Archives for category: International

Why do we refuse to learn from successful nations? The top ten high-performing nations do not test every child every year.

 

Why aren’t we willing to learn from educational disasters in other nations? Take Chile, for example.

 

In this post, two scholars–Alfredo Gaete and Stephanie Jones–explain what happened in Chile when national leaders imposed the free-market ideas of two libertarian economists, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman.

 

Inspired by the ideas of such neoliberal economists as Hayek and Friedman, the “Chilean experiment” was meant to prove that education can achieve its highest quality when its administration is handed over mainly to the private sector and, therefore, to the forces of the market.

 

 

How did they do this?

 

 

Basically by creating charter schools with a voucher system and a number of mechanisms for ensuring both the competition among them and the profitability of their business. In this scenario, the state has a subsidiary but still important role, namely, to introduce national standards and assess schools by virtue of them (in such a way that national rankings can be produced).

 

 

This accountability job, along with the provision of funding, is almost everything that was left to the Chilean state regarding education, in the hope that competition, marketing, and the like would lead the country to develop the best possible educational system.

 

 

So what happened? Here are some facts after about three decades of the “Chilean experiment” that, chillingly, has also been called the “Chilean Miracle” like the more recent U.S. “New Orleans Miracle.”

 

 

First, there is no clear evidence that students have significantly improved their performance on standardized tests, the preferred measurement used to assess schools within this scenario of the free market.

 
Second, there is now consensus among researchers that both the educational and the socioeconomic gaps have been increased. Chile is now a far more unequal society than it was before the privatization of education – and there is a clear correlation between family income and student achievement according to standardized testing and similar measures.

 
Third, studies have shown that schools serving the more underprivileged students have greater difficulties not only for responding competitively but also for innovating and improving school attractiveness in a way to acquire students and therefore funding.

 
Fourth, many schools are now investing more in marketing strategies than in actually improving their services.

 
Fifth, the accountability culture required by the market has yielded a teach-to-the-test schema that is progressively neglecting the variety and richness of more integral educational practices.

 
Sixth, some researchers believe that all this has negatively affected teachers’ professional autonomy, which in turn has triggered feelings of demoralization, anxiety, and in the end poor teaching practices inside schools and an unattractive profession from the outside.

 
Seventh, a general sense of frustration and dissatisfaction has arisen not only among school communities but actually in the great majority of the population. Indeed, the ‘Penguins Revolution’ – a secondary students’ revolt driven by complaints about the quality and equity of Chilean education – led to the most massive social protest movement in the country during the last 20 years….

 

The ‘Chilean Miracle’ – like the ‘New Orleans Miracle’ – it seems, is not a miracle of student growth, achievement, equity, and high quality education for all. Rather, it is a miracle that a once protected public good was finally exploited as a competitive private market where profit-seeking corporations could receive a greater and greater share of public tax dollars.

 
It is also a miracle that such profit-seeking private companies and corporations, including publishing giants that produce educational materials and tests, have managed to keep the target of accountability on teachers and schools and not on their own backs.

 
Their treasure trove of funding – state and federal tax monies – continues to flow even as their materials, technological innovations, products, services, and tests fail to provide positive results.

 

Why are we allowing philanthropists, entrepreneurs, and the U.S. Department of Education to force us to follow the same path as Chile? Are we powerless? No. Show your displeasure by opting out, speaking out, contacting your elected representatives. Organize demonstrations and protests. Make them notice you. Stop them.

David Kirp, author of several major books on early childhood education, a model school district, and several other topics, describes a noteworthy educational innovation (everything old is new again):

“These students are grouped at tables, each corresponding to a grade level. The hum of conversation fills the room. After tackling an assignment on their own, the students review one another’s work. If a child is struggling, the others pitch in to help.

“During my visit to one of these schools, second graders were writing short stories, and fifth graders were testing whether the color of light affects its brightness when seen through water. The teacher moved among the groups, leaning over shoulders, reading and commenting on their work. In one corner of the classroom were items, brought to school by the kids, that will be incorporated in their lessons. The students have planted a sizable garden, and the vegetables and fruits they raise are used as staples at mealtime, often prepared according to their parents’ recipes.”

Was he visiting an expensive, elite private school in New York City or Boston or the District of Columbia?

No, he was describing an experimental school in Colombia that is experiencing great success and has been widely replicated:

“During the past four decades, this school — and thousands like it — have adopted what’s called the Escuela Nueva (New School) model….

