The “biggest-ever” league table?

The latest education report from the OECD ranks 76 countries according to the percentage of the population that lacks basic skills. The report, by Eric Hanushek of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and Ludger Woessmann of the University of Munich, derives the ranking from the latest test scores from the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) for 15-year-olds and the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) for 14-year-olds. In what BBC News called the “biggest-ever education league table,” Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan (again) top the charts. Coming in at number six, Finland is the top-ranking non-Asian country. Our latest scan of education news around the world finds many media reports highlighting the relative ranking of particular countries, but a number mention as well the report’s claims of a connection between improving performance on the tests and economic growth. At the same time, it is worth noting that not everyone agrees there is a straightforward relationship between performance on tests like PISA and TIMMS and economic outcomes. James Heckman and colleagues Tim Kautz, Ron Diris, Bas ter Weel, Lex Borghans, in particular, have emphasized that current tests like PISA and TIMMS “do not adequately capture non-cognitive skills, personality traits, goals, character, motivations, and preferences that are valued in the labour market, in school, and in many other domains.” As they explain in Fostering and measuring skills: Improving cognitive and non-cognitive skills to promote lifetime success and Hard evidence on soft skills, for many outcomes, the predictive power of non-cognitive skills rivals or exceeds that of cognitive skills.

“Global school rankings: Interactive map shows standards of education across the world,” The Independent

“Asian kids race ahead on learning: OECD,” The Australian

Bottom in EU on OECD education league, again,” Cyprus Mail

“New education rankings from the OECD put Finland in sixth position worldwide—the top European country and the first non-Asian country in the list,” yle UUTISET

“Ireland ranks 15th in global league table for maths, science; GDP would be boosted by 2.3 per cent if universal basic skill levels were achieved,” Irish Times

“OECD report links school achievement and economic growth; despite oil wealth, Arab world trails far behind,” Israel Times

“When it comes to education, Singapore is a world-beater,”  The Straights Times

“Turkey ranks 41st in education on OECD report of 76 countries,” Today’s Zambian

UK below Poland and Vietnam in biggest ever international education rankings, TES Connect

“Improving Basic Education Can Boost U.S. Economy by $27 Trillion,” U.S. News & World Report

–Thomas Hatch

#EFF13: A Twitter Chat on Educational Innovation

14592653118_dde584e697_oAs I scan the Internet and Twitter for news to share with out IEN readers, I notice a growing number of twitter chats emerging on education topics. We have also attempted our own Twitter chats, such as our recent effort using #WhatsnewAERA during a symposium we conducted last month at the American Educational Researcher Association Conference (#AERA15). These conversation threads take many forms – they can be enrichment opportunities for students, networking opportunities, or virtual “coffee-klaches” on high-interest educational topics. They can also bring together the online followers of live events. Now that these threads can be collected on one platform (such as on Storify.com), or searched for by using the hashtag as a search term on Twitter, readers might find that they can access some new information and get a sense of what was discussed at these in-person events; however, reading all of the threads can be a headache. Becoming Twitter-literate might be a new skill we all need to develop, but for now I thought I’d share my own attempt to make sense of a Twitter chat that seems relevant to IEN.

This week, I spent some time reading a Twitter chat hosted by an organization called Education Fast Forward, a not-for-profit organization that aims to develop a “global movement of teachers, students, leaders and policy makers who understand education’s challenges well and will support each other in tackling them.” This organization hosts live, international “debates” in which prominent voices in education come together with the aid of high-speed Internet technology. This debate, titled “Rethinking How We Learn,” was held on May 7th and included an in-person panel discussion and audience in Norway, but additional speakers joined from remote locations using video conferencing. Then, the entire event was broadcast live on the Education Fast Forward website (a recording will be made available soon). Those watching on their own personal computers were encouraged to maintain a simultaneous conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #EFF13.

