Improving teacher education in Norway

In 2013, Karen Hammerness and Kirsti Klette reported on the efforts to improve teacher education in Norway. In this post, following recent conversations with members of the Ministry of Education in Norway, Hammerness puts the work on teacher education in historical perspective and describes some of the latest developments.

Norway is a particularly interesting country to follow in terms of teacher education policy. Questions about the quality of education came to the forefront in 2000, with the publication of the first PISA results (what some Norwegians refer to as “the PISA-shock”). Those results showed that Norwegian students had not performed as well as many had hoped or expected. In fact, along with students in the United States, Norwegian students’ outcomes, were slightly lower than the average of the OECD countries measured. Concerns continued to mount when the second round of PISA revealed Norwegian students’ performance declining further.

A weak system of teacher education was considered to be one of the key problems. Policy makers and educators pointed to several key challenges. First, teacher preparation was organized around a ‘generalist’ conception of teaching. At the time, the Norwegian system of teacher certification allowed teachers to teach all subjects at all grade levels—a conception captured by the term allmenlærer—roughly translated as “teacher of all.” Next, the quality—and size—of teacher preparation programs varied considerably throughout the country. Furthermore, teacher education coursework in the programs seemed disconnected from teaching practice and was not tightly tied to current research on teaching and learning. Finally, reports suggested a steady decline in applications to teacher education institutions, amplifying concerns about a lack of qualified teachers in the near future.

Teacher education reforms

In response, over the last five years, Norway has invested heavily in funding for work on teacher education and teaching and made a number of important policy changes. In 2010, building upon a white paper that had summarized key concerns about preparation of teachers, Norway transformed their system of certification and established two ‘lines’ or ‘streams’ of certification—a stream that prepares teachers for grades 1-7 (somewhat similar to a primary school certification in the US), and another that prepares teachers to teach grades 5-10 (when lower secondary school ends in Norway). A new national curriculum framework for teacher education was also developed and came into effect in 2010. The framework required more coursework on pedagogy and learner knowledge, including an emphasis upon research-based subject-specific methods, learners’ development, and classroom management. The new framework also created new graduation requirements including the completion of a bachelors’ thesis, related to teaching and learning. In addition, new regulations stipulated that teacher education programs would need to increase the percentage of faculty who have completed doctoral studies—ultimately, requiring programs to ensure that 50% of faculty have PhDs.

A proposal was also made to address some larger ‘structural’ issues that affected the quality of higher education. In particular, in 2008, the government released a report calling for a reduction in programs in higher education, including teacher education. Correspondingly, some policymakers expected that the new requirements might lead to significant restructuring, particularly among smaller and more remote teacher education programs. Conceivably, such programs might decide to focus upon one degree; they might start to share students, collaborate or even merge with other local institutions; or the programs might determine that they could not meet the new demands and might voluntarily choose to close.

Responses to the reforms

These moves to streamline programs are not easy in a country like Norway. Teacher preparation has been central to the identity of many of the smaller institutions throughout the country—reflecting a social policy that has been supportive of small institutions in a country in which the population has been somewhat ‘spread out’ across a wide geographical area. The existence of such small, local academic institutions (and teacher preparation programs) reflects a national investment and policy support for the deeply held value of living and working locally. This support for living in in widely-dispersed regions throughout the country in fact has been a historical Norwegian value–and it seems understandable, given that Norway spans about 2,500 miles from north to south (and, with 25,000 miles of rugged coastline, it is among the ten countries with the longest coastlines).

Norwegian educators point out that teacher education programs have been central to supporting and financially maintaining smaller regional institutions of higher education. As Øyvind Johnson, a Senior Advisor at the Ministry, noted, “Teacher education is the pillar of many of these small institutions.” Many of these institutions prepare only a very few teachers every year (although of course, they also are intended to prepare teachers who are committed to remaining local). For instance, reflective of the small scale of some of these institutions: a recent report found that of the twenty programs in Norway that prepare teachers for teaching in grades 1-7, as many as twelve institutions have fewer than 50 student-teachers, and two have as few as nine students.

