Archives for category: International

Sweden decided to open the floodgates of school privatization in 1992. Twenty-three years is a good long time to see the effects of vouchers and for-profit corporations running schools.   As this article in The Daily Kos shows, the results are not pretty. Test scores have fallen, segregation of all kinds has increased, one of the private corporations running schools went bankrupt, stranding students and wasting millions.

The gains are hard to discern.

Laura Chapman, a frequent contributor to the blog, comments here in response to an article in the Boston Globe about whether the Common Core was “killing” kindergarten:

THE BIG LIE: “The United States is falling behind other countries in the resource that matters most in the new global economy: human capital,” declared a 2008 report from the National Governors Association. Creating a common set of “internationally benchmarked” standards was seen as the best way to close the persistent achievement gaps between students of different races and between rich and poor school districts.”

THE BIG LIE: I have found only two international benchmarking documents in the early history of the Common Core. The first was in 1998 with comparisons of standards in two states and the math and science standards in Japan and standards available from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS). The second report in 2008. titled “Benchmarking for Success: Ensuring U.S. Students Receive a World-Class Education,” was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates and GE Foundations. The author was a professional writer of reports. The advisory committee included seven governors or former governors, CEOs at Intel and Microsoft, three senior state and large metro area education officials, three advocates for minority groups, one foundation, and five university faculty, only two of these scholars in education. The most important source of information was the data analytics expert at the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). In this report, benchmarking is little more than a process of: (a) identifying the nations that score high on international tests, then (b) assuming the scores reflect higher expectations, and then (c) looking at some economic descriptors for those countries.

The result is a set of dubious inferences– high test scores and high standards are predicates for economic prosperity. Dubious should be written DUBIOUS, especially because this publication was rolled out with great fanfare in the midst of the 2008 crash of the world economy…for reasons that have no bearing on international test scores, no bearing on educational standards, no bearing on the nation’s children and teachers and public schools.

Nevertheless, “The executive summary (p.6) calls for the following:
Action 1: Upgrade state standards by adopting a common core of internationally benchmarked standards in math and language arts for grades K-12 to ensure that students are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to be globally competitive.

This is a very big lie. It is a dangerously misleading one when tossed into a discussion of kindergarten. There is no way to internationally benchmark standards or tests for every grade or subject because the meaning of “internationally benchmarked” is limited to test scores on international tests in at most three subjects, no international tests yet in kindergarten.

On top of those insistent misrepresentations from the nation’s governors and those involved in the whole Common Core Experiment to save the economy is it not strange that we find no demand at all for more and better knowledge of geography, cultural history including the arts, political history, and world languages–all of which might actually bear on functioning with savvy and grace on an international stage?

If the only or the prime value of our nation’s children and youth is economic, we are back to the same wretched outlook on children as that which existed before child labor laws. The Governors are still using this appalling rhetoric, treating the nation’s children and youth as more or less useful and productive for the economy. The same for their teachers. What will it take to get a reversal of this narrow and attitude that “It is perfectly OK to think of kids as economically worthless, or worthwhile, or somewhere in between?

The real causes of the so-called achievement gap are the result of thinking that test scores are objective…when they are not. It is the result of thinking that humans should all be thoroughly standardized to perform in the same way, at the same time, to the same level on a set of test questions that only predict scores on other tests. And those tests and scores are the marketing tools of choice for the unregulated testing industry.

Test scores have been a major weapon in the arsenal of federal and state policies designed to produce, reproduce, and not to reduce the huge disparities in income and opportunities in this nation and to distract attention from real fraud and abuse. Children are not responsible for the fate of the economy. They did not tank the economy in 2008. Nor did their teachers.

This nation is in desperate need for more ample education and for more generous views of humanity than has come from the National Governor’s Association, the Secretary of Education, corporate leaders, billionaires, and the press. The press has become too lazy. This piece about kindergarten does little more than recycle talking points from easy to find and ready-made sources.”

Pasi Sahlberg, the distinguished Finnish educator who has been in residence at the Harvard Graduate School of Education for the past two years, has written a terrific essay about the myths and fallacies that govern education policy today. One is that schools should be able to do more with less. This myth enables policymakers to cut the education budget, eliminating vital programs and services, while expecting schools to get better results. This is nonsense. It makes no sense.

 

Sahlberg writes:

 

Governments in Alberta and Finland are under economic pressure to reduce public spending as a result of failed national politics and unpredictable global economics. When government budgets get off track, bad news for education systems follow. The recently defeated Finnish government carried out huge cuts in education infrastructure. As a result, small schools were closed, teaching staff lost their jobs and morale among educators declined. Albertans are now facing similar threats.

