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Rapid Rise: Computer Science Education in NYC Part 2 (2015-2025)

This week’s post builds on last week’s discussion of the foundation of the Computer Science for All movement in New York City, focusing on how and why this work has taken off.

Like Finland’s enactment of a policy requiring that all studentsparticipate each year in “a multi-disciplinary learning module,”setting a goal of providing a computer science experience for all students within ten years created a demand for the development of computer science related learning experiences. But it did not prescribe the teaching of a particular course. In this case, NYC’s new policy initially left open exactly what counts as “meaningful” and “high-quality” computer education, stating only that “NYC students will learn to think with the computer, instead of using computers to simply convey their thinking.” Further the announcement declared that “Schools can implement computer science education in a way that aligns best to their educational vision.”   “The DOE deliberately avoided being too specific about a definition of computer science when the initiative launched,” Preston said. “The K-12 Computer Science Frameworkhad yet to be written and New York State did not have computer science standards, and work in computer science education had been very decentralized until that point. I think the DOE wanted to learn from doing… without schools immediately going to requirements and seat time.”

At the same time, as part of the new policy, CS4All built on initial efforts of the Software Engineering Pilot to develop the infrastructure that could support the spread of coherent and focused computer science learning experiences. As one article from Code.orgput it, CS4All started with an explicit “focus on providing resources for every step of the education pipeline.” For example, since New York’s statewide computer science framework had not yet been created, CS4All developed a CS Blueprintas well as a wide range of K-12 curricula.

In order to meet the increase in demand, the new policy also sought to increase the supply of teachers with the experience and skills to spread computer science learning experiences across the City.  The approach, however, had to take into account the fact that it could take quite some time to build a “pipeline” of computer science teachers to serve students in a variety of different computer science learning experiences at different levels.  Therefore, “we started with creating a job market for computer science educators,” Preston explained, recognizing that they would have to “catch up” with providing the preparation experiences and materials and programs later. Describing the challenges of preparing teachers, Preston continued, “without state certification, without dedicated teacher education programs, and without a job market for computer science teachers, there wasn’t going to be a pipeline.”  At the same time, Marcus stressed that from the beginning, the “pipeline” was designed to prepare teachers who can both teach computer science courses and who can act as leaders and computer science advocates who can support the spread of computer science education from inside the system.

To support the growing group of computer science teachers, the third goal of the new CS4All policy sought to build on and expand the portfolio of computer science programs working in the City. In particular, CSNYC cultivated connections with a number of programs that provided opportunities, often outside of school, for NYC youth to work and learn with technology.  With encouragement and support from CSNYC and the CS4All related funding, these programs turned their attention to developing the materials and the professional development programs that could help to build an “infrastructure” to support a wide range of computer science learning experiences. “Ultimately the idea is to offer a lot of on-ramps of different shapes and sizes that schools can choose from” Preston reported. Ideally, this variety would help to meet the varied interests and needs of different schools and students.

All of these developments contributed to substantial increases in the number of students receiving Computer Science education and taking and passing Computer Science AP exams.  In New York City, almost 134,000 students received Computer Science education in 2017-18, a 44% increase from the previous year.  In addition, the number of students in New York City taking an AP Computer Science exam in 2017 more than tripledcompared to 2016, and the number of students passing an AP Computer Science exam increased more than fourfold compared to 2016. New York City public school students also accounted for approximately 7 percent of AP Computer Science Principles exam-takers nationwide; and in a matter of only two years, AP Computer Science has become the third most popular of all Math/Science AP courses in the City. Notably, the students taking the AP computer science exam are among the most diverse of any subject, and, notably, the number of female students taking that exam increased from 379 in 2016 to 2,155 in 2018.

 

Why the rapid expansion?

As Monica Disare reported, New York City’s Computer Science for All “plan progressed from a concept to reality at a notably rapid pace, thanks to a rare combination of factors: a focused and well-connected champion, a growing national focus on career readiness, and the sustained interest of the city’s political leadership at a time when the mayor needs to demonstrate clear progress.” Although the combination might be somewhat rare, these factors coalesced along with Wilson and CSNYC’s deliberate effort to work with the NYC DOE and to cultivate relationships with and engage a variety of other funders, programs, companies, and educators who developed an interest in computer science education.

