Archives for category: International

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.

 

 

Pasi Sahlberg, the great Finnish educator who is teaching this year at Harvard Graduate School of Education, wrote recently to explain how Finnish universities select future teachers.

Finnish universities are famously selective,accepting only 10% of the high school graduates who want to become teachers. But how do they select? Sahlberg’s very bright niece was turned down when she first applied.

So what is the selection process?

Sahlberg writes:

“Who exactly are those who were chosen to become primary teachers in Finland ahead of my niece? Let’s take closer look at the academic profile of the first-year cohort selected at the University of Helsinki. The entrance test has two phases. All students must first take a national written test. The best performers in this are invited on to the second phase, to take the university’s specific aptitude test. At the University of Helsinki, 60% of the accepted 120 students were selected on a combination of their score on the entrance test and their points on the subject exams they took to complete their upper-secondary education; 40% of students were awarded a study place based on their score on the entrance test alone.

“Last spring, 1,650 students took the national written test to compete for those 120 places at the University of Helsinki. Applicants received between one and 100 points for the subject exams taken to earn upper-secondary school leaving diplomas. A quarter of the accepted students came from the top 20% in academic ability and another quarter came from the bottom half. This means that half of the first-year students came from the 51- to 80-point range of measured academic ability. You could call them academically average. The idea that Finland recruits the academically “best and brightest” to become teachers is a myth. In fact, the student cohort represents a diverse range of academic success, and deliberately so.

“A good step forward would be to admit that academically best students are not necessarily the best teachers
If Finnish teacher educators thought that teacher quality correlates with academic ability, they would have admitted my niece and many of her peers with superior school performance. Indeed, the University of Helsinki could easily pick the best and the brightest of the huge pool of applicants each year, and have all of their new trainee teachers with admirable grades.

“But they don’t do this because they know that teaching potential is hidden more evenly across the range of different people. Young athletes, musicians and youth leaders, for example, often have the emerging characteristics of great teachers without having the best academic record. What Finland shows is that rather than get “best and the brightest” into teaching, it is better to design initial teacher education in a way that will get the best from young people who have natural passion to teach for life.

“The teaching profession has become a fashionable topic among education reformers around the world. In England, policy-makers from David Cameron down have argued that the way to improve education is to attract smarter people to be teachers. International organisations such as the OECD and McKinsey & Company, Sir Michael Barber for Pearson, and in the US, Joel Klein, former New York education chancellor now working for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, have all claimed that the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers. These are myths and should be kept away from evidence-informed education policies and reforms.

“A good step forward would be to admit that the academically best students are not necessarily the best teachers. Successful education systems are more concerned about finding the right people to become career-long teachers. Oh, and what happened to my niece? She applied again and succeeded. She graduated recently and will be a teacher for life, like most of her university classmates.”

 

International test scores have been used by reformers like Arne Duncan, Jeb Bush, Joel Klein, and Michelle Rhee as a fear tactic. During the 2016 presidential campaign, you will surely hear much wailing and gnashing of the teeth about how our scores on international tests are undermining our global competitiveness and economic growth.

 

Horsefeathers!

 

Here is a post that I wrote in 2013; I updated it. It explains why those international test scores don’t matter, except to tell us that if we really wanted to raise them, we would reduce poverty. Let me say that again: if we reduced poverty, we would have higher scores on international tests.

 

“The news reports say that the test scores of American students on the latest PISA test are “stagnant,” “lagging,” “flat,” etc.

 

The U.S. Department of Education would have us believe–yet again–that we are in an unprecedented crisis and that we must double down on the test-and-punish strategies of the past dozen years.

 

The myth persists that once our nation led the world on international tests, but we have fallen from that exalted position in recent years.

 

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

 

Here is the background history that you need to know to interpret the PISA score release, as well as Secretary Duncan’s calculated effort to whip up national hysteria about our standing in the international league tables.

 

The U.S. has NEVER been first in the world, nor even near the top, on international tests.

 

Over the past half century, our students have typically scored at or near the median, or even in the bottom quartile. And yet during this same period, we grew to be one of the most powerful economies in the world. How could that be?

 

International testing began in the mid-1960s with a test of mathematics. The First International Mathematics Study tested 13-year-olds and high-school seniors in 12 nations. American 13-year-olds scored significantly lower than students in nine other countries and ahead of students in only one. On a test given only to students currently enrolled in a math class, the U.S. students scored last, behind those in the 11 other nations. On a test given to seniors not currently enrolled in a math class, the U.S. students again scored last.

 

The First International Science Study was given in the late 1960s and early 1970s to 10-year-olds, 14-year-olds, and seniors. The 10-year-olds did well, scoring behind only the Japanese; the 14-year-olds were about average. Among students in the senior year of high school, Americans scored last of eleven school systems.

 

In the Second International Mathematics Study (1981-82), students in 15 systems were tested. The students were 13-year-olds and seniors. The younger group of U.S. students placed at or near the median on most tests. The American seniors placed at or near the bottom on almost every test. The “average Japanese students achieved higher than the top 5% of the U.S. students in college preparatory mathematics” and “the algebra achievement of our most able students (the top 1%) was lower than that of the top 1% of any other country.” (The quote is from Curtis C. McKnight and others, The Underachieving Curriculum: Assessing U.S. Mathematics from an International Perspective, pp. 17, 26-27). I summarized the international assessments from the mid-1960s to the early 1990s in a book called National Standards in American Education: A Citizen’s Guide (Brookings, 1995).

