Poland: Reforming an improving school system

A recent scan of the education news in Europe highlights that new education reforms in Poland are making the headlines.  While Poland’s PISA scores are going up, there is still considerable controversy over the direction of further improvement initiatives. The current reforms have been positioned as occurring within a broader political struggle in the country.

The proposed new reforms would change the system from a three-tier school system (with elementary, middle, and high schools) to just two levels.  In the new system, students will attend an eight-year elementary school, and then they will spend four years in either a high school or a vocational school.

The protest against the Law and Justice (PiS) party's education reform proposal (pictured) (AFP Photo/Janek Skarzynski)

The protest against the Law and Justice (PiS) party’s education reform proposal (pictured) (AFP Photo/Janek Skarzynski)

Since a series of education reforms passed in 1998-1999, Polish students have attended 6-year elementary schools, three-year lower secondary (or, middle) schools, and three-year upper secondary schools. This approach had been a part of a broader school improvement effort that has contributed to Poland’s success on international measures of student achievement, such as the PISA exams. According to a 2011 OECD report, the structural changes of the 1998-1999 reform included the creation of a new type of school, called the lower secondary school “gymnasium,” which became a symbol of the reform. Vocational training was postponed by one year, allowing a greater number of students to be assessed. The reformers of the time argued that these improvements would allow Poland to raise the level of education by reaching more students in rural areas. Reformers also argued that these changes would allow teachers to use methods and curricula more suited to the needs of students, and that by linking the structural change with curricular reform, teachers would be encouraged to change what and how they teach.

Critics of the 1998-99 changes, like current Law and Justice MP Dariusz Piontkowski (and former teacher), however, complained that students were only being prepared to take tests. Piontkowski looks forward to curricular reforms that will come after the structural reforms:

“We are bringing back the teaching of history. We are bringing back patriotic education,” he declared. “It’s time that pupils understand what they are learning.”

Nonetheless, tens of thousands of people, mostly teachers, are reported to be protesting against the new reforms fearing dramatic loss in jobs and “chaos” in the schools. However, these protests are not focusing on schools alone; they are seen as part of a wave of concern about what is seen as the government’s broader populist, conservative agenda. Questions are being raised about restrictions placed on journalists and what is seen as new barriers to transparency in government, particularly as politicians were frustrated about the voting process that ushered in this new reform. Protestors reportedly chanted: “No to chaos,” and, “The death of Polish education.”

For more on educational reform in Poland see:

Eurydice: The System of Education in Poland in Brief

NCEE:  Poland Overview

OECD: Education at a Glance 2016, Poland Country Note

The Impact of the 1999 Reform in Poland

Deirdre Faughey

Bringing Effective Instructional Practice to Scale

10833The Journal of Educational Change publishes important ideas and evidence of educational change. Contributions represent a range of disciplines, including history, psychology, political science, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, and administrative and organizational theory. The journal also draws attention to a broad spectrum of methodologies, including quantitative and qualitative approaches, documentary study, action research, and conceptual development.

The journal’s most recent special issue, edited by Santiago Rincón-Gallardo and Brahm Fleisch, brings together articles by reform leaders and scholars who have developed and/or studied education change efforts in various contexts: Escuela Nueva in Colombia, the Learning Community Project in Mexico, the Gauteng Language and Mathematics Strategy in South Africa, Pratham’s Literacy Strategy in India, the Ontario Literacy Strategy in Canada, and Long Beach Unified School District’s system-wide instructional strategy in California, United States.

The editors also share two commentary papers by Richard Elmore and Michael Fullan. As the editors explain in their introduction to the special issue, “The two concluding essays pull together common and divergent threads across the six cases, derive key lessons, and articulate critical perspectives for the future of improvement in the education sector. While Elmore raises fundamental questions about the very project of policy-driven improvement, Fullan argues that, though elusive, whole system improvement centered around deep learning is doable.”

To read the complete introduction, click here:“Bringing effective instructional practice to scale: An introduction.”

To find the complete special issue, click here: The Journal of Educational Change.

