LEAD THE CHANGE SERIES Q & A with Osnat Fellus

Osnat Fellus recently completed her PhD in Education: Teaching, Learning, and Evaluation from the University of Ottawa. Her PhD work focuses on theories of identity in mathematics education and learning English as an additional language. Osnat was the Head of English for Academic Purposes at Talpiot College of Education where she was also a teacher educator teaching courses in classroom discourse, research methods, and statistics. She has recently co-authored One is Not Born a Mathematician: In Conversation with Vasily Davydov in a special issue of the International Journal for Mathematics Teaching and Learning where she discusses, together with her coauthor Dr. Yaniv Biton issues paramount to the question of teaching and learning mathematics. Osnat holds an M.Ed. in TESOL and an M.A. in Translation and Interpreting from Bar Ilan University. She can be contacted at osnat.fellus@uottawa.ca or at osnat.fellus@gmail.com

In this interview, part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, Dr. Fellus talks about democratizing education and evidence as well as her views on the future of educational change research. As she puts it:

For me, educational change is a field heading toward being recognized as the central and continuing task of educational systems. What excites me about educational change now is the continual feed of new ways of teaching and learning that research produces. In the future, I believe educational systems will be structured in the form of flipped classrooms where learning takes place in the afterschool hours and knowledge is refined during school hours as students work together on problem-based projects. Ivan Illich’s vision of students coming together to work on topics that interest them (Illich, 1970) will bring education closer to the real meaning of the word curriculum, which etymologically means to run. That is, educational change in the future, as I see it, will focus on structural and organizational implications of new ways of teaching and learning where students themselves engage in bricolaging their own curriculum under the wise guidance of their teachers.

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 interviewed Kristin Kew and Thomas Hatch.

Launching a New School in China: An Interview with Wen Chen from Moonshot Academy

Moonshot Academy, a new private school for an initial group of 37 14-16-year-olds, opened in the fall of 2018 on the campus of the Affiliated High School of Peking University. Wen Chen, Head of Research at Moonshot, talked about the origins of the school, the key features, and a few of the things that the school leaders have learned as the school has evolved.  We spoke with Wen Chen during the US-China Education Forum, organized by the Columbia-Teachers College Chinese Students’ Association. Future posts from the Forum will feature Joan McPike, founder of THINK Global School and Christopher Bezsylko Head of the Imagination Lab School.


How did Moonshot Academy get started?

Wen Chen: We actually started with an App designed to help high schoolers in Beijing organize themselves into learning communities. The App promoted learning companions or communities:  Students coming together and then learning things together. We tried to focus on anything that the school doesn’t teach you, but that you really need when you go into society because we recognized there’s a huge gap in terms of what you learn from school and what you really need to be able to do. So, we established a research team to study what the curriculum covers and what you need in your real life and in the job market, such as financial skills and other career-related skills. For example, financial management might be something we all share an interest in at the age of sixteen, so let’s just get together and learn. That’s the idea of the App. During the App stage, we successfully hosted an animation exhibition initiated by one of the high-schoolers using the App. Another group created a band.


How did the App turn into a school?

WC: We realized that if you are only doing extra-curricular things you can never accomplish the mission which is to prepare the younger generation to face the future. So, we realized that having an App to organize this online community or offline community is definitely not enough. And then we got the chance to work with the affiliated high school of Peking University and to create a school.  The principal of the high school has been very supportive as he wants to have this innovative force on campus and to make room for new things to emerge.

Originally the idea was to create a school that is learner-centered and provides necessary support for teenagers in the world. To create the school, we focused on the education goals of “cultivating fulfilled individuals and compassionate active citizens.” Then we started a lot of discussions before we had any students. Basically, we wanted to figure out what we mean when we say that this is a fulfilled individual, or this is a compassionate and active citizen. With that in mind, we started to look around and look for all the agencies and institutes that conducted research on what future talent should look like. We drew on a lot of models to guide our work including OECD’s Competency Framework, the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, the EU’s Competence for Lifelong Learning, and the Chinese Education Bureau’s Core Competencies and Values for Chinese Students’ Development (in Chinese). Eventually, we developed a competency model composed of three main domains. First, we emphasized the thinking tools that are the foundation of personal development. The second domain focuses on self-management, career development, and also mental and physical health. The last domain, which we think is most important is effective social cooperation. This is the structure that we use to consider how to help learners learn, how to make sure that we are seeing all the changes and to connect the missing part that traditional schools are not providing.


What are some of the key features of the school now?

WC:  Some of the key features include: project-based learning for the main pedagogy; advanced curriculum standards – a little bit from AP and from the Common Core (in the US) to be our course standards; and for assessment, we changed the assessment system from traditional letter grades to a mastery transcript.  We also use OKR (Objectives and Key Results) a management system used in Google and a lot of other companies. It’s aligned with empowering the employee and the staff to come up with solutions. It’s different from KPI (Key Performance Indicators). Instead of “I tell you this is the number that you need to reach,” learners need to set their own personal development goals. They need to figure out what it takes to reach that goal and what are the key results they really need to accomplish. We’re using that system for our company as well as for our learners.