 
When the going gets tough in our wealthy societies, the powers-that-be often choose quick fixes. In search of a silver bullet instead of sustained systemic improvement, politicians turn their eyes on teachers, believing that asking them to do more with less can compensate for inconvenient reductions in school resources. With super teachers, some of them say, the quality of education will improve even with lesser budgets. While some might suggest leadership is doing more with less, I would counter that real political leadership is about getting the appropriate resources in place to create a vibrant society.

 
“Teacher effectiveness” is a commonly used term that refers to how much student performance on standardized tests is determined by the teacher. It plays a visible role in the education policies of nations where there is a wide range of teacher qualifications and therefore uneven teacher quality. Measuring teacher effectiveness has brought different methods of evaluation to the lives of teachers in many countries. The most controversial of them include what is known as value-added models1 that use data from standardized tests of students as part of the overall measure of the effect that a teacher has on student achievement.

 
Alberta and Finland are significantly better off than many other countries when it comes to teacher quality and teacher policies. In the United States, for example, there are nearly 2,000 different teacher preparation programs. The range in quality is wide. In Canada and Finland, only rigorously accredited academic teacher education programs are available for those who desire to become teachers. Likewise, neither Canada nor Finland has fast-track options into teaching (although Teach for Canada is entering the game in Alberta with 40 new recruits in 2015/2016). Teacher quality in successful education systems is a result of careful quality control at the entry stage of teacher education rather than measuring the effectiveness of in-service teachers.

 

He then goes on to demolish other myths of our time, such as the myth that the teaching profession gets better by recruiting and accepting only “the best and brightest.”

 

Another myth is that super-teachers can overcome all obstacles. He reminds us that teaching is a team sport, a collaborative activity.

 

He writes:

 

The role of an individual teacher in a school is like a player on a football team or musician in an orchestra: all teachers are vital, but the culture of the school is even more important for the quality of the school. Team sports and performing arts offer numerous examples of teams that have performed beyond expectations because of leadership, commitment and spirit.

 

Take the U.S. ice hockey team in the 1980 Winter Olympics, when a team of college kids beat both the Soviets and Finland in the final round and won the gold medal. The quality of Team U.S.A certainly exceeded the quality of its players.

 

The third, and related, fallacy is that teachers are the sole determinant of student achievement. He demonstrates that this is wrong. Other factors beyond the teachers’ control are even more important.

 

Sahlberg reminds his readers that the search for “super-teachers” is a dead end. Schools need to be well-resourced and to base their work on solid research, not hunches by politicians or economists or ideologues.

A reader posted this comment, in response to the story about Vietnamese students getting higher scores on PISA tests of math and science than U.S. students;

“According to the United Nations Statistics, only 77% of Vietnamese students are enrolled in secondary school, which means that the bottom 23% of test scores are eliminated for the Vietnamese case because those students are not in school to take the tests. (http://www.indexmundi.com/facts/indicators/SE.SEC.ENRR)

“I taught in China in the late 1990’s and have since taught hundreds of Chinese nationals in the US. My Chinese students who come here to study have explained to me multiple times that a large percentage of Chinese students don’t make it into an academic high school and therefore never study for these tests. By the way, the students come here to escape their test-driven system.

“When I started teaching high school in the US in the late 1990’s I was struck by how willing my American students were to take risks, experiment, and involve themselves in class discussions. They were intellectual risk-takers compared to the college students I had in China, who I could barely get to speak because of their fear of being wrong and their lack of experience with class discussion. (this is not a cultural observation – it is an institutional one)

“My college students in the US now, all products of the NCLB era, are more similar to my students in China. They are completely grade-focused, fail to see the bigger picture in the issues we are studying, and lack creativity or initiative. Every time I think we have just had a meaningful discussion about something important, one will pipe up and say, “how are you going to grade this?”

“I am tired of data and people’s unfailing belief that it there is a number attached to something, that means it is true. I have a master’s degree in Economics and was basically taught how to “massage the data,” which basically means make it say whatever your grant needs it say.

“I just watched a teacher spend 5 minutes yelling at a third grader about how to spell the word orange. Her face was red with anger and she was shouting, “is that the sound it makes?” No doubt this teacher was thinking of the student’s ability to make the grade on her upcoming exam and how the teacher might lose her job if she was rated ineffective.

“We have gone mad and our children are paying the price.”

Daniel Katz pulls together the events of the recent past and concludes that this has been a wasted era of school policy.

Both No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are based on economic ideologies about incentives and sanctions that don’t apply to education. Both have interacted to distort the goals of schooling and both ignore individual differences and needs. We now know–and should always have known– that children are not molten pieces of lead waiting to be shaped or widgets waiting for commands.

