Archives for category: International

Doug Little sent out this review of SLAYING GOLIATH to his readership in Canada, where some provinces support religious schools as public schools.

Some also have charter schools.

In recent conversation with activists in Alberta, it was clear that supporters of public education are worried about following America’s descent into privatization but that the camel’s nose is already inside the Alberta tent, and maybe even more than its nose. As she described the variety of charters and religious schools that already receive public money, it seemed that Alberta may be more privatized than American schools.

We live in a new age of authoritarianism. Russian sycophants have cleared the way for Putin to remain in power for at least 16 more years.

This from CNN:

Vladimir Putin’s path to an extended presidency is almost clear after lawmakers voted to change term limit rules in the Russian constitution. Under current Russian law, Putin would have to step down as president in 2024, but the proposed amendment would either scrap term limits altogether or just allow Putin to run again, extending his time in office all the way to 2036. Why? The legislator who put forth the measure said Putin’s continued rule would be a stabilizing factor in the country and alleviate people’s fears over Russia’s political future. Putin, of course, approves of the proposed changes. The amendments still face two more rounds of approval today in parliament.

Remember that Trump declared a national emergency because of the spread of COVID-19.

Scary thought: will he use this national emergency to postpone the 2020 elections? Who would stop him?

Yong Zhao writes here about the international test called PISA, which is used to rank, rate and stigmatize entire national systems of education. Its scores are based on a standardized test, of course, which contains the usual flaws of such tests.

His article is called “Two Decades of Havoc.”

Scholars have criticized PISA since it started, but once the global horse race started, there was no slowing it down. PISA now drives every nation to compete for higher scores, in a “race to the top” that very few can win. The critics have been ignored.

It is a stupid metric. Should we really long to be like Estonia? Can all of education be boiled down to questions on a test? What do the results tell us about the future? Nothing, really. When the first international test was given in mathematics in 1964, the U.S. came in last. And over the next 50 years, the U.S. economy surpassed the nations with higher math scores.

 

John Merrow learned about the latest trending idea in teacher training. Give a teacher a script, put a “bug” in his or her ear, and let the teacher follow instructions.

This is what he calls “insect-based” teacher training.

He decided to visit some schools to find out how it was working.

Part 1 begins like this:

The latest development in the never-ending struggle to improve teaching involves “A bug in the ear” AND “A fly on the wall.”  This insect-based approach has a highly-trained but distant observers watching (on closed circuit video) teachers at work and giving them instructions and suggestions in real time, so the teachers can modify methods and instantly improve their instruction. 

According to Education Week, what’s called ‘Bug in the Ear Coaching”  is being used in about a dozen states. “The premise is simple: A teacher wears an earpiece during a lesson, which is being live-streamed for an instructional coach who is somewhere else. Throughout the lesson, the coach delivers in-the-moment feedback to the teacher, who can add something or switch gears based on what she’s hearing in her ear.”

I reached out to some of the sources I developed in my 41 years of reporting for a closer look. One enthusiastic superintendent, who requested anonymity, said that the system would pay for itself in higher scores on standardized tests. “While the initial investment of $500,000 per school for cameras and directional microphones for every classroom, a dedicated room of monitors, the cost of a half-time tech person, and the salaries of the instructional experts who monitor the teachers, looks like a lot, once those standardized test scores go up, it’s smooth sailing.”

Are there other costs, I wanted to know?

“Our experts wanted all the teachers to wear identical loose-fitting shirts and blouses to minimize sound interference.  I had a great deal worked out with the company that makes the uniforms they wear at the federal penitentiary in the next county.”  He chuckled, “But without stripes, of course.” However, he explained, the teachers union shot the idea down. 

He (and some educators cited in Ed Week) say that most teachers like the immediacy of the system, saying that instant feedback is really the only kind that sticks.  “It was really nice to feel supported and get direct feedback in the moment,” a special education teacher in Washington State told Ed Week.

However, when I reached out to some veteran teachers I respect, I found no support for the approach.  (Stop reading here if vulgar language offends you.)

I stopped reading right there, but you don’t need to!

Then he posted Part 2, where he continued his investigation. 