For the school, we offer a number of different courses/learning experiences.  Then the learners choose from these options based on their personal development goal so that they can get support and more exposure to the content knowledge and competencies where they want to improve. For instance, someone might want to acquire more social emotional skills which means that the learner might choose courses related to those skills. Some learners might choose to focus on self-management. So, this learner might choose courses that are related to those skills. Or some may say I don’t want to be a shy person and may want to practice oral presentation and communication skills, so we also have courses for that. Basically, they go through course selection phase based on their personal needs. Then this creates the learning group for each course. We offer more courses than the learners need so some of the courses offered aren’t going to open if there are not enough learners who choose it.

The style of the class depends on the topic.  Some courses are more similar to traditional classes where you have discussions, Socratic questions, or seminars. Some courses are more maker-oriented, such as computer designing and programming, so for those courses learners do a lot of things in the maker space.


What are the learning activities like?

WC: In the fall, we had three different kinds of learning activities or what we call “learning scenarios”: Blended learning, project-based learning, and deeper learning.  Blended learning focuses on knowledge requirements. Learners make their own academic goals for the semester and then they just directly use Khan Academy or other online materials as their learning resources. All the learners go at their own pace, but we designed milestones to check learners’ progress and their mastery of the content. For the milestone, we design a defense session or if they want, they can choose to take a standardized test. It’s up to them. For the defense, the learners randomly pick questions out of a question pool, and then they need to give an oral representation within ten minutes. That is followed by some questions.

The second scenario, project-based-learning, is considered our main course. All of the projects are designed by our teachers, and learners will choose the course based on their OKR’s.

The deeper learning scenario is designed to accomplish three outcomes: One is learning how to learn, one is systems thinking, and the last one is self-awareness.

We changed these scenarios significantly after the first semester. We decided to keep the names of the key elements, but instead of using those as our curriculum structure, we changed into a different structure which includes our common core (which still includes some elements from our original Blended Learning scenario), the Focused Curriculum (courses that are interdisciplinary and focused on project-based learning), Media Courses (Math & English) and the Personal Project which emphasizes learner-initiated projects.

The way that we define the common core is, we provide four different domains in the disciplines: social science, humanities, science and engineering. We try to select “discipline competencies”, which are shared by all of the courses or subjects inside of each of the domains. For instance, in the social science domain, subjects like anthropology, psychology, and sociology share some competencies so we tried to use those as competency standards for course design. Learners need to choose at least one course out of each of the domains before they graduate.  We want to make sure that they have those competencies (maybe not the course itself or the content knowledge itself), but definitely have that kind of a shared competency mastered after the Common Core.


Why did you make these changes?

WC: There were two main reasons. One is that when we conducted the blended learning, we realized that in a mixed group sometimes it can be really challenging for the learners to be on their own with the content. No matter how frequently you try to interact, we’re missing the part where the learner is watching the video themselves. We don’t want them get into the habit of passive learning. So we decided to design a better scenario where we can see and be with them. The second reason is that we realized we want to have three sets of assessment standards. One is efficacy competency, like global citizenship or global perspective. But we also want to make sure that our curriculum is very rigorous and academic-driven. So, we needed to put more emphasis on subject competency as well as subject knowledge mastery. We had to figure out what would be the best way to combine subject competency and the subject content knowledge learning without jeopardizing what makes us a different type of school. We definitely couldn’t go back to traditional courses, like one teacher preparing one course and then just talk and talk. However, we really wanted to make sure that the face-to-face interaction time is enough to meet the subject competency or habit of mind of the subject learning. We decided to adopt a scenario where the teacher and learner have more interaction but we definitely needed something that’s not one-direction instruction all the time. We created the common core scenario which is more like the flipped classroom where the learners do pre-course reading and listen to the audio materials, but once they are in the classroom, it is a facilitated process and discussion.

We still kept the part where learners can go on their own pace. You can learn as much as you want, but in class we try to sit together and discuss something that we all share and ask questions. We still provide the blended learning as a separate course or a separate activity and experience that learners can choose. Because we’re a really small school, we don’t have the capacity of having all of the subjects covered for all of the teachers. For some courses, learners still need to go online to learn the materials, and they are going to learn on their own. However, we need to make sure that we answer their questions in time, when they run into trouble.


It’s still early in the journey, but is there already anything in particular that you’ve learned from this that other people trying to start their own schools might find beneficial? Things you wish you’d known before you started?