The conversation began with a familiar question that served as a foundation for all that followed: “What is the purpose of education?” Howard Rheingold (@hrheingold) suggested that technology be used to help us rethink how we teach. The focus at the start was on how students learn together, learning how to learn, and asking questions. Commenters on Twitter pointed out that learning, and the education system, seem to be “in collision” with one another. Concern was quickly directed to teachers and teacher education, with calls for teachers to be empowered to innovate. Here, Andreas Schliecher (@SchleicherEDU) claimed that teachers in Asian countries are more open to collaboration and innovation. Gavin Dykes (@gavindk) argued that innovation might not require a change in education legislation, but more risk-taking and less conservatism. On Twitter, many expressed their concern that teachers who might want to innovate are presented with an accountability roadblock: can we innovate in this worldwide, high-stakes accountability context?

Schleicher argued that “everyone likes innovation except for their own children,” a point that made it clear that the #EFF13 debate up to that point had been less about what innovation might look like – what changes might need to be made and why – and perhaps too focused on what was wrong with the current systems. Some on Twitter called for innovative teachers to be rewarded, which led to speculation about what innovation would look like and how it would be recognized. Howard Rheinhold’s suggestion to use voice feedback in response to student work was retweeted several times on Twitter, with May Britt (@baadsto) recommending Evernote for its ability to record voice memos directly on documents. At this point Greg Foley (@GregmFoley) began to wonder what was so wrong with the “conventional” education system of the 20th century? After all, it provided the foundation for innovation as well.

When the example of coding was offered as a movement that relied mainly on those who are self-taught, I began to think about the stunning lack of diversity that the discipline of coding has become known for. At the same time, it became clear that diversity was not part of this conversation on educational innovation – in fact, the Twitter conversation here was among a pretty homogenous group. The connection between innovation and privilege was made by an undergraduate student from Australia, Olivia Hill (@ohill8) who said “I would also like to acknowledge my privilege as a student who is white, cis-, middle class and able #EFF13.” Another interesting comment was shared on Twitter by @CoRe2dot0, from Germany. Unfortunately, it was not taken up by the others on the chat: “Maybe one shld differ between disruptive and sustaining innovations”?

We will continue to try to follow and learn from Twitter chats on the topic of educational innovation around the world as they happen.

Deirdre Faughey

For recent news on educational innovation around the world:

Latin America’s big education innovation | Miami Herald Miami Herald http://buff.ly/1PR8qku

Quality education, innovation & research the key – The Times of India http://buff.ly/1c0jq1A

Saudi’s education strategy aligned with innovation agenda – Zawya http://buff.ly/1c0jHkY

What Drives Innovation in Education Publishing (and What Doesn’t) | Digital Book World http://buff.ly/1FnLlnU

Education World: Educational Innovation Is a Team Effort, Expert Says http://buff.ly/1c0krXa

Education and innovation in Europe | #MITIDE | SiliconANGLE http://buff.ly/1HnorfR

Principal evaluation in China and the U.S.

When principals and teachers are evaluated based on student achievement, what do they do to promote student learning? I recently spoke with Min Sun, Assistant Professor at the University of Washington, who explained that a principal’s leadership in promoting instruction might make a difference in improving student achievement. In 2012, Sun published a study titled “Association of District Principal Evaluation with learning-centered leadership practice: Evidence from Michigan and Beijing,” with Peter Youngs, Haiyan Yang & Hongqi Chu & Qian Zhao, which showed that one key difference between principals in China (where students earn top scores on the PISA exam) and in Michigan is the extent to which they can be instructional leaders.

China’s top-ranked performance on the international PISA exam has piqued the interest of many Western countries that hope to learn from its success. As Andreas Schleicher, OECD director for Education and Skills, has explained, “Obviously, one can’t copy and paste school systems wholesale. But PISA has revealed a surprising number of features that the world’s most successful school systems share and from which others can learn.” In their study, Sun et al. (2012) found that a comparison revealed a few key differences in leadership approaches.