To read IEN posts focusing on these reforms, click on the following links:

Attempting Change from Within: Student-Centered Change in Mexico

Bringing Effective Instructional Innovation to Scale through Social Movement in Mexico and Colombia

An interview with Vicky Colbert, co-founder of Escuela Nueva (Lead the Change)

Brahm Fleisch on building a new infrastructure for learning in Gauteng, South Africa

Learning from successful education reforms in Ontario

Learning from successful education reforms in Ontario: Part II

Lead the Change interview with Marnie H. O’Neill

Dr Marnie O'Neill

Dr Marnie O’Neill

Marnie O’Neill is a Senior Honorary Research Fellow in the Graduate school of education at The University of Western Australia. Her initial fields of teaching and research were in English Education studies, language, learning and literacy and teacher education. She has taught across all degree levels in the School and was Director of Teaching in the preservice program for a number of years and served as Dean and Head of School from 2000-2005.

Marnie co-ordinated the Doctor of Education program from 1998-2011, and was instrumental in reviewing the program in preparation for offering it in Hong Kong and Singapore. Major responsibilities were in supervision of doctoral students in both the on-shore programs and in the transnational programs in Singapore and Hong Kong. Recent publications include “Fitness for purpose: a problem for professional doctorates in Education?” in Stead, V. (2015). The Education Doctorate (Ed.D.): Perspectives on Access, Social Justice, Diversity, and Community Leadership. New York, NY: Peter Lang, and a special issue of Education Research and Perspectives (forthcoming), Globalization, Internationalization and English Language: Studies of Education in Singapore, Malaysia and Australia

In this interview, which is part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, O’Niell shares her thoughts on important issues in educational change today:

The promises associated with the technology revolution (as yet unfulfilled in Australia) are not equally distributed, but if fulfilled, they have the potential to give young people access to ideas, to opportunities and connections with like-minded potential collaborators and colleagues anywhere in the world. Curriculum adaptations, which encourage transnational projects (already undertaken in a number of schools through Global Learning Alliance, for example) can broaden students’ knowledge and skills bases and help them to develop global connections that are recognized in formal assessment practices.

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.


NYC Outward Bound Schools and the ecology of New York City Schools

As part of a series of posts on the evolution of organizations in New York City, the US, and other parts of the world including India and parts of Africa, this post explores the evolution of NYC Outward Bound Schools, an organization dedicated to experiential education in New York City. In order gain a better understanding of the possibilities and challenges for educational innovation NYC Outward Bound has encountered, we recently spoke with several former and current leaders of the organization. They talked about the development of NYC Outward Bound’s work and vision as well as the constantly changing conditions in which organizations like NYC Outward Bound have to operate and adapt. 

Emerging in the rapidly changing educational landscape of the 1980’s, particularly in the wake of A Nation at Risk, NYC Outward Bound Schools established its first educational programs. Since that time, the organization has remained focused on engaging learners in hands-on, experiential education. Over 30 years of evolution, NYC Outward Bound has expanded its presence in New York City. Yet, in contrast to the common practice of organizations attempting to scale rapidly and drastically, NYC Outward Bound has expanded slowly and strategically, moving from offering curricular programs for New York City public schools to operating a network of 11 public schools in the city by 2016. To more deeply explore the history and practices of NYC Outward Bound, we discussed the organization with three of its leaders: Richard Stopol, the president and CEO of NYC Outward Bound Schools, Anthony Conelli, former chief schools officer, and school designer Rebecca Tatistcheff.

The organization and philosophy

Founded in 1941 by Kurt Hahn and Lawrence Holt, Outward Bound began as a school on the coast of Wales that helped train seamen for the harsh life of living at sea. Relatively quickly, however, Outward Bound expanded to a broader focus of encouraging individuals and groups to explore nature and test their physical and mental strength through a number of different outdoor, adventure-based, programs. As NYC Outward Bound Schools’ website puts it, these programs reflect the central philosophy that people “learn and grow when they leave the safety of everyday experiences and challenge themselves in new ways.” After over 70 years, Outward Bound now operates these outdoor adventure programs throughout the world.

Outward Bound 1.0 –Startup Mode

In the 1980’s, at the urging of Greg Farrell, then-Executive Director of the Fund for the City of New York, Richard Stopol and a small team of colleagues brought the powerful, group-based experiential learning activities offered by Outward Bound to New York City youth. Among its goals, NYC Outward Bound aimed to translate outdoor adventure experiences to an urban environment and make them part of a school day.