The new requirements have put considerable strain on some of the smaller institutions throughout Norway to redesign, develop new curriculum, and to change program expectations. However, Ministry representatives reported that none of the programs thus far had chosen to focus only upon one certification ‘stream’ nor had any programs voluntarily closed entirely. At one point, the Ministry considered requiring programs to have a minimum of twenty students in order to remain open, but never put such a requirement in place. As Johnson noted, “If programs had under twenty applicants, what would you do?” In short, policymakers have been trying to develop policies that both strengthen programs and continue to provide support for small, local institutions (and local communities) all the while, maximizing flexibility and equity of participation. Not surprisingly, under these conditions, the number of teacher education programs that offered the allmenlærer degree has not changed since the reform: there were twenty programs prior to the latest reforms, and twenty remain.

What’s Next: A continued focus on “existing programs”

In considering future steps to continue to improve teacher education, the ministry has also just released a new strategy, Lærerløftet (or, raising teachers), which has set forth a set of key themes for continued improvement of teacher education. Top among them is the requirement that teachers in both streams will have to obtain a master’s degree. By 2017, all teacher education programs must be structured as 5-year programs. Senior advisors from the Ministry reported that several reasons underlay that decision: the desire to ensure that teachers are substantially well-prepared and the belief that an additional year beyond a Bachelor’s degree provides more depth of training; more support for teachers to use research in their teaching and to draw upon scientific knowledge in their work; and an opportunity for teachers to develop an understanding of the research base of teaching and learning through their work on a Master’s thesis. As Dalen Tennøe explained, “We looked to Finland, that teacher education should be research-based.” The latest strategy also calls for tightening requirements for entry into teacher education—Norwegian students are graded on a scale of 1-6 (1 being lowest and 6 highest), and currently the requirement has been that to enter teacher preparation one needed a three average in mathematics and Norwegian. Now, prospective teachers will need at least a four in mathematics to enter teacher education. Illustrating the challenges however, at the same time that the policy makers use the example of Finland to support the strengthening of these requirements, a recent newspaper article with the headline “Yrket som falt fra statustoppen” (the profession fallen from high status), shows that critics of these policies also use Finland as an example to argue that teachers should be granted greater autonomy without policy makers’ intrusions.

However the debate develops, Norwegian policymakers are not considering the development of alternative routes into teaching as a policy lever for improving teacher preparation. (For a related argument on why policy makers might not consider alternative pathways into teacher education, see Pasi Sahlberg’s post on why there is no Teach for Finland.) Senior Advisors in Norway were quite clear that the focus of policy was improvement of current programs, not on adding new or alternative pathways. Although Norway does have a “Teach First” program, it is the only alternative program in the country—it is offered at the University of Oslo and has only 20 students. As Fredrik Dalen Tennøe, Deputy Director General, Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, noted, “The main focus has been improving the teacher education programs which are there already, not introducing new [pathways] into the schools.”

 

Multicultural Education in South Korea

Over the past decade or so, South Korea (as well as Taiwan and Japan) has experienced a wave of immigration that has resulted in an increasingly ethnic and racially diverse population. The issue has received considerable attention—from the media, as well as from politicians—as the country works to find ways to address the needs of multicultural population, as well as a rising concerns about ethnic conflictsdiscrimination, and a general sense that South Korea is “not ready for multiculturalism.” However, South Korea is a country that been considering ways to “redefine multiculturalism,” such as with the concept of Tamunhwa (multiculturalism), which suggests that South Koreans need to learn as much as they can about the new immigrant population while finding ways to create a “new national identity not based on ethnicity.”