For example, in Beijing principals more frequently report, “supervising and evaluating instruction, coordinating curriculum, protecting instructional time, maintaining high visibility, and providing incentives for student learning.” In both Beijing and Michigan, district principal evaluation informed personnel decisions, professional development, and was used to hold principals accountable for student achievement; however, in Beijing principals were more likely to feel that their evaluation was used to determine merit salary increases or sanctions. While the content of each evaluation was similar,

“a significantly higher percentage of Beijing principals felt that district leadership evaluation emphasized teacher evaluation, provision of professional development programs for teachers, curriculum design, and supervision of student learning during school time than their counterparts in Michigan did….Moreover, when district principal evaluation focused on leaders’ instructional and management knowledge and skills, leadership behaviors, and organizational impacts, principals were more likely to engage in various learning-centered leadership activities.”

Sun et al. (2012) found that principals in Beijing have more teaching experience than their Michigan counterparts. Therefore, they are able to engage with teachers and students on the classroom level. As Sun explained, when a teacher is absent in Beijing it is the principal who covers their class. Since principals typically have extensive experience with instruction, they can step in to help a teacher who is struggling in the classroom. As stated in the article, “In China, almost all K-12 public school principals are former senior teachers who have demonstrated pedagogical expertise in classrooms, and principals in China are respected as head teachers.”

The authors also found that Chinese principals were more likely to perceive that their evaluation held them accountable for student achievement, which, they say, is not surprising given the long tradition in China of accountability based on test scores. As a result, “Chinese principals perceived a stronger impact of specific aspects of district evaluation.” The emphasis on the purpose, content, and evidence, of specific leadership activities meant that the principal was more likely to focus on “learning-centered leadership activities.”

All of this raises questions about the current high stakes accountability measures we see in the U.S. While policymakers would like to see better outcomes on standardized tests, might we also need to consider whether or not the people responsible for improving such outcomes know how to do so? And, when those in charge don’t have the capacity to focus on learning-centered activities that might promote achievement on standardized tests, might we see instead a corruption of the system, such as in the recent cheating incident in Atlanta that resulted in x teachers and school leaders being sent to jail? Will we begin to view school leaders as untrustworthy when it comes to evaluating classroom instruction?

In the U. S., this topic is also highly relevant at the moment as high-stakes accountability has led to a growing number of parents across the country “opting out,” or allowing their children to refuse to take high stakes exams. Education Secretary Arne Duncan explained that if the number of students refusing State exams continues to grow, the Federal Government may need to step in to address the problem.

While the U.S. looks to the East for accountability policies that can promote student achievement, in contrast, China looks to the West for policies that can promote whole-child development and creativity. However, in the efforts of policymakers in the East and the West we can see what happens when “borrowed” policies confront cultural differences.

For example, in striking contrast to the U.S. parents engaged in the growing opt-out movement, parents in China are focused on doing whatever it takes to help their children perform well on standardized tests. While Chinese policymakers are now starting to think about whole-child development, creativity, and student happiness—other things that children need, such as physical and emotional health—the primary focus remains on test scores. Chinese parents view the college admission exam as crucial for their child’s future success, and therefore they are willing to devote considerable time and money to preparing their children for it from a very young age. As a result, Chinese parents pushback when schools attempt to promote non-academic activities.

In addition to cultural factors that might influence student achievement, a new book raises questions about the connections we have made between test scores and education policies. In Real Finnish Lessons: The True Story of an Education Superpower, Gabriel Heller Sahlgre presents the (somewhat controversial) idea that Finland’s high ranking on international assessments has more to do with economic factors than it does with educational factors.

In the midst of all of these questions and concerns about student achievement, we might need to begin a deeper conversation about how we can a) promote policies that cohere with real-world practice, and b) develop universal assessments that allow us to address global questions of educational equity, while also considering the needs of unique cultures and communities—and even individual stakeholders, such as parents, students, teachers, and principals.

Deirdre Faughey

Educational Innovation Around The World (Revisited)

Last month IEN hosted a symposium on educational innovation around the world, featuring commentary papers from and a discussion about innovation in:

In addition to slides from the framing introduction and the presentations, Deirdre Faughey and an online audience shared notes and questions from the session which can be found at #Whatsnewaera on Twitter.

