Archives for category: International

Marc Tucker’s blog reports how top-performing nations select school principals. Most require several years of teaching experience and a long and in-depth course in leadership skills. The report, by Jennifer Craw and Jackie Kraemer, describes the high professionalism required in top-performing nations.

By contrast, some states in the U.S. allow non-educators to become principals.

The U.S. is definitely an outlier.

Joanne Yatvin, veteran educator, now retired after a long career as teacher, principal, superintendent, and president of the National Council of Teachers of English, offers the following observations:

I recently read two articles about education in the New York Times. One recounted the shortage of teachers in many U.S states, while the other was about the shortage of students in rural areas of South Korea. Each article was fascinating in its own way; the first one for its lack of candor about why teachers are in such short supply, and the second for its many details about the range of services still offered in a public school that has only one student left. Let me explain.

The writer of the first article attributes the teacher shortage solely to economics, claiming that the massive teacher layoffs of the past few years were the natural result of the recession and that today’s lack of teacher applicants is due only to “fewer people training to be teachers.” At the same time she says nothing about the number of teachers who have left their jobs voluntarily. Thus she can also avoid mentioning the issues that have rocked the teaching profession and our public schools for the past several years, such as rating teachers by student test scores, the bad-mouthing of public schools in the media, and many governors’ preference for charter schools. She also fails to mention that the states hurting most for teachers offer low salaries and suppress teachers unions.

Admittedly, the second article is of a different genre altogether; it describes the culture in South Korea and explains the economic changes that have sent almost all young families and their children to the industrialized cities. But most interesting to me were the writer’s emphasis on the positive attitudes of local people toward education and his detailed description of the last student’s schooling. He shows readers the student’s positive attitude toward learning and the teacher’s close attention to both the academic and social growth of his student.

As evidence of the community’s continuing dedication to education the writer describes the almost empty school where there are still big screen TVs, computers, table tennis tables, telescopes, book-filled shelves, and musical instruments all the classrooms. In addition, he tells us that a painting teacher and a guitar teacher still come to the school twice a week to give lessons to the lone student. The local educational office delivers two lunches to the school every day.
In recounting all of this, my purpose was not to criticize one writer and praise the other, but to give you just a taste of the differences between the two countries in their treatment of public education. With all our wealth, power, and sense of “American Exceptionalism” we can surely give our schools, our teachers, and our children a better deal than what they have now.

Prachi Srivastava, a professor in the School of International Development and Global Studies at the University of Ottawa, is an expert on the subject of low-fee private schooling. She writes here on the Oxfam blog in response to The Economist’s paean of praise to for-profit private schooling in poor countries. She reviews the research and says that The Economist oversimplified the subject. The research does not support the simplistic view that the private sector is invariably better than the public sector as a provider of education in poor countries. The findings are in fact nuanced.

And this problem remains, after all the research is reviewed:

The growth of the low-fee private sector has been widely attributed to dysfunctional state schools. But state failure should not be tacitly accepted, certainly in light of the evidence. The fact remains that the majority of the poorest, most disadvantaged children in poor countries continue to access dysfunctional state schools. And all of us, including the private sector, have a role to play in making sure they get better.

The following comment was posted in response to Laura Chapman’s comment and critique of for-profit schools in Africa (see below):

My name is Josh Weinstein and another commenter, Laura Chapman, referenced a post that I wrote about my time working at Bridge International Academies. I am including the original post below, but I want to clarify some depictions of my views about for-profit education in developing countries and Bridge International Academies in particular.

For some background, I spent three years working in microfinance, agriculture, and education in Southeast Asia and East and West Africa. I came to Bridge in 2011 when it had 15 schools, and left in 2012 when it had 75 schools. Today it has over 400 schools and has grown considerably. I will address some of Ms. Chapman’s mischaracterizations of my views, and explain why I believe for-profit schools are, on balance, a positive trend to children born into extreme poverty.