WC:  I would say the most important thing what we learned so far is to “know your audiences and know your families”. We are very transparent and very honest with parents. I want to share this with people who want to open a new school in China: be honest with your parents and also work with them. That’s something that I learned from the previous semester.

China is a complicated society and you ave all different types of audiences and families. The reason why I’m saying know your families and work with them is to emphasize the complicated features of the families. For us, we have a lot of families who used to stay in the public school system. However, their kids are in the public schools’ international sector. The learners have already made up their minds to go to a college or university abroad when they graduate from high school. Then there is also part of our group who are already in international schools or schools with the International Baccalaureate system or A-Level system. Then there are a few families that are just in a traditional public school setting. Those are our audiences. We try to create a lot of opportunities to discuss the school with the families before they decide to jump on board. We really want to make sure that what they are looking for is something that we can provide.

Expanding to Say “Yes”: The Ongoing Work of The Citizens Foundation in Pakistan (Part 2 of 2)

**Last week, we shared the first part of a post on the organization TCF. This week, we share the conclusion**

New Directions

In 2014, TCF hit its goal of opening 1000 schools. They now had well over 100,000 students enrolled in their schools. With their initial goal achieved, TCF began exploring what new goals they would articulate and pursue. These explorations led TCF to set up a research team to investigate different ways to expand and scale.


For 20 years, TCF had maintained a clear vision for creating and implementing schools through private funders. They had remained almost entirely separate from government schools. Yet, in 2016, TCF adopted 250 government schools in Punjab, including some of the lowest performing schools in the region. At the time, Punjab had the largest outsourcing of schools in the world, outsourcing 5000 schools to NGOs, private school operators, and individuals. This moment marked the first major turning point in TCF’s model, but they aimed to operate these government schools in the same manner as the private ones they had been building since 1996. Within only a couple of months, TCF rolled out its model in these schools. Beginning its pilot experience with school labeled as failing, they sent out assessment teams, rehabilitated the school buildings, hired and trained an entirely new staff of over 1700 of teachers and staff members, and reopened the schools. Soon after, enrollment tripled, from an average of about 30 to about 100. Today, these schools have gone from 10,000 to 30,000 children in total. These schools also offered a remedial literacy program over two months, which saw dramatic increases in literacy scores. Specifically, 2nd grade literacy (based on the ability to read a paragraph) went from 4% to 46% in the first year.

Throughout their development, a number of other organizations had approached TCF, to invite them to become partners in a variety of ventures. TCF had grown accustomed to saying “no,” Naviwala said, “they would always say no no no, we’re focused,” as they worked toward the goal of 1000 schools. Suddenly, though, they found themselves saying yes.

Crossing the threshold of 1000 schools certainly compelled this shift. TCF still viewed the purpose-built schools at the center of their culture and identity. But, it is now becoming only one, albeit central, part of what TCF does. Saying yes forced TCF to both shift their goals and structure.

The next big goal is to serve 2 million agents of positive change by 2030. At the moment, TCF is providing quality education to more than 250,000 children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Currently, TCF’s work is sustained by private donors and foundations as well as bilateral donors. Their reputation, built by international recognition UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy, propels these donations and awards. But to achieve this new goal, TCF has de-linked growth from a reliance on private fundraising. Through a new plan of private-public partnerships, similar to their approach in Punjab, however, TCF will be able to expand in new ways. Agreements have already been reached to receive subsidies for establishing low per-child costs for operating schools in new areas. Private money will still be needed to build the schools, but the government will provide this additional support.

At the invitation of the government, TCF is also exploring taking over more government schools. With the government in Sindh, the province where Karachi is located, deciding whether to close 31% of their primary schools, there is certainly an opportunity to pursue this goal. At the same time, issues of government corruption and school buildings in poor condition place limitations on TCF’s ability to work with the government. However, TCF decided to take the challenge and adopted 15 government schools in Sindh.

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Another new strategy builds on an analysis TCF conducted which found that the main problems in Pakistan have shifted since the 1990s. They have always faced the problem of out-of-school children. Yet, this problem has always been framed as a primary school issue. When TCF looked at the data, they found that of the 22.5 million out-of-school children, the majority – 17 million – are between 10 and 16. Given this situation, TCF wants to develop a scalable solution for youth. Specifically, they hope to develop a grade 5 literacy program for boys and girls, which will help students move on to 6th grade. Simultaneously, they hope to develop programs such as apprenticeships for those who do not want to continue in schools.

Finally, TCF plans to seed social enterprises that will improve qualities at a low cost in the private sector. 40% of students attend private school in Pakistan. 100 affordable private schools already buy TCF’s textbooks, but TCF hopes to set up a proper publishing house that will market books and sell them to the low-cost private sector. TCF has done market research and testing and is ready to implement this initiative. Relatedly, they would like to start a teacher certification program outside of the government. Based on TCF’s experience offering a similar service directly to school owners, TCF plans to market this service directly to individual teachers, mostly women, who want to augment their skills and command higher salaries. Developing this program will require a phase for research and piloting.