Only one sector has thrived: the charter school industry.

Will we continue on this failed path or change direction?

In a newly released summary of PISA test scores, students in Vietnam had higher test scores than their 15-year-old peers in the U.S. and most European Union nations.

For some in the U.S. media, this will set off alarm bells, produce hand-wringing, and provoke fears of “a Sputnik moment,” arrived again.

A Vietnamese newspaper reported:

“Vietnam ranked 12th out of 76 economies in a new global education survey, overtaking the US and many EU countries, international media reported Wednesday.

“The rankings by the economic think tank OECD were based on 15-year-olds’ performance in maths and science tests. The US placed 28th while most of the EU, including Denmark, Sweden and the UK were outside the top 15.

“Asian economies dominated the top positions. Singapore took the top place, followed by Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, BBC reported.”

Andreas Schleicher of the OECD said the survey showed that Asian nations excel because they have excellent teachers with high expectations. “There’s a lot of rigor, a lot of focus and coherence,” he told BBC.” And he said that the test scores predicted future economic growth.

However, Vietnam’s deputy education commissioner took issue with Schleicher’s assessment of the PISA results.

“Nguyen Vinh Hien, Deputy Minister of Education and Training, told Tuoi Tre (youth) newspaper on Friday that the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, does not assess students’ overall competence…

“Even though PISA’s 2012 results, announced early this week, ranked Vietnam over many wealthy western countries, including the US, in math and science, “we have to be honest and admit that if fully assessed, Vietnamese students’ capacity is still poor,” Hien said….

“Dr. Giap Van Duong also wrote in the newspaper that compared to “the four pillars of education” prescribed by UNESCO–learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together, and learning to be–PISA targets only a small part of the first pillar.
Duong holds doctorates in physics and used to work with universities in England and Austria.

“He said PISA tests were limited because they use 15-year-olds as their subjects. At that age, students are still immature and their knowledge is far from meeting the demand of practical fields like business, administration, culture, and arts, he said.

“If the test targeted older people such as 20-year-old university students or 30-year-olds who are working, Vietnam’s results would “definitely” be much lower, according to Duong.

“In fact, many Vietnamese students fail to land a job after graduation. When they study overseas, many have difficulties in meeting the requirements of advanced education systems like team-work, problem solving and creativity, he said.”

“Duong went on to quote the Asian Productivity Organization’s 2012 report as saying that Vietnamese people’s productivity is about 20 times lower than that of American people.”

Duong added:

“Vietnamese education’s focus is on learning to pass exams. The whole system operates to serve only one purpose: exams.”

“Students here take exams to enroll in the first grade, the sixth-grade, the tenth-grade, and then universities, and every exam is “tense” and “competitive,” the scholar said.

“The tradition of learning to pass exams” is typical of Confucian education systems and is also found in other Asian countries like China, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea, he said.
All these countries ranked high in PISA tests, although their development is on par with or lower than that of the US and western countries.

“This indicated that the tradition probably affected the tests’ results, Duong said.

“He noted that among countries with Confucian traditions, Vietnam ranked the lowest, so there was no reason to be happy about the country’s ranking.”

No doubt in the U.S., groups promoting the Common Core, charters, and vouchers will take this summary as new evidence that American public education is failing to produce global competitors and that we need more rigor, more testing, and more standardization. Secretary Dumcan may make a statement saying these results are a “wake-up call” for Americans. As University of Oregon scholar Yong Zhao said at the Network for Public Education conference in Chicago last month, Duncan gets more wake-up calls than anyone he knows but never wakes up.

The international tests are vastly overrated. It is not clear that the test-taking skills of 15-year-olds predict anything at all about the future of the economy. When the first international test of math was offered in 1964, 12 nations took it. The U.S. came in next to last in eighth grade and dead last in twelfth grade. Yet over the next fifty years, the U.S. economy outperformed the other 11 nations. The test scores predicted nothing at all.

As the Vietnamese deputy commissioner said, PISA measures only one dimension: test-taking skills. Whatever value the standardized tests have is overshadowed by the collateral damage they do to the quality of education and to the standardizing of young minds.

What matters most today is the liberation of minds to be creative, imaginative, compassionate, and collegial. The world is in a mess and we don’t need more fiercely competitive, me-first people. We need thoughtful and knowledgable people who know how to resolve conflicts. Above all, we need the one quality that the international tests can’t measure: Wisdom.