Dr. Jeehun Kim & Dr. Jang-ham Na

Dr. Jeehun Kim & Dr. Jang-ham Na

In order to learn more about how educators are addressing multiculturalism in the classroom, Eun-Kyoung Chung and Deirdre Faughey spoke with Dr. Jeehun Kim and Dr. Jang-ham Na, two visiting scholars at Teachers College, Columbia University, this semester. In this interview, posted on Esteem: Conversations Between Educators, the two scholars explain what they are learning about the multicultural classroom in South Korea. For example, while textbooks and the curriculum are centralized and the Ministry of Education has established guidelines for multicultural instruction, there is no mechanism for ensuring that these guidelines are followed by teachers and schools. This might be problematic for curricular reforms that aim to cater to multicultural populations that are geographically specific, as well as curricular reforms that aim to promote sensitivity to multiculturalism throughout the country.  The scholars also address the issue of teacher education, and the difficulties that sometimes arise when student teachers ask for strategies and methods that address the needs of a diverse student body. Since South Koreans have long considered their population homogenous, the issue of multiculturalism can become personal. As Jang-ham Na explains, “When it comes to multiculturalism, depending on what social background you have, sometimes you have some privilege compared with others. But the privilege will be gone in other places. So we have to be more critical.”

Esteem has also published recent interviews with scholars such as Luis Huerta, Christopher Emdin, Karen Hammerness, Maxine Greene, and Pedro Noguera.  To learn more please visit www.esteemjournal.org

Interview with Allan Luke

Dr. Alan Luke

Dr. Allan Luke

Allan Luke is Emeritus Professor at Queensland University of Technology in Australia, and Adjunct Professor at the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary. He has authored and edited 15 books and multiple articles on literacy, sociology of education, and policy. This interview, which is part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, appears as part of a series that features experts from around the globe, highlights promising research and practice, and offers expert insight on small- and large-scale educational change. Recently, Lead the Change has also published interviews with Diane Ravitch, and the contributors to Leading Educational Change: Global Issues, Challenges, and Lessons on Whole-System Reform (Teachers College Press, 2013) edited by Helen Janc Malone, have participated in a series of blogs from Education Week.

Singapore update: Changing post-secondary education to broaden K-16 outcomes

In earlier posts, Paul Chua discussed Singapore’s recent initiatives to create space within the K-12 system to support the development of 21st Century Skills. In this post, he describes related efforts to change the applied education sector of the post-secondary education system. The applied education sector is generally regarded as education in the Institute of Technical (Vocational) Education and the Polytechnics. The mission of the Polytechnics is to train practice-oriented and knowledgeable professionals to support the technological and economic development of Singapore.

To keep the education system relevant for the ever-evolving needs and demands of the economy, the Ministry of Education in Singapore systematically conducts regular reviews of the various sectors of the education system. With the implementation of the recommendation arising from the reviews of the Primary Education and Secondary Education sector of the system well underway, and most recent reviews of the higher education sector completed, the Ministry turned to the applied education component of the education system. To this end, The Ministry of Education released the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) report and the Singapore government established the SkillsFuture Council last year.

ASPIRE and SkillsFuture Council

The rationale for ASPIRE is to “to further strengthen Singapore’s applied education pathways, provide more opportunities for Singaporeans to realise their full potential and aspirations, and to support better alignment of the supply of and demand for skills, so that Singapore will continue to prosper and be a land of hope and opportunity for everyone in the years ahead.” Its recommendations are clustered into 3 areas: 1) making appropriate educational and career choices, 2) development of relevant skills, and 3) career progression. To drive the ASPIRE recommendations forward, at the inaugural SkillsFuture Council meeting, the Council has identified four thrusts of work aligned to the recommendations.

What are the ASPIRE and SkillsFuture Council trying to achieve?

Multiple objectives are being achieved through ASPIRE and the SkillsFuture Council work. As there are going to be some things in life that require degree qualifications e.g. law, medicine and engineering while others do not absolutely need a degree, one objective is to better match the demand and supply for skills. Another is to cater to the new demands of the economy and develop Singapore’s society to an advanced stage through the acquisition of deep skills. However, in relation to the learning of academics, development of skills tends to have lower (not low) status in the eyes of many.