The discussion highlighted for me several key questions about innovation in different contexts that we need to continue to address:

What’s really “new” and what difference does it make? 

The discussion emphasized that rather than a property of a particular idea or practice innovations make possible more productive and beneficial activities and outcomes in a particular context. In that sense, ideas and practices that may already be in use or may be well known in one context may lead to new developments and improved outcomes in another context.

What innovations are worth spreading?

Not every “new” development is worth pursuing. However, ideas and practices worth spreading includes those that create new opportunities to address problems, achieve existing goals, or pursue productive but previously unimagined directions and activities. In education, in particular, valuable innovations are those that transform the “instructional core,” changing the relationship between students, teachers and content in ways that lead to advances in learning.

What strategies can support the spread and productive use of educational innovations?

The session highlighted a number of different approaches to spreading and deepening innovation that are linked to particular contexts:

  • Start work on developing innovations “at the margins” of the educational system, where there may be fewer requirements and less attention; demonstrate success; and build demand for spread (as in developing peer-tutoring in rural schools in Mexico)
  • Build (and build on) regional clusters and other means of organizing “like-minded” schools and organizations that can incubate innovations that meet their particular needs (as in Singapore)
  • Leverage existing networks and infrastructure (as in efforts in Africa to take advantage of work to build networks focused on health and use of health data)
  • “Occupy” existing structures and re-direct resources (as in Mexico where success of tutoring networks created demands for using professional development resources in new ways and helped to put those involved in developing tutoring networks into central roles in the education system)
  • Use the central structures and resources to seed and reward local and regional innovations; to identify those of broad relevance; and to incorporate selected local innovations into central policy-making and support (as in the “Centralized decentralization” approach in Singapore)
  • Foster conditions that support innovation at the school/community level; the regional/cluster level; and the national level (as in Finland’s efforts to support high levels of professionalism among teachers; coherent but flexible expectations for learning; adaptive leadership; and productive networks and partnerships)

These different approaches, however, have strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand, starting at the margins, for example, can be labeled and stigmatized as only appropriate for students, teachers, and schools in those schools. On the other hand, centralizing and systematizing local innovations can reduce flexibility and adaptiveness and limit the local ownership that may have been central to the innovation’s value. Further, while promoting the use of partnerships, clusters, and networks can facilitate spread to some individuals and groups, others are still likely to be left out. As a consequence, questions of whether and when to scale innovations and how to link work at the margins/work at the center and work across networks and clusters have to be addressed.

**************************

While the session made clear that developing productive educational innovations is challenging in any context, it also demonstrated the possibilities for innovation under a wide range of conditions.

Ultimately, the session suggested that innovation cannot be a goal in and of itself. Rather than trying to create new solutions to old problems, the promise of innovation lies in finding new problems, opportunities, and possibilities for advancing learning of students, educators and systems.

Thanks to all those who have contributed to the discussion so far. We welcome further conversation and look forward to hearing more about the work on educational innovation underway in many different contexts.

Thomas Hatch

Teacher autonomy in South Korea and around the world

Teacher autonomy – which refers to teachers’ ability to develop their own curriculum and instruction – has sometimes been seen as a way to support teachers’ professionalism. However, in a recent conversation, Won-Pyo Hong, an Associate Professor at Yonsei University, described how teachers may not always see “autonomy” as a positive development. He talked with me about a study he conducted with with Peter Youngs, Associate Professor at the University of Virginia, titled “Why are teachers afraid of curricular autonomy? Contradictory effects of the new national curriculum in South Korea.” That study focused on teachers’ experiences with the new national curriculum (designed in 2009), which was supposed to allow for teacher autonomy. As Hong explained, the reality was more complicated:

“Policymakers insisted that granting curricular autonomy would provide more freedom to schools from the central controls and encourage them to develop varied curricula according to their local conditions and student interests. However, it needs to be noted that the curriculum revision in 2009 was made under a conservative government who pursued a market-based approach to education reforms. So, the curricular autonomy embedded in the 2009 national curriculum had conveyed dual meanings; on the surface, it seemed to empower teachers by giving more curricular discretion to individual schools. On the other hand, it reduced government interventions over curricular issues which could cause competition among schools and widen the gap between schools of poor and better conditions in terms of the quality of school curriculum.”

