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.

External Support for Schools in Historical and International Perspective

            My recent commentary in Education Week (“Who will improve the school improvement industry?”) and a longer version (“How can “outside” help support work inside schools?”) suggest some strategies that might help increase the collective impact of external support in schools. Those suggestions build on the recognition that schools in the US need much more support to improve learning for all students and that external support providers can offer access to resources, expertise, and services that many school districts cannot develop on their own. As “intermediaries” these organizations also facilitate sharing of information and coordination among schools and those working in different parts of the education system.

However, it is worth highlighting that the need for this kind of external support is exacerbated by the highly-decentralized nature of the US system. This reliance on external support in the US education system seems unimaginable in countries as diverse as Singapore and Finland that have invested in making sure all schools have access to adequate facilities, resources, and expertise. In addition, in Singapore, the education system reflects a “centralized-decentralized” approach that both constrains and supports all educational enterprises including those engaged in fostering students’ learning and development outside of schools. In Finland, education stakeholders at the national, local and school level engage in a coherence-building curriculum renewal process roughly every ten years that guides the work of all those involved in education.

Further, although we have learned a lot in recent years about the challenges and possibilities for using external support effectively, many policies seem to ignore that evidence. In particular, national initiatives and federal policies in the US continues to assume that there is a steady supply of effective programs. For example, in 1983, A Nation At Risk declared, “It is our conviction that the essential raw materials needed to reform our educational system are waiting to be mobilized through effective leadership.” Since that time a series of federal in initiatives have built on the idea that there is an established knowledge-base and effective support providers and, in turn, have increased the pressure on states and schools to use those external resources.

These policies have contributed to the development of a small number of school models that have demonstrated effectiveness (for example Success for AllExpeditionary Learning, and Diplomas Now).  Nonetheless, overall results have been mixed at best. For example, in 2002, RAND’s evaluation overview concluded NASDC’sinitial hypothesis–that a school could improve its performance by adopting a whole-school design–was largely unsupported.” (Full disclosure, I worked on the NASDC-funded ATLAS Project and chronicled the challenges in designknowledge-use, and scale-up.) The 2008 CSRD evaluation reported only one-third of the schools awarded funds chose reform approaches with “recognized scientific research bases.” Most recently a summary of 67 different evaluations conducted on programs supported by the i3 grants found that only nine evaluations (13%) found evidence of both adequate fidelity and positive impacts on student academic outcomes.  A recent Carnegie Corporation report pointed out the continuing challenge that schools are often overwhelmed by multiple support providers who work in an uncoordinated fashion that may hinder rather than help improvement efforts; a finding consistent with my own work from twenty years ago (“When improvement programs collide”) echoed in another Rand report (“Challenges of conflicting school reforms”) on the implementation of New American Schools’ designs in one district).

We can keep these challenges of using external support in mind and learn from previous efforts. In the end, all of us who are involved in education are responsible for taking best advantage of the real contributions external providers can make and for taking seriously the problems and issues that we know make it difficult to use that support effectively.

  • Thomas Hatch

How can “outside” help support work inside schools?

This post provides an expanded version of the commentary “Who should improve the school improvement industry” published last week in Education Week. It also appeared on thomashatch.org. The commentary is by Thomas Hatch, IEN Founder and Professor of Education at Teachers College, Columbia University and Co-Director of the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching (NCREST).  The commentary and post report on a study of “The Role of External Support Providers in Improving K-3 Reading Outcomes in New York” funded by the Brooke Astor Fund for New York City Education in The New York Community Trust. Hatch also discussed the study in a podcast for CPRE’s Research Minutes.

Schools and districts depend on a host of “outsiders” to help them create powerful learning experiences for all their students.  This loose collection of curriculum providers, tutoring programs, staff developers, management consultants, and school designers forms what Brian Rowan calls the “school improvement industry.” Almost thirty years of federal policies and philanthropic initiatives have fueled both the demand for these kinds of organizations and the supply (see CSRD, NCLB, and SIG, the Annenberg Challenge and the Gates Foundation’s small schools initiative among others). Illustrating that growth, this year, a survey of 13 state websites identified 151 of these organizations, but in 2001, I only found 63 listed in the Catalog of School Reform Models, with only 15 in existence before 1980.

