Archives for category: International

I was recently invited to write an article for U.S. News & World Report. I decided to write about the current trend in many nations to turn public schools over to the private sector. Readers of this blog may be familiar with the content and my concerns. But I wasn’t writing for those who are well-versed in these issues. I was writing for the public, which is unaware of the advances of privatization into the heart of public education.

The editors called it “Public education is up for sale.”

Michael Barber and Joel Klein have written a report for the World Economic Forum about how to achieve greatness in education. Their report is titled “Unleashing Greatness: Nine Plays to Spark Innovation in Education.”

Michael Barber is the chief education advisor for Pearson. Joel Klein is the ex-chancellor of the New York City public schools, former CEO of Rupert Murdoch’s Amplify (which lost $500 million and was sold off by Murdoch), and current chief policy and strategy officer to Oscar Health Insurance, which recently announced a radical downsizing.

The old ways no longer work, they say. What is needed for the future is “whole system reform,” which has happened or is happening (they say) in Madrid, Punjab, London, and New York City. Presumably, Barber takes credit for London and Klein takes credit for New York City. (I note, however, as a resident of New York City, that the schools continue to struggle with many problems, and no one refers to the “New York a City miracle” these days.)

Fortunately, Professor Stephen Dinham of the University of Melbourne in Australia took on the job of analyzing the Barber-Klein formula for greatness.

He sees the report as an illustration of what Pasi Sahlberg called the “Global Education Reform Movement” or GERM.

He writes:

“The terms ‘playbook’ and ‘unleash’ are loaded and instructive. A playbook, in sports, provides a list of strategies or moves for players and teams to follow. These are essentially step-by-step formulae intended to achieve success. In the case of this report, there are nine. Oh that education – and interrelated services such as health, employment and public infrastructure – could be reduced to such a simplistic list. The term unleash implies releasing from restriction and confinement, in this case, opening up education to ‘choice’ and the ‘free’ market. As I have noted, typically, ‘Choice, competition, privatization and the free market are [seen as] the answers to almost any question about education. (Dinham, 2015a: 3).

“Let’s now consider the latest simplistic recipe designed to address the ‘manufactured crisis’ in education (Berliner & Biddle, 1995; Berliner & Glass, 2015), a crisis that is in danger of becoming reality if we ignore the evidence and follow such ideologically and financially underpinned and driven prescriptions (Dinham, 2016).

“The authors’ ‘plays’ are:

“Provide a compelling vision for the future

Set ambitious goals to force innovation

Create choice and competition

Pick many winners

Benchmark and track progress

Evaluate and share the success of new innovations

Combine greater accountability and autonomy

Invest in and empower agents of change

Reward successes (and productive failures).

“Detail on ‘how’ to achieve the above is lacking, although brief case studies where these have purportedly been successful are provided (e.g, New York, Chile). A common theme is the belief mentioned previously that deregulation, competition and choice will deliver an overall lift in educational performance. The evidence is however, either weak (e.g., on greater school autonomy) or contradictory (e.g., vouchers, charter schools, free schools, chains or academies) (Dinham, 2015a).”

Read both the report and the critique. Funny the authors don’t look at Chile and Sweden, two nations that took the path they recommend, with disastrous results.

William Doyle describes an emerging international consensus about the appropriate and limited use of technology in the classroom.

Doyle starts from the proposition that “Technology in the classroom has so far had little positive effect on childhood learning.”

That’s the stunning finding of the OECDs September 2015 report “Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection.” The report found that despite billions of dollars of frantic government spending, where ICTs [information and communications technologies] are used, their impact on student performance has been “mixed, at best,” in the words of the OECD’s Andreas Schleicher. “In most countries, the current use of technology is already past the point of optimal use in schools,” said Schleicher. “We’re at a point where computers are actually hurting learning.”

This supports a growing body of other research indicating that, with some exceptions like distance and special needs learning, there is little evidence that digital tools are inherently superior to analog tools in the hands of qualified teachers in teaching children the fundamentals of learning, especially in the early years.

