized debates about education reform in the US that I’d left behind a year earlier. I felt cut off from the educational discussions and the different perspectives I encountered while living in Scandinavia.  To deal with that frustration, I wanted to take advantage of the emerging possibilities of social media to get access to some of the news, research, and diverse perspectives on educational policy and educational change around the world.  I also hoped that sharing some of what’s happening in educational policy and educational change in different places could help to foster discussions that go beyond the educational constraints of current educational systems and the limited debates about how to improve them.

This regular connection to some of what’s going on in education in other parts of the world has also been instrumental in helping me to continue to develop my understanding of what it will take to foster meaningful educational improvements on a wide scale.  In particular, working on IEN has helped me to see that educational reform efforts are often to big and too small.  They are too big in the sense that they focus on major policy issues where it’s extremely difficult to make visible progress on the ground, in schools and classrooms in the short term.  At the same time, these policy efforts are often too small because they fail to engage broad groups of education stakeholders and inspire the kinds of social movements that people like Santiago Rincon-Gallardo argue are central to transformative improvements in education. Through IEN and my international work, I’ve learned from organizations like Wordworks and IkamvaYouth in South Africa, that are able to make a substantial difference in students’ lives with scarce resources and difficult conditions where large-scale policies have not yet delivered; and I’ve learned a tremendous amount by being exposed to the successes of grass-roots efforts in places like Mexico and Columbia that have grown to influence policy.   Looking at what’s happening in education in different countries makes clear the pervasiveness of the conventional “grammar of schooling;” but it can also provide the ideas and examples to rethink the simple linear equation – get a high school diploma which will lead to college which will lead to a good job – that ignores the many learning opportunities inside and outside schools that can support all aspects of development.
4) Young people (students) are the focus of educational change for improvement. What are the key needs of young people at this time and what might the field of educational change prioritize in order to meet these needs?

Agency is certainly a buzzword these days, but for me the capacity for students to develop and pursue individual and collective interests over the course of their lives remains a central concern. I began my career examining how young children’s intellectual strengths and interests developed in free play in kindergarten, and I started with the belief that developing the power to direct our own education and the learning process – even if we make mistakes or “wrong choices” – will put us in the best position to pursue meaningful and satisfying lives.  Ironically, despite this aspiration, my entire career seems to have focused on explaining why it is so hard to create schools that help children do that, particularly in communities with large percentages of children of color, children living in poverty, and children living in communities marginalized by dominant society in a host of ways.

While I still think that supporting student agency is a central need, I’m constantly humbled by how hard it is to determine what it will take to meet each generation’s needs now and in the future. Even my experiences with my two oldest daughters – who are 20 and 18 – hasn’t prepared me to figure out how best to support the learning of my youngest daughter, who’s 13.  Even though my youngest is going to the same high school her sisters went to, I’m still struggling to help her pursue all the dance and drama activities she loves at the same time that she completes her homework and participates in all the required activities that she doesn’t care about as much. We’re still working to understand the course options and navigate the college process.

Making things more complicated, my daughters are only and four and six years apart, but they seem to be from different generations.  When the two older girls were growing up, we’d watch videos on TV together; but by the time my youngest came along, she was not only watching videos on an iPad, she was making videos with it. She would watch “how-to” videos of kids her own age making bracelets or other kinds of jewelry and explaining each step along the way; and then she would video-tape herself making her own constructions and explaining for an unseen audience what she was doing.  Even though she never posted the videos for others to see, it was a highly reflective and meta-cognitive activity that I expect benefitted her.  Nonetheless, she also got a smartphone at a much younger age than her sisters, and I expect that the amount of time she spends on Snapchat will also create challenges that none of use really comprehend.  How do you plan for things like this?

Under these circumstances, all I can do is to help them to develop the agency and capacity to do what they think is best, reflect on it, and learn from their mistakes. Ideally, if we can share some of the things that we and previous generations have learned, as my colleague Ann Lieberman says, those will be “new mistakes” instead of the same mistakes we’ve been making over and over again for years.
5) What do you think are the most important issues in educational change today? What excites you about the educational change field?

I think this a time when people are coming to terms with the fact that the world around us is changing – for better and worse – in ways we can’t control. I know that in some ways that sounds depressing.  But to me that means understanding educational change is at the heart of everything we need to do. What’s more the challenges we face today gives us an opportunity to get beyond the search for the “the one best” approach to school improvement.  These are difficult times, but times that can encourage us to recognize that no single approach to school improvement – no one model, system, or set of tools, resources and practices – will work for every child in every community. Rather than pitting one approach against another and fighting over inadequate funding and limited resources, we are in a better position than ever before to get beyond zero-sum games and strategies that ration or retain scarce resources and build pathways that only enable a fraction to reach their goals.

We can proceed with both confidence and humility, believing that our work can make a difference even as we know that our individual contributions will never be sufficient. This is a time when we can each make a crucial contribution to the improvement of education and the betterment of our communities, as well as a time when we recognize that the long-term purposes we care about can only be pursued collectively, when we manage to work together.

 

Creating Coherence in Education Outside Schools in Singapore 

As students in New York transition back to school from the summer break, IEN founder Thomas Hatch shares a post that explores how Singapore works systematically to connect learning outside of school with learning inside school.

The constant emphasis on Singapore’s high performance on educational tests masks the extent to which Singapore continues to try to improve the educational system. Since the launch of the “Thinking Schools, Learning Nation” campaign in 1997, Singapore has pursued a series of initiatives to shift the system to provide a more holistic education that supports the development of 21st Century skills and learning throughout life.  As the Education Minister (for Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung recently explained “more emphasis should be placed on teaching students critical soft skills — such as building up their resilience to be able to fail and pick themselves up — and also helping students discover what they are passionate about.”

Until my last trip to Singapore, however, I did not understand the extent to which the Singaporean government supports efforts to create new kinds of learning opportunities outside of schools in order to achieve these national education objectives. Although concerns about an overload of afterschool tutoring persist, the Singaporean government actively aligns and connects work in the “outside of school” sector with efforts to expand the focus of learning in schools.

Workshop Spaces

Workshop spaces at the National Gallery Singapore Photo Credit: Thomas Hatch

 

“Co-curriculars” and camps

The Singaporean education system has a well-known academic focus that has spawned fears about the consequences of excessive testing and rote learning. Yet the “Thinking Schools, Learning Nation” effort also supports a series of initiatives designed to create spaces and opportunities for more holistic approaches to students’ development.  In particular, Singapore has developed a set of co-curricular activities at the end of the school day designed to foster the development of a wide range of abilities. While in the US, extra-curricular activities are largely locally determined, the Ministry of Education in Singapore requires every secondary student to participate in at least one of these co-curricular activities, including clubs and societies, physical sports, uniformed groups (such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts), and visual and performing arts groups.  To reinforce the importance of these activities, students are assessed on their performance in their co-curricular activities, based on a framework that emphasizes Leadership, Enrichment, Achievement, Participation, Service (LEAPS).  Students can even boost their chances for placement in post-secondary institutions and get “bonus points” for assessments of ‘Excellent’ or ‘Good’ in their co-curriculars.