“Escuela Nueva is almost unknown in the United States, even though it has won numerous international awards — the hyper-energetic Vicky Colbert, who founded the program in 1975 and still runs it, received the first Clinton Global Citizenship prize. That should change, for this is how children — not just poor children — ought to be educated….

“Decades ago, John Dewey, America’s foremost education philosopher, asserted that students learned best through experience and that democracy “cannot go forward unless the intelligence of the mass of people is educated to understand the social realities of their own time.” Escuela Nueva puts that belief into practice. I’ve witnessed the demise of many ballyhooed attempts to reform education on a mass scale. But I’ve tabled my jaded skepticism after visiting Escuela Nueva schools, reviewing the research and marveling at the sheer number of youngsters who, over 40 years, have been educated this way.

“I’m convinced that the model can have a global impact on the lives of tens of millions of children — not just in the developing world but in the United States as well.

“There’s solid evidence that American students do well when they are encouraged to think for themselves and expected to collaborate with one another. In a report last year, the American Institutes for Research concluded that students who attended so-called deeper learning high schools — which emphasize understanding, not just memorizing, academic content; applying that understanding to novel problems and situations; and developing interpersonal skills and self-control — recorded higher test scores, were more likely to enroll in college and were more adept at collaboration than their peers in conventional schools.”

A reader sent this excellent commentary on teacher evaluation, written by science teacher David Knuffke. It reviews the way that top-performing nations evaluate their teachers, as well as examples of how teacher evaluation is done in several states. He also briefly summarizes the views of scholarly and professional organizations. He does this to show how Governor Cuomo’s insistence that 50% of a teacher’s evaluation be based on test scores (and, though he doesn’t mention it, an additional 35% would be based on the judgment of an outside evaluator, someone who does not work in the school). He concludes:

 

Looking at the breadth of objection to the type of rating system that the Governor is proposing, and its absence from model educational systems at the national and international levels, one can only wonder why Governor Cuomo is pursuing such a policy. Attempts to make sense of these initiatives don’t lead to flattering conclusions: Either he is ignorant of the consensus that advocates against test-score centric teacher evaluation models, or he has decided that he knows better than a broad consensus of educators, researchers, and the entire educational systems of “high achieving” countries and states. We are not sure which of these possibilities is more troubling with regard to how the Governor thinks about the public education system of the state.

 

Given this analysis, it is clear that anyone who is actually concerned with the long-term health of the New York State public education system should be vocally, and stridently opposed to the education goals of its current Governor. This is not a partisan issue, or one that seeks to unfairly protect the jobs of the NYS teacher corps. There are ways to propose teacher evaluation systems that are in agreement with research and based on evidence from what is working in other places. This is not what the Governor has chosen to do. Rather than seeking to have a conversation with educators, students, parents, and all of the other stake-holders who value education in New York State, the Governor has chosen to propose an unsupported evaluation system with no track record of success in doing what he claims to want to do. And rather than attempt to build consensus on his proposals, Governor Cuomo has taken the position that he is not interested in perspectives other than his own on this issue. He is so strongly in favor of his education proposals that he is withholding state aid figures from districts until he understands just how eager the legislature is to support him in driving his education plan through without debate. It is difficult to believe that someone so vocally concerned with the future of NYS education would be willing to threaten the aid that districts need to provide for their most underserved student populations. It is similarly difficult to understand why he stands in opposition to reality itself on the matter of creating an effective teacher evaluation system. New York State residents should be very concerned about what their Governor seeks to do. We deserve better, and so do our children.

 

 

Mercedes Schneider read a post in Facebook purporting to reveal “the truth” about Finnish education. She contacted Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg, who is teaching at Harvard Graduate School of Education this year and asked him to comment on the allegations. His first reaction was that the article was so ill-informed that it did not merit a response. Mercedes pressed him, and he sent her his comments, which are here.

Samuel Abrams, who directs the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Teachers College, recently published a study comparing the conditions of teaching in the United States and other OECD nations. Abrams here summarizes the study and corrects an article that appeared in Slate about it.

 

He writes:

 

 

All studies are necessarily open to interpretation. What I concluded in a recently published study of teaching time, entitled The Mismeasure of Teaching Time and posted on the Web site of the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, should have been straightforward but clearly was not. Slate came away with a surprising take, from its provocative headline claiming “American Teachers Might Not Work Such Long Hours After All” to its conclusion regarding the effectiveness of U.S. teachers.