“TCF school model has grown tremendously in its depth and breadth. It makes us more mindful of our responsibility and the need to continue the positive impact on children, their parents and the communities we operate in. In making this promise to our common future, we recognize that the road ahead remains daunting and demands belief, creativity and concerted action from all of us – citizens, enterprises, institutions and the State,” said Zia Abbas, Executive Vice President at TCF.

The organization also wishes to share a call to action: You can help change a life by educating the less privileged children in Pakistan and give them a chance to become moderate, enlightened and productive members of the society. Please follow this link to donate:  https://link.tcf.org.pk/2vtwngN

Expanding to Say “Yes”: The Ongoing Work of The Citizens Foundation in Pakistan (Part 1 of 2)

This week, we share part 1 of a 2-part post on the organization, TCF.


An “Over-Ambitious Goal”

In the early 1990’s, Karachi, Pakistan faced many problems. These issues included high levels of political violence and instability. Aiming to identify and combat these problems, six friends from Karachi joined together and asked “what can we as citizens do to make things better?” They were engineers, architects, and business people who felt frustrated and wanted to discuss systemic answers to Pakistan’s largest struggles. In these discussions, they made lists of a wide-range of problems. Ultimately, though, they determined that education sat at the root of every issue they identified. Schools in Pakistan faced their own issues, ranging from ghost schools to out of school children or routinely absent teachers. Changing schools, and working to change Pakistan on a large scale would be a monumental task, but, from the start, the founders wanted to set an “impossible target.” “If the goal is large enough and big enough,” they said, “that’s really something that people should take seriously.”


With that sentiment, the six friends launched The Citizens Foundation (TCF) in 1995 and immediately set a goal of building 1000 schools in Pakistan. Despite what one described as this “over-ambitious” objective, TCF began methodically, opening five schools. Communities met the schools warmly and attendance and test schools demonstrated early success, which led to recognition and additional funding that enabled TCF to expand across Pakistan. In more than 20 years, TCF has expanded to over 1,500 schools. They have also developed new approaches to developing educational opportunities and moved from a privately funded organization to, in 2016, co-funding and operating government schools at scale in Pakistan.


Early Years

TCF opened its first 5 schools in 1996, which the 6 founders funded with their own money. In building these schools, TCF directly aimed to serve out-of-school children. Out-of-school youth have been and remain one of the largest issues for Pakistan’s education system, with the country still facing the second largest population of out-of-school children in the world. Over decades, the Pakistani government has expanded one- and two-room schools to reach these students, but those schools struggle to deliver quality education. Rather than compete with these government schools, TCF chose to build spacious, purpose-built schools in neighborhoods where no other schooling options existed.

TCF identified areas in Karachi with a large number of out-of-school children and constructed school buildings directly in those neighborhoods. Though many of these neighborhoods had limited electricity, water, and sanitation, TCF did not want to build “poor schools for poor children.” Building on the background and expertise of one of the founders who was an architect, the organization had the ambition to build schools that would become recognizable landmarks in the community. Nadia Naviwala, an advisor to TCF today, describes these designs as taking into account “what a child feels like when they walk into a space. The architects wanted the children to feel that the schools were made for them.” Early buildings were designed to encourage families to enroll their children in school and to support their continued attendance. The choice to build schools in these neighborhoods, for instance, was later corroborated by research from Harvard LEAPS studies that found children, especially girls, are more likely to attend school if it is walking distance from home. Similarly, TCF found early on that a number of factors, including an all-female staff, can increase girls enrollment in schools. These early lessons also led to figuring ways of recruiting and retaining an all-female staff. For instance, TCF provided transportation to teachers.  TCF still employs an entirely female staff in their schools today. Though their schools are co-educational, the female-only staff has helped increase the number of girls in TCF schools and many of their schools have achieved gender parity. In contrast, by 6th grade, nearly 60% of girls are out of school in Pakistan. Crucially, according to Naviwala, the cost per pupil hovers around $12 per month, with parents making nominal, pay-as-you-can-afford contributions of $1 per month on average and as little as 10 cents for all children in the family.

Soon after opening the initial 5 schools, word spread. People from neighboring areas of Karachi began approaching the founders and asking them to build schools in new areas. Through private funding from individuals, TCF expanded, into neighboring areas in Karachi, and, by 1998, to Punjab as well. Around this time, TCF also opened their first secondary school. These new schools followed the same design principles as the first TCF schools, serving as landmarks in their community, keeping class size small, and holding down costs.

Part of the organization’s expansion in the 1990’s included a greater focus on securing funding internationally. They began by establishing fund-raising chapters in the United Arab Emirates and the UK and have since expanded to a number of other countries including Switzerland and Australia. These chapters helped raise funds for the organization, funds that allowed for constructing new schools and supporting students in multiple provinces in Pakistan. The vision of 1000 no longer seemed overly ambitious.