Reflecting the increasing attention to students’ holistic development, the Ministry of Education in Singapore also recently established a National Outdoor Adventure Education (NOAE) Master Plan. That plan mandates that starting in 2020 all secondary students will participate in a 5-day outdoor adventure camp.  Carried out in a collaboration between the Ministry of Education and Outward Bound Singapore, the program is designed to immerse students in “authentic and often challenging situations, where they need to work in teams and learn to take responsibility for decisions they make.”

S pore Discovery

S’pore Discovery Center (Photo Credit: Thomas Hatch)

Learning Journeys

On top of the co-curriculars and camps, the Ministry of Education (MOE) also created what they called “Learning Journeys” in 1998. Learning Journeys are “experiential and multi-disciplinary learning trips” that students make to learn about key national institutions and heritage sites. Learning Journeys complement curriculum in subjects like Social Studies, History and Geography, they were conceived specifically to support the goals of National Education and to help students understand and appreciate the role that these institutions and sites play in Singapore’s development.  The National Education initiative first established in 1997 seeks “to develop national cohesion, the instinct for survival and confidence in the future” by helping students develop an “awareness of the facts, circumstances, and opportunities” of Singapore’s history and current realities and to help students “develop a sense of emotional belonging and commitment.”

While schools can create their own Learning Journeys, the Ministry of Education has invited a host of government agencies and other institutions to serve as Learning Journey partners.  For example, the Energy Market Authority (responsible for maintaining Singapore’s energy supply) offers five different Learning Journeys including “Gas It Up” and “Clean and Green.” These Journeys take students behind the scenes to local energy facilities “to bring engineering concepts to life and interest students to seek out a career in the Power sector.”

There are now over 50 Learning Journey partners including the Maritime and Port Authority, the Singapore Stock Exchange, and the Public Utilities Board.  In the process, the government both encourages these organizations to use their resources to support schools and provides schools with the funds they need to pay for these out-of-school experiences.  In addition, every year the Singaporean government deposits about $200 in an Edusave account for each Singaporean child enrolled in schools funded by the Ministry of Education. Those funds can be used for a variety of educational resources and enrichment activities including Learning Journeys and educational trips overseas.

As a result of the government’s investments, a whole group of not-for-profit and for-profit organizations have gotten into the act by offering Learning Journeys and other enrichment activities. For example, the Singapore History Consultants have developed a wide range of Learning Journeys for different age groups that focus on topics like “Our Journey to Nationhood” and “The Dark Years: World War II & Singapore under Japanese Occupation.”  The offerings of the History Consultants are designed both to appeal to students but also to be relatively easy for teachers and schools to implement: while teachers and schools can design their own field trips, they can also purchase packages that include, as the History Consultants put it, “worksheets, air-conditioned transport, and tour facilitators/chaperones.”

The initiatives of organizations like the National Heritage Board (NHB) also illustrate the extent of support for education outside of school in Singapore.  The National Heritage Board is a statutory board established in 1993 as the “custodian of Singapore’s heritage”, which has also taken on responsibilities for the development and maintenance of many of Singapore’s museums and historical sites. (Statutory boards in Singapore are autonomous government agencies often designed to spur economic development in particular sectors).  The National Heritage Board has pursued those goals by using funds allocated by the government as well as funds raised through its own institutions to foster a wide range of educational activities that help to connect work in schools with work in the institutions overseen by the NHB.  For example, the NHB has helped to fund the development of education departments within museums and they have also offered grants and encouragement for smaller galleries and other organizations to create programs for students and the general public that help “tell the Singapore story” and accomplish their mission.

The NHB has also helped to fund the development of Heritage Trails, which local organizations create to highlight particular aspects of Singaporean history and culture. Among the many trails, a “Spirit of Saving Lives” Trail winds through the grounds of the Singapore General Hospital and introduces visitors to Singapore’s medical history. The Singapore Council of Women’s Organizations also offers a trail dedicated to “Walking in the footsteps of our foremothers” to highlight the contributions of women to the development of Singapore. The National Heritage Board’s efforts also include support for schools to adopt nearby heritage trails, to train their students to serve as trail guides, and to incorporate the trail’s educational opportunities directly into their school curriculum. More recently, the NHB has provided funding for schools to create their own Heritage Trails and Heritage Corners.  In turn, the efforts of the National Heritage Board have helped to encourage other governmental organizations and statutory boards, like the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the National Parks Board, and neighborhood groups to get into the act and develop their own Trails.

Beyond Schools: Museums and Discovery Centers

In addition to the co-curriculars, camps, and Learning Journeys that come directly under the purview of the Ministry of Education, the Singaporean government also fuels the work of a wide range of other public and quasi-public entities that support students’ development and help to integrate educational initiatives across sectors. Government agencies, particularly the Ministry of Community, Culture and Youth (MCCY), and groups like the National Arts Council provide funding for educational activities that serve the objectives of Singapore’s education system. For example, Singapore’s National Gallery also receives funding from the Ministry of Community, Culture and Youth and corporate sponsors to support educational activities including field trips and workshops.  Many of those programs are offered to schools for free, but schools can get grants from the National Arts Council to pay the National Gallery to provide more customized “in-school” programs. In turn, the National Gallery staff develop their programs with an eye to both the national curriculum established by the Ministry of Education and the National Gallery’s own mission, vision, and special exhibitions.

The S’pore Discovery Center (SDC) provides another example of the way that cultural and national institutions support Singapore’s educational goals. Launched initially by the Ministry of Defence as a museum to showcase the history of Singapore Armed Forces, the SDC has now evolved into a multi-faceted “Discovery Center” and “edu-tainment” complex (complete with paintball, a “4D thrill ride”,  “Crisis Simulation theatre,” and a first-run movie theatre) that also plays a key role in supporting Singapore’s goals for National Education.

In addition to infusing National Education topics and goals across the school curriculum, the Ministry of Education has also fostered National Education through active participation and experiential learning in informal settings outside of school.  The S’pore Discovery Centre has been a natural partner in those efforts. With a mission To “Share the Singapore Story and inspire a desire to contribute to Singapore’s future,” the S’pore Discovery Centre offers a series of interactive exhibits that give students opportunities to explore Singapore’s governance and values and current affairs as well as Singapore’s future. Permanent exhibits like Dream Lab gives visitors a chance to learn about Singapore’s future plans while Harmony Circle features a game show with questions about Singaporean culture.  Those exhibitions also include a roster of changing activities linked to four commemorative events held on an annual basis to celebrate key events and values.  These include Total Defence Day, International Friendship Day, Racial Harmony Day, and National Day.  The Discovery Center also develops a variety of “outreach” programs, including travelling exhibitions that schools can choose to bring right into their classrooms as well as partnerships that engage students in becoming guides to the exhibitions.

Botanic Gardens

Singapore Botanic Garden (Photo Credit: Thomas Hatch)

Coherence and constraints inside and outside schools

Far beyond the kind of “1000 flowers bloom” philosophy often found in the US, what Pak Tee Ng and others have called the Singapore government’s “centralized-decentralization” approach seeds “ground-up” initiatives (what those in the US might call “grass-roots” efforts); but it also creates a context of support and pressure that reinforces alignment with national education and coherence across initiatives. In many cases, government agencies (or quasi-government agencies like Statutory Boards) provide some (but not all) of the funding for these activities, often in the form of seed investments or grants and awards linked to Singapore’s national goals.  As a result, as investors, the government has some influence over the work, but these organizations also have to develop their own sustainable business plans and their own sources of revenue.

