Author Archives: internationalednews

Launching a New School in China: An Interview with Wen Chen from Moonshot Academy

**This interview that Aidi Bian and I conducted with Wen Chen was posted on internationalednews.com**

Moonshot Academy, a new private school for an initial group of 37 14-16-year-olds, opened in the fall of 2018 on the campus of the Affiliated High School of Peking University. Wen Chen, Head of Research at Moonshot, talked about the origins of the school, the key features, and a few of the things that the school leaders have learned as the school has evolved.  We spoke with Wen Chen during the US-China Education Forum, organized by the Columbia-Teachers College Chinese Students’ Association. Future posts from the Forum will feature Joan McPike, founder of THINK Global School and Christopher Bezsylko Head of the Imagination Lab School.

 

How did Moonshot Academy get started?

Wen Chen: We actually started with an App designed to help high schoolers in Beijing organize themselves into learning communities. The App promoted learning companions or communities:  Students coming together and then learning things together. We tried to focus on anything that the school doesn’t teach you, but that you really need when you go into society because we recognized there’s a huge gap in terms of what you learn from school and what you really need to be able to do. So, we established a research team to study what the curriculum covers and what you need in your real life and in the job market, such as financial skills and other career-related skills. For example, financial management might be something we all share an interest in at the age of sixteen, so let’s just get together and learn. That’s the idea of the App. During the App stage, we successfully hosted an animation exhibition initiated by one of the high-schoolers using the App. Another group created a band.

 

How did the App turn into a school?

WC: We realized that if you are only doing extra-curricular things you can never accomplish the mission which is to prepare the younger generation to face the future. So, we realized that having an App to organize this online community or offline community is definitely not enough. And then we got the chance to work with the affiliated high school of Peking University and to create a school.  The principal of the high school has been very supportive as he wants to have this innovative force on campus and to make room for new things to emerge.

Originally the idea was to create a school that is learner-centered and provides necessary support for teenagers in the world. To create the school, we focused on the education goals of “cultivating fulfilled individuals and compassionate active citizens.” Then we started a lot of discussions before we had any students. Basically, we wanted to figure out what we mean when we say that this is a fulfilled individual, or this is a compassionate and active citizen. With that in mind, we started to look around and look for all the agencies and institutes that conducted research on what future talent should look like. We drew on a lot of models to guide our work including OECD’s Competency Framework, the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, the EU’s Competence for Lifelong Learning, and the Chinese Education Bureau’s Core Competencies and Values for Chinese Students’ Development (in Chinese). Eventually, we developed a competency model composed of three main domains. First, we emphasized the thinking tools that are the foundation of personal development. The second domain focuses on self-management, career development, and also mental and physical health. The last domain, which we think is most important is effective social cooperation. This is the structure that we use to consider how to help learners learn, how to make sure that we are seeing all the changes and to connect the missing part that traditional schools are not providing.

 

What are some of the key features of the school now?

WC:  Some of the key features include: project-based learning for the main pedagogy; advanced curriculum standards – a little bit from AP and from the Common Core (in the US) to be our course standards; and for assessment, we changed the assessment system from traditional letter grades to a mastery transcript.  We also use OKR (Objectives and Key Results) a management system used in Google and a lot of other companies. It’s aligned with empowering the employee and the staff to come up with solutions. It’s different from KPI (Key Performance Indicators). Instead of “I tell you this is the number that you need to reach,” learners need to set their own personal development goals. They need to figure out what it takes to reach that goal and what are the key results they really need to accomplish. We’re using that system for our company as well as for our learners.

For the school, we offer a number of different courses/learning experiences.  Then the learners choose from these options based on their personal development goal so that they can get support and more exposure to the content knowledge and competencies where they want to improve. For instance, someone might want to acquire more social emotional skills which means that the learner might choose courses related to those skills. Some learners might choose to focus on self-management. So, this learner might choose courses that are related to those skills. Or some may say I don’t want to be a shy person and may want to practice oral presentation and communication skills, so we also have courses for that. Basically, they go through course selection phase based on their personal needs. Then this creates the learning group for each course. We offer more courses than the learners need so some of the courses offered aren’t going to open if there are not enough learners who choose it.

The style of the class depends on the topic.  Some courses are more similar to traditional classes where you have discussions, Socratic questions, or seminars. Some courses are more maker-oriented, such as computer designing and programming, so for those courses learners do a lot of things in the maker space.

 

What are the learning activities like?

WC: In the fall, we had three different kinds of learning activities or what we call “learning scenarios”: Blended learning, project-based learning, and deeper learning.  Blended learning focuses on knowledge requirements. Learners make their own academic goals for the semester and then they just directly use Khan Academy or other online materials as their learning resources. All the learners go at their own pace, but we designed milestones to check learners’ progress and their mastery of the content. For the milestone, we design a defense session or if they want, they can choose to take a standardized test. It’s up to them. For the defense, the learners randomly pick questions out of a question pool, and then they need to give an oral representation within ten minutes. That is followed by some questions.

The second scenario, project-based-learning, is considered our main course. All of the projects are designed by our teachers, and learners will choose the course based on their OKR’s.

The deeper learning scenario is designed to accomplish three outcomes: One is learning how to learn, one is systems thinking, and the last one is self-awareness.

We changed these scenarios significantly after the first semester. We decided to keep the names of the key elements, but instead of using those as our curriculum structure, we changed into a different structure which includes our common core (which still includes some elements from our original Blended Learning scenario), the Focused Curriculum (courses that are interdisciplinary and focused on project-based learning), Media Courses (Math & English) and the Personal Project which emphasizes learner-initiated projects.