The development of this “industry” builds on two key ideas:

  • On their own, many schools do not have the capacity they need to make sufficient improvements in students’ learning
  • There are “external support providers” that do have the capacity – the resources, expertise, and connections – that can help large numbers of schools make those improvements

A lack of adequate progress towards many educational outcomes supports the first proposition, but even with evidence that some providers such as Success for All and Expeditionary Learning can be effective, the limited number of “proven” providers casts doubt on the second. Reviews that demonstrate effectiveness of some improvement programs, curricula and professional development services also show how rare it is to find those approaches employed in practice on a widespread scale. Illustrating the problems when outside experts try to influence what happens inside schools, only a handful of the largest districts in the US consistently use highly-rated curricula. Many curricula and textbooks that claim to be aligned to the Common Core actually are not; and a recent study on the research behind apps for 3-5 year olds spawned the headline “few preschool apps are developmentally appropriate.”

Why is it so difficult to produce and use “proven” programs and practices?

Numerous factors contribute to this state of affairs including the difficulty of carrying out complex evaluations, the limitations of conventional methods and outcome measures, and the need to adapt to different contexts.  All of which stoke debates about what counts as “proven” (as illustrated by the controversy over American Public Radio’s claim that many educators don’t know the science related to how children read). But with thousands of schools that need to make improvements, why is it a surprise they turn to thousands of materials, practices, and programs that are not “proven” and may not even be aligned with standards or what’s considered appropriate practice?

When we periodically stop to recognize this reality, too often, the response is to blame someone:  Blame the researchers for not doing the “right” kind of research; blame the schools and educators for choosing the “wrong” programs; blame the policymakers and funders for aiding and abetting the whole endeavor. But the growth of the “school improvement industry” and the difficulties in using external assistance and “research-tested” programs are not accidents. These issues are produced by a decentralized education system and a society that relies on the creativity of individuals and not-for-profit and for-profit enterprises to address many social, economic, and educational issues.

An illustration: External support for improving reading in New York City

As one example of the possibilities and challenges for taking advantage of the work of external support providers, my colleagues and I explored the nature and variety of external assistance available in just one subject (reading) at one level (elementary schools) in one large school district (New York City). Our report and research brief from that study shows over 100 programs working directly with students or teachers to improve reading outcomes in New York City public elementary schools. A review of a representative sample of programs revealed that those programs focus on a wide range of different goals – some on more specific skills like comprehension, while others focused on the standards of the Common Core or on “grade level reading.” The programs drew from a range of approaches, including tutoring for students and instructional coaching for teachers that have some evidence of effectiveness, but only 19% of the sample programs had publicly available evaluations reporting on their outcomes.

The sample programs demonstrated substantial reach, however, suggesting they could serve as a valuable lever for system-wide improvement. In fact, just 26 programs reported working with 161 different schools comprising 16% of all elementary schools in NYC (including 28% of the elementary schools in the Bronx and 26% of the elementary schools in Manhattan). We also found some basis for collective impact as just over half of the sample programs reported working in partnership or collaboration with at least one other sample program. At the same time, the sample programs get support and information from a wide range of sources of funding and expertise that are themselves likely to be only loosely related. The sample programs reported receiving grants from 57 different funders and identified 75 different sources for literacy expertise with little overlap. The sources of expertise encompassed individual consultants, the conferences of the National Council of Teachers of English, and the Huffington Post.

What would it take to increase the collective impact of external support?

Moving forward requires both long-term and short-term strategies. Long-term strategies can build on efforts at the national level to develop “evidence-proven” programs, to support research use, and to foster networked improvement communities focused on reading.

At the same time, local and regional efforts can launch short-term strategies to promote greater coordination, coherence and collective impact right now:

  • Share information and build awareness by regularly “mapping” which programs are providing support in key aspects of schooling – Carried out systematically every five years in areas like reading, math and school improvement (or on an as needed basis as priorities and initiatives develop in other areas), this scan of the educational environment could make visible the extent and nature of the outside support available; reveal areas of overlap; and expose underserved areas where more support might be needed.
  • Support coordination, common understanding, and coherence – Local hub organizations can bring together stakeholders from inside and outside schools to jointly reflect on the information from these periodic scans and other research. These hubs could then identify common needs, discuss relevant research and effective practices, and develop agreements on standards and expectations.
  • Build broader coalitions for collective impact – Strategic alliances and collaborations could bring together strategic partners to take on emerging needs in local neighborhoods (as in East New York Reads) or broader regions (like the Early Literacy Task Force in Michigan).