The government ministries, statutory boards, and institutions like the National Gallery and the S’pore Discovery Center also have advisory or governing boards with members drawn specifically from different sectors (this is similar to the governance of entities like eduLab in Singapore that I wrote about earlier).  Having board members from different ministries, industries, academia, and other institutions helps support cross-sector communication and information sharing. For example, while the S’pore Discovery Centre operates under the aegis of the Ministry of Defence, it has a board that includes members from other government agencies including NEXUS (the Central National Education Office) and the Ministry of Education as well as from other organizations in the public and private sector.

Pressure and support also comes from Singapore’s embrace of many of the principles of Total Quality Management and performance management, particularly a focus on customer service. That embrace includes the use of a variety of customer surveys by organizations like the Discovery Centre and the National Gallery. At the same time, the Ministries of Education, Defence, and Community, Culture, and Youth, and the National Heritage Board also get feedback on the work of these organizations through nationwide surveys like the National Education Orientation Survey and the Heritage Awareness Index.  As a consequence, the S’pore Discovery Centre and the National Gallery have to figure out how to fulfill their goals in ways that satisfy the government agencies with which they are associated, and they have to respond to the demands of their customers and attract children, schools and families in a competitive marketplace with a wide range of public and private vendors.

Some constraints, however, come along with the close connections between the work inside and outside the education system. In particular, despite the interest in supporting more holistic development, this work outside of school still faces the reality that the most popular programs are usually those most closely tied to the academic topics covered in high-stakes tests.  This is a particular challenge for institutions like the Discovery Centre that focus on National Education, which is not a tested subject.

Nonetheless, the systemic support and pressure in Singapore means that an extensive, well-resourced, and aligned set of educational opportunities outside of schools surrounds an already focused and coherent public education system. Furthermore, that coherence is achieved even though many of those learning opportunities outside of school are not overseen directly by the Ministry of Education.  That coherence and coordination benefits from the mix of government funding and competition for those educational opportunities, the many organizational and personal connections across institutions and sectors, and the focus on customer service and the embrace of feedback throughout.

 

— Thomas Hatch

Trump’s War on Immigrant Children and Families: A Timeline

**This post also appears on International Ed News**

Donald Trump’s war on immigrant children and families began almost as soon as he took office:

To shed some light on the development and consequences of Trump’s war on immigrant children and families, below, we provide links to a series of articles that describe events leading up to the announcement of the “zero-tolerance” policy (The Guardian also provides a compendium of their own reporting on the issues). For background on refugee and migrant children and education see also “6 things to know about refugee children and education” from the Global Partnership for Education and “Educating Migrant Children in Shelters: 6 Things to Know” from Education Week.

Most importantly, a post from Slate – “Here’s how you can help fight family separation at the border” – provides links to a variety of legal and humanitarian organizations that are working to support immigrant families and refugees.

The evolution of the practice of separating immigrant children from their families

Quartz, April 28, 2018: The truth about the immigrant caravan: What it is and why it’s coming to the US

https://qz.com/1264469/the-truth-about-the-immigrant-caravan-what-it-is-and-why-its-coming-to-the-us/

AP, May 2, 2018: Tensions simmer in Mexico as asylum seekers wait at border

https://www.apnews.com/8781bdda03be4986921535a3d7fa6e77/Feds-process-asylum-seekers-from-caravan-criticized-by-Trump

Politico, May 7, 2018: Trump administration to step up family separation at the border

https://www.politico.com/story/2018/05/07/trump-administration-family-separation-border-519220

CBS, May 29, 2018: Tension grows as hundreds of children are separated from parents at the border

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/immigrants-children-separated-from-families-trump-zero-tolerance/

New York Times, June 16, 2018: How Trump Came to Enforce a Practice of Separating Migrant Families

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/16/us/politics/family-separation-trump.html

             

Thomas Hatch & Jordan Corson

Making public policy work for education: Reflections on the career of Mike Kirst

Michael W. Kirst

This week, John Fensterwald at  Edsource highlights the career and accomplishments of Mike Kirst, who will retire at the end of his fourth term as President of the State Board of Education in California.  The story includes a link to Mike’s recent talk at the Annual Conference of the American Educational Research Association, where Kirst reflected on his career after receiving AERA’s Distinguished Public Service Award.

 

Mike Kirst has had more impact on public policy in education in the United States than almost any other academic I’ve ever met. Given that in another reflection on his career from 2015, Kirst calls himself an “accidental professor”, I could also say that he’s the state policymaker who has had the most positive impact on researchers and academics.  Mike has developed that impact by moving seamlessly between positions in government and academia.  Throughout, he has both pursued research aimed firmly at addressing meaningful problems of educational policy and developed public policies informed both by what researchers have (and have not) learned. Interestingly, both he, and another enormously influential academic in the US, Howard Gardner, grew up in the coal regions of Eastern Pennsylvania.  (Gardner has also reflected on his life and work in a recent interview, and I have written a bit about Gardner’s powerful influence on me in Mind, work, and life: A Festschrift on the Occasion of Howard Gardner’s 70th Birthday).  In the1960’s, Kirst worked in the Federal office of Budget and Management in Washington, D.C. where he helped to develop the budget for the first Title 1 program of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. (When Kirst and colleagues produce a memo for then President Johnson proposing a budget of 750 million dollars, Johnson sent it back saying “none of these is good enough, I want a billion dollars.”).  In the 1970’s and early 80’s, Kirst served as an Advisor to the California Governor, Jerry Brown, and as a Member and then President of the California State Board of Education.  In 2011, after Jerry Brown became Governor again, Kirst was appointed for another two terms as President of the State Board of Education.  In between, Kirst was a Professor of Education at Stanford Education, authored several books and numerous articles and reports, and co-founded Policy Analysis for California Education.

As EdSource describes some of Kirst’s most recent accomplishments:

Working in tandem, Kirst and Brown reshaped K-12 education in California during the past eight years. The state introduced and oversaw the implementation of new academic standards and assessments in math and English language arts and adopted new standards in science. Through the Local Control Funding Formula, which Brown shepherded through the Legislature in 2013, the state shifted control over budget decisions from the state to school districts and created an equity-based financing system that directs more money to low-income students, English learners and foster youth.

But for me, the final quotes of the EdSource piece highlight how much we can learn from Mike and his honesty, reflectiveness, and ability.  As Mike described it, when he and his colleagues first joined the California government in the 1970’s: “Our view of the state board was we need to get these old guys out of here in Sacramento and we’ll solve these problems.”  But at 78, as he put it “we all come back (35 years later) and we’re a humble bunch of people, proceeding with great humility, plunging into the unknown.”