While the prior curriculum presented a sequence of study in each content area and grade level, the new curriculum set a total number of instructional hours for a given subject over three years. Additionally, the number of subjects that a school could offer was reduced to eight or less in a semester (down from ten), and schools were encouraged to offer intensive courses. As Hong explained,

“if a school previously offered both music and visual arts for an hour per week throughout the year, now it had to make a semester-long course to offer only one subject per semester. This change was made to reduce students’ workload and thus make learning more engaging and comprehensive. Schools were also allowed to reduce or increase the number of instructional hours for each subject up to 20% in general schools, 35% in self-managing schools designated by provincial authorities. This was quite a substantial change, as it was the first time that trade-offs became possible across the subject areas. For instance, schools were allowed to teach more hours for a certain subject area as long as it maintained the total number of instructional hours by reducing hours assigned to other subjects. Therefore, teachers in a school were required to work together to determine how to adjust instructional hours across the subject areas, considering the local context and student needs.”

Hong and Young found that when autonomy was built into the curriculum the teachers questioned its authenticity, as they felt that the autonomy had been provided as an expectation, rather than obtained through their own efforts. Hong explained that another notable finding was that “teachers worried that schools would abuse the given autonomy to teach major subject areas more often, further marginalizing other subject areas. This is because student performances in Korean, English, and math carry the most weight for the college admission process, thus becoming primary concerns for parents and students.”

As a result, Korean teachers did not feel more empowered as the autonomy felt artificial. The authors noted that “curriculum scholars need to examine more closely when and how teachers’ curricular autonomy promotes positive results in practice.” They also noted that teachers who participated in the study felt that autonomy was impossible when subject area content standards remained unchanged.

While the current government in South Korea is pursuing a new revision of the national curriculum, one that focuses on cross-disciplinary thinking, attention to teacher autonomy is quickly waning. As Hong explains, the Korean cases illustrates some of the complexities of government-initiated curricular autonomy and raises questions about what it might take to support teachers’ autonomy in productive ways.

Teacher autonomy around the world

The conversation about teacher autonomy in South Korea was particularly interesting given recent interest in issues of teacher autonomy in a number of different parts of the world. In the US, in particular, the word “autonomy” is used frequently to describe what some educators believe is lacking in the teaching profession today. For example, recent Global Teacher prizewinner Nancy Atwell, noted for her innovative and playful pedagogy, has called for a more “autonomous, creative and thoughtful” approach to teaching, which she fears is now impossible in U.S. public schools. Atwell caused a bit of a stir online when she said, “If you’re a creative, smart young person, I don’t think this is the time to go into teaching unless an independent school would suit you.”

In addition, this past month NPR in the US presented a series in which they focused on the teacher pipeline, noting in one segment that enrollment in teacher training programs is down as much as 50% in some states. The reporters followed up in another segment with Richard Ingersoll, a Professor of Education and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania who has studied the topic of teacher retention for decades. As Ingersoll explained, his research has shown that the problem of teacher retention is related to teacher autonomy, and few opportunities for teachers to have “input into the key decisions in the building that affect a teacher’s job.” Ingersoll says, “One thing we’ve found is that the shrinking classroom autonomy is now the biggest dissatisfaction of math teachers nationally.”

Similar concerns about teacher autonomy have been echoed in news reports from around the world as well. For example, one report from Canada decries the country’s lack of support for teacher professionalism, and provides a comparison with Holland, Finland, Switzerland and Japan; teachers in British Columbia call for greater control over their own professional development; leaders of the Labour Party in the UK have criticized what they see as an ‘exam factory’ approach to schooling, and call for more teacher autonomy; and, a new national curriculum in Wales has been designed to allow for teacher autonomy. However, is everyone talking about the same thing?

Does “autonomy” = more responsibility?