Last week in this space I took a poke or two at what I called “Insect-Based Teacher Training,” specifically the practice of wiring teachers so that remote observers can hear and see what they do in their classrooms.  What they call “Bug in the Ear training” enables experts to interrupt teachers and tell them what they are doing wrong. In theory, that allows teachers to improve on the spot.  You may remember that the expert I observed in action wasn’t particularly effective.

(Full disclosure: In last week’s essay I took a small liberty with the two veteran teachers whose opinions I cited: neither of them actually referenced ‘ants in underpants’ or ‘ticks on dicks.’   I owe my readers an apology because the teachers did not say that.  I made that up, just for the fun of it. 

Why would I do that?  Well, after so many years of reporting for public broadcasting, where the emphasis is on truth, making stuff up gives me a huge adrenalin rush.

However, everything else in that essay  is 100% accurate.  You can take that to the bank.)

But I digress. What I want you to know is the morning after “Insect-Based Teacher Training” was published, I received a call from the School Superintendent whose district I had visited.   He was upset about my portrayal of the process, saying that the observer had a bad day.  Moreover, he said, I had failed to grasp the subtle, significant ways that technology improves education.  Would I come back and learn more, he asked?

I rushed out the door, and a few hours later the Superintendent and I were in the school’s monitoring room, staring at the 30+ video screens that showed all the school’s classrooms.

I wanted to hear his defense of the “Bug in the Ear” approach.  Would he have wanted to have a bug in his ear when he was teaching, I wanted to know?

“I actually never taught,” came his response. “I came up the ranks through coaching.”

Then he chuckled.  “That’s an old joke, superintendents starting out as coaches.  I was never a coach either.”

What was his background, I wanted to know?

“I studied organizational behavior in college, and then, for my MBA, I focused on management.”

He continued:  “But that’s not why I asked you to come back,” he said. “I want you to see another way that monitoring and advanced technology improve teaching and learning.”

Go on, I said.

To get the inside scoop on “insect-based teacher training,” this is a must-read.

In case you wondered, the first time I ever heard of the bug-in-your-ear approach to teaching, it was in the description of the methodology of Bridge International Academies, the private sector effort to take over schooling in certain African nations. The BIA approach was to give each teacher an iPad (or similar device) with a curriculum written by TFA teachers located in Boston. Then each teacher got a bug-in-the-ear to make sure that they were delivering the curriculum precisely as directed by the device. BIA charges a fee and was engaged in trying to turn a profit by enrolling hundreds of thousands of students in the world’s poorest countries. Its investors included Bill Gates, Pearson, Mark Zuckerberg, Pearson, and the World Bank. The problem with its approach was that it had the effect of discouraging the government from taking responsibility for building a universal, free public education system. Furthermore, if students couldn’t pay the fees, they were kicked out. BIA says it gets higher scores, which is not surprising since it accepts students only if they can pay. Strange that BIA’s methods crossed the ocean back to where it was started.

G.F. Brandenburg posted a graph from a recent report of the OECD–the same organization that sponsors the PISA tests–which shows the number of hours that teachers work in every country tested.

Teachers in the United States reported working an average of 46.2 hours a week, according to the Teaching and Learning International Survey, which was coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and included responses from educators in 49 education systems. The global survey average was 38.3 hours a week. Only teachers in two other education systems—Japan and Kazakhstan—reported working more hours.

Of the hours U.S. teachers reported working, the bulk of that time—28 hours—is spent teaching, as opposed to on administrative work or professional development. That’s more than teachers in any other education system. The survey average was 20 hours spent teaching.

Open the link to see the graph.

This is a beautiful and powerful statement spoken in court by a young man on trial for “extremism” in a Russian court. It was translated by Masha Gessen and appears in The New Yorker online. it explains the power of Resistance to tyranny and the importance of individual responsibility and love.