If only the rest of us could begin our work by building on what Mike has already learned…

Thomas Hatch

 

School Networks, Accountability and Improvement in Scotland, Northern Ireland, England, and Chile

**This post also appears on International Education News**

Last week, IEN described a number of the sessions from this year’s conference of the American Educational Research Association conference. This week’s post draws from a session focusing on educational networks and accountability organized by Melanie Ehren and chaired by Cindy Poortman and Mei Kuin Lai .  Participants included Melanie Ehren and David Godfrey; Martin Brown, Joe O’Hara, and Gerry McNamara; Alvaro González, Carmen Montecinos, Luis Ahumada, and Mauricio Pino; and Christopher Chapman; with comments by James Spillane and Thomas Hatch.  This post draws from the comments Hatch made during the session. Previous posts on IEN from Melanie Ehren and Chris Chapman address related issues of networks, improvement and accountability.

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School networks have taken off around the world:

  • In Northern Ireland, 30 Area Learning Communities bring together voluntary coalitions of “post-primary” schools to develop plans and share practices to address a special area of need
  • In Chile, nearly 500 School Improvement Networks, with an average of 10 schools each, stretch across all 15 regions of the country. Within each network, school administrators such as principals and curriculum coordinators meet on a monthly basis to discuss best practices and ways to make improvements
  • In England, the government has incentivized a variety of school-to-school partnerships including “Multi-Academy Trusts.” Similar to charter school networks in the US, Multi-Academy Trusts are chains of publicly funded independent schools (called “academies”), run by a Board of Directors (called a “Trust”) to increase efficiency and improve performance. As Melanie Ehren and David Godfrey report, “in 2012, there were 312 academy chains in England, with 39% of the academiesbeing part of a chain. By 2015, nearly two thirds of the 4725 academies were in MATs and 517 MATs had 2 to 5 academies, 98 with 615 and 19 MATs with 16 or more or schools (some up to as many as 66 schools), located in different regions across England.”
  • In Scotland, six ‘Regional Improvement Collaboratives’ take responsibility for leading system improvement across Scotland by joining schools and other organizations and public institutions in different regions. The Collaboratives intend to provide a coherent focus and related support for educational improvement efforts.
  • In New York City, the Learning Partners Program brings together almost 200 schools in small groups of three and four to participate in biweekly meetings, monthly intervisitations, and related educational development activities.

 

Fueled by a belief in the power of social networks and social capital, these educational networks reflect the idea that when schools work together with one another or with other agencies, they can share their expertise and support one another’s development, improvement and success more effectively than they can working on their own.  As Santiago Rincón-Gallardo and Michael Fullan report, as yet, there is little evidence that connects school network activities directly to improved student outcomes; but the efforts to study and learn from both the successes and challenges of these networking efforts so far, raise a number of questions that can be addressed to help harness the power of networks for schools.

 

What does networking really involve?
The benefits of networking depend crucially on exactly who is interacting with whom around what and to what end.  In Chile, the networks may depend on head teachers and administrators talking together across schools, but in Scotland they may rely on teachers joining together in inquiry groups.  In either case, those individuals and groups will then need to find ways to share whatever they learned with their colleagues “back home.”

 

What kinds of supports will make networks effective?
Many initiatives in education are based on the hope that someone, somewhere, already has the resources and expertise needed to improve schools.  As A Nation at Risk in the US stated 35 years ago: “It is our conviction that the essential raw materials needed to reform our educational system are waiting to be mobilized through effective leadership.”  Some networking strategies reflect that hope by suggesting that putting people in the same room together will lead to productive learning.  In contrast, as James Spillane, David Cohen, and Donald Peurach argue, concerted efforts and investments need to be made to build the infrastructure that can support educational improvement.  Effective networking, for example, relies on meeting structures and routines, expert facilitators, protocols, and the development of a host of other resources and capabilities.

 

To what extent do networks reduce or increase work and complexity?
Ideally, networking should reduce work and create efficiencies by encouraging individuals and groups to share ideas and distribute responsibilities.  Nonetheless, interacting and collaborating is hard work.  It takes dedicated time and the development of the infrastructure to support networking takes funding, and resources away from other valued pursuits.  As a result, networking strategies done poorly can end up undermining rather than building collective capacity.  As a consequence, successful networking depends on reorganizing and rethinking the use of time and resources – deciding what not to do as well as what to do – not just adding more meetings onto already overloaded schedules.

 

To what extent do networks need to grow informally and “organically” and to what extent can they be induced?
Some of the excitement around social networks grows out of a belief that the informal and voluntary connections and interactions among people provide a particularly powerful and motivating opportunity for learning.  However, many school networks depend at least to some extent on education authorities providing encouragement or establishing requirements for schools to work together. Can networking be both voluntary and required or will required networking result in the kind of “contrived collegiality” that can limit the development of collaboration?

 

How can the collaborative goals and practices of networks mesh with the goals and practices of individually-oriented education systems?
As the participants in the AERA symposium on Networks and Accountability pointed out, the informal, collaborative, non-hierarchical basis of many networks runs counter to the pervasive focus in many education systems on standardized assessments, individual accountability and bureaucratic control.   That leaves those invested in networks to figure out how to carve out spaces and put in place supports that can foster collaboration and promote collective goals and purposes while buffering those efforts from most existing accountability initiatives.

All of these questions point to the considerable work that needs to be done to make educational networks as powerful as many hope they will be.  Though the work seems daunting, it also opens up possibilities for outcomes – engagement, trust, learning, and satisfaction— rarely obtained more easily or effectively than other approaches.

— Thomas Hatch

 

 

The evolution of collective impact in New York City

For Deborah Chang, collective impact begins with rock climbing – an informal way to build the personal relationships and trust that undergird institutional and organizational connections. Chang started “ClimbingCrew” by inviting colleagues, friends, and friends of friends, many of whom were involved in educational technology in New York City, to go rock climbing once a month.  But those conversations also helped her to realize the limits of their work in educational technology: “It got to the point where I realized education technology is all well and good but there were conversations that we weren’t having.  We weren’t having conversations about diversity and equity and housing justice and all of these really big challenges that are part of the system of educational inequity.”

In order to expand these conversations and her own work beyond education and technology, Chang set out to meet, interview and learn from many of those who were already deeply engaged in work on education and community development in the Bronx, Harlem and in other parts of New York City.  From these conversations, Deborah established #NYCEDU with a mission “to ensure that all children have the skills, resources and community support they need to flourish.”  To pursue that mission, #NYCEDU concentrates on three main activities: convening local leaders, facilitating community innovation, and building systems for scaling impact.  All of that work contributes to the development of resources, structures, expertise, and relationships that enable the initiatives of many different institutions and organizations to add up to more than the sum of their parts. This kind of “infrastructure” for collaboration and collective impact has been missing in places like the US, even as countries like Finland with an emphasis on shared responsibility make it a central part of their education systems.

 

The evolution of collective impact

#NYCEDU is part of a larger national and global movement to support collective impact – a term that took off after John Kania and Mark Kramer, from the FSG consulting group, published an article with that title in the Stanford Social Innovation Review in 2011.  Kania and Kramer distinguished collective impact from other forms of collaboration by arguing that “Unlike most collaborations, collective impact initiatives involve a centralized infrastructure, a dedicated staff, and a structured process that leads to a common agenda, shared measurement, continuous communication, and mutually reinforcing activities among all participants.”  From their perspective, the collective focus helped to shift attention from efforts to develop and scale individual and often isolated interventions to cross-sector collaborations, like that of the Strive Partnership in Cincinnati which their article helped to establish as a national model.