Expanding Focus

As TCF continued their growth, the organization emerged as a recognizable presence in Pakistan and within the development world. In 2003, the first cohort of students from TCF schools, what TCF calls “Agents of Positive Change,” graduated. TCF also continued expanding, opening in new areas of the country such as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the Taliban has attacked girls’ schools and gunmen shot Malala Yusufzai. These schools followed the initial model TCF developed, including schools built in communities, a focus on out-of-school children, and gender parity. But TCF also began to place even more emphasis on providing pre-service and in-service education for teachers. Simultaneously, TCF developed new programs, including summer camp programs and an adult literacy program for women. These developments reflected the organization’s growth and observed needs within schools and communities.

Then, in 2009, TCF made central leadership changes. The new CEO, Syed Asaad Ayub Ahmad, a longtime supporter of TCF’s work, previously worked for Shell. Though initially only wanting to give money to the organization, he ended up taking on the leadership role and inheriting over 500 schools. As the new CEO took over, reaching the initial goal of 1000 schools was certainly on the horizon, but he noticed that not much was known about each school. From these observations a new question emerged. How would TCF scale their work while ensuring quality education in each school? “It was a daunting challenge to take up but we decided to not compromise on the quality of education. We were committed to our core values to reach out to more remote locations in an effort to make education accessible to more out of school children,” said Asaad.


Animated by this concern, TCF made a renewed commitment to focusing on quality as well as quantity. After an external evaluation from the Aga Khan Foundation, they developed a series of year-to-year exams to assess school quality and set goals for each school. Over time this became a Whole School Index that analyzes and grades every school in the TCF system. The grade is a composite of four interrelated aspects. First, TCF developed a new method for assessing teachers. Teachers take yearly content-based tests in the subject they teach. It is worth noting that in the last four years TCF has seen teacher competency rise by over 20%. Second and relatedly, they developed an assessment for principals in which a member of the head office conducts in-school visits and rates the principal on a rubric based on her leadership abilities (focusing specifically on capacity, achievement, relationships, and passion). Both the school leader assessment and teacher evaluations are linked to salary bonuses. Third, TCF began focusing on student outcomes using an external evaluation (they use an internal exam as well, but it does not contribute to the index). Fourth and finally, they started tracking enrollment more systematically, considering the percentage of available seats in a school that are filled. Again, the composite of these factors, each weighted differently, leads to each school’s grade and contributes to goal setting.

Beyond assessment, TCF developed its own curriculum and provided teachers with structured lesson plans. Over time, though, teachers have developed more freedom and flexibility. Additionally, the organization shifted its in-service professional development to leveraging digital tools in teacher training. Rather than traveling to visit other schools, teachers now gather in a room with training videos focused on areas where tests and observation identify they are struggling. School principals lead the trainings. This move to digitization was complicated by most TCF schools not having electricity. They circumvented the problem by installing an LCD television backed up with battery power and with preloaded videos on a USB. The investment in approaching professional development in this way allowed TCF to centrally create resources and share them more readily than if facilitators had to travel to each school site. Developments like these became possible as the head office grew and developed the capacity to create and develop and disseminate products across schools. Recognizing that women in rural areas increasingly have smartphones, TCF has set up a service on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and SMS so that teachers can simply send text messages with questions or issues with their content area and receive a video in response automatically. “Training our teachers is critical in providing quality education at TCF schools. For the first time, TCF has leveraged technology to conduct more effective training,” said Riaz Kamlani, VP Outcomes.

The growing capacity of TCF also enabled them to develop their own textbooks. Naviwala sees this development as crucial to figuring out a language policy that in turn was central to improving school quality. With their own textbooks developed by content area specialists, TCF no longer had to rely on a mix of government textbooks in Urdu supplemented by Oxford University books in English. Furthermore, they could make Urdu their central medium of instruction in Urdu. TCF is now moving to mother tongue, with an in-house research team, led by an Acumen Fellow, that is exploring how to develop a curriculum that moves a child from her mother tongue (Dhatki) to the regional language (Sindhi) to the national language (Urdu) and finally to English.

Along with these shifts, TCF continued expanding, even opening its first “college” for the equivalent of 11th and 12th grades, aimed at increasing the numbers of TCF graduates who make it into top-tier universities. TCF became even more recognizable on the international stage with recognition from the Clinton Global Initiative, Skoll Foundation, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, UN Girls Education Initiative, and UNESCO. Throughout their work, TCF maintained a general focus on the same issues and the same broad approach to the problem: private funding and expanding its model. They kept expanding, but said ‘no’ many times along the way as they continued on the same trajectory. That is, even as they expanded, they were routinely approached by government and private donors with related opportunities to expand in new directions. Hoping to stay focused on their initial objectives, they initially maintained a policy of saying no to these opportunities.