Strategies like these begin with the recognition that investments need to be made in building the capacity of both external support providers and schools; but they also establish a middle way between adding more bureaucratic requirements and letting “1000 flowers bloom.”                                                                      



Before sharing this month’s Lead the Change, we want to share that the Educational Change SIG has also recently begun a new series, the Doctoral Corner, featuring interviews with current doctoral students. This month’s issue features Alexandra Lamb. We will occasionally feature the Doctoral Corner here on International Ed News.

Scott McLeod


An Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Colorado
Denver, Scott McLeod, J.D., Ph.D., is widely recognized as one of the nation’s leading
experts on P-12 school technology leadership issues. He is the Founding Director of the
UCEA Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE),
the only university center in the U.S. dedicated to the technology needs of school
administrators, and is the co-creator of the wildly popular video series, Did You Know?
(Shift Happens). He also is the co-creator of the 4 Shifts Protocol for lesson/unit redesign
and the founder of both the annual Iowa 1:1 Institute and EdCampIowa, one of the largest EdCamp events in the United States. Dr. McLeod has worked with hundreds of schools, districts, universities, and other organizations and has received numerous awards for his technology leadership work, including the 2016 Award for Outstanding Leadership from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). In 2015, he was one of three finalists to be the next Director of the Iowa Department of Education. In 2011, he was a Visiting Faculty Fellow at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Dr. McLeod was one of the pivotal figures in Iowa’s grass roots 1:1 computing movement, which has resulted in over 220 school districts providing their students with powerful learning devices. Dr. McLeod blogs regularly about technology leadership issues at Dangerously Irrelevant and is a frequent keynote speaker and workshop facilitator at regional, state, national, and international conferences. He has written or edited 3 books and 170 articles and other publications, and is one of the most visible education professors in the United States.

In this interview, part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, Dr. McLeod talks about technology and educational leadership. As he puts it:

We also need more research about how these schools and their leaders create cultures of innovation. If you visit these communities, everyone at all levels of the system tends to discuss how it is focused on innovation rather than being captive to glacially-slow rates of change. These leaders create virtuous cycles of innovation that feed on themselves and instill pride in both their internal and external stakeholder groups. It’s awesome to visit a school community in which educators, students, and parents proudly proclaim, “Here, in this school, we are innovative. We try things and take risks and it’s very exciting.” Ultimately, of course, we need experts in educational change to not only analyze these new models of schooling but also figure out how to translate them and transport them into more traditional school contexts. How do we take the exciting work happening in these innovative schools and ‘infect’ others to do the same? That’s the ultimate question for us in this field because – in a technology-suffused, global world rife with rapid changes and new challenges – innovation work is equity work these days.

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.

Online Sources for Policies, News and Public Opinion on Chinese Education

In this our second post on educational issues in China, Shengyuan Lu, who just received the Master’s Degree at Teachers College in International Educational Development Program, provides an overview of a few of the most prominent sources of information that those in China turn to for information on and discussions of education policies and public opinion on education in China. These include official government and news sources as well more popular social media platforms (in Chinese unless otherwise noted). Links are also provided to some of the educational issues and topics in the news recently.


Xinhua Net – Education


Xinhua News Agency is the Chinese national news agency, and Xinhua Net is the official website. The education section of Xinhua Net English edition features reports about national educational policies and trials, as most subjects of the articles start with “China.”

Sample Article: China to review mobile apps for students


China Education Daily


China Education Daily is supervised by the Ministry of Education in China. It is the only national-level education newspaper and one of the most influential education media. Here, you will find first-hand announcements of official policies of Chinese education. It is a site for, among other readers, education administrative leaders, school principals and teachers both from public schools and private education organizations.

Sample Article:

Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference members offer suggestions to protect campus safety


Sixth Tone – Education


This is an English website featuring news about China. It is based in Shanghai, belongs to Shanghai United Media Group, and shares the office with The Paper, one of the most influential news websites in China. In the education section of the Sixth Tone, it covers a wide range of topics, including migrant children, college entrance, school safety, education quality, and more.

Sample Article: Why More Chinese Parents Are Timing Their Due Dates for the Fall




Jiemodui is a website focusing exclusively on education. It focuses on the development of the education industry and reports rising educational products and companies. It also offers analyses of the education policy and market. It is claimed to be the top education-focused website in China. Its readers consist of people in educational companies, investors dedicated to education, and other users including principals, teachers, NGOs, and education media.