As such, a key target of the SkillsFuture Council is to try to change the Singapore societal mindset to recognize that every individual may not need a degree in order to progress in one’s career. It is doing this through influencing the “outcome” variables of a career based on skills mastery (i.e. salaries, promotional prospects and eventually the intangible thing of “status” – how you are seen in the eyes of the public). Realistic about the challenges ahead, the Ministry of Education noted that such a transformation of societal attitudes and mindsets “…will be a major, long term effort involving collaboration with all stakeholders, including employers, training providers, unions and individuals” (MOE, 2014).

Cognizant of the negative perception of an applied or skills-based approach to education, the current approach in Singapore is to promote the mastery of deep skills that support modern high value-adding jobs, much like the highly skilled workers in Germany’s Mittelstand. In addition, educational and career guidance will actively be used in the Singapore case to guide students to study courses that lead to careers that fit their inclinations and aptitudes.

How does the SkillsFuture Council attempt to do this?

The SkillsFuture Council takes off where the ASPIRE committee ends its scope of work. Amongst other things, the Council will specifically address the issue of working with employers, industry associations, and unions to develop specific skills progression frameworks for key sectors. This approach hopes that if students progress along the skills ladder, productivity should increase, followed by employment incomes and promotional prospects. The Council also seeks to promote respect for every job and for the skills mastery achievements of every individual. It hopes to achieve this through the efforts of a community-led Lifelong Learning Council.

Impact on K-12

There are multiple possible impact points on K-12. First, as the ASPIRE report noted, this emphasis on skills will help “realise their [students’] potential and progress in life, no matter what their starting point.” Second, if the re-shaping of societal attitudes and mindsets towards career progression via the mastery of skills is successful, the re-shaping could subsequently expand parents’ and children’s focus on academic (and examination) success in the schools to a more balanced attention to both academic and non-academic skills. The approach suggests that with these changes and with greater balance, non-academic skills such as the 21st century competencies of student leadership, teamwork and communication will not be overshadowed by the need to spend inordinate amounts of time on honing academic skills.

Teaching time in the U.S.

In The Mismeasure of Teaching Time, Sam Abrams exposes the myth that teachers in the United States spend nearly twice as much time leading classes as teachers in many other OECD countries. Abrams, Director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, details basic contradictions in the U.S. figures reported by the OECD and repeated by many journalists and scholars. His analysis suggests that U.S. teachers still do spend more time teaching than their counterparts in other OECD countries, but only about 15 percent more. This is still an important difference, but, as Abrams argues, one that has overshadowed more significant differences: in particular, teacher pay and the structure of the school day. Soon after the study was published last week by the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education (CBCSE), we had a chance to ask Abrams when he first noticed the problems with U.S. figures, how he determined what was going on, and what the implications are for educators and the general public (see also recent EdWeek coverage). We share his response below:  

After repeatedly seeing this misinformation about teaching hours in books and articles, I wrote to the OECD in January 2012 to inform them that the U.S. hours were way off and provided as evidence terms of teacher contracts from several major school districts.  I moreover explained that I had been the scheduler of a public high school in New York City for seven years as well as a teacher for many more. The people I contacted at the OECD conceded the U.S. hours appeared inflated and relayed this information to the U.S. representative to the OECD, who, in turn, I was told, stood by the numbers.  I decided at that point to save my argument for a book I was writing on educational privatization.  But as that book was taking longer than expected and as this myth was getting repeated on a regular basis in op-ed pieces, think tank studies, and books, I decided in October of 2014, after compiling more evidence, to address the problem directly with the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), the source of the U.S. figures.