Gessen writes:

A twenty-one-year-old university student named Yegor Zhukov stood accused of “extremism,” for posting YouTube videos in which he talked about nonviolent protest, his campaign for a seat on the Moscow City Council, and different approaches to political power. In his most recent video, recorded four months ago, he suggested that “madmen” like Vladimir Putin view power as an end in itself, while political activists view it as an instrument of common action. In many of his vlog entries, Zhukov is seated against the backdrop of the Gadsden flag—“Don’t Tread on Me”—which appears to hang in his bedroom in his parents’ apartment. The prosecutor had asked for four years of prison time for Zhukov. On Friday, a Moscow court sentenced Zhukov to three years’ probation—an unusually light punishment probably explained by the public response to Zhukov’s speech, which several Russian media outlets dared to publish. Hundreds of people gathered in front of the courthouse on the day of the sentencing. As a condition of his probation, Zhukov is banned from posting to the Internet. The judge also ordered that the flag, which was confiscated by police, be destroyed.

Instead of writing my own column, I have translated Zhukov’s final statement, delivered in court on Wednesday. I did it because it is a beautiful text that makes for instructive reading. Parts of it seem to describe American reality as accurately as the Russian one. Parts of it show what resistance can be.

Zhukov’s statement:

“This court hearing is concerned primarily with words and their meaning. We have discussed specific sentences, the subtleties of phrasing, different possible interpretations, and I hope that we have succeeded at showing to the honorable court that I am not an extremist, either from the point of view of linguistics or from the point of view of common sense. But now I would like to talk about a few things that are more basic than the meaning of words. I would like to talk about why I did the things I did, especially since the court expert offered his opinion on this. I would like to talk about my deep and true motives. The things that have motivated me to take up politics. The reasons why, among other things, I recorded videos for my blog.

“But first I want to say this. The Russian state claims to be the world’s last protector of traditional values. We are told that the state devotes a lot of resources to protecting the institution of the family, and to patriotism. We are also told that the most important traditional value is the Christian faith. Your Honor, I think this may actually be a good thing. The Christian ethic includes two values that I consider central for myself. First, responsibility. Christianity is based on the story of a person who dared to take up the burden of the world. It’s the story of a person who accepted responsibility in the greatest possible sense of that word. In essence, the central concept of the Christian religion is the concept of individual responsibility.

“The second value is love. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ is the most important sentence of the Christian faith. Love is trust, empathy, humanity, mutual aid, and care. A society built on such love is a strong society—probably the strongest of all possible societies.

“To understand why I’ve done what I’ve done, all you have to do is look at how the Russian state, which proudly claims to be a defender of these values, does in reality. Before we talk about responsibility, we have to consider what the ethics of a responsible person is. What are the words that a responsible individual repeats to himself throughout his life? I think these words are, ‘Remember that your path will be difficult, at times unbearably so. All your loved ones will die. All your plans will go awry. You will be betrayed and abandoned. And you cannot escape death. Life is suffering. Accept it. But once you accept it, once you accept the inevitability of suffering, you must still accept your cross and follow your dream, because otherwise things will only get worse. Be an example, be someone on whom others can depend. Do not obey despots, fight for the freedom of body and soul, and build a country in which your children can be happy.’

“Is this really what we are taught? Is this really the ethics that children absorb at school? Are these the kinds of heroes we honor? No. Our society, as currently constituted, suppresses any possibility of human development. [Fewer than] ten per cent of Russians possess ninety per cent of the country’s wealth. Some of these wealthy individuals are, of course, perfectly decent citizens, but most of this wealth is accumulated not through honest labor that benefits humanity but, plainly, through corruption.

“An impenetrable barrier divides our society in two. All the money is concentrated at the top and no one up there is going to let it go. All that’s left at the bottom—and this is no exaggeration—is despair. Knowing that they have nothing to hope for, that, no matter how hard they try, they cannot bring happiness to themselves or their families, Russian men take their aggression out on their wives, or drink themselves to death, or hang themselves. Russia has the world’s [second] highest rate of suicide among men. As a result, a third of all Russian families are single mothers with their kids. I would like to know: Is this how we are protecting the institution of the family?

“Miron Fyodorov [a rap artist who performsunder the name Oxxxymiron], who attended many of my court hearings, has observed that alcohol is cheaper than a textbook in Russian. The state is pushing Russians to make a choice between responsibility and irresponsibility, in favor of the latter.