First, Ms. Chapman says: “[Josh Weinstein says that] local people saw a contradiction between the Western idea of a liberal education with its emphasis on critical thinking versus the BIA practice of hiring high school graduates to teach from a prepared script. For this reason they automatically assumed that the quality of a Bridge education was poor, and “far below that of more expensive schools.” I did not say that, nor do I believe it. For people living on less than $2 a day, which is the target customer for Bridge schools, the concept of a liberal education is not a consideration. Rather, they evaluate BIA schools relative to public schools, which are underfunded, overcrowded, and serve a fraction of the eligible primary school population at a cost to parents, despite FPE (free primary education) in Kenya. The choice for parents is not between an education emphasizing critical thinking and one offering rote memorization, but fundamentally one that offers higher time-on-task and direct instruction of evidence-based teaching methodologies backed by rigorous testing.

Ms. Chapman quotes an organization called “Global Justice Now” in saying that BIA schools actually cost between $9 and $20 a month, or 68% of the income of someone in Uganda. That is also false – I’ve included the article she references below and the figure is unsourced. I performed the cost- and affordability analysis for BIA schools in 2012, which included detailed data gathering from teams of researchers in slums around Nairobi. In fact, BIA schools, at a cost of 400 Kenyan shillings (~$5) were considerably cheaper than the alternatives. Her statement about the cost of BIA schools is patently false.

Finally, I will make two points. First, BIA did not create the concept of a low-cost private school. It merely focused on streamlining operations to enable economies of scale that would allow it to focus on teacher training and curriculum development – the most important elements of an education. Many, if not most, of BIA students came from other private schools, run by churches, non-profits, or entrepreneurs. Students who could not get into public schools or whose parents did not feel the education was good enough also sent their kids to BIA schools. These parents are discerning consumers of education, and wanted the best for their children. They evaluated schools based on what skills students learn and how they perform on homework and how quickly they learn English and other skills. To assume that they do not what is best for them is paternalistic at best, and harmful at worst.

Second, criticisms in this and other articles ignore fundamental realities about life for the poorest of the poor. The conditions for people living in slums is dire, and the education systems of the countries mentioned in the article are rife with corruption (which is well-detailed). To make a blanket assumption that education is a public good and should be government-run refuses to acknowledges the harsh realities of life in the slums. If BIA succeeds, it will provide parents an alternative to education their children. Or, it will force governments to reconsider their own approach to public education. Either way, it is a good thing for children with few opportunities to escape the unfortunate circumstances into which they were born.

If you have any questions, please email me at jwduke109@gmail.com

My article: http://developeconomies.com/education-3/do-for-profit-schools-give-low-income-people-a-real-choice/

Further Reading:

“The Beautiful Tree” by James Tooley – http://www.amazon.com/The-Beautiful-Tree-Educating-Themsleves/dp/1939709121

Randomized controlled trials of private education from Jameel Poverty Action Lab: http://www.povertyactionlab.org/evaluation/private-school-incentive-program-pakistan

Josh Weinstein was responding to this comment by Laura Chapman:


I have been looking into Pearson’s second quarter 2015 report and the international marketplace for education.

Pearson has announced that it is in the process of selling many of its publications in order to concentrate on the education market. Although Pearson has lost big testing contracts in the United States it still has monopolies such as edTAP for teacher education and North America is still Pearson’s largest market.

In higher education, Pearson expects fairly stable college enrollments, less yearly churn in courseware, and growth in its online services and VUE (a platform for tests and 450 certifications).

For the pre-K-12 market, Pearson says “the possibility of further policy related disruption remains” but that they “expect greater stability in courseware and assessments with growth in virtual schools.”

Pearson has offices in more than 55 countries. It sees Growth markets in Brazil, China, and India, especially in English language learning and test preparation, almost all of this on-line. Overall, the company is “investing in courseware, assessment and qualifications (certifications), managed services, and schools and colleges. Pearson is planning for “a smaller number of global products and platforms for delivering infrastructure and “common systems and processes.”

Pearson is not the only international player and there are back-scratching relationships in reving up for international projects. For example, Pearson is one of the investors in Bridge International Academies (BIA) offering “Academy-in-a-Box programs from nursery school to grade 6 in over 400 schools. These schools are in Nigeria (world headquarters), Uganda, Kenya, and they are expanding to India. The World Bank has given $10 million to BIA in Africa. At least $30 million more has come from U.S. venture capitalists— Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Pierre Omidyar (founder of EBay) and also from Pearson.

Profits are made by offering a fully scripted curriculum in small schools. These schools are staffed by local instructors who are high school graduates, along with an Academy Manager who oversees and audits classroom instruction, recruits students, and communicates with parents and the local community.