For policy-makers, educators and parents, the implications of this research are enormous, and critical. The OECD report suggested that teachers need to be better trained in ICT. But it also found that children may learn best with analog tools first before later adding digital platforms, and that a few hours a week of classroom screen time may be optimal for children, beyond which learning benefits drop off to diminishing, or even negative, returns.

This argues not for the 100% screen-based classroom proposed by some enthusiasts, but for a far more strategic and cost-and-learning-effective model. In this vision of the “school of tomorrow,” teachers will use the analog and digital methods of their choice, including a few hours of student screen time per week – with a significant portion of school time being a “digital oasis,” where students learn through proven analog methods like paper, pencil, manipulatives and physical objects, crayons and paint, physical books, play, physical activity, nature, and face-to-face and over-the-shoulder interactions – not with digital simulations, but with the ultimate “personalized learning platform” – highly-qualified, flesh-and-blood teachers.

This kind of approach is already blossoming in many classrooms around the world, as teachers and students harness and control the power of technology, properly applied and integrated.

Hands-on learning and learning by play are staging a comeback:

In the global headquarters city of LEGO itself, inside the three-year-old International School of Billund in western Denmark, the concept of learning through play is being taken to the ultimate extreme. The LEGO Foundation-supported school offers children aged 3 to 16 an International Baccalaureate program through a curriculum based on creative play, delivered through a rich variety of analog and digital tools, including, naturally, LEGO education kits and programs.

“We want pupils to use their hands,” said the ISB’s head of school Camilla Uhre Fog to a journalist from the Times Educational Supplement. “We’re very hands-on. When hands are involved in learning, children really remember. If you’re in the middle of the creative process there is nothing worse than clearing up – if you cease the flow then you lose the dream, you lose everything.”

Last night we were treated to a diatribe about how awful American public schools are by a young man who never attended a public school: Donald Trump, Jr.

These days, those who know the least are likely to spout off the most.

Mr. Trump Jr. went to a fancy private school with a tuition that is about equal to the median American annual salary.

William Doyle watched the speech and dashed off a comment:

In his speech at the Republican convention last night, Donald J. Trump
Jr. managed to mix up the subject of education so badly that he stated
it completely backwards from the truth.

Trump said, “You know why other countries do better in K-through-12?
They let parents choose where to send their own children to school.
That’s called competition. It’s called the free market.”

In fact, the nations that have introduced measures of so-called
“free-market choice” in their education systems — notably Sweden,
Chile, and most recently the UK — have experienced no improvement in
overall results, and have instead seen quality and equity decline.

By contrast, the superstars of global education, including Finland,
Canada, Japan, Singapore and South Korea, have largely single-model
national delivery systems of education that stress teacher
professionalism and autonomy, equity for all students, and the regular
testing and assessment of students by experienced teachers, not by bad
data created by wasteful and low-quality standardized tests.

If we want to Make America Great Again in education, we should be
inspired by their example.

—William Doyle is a Fulbright Scholar who lectures on global education
at the University of Eastern Finland, and spends several months a year
as a public school father of an 8-year old in Finland.

This reader is living in Germany, where his son is in elementary school. He made a surprising discovery: the German system emphasizes hand mastery. This reminds me slightly of the “maker movement” in our country, which is trying to revive the practices of making, tinkering, and doing. Some maker activities rely on technology in in genius ways. The common thread is to allow students to use their hands and brains at the same time to create.

“USE OF FOUNTAIN PENS BY ELEMENTARY STUDENTS

“I am a public education administrator in the United States – New Jersey – and the father of an 8 year old. Presently I am in Germany and my son attends a German elementary school. I see great merit in using fountain pens for students. In my opinion, one of the reasons Germany produces some of the greatest products in the world is the emphasis the German school system places on “Basteln” or tinkering and other traditional activities that require care, like the use of a fountain pen. To many Americans this may seem quaint – but there is a rock solid place for “the quaint” in the earliest grades – again, in my opinion. Forming letters with a traditional tool like a fountain pen will give the young individual an intimate experience with reality – one which requires precision and care – much more than with a swipe or a push of a button.