Tom Snyder, the NCES Program Director for Annual Reports and Information, could not have been more helpful. When presented with my case, as I wrote in my study, Snyder undertook with his staff a review of their data and a week later reported that the United States had indeed been inadvertently overstating teaching time. Snyder’s openness and cooperation was a lesson to me that researchers can get a lot more assistance from authorities than I had thought.

I should add that if I had not been a teacher, I would not have been in much of a position to question the data.  This implicitly points to the divide between policy and practice. As a teacher, I had never heard of Education at a Glance and I didn’t read many books about education policy.  I read books about history and economics, as I was a teacher of history and economics, and I struggled to keep up with reading and grading my students’ papers.  It was only after I became a researcher and began to work on my book on educational privatization in 2008 that I started reading a lot of books about education policy.  With my background as a teacher, I could quickly see that some policy analysis, like this argument about teaching time, didn’t hold up.

The salient implication of this finding is that we’ve been tilting at windmills. Teaching time is a phantom problem.  U.S. teachers do teach more than their OECD counterparts but, as I explain in my study, only marginally more.  The real and telling differences between teaching in the United States and other OECD nations concern relative pay and the structure of the school day.  These problems have been obscured by the difference in teaching time because the alleged difference has been so dramatic.  For journalists and scholars, that dramatic difference has been impossible to ignore.  And they’ve understandably focused on it at the expense of these two other real and telling differences.

As I noted in my study, U.S. primary teachers, according to Education at a Glance, earn 67 percent as much as their college classmates while their OECD counterparts earn 85 percent; U.S. lower-secondary teachers earn 68 percent compared to 88 percent for their OECD counterparts; and U.S. upper-secondary teachers earn 70 percent in contrast to 92 percent for their OECD counterparts.  The data on pay appear quite reliable, as I explain in my study, because the method of collecting data on pay differs substantially from the method of collecting data on teaching time.

In absolute terms, U.S. teachers may make as much as their OECD counterparts but not in relative terms, because in other OECD nations, on average, bankers, lawyers, doctors, engineers, and management consultants make much less.  So, this is a social contract issue.  It isn’t so much that U.S. teachers don’t earn much. It’s that their college classmates who went into banking, law, medicine, engineering, and consulting make a lot more.  Teachers accordingly get priced out.  It’s thus hard to attract people to the profession and hard to retain them if they come aboard.  Fixing this problem constitutes a steep challenge.  It would necessitate raising not only teacher pay but also marginal income tax rates as well as tax rates on long-term capital gains.  But we at least need to look at this problem with our eyes wide open.

What’s not hard to fix is the structure of the school day.  In this regard, as I explain in my study, U.S. practice differs significantly from that of many other OECD nations. The architects of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Race to the Top (RTTT) wanted to close the achievement gap by identifying academic deficiencies through regular testing and by holding school administrators and teachers accountable for their students’ results. The goal of closing the achievement gap is clearly noble. But the high-stakes testing that defines NCLB and RTTT has had perverse consequences. In particular, it has reduced, as I documented in my study, time for play, art, music, and drama because school administrators have felt great pressure to pack more academic instruction and test prep into the school day in order to boost test results.

School administrators have had little choice.  Test results are ultimately relative.  If school administrators in one district reduce time for play, art, music, and drama to make more time for academic instruction and test prep, then school administrators in neighboring districts are hard pressed not to do the same.  We have a stadium effect.  If spectators in the first row at a basketball game rise to see a big play, then spectators in the next row must do the same. In a heartbeat, everyone in the arena is on their feet. The same holds for test prep and schools.  The result is a narrowed curriculum, intense pressure on students, teachers, and principals alike, and a tight day, lacking the breaks between classes necessary for students, teachers, and principals alike to regroup, reflect, and get some fresh air.

There has long been an assembly-line pace to the school day in the United States, with short breaks between classes and brief lunch periods. Raymond Callahan made that clear more than fifty years ago in his incisive book Education and the Cult of Efficiency, published in 1962. But with the high-stakes testing introduced by NCLB and RTTT, the pace has intensified.