According to BIA’s website, “Teacher scripts are delivered through data-enabled tablets, which seamlessly sync with our headquarters, giving us the ability to monitor lesson pacing in addition to providing the scripts themselves, recording attendance, and tracking assessments in real-time. We also create our own books, manipulatives, instructional songs, symbols for enforcing positive behavioral management, and more, which we are able to produce locally at an extremely low cost.”

Billing, payments, expense and payroll processing, prospective admissions, and the like are taken care of by “smartphone apps” tailored for the Academy Manager and for the Teachers’ tablet. The assessment platform in Kenya is called Tangerine:Class™ a mobile system for doing continuous, formative assessments with tracking of individual students.

Professional educators in each nation “managed by TFA alumni with master’s degrees” build the curriculum to meet national requirements. A video team films lessons for a version of field-testing the curriculum. Curriculum writers review the videos, looking for evidence of student engagement, comprehension, and retention of content. Student exams are used to identify weaknesses in the curriculum and review teacher performance.”

The curriculum explains what teachers should do and say during any given moment of a class, step-by-step. The marketing pitch is: “This allows us to bring best-in-class instruction, international and local research, and curriculum specialists into every one of our classrooms” and …”standardize our high-quality instruction across all of our academies.” …Because of our highly efficient delivery mechanism (marrying talented individuals from each community with technology, scripted instruction, rigorous training, and data-driven oversight), Bridge is able to bring some of the world’s greatest instruction and pedagogical thinking into every classroom in every village and slum in the world.”

BIA outcomes are currently tracked through products from RIT International, a US-based think tank in the process of commercializing some services and products. Bridge is using the Early Grade Reading Assessment (adapted for 40 countries in 60 languages) and the Early Grade Math Assessment (adapted for 10 countries and languages). Some school operations are monitored through Snapshop of School Management Effectiveness (adapted for 16 countries and 12 languages). RIT is a major contractor for almost every branch of the US government, foreign governments, foundations, and other groups.

According to Josh Weinstein who worked on data analytics for BIA in Nairobi, local people saw a contradiction between the Western idea of a liberal education with its emphasis on critical thinking versus the BIA practice of hiring high school graduates to teach from a prepared script. For this reason they automatically assumed that the quality of a Bridge education was poor, and “far below that of more expensive schools.”

Even so, Josh thought that Bridge was a fairly low-cost improvement over non-formal schools and government schools with little in-house teacher training. Josh was in charge of routine testing of 3,000 Bridge students matched with peers at government and other non-formal schools. So far, Josh says there are strong gains in basic reading relative to peers, and less strong, but still measurable, gains in math.

Josh (a global entrepeneur) was impressed that data is being used to improve the business model–profits, educational outcomes, efficiencies in ancillary services, the location of schools, and web-site performance. He said that policies can be examined on short notice and “changes can easily be rolled out across every single school.” He said that each school is profitable at a relatively small size, so more schools means revenue for scaling up.”

A group called “Global Justice Now” claimed that the real total cost of sending one child to a Bridge school is not the advertised $5 to $6 a month. It is $9 to $13 a month, and up to $20 a month with school meals. In Kenya, sending three children to BIA would represent 68% of the monthly income of half the population. In Uganda, sending three children to BIA would represent 75% of the monthly income of half the population.”

Anyone reasonably attuned to developments in American education will not find it difficult to see the scale of infiltration of TFA viewpoints and practices into the international marketplace. Moreover the same billionaires, corporate and international players are dominating the landscape.

Anyone with an eye to developments in American education can also see the pretense of representing ‘the world’s greatest instruction and pedagogical thinking” as scripted instruction, with data-driven oversight, apps for everything, and unacknowledged colonial values.

Several notable civil society groups have spoken out against the World Bank’s support for privatization of education in Africa, specifically Kenya and Uganda. The privatization movement gains in strength to the extent that governments fail to provide adequate funding for public education.

Private, for-profit schools in Africa funded by the World Bank and U.S. venture capitalists have been criticized by more than 100 organizations who’ve signed a petition opposing the controversial educational venture.

A May statement addressed to Jim Kim, president of the World Bank, expressed deep concern over the global financial institution’s investment in a chain of private primary schools targeting poor families in Kenya and Uganda and called on the institution to support free universal education instead.