The way that we define the common core is, we provide four different domains in the disciplines: social science, humanities, science and engineering. We try to select “discipline competencies”, which are shared by all of the courses or subjects inside of each of the domains. For instance, in the social science domain, subjects like anthropology, psychology, and sociology share some competencies so we tried to use those as competency standards for course design. Learners need to choose at least one course out of each of the domains before they graduate.  We want to make sure that they have those competencies (maybe not the course itself or the content knowledge itself), but definitely have that kind of a shared competency mastered after the Common Core.

 

Why did you make these changes?

WC: There were two main reasons. One is that when we conducted the blended learning, we realized that in a mixed group sometimes it can be really challenging for the learners to be on their own with the content. No matter how frequently you try to interact, we’re missing the part where the learner is watching the video themselves. We don’t want them get into the habit of passive learning. So we decided to design a better scenario where we can see and be with them. The second reason is that we realized we want to have three sets of assessment standards. One is efficacy competency, like global citizenship or global perspective. But we also want to make sure that our curriculum is very rigorous and academic-driven. So, we needed to put more emphasis on subject competency as well as subject knowledge mastery. We had to figure out what would be the best way to combine subject competency and the subject content knowledge learning without jeopardizing what makes us a different type of school. We definitely couldn’t go back to traditional courses, like one teacher preparing one course and then just talk and talk. However, we really wanted to make sure that the face-to-face interaction time is enough to meet the subject competency or habit of mind of the subject learning. We decided to adopt a scenario where the teacher and learner have more interaction but we definitely needed something that’s not one-direction instruction all the time. We created the common core scenario which is more like the flipped classroom where the learners do pre-course reading and listen to the audio materials, but once they are in the classroom, it is a facilitated process and discussion.

We still kept the part where learners can go on their own pace. You can learn as much as you want, but in class we try to sit together and discuss something that we all share and ask questions. We still provide the blended learning as a separate course or a separate activity and experience that learners can choose. Because we’re a really small school, we don’t have the capacity of having all of the subjects covered for all of the teachers. For some courses, learners still need to go online to learn the materials, and they are going to learn on their own. However, we need to make sure that we answer their questions in time, when they run into trouble.

 

It’s still early in the journey, but is there already anything in particular that you’ve learned from this that other people trying to start their own schools might find beneficial? Things you wish you’d known before you started?

WC:  I would say the most important thing what we learned so far is to “know your audiences and know your families”. We are very transparent and very honest with parents. I want to share this with people who want to open a new school in China: be honest with your parents and also work with them. That’s something that I learned from the previous semester.

China is a complicated society and you ave all different types of audiences and families. The reason why I’m saying know your families and work with them is to emphasize the complicated features of the families. For us, we have a lot of families who used to stay in the public school system. However, their kids are in the public schools’ international sector. The learners have already made up their minds to go to a college or university abroad when they graduate from high school. Then there is also part of our group who are already in international schools or schools with the International Baccalaureate system or A-Level system. Then there are a few families that are just in a traditional public school setting. Those are our audiences. We try to create a lot of opportunities to discuss the school with the families before they decide to jump on board. We really want to make sure that what they are looking for is something that we can provide.

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External Support for Schools in Historical and International Perspective

My recent commentary in Education Week (“Who will improve the school improvement industry?”) and a longer version (“How can “outside” help support work inside schools?”) suggest some strategies that might help increase the collective impact of external support in schools. Those suggestions build on the recognition that schools in the US need much more support to improve learning for all students and that external support providers can offer access to resources, expertise, and services that many school districts cannot develop on their own. As “intermediaries” these organizations also facilitate sharing of information and coordination among schools and those working in different parts of the education system.

However, it is worth highlighting that the need for this kind of external support is exacerbated by the highly-decentralized nature of the US system. This reliance on external support in the US education system seems unimaginable in countries as diverse as Singapore and Finland that have invested in making sure all schools have access to adequate facilities, resources, and expertise. In addition, in Singapore, the education system reflects a “centralized-decentralized” approach that both constrains and supports all educational enterprises including those engaged in fostering students’ learning and development outside of schools. In Finland, education stakeholders at the national, local and school level engage in a coherence-building curriculum renewal process roughly every ten years that guides the work of all those involved in education.

Further, although we have learned a lot in recent years about the challenges and possibilities for using external support effectively, many policies seem to ignore that evidence. In particular, national initiatives and federal policies in the US continues to assume that there is a steady supply of effective programs. For example, in 1983, A Nation At Risk declared, “It is our conviction that the essential raw materials needed to reform our educational system are waiting to be mobilized through effective leadership.” Since that time a series of federal in initiatives have built on the idea that there is an established knowledge-base and effective support providers and, in turn, have increased the pressure on states and schools to use those external resources.

These policies have contributed to the development of a small number of school models that have demonstrated effectiveness (for example Success for AllExpeditionary Learning, and Diplomas Now).  Nonetheless, overall results have been mixed at best. For example, in 2002, RAND’s evaluation overview concluded NASDC’sinitial hypothesis–that a school could improve its performance by adopting a whole-school design–was largely unsupported.” (Full disclosure, I worked on the NASDC-funded ATLAS Project and chronicled the challenges in designknowledge-use, and scale-up.) The 2008 CSRD evaluation reported only one-third of the schools awarded funds chose reform approaches with “recognized scientific research bases.” Most recently a summary of 67 different evaluations conducted on programs supported by the i3 grants found that only nine evaluations (13%) found evidence of both adequate fidelity and positive impacts on student academic outcomes.  A recent Carnegie Corporation report pointed out the continuing challenge that schools are often overwhelmed by multiple support providers who work in an uncoordinated fashion that may hinder rather than help improvement efforts; a finding consistent with my own work from twenty years ago (“When improvement programs collide”) echoed in another Rand report (“Challenges of conflicting school reforms”) on the implementation of New American Schools’ designs in one district).