Diane Ravitch is a historian of education who blogs at Dianeravitch.net

Mercedes Schneider has transcribed Yong Zhao’s wonderful speech to the second annual conference of the Network for Public Education. This is the last of five posts; it includes links to all the previous transcritions.

If you enjoy the speech, be sure to watch the video (link included), so you can see Yong’s ingenious use of visuals.

Over 100 international organizations signed a statement critical of privatization of education in Kenya and Uganda. They specifically criticized the World Bank for endorsing a for-profit chain of schools called Bridge International Academies. According to the statement released today, “BIA is backed by Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Pierre Omidiyar, and multinational publishing company Pearson, among others. It operates in Kenya and Uganda, with plans to invest in Nigeria, India and other countries. It now has close to 120,000 pupils enrolled in more than 400 schools.” The endorsers of the statement believe these countries need free public education with qualified teachers, not for-profit schools with untrained teachers.

The press release, with links, reads as follows:

Over 100 organisations around the world express deep concerns about the World Bank support for privatisation in education

Press release – 14 May 2015
(Nairobi, Kampala, Washington DC, Brussels)

Today, more than one hundred national and international organisations across the world released a joint open statement addressed to the president of the World Bank, Jim Kim. The statement expresses their deep concerns about the World Bank’s expressed support for the development of a multinational chain of low-fee profit-making private primary schools targeting poor families in Kenya and Uganda, Bridge International Academies (BIA). It comes as a response to a recent speech of the president of the World Bank, Jim Kim, who praised BIA as a means to alleviate poverty.

With signatories including community-based, national, and international organisations, as well as networks and trade unions representing thousands of organisations and millions of individuals in five continents, the statement reflects a growing global movement questioning policies in support for private education in developing countries, including from the World Bank. The statement was written and signed by 30 organisations in Uganda and Kenya, which are the countries primarily affected by the World Bank policy, and received the additional support of 116 organisations.

BIA uses highly standardised teaching methods, untrained low-paid teachers, and aggressive marketing strategies to target poor households, building on their aspiration to a better life to sell them its services.

According to a resident of Mathare, one of the oldest informal settlements in Nairobi, where BIA operates:

“Bridge, they come here, but they don’t understand how things work. They don’t work with other schools, with the community. They just come from door to door to sell their product.”

Nevertheless, the World Bank has invested 10 million dollars in BIA, while on the other hand it has no active or planned investments in either Kenya or Uganda’s public basic education systems.

In his speech delivered earlier in April, Jim Kim claimed that that “average scores for reading and math have risen high above their public school peers” in Bridge International Academies. Yet, the source of the data quoted by Jim Kim has not been disclosed by the World Bank, and it appears to have been taken directly from a study conducted by BIA itself.

The World Bank president further stated that “the cost per student at Bridge Academies is just $6 dollars a month”. This suggestion that $6 is an acceptable amount of money for poor households to pay reveals a profound lack of understanding of the reality of the lives of the poorest. Kenyan and Ugandan organisations have calculated that for half of the population in Kenya and Uganda, spending $6 per month per child to send three primary school age children to a Bridge Academy would cost at least a quarter of their monthly income – whereas these families are already struggling to be able to provide three meals a day to their children.

Moreover, the real total cost of sending one child to a Bridge school may in fact be between $9 and $13 a month, and up to $20 when including school meals. Based on these figures, sending three children to BIA would represent 68% (in Kenya) to 75% (in Uganda) of the monthly income of half the population in these countries.

Salima Namusobya, the Director of the Initiative for Socio-Economic Rights, a Ugandan organisation that also signed the joint statement, said:

“If the World Bank is genuine about fulfilling its mission to provide every child with the chance to have a high-quality primary education regardless of their family’s income, they should be campaigning for a no-fee system in particular contexts like that of Uganda.
The speech from Jim Kim came shortly after members of civil society from several countries, including Uganda, met with senior education officials of the World Bank specifically to discuss its support for fee-charging, private primary schools, and funding for BIA in particular.

It also comes at a time where there is an unprecedented increase in financing of private education across the world, especially in Africa, often with the support of foreign investors. These investments have attracted equally growing criticism, including in a recent report highlighting how the UK government, via its Department for International Development (DfID), supports privatising education and health services. DfID is also an investor in Bridge International Academies.
The organisations’ statement calls on the World Bank in particular to stop promoting and cease investing in Bridge International Academies and other fee-charging, private providers of basic education, and instead to support the free, public, quality education which the laws applicable in Kenya, Uganda, and other countries require.

Notes

BIA is backed by Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Pierre Omidiya, and multinational publishing company Pearson, among others. It operates in Kenya and Uganda, with plans to invest in Nigeria, India and other countries. It now has close to 120,000 pupils enrolled in more than 400 schools.