The organization also wishes to share a call to action: You can help change a life by educating the less privileged children in Pakistan and give them a chance to become moderate, enlightened and productive members of the society. Please follow this link to donate:  https://link.tcf.org.pk/2vtwngN

Rounding Up CIES 2019: Education for Sustainability

Edu4Sustain_v-138x300 As we did a few weeks ago with AERA, this week we share a round-up of some compelling sessions and papers from last week’s Comparative and International Education Society conference in San Francisco. This year’s CIES conference focused on education for sustainability:

During its “Development Decade” of the 1960s, the UN advocated education as a driver of economic growth. But, over the past fifty years, questions have been asked with increasing urgency about what kind of development is promulgated through literacy, skills training, and formal schooling. What is the longer term cost of an education that promises – and sometimes delivers – productivity, industrialization, modernity and consumption? Who pays this price? What are the larger costs? And with what ultimate consequence for the planet?


Friend of IEN, Kristin Kew, shared her emerging research, Crossing the border for school: an ethnographic observation of a daily practice on the border of Mexico and the United States as part of a session on school, identities, and subjectivities.

In a panel on migration and marginalized communities, Gabrielle Oliveira shared research on Everyday Border Crossings: Citizenship, Migration and Education in American Schools.

Transnational Migration, Refugees, and Education: Case Studies from Across the Globe

A symposium featuring scholars such as Monisha Bajaj addressed issues of transnational migration.

The purpose of this symposium is to critically examine the dominant educational discourses and practices that often shape the schooling experiences of immigrant and refugee youth in public schools and educational spaces across the globe. While discourses like ‘diversity,’ ‘belonging,’ and ‘inclusion’ are often deployed in various social contexts to frame immigrant and refugee education, this panel considers the limitations of such discourses when they potentially inform policies and practices that produce deficit narratives about immigrant and refugee children. Consequently, these ostensibly affirming discursive framings potentially contribute to further marginalizing young people in their particular contexts.

The symposium considers the ways in which school actors trouble some of the normative assumptions that often define present educational programs, including those intended for their empowerment and inclusion. By examining issues regarding localized experiences, power, and larger structural inequalities among participants, these papers not only uncover the ways in which such discourses manifest, but also explore how they are re-negotiated, re-made and re-interpreted, to present both the possibilities and challenges facing public educational reform.

Environmental and Sustainability Education

A number of sessions directly focused on the conference theme of sustainability

Eco-pedagogy, place, & permaculture in the age of post-truth: how do we midwife a biophilic society?

Our panel seeks to explore some of the intersections of ecopedagogies, place-based education, eco-literacies, and critical theory. Liz Jackson will share with us some of her research and ideas about how critical-pedagogy and place-based learning can be used to re-negotiate the learning that had often privileged previously settler and colonial perspectives. While the norm is still that such systems promote a vision of globalization that produce a homogenization of cultures and identities and risks subjugating people for the sake of a global economy, Liz points to other possibilities. Eco-pedagogy is the extension of this work to unpack the often hidden links between these socioeconomic elements and their dynamic impact upon the environment. Environmental degradation begets social degradation. By using place-based education we can re-center the environment in our pedagogy and thereby also reclaim place for indigenous knowledge and culture within the dynamics of determining the power struggles of curriculum over whose knowledge, development, and relationships matter. It is not to advocate that indigenous knowledge or place is pure or uncontested as Liz points out, but it is rather to reopen and explore the need to critically examine what has for far too long remained largely uncontested and silenced spaces within our school systems. 

Thinking global, educating local: sustainability education in New York City

The Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 recognize the impact of urban spaces on sustainability (e.g., Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities). Indeed, more than half of all humanity now lives in urban areas (UN, 2018). Research on sustainability education in urban spaces, however, is still limited. One possible explanation for this gap is the tendency of environmental and sustainability education scholarship to focus on the relationship between humans and the natural environment (i.e., other living things such as forests, animals, ecosystems). The intersection of policy and sustainability education in urban spaces is even less explored.

Similar to other global cities, New York City (NYC) has initiated a groundbreaking effort to address the City’s long-term challenge of climate change. Under this initiative all City agencies must make progress on 29 sustainability indicators by 2030, including recycling, waste diversion, greenhouse emissions, water conservation, and energy efficiency. The initiative affected schools in various ways, specifically through the publication of Chancellor’s Regulation A-850 on sustainability in 2009. The Chancellor’s Regulation established the Office of Sustainability within the Division of School Facilities. The Regulation also required all schools to appoint Sustainability Coordinators.