As Jeff Henig and colleagues pointed out in two reports for the Wallace Foundation (“Putting Collective Impact Into Context” and “Collective Impact and the New Generation of Cross-Sector Collaborations for Education”) collective impact initiatives have a long history in cross-sector collaborations.  In fact, these reports identified 182 different community initiatives with well over half in existence before 2011 that met their criteria for collaborations: the initiative had to be place-based and education-focused; include the participation of top leaders from at least two sectors (such as education and government); and have school system officials playing a prominent role.  They also found that one in four of the collaborations launched before 2011 now use the term “collective impact” somewhere on their websites. As Mark Cabaj and Liz Weaver noted in their article “Collective Impact 3.0”, Kania and Kramer’s term established a clear, distinctive label that helped those in the field to categorize and describe their work.  As one collective impact leader they quoted put it, the term provided a kind of shorthand so that they don’t have to try to explain what they are doing, and, instead, “We can spend more time doing the hard work on the ground.”

Five years later, frameworks and lessons for collective impact continue to evolve. A number of articles expand on and update the framework, and the Collective Impact Forum, sponsored by FSG and the Aspen Institute, hosts events and an online community to support continued development of collective work. In “Collective Impact 3.0” Cabaj and Weaver also argued that enough had been learned by those engaged in collective impact and other collaborative efforts to warrant what they called an “upgrade” in the collective impact framework.  While suggesting that the key conditions for collective impact that Kania and Kramer’s laid out in 2011 are “roughly right”, Cabaj and Weaver also urged a shift from what they termed a “management approach” in which a set of leaders and organizations develop and manage a collective effort to a “movement approach” that brings together a diverse group of stakeholders to develop and pursue a common vision for the future.  From their perspective, movements “open up people’s hearts and minds to new possibilities, create the receptive climate for new ideas to take hold, and embolden policymakers and system leaders.  Movements change the ground on which everyday political life and management occur.”

 

Expanding collective impact in New York City

Like other parts of the US, New York City has had a long history of organizational and institutional collaborations and more recent collective impact initiatives including 30,000 Degrees and South Bronx Rising Together.  As Chang spoke with the leaders of these initiatives around New York City, Cabaj and Weaver’s article resonated with what she was learning.  In particular those conversations highlighted three challenges.  Ensuring: that meetings and collaborations go “beyond Manhattan” to take place in all neighborhoods and elevate the voices and leadership of those most impacted by educational inequity;  that education initiatives take on major challenges like poverty and racism that contribute to poor educational outcomes; and that community initiatives find ways to address the policies needed for systemic solutions.

Those realizations led to some straightforward developments.  For example, Chang, who was then serving as an organizer for “Startup Weekend Education”, moved it from a location in Manhattan to the Bronx. These conversations also introduced Chang to a host of people across the boroughs of New York City who have the expertise that successful community-based collective efforts depend on – people like like Ocynthia Williams, a long-time parent organizer and founding member of the New York City Coalition for Educational Justice and now co-director of Harlem Renaissance Education Pipeline.  As Chang put it, these growing connections help to bridge the gap between the people “who know what to do, and those who want to do it but haven’t figured it out yet.”

Those conversations and connections also paved the way for the launch of #NYCEDU’s partnership with the Alliance for School Integration and Desegregation (ASID). ASID seeks to facilitate the coordination and collective impact of a growing set of initiatives designed to address school segregation in New York City.  For Chang, the partnership with ASID is more than a pilot effort.  It’s a way to create the “backbone” and infrastructure that can support additional collective impact efforts in New York City.  As one example, Chang described the development of a calendar that now lists many of the different events related to school integration and desegregation. That calendar enables those who want to get involved to find out what’s happening across the City.  But the calendar also makes it possible to see where things are happening – what are the hotspots as well as the neighborhoods that are left out – so that strategic and collective choices can be made about how to support the work in the future. Now that this calendar has been tested, #NYCEDU plans to launch additional calendars to facilitate coordination around different issues.

As another example, #NYCEDU is co-organizing a conference on April 7th, Frontier 2018, to explore how cross sector collaboration can support more holistic and coordinated improvements in schools.  That event will bring together leaders from education, education technology, community organizing, social entrepreneurship and arts activism to seed collective impact throughout the city.  The conference will also help to address the fundamental issue that even these leaders have had relatively few formal opportunities to develop many of the skills and abilities demanded by collaborative, cross-sector work. As Chang puts it, “there is professional development and learning and a whole new way of thinking that is required to shift to a collective impact mindset.”  In particular, Chang continued, “Collective impact leaders are hungry to have conversations about diversity, equity and identity.” To help meet that need, Frontier 2018 hosted a workshop in preparation for the event that brought the conference speakers together to build connections, design interactive sessions that engage diverse audiences, and shape the conference goals.

For Chang, all of these initiatives revolve around bringing together the people, putting in place the platforms, and creating the policies that will make it possible to address issues like school segregation that no single institution can address on its own. Ultimately, as Chang points out, success will also depend on a willingness for all those involved to let go of power and control so that a truly shared vision and agenda can emerge.  Ironically, for Chang and others engaged in collective impact that means that the organizations they are working so hard to build will be most successful when they have outlived their usefulness.

 

— Thomas Hatch

Roundup of Education Reflections and Predictions 2018

 

With the New Year comes the usual flood of reflections and predictions.  Last year’s roundup highlighted key themes and issues related to school choice, new schools, and education and the economy.  This year, reflections on 2017 summarized education research (What we’ve learned: 5 lessons from education research to take into 2018, Chalkbeat); touched on philanthropy (Philanthropy Awards 2017, Inside Philanthropy); shared the thoughts of edtech’s “most seasoned champions and critics” including Larry Cuban, Mimi Ito, and Diane Ravitch (Reflections from 2017 for the journey ahead, Edsurge); and captured broader economic and societal issues in charts and maps (12 charts that show the real problems policies must tackle, not the made-up ones, Economic Policy Institute; 13 maps that explain 2017, CityLab). 

            Perhaps reflecting the slow pace of educational policy, some of the key questions and predictions for 2018 sounded a lot like those raised in 2017 (Trump, congress, and education in 2018: Eight big questions, Education Week).  Some predictions are decidedly pessimistic (Nine education predictions for 2018 — some of them heartbreaking, Larry Ferlazzo via The Answer Sheet); others suggest a more positive outlook – particularly for educational technology (4 augmented and virtual reality projects that point to the future of education, Justin Hendrix via Edsurge; OER had its breakthrough in 2017. Next year, it will become an essential teaching tool, Mike Silagadze via Edsurge); and some simply striving to identify which education stories will make the news (From DACA to Devos: Education predictions for 2018, Claudio Sanchez via NPR; 12 Important Education Storylines We’ll All Be Reading About in 2018, The74).