As a coach for several years with the Ice Hockey in Harlem program in Central Park, I’ve come to learn that kids of all ages, from five to seventeen, crave and need play. We can’t get the kids off the ice at the end of practice. Kids need to improvise with their bodies and experience the joy of playing with their peers. At a certain point, as I write in my study, more academic time becomes counterproductive. Leaders of such major companies as SAS and Google, in this light, have understood that more work at the expense of relaxation and recreation likewise becomes counterproductive and have accordingly encouraged their employees to take breaks and designed their offices with relaxation and recreation in mind.

We could fix this, as I explain in my study, by getting rid of high-stakes testing.  We have had the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) since 1969 to test samples of students in fourth, eighth, and twelfth grades.  We need little more than that. If we could move on from high-stakes testing, then our schools would be a lot more like schools in many other OECD nations, and the lives of U.S. teachers would be a lot more manageable.

News scan: Germany and Ireland

This week, a scan of the news coming from Europe led us to put several links on Twitter; however, over the past year we’ve noticed more than one report on related topics. Here is a brief description of news coming out of Germany and Ireland. Next week, we will take a closer look at reports coming out of Central and South American countries.

Germany

According to a new study, Germany will not be able to meet ambitious education goals the country set for itself in 2008. Angela Merkel aimed to cut the dropout rate from 8% to 4%, but as of 2013 the rate stood at 5.7%. The German government is also struggling to reduce the number of young people (aged 20-29) who were without any professional qualification.  Interestingly, another report pointed out that there has been an ongoing Twitter debate (in German) about the country’s educational system, sparked by one girl who tweeted, “I am almost 18 and have no idea about taxes, rent or insurance. But, I can analyze a poem. In 4 languages.” The debate is raging over the purpose of an education and whether or not schools should prepare students for “life.”

 

Ireland

Teachers are protesting in Ireland because they disagree with government reforms that aim to move student evaluations away from standardized testing and towards a performance-based model, which would allow portfolios and other options. Teachers are concerned that the new assessments will force teachers to judge their own students, rather than advocate for them. They also object to the amount of time teachers will need to spend on the new assessments. Pasi Sahlsburg responded to the teachers’ plan to strike by saying that teachers need to take on more complex roles in order to boost the profession. In addition to seeing themselves differently, teachers need to see the students differently–and that’s what the alternative assessment model is all about. According to Sahlsburg, the situation in Ireland is “unique globally in many ways. Internationally it is more common that teachers are the ones that insist more freedom and autonomy in assessing and grading their students rather than the other way round.” In this case, an additional issue might be that teachers are wary of new, complex practices that they don’t have the capacity to carry out—practices that might seem unnecessary, particularly after Irish students just achieved test results that surpassed those the country set for the year 2020.

Deirdre Faughey

José Weinstein on systemic change in Chile

This month, the Lead the Change Series features an interview with José Weinstein, professor at Universidad Diego Portales and formerly Deputy Minister of Education and then Minister of Culture in Chile. Weinstein talks about the need to engage the entire system in Chile in focusing on improving practice in the classroom. In the process, he expands on many of the issues we touched on last October including the recent proposals for system-wide change in Chile and efforts to strengthen teacher education and the teaching profession. Weinstein describes as well the key role that principals may play in this transformation, arguing that the Latin American context requires an “orchestrating leader” whose responsibilities include but go beyond those of the “instructional leader” that is the focus of work on educational leadership in the US and the UK. He also offers several different hypotheses that help to explain some of the positive developments in the Chilean education system and the significant dissatisfaction that has contributed to violent protests. As he concludes: “Chile will have to create its own path to continue its educational progress, taking ownership of the dark sides of its development but without losing sight of what has been accomplished. In the coming years, teachers and principals will have to be the key protagonists of education improvement in Chile.”

Thomas Hatch