The ecological footprint of NYC Department of Education (DOE) is substantial. The largest school district in the United States, there are 1.1 million students and 75,000 teachers in the NYC school system. The system includes 1,843 schools, including 227 charter schools. These figures make the NYC case important for the study of sustainability education.

This panel brings together policy makers from the NYC DOE Office of Sustainability and researchers to critically examine the development and implementation of Chancellor’s Regulation A-850 – a policy intended to promote sustainability in K-12 schools. The first paper, by Meredith McDermott, Director of the NYC DOE Office of Sustainability, describes the policy context for sustainability and education in the City (i.e., Chancellor’s regulation A-850). The second paper, by Carine Verschueren, doctoral student at Teachers College, analyzes the factors that facilitated the unique policy in New York City. The third paper, by Thaddeus T. Copeland, Deputy Director of the NYC DOE Office of Sustainability, describes the strategic plan and programing that were developed to implement the policy. The fourth and final paper, by Oren Pizmony-Levy, Assistant Professor at Teachers College, explores the extent to which schools’ engagement with sustainability vary by different organizational characteristics. Together, the papers provide a holistic perspective on the ways in which a large education system engages with the global script of sustainability.

Globalization and Education

Finally, we share a diverse selection of sessions that focused on the theme of globalization.

Studying the Global Education Reform Movement through the lenses of a Policy Instruments Approach

In the last decades, most countries in the world have faced major pressures to reform their educational systems. The emerging demand for global skills in increasingly inter-dependent economies, the challenges generated by technological innovation, and the comparisons of educational systems promoted by international large-scale assessments have contributed to the expansion of the so-called Global Education Reform movement (GERM). The GERM is an education reform approach that broadly follows the tenets of New Public Management and, accordingly, is structured around a common set of policy ideas including standards-based management, performance evaluation, and accountability. The GERM has disseminated widely due to its promise to modernize education systems and strengthen their performance. However, the GERM phenomenon has been more profoundly studied in Anglo-Saxon countries, where it did emerge, and it is not clear to what extent this reform movement has contributed to alter the governance of educational systems globally. 
The two most emblematic policy instruments through which the GERM disseminates globally are national large-scale assessments and test-based accountability. The presentations in this panel analyze the complex, path-dependent and contingent processes of policy change through which the GERM goes in different contexts (Northern Europe, South America and Mediterranean countries). The panel shows that the GERM follows variegated policy trajectories that are markedly conditioned by the politico-administrative regimes that prevail in these different regions. The paper also shows that the education policy change that the policy instruments of the GERM involve has an additive nature, and goes through recurrent back-and-forth dynamics and lock-in effects, often triggered by the new economic and political subjectivities that the GERM itself generates. All the papers have in common that have analysed the GERM phenomenon through the lenses a political sociology approach to policy of instruments, which in many occasions has been combined with elements of historical institutionalism.

The OECD’s Defining Role in Education: Its Historical Rise, Global Impact and Comparative Perspectives

This panel session proposal arises from the research project ‘The Global History of the OECD in Education’ (https://www.learning.aau.dk/forskning/centre-projekter/oecd-learning/) hosted at Aalborg University, Denmark. The project organises and facilitates a network of international scholars working with different angles and takes for understanding the role and significance of the OECD in education from historical and comparative perspectives. The project has created a database of archival data collected in the OECD archive and in the national archives of selected case countries (Australia, Brazil, China, Denmark and USA) enabling researchers to trace the exchanges between the OECD headquarters in Paris and the ministries of education in the case countries.

LEAD THE CHANGE SERIES Q & A with Lee Elliot Major

Lee Elliot Major is Britain’s first Professor of Social Mobility. Appointed by the University of Exeter to be a global leader in the field, his work is dedicated to improving the prospects of disadvantaged young people. As a Professor of Practice he is focused on the impact and dissemination of research, working closely with schools, universities, employers and policy makers. His Penguin book Social Mobility and Its Enemies has attracted attention across the world. His forthcoming Bloomsbury book What Works? offers best bets to teachers for improving outcomes for disadvantaged pupils. He commissioned and co-authored the first Sutton Trust-EEF toolkit, a guide used by 100,000s of school leaders. Lee is a founding trustee of the Education Endowment Foundation and chairs its evaluation advisory group. He is Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics International Inequalities Institute, and an Honorary Professor at the UCL Institute of Education. He was formerly Chief Executive of the Sutton Trust. Lee regularly appears in national broadcast and print media, commenting on education and social mobility issues. He has served on several Government advisory bodies and presented several times to the House of Commons Education Select Committee. He has a PhD in theoretical physics and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Sheffield for services to education. He was an education journalist working for the Guardian and the Times Higher Education Supplement. He is a Governor at William Ellis School. He is the first in his family to attend university.