Predictions and reflections also centered on topics like philanthropy (7 Trends of 2017 and 11 Predictions for 2018, Nonprofit Quarterly) and higher education ( 7 Trends Coming in 2018, Julie Peterson & Lisa Rudgers, via Inside Higher Education).  Reflecting the local nature of education in the US, some predictions focused on specific states like New York, California and Indiana (As Gov. Cuomo lays out his 2018 agenda, here’s what that could mean for New York’s schools, Chalkbeat; California education issues to watch in 2018, Edsource; Here are Indiana’s most important education issues ahead of the 2018 legislative session, Chalkbeat). But, as usual, it was hard to find much in the way of predictions for education outside the US, except for some thoughts on future trends for the UK and India (Brexit, tuition fees and China: my predictions for academia in 2018, Simon Marginson via THE; The key edtech trends that will continue to impact education in 2018, Sivaramakrishan V via inc42).

Looking across the trends and predictions (and comparing them to years past) highlights again how many hopes are tied up in concepts like personalization, mobile and virtual learning, and in educational technology in general. Yet issues like school choice, charters, and even universal preschool education (a big issue in 2017) did not feature as prominently this year. In my own work, the emphasis on opening new (often small and/or charter) schools that dominated the 1990’s and 2000’s seems to be giving way to a new emphasis by many educational organizations on developing and disseminating new tools, resources, and curricula (often “open source”) as a way to expand their influence. Regardless, it is easy to predict that enduring issues – funding and the economy, segregation and inequality, the intransigent structures and “grammar of schooling” – will continue to challenge every effort to improve education, but that some progress can be made when those issues are taken seriously.

— Thomas Hatch

           

 

 

 

 

Headlines around the world: PISA (2015) Collaborative Problem Solving

When PISA results are released, my colleagues at internationalednews and I often scan the headlines to see how media around the world are responding.  This month OECD released the results of the Collaborative Problem Solving assessments carried out for the first time in 2015.  The OECD notes that the assessments attempt to measure the extent to which students can “maintain an awareness of group dynamics, ensure team members act in accordance with their agreed‑upon roles, and resolve disagreements and conflicts while identifying efficient pathways and monitoring progress towards a solution.”  Among the highlights in OECD’s summary:

  • Across OECD countries, 8% of students are top performers in collaborative problem solving, but, on average, On average, 28% of students are only able to solve straightforward collaborative problems, if any at all.Infographic CPS-Full-Ranking 70
  • Students in Australia, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and the United States perform much better in collaborative problem solving than would be expected based on their scores in science, reading and mathematics, but Beijing-Shanghai -Jiangsu-Guangdong scored much lower than would be expected.
  • Girls perform significantly better than boys in collaborative problem solving in every country and economy that participated in the assessment. On average across OECD countries, girls score 29 points higher than boys.

 

 

 

The release of the results garnered considerable attention from a wide range of countries, and, in a departure from the usual gloomy portrayals, many (though not all) headlines were either neutral or put a positive spin on the results.

Alberta students great collaborative problem solvers, international test finds

Edmonton Journal – Nov 28, 2017

Australian students among world’s top performers with this surprising skill

The Sydney Morning Herald – Nov 21, 2017

Brazil among the worst in new OECD study

VEJA.com – Nov 23, 2017

PISA 2015 latest report: Young people playing video games are worse off problem solving in the team

(Estonia) Delfi – Nov 22, 2017

Finnish 15-year-olds among best performers in new PISA tests

Helsinki Times, Nov 28, 2017

Pisa test: how well students solve problems together

(Germany) derStandard.at – Nov 20, 2017

Hong Kong pupils among world’s best group problem-solvers (but Singapore tops the chart)
South China Morning Post – Nov 20, 2017

Korea tops PISA scale in collaborative problem-solving

The Korea Herald – Nov 23, 2017

Survey ranks Japanese children’s problem-solving skills near world’s best

The Mainichi – Nov 21, 2017

According to the latest PISA study, Spanish students do not know how to work correctly as a team, and it is worrisome

Bebés y más – Nov 27, 2017

Scottish school children lag behind English at problem solving
Telegraph.co.uk-Nov 21, 2017

Singapore students top OECD global survey in problem solving through teamwork
The Straits Times – Nov 20, 2017

Pisa: UK does better than expected in collaborative problem-solving
TES News – Nov 20, 2017

US ranks No. 13 in new collaborative problem-solving test

The Hechinger Report – Nov 27, 2017

OPINION: Known for its intense testing pressure, top-performing South Korea dials it back

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up here for our newsletter
Seoul – Retired British football star David Beckham teaches South Korean children some soccer skills during a publicity tour for insurance group AIA.
Seoul – Retired English soccer star David Beckham teaches South Korean children some soccer skills during a publicity tour for insurance group AIA. 

 

In a world where education is supposed to drive the economy, is it possible to be overeducated? Some think that’s the case in South Korea.

The unemployment rate is comparatively low, at just over 3.5 percent at the end of 2016. But the unemployment rate for those age 15 to 29 was more than double the national averageand one out of three unemployed people were college graduates.

In addition to the economic consequences of a glut of college graduates, many also decry the personal, social and financial costs created by a system that creates intense pressure for students to get into a top college. The high performance of South Korea’s 15 year-olds on international tests like PISA goes hand in hand with a last-place ranking on the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Better Life Index of adolescents’ self-reported measures of happiness.

Parents also pay a high price for top test rankings. South Korean families spend three times more on education before college than families in the U.S. Much of that spending supports private tutoring. The average South Korean family spends 20 percent of its income on after-hours “cram schools,” or hagwons, with spending starting early. More than 35 percent of 2-year-olds, 80 percent of 5-year-olds and 95 percent of middle schoolers attend hagwons. Accounts of high school students working at hagwons long into the night once prompted the government in Seoul to impose a 10 PM hagwon curfew.

As I learned on a recent visit to South Korea, these problems lead to widespread dissatisfaction with the education system, despite its consistent high performance on the international tests. Politicians and policymakers in South Korea have taken notice of the concerns. But they face the difficult task of trying to reduce the pressure on high academic achievement when performing well on tests and getting into a select college remain deeply engrained goals in the society.

Over the past few years, the Ministry of Education has launched a number of initiatives to try to address these issues. And what began as a pilot effort to create an “exam-free semester” in middle school seems to be taking off. The initiative allows principals to eliminate midterms and finals during one semester of middle school (usually the first semester of 7th grade). According to the Ministry of Education, the exam-free semester aims to enhance the happiness and well-being of students by giving them opportunities to explore their passions and career interests. Starting in 42 schools in 2013, the initiative has been gradually expanded each year, reaching all 3,024 middle schools in 2016.

Related: How does South Korea outpace the U.S. in engineering degrees?

Along with the ban on testing, those I talked to emphasized another central component of the policy: a reduction in the number of hours focused on academic instruction each week. That means that 7thgraders only spend 21 hours a week following the national curriculum (instead of the usual 33), with 12 hours a week devoted to activities that expose students to different careers and to skills like playing the guitar not normally addressed in schools.

At the Keisung Middle School in Daegu, for example, they have replaced the main academic subjects with career-related activities on Tuesdays and Fridays. The teachers of the conventional subjects come up with activities, and, in some cases, they turn to parents and members of local businesses to lead classes and talk about their professions and avocations. The teachers also organize field trips and visits to work sites, and the school plans a “career day” in a few weeks, when all 7th graders will spend a full day in one of 35 different job placements.