We can keep these challenges of using external support in mind and learn from previous efforts. In the end, all of us who are involved in education are responsible for taking best advantage of the real contributions external providers can make and for taking seriously the problems and issues that we know make it difficult to use that support effectively.

  • Thomas Hatch

 

How can “outside” help support work inside schools?

This post provides an expanded version of the commentary “Who should improve the school improvement industry” published last week in Education Week. The commentary is by Thomas Hatch, IEN Founder and Professor of Education at Teachers College, Columbia University and Co-Director of the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching (NCREST).  The commentary and post report on a study of “The Role of External Support Providers in Improving K-3 Reading Outcomes in New York” funded by the Brooke Astor Fund for New York City Education in The New York Community Trust. Hatch also discussed the study in a podcast for CPRE’s Research Minutes.

Schools and districts depend on a host of “outsiders” to help them create powerful learning experiences for all their students.  This loose collection of curriculum providers, tutoring programs, staff developers, management consultants, and school designers forms what Brian Rowan calls the “school improvement industry.” Almost thirty years of federal policies and philanthropic initiatives have fueled both the demand for these kinds of organizations and the supply (see CSRD, NCLB, and SIG, the Annenberg Challenge and the Gates Foundation’s small schools initiative among others). Illustrating that growth, this year, a survey of 13 state websites identified 151 of these organizations, but in 2001, I only found 63 listed in the Catalog of School Reform Models, with only 15 in existence before 1980.

The development of this “industry” builds on two key ideas:

  • On their own, many schools do not have the capacity they need to make sufficient improvements in students’ learning
  • There are “external support providers” that do have the capacity – the resources, expertise, and connections – that can help large numbers of schools make those improvements

A lack of adequate progress towards many educational outcomes supports the first proposition, but even with evidence that some providers such as Success for All and Expeditionary Learning can be effective, the limited number of “proven” providers casts doubt on the second. Reviews that demonstrate effectiveness of some improvement programs, curricula and professional development services also show how rare it is to find those approaches employed in practice on a widespread scale. Illustrating the problems when outside experts try to influence what happens inside schools, only a handful of the largest districts in the US consistently use highly-rated curricula. Many curricula and textbooks that claim to be aligned to the Common Core actually are not; and a recent study on the research behind apps for 3-5 year olds spawned the headline “few preschool apps are developmentally appropriate.”

Why is it so difficult to produce and use “proven” programs and practices?

Numerous factors contribute to this state of affairs including the difficulty of carrying out complex evaluations, the limitations of conventional methods and outcome measures, and the need to adapt to different contexts.  All of which stoke debates about what counts as “proven” (as illustrated by the controversy over American Public Radio’s claim that many educators don’t know the science related to how children read). But with thousands of schools that need to make improvements, why is it a surprise they turn to thousands of materials, practices, and programs that are not “proven” and may not even be aligned with standards or what’s considered appropriate practice?

When we periodically stop to recognize this reality, too often, the response is to blame someone:  Blame the researchers for not doing the “right” kind of research; blame the schools and educators for choosing the “wrong” programs; blame the policymakers and funders for aiding and abetting the whole endeavor. But the growth of the “school improvement industry” and the difficulties in using external assistance and “research-tested” programs are not accidents. These issues are produced by a decentralized education system and a society that relies on the creativity of individuals and not-for-profit and for-profit enterprises to address many social, economic, and educational issues.

An illustration: External support for improving reading in New York City

As one example of the possibilities and challenges for taking advantage of the work of external support providers, my colleagues and I explored the nature and variety of external assistance available in just one subject (reading) at one level (elementary schools) in one large school district (New York City). Our report and research brief from that study shows over 100 programs working directly with students or teachers to improve reading outcomes in New York City public elementary schools. A review of a representative sample of programs revealed that those programs focus on a wide range of different goals – some on more specific skills like comprehension, while others focused on the standards of the Common Core or on “grade level reading.” The programs drew from a range of approaches, including tutoring for students and instructional coaching for teachers that have some evidence of effectiveness, but only 19% of the sample programs had publicly available evaluations reporting on their outcomes.

The sample programs demonstrated substantial reach, however, suggesting they could serve as a valuable lever for system-wide improvement. In fact, just 26 programs reported working with 161 different schools comprising 16% of all elementary schools in NYC (including 28% of the elementary schools in the Bronx and 26% of the elementary schools in Manhattan). We also found some basis for collective impact as just over half of the sample programs reported working in partnership or collaboration with at least one other sample program. At the same time, the sample programs get support and information from a wide range of sources of funding and expertise that are themselves likely to be only loosely related. The sample programs reported receiving grants from 57 different funders and identified 75 different sources for literacy expertise with little overlap. The sources of expertise encompassed individual consultants, the conferences of the National Council of Teachers of English, and the Huffington Post.

What would it take to increase the collective impact of external support?

Moving forward requires both long-term and short-term strategies. Long-term strategies can build on efforts at the national level to develop “evidence-proven” programs, to support research use, and to foster networked improvement communities focused on reading.

At the same time, local and regional efforts can launch short-term strategies to promote greater coordination, coherence and collective impact right now:

  • Share information and build awareness by regularly “mapping” which programs are providing support in key aspects of schooling – Carried out systematically every five years in areas like reading, math and school improvement (or on an as needed basis as priorities and initiatives develop in other areas), this scan of the educational environment could make visible the extent and nature of the outside support available; reveal areas of overlap; and expose underserved areas where more support might be needed.
  • Support coordination, common understanding, and coherence – Local hub organizations can bring together stakeholders from inside and outside schools to jointly reflect on the information from these periodic scans and other research. These hubs could then identify common needs, discuss relevant research and effective practices, and develop agreements on standards and expectations.
  • Build broader coalitions for collective impact – Strategic alliances and collaborations could bring together strategic partners to take on emerging needs in local neighborhoods (as in East New York Reads) or broader regions (like the Early Literacy Task Force in Michigan).