The schools project is called Bridge International Academies and 100,000 pupils have enrolled in 412 schools across the two nations. BIA is supported by the World Bank, which has given $10 million to the project, and a number of investors, including U.S. venture capitalists NEA and Learn Capital. Other notable investors include Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Pierre Omidyar and Pearson, a multinational publishing company.

In a speech delivered in April, Kim praised BIA as a means to alleviate poverty in Kenya and Uganda. Critics responded that many Kenyans and Ugandans cannot afford private education, further arguing that this type of investment merely supports Western businesses at the expense of local public services.

A section of the letter addressed to Kim asserts:

“We, civil society organisations and citizens of Kenya and Uganda, are appalled that an organisation whose mandate is supposed to be to lift people out of poverty shows such a profound misunderstanding and disconnect from the lives and rights of poor people in Kenya and Uganda. If the World Bank is serious about improving education in Kenya and Uganda, it should support our governments to expand and improve our public education systems, provide quality education to all children free of charge, and address other financial barriers to access.”

Opposition to educational neocolonialism

The statement reflects a growing global movement questioning Western policies pushing private education in developing countries. It was written and signed by 30 organizations in Uganda and Kenya and supported by 116 organizations around the world, including Global Justice Now and ActionAid. They claim BIA uses highly standardized teaching methods, untrained low-paid teachers, and aggressive marketing strategies targeted at poor households.

As this article in the Independent (UK) explains in detail, there is an exciting business opportunity in poor nations: developing and delivering scripted lessons at a low cost without government schools. The headline asks the central question: Is this “an audacious answer” to the problems of bringing schooling to the poorest children?

American investors think so. They like the idea of creating for-profit, low-cost schools where the lessons are exactly the same in every classroom, and the teacher is guided by technology to speak as he or she is told. This does not require credentialed teachers, and the training is minimal.

Charging $6 a month on average, Bridge InternationalAcademies, a multinational for-profit chain, is offering schooling about as cheaply as it can be done. Its founders hope to roll that out to 10 million children across Africa and Asia, the key to its own longevity and, it hopes, the global educational conundrum that has bedevilled policy-makers.

Bridge International now has some 400 schools across Uganda and Kenya. Investors worry, however, that the corporation “faces a potent threat to its survival in the shape of radical new teacher training proposals that would drive up the cost and put it beyond the reach of those that need it most.” The government of Kenya is considering requiring teachers to have pedagogical training, which would drive up the cost and threaten the entire enterprise. It would also signal to the world, says one investor, that no one should invest in Kenya.

Bridge currently enrolls 126,000 children; the profit begins when it reaches half a million. The market is promising.

Says the article: Bridge is arguably the most audacious answer yet to the question of how to bring education to the masses in countries where schools are plagued by overcrowding and teacher absenteeism. The lesson plans and script are prepared in the U.S., then delivered by technology to classes in Africa. Its teachers are “most school-leavers” trained by Bridge. School-leavers are what we would call dropouts, presumably high-school dropouts.

Step into any classroom at Bridge and the chances are that the teacher will be uttering exactly the same words that are being uttered in every single Bridge school. A handbook instructs the teacher to look up from the e-book every five seconds, to wait eight seconds for children to answer, and instead of asking the teacher to explain a mathematical concept, the lesson plan takes them through it step by step. “All I have to do is deliver,” said Mary Juma, a Bridge teacher.

While the scripted approach has earned Bridge acclaim, it has also attracted criticism. “It looks hi-tech, but it is really just someone following a lesson plan in a top-down way and not stimulating discussion,” says David Archer, head of programme development at UK charity ActionAid. “It is almost Victorian.”

While global studies of low-cost private schools have produced mixed results, Ms May is convinced that Bridge’s model works. It has commissioned independent evaluations that show children enrolled in its schools significantly outperform their state-educated peers in mathematics and English. The real test, though, will come in November, when a cohort of Bridge’s children will be ready to take the final primary school exams for the first time.

But here is the danger to investors:

Even as Bridge gets its chance to prove whether its model works, regulatory hurdles threaten to be its undoing. The Kenyan government is setting out new proposals that would radically recalibrate the financial calculations on which these schools operate. Most sweeping of all is a stipulation that half of all teachers in any one school should have a recognised teaching qualification and be paid accordingly.

As usual, it is those “wicked” teachers’ unions that threaten this bold and possibly financially rewarding experiment.