The study may be summarized as follows:

  • Because of an error in data collection, the U.S. Department of Education has significantly overstated teaching time in its annual reports to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which has, in turn, published this erroneous information every year since 2000 in its frequently cited digest of educational statistics and analysis, Education at a Glance (EAG).
  • According to the latest data in EAG, U.S. teachers spend 49 to 73 percent more time leading classes than their OECD counterparts. In reality, the difference is about 15 percent, which is still substantial but far less significant than the differences in teacher pay and the structure of the school day.
  • A central problem with this overstatement of U.S. teaching time is that it has distracted scholars and journalists from the more pressing differences in teacher pay and the structure of the school day.
  • The differences in teacher pay are indeed dramatic and telling. U.S. upper-secondary teachers, for example, earn 70 percent as much as their college classmates while their OECD counterparts make 92 percent. In absolute terms, U.S. teachers earn about the same as their OECD counterparts, but it is relative pay that truly matters. Because of less income polarization in other OECD nations, teachers abroad typically have far more purchasing power than here. And inadequate purchasing power makes any profession more stressful.
  • The differences in the structure of the school day are likewise dramatic and telling. In the United States, in contrast to many other OECD nations, the school day has been driven by the demands of high-stakes testing. These demands have boxed out time for music, art, drama, and recess, exacerbated the assembly-line pace of the school day in the United States long ago documented by Raymond Callahan in Education and the Cult of Efficiency (1962), and moreover placed tremendous and unnecessary pressure on students, teachers, and administrators alike.

 

In today’s contentious climate of education policy, where teachers are readily blamed for everything from subpar student achievement to disappointing national economic productivity, it is imperative that technical distinctions in academic studies are properly understood.

U.S. teachers indeed work long hours. I know this too well as someone who was a high school teacher for 18 years. Prepping for class and grading papers can be consuming activities, taking up time in the evening and over the weekend. This is true for teachers in other OECD countries, as well, even in the pedagogical heaven that is Finland. What is not true, however, is that U.S. teachers spend as much time leading classes as reported by the OECD and repeated by scholars and journalists.

Pasi Sahlberg, the eminent Finnish scholar, writes here about why there is no Teach for Finland and why Finland is not a model for Teach for America. In his travels, he has heard people say that TFA is like Finland, because both recruit “the best and the brightest.” Sahlberg explains why this is not the case. While it is true that would-be teachers are carefully selected, those who are selected must meet a number of criteria, including a readiness and intention to make teaching a lifelong career.

 

Once they are admitted to a teacher education program at the end of their secondary schooling, future teachers must engage in a rigorous program of study:

 

All teachers in Finland must hold a master’s degree either in education (primary school teachers) or in subjects that they teach (lower- and upper-secondary school teachers). Primary school teachers in Finland go through rigorous academic education that normally lasts five to six years and can only be done in one of the research universities that offer teacher education degrees. This advanced academic program includes modules on pedagogy, psychology, neuroscience, curriculum theories, assessment methods, research methods and clinical practical training in teacher training school attached to the university. Subject teachers complete advanced academic studies in their field and combine that with an additional year of an educational program. This approach differs dramatically from the one employed by TFA, requiring only five or six weeks of summer training for college graduates, with limited clinical training in the practice of teaching.

 

As Sahlberg explains, teaching in Finland is a profession, and no one would be allowed to teach based solely on having high grades, high test scores, and going to an elite university. There are high standards for entry into the teacher education program and high standards for entry into the classroom as a professional. Consequently, teaching in Finland is a prestigious career. And that is why Finland does not have Teach for Finland.

James Harvey, director of the National Superintendents Roundtable, wrote a terrific article about international assessments in Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet.

He explains:

“These assessments were never intended to line up and rank nations against each other like baseball standings.

“That’s right. The statisticians and psychometricians who dreamed up these assessments 50 years ago stated explicitly that the question of whether “the children of country X [are] better educated that those of country Y” was “a false question” due to the innumerable social, cultural, and economic differences among nations. But, hey, that’s just a detail.”

Another point:

“2. The “international average” isn’t what you think it is. It’s not a weighted average of all the students in the world, but an average of the national averages.

“This means that when calculating the “international average,” the 5,600 students in Lichtenstein, the 700,000 in Ireland, the 860,000 in Finland, the 5 million in Canada, and the 14 million in Japan carry exactly the same weight as the 56 million students in the United States.”

And here is more:

“3. These assessments compare apples and oranges.