Strategies like these begin with the recognition that investments need to be made in building the capacity of both external support providers and schools; but they also establish a middle way between adding more bureaucratic requirements and letting “1000 flowers bloom.”                                                                                   

 

Can the “School Improvement Industry” support system-wide improvements in K-3 Reading Outcomes in New York City?

**This post initially appeared on internationalednews.com**

This week’s post features a podcast with IEN founder Thomas Hatch.  The podcast discusses a recently released report and research brief drawn from a study designed to identify all the external support providers working with New York City public schools to improve K-3 reading outcomes. 

https://videopress.com/embed/5E1ivxOv?hd=0&autoPlay=0&permalink=0&loop=0

In the latest podcast from CPRE’s Research Minutes, CPRE Senior Researcher Ryan Fink talks with Thomas Hatch about his latest study “Mapping the reading improvement sector in New York City.”  Among other issues Hatch discusses the nature of the school improvement industry in general, as well as some of the challenges that “external support providers” have faced in trying to work with schools in the US most productively.  He also highlights the longstanding nature of the problem – citing his own experiences while working at the ATLAS Communities Project and described in a 2002 article “When improvement programs collide.” Hatch goes on to discuss how difficult it is get any sense of the size, scope, growth, or effectiveness of this external support even in one area (reading), at one level (K-3), in one region (New York City).  As he put it, when the research started:

how many programs are trying to help New York City elementary schools improve reading outcomes? Nobody had any idea…So this work has been designed to get a sense of not just how many organizations and people are out there doing this work, but exactly what kind of work they’re doing, and then to figure out what we can do to try and make sure that all of this work adds up to more than the sum of its parts, and really has a much more powerful and catalytic effect on reading in New York City.”

When Fink asks Hatch about the implications, he responds that “we need to come to the realization that there’s not going to be an adequate supply of proven programs, and they’re still going to be demands” from schools for help. He concludes by outlining some of the key steps that he thinks can help to build coordination, coherence, and collective responsibility in the reading improvement sector.

 

Speculations on Education in the 2020’s…

My current work focuses on how to develop an education system that prepares us all for a future we can’t predict.  Nonetheless, rounding-up the year-end reviews from many of the education/news outlets I follow (see the links below) always inspires some reckless speculation. This year, as last year, issues related to educational technology and personalization/customization in the US, immediately came to mind:

Virtual reality will be the whiteboards of the 2020’s — Almost everywhere I travel I find whiteboards in classrooms, and almost everywhere I travel I find teachers (including me) who don’t use them.  These “hardware” innovations manage to scale because they make schools look like they are doing some “new”, but can be plugged-into conventional structures and practices without really challenging the status quo. Furthermore, new hardware can be difficult to maintain, the basic technology changes so fast that it can be difficult for schools and educators to keep up, and, ultimately, effectiveness depends on the expertise of individual teachers.  As long as educators have to rely on evolving hardware to take advantage of virtual reality, there will be some amazing and powerful uses, but it will remain limited in wide-scale effectiveness. (As a corollary, I also predict that whenever I see another innovation that is not working out as intended, I will soon find out that Larry Cuban has already pointed this out in a succinct and enlightening way)

AI will do for education in the 21st Century what standardized tests have done in the 20th – Artificial intelligence is already flowing into many classrooms in “smart” assessments, “intelligent” tutoring systems, online services and the phones and social media accounts of teachers and students, and the costs and benefits need to be carefully considered. These carriers may increase efficiency, particularly on routine and standardized tasks, by providing individualized feedback and guidance.  On the positive side, these developments can create opportunities for students and educators to spend more time on activities involving deeper learning, social emotional development and other worthwhile pursuits; and just as standardized tests had some benefits – by making inequities in educational opportunities and outcomes visible for example – AI could help historically underserved students get access to more effective feedback and customized support.  At the same time, the most sophisticated uses of AI to support “deeper learning” and support more complex tasks will likely remain out of reach for many schools and educators for some time.  As a result, using AI in education may well reinforce the same narrow set of academic skills and abilities – and may reflect the same biases and systemic racism – as standardized and high-stakes tests.

Personalization in classrooms will be as successful as project-based learning – This year, the blowback and concerns about personalization seemed to get as much attention as the efforts to promote it.  Given the ease of saying education is personalized and the difficulties of actually carrying out any kind of individualized instruction in conventional classrooms, personalization may well remain a niche reform.  It will continue to have adherents, particularly among those who seek an alternative to traditional schooling, but many will continue to be skeptical and to resist large-scale efforts to adopt it without considerable community input and support.

Customization of educational pathways will be the new frontier for “choice.” Even as it remains difficult to individualize instruction in classrooms, the rapidly multiplying opportunities to support learning outside of traditional education institutions will create opportunities for individuals to get “just-in-time” learning when they want and need it.  Employers, new providers as well as traditional schools, colleges, and universities are already creating badgesmicro-credentialsnew degree programs, and other targeted learning opportunities.  As a result, students will have more and more opportunities to choose providers (online and off) to help them develop abilities and expertise that support their academic, personal, and professional development.  In the process, institutions focused on preparation may face more competition from organizations and individuals that offer professional development and ongoing support.  Again, although students from different backgrounds may find new educational opportunities that better meet their needs and interests, there is no reason – yet – to think that the resources and support needed to find those opportunities will be equitably distributed.