“I strongly feel that this (and other “quaint” experiences had by students in German elementary schools translates into a more thoroughly educated student – one that will be much more creative as technology is introduced. I think American education needs to re-evaluate how we educate our youngest and see the merit in what many Americans and American educators may perceive as impractical. In Germany, I once thought it totally impractical to take 7 minutes to draw a “Pils” beer – until I tasted how delicious it was From then on I saw the wisdom in what may be seen as impractical or quaint – and saw how rich with tradition and innovation German society is – and American educators would be well advised to take a good look.”

David Di Gregorio, Father of an 8 year old

Supervisor of Library Media Services

Investigative journalist George Joseph assesses the alarming transformation of Teach for America into Teach for All. The Ugly American has arrived to disrupt teaching and education, to provide jobs for young college graduates, and to put poorly trained “teachers” in front of kids who need good teachers.

He writes:

Since 2007, adaptations of Teach for America’s controversial model have been implemented in 40 countries, on every continent except Antarctica, thanks to Kopp’s Teach for All network. Though the organizations are financed through varying mixes of corporate, foundation, and state funding, there’s a remarkable continuity in the network’s so-called “Theory of Change,” regardless of national differences in teacher training, student enrollment, and infrastructure quality. Given the burgeoning presence of Teach for India in the nation’s troubled school system, the project of exporting the Teach for America model is being put to a high-profile test. If deemed successful, this model will be poised to deliver large portions of India’s education system—and, indeed, others all over the world—into the control of the private sector on a for-profit basis.

Joseph goes into detail about the workings of Teach for All in India (Teach for India), where the effort is led by an Indian woman who sounds very much like Wendy Kopp: privileged, smart, and alert to a great opportunity.

TFI, according to its official account, sprang to life after Shaheen Mistri, a prominent nonprofit leader in Mumbai, walked into the Manhattan office of Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp in 2007 and declared, “We have to start Teach for India, and I need your help!” Teach for America has become famous for tackling inequality in education by training young graduates from elite schools to teach in public schools for two years and then become advocates for “education reform”—a contested agenda that includes increasing the number of privately operated charter schools and limiting the power of teachers’ unions. TFA’s critics say that inexperienced teachers make educational inequality worse, and that the organization has become a Trojan horse for the private takeover of public-sector resources. And TFA’s recruiting numbers have dropped in recent years, as skepticism of the once-lauded organization grows.

In India, meanwhile, the education system is rife with problems even more daunting than in the United States. In 1966, during the country’s post- partition development period, the Kothari Commission declared that India needed to spend at least 6 percent of its GDP on education. Like most South Asian countries, it failed to come close to this figure. In recent years, despite India’s incredible economic growth, the most it has ever spent on education was 4.4 percent of its GDP, in 2000.

The results have been predictably appalling. According to the Right to Education Forum, in the 2013–14 school year, India had 568,000 teaching positions vacant, and only 22 percent of working teachers had ever received in- service training. This massive shortage means that as of 2015, more than half of Indian public schools were unable to comply with the 2009 Right to Education Act’s mandatory class-size ratios (no more than 30 students to one teacher in elementary schools and 35 in secondary schools). Further, a whopping 91,018 Indian public schools function with just one teacher. Also, more than 50 percent of Indian public schools lack handwashing facilities; 15 percent lack girls’ toilets; and nearly 25 percent don’t have libraries. As in many developing countries, these failures fuel the problem of teacher absenteeism in India.

Like TFA founder Kopp, a Princeton graduate who realized that a career in finance was not for her, Mistri began her forays into educational reform from the outside looking in. Every bit the “global citizen,” Mistri describes her privileged upbringing, including traveling first class from “sandy coves on Greek islands” to “the Austrian countryside,” in her book on TFI’s founding. After a year at Tufts University, she experienced her epiphany while sitting in a taxicab on a family vacation in Mumbai. “Three children ran up to my window, smiling and begging, and in that moment I had a flash of introspection,” Mistri writes. “I suddenly knew that my life would have more meaning if I stayed in India. I saw potential in that fleeting moment—in the children at my open window and in myself.”

Will Teach for India solve the massive problems of Indian education? Or will they relieve the government of any need to encourage a teaching profession that is committed to careers in teaching?

The Charlotte Observer in North Carolina reports that Chinese investors put up $3 million to start up a new charter school, which is now struggling for survival.