Angelo Gavrielatos is the executive director of Education International, an association of teachers’ unions from around the world. Previously he led the Australian Teachers Federation.

Gavrielatos writes: The case for a Global Response to the Commercialisation and Privatisation of Education is not only clear, it is urgent. In the context of the many challenges that confront public education systems globally, the increasing commercialisation and privatisation in and of education represent the greatest threat to education as a public good and to equality in education access and outcomes.

It should therefore not be of any surprise to anyone that this issue dominated the proceedings of the 7th World Congress of Education International (EI)[i], which took place between 22-26 July in Ottawa, Canada, Noting the dimension and the threat to students, teachers, education support personnel and quality public education for all posed by the ongoing commercialisation and privatisation of education, the World Congress , consisting of nearly 2,000 delegates, resolved that we need a global response to the rapidly expanding for-profit corporate sector involvement in education. Whilst this carries on from EI’s existing work on privatisation and member organisation national campaigns focused on privatisation, the Global Response to the Commercialisation and Privatisation in and of Education aims to draw these efforts together with a view to delivering a stronger more focused response by harnessing collective energy and influence.

This Global Response aims to focus on the engagement of education corporations[ii] in various aspects of education governance, in particular the sale and provision of for-profit education and education services, such as standardised testing and evaluation tools, and policy formation and implementation. It seeks specifically to advocate against the expansion of profit-making in public education where it undermines the right of all students to free quality education, creates and entrenches inequalities in education, undermines the working conditions and rights of teachers and other education workers, and erodes democratic decision-making and public accountability in relation to education governance. This is informed by an analysis highlighting the rapid growth of education corporations/edu-businesses, the size, reach and influence of which had not been foreseen.

With little, if any regard for national borders, the nation state of national sovereignty, the rapid growth of education corporations/edu-businesses is driven by the desire on the part of global capital to access the relatively untapped education market valued at approximately $4.5 to $5 trillion USD per annum. A figure predicted to grow to $6 to S7 trillion USD per annum in a couple of years. Having identified the lucrative nature of the education market, and in particular how much the limitless, sustainable resource of children, our students, and their education represents, global education corporations/edu-businesses have set about trying to influence and control education in order to satisfy their profit motives. This Global Response will also focus on governments which in too many cases are abrogating their obligations to ensuring that every child, every student has access to a high quality free public education by either allowing or indeed facilitating and encouraging the growth in the commercialisation and privatisation of education.

The danger of governments outsourcing education activities to profit-making corporations is that it makes it possible for these actors to not only ‘reap uncontrolled profit’, but also to assert their influence in policy processes and to steer education agendas in ways that may not align with international agreements and national priorities. This poses a risk not only for public education systems themselves, but also their ability to promote democracy, social cohesion and equity.

Moreover, it raises fundamental questions about whose interests are being served by these developments in education, and with what outcomes. Now more than ever, the global political landscape and the growing influence and dominance of global corporate actors require us all to reach out and build community alliances in a way we have never done so before if we are to resist and, more importantly, reverse current trends. Failure to do so will put at risk that great social enterprise of public education. [i] Education International (EI) is the Global Union Federation which represents more than 32 million teachers and other education workers form more than 170 countries. [ii]

Among the most influential corporations operating in the global education market is the education conglomerate Pearson. Through aggressive lobbying, campaign contributions and PR efforts, Pearson exerts great influence over policymaking and policymakers in many countries. Describing what could be interpreted as giving rise to a potential conflict of interest, new research by Jünemann and Ball, Pearson and PALF: The Mutating Giant http://www.educationincrisis.net/resources/ei-publications highlights why the profit motive has no place in dictating what is taught, how it is taught, how it is assessed nor how schools, colleges and universities are organised. Of Pearson’s modus operandi, Jünemann and Ball note: “as Pearson is contributing to the global education policy debate, it is constructing the education policy problems that will then generate a market for its products and services in the form of the solutions. In effect, part of the more general aim of activities like the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund (PALF)…is the creation of more market opportunities for Pearson’s products. More generally, global education reform packages which include the use of information technology and shifts from input-based to output-led policy-making, offer a whole new set of market opportunities to Pearson.