Like a typical development campaign at a major university or cultural institution, the initial investments in computer science education in the City helped to lay the groundwork for de Blasio’s announcement long before it was made. As a consequence, when the de Blasio administration was exploring which education initiatives to support, CSNYC and other computer science supporters were able to promise to raise half of the funding needed to meet the new policy’s ten-year goals.  The private commitment helped to leverage the public commitment, while the public commitment helped to encourage private donors. As Preston explained, “we were able to convince the City to do this by promising to raise half the money privately so for every dollar they commit they get two, but they can also flip that around and say to donors we can say that the public sector will match every dollar you pay.”

In some ways, though, Wilson and CSNYC were taking a chance by working closely with the NYC DOE during the Bloomberg administration. In fact, de Blasio directly opposed many of Bloomberg’s education policies, including Bloomberg’s efforts to link teacher evaluations to test scores and his embrace of charter schools.  However, Bloomberg’s emphasis on supporting the development and use of technology as an engine of the City and the economy in general was widely supported. As a consequence, computer science education was one initiative on which many could agree. “What’s nice about computer science education is it’s fairly bipartisan,” Preston said, “it’s a rare topic that many people can agree on.”

Beyond this support from what scholars like Tyack and Cuban call “policy elites,” the growth of the computer science commitment and movement in NYC also benefitted from the fact that computer science education can be incorporated and “fit into” many of the existing structures and practices of existing schools. For example, adding one of the AP courses dedicated to computer science education not only fits neatly into a typical high school course schedule, it also aligns with existing AP tests and takes advantage of all the incentives and supports that go with the existing high school graduation and college entrance processes. As Tyack and Cuban explain, these “add-on’s” (like the addition of kindergartens to elementary schools earlier in the 20thCentury) can be put in place without disrupting normal patterns of activity in schools. Furthermore, computer science education fits the conception that many people have of what “real school” could be. Sociologist Mary Metz coined this phrasethat helps explain why many “innovations” and practices that challenge conventional educational expectations have difficulty taking hold and spreading.  Thus, computer science learning experiences benefit from the fact that many see them as directly connected to both valuable careers in technology-related fields and to valued academic outcomes in math, computation, and critical thinking.

Nonetheless, both the political support and the ability to add computer science to conventional school structures come with downsides. Embracing political support leverages many aspects of the government infrastructure – making it possible to link to other professional development and preparation initiatives, to build on other DOE trainings and resources, and to get access to data to track progress and inform future planning. At the same time, the computer science work in the City is no longer independent; it’s subject to the requirements and expectations of the DOE and dependent on continuing support from district administrators and politicians who may change as political fortunes rise and fall.

In addition, although computer science education initiatives take advantage of the structures and expectations of conventional schools, the course requirements, standardized tests, schedules, staffing patterns and many other aspects of conventional schools make it difficult to carry out student-centered, collaborative, or project-based learning experiences that many computer science programs seek to develop. Most critically, adding computer science learning experiences into all conventional schools demands a massive investment in the preparation and professional development of computer science teachers. Whether or not those investments will pay off remains in question. Countless reform efforts and literature reviews point to the difficulty of substantially increasing teachers’ skills and abilities through preparation and professional development. Even spreading AP courses in traditional subjects like physics and chemistry across all schools has proven difficult, as very few schools in New York City have the staff to offer these courses.

Ultimately, even if the initiative succeeds in helping 5000 teachers develop the skills and expertise they need to support students’ learning of computer science in 10 years, many of those teachers may leave the system (particularly if the skills they develop end up encouraging and enabling them to take higher paying technology jobs outside schools).  Even with substantial capacity-building efforts like those taking place in New York City, this kind of “revolving door” that makes it difficult for many improvement initiatives to reach and sustain their goals and momentum.

Under these conditions, one might expect relatively conventional CS4All courses and learning experiences to spread rapidly across conventional schools; but how well executed those classes are and how different they are from conventional classes, remains to be seen.

  • Thomas Hatch

 

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Rapid Rise: Computer Science Education in NYC Part 1 (2010-2015)

This week and next week Thomas Hatch describes how the effort to provide “computer science for all” has developed in New York City.  The first part focuses on some of the ways that early initiatives to develop new schools and courses with a focus on computer science education helped to lay the foundation for New York City’s pledge to provide all NYC public school students with a “meaningful, high‐quality computer science education.” The next week’s post will reflect on how and why computer science education has taken off and will consider the extent to which it fits into what David Tyack and Larry Cuban have called the “grammar of schooling.” 