These reflections rely primarily on wild extrapolation, mixed with a small dose of my own experiences with the challenges of making rapid and wide-scale changes in schooling.  However, I have more confidence in saying that changes in work and the workforce and related uses of time are more likely to change schools than any particular reform effort, policy change, new technology or other “innovation.”  As long as parents have to continue to rely on schools to house their children from 8 AM to 3 PM or so – in buildings that separate them from the surrounding community; in isolated classrooms with one adult and a relatively small group of peers; with limited funds and resources – there is no reason to expect that schools will look substantially different from the teacher-centered, age-graded, academically oriented, standardized test based form that has developed over the past century all over the world.

Under these circumstances, what will change?  The most significant changes may come in the experiences, perceptions, and treatment of childhood. The rise of industrialization came along with decreases in child labor (though by no means it’s elimination).  Those developments also created space and time for a different kind of childhood for some. Today, the advent of new technologies and social media can make childhood more public in ways that may lead children to become “young adults” much more quickly.  With personas and histories that are widely visible through social media, serious debates about the abuses and uses of children’s work, images, and perceptions by their parents and others have already begun.  I’ve experienced this in my own work as I’ve struggled with how and when to draw on and represent my children’s experiences in schools in Norway and Finland as well as on my social media accounts.  But the publication of everyday life affects us all, as we find our actions and identities subject to much wider interpretation and critique.  But at the same time that the pervasiveness of social media opens children up to inspection, monitoring, and new forms of profiteering, it can also create opportunities for transparency, making visible young people’s experiences in ways that reveal – and address – inequality and injustice. What’s more, the changing times also afford opportunities for young people to become artists, entrepreneurs, and activists who can have a much wider impact on the world around us than they ever have before.

— Thomas Hatch

 

An (unsystematic) scan of 2018 year-end reviews education stories, issues,   and predictions for 2019

Education in 2018 seems to have been distilled into a series of sub-topics as sources like Education Weekthe74, and EdSurge all offered multiple reviews in areas like Higher Education, Politics, EdTech, EdBusiness and others.

Year in Review: Our Top Edtech Business Stories of 2018, Edsurge

EdSurge’s Year in Review: The Top 10 K-12 Stories of 2018, Ed Surge

EdSurge HigherEd Year in Review: Our Top Higher Education Stories of 2018, Ed Surge

2018 in Research: How Principals Lead, Gates Faltered, and Teens Balk at ‘Growth Mindset’, Education week

U.S. Education in 2018 in 10 Charts, Education Week

Top Posts of 2018 Focus on Big Education Companies and Popularity of Digital Tools, EdWeek Market Brief

The Hottest Stories in the Ed. Market in 2018, and What It Means for the New Year, EdWeek Market Brief

Education Week’s Biggest K-12 Technology Stories of 2018, Education Week

Our 2018 Education Journalism Jealousy List: 22 Important Articles About Schools We Wish We Had Published This Year, the 74

The Top 2019 Priorities Inside America’s 15 Biggest School Districts: Teacher Strikes, Integration Fights, Sexual Misconduct Claims & More, the 74

Best Education Articles of the Year: Our 18 Most Popular Stories About Students and Schools From 2018, the 74

How School Policy Changed in 2018: The Year’s 7 Biggest Federal Storylines, From Unforgettable Student Advocacy to an Already Forgotten White House Proposal, the 74

6 Education Predictions for the New Split Congress: From School Infrastructure to Student Discipline to ‘Groundhog Day’ on Higher Ed?, the 74

2018 in charts:

11 Charts That Changed the Way We Think About Schools in 2018, the 74

U.S. Education in 2018 in 10 Charts, Education Week

In New York City

What happened in New York City education this year — and what to expect in 2019Chalkbeat

In California

California education in 2018; A look back at EdSource’s top stories, EdSource

California education issues to watch in 2019 — and predictions of what will happen, EdSource

Philanthropy & Social Innovation

Crystal Ball Check-In: How Did We Do at Forecasting 2018 Philanthropy?, Inside Philanthropy

Philanthropy Awards 2018, Inside Philanthropy

Top 10 Most-Read CEP Blog Posts of 2018, The Center for Effective Philanthropy

Looking Back and Looking Ahead

What worked (and didn’t) this year: 10 lessons from education research to take into 2019, Chalkbeat

Ten Education Stories We’ll Be Reading in 2019, Education Week

The Year of Thinking Forward, CRPE

Reflections from education reporter Jenny Abamu on Twitter

Some of the “favorite development papers of 2018” from the World Bank, including three from economist David Evans who highlighted three papers related to education in the developing world:

Accelerating Learning in Africa: The Expansion and Adaptations of Second Chance (Part 2)

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Photo Credit: Rosie Hallam

Expanding Second Chance in Liberia and Lebanon

Second Chance’s efforts to carry out such an unconventional pedagogical approach in what are usually remote areas depends on building an alternative infrastructure for learning that incorporates local materials, training for local youth, partnerships with government schools, and support for parent self-help groups. Rather than creating this infrastructure itself – and growing a larger organization to do it – the Luminos Fund’s efforts to expand Second Chance build on the expertise, resources, and relationships that local implementing partners have already established. Those partners include NGO’s that have a record of accomplishment and a presence in the communities where Second Chance seeks to work. Luminos provides training, materials, guidance and oversight for the partners, but the partners hire and train facilitators, supervisors and project coordinators.