“Now I’d like to talk about love. Love is impossible in the absence of trust. Real trust is formed of common action. Common action is a rarity in a country where few people feel responsible. And where common action does occur, the guardians of the state immediately see it as a threat. It doesn’t matter what you do—whether you are helping prison inmates, speaking up for human rights, fighting for the environment—sooner or later you’ll either be branded a ‘foreign agent’ or just locked up. The state’s message is clear: ‘Go back to your burrow and don’t take part in common action. If we see more than two people together in the street, we’ll jail you for protesting. If you work together on social issues, we’ll assign you the status of a “foreign agent.” ’ Where can trust come from in a country like this—and where can love grow? I’m speaking not of romantic love but of the love of humanity.

“The only social policy the Russian state pursues consistently is the policy of atomization. The state dehumanizes us in one another’s eyes. In the state’s own eyes, we stopped being human a long time ago. Otherwise, why would it treat its citizens the way it does? Why does it punctuate its treatment of people through daily nightstick beatings, prison torture, inaction in the face of an H.I.V. epidemic, the closure of schools and hospitals, and so on?

“Let’s look at ourselves in the mirror. We let this be done to us, and who have we become? We have become a nation that has unlearned responsibility. We have become a nation that has unlearned love. More than two hundred years ago, Alexander Radishchev [widely regarded as the first Russian political writer], as he travelled from St. Petersburg to Moscow, wrote, ‘I gazed around myself, and my soul was wounded by human suffering. I then looked inside myself, and saw that man’s troubles come from man himself.’ Where are these kinds of people today? Where are the people whose hearts ache this much for what is happening in our country? Why are hardly any people like this left?

“It turns out that the only traditional institution that the Russian state truly respects and protects is the institution of autocracy. Autocracy aims to destroy anyone who actually wants to work for the benefit of the homeland, who isn’t scared to love and take on responsibility. As a result, our long-suffering citizens have had to learn that initiative will be punished, that the boss is always right just because he is the boss, that happiness may be within reach—but not for them. And having learned this, they gradually started to disappear. According to the state statistical authority, Russians are slowly vanishing, at the rate of four hundred thousand people a year. [Deaths exceeded births by nearly two hundred thousand in the first six months of 2019.] You can’t see the people behind the statistics. But try to see them! These are the people who are drinking themselves to death from helplessness, the people freezing to death in unheated hospitals, the people murdered by others, and those who kill themselves. These are people. People like you and me.

“By this point, it’s probably clear why I did what I did. I really want to see these two qualities—responsibility and love—in my fellow-citizens. Responsibility for one’s self, for one’s neighbors, for one’s country. This wish of mine, your honor, is another reason why I could not have called for violence. Violence breeds impunity, which breeds irresponsibility. By the same token, violence does not bear love. Still, despite all obstacles, I have no doubt that my wish will come true. I am looking ahead, beyond the horizon of years, and I see a Russia full of responsible, loving people. It will be a truly happy place. I want everyone to imagine Russia like this. And I hope this image can lead you in your work, as it has led me in mine.

“In conclusion, I would like to state that if the court decides that these words are spoken by a truly dangerous criminal, the next few years of my life will be marked by deprivation and adversity. But I look at the people [who have been jailed in the latest wave of activist arrests] and I see smiles on their faces. Two people I met briefly during pretrial detention, Lyosha Minyaylo and Danya Konon, never complained. I will try to follow their example. I will endeavor to take joy in having this chance—the chance to be tested in the name of values I hold dear. In the end, Your Honor, the more frightening my future, the broader the smile with which I look at it. Thank you.”

 

Anu Partanen and Trevor Corson we’re living in a comfortable neighborhood in Brooklyn but worried about economic pressure and the future. When Anu got an offer of a job in her native Finland, they moved there. They wrote this article to explain that Finnish society arrived at an agreement to provide excellent public services, to pay higher taxes, to protect the health and wellness-being of their citizens, and businesses thriving. The Nordic approach to social welfare is not “socialism,” they write. It’s rational thinking. Capitalists support the system because it works.

They write:

We’ve now been living in Finland for more than a year. The difference between our lives here and in the States has been tremendous, but perhaps not in the way many Americans might imagine. What we’ve experienced is an increase in personal freedom. Our lives are just much more manageable. To be sure, our days are still full of challenges — raising a child, helping elderly parents, juggling the demands of daily logistics and work.