“Computer science for all” has taken off.  A variety of teachers, academics, and programsaround the US have been working to help students learn about computer science for some time, but many point to 2013 as the year when a new movement began to pick up steam. That year, nationally, Code.org launched the now annual “Hour of Code” campaign; districts, including Chicago, quickly started adding computer science classes; and in New York City, CSNYCwas created to ensure that all New York City’s 1.1 million public school students have access to a high-quality computer science  education. Then in 2015, New York Citypledged that all its public schools would be required to offer computer science classes by 2025; and in 2016, then President Obama provided the official stamp of approval by announcingthat “in the new economy, computer science isn’t an optional skill—it’s a basic skill, right along with the three R’s.”

Although Congress never authorized the $4 billion dollars the Obama administration requested for computer science education in the 2017 budget, the White House and the National Science Foundation partnered to commit $120 million to the Computer Science for All effort. More recently, the Trump administration directed the US Department of Education to make available $200 million dollars for grants related to computer science education while another $300 million dollars in pledges came from a partnership with the Internet Associationand companies like Amazon, Facebook, Salesforce, Google and Microsoft.  As one indicator of the increasing attention to computer science, the introduction in 2016-17 of a new AP course on “Computer Science Principles” contributed to a sharp increasein the number of students taking an AP exam in computer science, including significant increases in the numbers of female, Latinx, and Black students taking the exam. Between 2017 and 2018, the number of students taking the AP Computer Science Principles exam increased again, by almost 50% from 50,000 to 76,000.

Changes usually seem to come slowly in schools, but this rapid expansion of K-12 computer science initiatives illustrates both some of the key opportunities and the challenges of making large-scale changes in education systems. In particular, the development of Computer Science for All illustrates how initiatives that fit into what Tyack and Cuban call the “grammar of schooling” can take off with the backing and resources of political elites. In fact, in some ways, “Computer Science For All” has emerged as a kind of “social movement.” Marshall Ganzdescribes social movements as emerging from “the efforts of purposeful actors (individuals, organizations) to assert new public values, form new relationships rooted in those values, and mobilize the political, economic, and cultural power to translate these values into action.” But, Michael Preston, the former Executive Director of CSNYC (a partner organization for New York City’s Computer Science for All [CS4All] initiative) stresses that what the movement actually achieves depends on much more than how far and how fast it spreads.  In a series of conversations, Preston highlighted some of the developments that set the stage for New York City’s commitment to provide a “meaningful, high‐quality computer science education” at every level by 2025. In the process, he highlighted that engaging all students in meaningful and rigorous computer science learning experiences depends on developing what amounts to an “infrastructure” for computer science learning, including developing the curricula, assessments, tools, preparation programs, professional development supports, professional networks, and organizational relationships that can reach every school in the City.

 

From two new schools to a portfolio of computer science programs

Even before computer science education picked up steam across the country, Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist, was working to support the spread of computer science education in New York City. Wilson’s interest grew as he realized that many of the technology related start-ups he invested in couldn’t hire enough local talent.  From Wilson’s perspective, the fact that computer science courses were primarily available in the most selective high schools with exceptionally high percentages of White and Asian students also made increasing access to computer science to students from all backgrounds a particularly pressing equity issue.

To respond to the problem, in 2010, Wilson sought out the advice of members of the New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE). They recommended Wilson start a new school dedicated to computer science education and take advantage of the NYC DOE’s decade-long support for creating and replicating small schools. As Preston, described it:

“I think the consensus at the DOE was that if you create a new school model, you can set the conditions for an innovative new practice to take shape. The idea was that they would open up a new small high school that would be a model for teaching computer science at an unscreened school [a school without admissions requirements] so that any student could apply; there wouldn’t be any academic pre-requisite; and every student who came through the door could get a rigorous sequence of computer science. But in every other way it would be a typical new small school.”