Second Chance’s expansion to Liberia uses this local approach to test the viability of program in what Baron described as an “under-resourced” context.  Khosla was more emphatic:  “It’s exactly the same program, but, oh my god, the challenges are so different.”  Those challenges include an out of school rate in Liberia of over 50% for children of primary school age (compared to about 35% in Ethiopia); extreme poverty and a lack of basic necessities; an economy growing at about half the rate of Ethiopia’s; and public spending on education also at about half the rate of Ethiopia’s.

All of these factors contribute to much higher costs.  With so little money for education, textbooks are scarce – roughly 1 textbook for every 28 students, according to Khosla. That means textbooks have to be imported and delivered to the schools, and the inadequate roads lead to high transportation costs that compound the problem. As a result, initial costs to set up a Second Chance classroom in Liberia run about $10,000 per classroom, where it only cost about about $6000 in Ethiopia.  Although Luminos’ aims for a 300$ per pupil cost once the program reaches scale, the per student costs in Ethiopia work out to only about $150.

Early on in the work in Liberia, the staff also discovered that the impoverished conditions meant that many of the students were going through an entire day without food.  As Khosla explained, “In Ethiopia they have a 1 ½ hour lunch break where they go home everyday to eat lunch and then go back. We thought the same model would work in Liberia, but there’s no food. “Kids were coming to school so hungry,” Baron added, “it was a fool’s errand not to address that need, but that means we are delivering rice and beans to mothers who are cooking food.”  Baron pointed out that this “small” change in the schedule in Liberia introduces a whole new series of problems to be addressed – where to get the food, how to import it, how to prepare it – that requires establishing a whole new supply chain, with new job responsibilities and added costs. “And there are hundreds of weak points in the chain,” lamented Baron. For example, there are periods for traditional religious practices where it is unsafe for children to be out collecting the wood needed to fuel the fires for cooking.  With no firewood, students can end up going several days without food, unless the staff at Second Chance make the local adjustments that enable he work inside the classroom to take place.

The difficult conditions and hardships in Liberia affect the Second Chance facilitators as well.  For example, although initial assessment results in Liberia indicated that students’ literacy learning was far behind the students in Ethiopia,  further analysis showed that the facilitators also had much lower scores on related literacy assessments than their peers in Ethiopia.  Similarly, Khosla pointed out that the content of the training for the facilitators is quite basic “because the focus is on the early grades.  But we are finding in Liberia that it’s not basic. There are still some issues that facilitators have with teaching parts of speech for example, so we are figuring out how we can fill some of those gaps in content knowledge.” These results are not surprising, however, given that the local youth the program relies on for facilitation have had to live through a series of wars and an Ebola crisis that interrupted their own schooling and development.

The transportation problems also complicate the training efforts; discouraging facilitators from getting together to share information, reflect on what they are doing, and address common challenges. Khosla explained, “If you have to deviate from the main road, then you are in the bush, and then you are in the bush for at least 10 miles to reach one school. So for us to tell the facilitators to meet up often is logistically impossible.” The Second Chance leaders solved this problem and the problem of distributing salaries to a widely dispersed staff of facilitators (who need to be paid once a month, in person, in cash, since they don’t have bank accounts) with one adjustment:  they pay the facilitators at the end of the day, after they have attended their monthly learning community meetings. “It’s a good way to ensure they come to the meetings,” Khosla noted.

The initial work in Liberia revealed challenges for Luminos’ strategy of relying on local partners as well. In Ethiopia, Luminos’ has a team of five working with fourteen implementing partners managing a program of 20,000 children. In Liberia, the relatively small number of established NGO’s who have the capacity to serve as partners means more intense engagement for Luminos:  a staff of three works with four implementing partners for a program (so far) of only 2000 children.  The early stage of the work in Liberia also means that, as Khosla put it, neither the local partners nor the facilitators they have hired “know what a Second Chance classroom looks like, and what to aspire to.”  Consequently, in the 2018-19 academic year, Luminos created 4 Second Chance programs to serve as “centres of excellence” with model classrooms so that facilitators, partners, and even government officials can come and see the program in operation. Given the need for all these adjustments, the initial rate of expansion in Liberia may well be slower than it has been in Ethiopia.

Despite these challenges, Luminos chose to work in Liberia because of the possibilities and assets that it found there.  With Liberia’s small size, Baron, Khosla and their colleagues have good relationships with a government working to re-imagine education and other sectors of the society.  That may create opportunities to influence government policies, for example, enabling facilitators to get a license to teach in government primary schools after they go through the Second Chance training.  “That would put facilitators in a really good spot to get placed in a government school,” Khosla said.  It would also create a powerful incentive for local youth to get Second Chance training and provide an entry point into government classrooms for Second Chance’s pedagogical approach. These kinds of possibilities, along with the fact that English is the official language, means that, if Second Chance is successful in Liberia, it may have more of a chance of being picked up by the government and scaled throughout the country than in Ethiopia.

The latest opportunities for expansion have taken Luminos to Lebanon, where the crisis in Syria has produced the largest recent wave of refugees and out-of-school children. In Lebanon, the conditions for refugees are extremely difficult, but the Lebanese government has its own well-established programs for accelerated learning.  However, English and French are the languages of instruction in the government schools and accelerated learning programs, but most of the refugees speak Arabic.  To respond to this situation, Luminos has shifted its focus to use its active learning pedagogy to help refugees make the transition into the Lebanese accelerated learning programs and then into the government schools.  .

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Photo Credit: Lloyd Massah

Moving forward: Building infrastructure and adapting to local conditions

Establishing an alternative infrastructure for learning – or, where possible, grafting it onto and into the local educational system – reflects a clear theory of action: this “second chance” for children to catch up to their peers and transition into primary school at grade 4 constitutes one of the most powerful and cost effective ways to substantially increase educational access. In continuing to pursue this theory of action, Second Chance’s expansion depends on far more than replicating a program “with fidelity.”