To accomplish these goals, in its first iteration, NYC Outward Bound focused on 2 strands of work. First, they focused pairing New York City youth with adults in courses that involved outdoor expeditions. Stopol contends that many of the adults who participated in these early courses became key supporters of the new local organization. While this programming carried definite educational elements, it mostly focused on adapting “traditional” Outward Bound experiences incorporating the themes of adventure, service and cross-cultural exploration so that they could take place in New York City.

Second, as part of a partnership with “high-needs” public schools, the organization adapted Outward Bound learning experiences for a number of schools. NYC Outward Bound staff members paired with public school teachers to develop curriculum and courses rooted in Outward Bound philosophy, creating courses that looked like an Outward Bound expedition. In these collaborations, NYC Outward Bound sought to increase student engagement and improve attendance by helping to create curricula and professional development activities for teachers. In those efforts, in Stopol’s words, they sought to bring “as much Outward Bound as you could into the classroom while aligning it with whatever the standards were.” In the process, NYC Outward Bound staff co-planned and co-taught with teachers and worked to create whole sections of the school schedule for the implementation of Outward Bound related classes and projects. For instance, students might engage in an Outward Bound urban expedition, such as learning about and navigating the subway system, as part of their social studies class. At the same time, students would complete a range of assignments related to the expedition.

Outward Bound 2.0—Operating Schools

In the midst of NYC Outward Bounds’ initial efforts to work with schools a question kept popping up from students. “Why can’t the rest of my day be like my Outward Bound class?”  As interest in educational reform grew around the US, an opportunity to address that question also arose when the New American Schools Development Corporation launched a competition to create and implement “break the mold schools”.  The national organization of Outward Bound submitted a winning proposal to create their own model for schools. With the funding they received, Outward Bound opened a division within its national organization to design and implement Expeditionary Learning (or EL) schools in a number of cities. In contrast to the school partnerships in New York City, the EL schools would be based entirely on Outward Bound’s pedagogy and every classroom would incorporate the practices Outward Bound uses to spark and support student learning. Eventually, NYC Outward Bound came to operate the EL schools in New York City, and the answer to the question, “why can’t the rest of my day be like my Outward Bound class,” had become, “it can.”

With the election of Michael Bloomberg as mayor in 2001 and his administration’s support for the development of new schools, NYC Outward Bound Schools saw another opportunity to expand their work. As Stopol put it, NYC Outward Bound Schools decided to “more or less put all its eggs in one basket” and focus on opening new schools. These would be schools that are built upon the EL model and that also offer students opportunities to take part in Outward Bound experiences outside the classroom. With Gates Foundation funding and support from the Bloomberg administration, NYC Outward Bound started opening more new schools in 2004. By 2016, the total number of schools operated by NYC Outward Bound Schools grew to 11.

In this new environment, NYC Outward Bound has had to try to continue to build on the experiential learning model while balancing the shifting demands and expectations for schools reflected in changing policies at the City, State, and Federal level. For instance, each NYC Outward Bound school has a school designer who helps shape curriculum and thematic, experiential learning units called “expeditions.”  As their website proclaims, treating the entire city as a classroom is an important element of the organization’s approach, and many of the expeditions engage students in fieldwork experiences during which they conduct research and meet with experts in the fields they are studying.   At the same time, the designer and teachers have had to contend the establishment of new school report cards in New York City and subsequent state initiatives to use test scores to evaluate teachers and to implement the Common Core Learning Standards.

Outward Bound 3.0 – Beyond the whole school model

In the early 2010’s, although charter schools continued to expand in New York City, funds and support for the development of new public schools began to wane.  As a consequence, NYC Outward Bound staff members have wondered how they can both deepen their work in their existing schools and expand their influence.  The efforts to deepen their approach has included the establishment of a college preparation program to increase the number of its students who attend and finish college. This “to and through college” program looks at how to use college counselors as well as peers to support students in the NYC Outward Bound Schools both while they are in high school as well as when they are in college. The program includes a partnership with CARA (a college access program) through which graduates of NYC Outward Bound schools currently in college serve as coaches for students currently enrolled in NYC Outward Bound schools.