Is a foreign-financed charter school a public school?

They did it in exchange for green cards,

Chinese investors provided $3 million in startup money for Thunderbird Preparatory Academy, a Cornelius charter school that’s fighting for survival.

That’s one of the insights that emerged from last week’s state review of the school’s finances, governance and facilities.

Thunderbird’s network of investors and lenders left Charter School Advisory Board members shaking their heads and palming their faces. “A spider web,” one member dubbed it. “Exceedingly messy and complex,” said board Chair Alex Quigley.

But as North Carolina has opened itself to rapid charter school expansion, a growing number of startup schools are turning to charter-school finance companies to pay for facilities. Some also tap a network of companies and consultants to help them run the schools. That means tax money from North Carolina is flowing across the country and around the globe to repay debts and cover outsourced services.

Lee Teague, executive director of the N.C. Charter Schools Association, said he had never heard of the Chinese investment in charter schools. But because charter schools don’t get public money for facilities – and because schools must begin paying bills before the first state check arrives – it’s common to see new schools taking out loans, he said.

Thunderbird, which opened in 2014, got its $3 million through the EB-5 program, which provides green cards to foreign investors who create U.S. jobs. Although charter school salaries are paid with public money, an Arizona-based company called Education Fund of America offers the opportunity to invest in charter schools, claim the job-creation visa benefit and rely on government support of such schools to secure the investment.

Parents at the Thunderbird Charter School are angry, and they have called for the removal of the principal and the chair of the charter board. The school opened in 2014 and has struggled with staff, rodents, finances, and academics.


After probing topics ranging from rodent infestation to high-interest loans, a state charter panel Thursday backed away from a call to close Thunderbird Preparatory Academy in Cornelius.

But the Charter School Advisory Board voted unanimously to demand intense scrutiny in the coming year.

“I think you have a very short period of time to right this ship,” board Chairman Alex Quigley told school leaders.

The advisory board called Thursday’s special meeting after voting June 14 to recommend closing the school when Thunderbird leaders missed a regular meeting where they had been summoned to discuss financial, academic and health/safety concerns.

Thunderbird board Chair Peter Mojica said Thursday that bad publicity has damaged recruitment for the coming year, with enrollment dropping from 500 at the start of last year to 432 enrolled for 2016-17. The school has also lost 11 of the 23 teachers it had last year.

But Mojica said the board and the school’s recently hired principal are committed to fixing problems and reviving the school.

“We have a great school that is not absent of its problems,” he said. “We are well aware of them and are trying to address them.”

Thunderbird, which opened in 2014, has struggled to find and pay for a building, establish leadership and show academic gains – challenges that face many new charter schools. The problems have been compounded by spring flooding and a bitter rift dividing board members, faculty and families.

The school has had three principals in three years. Some parents vow to return to the public schools. Others say they are satisfied. The state has gotten more complaints about this charter than any other.

The Chinese investors have their green cards, so they are not complaining.

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/education/article87268177.html#storylink=cpy

Foreign Policy published an informative article about Liberia’s determination to outsource its primary school system.

Liberia’s Education Fire Sale

Everyone knew the country’s public school system was a mess — but nobody thought the government would try to fold up shop.

Earlier this year, the government announced a plan to begin a phased public-private partnership in education that could eventually see nearly all the country’s primary schools subcontracted to foreign for-profit companies. Supporters say it’s an exciting break from a failing status quo that harnesses technology and research to improve childhood learning outcomes. Detractors accuse the government of abdicating one of its most fundamental responsibilities.

The hybrid privatization plan, which has been described as one of the most expansive and ambitious anywhere in the world, calls for 3 percent of primary schools to be turned over to private companies during a pilot year beginning this fall. Fifty schools will be run by Bridge International Academies, an American for-profit company backed by the likes of Mark Zuckerburg and Bill Gates that builds and runs low-cost schools primarily in East Africa. As many as 70 more Liberian schools will be turned over to a host of other private operators. If the pilot is deemed a success, it will be scaled up to at least 300 more schools in September 2017. It could cover the country’s entire primary school system by 2020, according to the timeline set by the government.

Is this neocolonialism or a new spirit of philanthropy or both?