For one thing, Luminos has to pay attention to the larger context in which their work on education in the developing world takes place. That means recognizing the fact that priorities have shifted from a focus on increasing access by 2015 (in the Millenium Development Goals) to ensuring quality in education by 2030 (in the Sustainable Development Goals). As a consequence, Luminos needs to talk about the program differently so that those funders who are now working on quality can see the value of the Second Chance approach.

Luminos also has to be responsive to the local contexts in which they work. As Khosla acknowledged “Second Chance cannot just be plopped down in any regulatory environment.” Second Chance needs to find the right “fit” in contexts that provide the model with what the psychologist Lev Vygotsky called a “zone of proximal development”: places with both substantial need for accelerated learning and enough support and resources to take advantage of Second Chance’s alternative infrastructure for learning.

When it finds the right fit in places like Liberia and Lebanon, Luminos then works to stay true to its theory of action. On the one hand, that means remaining focused on key issues and opportunities for accelerated learning that gave rise to the model in the first place:

  • What capacities do children need to succeed in the “regular” school system?
  • What enables and motivates “over-age” students to stay in school?
  • Who has the will and the skill to support and sustain the success of the classroom approach?
  • What connections will ease and sustain the transition into the larger school system?
  • What mechanisms will enable parents and community members to embrace and support their children’s schooling?
  • What local capacities and local organizations can provide a foundation and a “home” for expanding the program?

On the other hand, that means looking for the specific contextual differences and pursuing the problem-finding and problem-solving in each context that makes it possible to adapt. “Pay attention to “all the really small ‘last mile’ things” advises Baron, “things that may not seem so groundbreaking but nonetheless create a foundation for success and expansion. If you are more modest about what individual change you can make, you can have a bigger impact.”

— Thomas Hatch

Accelerating Learning in Africa: The Expansion and Adaptations of Second Chance (Part 1)

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Despite significant increases in educational access around the world, one out of eleven children of primary school age remain out of school.  For adolescents, that proportion reaches one in six. Illustrating the depth of the problem, in Sub-Saharan Africa, the 21% out-of-school rate for primary school age children balloons to 58% for upper secondary school age children (the highest rate in any part the world).  With global efforts to increase access stalling, UNESCO and the Global Monitoring Report conclude: “Targeted interventions are needed to reach the most marginalised children, such as the millions obliged to work, the girls forced to stay home and the families displaced by conflict… We can no longer only rely on ‘business as usual’ strategies based on more teachers, more classrooms and more textbooks”.

Accelerated learning programs, like Second Chance (formerly called Speed School), serve as one such targeted intervention. Second Chance aims to meet the needs of children from 8-14 years of age who have never been in primary school or who have dropped out of school for two years or more. The program covers the content of first, second and third grade in just 10 months and helps the students to catch up to their peers and transition into the public school system in third or fourth grade.

Second Chance works by identifying a region with a high number of primary school-age students who are not in school and then establishing Second Chance classroom of no more than 25 students and a teacher (or “facilitator”) in that region.  Although this constitutes a relatively small “unit of implementation,” the results have added up. Launched in West Africa by the Legatum Foundation, the Strømme Foundation, and Geneva Global in 2007, what was then called Speed School reached over 100,000 out of school children in West Africa and Ethiopia by 2015.  Building on that initial success, Legatum created the Luminos Fund to expand the program in Ethiopia and to other parts of Africa.

According to a 2018 study tracking Second Chance graduates in Ethiopia from 2011-2017, about 75% of the Second Chance graduates were still in school compared to 66% of a similar group of students who had attended government schools.  Furthermore, the Second Chance graduates had higher aspirations to progress beyond primary education and were over 30% less likely to dropout than comparable students in government schools.  With those results, in 2018 HundrED identified Second Chance as one of 100 inspiring global educational innovations and in 2017 the  World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE)recognized Second Chance as one of six awardees for their creative approaches to crucial education challenges.

 

As Caitlin Baron, CEO of the Luminos Fund notes, Second Chance “has evolved, as any successful model has to.” That evolution includes the development of several key program elements across contexts:

  • An active-learning pedagogical approach
  • The hiring and training of unemployed youth from the local community in Second Chance’s active-learning pedagogy
  • Partnerships with “Link” government schools to help ease the transition of Second Chance students into the public system
  • “Self-help” groups for parents to encourage them to keep their children enrolled in school

These key elements can be considered “micro-innovations” because they are practices and structures that are new to the contexts in which Second Chance works – but their success depends on the ways in which Second Chance adapts and responds to the specific needs and circumstances in those contexts.

 

Active learning for basic skills

            “The thing I find truly unique,” Baron explained, “is that when you work in really low-resourced environments, the assumption is that to do anything at scale in education it has to be stripped down and dry and narrow and ‘just the facts’… But Second Chance is a model of very creative, play-based learning, carried out with teachers with minimal qualifications.  It’s a powerful example of being able to do something pedagogically complex in a low-resourced setting.”