Acting on that advice, Wilson teamed up with the DOE’s Office of Postsecondary Readiness to open the Academy for Software Engineeringin 2012. The Bronx Academy for Software Engineeringlaunched a year later and both schools quickly got to work developing a multi-year sequence for computer science instruction.  While those schools were able to enroll high percentages of Hispanic and Black students as well as students qualifying for free or reduced price lunch, from the beginning those efforts also sought to address predictable challenges like developing a gender-balanced approach that appealed to both males and females. “Both schools were 80% male initially,” Preston explained, which reflected the applicant pool. “If you name your school something with software engineering in the title,” he added, “you may not attract the most balanced applicant pool.”

The intense effort that those schools had to put into creating a rigorous computer science sequence also highlighted the need for more extensive curricula as well as a “pipeline” of K-12 educators with relevant preparation and expertise in computer science.  To begin to meet those demands, in 2013, the DOE also launched the Software Engineering Pilot Program, which aimed to develop a 3-4 year sequence of computer science courses for middle and for high school. As Debbie Marcus, current Executive Director for Computer Science Education at the DOE described it, the program was a key step in pursuing the vision that “Computer Science education could be for every student in New York City, not just those in the new schools.” According to Marcus, the work on the pilot helped to build a foundation for the later rollout of Computer Science education across the City and contributed some key learnings along the way. In particular, the pilot engaged 40 teachers a year from many different subjects in a professional learning partnership with DOE-created curricula and resources. Those teachers were able to bring pedagogical and subject-matter expertise that made it clear that computer science learning opportunities could be integrated into many different courses, not just computer science courses. In addition, the pilot created opportunities to learn how to engage principals in the implementation process, both to ensure time for teachers to learn from experiences with a new subject  and to set up plans to spread computer science learning opportunities throughout a school.

At the same time, as another way to build the infrastructure to support the spread of computer science education in New York City, Wilson  worked with nonprofit expert Sarah Holloway and NYU computer science professor Evan Korth to create the New York City Foundation for Computer Science Education (CSNYC).  Among its initiatives, CSNYC developed partnerships with a number of computer science related programs from around the country and sought to help them take root in New York City. As Leigh Ann DeLyser (current Director of Education and Research at CSNYC) and Preston described in an initial historyof the development of CSNYC, those program partners included:

  • Exploring Computer Science Curriculum– A year-long, introductory level,high school computer science curriculum and teacher professional development program
  • Beauty and Joy of Computing– An AP Computer Science Principles Course developed by faculty at the University of California at Berkeley and members of the Education Development Centerin partnership with the DOEd
  • Bootstrap– Curriculum modules to help teachers of math and science in 6th-12thgrades to incorporate computer science content into their courses
  • Scalable Game Design– Classroom guides and professional development activities that help teachers to enable students to learn computational thinking while creating computer-related games.
  • TEALS(Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) – A program of Microsoft Philanthropies that recruits, trains, mentors, and places volunteer technology professionals from industry in high school classrooms as partners with teachers

These initial investments created a kind of “portfolio” of programs that represented a variety of different approaches to computer science education and engaged many different stakeholders in the work.  In the process, CSNYC itself began to expand its own goals from providing seed funding to providing connections and coordination to help the computer science education sector in the City develop in a more coherent way.  For example, CSNYC established two “meetups” where teachers and others involved and interested in computer science education could get together on a regular but relatively informal basis.  CSNYC also helped to track progress and identify several critical challenges that the various initiatives in the sector experienced: finding enough qualified teachers and creating enough “real world” computer science related internships and experiences for students.  To address these needs, CSNYC cultivated relationships with a variety of local universities and businesses.

All of this activity established a loose network of programs and a wide and engaged group of stakeholders that, according to CSNYC helped to expand computer science opportunities from a few New York City schools in 2013 to over 100 schools and over 10,000 students by 2015. As a result, when new Mayor Bill de Blasio was ready to develop some signature initiatives, Preston noted that expanding computer science across the City was already “tee’d up.”  Building on that momentum, in the fall of 2015 de Blasio significantly upped the ante with the establishment of CS4Alland the announcement that by 2025all NYC public school students, from kindergarten through 12thgrade, would receive “meaningful, high‐quality computer science education.” In addition, the announcement pledged that over the ten years from 2015 to 2025, the DOE and private partners would train “nearly 5,000 teachers who will bring computer science education to the City’s ~1.1 million public school students.”

  • Thomas Hatch

 

*this post also appears on internationalednews.com*

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.

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. 

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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.

T H presenting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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