 

The point worth noting here is that U.S. students have never been top performers on the international tests. We are doing about the same now on PISA as we have done for the past half century.

 

Does it matter?

 

In my last book, Reign of Error, I quote extensively from a brilliant article by Keith Baker, called “Are International Tests Worth Anything?,” which was published by Phi Delta Kappan in October 2007. Baker, who worked for many years as a researcher at the U.S. Department of Education, had the ingenious idea to investigate what happened to the 12 nations that took the First International Mathematics test in 1964. He looked at the per capita gross domestic product of those nations and found that “the higher a nation’s test score 40 years ago, the worse its economic performance on this measure of national wealth–the opposite of what the Chicken Littles raising the alarm over the poor test scores of U.S. children claimed would happen.” He found no relationship between a nation’s economic productivity and its test scores. Nor did the test scores bear any relationship to quality of life or democratic institutions. And when it came to creativity, the U.S. “clobbered the world,” with more patents per million people than any other nation.

 

Baker wrote that a certain level of educational achievement may be “a platform for launching national success, but once that platform is reached, other factors become more important than further gains in test scores. Indeed, once the platform is reached, it may be bad policy to pursue further gains in test scores because focusing on the scores diverts attention, effort, and resources away from other factors that are more important determinants of national success.” What has mattered most for the economic, cultural, and technological success of the U.S., he says, is a certain “spirit,” which he defines as “ambition, inquisitiveness, independence, and perhaps most important, the absence of a fixation on testing and test scores.”

 

Baker’s conclusion was that “standings in the league tables of international tests are worthless.”

 

I agree with Baker. The more we focus on tests, the more we kill creativity, ingenuity, and the ability to think differently. Students who think differently get lower scores. The more we focus on tests, the more we reward conformity and compliance, getting the right answer.

 

Thirty-two years ago, a federal report called “A Nation at Risk” warned that we were in desperate trouble because of the poor academic performance of our students. The report was written by a distinguished commission, appointed by the Secretary of Education. The commission pointed to those dreadful international test scores and complained that “on 19 academic tests American students were never first or second and, in comparison with other industrialized nations, were last seven times.” With such terrible outcomes, the commission said, “the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.” Yet we are still here, apparently the world’s most dominant economy. We still are a “Nation and a people.” What were they thinking? Go figure.

 

Despite having been proved wrong for the past half century, the Bad News Industry is in full cry, armed with the PISA scores, expressing alarm, fright, fear, and warnings of imminent economic decline and collapse.

 

Never do they explain how it was possible for the U.S. to score so poorly on international tests again and again over the past half century and yet still emerge as the world’s leading economy, with the world’s most vibrant culture, and a highly productive workforce.

 

From my vantage point as a historian, here is my takeaway from the PISA scores:

 

Lesson 1: If they mean anything at all, the PISA scores show the failure of the past thirteen years of public policy in the United States. The billions invested in testing, test prep, and accountability have not raised test scores or our nation’s relative standing on the league tables. No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are manifest failures at accomplishing their singular goal of higher test scores.

 

Lesson 2: The PISA scores burst the bubble of the alleged “Florida miracle” touted by Jeb Bush. Florida was one of three states–Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Florida–that participated in the PISA testing. Massachusetts did very well, typically scoring above the OECD average and the US average, as you might expect of the nation’s highest performing state on NAEP. Connecticut also did well. But Florida did not do well at all. It turns out that the highly touted “Florida model” of testing, accountability, and choice was not competitive, if you are inclined to take the scores seriously. In math, Florida performed below the OECD average and below the U.S. average. In science, Florida performed below the OECD average and at the U.S. average. In reading, Massachusetts and Connecticut performed above both the OECD and U.S. average, but Florida performed at average for both.

 

Lesson 3: Improving the quality of life for the nearly one-quarter of students who live in poverty–and the 51% who live in low-income families– would improve their academic performance. If we had less poverty, we would have higher test scores.

 

Lesson 4: We measure only what can be measured. We measure whether students can pick the right answer to a test question. But what we cannot measure matters more. The scores tell us nothing about students’ imagination, their drive, their ability to ask good questions, their insight, their inventiveness, their creativity. If we continue the policies of the Bush and Obama administrations in education, we will not only NOT get higher scores (the Asian nations are so much better at this than we are), but we will crush the very qualities that have given our nation its edge as a cultivator of new talent and new ideas for many years.

 

The fact is that during the past 13 years of high-stakes testing, American scores on the PISA exam have not budged at all. If anything, they have slipped a few points. Test and punish failed! No Child Left Behind failed! Race to the Top failed! Who shall we hold accountable? George W. Bush? His advisor Sandy Kress? Secretary of Education Rod Paige and Margaret Spellings? Barack Obama? Arne Duncan? Congress? They forced states and districts to spend billions of dollars on testing, and all of this testing didn’t move the needle on the PISA tests. What if those billions had been spent instead to reduce class sizes? To provide health clinics for schools in poor communities? To create jobs? We need a new approach, and sadly, our policymakers continue to push the same failed ideas. The fact is that we have intolerably high levels of child poverty, and children who are poor register the lowest test scores. There is a simple but obvious formula: Reducing poverty will lift test scores.

 

Higher test scores should not be our national goal. Healthy, imaginative, curious children should be. Rather than focusing on test scores, I prefer to bet on the creative, can-do spirit of the American people, on its character, persistence, ambition, hard work, and big dreams, none of which are ever measured or can be measured by standardized tests like PISA.

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.

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