But in Finland, we are automatically covered, no matter what, by taxpayer-funded universal health care that equals the United States’ in quality (despite the misleading claims you hear to the contrary), all without piles of confusing paperwork or haggling over huge bills. Our child attends a fabulous, highly professional and ethnically diverse public day-care center that amazes us with its enrichment activities and professionalism. The price? About $300 a month — the maximum for public day care, because in Finland day-care fees are subsidized for all families.

And if we stay here, our daughter will be able to attend one of the world’s best K-12 education systems at no cost to us, regardless of the neighborhood we live in. College would also be tuition free. If we have another child, we will automatically get paid parental leave, funded largely through taxes, for nearly a year, which can be shared between parents. Annual paid vacations here of four, five or even six weeks are also the norm…

Finnish employers had become painfully aware of the threats socialism continued to pose to capitalism. They also found themselves under increasing pressure from politicians representing the needs of workers. Wanting to avoid further conflicts, and to protect their private property and new industries, Finnish capitalists changed tactics. Instead of exploiting workers and trying to keep them down, after World War II, Finland’s capitalists cooperated with government to map out long-term strategies and discussed these plans with unions to get workers onboard.

More astonishingly, Finnish capitalists also realized that it would be in their own long-term interests to accept steep progressive tax hikes. The taxes would help pay for new government programs to keep workers healthy and productive — and this would build a more beneficial labor market. These programs became the universal taxpayer-funded services of Finland today, including public health care, public day care and education, paid parental leaves, unemployment insurance and the like…

The Nordic nations as a whole, including a majority of their business elites, have arrived at a simple formula: Capitalism works better if employees get paid decent wages and are supported by high-quality, democratically accountable public services that enable everyone to live healthy, dignified lives and to enjoy real equality of opportunity for themselves and their children. For us, that has meant an increase in our personal freedoms and our political rights — not the other way around.

Yes, this requires capitalists and corporations to pay fairer wages and more taxes than their American counterparts currently do. Nordic citizens generally pay more taxes, too. And yes, this might sound scandalous in the United States, where business leaders and economists perpetually warn that tax increases would slow growth and reduce incentives to invest…

Here’s the funny thing, though: Over the past 50 years, if you had invested in a basket of Nordic equities, you would have earned a higher annual real return than the American stock market during the same half-century, according to global equities data published by Credit Suisse.

Nordic capitalists are not dumb. They know that they will still earn very handsome financial returns even after paying their taxes. They keep enough of their profits to live in luxury, wield influence and acquire social status. There are several dozen Nordic billionaires. Nordic citizens are not dumb, either. If you’re a member of the robust middle class in Finland, you generally get a better overall deal for your combined taxes and personal expenditures, as well as higher-quality outcomes, than your American counterparts — and with far less hassle.

Why would the wealthy in Nordic countries go along with this? Some Nordic capitalists actually believe in equality of opportunity and recognize the value of a society that invests in all of its people. But there is a more prosaic reason, too: Paying taxes is a convenient way for capitalists to outsource to the government the work of keeping workers healthy and educated…

While companies in the United States struggle to administer health plans and to find workers who are sufficiently educated, Nordic societies have demanded that their governments provide high-quality public services for all citizens. This liberates businesses to focus on what they do best: business. It’s convenient for everyone else, too. All Finnish residents, including manual laborers, legal immigrants, well-paid managers and wealthy families, benefit hugely from the same Finnish single-payer health care system and world-class public schools.

There’s a big lesson here: When capitalists perceive government as a logistical ally rather than an ideological foe and when all citizens have a stake in high-quality public institutions, it’s amazing how well government can get things done.

Ultimately, when we mislabel what goes on in Nordic nations as socialism, we blind ourselves to what the Nordic region really is: a laboratory where capitalists invest in long-term stability and human flourishing while maintaining healthy profits.