Sample Article: Education tutoring companies escape Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou


Sogou WeChat Search


This is the only search engine that can search the personal blog posts published on WeChat. WeChat is the most used chat/social app in China. You may think it as Messenger where you can receive individual chatting messages and information feeds from different bloggers. Because most of the personal blogs are published within WeChat, it is only possible to search and read the articles within the app or specific search engine. Although this search engine is not built only for education articles, most websites, corporations, and individual bloggers have their own accounts on WeChat to publish articles. All the websites listed in this article have their own WeChat accounts. The handle for Chinese MOE Information Office is jybxwb.



New Gaokao in Zhejiang China: Carrying on with Challenges

Here in the U.S., it can often be difficult be difficult to find information on educational changes in China. Helping offer insight and resources, we are welcoming two new corresponding editors for China to International Ed New. This week, we feature a post from Aidi Bian on changes in the National College Entrance exam in China. Aidi is a master’s student studying Learning Analytics at Teachers College, Columbia University.  In the future, we will occasionally feature posts from Aidi and others on educational issues in China.


China’s education system has had a well-known focus on tests and exams.  However, with Shanghai’s high performance in Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests, Chinese educators and policymakers have expressed concerns that the emphasis on standardized tests limits the development of the skills Chinese citizens will need to compete in a globalized world. As a result, over the past 5 years, policymakers in China have been making a series of changes in the National College Entrance Examination (referred as “gaokao” in Chinese), which guides elementary and secondary education.

The State Council published the official document for guiding the Gaokao reform in 2014 and required provinces to adapt the reform based on local context. According to the schedule, the first steps were to be taken by Zhejiang and Shanghai in 2014, with Beijing, Tianjin, Shandong and Hainan following in 2017. So far, the reform has become the most significant change in the Exam since 1977. Yet, these changes are not without challenges and problems. Among 18 originally scheduled provinces, only 8 had started the new policy by 2018.

Zhejiang was one of the first provinces carried out the reform. Major changes in Zhejiang gaokao include:

  • Student choice: Instead having to choose between two sets of exams – either arts or science – students now can choose 3 elective subjects (a choice among physics, chemistry, biology, geography, politics, history, and general technology).
  • Timing: Students now have more opportunities to take the exams. Previously, students took all the subject tests within two days in June. Now only the compulsory subject tests take place in June. Students can take the elective subject tests starting in the second year of high school (in October and March). They can also take each elective subject test and English twice and use the highest grade for their college. These changes were intended to reduce the pressure so that students will not be too nervous about the last “two days” setting the course for their lives.
  • Scoring: The scoring method has changed so that now absolute scores are translated into ranking scores. For example, if a student ranks the top 1% among all students taking a particular subject test, she will get a 100 for a grade no matter the actual score; if a student ranks in the top 2% among all students taking the same subject test, she will get a 97 for grade.

Gaokao 2

Although these changes were designed to give students more flexibility in selecting subjects that match their interests and to reduce pressure, schools have found the new changes have led to some unanticipated developments:

  • Before the reform, all students took the same courses during all three years of high school. Groups of students took the same courses together. Now, since students are choosing elective subjects, it is much harder for school leaders to anticipate how many students will take each subject, creating challenges for both scheduling and staffing. As a result, some schools found they have too many physics teachers while not enough geography teachers and some schools were not able to offer every elective subject.
  • Some students and parents are choosing subjects that top students are less likely to take. For example, in Zhejiang, fewer and fewer students chose to take physics in high school due to the difficulty of getting high rank. and university teachers complained that engineering students from Zhejiang did worse in basic college physics than their peers from other provinces.
  • Although top students may benefit from the chance to take some tests early, the prolonged gaokao schedule exerts more pressure on many others. Students have to be prepared for the elective subjects test earlier, and they face the stress of taking high-stakes tests throughout high school

In Zhejiang, the response to these concerns has already begun.  After the first 3-years of implementation,the Zhejiang government issued new guidelines revising key aspects of the original gaokao reform. For example, to encourage more students to take physics, the Zhejiang established a new policy giving students taking physics a better chance to get a high ranking score. Other provinces are also working on better preparing and implementing the reform based on experiences and problems learned from the pioneer cases, including organizing visits and trips to schools that are successfully responding to the reform.


Main Sources:


坚定方向 不断深化 浙江深化高考改革试点意见出台 http://jyt.zj.gov.cn/art/2017/11/29/art_1532992_21468594.html



高中生选课自由了,“避难就易”现象已露头 https://www.thepaper.cn/newsDetail_forward_1648268

告别一考定终生,机会增多也让“战线”拉长 https://www.thepaper.cn/newsDetail_forward_1648273