One report from Hong Kong presents an example that shows that when “autonomy” is linked with “professionalism,” it can mean that teachers are expected to become stakeholders in their schools. The South China Morning Post writes that since Hong Kong introduced a school-based management policy, teachers must “participate in groups such as student academic affairs and pastoral care committees to help keep the school functioning effectively.” The article goes on to commend these changes, but it also notes that in other countries teachers might expect to be compensated for these additional responsibilities – rather than have them incorporated into a newly defined “professionalism.”

Does “autonomy” = innovation?

In another article from the UK, Labour Party leader Tristram Hunt criticized what he called the “exam factory” approach to schooling, and called for changes from the “bottom up, ‘through giving teachers and school leaders the freedom and autonomy to deliver an exciting education.’” However, as with much of the discussion on teacher autonomy, there is little attention to how teachers and schools interpret what the term “autonomy” means, and/or what it is that teachers and schools want to do, or will be expected to do, with this autonomy. Will teacher autonomy lead to the excitement and innovation that many hope for? Or, will it leave teachers alone to address the needs of the students and the community? For example, in Shanghai, teachers are expected by parents to prepare students for high stakes exams. As one article explains, student performance on such exams is so important that parents are willing to attend school with their children so that they can learn the material and reinforce it at home. Lacking support, teachers might feel pressured to do more of what they feel they need to do, which might be more test prep.

Deirdre Faughey

Interview with Pak Tee Ng

Dr. Pak Tee Ng

Dr. Pak Tee Ng

Pak Tee Ng is Associate Dean of Leadership Learning and Head of the Policy and Leadership Studies Academic Group at the National Institute of Education (NIE), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore.

In this interview, which is part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, he describes where he would like to see the country’s educational system moving forward:

“I would like to see that teachers will believe, even more strongly, that they are not merely doing a job in school but they are, as a whole teaching fraternity, contributing to nation- building and the long-term well- being of Singapore. Teachers will also change their mindsets towards teaching and learning, so that we will succeed in teaching less, so that children may actually learn more.”

This Lead the Change interview 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.

A Framework to Organise the Enabling Factors for the Spreading of Curricular Innovations in a Centralised-Decentralised Context of Singapore Schools

As part of a symposium focused on educational innovation around the world  at the annual conference of the American Educational Assocation in Chicago this week, we are sharing commentary papers from the participants.  Today’s contribution is from Paul Meng-Huat Chua and David Wei Loong Hung, of the National Institute of Education, Singapore. 

Contextual and Research Background

Building on descriptions of the Singaporean educational context as a blend between centralization and decentralization, this post seeks to provide a framework to account for the way that curricular innovations may spread both inside and across Singapore schools. Individual schools in Singapore are first organized as clusters then into geographical zones. Schools in Singapore are expected to develop curriculum innovations and deepen them into distinctive identities while a set of recently-launched Future Schools are also expected to spread their digital-based curriculum innovations to other schools throughout the country. In short, we argue that the centralization of the system can complement the decentralized schools’ efforts to develop and spread their own curricular innovations.

The research behind this blog post was carried out in two Future Schools in Singapore, as well as on three other Singaporean technology-mediated innovation-occurring schools. From the data collected, three models of curricular innovation diffusion have been identified, which exist along a continuum. These models range from “deep but narrow” diffusion to “non-deep but wide” diffusion, with a variety of models that exhibit neither deep nor wide diffusion in between. Some of these models adopt a school-based approach to innovation spreading while others adopt a cluster-/zone-based approach to innovation diffusion.

In the case of “deep but narrow” diffusion, a six-year inquiry-oriented, mobile technology-based science curriculum innovation for primary three and four students (aged 9–10 years) has been diffused to five other schools within the same zone since 2013. An example of the “non-deep but wide” diffusion relates to the spreading of a digital-based learning trail innovation from one school to over two hundred schools in a space of a few years. Digital-based learning trails harness real-world data found in a physical trail for students to subsequently apply their inquiry skills to actively construct knowledge.