Pearson is involved both in seeking to influence the education policy environment, the way that policy ‘solutions’ are conceived, and, at the same time, creating new market niches that its constantly adapting and transforming business can then address and respond to with new ‘products’. In this sense, the fulfilment of social purpose is directly and indirectly related to the search for and creation of new opportunities for profit…”(p3) Education International Internationale de l’Éducation Internacional de la Educación Angelo Gavrielatos, Project Director | Brussels |Belgium Tel.:+32 2 224 06 11 | Fax: +32 2 224 06 06| http://www.ei-ie.org

This may not come as a big surprise. The Economist magazine, known for its free-market perspective, supports the growth of private schools for the poor in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. Did you know that Pearson, the British mega-corporation, owns a 50% stake in the Economist?

The linked article heaps praise on privately owned schools for the poor, which are proliferating throughout the poorest nations. The Economist calls them $1 a week schools.

The article says:

Powerful teachers’ unions are part of the problem. They often see jobs as hereditary sinecures, the state education budget as a revenue stream to be milked and any attempt to monitor the quality of education as an intrusion. The unions can be fearsome enemies, so governments leave them to run schools in the interests of teachers rather than pupils.

The failure of state education, combined with the shift in emerging economies from farming to jobs that need at least a modicum of education, has caused a private-school boom. According to the World Bank, across the developing world a fifth of primary-school pupils are enrolled in private schools, twice as many as 20 years ago. So many private schools are unregistered that the real figure is likely to be much higher. A census in Lagos found 12,000 private schools, four times as many as on government records. Across Nigeria 26% of primary-age children were in private schools in 2010, up from 18% in 2004. In India in 2013, 29% were, up from 19% in 2006. In Liberia and Sierra Leone around 60% and 50% respectively of secondary-school enrolments are private.
By and large, politicians and educationalists are unenthusiastic. Governments see education as the state’s job. Teachers’ unions dislike private schools because they pay less and are harder to organise in. NGOs tend to be ideologically opposed to the private sector. The UN special rapporteur on education, Kishore Singh, has said that “for-profit education should not be allowed in order to safeguard the noble cause of education”.

Very likely the teachers’ unions think that teachers should have certificates to demonstrate that they know more than their students and have some teachers training. But that doesn’t fit the budgets of the entrepreneurs.

One great thing, says the article, is that investors are flocking to add capital, in most cases expecting a profit from these low-cost schools:

First, it is bringing in money—not just from parents, but also from investors, some in search of a profit. Most private schools in the developing world are single operators that charge a few dollars a month, but chains are now emerging. Bridge International Academies, for instance, has 400 nursery and primary schools in Kenya and Uganda which teach in classrooms made from shipping containers. It plans to expand into Nigeria and India. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, Bill Gates and the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank’s private-sector arm, are among its investors. Chains are a healthy development, because they have reputations to guard.

Another article in the same issue of The Economist also celebrates the growth of private, for-profit K-12 education in developing countries. The general thesis is that government can’t or won’t provide decent schools, and the private sector can and will and should be encouraged to take the place of government.

Most of the evidence is anecdotal or where it purports to be authoritative, the source is lacking. Nonetheless, an occasional note of skepticism creeps in.

For example:

Given the choice between a free state school where little teaching happens and a private school where their children might actually learn something, parents who can scrape together the fees will plump for the latter. In a properly functioning market, the need to attract their custom would unleash competition and over time improve quality for all. But as a paper by Tahir Andrabi, Jishnu Das and Asim Ijaz Khwaja published by the World Bank explains, market failures can stop that happening. Choosing a private school can be a perfectly rational personal choice, but have only a limited effect on overall results…

That means school choice can “sort” children into different types of schools: the most informed and committed parents colonise the better ones, which may then rely on their reputations to keep their position in the pecking order. Research from several parts of Africa and south Asia finds that children in low-cost private schools are from families that are better-off, get more help from parents with homework and have spent more time in pre-school. A round-up of research, much of it from south Asia, found that their pupils did better in assessments, though often only in some subjects. In the few studies that accounted for differences in family background and so on, their lead shrank.

Chile’s voucher scheme, which started in 1981 under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, aimed to enable poor students to move from bad public schools to good private ones and to raise standards by generating competition between the two. Today 38% of pupils are in state schools, 53% in private ones that accept vouchers and 7% in elite institutions that charge full fees. In the 1990s a post-Pinochet centre-left government allowed subsidised schools to charge top-up fees. They can also select their pupils by ability.