Despite initial skepticism on the part of many parents, students at the school I visited and nationally have responded enthusiastically. In a 2015 survey of participating students, the Korean Educational Development Institute found that almost 75 percent of students said their relationship with teachers had improved, over 60 percent said their enjoyment of learning had improved, and 50 percent said their stress related to studying had decreased.

Responding to the growing popularity, policymakers decided to expand the initiative into an “exam-free year” for 7th grade in 2017, with pilot programs starting in some schools in 8th and 9th grade as well.

Even with the growing popularity, some South Koreans parents continue to complain that students are losing valuable instructional time that could affect their academic development and their ability to get into a selective high school. Correspondingly, some parents, particularly those in wealthier, higher-performing schools, have responded by increasing the amount of time their middle schoolers spend in hagwons preparing for high school entry tests.

Related: Lessons from Abroad: Singapore’s secrets to training world-class teachers

Pointing to these developments, other critics argue that one initiative in one year of middle school can do little to change a system where testing, ranking and academic performance are paramount at every level.

Nonetheless, the U.S. can take three key lessons from the South Korean experiment.

First, don’t expect to improve education, the economy or students’ life chances by blindly chasing high test performance.

Second, don’t try to do everything at once. Although the initiative can be considered “small” in the sense that it focuses primarily on one grade level, in only a few years it has grown to reach all 450,000 seventh graders in South Korea.

Third, don’t just hope for the best; put in place a series of interrelated supports that can help “small,” focused initiatives take hold and spread. While there is no doubt that any success of the exam-free semester depends on the work of an already overburdened teaching force, the government provides a small subsidy of about $17,000 for every school; professional development providers and teacher education institutions are focusing on helping teachers develop new instructional methods and career-related activities; and a national website has also been created – the “Dream Pathway” – where businesses and community organizations can register to offer activities and field trips for nearby schools.

Another set of interrelated initiatives seeks to address the test pressure and narrow focus on attending selective colleges. Among these initiatives, the South Korean government is implementing a policy forbidding the use of marks received during the exam-free semes­ter to calculate the grade-point averages reported for high school admissions.

The Public Education Normalization Promotion Act prohibits teaching to the test and bans education test items that require learning “beyond regular school teaching.”

Efforts are also being made to reform the admissions process in higher education, including the implementation of a rolling admissions policy in a growing number of colleges.  In 2016, over 65 percent of students were admitted through this process, meaning they do not have to take South Korea’s College Scholastic Aptitude Test (similar to the SAT or ACT in the U.S.) and are instead evaluated on their high school grades, participation in student clubs, volunteering and school awards.

Although it seems odd to those in the U.S. who are focused on getting more students into college, South Korea has also developed an “Employment First, Advancement to University Later” system to encourage more students to switch from a college track to a vocational track.

The free semester program is both small and ambitious, targeting all students and teachers but only at one level of education. No one I talked to was convinced that the program could achieve its most ambitious aspirations any time soon. At the same time, there is now at least a hope that support for a more humanistic education might find a foothold, and, eventually, begin to spread. South Korean schools are creating a break and an opportunity where everyone can – at least for a year – opt in to a system attempting to reduce the pressures and problems with excessive testing.

Thomas Hatch is a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, co-director of the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools and Teaching and the founder of internationalednews.com

Is Finland’s education system changing?

Finland has been hailed for having one of the best education systems in the world; criticized as scores on international assessments have slipped; and, most recently, flooded with questions about whether it is dramatically changing its education system by making conventional subjects “a thing of the past.” Whether you believe Finland’s education system is moving up or down on some set of rankings, it’s clear that there are some teachers, school leaders, and other educators who are trying to do some things differently.  The challenge as Saku Tuominen describes it, is “not pushing new ideas into schools, but trying to identify innovative ideas that are already out there” and helping them spread. As he joked, the problem is that “whatever happens in the classroom, stays in the classroom.”

To address this problem, Tuominen founded HundrED to find promising educational innovations around the world.  HundrED just released its list of 100 global innovations from Afghanistan to Venezuela and many places in between.  Last year, in a kind of test-run for their global work, Tuominen and his colleagues identified 100 Finnish educational innovations that they have documented and shared online.  During my most recent visit to Helsinki last summer, I had the chance to meet with a few of the education innovators on the Finnish list as well as with policymakers and colleagues from a variety of other Finnish educational institutions.  All those with whom I talked not only emphasized that their work begins with a recognition of and respect for the autonomy of teachers and a commitment to basic principles of equity, but also expressed some frustration with the difficulties and slow-pace of improving and changing the Finnish education system. At the same time, those conversations pointed to key avenues for supporting the development of new and more effective educational practices at both the policy and the school level.

Fin100

Policies for change

At the policy level, as Anneli Rautiainen, Head of the newly formed Innovation Center at the Finnish National Agency for Education, explains, Finland has two primary means of influencing education: the curriculum renewal process and the launch of specific policy initiatives. The curriculum renewal process takes place roughly every 10 years and includes an extensive period for public discussion and feedback on potential changes in the national curriculum framework. As a result, Rautiainen explained, “almost everyone can have a say in what children should learn.”  As part of that process, municipalities and local schools also have considerable autonomy in deciding how to implement any changes. The previous curriculum renewal process in 2004 concentrated on the development of the school as a holistic learning environment for students, but the most recent curriculum renewal process emphasizes “phenomenon-based” learning and “transversal” competences that cut across traditional school subjects. Although the new framework does not eradicate subject-based teaching, it stipulates that all students should participate each year in a multi-disciplinary learning module.  Those modules are to be designed locally by teachers, with the expectation that students will be involved in the planning.

As with all policy initiatives, some teachers and schools are already off and running.  In fact, as part of the earlier emphasis on developing a holistic learning environment some have already pioneered approaches that include multi-disciplinary projects. For example, in Fiskars, a community in Finland well-known for its artisans and craft-workers, the local school has expanded the learning environment to include the whole village.  As a result, students regularly participate in workshops that focus on topics like glass blowing and historically based theatre productions.  As a consequence, the school is already well positioned to respond to the expectations for carrying out interdisciplinary projects in the new curriculum framework.

In addition to trying to move the system forward through the curriculum renewal process, the Finnish National Agency for Education also carries out what have been translated as “spear” projects – targeted efforts to support the implementation of other policy priorities.  Most recently, those projects have included an initiative in which municipalities have been invited to apply for funding to enable a teacher in a school to support the professional learning of colleagues by co-teaching, modeling or coaching. “One of our biggest aims,” Rautiainen pointed out “is to have schools become professional learning communities, and to support learning at work, rather than taking a course somewhere else,” and this project is one way of putting that aim into practice. Another project encourages experimentation among municipalities that want to provide instruction in foreign language in earlier grades (before 3rd grade where it begins in most schools now).  An ongoing project designed to get schools “on the move” was launched in 2010 to increase students’ physical activity during the school day and included the expectation that all students in Basic Education should have at least one hour of exercise every day.