Several factors appear to support the spread of curricular innovations in each instance, including significant numbers of expert-teachers who can mentor novice-teachers; cross-schools’ leadership and champions; augmentation of school resources from the community; capacity of school leaders and teachers; social capital (trust); as well as passion and belief in the innovation.

Framework to Organise the Enabling Factors of Curricular Innovation Spreading

From these enabling factors, a 3-tier framework to account for the spreading of curricular innovations was developed. The 3 tiers comprise:

  1. Micro-supports for spreading innovations
  2. Macro-supports for spreading innovations
  3. Meso-supports for spreading innovations

Micro-Supports for Spreading Innovation

The micro-level for spreading curricular innovation focuses on the practices within the innovation spreading schools that teachers and leaders are engaged in to develop capacity, since capacity building is a key factor in enabling the spread of curricular innovations. From our research, it was found that both the design of the capacity building tasks and the process of the capacity building mattered. On the task design, a feature of effectiveness was when teachers engaged in the co-designing of the innovative curriculum with teacher-experts. In terms of the process of capacity building, when the learning relationship was approached from an apprenticeship perspective of observation and critical inquiry and reflection, the learning relationship was productive as the teacher-novices were able to appropriate the dimensions of innovative pedagogy (e.g. hypotheses formulation and critical and creative thinking) i.e. to develop the capacity needed to enact that innovation.

Macro-Supports for Spreading Innovation

Any education system exists within a larger environment or eco-system of infrastructures, policies and alignments. The macro-supports for spreading curricular include the macro system-at-large socio-technical-economic and policy infrastructures that facilitate and sustain the spreading of innovation. In the Singapore educational context, features of the larger environment that are established by the Ministry of Education include policy signals for curricular innovation; school autonomy policy vis-à-vis the school cluster system; a tight-loose-tight of perspective for curriculum-pedagogy-assessment design; and the augmentation of resources (financial and technological).

Meso-Supports for Spreading Innovation

Where the contribution lies, we suggest, is in conceptualization of a meso-tier of innovation spreading, which allows for the interplay of the macro- and micro-supports for innovation spreading. The meso-tier has be structured into existence at the level of the innovation spreading schools such as a sub-group of cluster schools which decidedly want to spread the curricular innovation. The meso-tier consists of leadership stances, behavioral norms and structural/organizational arrangements that seek to leverage the affordances of the macro infrastructures in order to “distribute” the learned capacity at the micro-level to other schools within the group of innovation-spreading schools.

From our research, instantiations of the meso-tier leadership stances, norms and structural/organizational arrangements include the culture of learning and innovation in schools. As this tier mediates both macro and micro dimensions, success of this mediation is observed when teachers’ passion towards curricular innovations are stirred; teacher champion-leaders serve as “experts” to apprentice other teachers; visits by principals create awareness of the curricular innovations; and resources such as time, financial, technological and capacity are created and harnessed towards the end of innovation spreading. Last but not least, a final piece to the meso-tier framework is the presence of system leaders who initiate, orchestrate and drive the development of leadership stances (e.g. cultivation of teacher leaders); cultivate behavioural norms (e.g. culture of innovation); and put in place structural/organizational arrangements (e.g. principal visitations, harnessing of resources). In the same vein, Yancy Toh and colleagues have theorized the need for ecological leadership which mediates and orchestrates the various tiers.

Conclusion and Next Steps

This framework has been conceptualized using data from the case study research of two Future Schools in Singapore, as well as on three other technology-mediated innovation-occurring schools. A thread running through the framework is that macro infrastructures that are centrally determined in Singapore schools could be leveraged or appropriated to enable and facilitate the spreading of innovations in individual autonomous schools. For instance, system leaders in the research have been known to capitalize on the affordance of school autonomy in the macro environment to initiate and ensure the spreading of innovation (i.e. learned capacity) from his or her school to another group of schools within the cluster.

A possible next step in the trajectory of this research is to test the robustness of this organizing framework of innovation spreading by using it to predict the extent of innovation spreading in other educational scenarios (including for non-technology mediated innovations) in Singapore schools and to ascertain the reliability of the predictions.