Chile does better than any other Latin American country in PISA, an international assessment of 15-year-olds in literacy, mathematics and science, suggesting a positive overall effect. But that is hardly a ringing endorsement: all the region’s countries come in the bottom third globally. And once the relatively privileged background of private-school pupils is taken into account, says Emiliana Vegas of the Inter-American Development Bank, state schools do better, especially since they serve the hardest-to-teach children.

Where private schools trounce state ones is in cost-effectiveness. A recent study in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh gave vouchers for low-cost private schools to around 6,000 randomly chosen pupils. Four years later they were compared with applicants who did not receive the vouchers. Both groups did equally well in mathematics and Telugu, the local language. But private schools had spent less time on these subjects in order to make space in the curriculum for English and science, in which their pupils did better. And spending on each pupil was only around a third that in the state sector. Lagos state spent at least $230 on each child it put through primary school between 2011 and 2013, public data suggest, around twice as much as a typical private school charges.

So, the private schools are cheaper, perhaps because they have teachers who lack credentials and training, but they don’t get better academic results.

The bottom line on The Economist articles is that they believe in competition and school choice, regardless of outcomes, because it is cost effective.

One refreshing difference between the British perspective and their American counterparts is that the Brits frankly own up to their love of privatization and their contempt for the public sector, whereas the American privatizers hide their agenda and call themselves “reformers.”

The new British secretary of state for education has learned something very silly by reading about the “reform movement” in the United States. She now wants Britain to be first in the world in teaching grit. Truly! No, not the grit that gets stuck between your teeth. Not the grit that collects on the soles of your shoes. No, she means character!

This post was written earlier this year, so I don’t know how the contest ended up, but get this, as reported by Robin Alexander of the Cambridge Primary Review:

Those who thought that the departure of Michael Gove might give schools a breather before the 2015 election, liberating them from the weekly explosion of initiatives and insults, reckoned without the ambition of his successor. These days, few education secretaries of state are content to do a good job, deeming it more important to leave an indelible mark in the name of ‘reform’. To this lamppost tendency Nicky Morgan appears to be no exception.

Her wheeze, and it’s a biggish one, is to make Britain ‘a global leader in teaching character and resilience … ensuring that young people not only grow academically, but also build character, resilience and grit.’ To that end, DfE has invited bids for projects showing how ‘character’ can be built, and on 16 March there’ll be a grand ceremony at which the 2015 Character Awards of £15,000 each will be presented to 27 schools, with a £20,000 prize for the best of the best. Morgan modestly defines her chosen legacy as ‘a landmark step for our education system.’

In the same way that New Labour claimed, witheringly but inaccurately, that before the imposition of its national literacy and numeracy strategies England’s primary teachers were ‘professionally uninformed’, so Nicky Morgan’s happy discovery of something called ‘character’ implies that schools have hitherto ignored everything except children’s academic development; and that creativity, PSHE, moral education, religious education and citizenship, not to mention those values that loom large in school prospectuses, websites and assemblies and above all in teachers’ daily dealings with their pupils, were to do with something else entirely. Remember the not-so-hidden ‘hidden curriculum’? If there is a ‘landmark step’ then, it is not character education but its political appropriation and repackaging.

So what, in Morgan’s book, constitutes ‘character’? Its main ingredients, as listed in the guidance to applicants for the DfE grants and character awards, are ‘perseverance, resilience and grit, confidence and optimism, motivation, drive and ambition.’ (Readers will recognize ‘resilience’ as one of the most overused words of 2014). Rather lower down the list come ‘neighbourliness’, ‘community spirit’, ‘tolerance’ and ‘respect.’

Like so much in recent English education policy, this account of character is imported from the United States. The Morgan character attributes are almost identical to those in the eponymous Paul Tough’s book How Children Succeed: grit, curiosity and the hidden power of character, and in Dave Levin’s evangelising Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP). Here, then, we have a melding of the no-holds-barred values of corporate America with that fabled frontier spirit portrayed by John Wayne. ‘Grit’ anchors the education of character in both worlds….