Courses for change

Mehackit and Startup High School, two of the Finnish educational innovations highlighted by HundrED, have found a different place within the conventional education system where new approaches may take root. Both organizations take advantage of the fact that at the upper secondary level (roughly ages 16-18) students have to take roughly 50 compulsory courses, but students can choose the topics for about 25 other courses.  In Mehackit’s case, they began about 2013 by offering workshops and “clubs” to engage young children in programming and coding – making things with technology, not just using technology.  But, as current CEO, Heini Karppinen, explained, Mehackit’s founders are part of a new generation of social entrepreneurs trying to respond to a context where “there are a lot of services that people would like to have, but that they don’t get anymore from the government.” In this case, the founders discovered that those children who attended Mehackit’s clubs and maker-fairs often had parents who were already tech-savvy and working in technology related jobs.  They worried that children who didn’t have parents in tech-related fields would ultimately graduate high school without having experienced the “maker-side” of technology.  To reach all children, the founders felt they needed a way to work within the formal education system.  As the new curriculum framework in 2016 also included computer programming for the first time, they saw a “niche” in working with older students, where teaching programming required sophisticated technical knowledge and skills that relatively few Finnish teachers possess.

mehackit.png

In response to this opportunity, Mehackit created 2 courses for 16-18 year old students that teach programming through projects focused on robotics and electronic music projects and creating multimedia art and graphics.  The courses are designed so that they can be offered by schools around Finland (and Mehackit has already exported them to Sweden and the UK as well) as easily and efficiently as possible. Mehackit not only provides teaching materials, they also hire and train instructors, many of whom are university students working on technology related degrees.  While Mehackit is a for-profit company and schools and municipalities purchase the courses, Mehackit also has a shorter workshop course for 12 to 16-year-old students; provides freely available open source materials; offers a new materials kit at cost; and has created teacher training workshops so that teacher can develop their own, comparable, courses.

HighUp

Startup High School has taken a similar approach to Mehackit.  Although Startup High School may eventually create a high school for entrepreneurial studies (along the lines of subject specific schools in Finland that focus on music, the arts, and sports), they are set to begin with an offering of three courses in the fall of 2017.  (Pekka Peura, a teacher whose work I highlighted in “Brand-name” teachers in Finland, is one of the founders of Startup High School.) Those courses are designed to enable students from a number of different upper secondary schools to learn “how to think critically, how to solve problems, and how to be a change maker.” In developing the courses, the founders seek to create the kinds of student-centered, active, and multidisciplinary learning opportunities emphasized in the new curriculum that they described as rarely emphasized in Finland’s typically highly-academically oriented high schools.  Courses will include original video interviews with a variety of Finnish entrepreneurs and artists, including CEO’s, rappers, actors, and dj’s that students will access as they develop their own Linked-in profiles and plans and portfolios illustrating their own design ideas.  Perhaps most importantly, the founders emphasize, students should leave the course as part of a network of peers with common entrepreneurial interests, connected via social media.  While Startup High School could charge for the courses, their plan is to make the courses widely available for free or perhaps with a nominal registration fee that, along with contributions from sponsors, would help to cover their costs.

Although Mehackit essentially delivers the instructors and materials to each school with whom they partner (and they map and track exactly where they are in reaching out to all schools across Finland), Startup High School offers virtual courses that they lead and administer themselves and that students in a number of different high schools can take as one of their 25 elective courses. In both cases, Mehackit and Startup High School are offering new topics and approaches as part of modules or “plug-ins” that not only fit within current course demands and expectations in Finland, but can also be offered as a conventional course in many other education systems.

Opportunities and challenges

            The new ideas and approaches endorsed by policymakers and highlighted by HundrED demonstrate how Finland’s national curriculum framework can support and encourage those who want to change their approach to teaching and learning. But the autonomy that teachers and schools in Finland enjoy also means that many can choose not to change their practice quickly or deeply.  As Rautiainen puts it, the framework and policy initiatives can “nudge” the system, but by no means guarantees that changes will be made.  For example, while some reports indicate that over 90% of Finnish municipalities are participating in the “on the move” initiatives, concerns remain about exactly how it has been implemented and how it is playing out for all students.

Those I talked to acknowledged that there are number of factors that might encourage and reinforce those who choose to use their autonomy to maintain more conventional classroom and school practices.  For one thing, while the new curriculum framework adds expectations for students to engage in interdisciplinary projects, little, if anything, has been left out of the “old” curriculum.  Like Singapore’s effort to create ‘white space” in the curriculum, the changes in the national curriculum framework in Finland try to squeeze more into the conventional curriculum and school day.

But at the same time that some elements of the framework change, many elements of the system remain the same and reinforce conventional practice.  Even without high-stakes annual testing like that in the US, the high-stakes exit exams at the end of high school help to align the whole system, but they also serve as constraints reinforcing the traditional divisions between subjects. Conventional textbooks provide similar constraints. As Antti Rajala, a former teacher and currently a researcher at the University of Helsinki noted, even as they benefit from high-quality textbooks, teachers who are trying to innovate sometimes see “the textbook as an enemy.” As a consequence, as Peura explained, one of the first steps he and others make to change their teaching is to go beyond the textbook.

Along with the autonomy of teachers comes a highly independent teaching force.  Teachers can choose their own professional development plans, and, in many cases, can choose to pursue their work on their own, rather than in collaboration with their colleagues. Peura reported that on one small survey he asked teachers why they don’t share their work more often, and their overwhelming response was that “colleagues” were the biggest obstacle. Peura sees the concerns that Finnish teachers have about changing as understandable, but notes that it means that when one or two teachers do try to make their work public or share it more widely, peers often object.

Perhaps most problematic, this commitment to autonomy runs smack up against Finland’s deep commitment to equity: if early adopters take off with the interdisciplinary projects but others do not, learning experiences across Finland are likely to become less and less comparable. In fact, those I spoke to were less concerned about overall decreases in average test schools and much more concerned that the PISA results and the results of the national monitoring tests are showing that student outcomes are more differentiated and less equitable than they have been in the past.  Illustrating the inherent tension between the autonomy of teachers and the rights of students, Rajala told me that in one of the schools where he is working the principal had to deal with the fact that several of the teachers did not want to incorporate an emphasis on digital skills into their teaching.  In order to respect their autonomy while still ensuring that all the students got the same digital learning experiences as their peers, the principal had to figure out a way to schedule students so that they all got a chance to work with those teachers who were actively working to incorporate digital skills into their classrooms.

Given all of these factors, in a system largely considered to be “working,” with few incentives to change, it should be no surprise that many both inside and outside the education system see maintaining the status quo as a sensible way to operate. That’s why from Tuominen’s perspective, the key issue is to find those innovations that are working – where there is both a clear and widespread need and where the knowledge, skills, and resources to make the necessary changes are also already available.  He cites as examples “the gaming room”, which, essentially provides the plans and materials so that schools can quickly and easily create a place where students can access the most effective educational games and use them during recess and other points during the school day. Similarly, the “house of learning” provides a set of stand-alone tools that help students to plan, track and assess their own learning, without requiring extensive training.  Tuominen does not expect all the “innovations” that HundrED identifies in Finland or globally to take off, but he believes that initiatives like HundrED can help to highlight and spread those that are gaining traction.  In the meantime, however, since the Finnish system is designed to “steer” not to penalize, there will be no grading, sanctions, or public humiliation. But changing the education system will continue to be a subject of public discussion in Finland, particularly when the next curriculum renewal takes place.

Thomas Hatch, Teachers College, Columbia University

hatch@tc.edu

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