On a more organizational level, NYC Outward Bound Schools also endeavors, as former CSO Anthony Conelli explains, to answer the question “how do you create a context that allows people to share their practice, own their conversation, and improve this kind of work?”  As part of these efforts, the leaders of the 11 NYC Outward Bound network schools meet monthly.  With the “host” school rotating each month, the leaders visit classrooms and look at student work together, sharing observations and feedback with the host school.

In addition to deepening the work in the existing schools, NYC Outward Bound continues to look for ways to create what Conelli calls “places of influence” — new ways and new venues through which to share their educational philosophy and practices and to support others in doing so. With this in mind, NYC Outward Bound has expanded its work by developing a model for “associate schools.” Associate schools are existing public schools within New York City that work with NYC Outward Bound staff to adopt a particular feature or structure associated with its educational approach. For example, associate schools might look at how to organize their curriculum into expeditions, or they might adopt the “Crew” structure that is in place in all NYC Outward Bound Schools, a team-based approach to supporting and advising groups of students. In some ways, this way of working with partner schools, as Conelli puts it, takes the whole school model and pulls apart its strands. At the same time, it also serves as a way to provide an easier entry point and the scaffolding needed to help existing schools to take on the whole school model.

NYC Outward Bound—concluding by looping back

When Richard Stopol thinks back NYC Outward Bound’s 30-year history in New York City and this arc from infusing Outward Bound into schools, creating a network of new schools, and now sharing practices and resources with associate schools, he takes a moment to calculate that NYC Outward Bound Schools has worked with 14 chancellors of education and 5 mayors in New York City. Of course, he contends, the changing social and political landscapes of New York City have required some adaptation from the organization. And yet, Stopol sees a consistent mission for NYC Outward Bound over the years: To help the youth of New York City by bringing the Outward Bound approach to the city’s public schools in ways that “transform schools and change lives.”

Jordan Corson

Response to PISA: Exploring the success of Singapore

Last week, when the PISA 2015 scores were released, Thomas Hatch shared a response and a scan of headlines from around the world. We reached out to an international group of scholars and asked them to share their own response to the PISA results as well. Today we share a comment from Dr. Saravanan Gopinathan of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.

2016 has been a good year for Singapore Education. Results released in the TIMSS and PISA assessments shows a sustained trend towards high performance in Maths. Science and Literacy. Those who are critical of Singapore’s education model point to two features. One is that while Singapore students have admirable mastery of PISA content domains, they are incapable of problem solving, applying content to authentic situations, etc. This is attributed to teacher dominated teaching, memorisation and extra out-of-school coaching. The other is that while Singapore may have an excellent system, it is not sufficiently equitable, showing a long tail in performance. And yes, we have not produced any Nobel Prize winners.

What can be said in its defense? There has been a conscious, sustained effort since 1997 to promote knowledge building pedagogies via curriculum and assessment reform, teacher professional development and textbook redesign. It would be reasonable to assume that in a tight compact system like Singapore, reforms are beginning to change teaching and learning practices. With regard to the second, Singapore’s Ministry of Education (MOE) has pointed to the fact Singapore’s proportion of low performers in each of the three domains is at about 10% among the lowest of all participating systems and its proportion of top performers in each domain is the highest among all participating education systems.

Let us enjoy our status as a top education reference system, at least until the next PISA results!

For more from Dr. Gopinathan, read “Real Singaporean Lessons: Why do Singaporean students perform so well on PISA?” which was published as part of the Leading Futures series on IEN.

For more on the recent PISA results, explore the following recent articles:

Pisa results 2016: Singapore sweeps the board http://buff.ly/2hr1zYN (TES, 12/6)

Behind Singapore’s PISA rankings success http://buff.ly/2hsWfRB (ABC online, 12/7)

Asian countries dominate, science teaching criticised in PISA survey http://buff.ly/2hsS3RJ (Business World, 12/7)


Response to PISA 2015: Beware of simplistic representations in media

Last week, when the PISA 2015 scores were released, Thomas Hatch shared a response and a scan of headlines from around the world. We reached out to an international group of scholars and asked them to share their own response to the PISA results as well. Over the next few days we will be posting their comments. Today we share a comment from Yong Zhao, of the University of Kansas:

While I understand news media have to use some sensation-seeking headlines, I wish journalists would be more careful because these headlines have serious consequences. Education is very complex, culturally rooted, and local and cannot be simplistically represented with rankings. More important, I hope PISA and TIMSS stop presenting their results in simplistic ways to the media, for example, stop using league tables. Better yet, stop the programs entirely. 