“Do you think there’s anything to be learned from comparing the average performance of 5,600 wealthy white students in Lichtenstein with 56 million diverse students in the United States? Really? How about comparing our students with students in corrupt dictatorships like Kazakhstan, religious monarchies like Qatar, or the wealthiest city in China (Shanghai) after it has driven the children of low-income migrants back to their home provinces? As a report released in January by the Horace Mann League and the National Superintendents Roundtable, “School Performance in Context: The Iceberg Effect,” makes clear, these are just a few of the peculiar comparisons that lie behind these international assessment results.”

“5. The horse-race tables ignore differences in poverty, inequity, and social stress among nations.

“Fifty years of research in the United States and abroad documents a powerful correlation between low student achievement and poverty and disadvantagement. Yet reports on these international assessments blandly turn a blind eye on the implications of this research. The data are clear: Poverty rates among American students are five times higher than they are in Finland. China aside, we have the highest rates of income inequality in the nine nations examined in The Iceberg Effect. The rate of violent deaths in American communities is eight times the average rate in the other eight nations and 13 times greater than it is in Japan. All of that is ignored in the orgy of publicity organized by the sponsoring agencies of these assessments to highlight their findings.”

All in all, a brilliant analysis of the limitations of these tests that have promoted the deeply flawed agenda of test and punish.

A new report released by UNICEF at the World Economic Forum in Davos says that inequitable funding is an obstacle to educational equity. Rich kids in poor countries get more funding from the government than poor kids. You may know that the United States is one of the few countries where more public money is spent on affluent students than on poor students. In most other advanced nations, more money is spent on the neediest children. David Sirota wrote about the report for the International Business Times.

 

Sirota writes:

 

The trend documented by the report shows poor, developing-world countries mimicking a trend in the United States, which stands out as one of the only industrialized countries that devotes less public money to educating students from low-income families than on educating students from high-income families.

 

According to a recent analysis by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, it is one of the few economically developed nations that tends to spend more public resources to educate wealthy students than to educate low-income students. A 2011 U.S. Department of Education report found that in the United States “many high-poverty schools receive less than their fair share of state and local funding, leaving students in high-poverty schools with fewer resources than schools attended by their wealthier peers.”

 

Sirota points out that one of the cosponsors of the report is the Gates Foundation, which “has been criticized for using its partnerships with other organizations to promote a particular education ideology.”

 

And he adds:

 

In the United States, the foundation has specifically championed privately run charter schools, which often siphon resources from traditional public schools. The foundation has also promoted the Common Core curriculum, which has been criticized as a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach to education content. Both the curriculum and the larger shift to technology focused charter schools could have commercial benefits for Microsoft, the firm founded by Bill Gates.

 

When asked whether Unicef is prescribing a similar approach to international education aid for low-income countries, meaning charter schools, Common Core-style curriculum and a focus on technology, Brown first touted “the right of individual countries to make their own decisions about how they shape their own education system according to their needs and their economic policies and economic objectives.”

 

However, he seemed to echo some of the core themes of the Gates Foundation, touting what he called “international best practices … which learn from the experience of charter schools.”

 

He said lawmakers should be looking at “how we can disseminate the best practices that exist in some countries and persuade other countries that they are worth looking at.”

 

“We are learning that the quality of teachers, which is what the Gates Foundation has emphasized matters, the quality of head teachers and leadership in schools matters, the curriculum itself is an issue that has to be debated at all times because you’ve got to learn from what works and what doesn’t work … and how you apply technology and use it most effectively,” he said.

 

Curious that the spokesman for the report said that charter schools exemplify “international best practices.” One wonders if he was thinking of “no excuses” charters, or Gulen charters, or for-profit charters.

If you think that international test scores are a valuable indicator of educational success (I don’t), you should read this article. When poverty is recognized as an important variable, the scores of U.S. students are among the best in the world.

I don’t consider international test scores to be an accurate meassure of school quality. I am persuaded by Yong Zhao’s work that high test scores may be the result of relentless test prep, which distorts education and discourages creativity.

The report released today–titled “Schools in Context”– by the National Superintendents Roundtable and the Horace Mann League tells a different story about international comparisons by looking at a broad range of indicators, not just test scores.

 

One part of the report is called “The Iceberg Effect,” and it shows what happens when you look only at the tip of the iceberg–test scores. A more complex and more interesting portrait of schools and society emerges when you look at the whole iceberg, not just the part that is easily measured by a standardized test. See the pdf here.

 

The full report of “Schools in Context” may be located in this pdf file.

 

The countries included in this contextual study are the United States, China, Canada, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, France, Italy, and Japan.

 

 

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