            That pedagogical approach was one of the key developments that facilitated Second Chance’s expansion. Developed by Jeyachandran Madurendrum after he became the country director for Geneva Global in Ethiopia in 2010, Second Chance’s approach marries a focus on key skills in literacy and numeracy with an emphasis on active learning.  As the Facilitator’s Guide explains it, students work independently and in groups on learning activities that involve handling and using objects and materials from the local environment, sorting, grouping, and experimenting with them, making observations, recording findings, drawing conclusions, making generalizations, discussing what they’ve observed and learned with peers and facilitators. This active approach stands in striking contrast to conventional classrooms in surrounding areas, which are often overcrowded, with students in rows and the teacher in front delivering a lesson. As Nikita Khosla, Senior Director at Luminos observes, “If you walk into a Second Chance classroom in Ethiopia or Liberia, you will see about 25 children sitting in groups of 5. There will be work on the walls. It might be mud walls, but you will see chart paper stuck to them. You’ll see alphabets made out of clay. You’ll see children using lot of local materials for math, or going outside for nature-based learning.” In the process, Second Chance seeks to create a place where children want to come to school.  Fostering that kind of environment is particularly important given the challenges many of their students face in getting to school and in keeping them motivated throughout an eight-hour school day (with almost twice as much instructional time as government schools).

Khosla makes clear that Second Chance’s emphasis on developing relationships with children is another crucial ingredient to the approach.  “When we have principals and teachers [in government schools] asking us why the children in Second Chance are happy, we tell them, we don’t hit children, we talk to them, we ask them how they are, and this is very different from the teacher led classrooms in conventional schools, so even a slight deviation of that is welcomed by the students.” Both the active-learning pedagogy and the relationships with students aim to prepare Second Chance’s students to be independent learners and to help sustain them throughout their school careers.

This approach responds specifically to the opportunities and challenges in the local environment in two key ways. First, the program treats the facts that the students are older and out of school as assets. As the Facilitator’s Guide outlines, they see these students as able to learn at a faster pace and over a shorter time span than younger children and as more motivated and enthusiastic about learning.

Second, rather than developing and delivering a stand-alone curriculum, Second Chance facilitators use the active learning approach to teach the content of the national curriculum where they work. This approach also allows the facilitators to use the textbooks and other materials created to support the national curriculum – content with which local most facilitators and local partners are already familiar.  This choice also eases the transition of Second Chance students into government schools that are using the same materials, and it reduces the costs of having to produce their own materials substantially.

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Hiring and training unemployed youth

In another move that takes advantage of local circumstances, Second Chance looks for facilitators who are unemployed youth who know the local language and have at least a 10th grade education. Khosla reports that although this group has “zero experience teaching,” they bring other assets: “they have a real hunger for learning,” Khosla notes, “And we’ve seen they are very open, and they really absorb everything like a sponge.”  On the downside, these facilitators are familiar with the content, but the active learning pedagogy is entirely new.  To help them take in such a novel approach, 21 days of training are spread across the 10 months of the program.  That training focuses on the activity-based pedagogy and equips facilitators to develop their own lessons that are linked to the national curriculum, draw on the Second Chance activities, and utilize local materials.  In addition to the training, Second Chance tries to cultivate a “professional learning community” by bringing together facilitators periodically to share their learning and discuss their challenges.

From Khosla’s perspective, two aspects of this approach help to motivate facilitators. First, they can get a job at only slightly below the salary of government teachers and at a good rate given their qualifications. Second, they have an opportunity to develop positive relationships with the students. “The facilitators talk about how happy and excited the children are, and that motivates them to employ the approach,” explained Khosla.

 

Establishing “Link” school partnerships

Recognizing the challenges that Second Chance students face in staying in government schools once they graduate, Second Chance now establishes relationships with “Link schools.”  Link schools are government schools that Second Chance graduates may go on to attend.  Through the partnerships, Second Chance seeks to build some understanding of the Second Chance approach among the Link school staff and to encourage the staff to welcome the Second Chance graduates. “If a school already has a classroom of 70 children in grade 4,” Khosla explains, “and now Second Chance sends 15 more children, the principal and teachers really need to be on board with accepting the children. So this is just a way for us to develop some good will.”  To build that good will, Second Chance provides the teachers and the principal in the Link schools one week of training to expose them to the active learning model. In some instances, principals may also allow Second Chance to operate inside a Link School by using an empty classroom.  With this arrangement, the students are already in a government school building; they get into the habit of going to the school; and the parents get to know where the government school is as well. Seeing the Second Chance children engaged and happy at school has the added benefit that it can lead principals and teachers to try to learn more about the approach.

 

Creating parent “self-help” groups

Second Chance has also grown to recognize the importance of engaging with parents to address some of the cultural and economic barriers that prevent some children from getting access to schooling.  Economic barriers include things like registration fees and, in Liberia, “hidden” costs like the need to buy textbooks and uniforms.  Beyond the costs, the prospect of lost labor and a lack of clear benefits from sending their children to school can also undermine parental support. Given these challenges, to complement their work in schools, Second Chance establishes self-help groups for mothers.  These groups generally meet once or twice a month to encourage mothers to come up with income-generating activities like raising chickens or selling cassava in the market.  As an incentive, Second Chance provides a small “cash-injection”, matching the money that the mother’s raise.

Khosla noted that a 2016 evaluation of the program’s expansion in Ethiopia led to the realization that they were not paying enough attention to the self-help groups.  In response, they established a new position with a small stipend for a volunteer from the local community who helps to make connections and support the work of the group. The 2018 evaluation tracking the performance of a group of Second Chance students and a comparison group from government schools for six years highlights the importance of addressing these kinds of economic and cultural issues outside of school.  That study shows that costs remain the biggest reason former Second Chance students drop out of school; however, the difference between the drop-out rate of the “richest” and “poorest” Second Chance students narrowed much more than it did for government school students. Although it is impossible to make causal links between the self-help groups and Second Chance outcomes, that same study also found that household assets of Second Chance students improved by about 45%, and the average livestock increased by about 53%, while the household assets and livestock average of students from government schools stayed almost the same over the six years.

                                                                                                — Thomas Hatch

LEAD THE CHANGE SERIES Q & A with Thomas Hatch

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

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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