In this interview, part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, Dr. Major talks about his diverse professional background and common themes in his research. As he puts it:

People often ask me about the common thread running through my career. I’ve been a Ph.D. theoretical physicist, an education journalist, a charity CEO, and now a Professor. The constant across all these roles is my work at the boundaries of research and communication. No matter my position, I continually ask, “What does the evidence tell us? “How can we present it so a wide range of people can understand and act on it?” These same questions lie at the heart of this year’s AERA conference. For me it’s perfect timing.

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 interviewed Kristin Kew and Thomas Hatch.

Leveraging Education Research in a Post-Truth Era: Rounding Up AERA 2019

Working through conference season, this week we reflect on and offer a roundup of some of the compelling work coming out of this year’s AERA conference. There conference theme, “Leveraging Education Research in a Post-Truth Era: Multimodal Narratives to Democratize Evidence,” led to a diversity of presentations on educational change, international education, and many other areas. Below, we highlight just a few of these sessions.



A number of panels featured examinations of immigration and education issues, focusing on education policy and transnational identity.

How Immigration and Education Policy Collide in a “Post-Truth” Era

This panel featured scholars such as Rebecca Lownhaupt and Ariana Mangual-Figueroa discussing a large-scale project investigating education policy since Trump’s election.

Although immigration and education policies intersect in many ways, policy discourses generally focus on each as separate spheres of influence on the educational experiences of immigrant youth. This symposium brings these two spheres into conversation. Particularly at this moment in time, when immigration policies are rapidly changing and have widespread implications for immigrant communities in the United States and beyond, this symposium will provide an opportunity to explore how an anti-immigrant policy agenda intersects with education policies as they unfold in schools, communities, and institutes of higher education.

Immigration and Immigrants in the Trump Era

In a similar vein, a number of papers focusing on critical education and social justice explored everything from attitudes toward immigrant students to analysing child protection cases.

Examining Truths About Immigrant Student Success: Studying the Internationals Network for Public Schools

Another panel looked at the work of the Internationals Network.

The objective of this session is to better understand practices in place within the Internationals Network for Public Schools, a national network of public secondary schools designed to serve the needs of recently arrived immigrant youth. Immigrant youth face many challenges when arriving in the United States (language acquisition, acculturation, and maintaining ties with their family members abroad) which contribute to making immigrant youth vulnerable to school failure (Olneck, 2006; Suárez-Orozco, Suárez-Orozco, & Todorova, 2008). Internationals schools have been uniquely successful in educating recently immigrated youth. Presentations within the symposium describe the accomplishments of the Internationals Network as well as some of the key practices and mechanisms underlying their success with recently immigrated youth.


Educational Change

Changing the Grammar of Schooling? An Examination of Reform

Our own work was featured in a symposium that revisited the concept of the grammar of schooling. Our paper took up an international lens to look at efforts to change in New York City and Singapore.

Various educational reform efforts attempt to shift us away from the century old grammar of schooling, as described by Tyack and Cuban (1995). These include personalized learning, blended schools, deeper learning schools, and more. These efforts have been written up favorably by proponents, and conversely decried by ideological opponents who see them as the harbinger of privatization and neo-liberalism. This session provide a dispassionate, research-based, analysis of the forces that inhibit and promote changing the grammar of schooling. Four empirical papers will consider changes to pedagogy and classroom practice, as well as school-level factors and the broader political ecology. Two commentaries will be provided by leaders in the field of school change.

Leveraging Research to Advance Educational Justice in Latin America

Another symposium featured work from Santiago Rincon-GallardoSantiago Rincon-Gallardo and Michael Fullan.

This symposium will discuss how educational justice is being advanced in educational systems in Latin America, and the role that research is playing and can play to advance educational justice across the region. It will feature examples of efforts to transform pedagogy, leadership practice, and school-community relationships across schools in historically marginalized communities in Argentina, Chile Colombia, Mexico, and Uruguay. Presenters will discuss the role their research is playing and could play in advancing educational justice, a role that ranges from documenting and bringing visibility to the voices of subaltern actors (students, teachers, communities), to engaging in participatory action research to work alongside educators and communities to advance more and better educational opportunities with and for historically marginalized groups.

International Studies SIG

Other papers took up international education issues broadly. The International Studies Special Interest Group showcased work on the “exchange of information among educators involved in research, planning, development, implementation, and evaluation of international studies.”

Scholars Disrupting Higher Education Research Status Quo in Indonesia, Myanmar, Rwanda, and the United Kingdom

This symposium deals with a major challenge for education internationally: how researchers can elucidate the problems of structural racism and exclusion in ways that “talk back” to contemporary right-wing populism and scientism to advance social equity in education. It addresses this challenge by bringing together an international group of scholars trained in the USA, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong and the UK and drawing on different data sets to compare different theoretical and methodological approaches to social equity research internationally, including quantitative intersectional research, visual methods, case studies, narrative and critical quantitative methods, to advance social justice in education.