But the fear isn’t just that private companies are taking over what has traditionally been a government service. It’s that they will provide an inferior product. Critics like Angelo Gavrielatos of Education International, an international umbrella body representing education trade unions, say Bridge’s model of cheap schools and lightly trained instructors who use scripted, tablet-based lesson plans is a radical departure from established norms in the education field, one that is aimed more at reducing costs than providing an appropriate learning environment for children.

“Their business plan is predicated on the employment of unqualified staff delivering a highly scripted standardized system, word-for-word off a tablet,” Gavrielatos said.

May counters that scripted lesson plans can still be engrossing for children: “When you watch Hamlet and it’s a great actor, would you say that’s rote?”

But even Werner admits that a Kenyan education official warned him that Bridge deviated from that country’s national curriculum and employed underqualified staff. “They were urging Bridge to better align with the national government, or else,” he said. “He gave me advice cautioning in terms of having a relationship with them.”

But Bridge says it achieves results. By using the technology on its tablets to monitor teacher performance in real time, it can support those who flounder and hold them accountable when necessary. Studies it commissioned purportedly show marked increases in learning outcomes for students in its schools. Although Bridge is a for-profit company, May describes it as a “mission-driven business” that is primarily concerned with providing kids with better opportunities, not turning a big profit.

Oops! Pearson picked the wrong teacher for its Silver Award.

Rose Veitch, a teacher at Hackney College, turned it down.

Eduardo Andere is an independent researcher and writer, who lives in Mexico but is currently a visiting scholar at New York University. I contacted him and asked him to shed light on what is happening in Mexico, where several protesting teachers have been killed by police. As you will see below, it is complicated.

Eduardo Andere writes:

We should be talking about teaching and learning, school improvement, teacher’s training and professionalization; instead, we are talking about street demonstrations and deaths in Oaxaca.

Nothing justifies the death of people in confrontations over politics and policies. And when teachers, schools and education policies are involved, the feeling of bitterness and frustration is even worse. Mexico has again gained international attention because of a tragic clash between demonstrators and the police last Sunday in Oaxaca. In order to understand what it is going on I have to talk a little bit about education in Mexico.

Different from the U.S. and other large countries, education in Mexico is very centralized in almost all matters. The federal government is empowered by the National Constitution (Articles 3 and 73, mainly) to implement national education, evaluation and education civic service laws. At the national government cabinet level there is an Education Department we call Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP) that is in charge of almost all important education matters including the government-labor relations with teachers, the national curriculum, textbooks, and teacher training and professionalization.

SEP is the employer of most teachers in Mexico. The labor relationship between the government and teachers is handled by a duopoly: SEP and the National Union of Workers of Education or Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (SNTE). By historical reasons, Unions in Mexico were co-opted by non-democratic governments to advance their political interests. In the past, non-democratic national legislatures, always under the simulation of democracy, passed laws to protect the union leaders and their unions. Many of those legal shields or protections are still in force. Overtime, some union leaders became very powerful and allegedly very corrupt, sometimes as powerful of more powerful that cabinet ministers. However, this powerful leaders were “institutionalized” by the system and played by the rules of the game in a dance of political favors between high political figures such as governors and even presidents of Mexico. This has been the case of the leaders of the large unions such as the teachers union, the oil-related workers’ union and electricity-related workers’ union. Perhaps the most powerful of all of them, the leader of the SNTE, was some times dubbed as the “Mexican vice-president”.

The SNTE is formed by many sections or secciones and some of those secciones have opposed to the national union leadership. The most powerful opposition force is called the CNTE, Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (National Coordination of Workers of Education). The CNTE (o La Coordinadora) isn’t empowered by the law to handle labor negotiations with the employer, i.e., SEP, because the legal right to enter into contractual negotiations with the government is, by law, only granted to SNTE. This has made the CNTE a more vociferous and combatant labor organization. On the other hand, the SNTE has very seldom taken their quarrels to the streets, they threaten, but they have always managed to settle whatever the issue with the government.