For more from Zhao, read his latest commentaries, including:

“How does PISA put the world at risk? (part 5): Racing to the past,”

Excerpt: “PISA has certainly successfully put a number of East Asian education systems on a pedestal and thus constrained their ability and desire to make drastic changes. But they need drastic changes if they wish to truly cultivate the kind of talents needed to become innovative societies that rival the West because the authoritarian East Asian education model leaves little room for creative and unorthodox individuals to pursue their passion, question the authority, and develop their strengths, although it is extremely effective in homogenizing individuals, enforcing compliance, and hence producing great test scores.”

“Don’t Read Too Much into it: What Brexit and U.S. election surprises can teach us about PISA”

Excerpt: “These two back-to-back spectacular failures of data-driven predictions remind us that data can be deceiving, misleading, and sometimes just quits working. Blind faith in data can have disastrous and long-lasting consequences…”

“Don’t Read Too Much into it: Did the shift from paper to computer ruin east Asia’s? (China’s?) PISA performance?”

Excerpt: “What could have caused such a uniform change in eight education systems in as short a time as three years? The only common factor I could find is the change of PISA delivery format: from paper to computer.” 

For more on the recent PISA results, explore the following recent articles:

Pisa: Can the results really be trusted to tell us anything about education standards? http://buff.ly/2hqT6o4 (TES, 12/6)

Finland’s schools were once the envy of the world. Now, they’re slipping. http://buff.ly/2hsRNCs (The Washington Post, 12/8)

Opinion: Dip in PISA results a sign of things to come http://buff.ly/2hsNEhX (The Educator, 12/12)

Responding to PISA 2015: Reframing for a humanistic future of education

Last week, when the PISA 2015 scores were released, Thomas Hatch shared a response and a scan of headlines from around the world. We reached out to an international group of scholars and asked them to share their own response to the PISA results as well. Over the next few days we will be posting their comments. Today we share a response from Dr. Dennis Shirley, of Boston College:

Most discussions about PISA are centered around the top performers on the rankings and what can be learned from them–but there are more important aspects to which we should pay attention. I’m impressed by the way that the OECD consistently defines PISA as a tool to help nations to progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. These include eradicating extreme poverty, ensuring health care for all, and providing free and high-quality education at the primary and secondary school levels to all of the world’s students. We need good data to measure our progress towards those goals. If PISA is one tool among many that can help with this undertaking, why wouldn’t we want to use it?

But on one point there is no doubt: we need a complete re-framing of the competitive cul-de-sac that too often accompanies the release of PISA scores. The focus on reading, math, and science excludes important curricular areas that are essential to a sound and balanced education. Narrowing in on those three topics while neglecting the social studies and civics skills desperately needed in a world characterized by brinkmanship and bluster hardly can provide a complete picture of where a given jurisdiction stands or where it needs to progress.

So let’s study PISA results not to pit one nation against another, but to learn from one another. Let’s be open-minded and curious, mindful of the international geopolitical context we all now inhabit and the dangerous siren call towards an anachronistic insular imperative of nationalism, exclusion, and one-upmanship.

The world needs a radical change of course. We need a more inspiring global imperative of cross-cultural dialogue and exchange. We need a new world in which test scores are only one part—and a small part at that—of an agenda that moves all of us closer towards the Sustainable Development Goals and a humanistic future for education.

Dennis Shirley, author, The New Imperatives of Educational Change:  Achievement with Integrity, Professor, Lynch School of Education, Boston College, and Editor-in-Chief, The Journal of Educational Change.

For more on the recent PISA results, explore the following recent articles:

“How Do American Students Compare to Their International Peers?” http://buff.ly/2gXJ76s (The Atlantic, 12/7)

The Best Students in the World http://buff.ly/2gFN0k8 (U.S. News & World Report, 12/6)

Behind the world’s best students is a soul-crushing, billion-dollar private education industry http://buff.ly/2gXOQJt (Quartz, 12/11)