If character is important, which it surely is, is such an idiosyncratic and unreconstructedly male account of it good enough, and is it for government to impose this or any other notion of character on every child in the land, of whatever inclination, personality, gender or culture? In one of two excellent blogs on this subject that I urge prospective applicants for the DfE awards to read, John White thinks not. He says: ‘Nicky Morgan is not wrong to focus on personal qualities, only about the set she advocates. This is tied to an ideology of winners and losers.’ (As, appropriately, is DfE’s Character Awards scheme itself). He reminds us of the considerably more rounded values framework appended to the version of the national curriculum that was introduced in 2000 and superseded last September, and he argues that ‘no politician has the right to steer a whole education system in this or any other partisan direction.’ For White, Morgan’s foray into character education is further confirmation of the need for curriculum decisions to be taken out of the hands of politicians and given to a body which is more representative, more knowledgeable and culturally more sensitive.

The other recent must-read blog on character education is by Jeffrey Snyder in the United States. He cites evidence that ‘character’ is more likely to be determined by genetically-determined personality traits than the efforts of teachers, and indeed he argues that anyway nobody really knows how to teach it. In this context it’s worth asking what those pupils subjected to 1850s/1950s character-building really learned, and whether there is indeed a correspondence between success on the playing field, in work and in adult life. And since you ask, did fagging and flogging really make for manliness (whatever that is) or were they merely perversions by another name?

Snyder argues, too, that the ‘perseverence, resilience and grit’ account of character ‘promotes an amoral and careerist “looking out for number one” point of view’ adding, tellingly: ‘Never has character education been so completely untethered from morals, values and ethics.’ As a result, ‘character’ is as likely to be harnessed to the pursuit of ends that are evil as to those that are good. ‘Gone’, adds Snyder, ‘is the impetus to bring youngsters into a fold of community that is larger than themselves … When character education fails to distinguish doctors and terrorists, heroes and villains, it would appear to have a basic flaw.’

Do read the embedded links. They connect to some very interesting articles by White and Snyder.

As you will note, this is an older post. I don’t know who won the national competition for teaching grit. When I find out, I will let you know.

Alan Singer attended a conference in Madrid, where he delivered a paper called “Hacking Away at the Pearson Octopus.” He writes that the movement to break Pearson’s stranglehold on education is indeed global.

 

In April, protesters from teacher unions and global justice groups stormed the gates at Pearson’s annual general meeting held in London. Protesters accused Pearson of turning education into a commodity and profiting from low-fee private schools in poverty-stricken regions of Africa and India. They claimed is making millions by privatizing education in the global south. Pearson’s Chief Executive Officer John Fallon, forced to respond to dissidents, declared his enthusiastic “support free public education for every child around the world.” However he did not offer to provide Pearson’s educational services for free….

 

A joint letter from Great Britain’s National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and the organization Global Justice Now, declared “From fuelling the obsessive testing regimes that are the backbone of the ‘test and punish’ efforts in the global north, to supporting the predatory, ‘low-fee’ for-profit private schools in the global south, Pearson’s brand has become synonymous with profiteering and the destruction of public education.”

 

ATL general secretary Mary Bousted said: “School curricula should not be patented and charged for. Tests should not distort what is taught and how it is assessed. Unfortunately, as the profit motive embeds itself in education systems around the world, these fundamental principles come under ever greater threat leading to greater inequality and exclusion for the most disadvantaged children and young people.” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, added the voice of American teachers to the protest movement. “We fight this kind of profit making to get kids a good education and fight for governments which gives students a high quality education…..’

 

According to Kishore Singh of India who works for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights:

“At the beginning of the new millennium, the international community made a commitment to achieve universal primary education for all boys and girls. Today, 15 years later, we find huge gaps between these commitments and reality. Across the world, 58 million children still don’t have access to schools, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia. Millions more fail to graduate, or fail to learn what they need to participate in society meaningfully. Capitalising on the inability of governments to cope with rising demands on public learning, private education providers are mushrooming. I see this not as progress, but as an indictment of governments that have failed to meet their obligation to provide universal, free and high-quality education for all. Education is not a privilege of the rich and well-to-do; it is the inalienable right of every child. The state must discharge its responsibility as guarantor and regulator of education as a fundamental human entitlement and as a public cause. The provision of basic education, free of cost, is not only a core obligation of states but also a moral imperative.”

 

Singer repeats:

 
“The provision of basic education, free of cost, is not only a core obligation of states but also a moral imperative.” A very good reason to hack away at the Pearson octopus.

 

 

 

 

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