By sheer numbers Mexico’s education system is immense, in some areas even larger than the U.S. The total number of students in Mexico from pre-school to university is 36.4 million (total population in Mexico is 121 million), educated by 2 million teachers in almost 262 thousand schools (of which 7,211 are universities and colleges). It means that SEP is in charge, directly, of more that 254 thousand schools from pre-K to 12, and is the employer of around 1.2 million teachers. The system is extremely large for a centralized authority.

The source of the conflict. Right after President Peña took office on December 1st, 2012, he sent to Congress a proposal to amend the National Constitution to set off an education reform. The national congress and the majority of the state legislatures hastily approved the amendment. In tandem, the then leader of SNTE, Elba Esther Gordillo, was incarcerated and at the time of this writing (June 23, 2016) is still in jail. The Education Amendment triggered new laws, provisions and policies that were approved and enacted in 2013. The package has been dubbed since then “The Education Reform” or “La Reforma Educative.”

At the heart of the Education Reform was the intention to disentangle old and opaque—sometimes very opaque—ways to hire and promote teachers. For decades teachers were hired and promoted with written and unwritten arrangements between the SNTE and the federal and local governments. It was part of the political reciprocal favors leaders in government (many of them politicians) and SNTE granted each other, for their own sake. Over the years, teachers learned and earned the right to sell or inherit their own “plazas” (teaching tenures.) This became almost a culture. There were some efforts, but limited to some states only, to change this “opaque” system for a new open and merit-based system. It was “ok” since many people benefited from it. Teachers were only accountable to leaders, SNTE and governmental (political-driven). One of the intentions of the Education Reform was to change that.

However, the Education Reform tried to change a long-standing wrong but “culturally” accepted employment system by a new, more transparent but totally different system based primarily on standardized tests. The only way teachers and other educators could be hired, promoted or even keep their jobs, was through a system of rigorous standardized tests. This new teacher evaluation policy tops a decade-long effort to assess students, teachers and schools, based on universal and standardized tests. As of 2002 Mexico subscribed to the international frantic wave of testing and assessment that gave rise to changes in policies in many countries, such as the U.S. (No Child Left Behind), the U.K., Australia and Japan, for instance. Mexico entered, swiftly and harshly, into the era of education assessment.

Most of the teachers in Mexico have accepted, in part or in general, the new system of assessment, but some states where CNTE has a stronghold have bitterly opposed. By the way, these states happen to be the poorest in Mexico and in many instances with the lowest education performance in the national (ENLACE and PLANEA) and international (PISA) tests, but also in matriculation rates and real or authentic opportunities to learn. One of the main arguments from teachers who oppose the Education Reform is based on conditions of extreme poverty and therefore context. They say they were never listened, so they took their quarrels to the streets, blocking highways or leaving schools, therefore, closing schools for days, weeks or months. Governments, national and local, have replied with a mixture of measures: sometimes tolerance, sometimes propaganda, and sometimes police force to open highways or incarcerating aggressive demonstrators or leaders.

The two sides seem to be struck by a stalemate: the national government, SEP, says that the Education Reform is not negotiable at all, and the opposing teachers who do not want to be evaluated by the new system of assessment, want the system to change for them. Sometimes it seems pride, but at the heart of the issue, it is high politics (paraphrasing Kissinger): a sheer change in the allocation of decision-making power.

As it is written, it seems that the issue is very simple: Negotiate. But the national government has been adamant, and so are the CNTE leaders who ironically but politically gained steam by the tragic event last Sunday in Nochixtlán, Oaxaca, where eight people died and many other were wounded as the result of a violent clash between demonstrators and the police force.

As of yesterday, June 22nd, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Secretaría de Gobernación) has set up a table for negotiations with CNTE. On the other hand, SEP has insisted that the Education Reform is not for negotiation. The leaders of the business community and the owners of some newspapers and TV networks support the Education Reform; some op-ed columnists have also backed the change in the rules of the game. The CNTE is backed by teachers mainly from the poorest states, some academics and intellectuals, and left-driven political parties and extremist groups. Negotiation and more demonstrations are taking place in tandem. The coin is in the air, but at least there is a table where they are voicing their views. In the meantime, precious time is lost to enter into authentic teaching and learning policies and practices in schools. Once again, all is politics. Pedagogy follows politics.