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’ ( 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.

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