Documents

* The statement can be found on http://bit.ly/statementWBprivatisation

* The letter accompanying the statement sent to Jim Kim, and which sums up the arguments made in the statement, can be found on http://bit.ly/letterWBprivatisation

* For more information on privatisation in education and projects currently being run, check http://bit.ly/privatisationproject.

* Follow the hashtag #EducationBeforeProfit on social media

Contacts

David Edwards, Education International Deputy General Secretary, via email: David.Edwards@ei-ie.org or mobile: 0032 473 84 73 61

Education International
Internationale de l’Éducation
Internacional de la Educación

Communications,
Head Office|5 bd du Roi Albert II|1210 Brussels |Belgium
Tel.:+32 2 224
06 11 | Fax: +32 2 224 06 06 | http://www.ei-ie.org

Nicholas Kristof seems to have a very big hatred for American public education. Did he go to public schools? Did he have horrible teachers? What does he have against this democratic institution that is part of the fabric of every community in the nation?

 

The Daily Howler, which catches journalistic fraud, lambastes Kristof for cherry-picking statistics to make American students look stupid.

 

In his latest screed against our schools and teachers, Kristof offers an example of a question on TIMSS where American students got a low score. There were 88 sample questions. Kristof picked the question where American students did the worst.

 

In a remarkably deceptive way, Kristof cherry-picked through that long list of questions. The question about the three consecutive numbers is, quite literally, the question on which American kids did least well out of all 88 as compared to the rest of the world.

 

Let’s make sure you understand that! Quite deliberately, Kristof chose the least representative example out of 88 possible items.

 

He led his column with that unrepresentative example. He then pretended it shows that stupid-ass Johnny “can’t count.”

 

Assuming the TIMSS data are accurate, why did American kids perform so poorly on that one question? We have no idea. We also can’t explain why American kids outscored every nation, including Singapore, on the question called “Median number of staff members.” But, by God, they did!

 

In fact, they outperformed all nations, including Singapore, by a wide margin on that one question. An equally dishonest person could cherry-pick that one example to advance the false impression that U.S. eighth-graders lead the world in math…..

 

Please. On the test to which Kristof referred, American kids basically matched their counterparts in Finland. They outscored glorious Sweden by 25 points, with its average score of 484.

 

Germany didn’t take part on the eighth grade level in 2011. It did participate at the fourth grade level, where its kids were outscored by kids from the U.S.

 

(Other scores in Grade 8 math: Great Britain 507, Australia 505, Italy 498, Norway 475.)

 

“We know Johnny can’t read; it appears that Johnny is even worse at counting!” It’s hard to imagine why someone like Kristof would want to write such a thing. But such deceptions are completely routine within our upper-end press corps. This has been the reliable norm for a very long time.

 

We know of no topic on which Americans are so persistently disinformed by American pseudo-journalists. Yesterday, Kristof took the dissembling and the deception to a remarkable low.

 

Kristof seems to get stranger by the month. As Shakespeare thoughtfully asked, “On what meat doth this our Times pseudo-journalist feed?”

 

Just for the record: The other examples Kristof presents are also cherry-picked. He had to sift through 88 examples to mislead his readers so.

 

Why in the world would a life-form like Kristof deceive his readers this way? Beyond that, what makes him so eager to denigrate American kids?

 

 

PS: Thanks to reader Chiara for bringing this post to my attention in the comments.

 

A few days ago, I posted an article by Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg, in which he explained that Finnish teachers are not “the best and the brightest,” but those who are bright, caring, and committed to a career in education.

 

One of our regular readers, who often is a contrarian, posted the following critical comment:

 

I would like to hear Sahlberg’s thoughts on the massive gender gap in Finnish reading scores. Finnish boys’ PISA scores are statistically indistinguishable from US boys’, and Finland’s boy-girl gap is by far the largest in the world, about twice as large as the US gap.

 

Perhaps there are some reasons to hold off on emulating Finland.

 

I contacted Pasi, who is a personal friend, and he replied:

 
Thanks for the question. Indeed, this is a big issue in Finland and has been
for awhile. And not only in reading but across the board of academic
subjects. One thing that makes gender gap in reading so big is
exceptionally high reading literacy performance (and positive reading
habits) among Finnish girls. Researchers are well aware of this and
policymakers try to find ways to engage boys more in reading and schooling
in general. Recent emphasis on theme or phenomenon based teaching and
learning is one step.

 

I asked him whether girls outperform boys in math as well, and he said yes, but not so much as in reading. Finland is the only OECD nation where the gender gap favors girls.

 

There is your answer, Tim.

 

 

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