Capitalists in the United States have taken a different path. They’ve slashed taxes, weakened government, crushed unions and privatized essential services in the pursuit of excess profits. All of this leaves workers painfully vulnerable to capitalism’s dynamic disruptions. Even well-positioned Americans now struggle under debilitating pressures, and a majority inhabit a treacherous Wild West where poverty, homelessness, medical bankruptcy, addiction and incarceration can be just a bit of bad luck away. Americans are told that this is freedom and that it is the most heroic way to live…

The success of Nordic capitalism is not due to businesses doing more to help communities. In a way, it’s the opposite: Nordic capitalists do less. What Nordic businesses do is focus on business — including good-faith negotiations with their unions — while letting citizens vote for politicians who use government to deliver a set of robust universal public services…

Right now might be an opportune moment for American capitalists to pause and ask themselves what kind of long-term cost-benefit calculation makes the most sense. Business leaders focused on the long game could do a lot worse than starting with a fact-finding trip to Finland.

 

 

Tom Loveless has been writing about international assessments for many years. He was quick to blow the whistle on China when the previous international test scores came out, noting that unlike the U.S. and most other nations, China was not testing a cross-section of its students.

In this article on Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet blog, Loveless calls out China again for rigging the outcomes to make its students #1.

China’s gains on the tests from 2015 to 2018 were so large as to be incredible, literally not credible.

So the typical change in a nation’s scores is about 10 points. The differences between the 2015 and 2018 Chinese participants are at least six times that amount. The differences are also at least seven times the standard deviation of all interval changes. Highly unusual…

The past PISA scores of Chinese provinces have been called into question (by me and others) because of the culling effect of hukou on the population of 15-year-olds — and for the OECD allowing China to approve which provinces can be tested. In 2009, PISA tests were administered in 12 Chinese provinces, including several rural areas, but only scores from Shanghai were released.


Three years later, the BBC reported, “The Chinese government has so far not allowed the OECD to publish the actual data.” To this day, the data have not been released.
The OECD responded to past criticism by attacking critics and conducting data reviews behind closed doors. A cloud hangs over PISA scores from Chinese provinces. I urge the OECD to release, as soon as possible, the results of any quality checks of 2018 data that have been conducted, along with scores, disaggregated by province, from both the 2015 and 2018 participants.

The OECD allows China to hide data and game the system. This lack of transparency should not stand.

Our blog poet reflects on the meaning of the latest international test scores (PISA).

That’s a Moron

When the test hits your eye
Like an old PISA pie
That’s a moron

When the scores make you drool just like a pasta fazool
You’re a moron
When you dance down the street with a test as your beat
You’re insane
When you walk in a dream but you know you’re not dreaming signore
Scuzza me, but you see, back in old Napoli
You’re a moron
A moron, that’s a moron

https://youtu.be/1TWhFmCRdoU

Peter Greene writes regularly for Forbes, where this article appeared.

He explains for the  umpteenth time (as I have done repeatedly) that the U.S. has never led the world on international tests, whether it was PISA, TIMSS, IEA, or any other.

He writes:

The top scores this year come from the usual batch of test takers,including the Chinese, who give the test to students from wealthy provinces.. PISA day is also the one day that some folks hear about Estonia, the tiny nation that somehow has not conquered the world even though their students do well on the PISA.

PISA coverage tends to overlook one major question—why should anyone care about these scores? Where is the research showing a connection between PISA scores and a nation’s economic, political, or global success? What is the conclusion to the statement, “Because they get high PISA scores, the citizens of [insert nation here] enjoy exceptionally good______” ?

Did US companies outsource work to India and China because of their citizens’ PISA scores, or because of low wages and loose regulation? Do we have the world’s most expensive health care system because of mediocre PISA scores? Which politicians have ridden to success on the PISA score platform pony? Are any geopolitical conflicts solved by whipping out the contending countries’ PISA scores for comparison? And is there a shred of evidence that raising PISA scores would improve life for US citizens (spoiler alert: no)?…

There will be discussions of what the PISA scores do or do not prove. Some of that is fair; Common Core and other ed reforms pushed by billionaires and thinky tanks and politicians and a variety of other non-educators were going to turn this all around. They haven’t. This comes as zero surprise to actual educators. It’s just one more data point showing that all the reform heaped on education since A Nation At Risk is not producing the promised results.

Remember when Arne Duncan promoted the “Race to the Top”? Remember when David Coleman and Bill Gates pledged that Common Core would close achievement gaps and raise the lowest-performing students closer to the top-performers? There comes a time when people must be held accountable for their promises.