Author Archives: internationalednews

IOE London Blog: Counting the cost of a fragmented school system

**This post initially appeared on the IOE London Blog, a blog written by academics at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE), University College London.**

In an effort to turn schools into academies too little attention has been given to constructing a middle tier oversight system that is fair and efficient for all.

This is an unescapable conclusion of our new study, Understanding the Middle Tier: Comparative Costs of Academy and LA-maintained Systems, which has uncovered the cost of England’s systems for overseeing academies and local authority (LA) schools. We found a complex and confusing picture that reinforces the Public Accounts Committee judgement that the Department for Education’s ‘arrangements for oversight of schools are fragmented and incoherent, leading toinefficiency for government and confusion for schools.’

The ‘middle tiers’ are the systems of support and accountability connecting publicly-funded schools and academies with the DfE – functions that were formerly carried out for all state schools by local authorities (LAs).

We found inequity: the middle tier functions for academies cost 44% more than for LA-maintained schools in 2016/17 (latest available data). The overall cost of the middle tier for the academy system was £687.4m or £167.05 per pupil, compared to £524.4m or £115.71 per pupil for the LA school system.

The difference can largely be explained by extra grants provided to multi-academy trusts (MATs) for functions previously undertaken by LAs. The top-slicing of academy budgets by MATs further increases the available funding for senior leadership posts to undertake middle tier functions. These leadership posts have not only increased in number but salaries have been unregulated. This has led to headline-hitting figures, such as those for Harris Federation’s CEO, whose salary without on-costs was £440,000 in 2016/17. Perhaps this is a reason why large MATs (11+ academies) did not demonstrate the economies of scale that might be expected. Academies belonging to these large trusts had the highest cost per pupil.

We identified middle tier functions under four main headings of finance, accountability, access and people. In simple terms, these were carried out by LAs for all schools before the policy of large-scale academisation was introduced in 2010. In 2016/17 70% of schools were LA-maintained and 30% academies but the proportions have changed. 60% of schools are now overseen by the 152 LAs and 40% are academies overseen by the Education and Skills Funding Agency, the Regional Schools Commissioners and by 1,183 multi-academy trusts and 1,608 single academy trusts.

Assessing the comparative costs of the middle tiers has been extremely complex and difficult. The Department for Education (DfE) does not publish information about the costs of middle tier functions performed by its agencies and refused our Freedom of Information requests. It is clear that greater efficiency, fairness and transparency are needed in the funding and oversight of England’s school system.

The research report by Sara Bubb Associates was commissioned and part-funded by the Local Government Association, but its content expresses the independent evidence-based views of its authors: Dr Sara Bubb, Jonathan Crossley-Holland, Julie Cordiner, Dr Susan Cousin and Professor Peter Earley.

Launching THINK Global School: An Interview with Founder Joann McPike

THINK Global School is a “traveling” school that takes students to four different countries every year, twelve countries total. In this week’s post, IEN talks with Joann McPike who founded THINK Global in 2010.  We met McPike during the US-China Education Forum, organized by the Columbia-Teachers College Chinese Students’ Association. In a previous post, Launching a new school in China, we talked with Wen Chen about newly opened Moonshot Academy, and a future post from the Forum will feature Christopher Bezsylko Head of the Imagination Lab School.


Where did the idea for Think Global school originate?

Joann McPike: When my son, Alexander, was young, we traveled a lot. We took schoolwork with him, and we did it while we were travelling.  By the time he was thirteen, we had been to seventy-two countries. When we were in these countries, the questions that he was asking, the answers he was getting, and, consequently, what he was learning became so much more relevant.

At one point, we were in Vietnam, and our guide said “I’m going to show you some American propaganda.”  In my head, I was thinking “Americans don’t have propaganda,” but he took us into a room, and it was full of American propaganda from the Vietnam war. It hit me right then that we so often learn history from just one perspective. If you go to school in America you talk and think like an American; if you go to school in France, you talk and think like you’re French; in China, you talk and think like you are Chinese. I didn’t want that for Alexander, I wanted him to have a global perspective. I wanted him to be able to look at different countries, and say, “Okay, why is this society where it is now?”

We get so stuck in the world today looking at whathappened, but we don’t spend enough time looking at whythings happen. Why is the world the way it is? Why is a society where it is? Why is a country where it is? Why is a person where he/she is? Why are they angry? Why are they bullying you?

I wanted to start asking those “why” questions. So, when it was time for Alexander to go to high school, I said to him maybe we could just get a big boat and travel around the world and take a tutor.  But he said “That would be really boring. It would be more fun if there were a bunch of kids.” I said, “Okay, I’m going to get a bunch of kids and teach, and we can travel the world.”   But my husband said “You are insane. Nobody is going to want to go to a school like that.”  But I just felt like that was the way for Alexander to get an education, so we did it.

That first year, we found fifteen kids with very brave parents. Our curriculum was minimal to start off with and our first head of school came and left — just walked out one day.  But we did that first year in such a beautiful way. It was really philosophy heavy. The math was a great. The science was a little bit haywire, but every country we went to, it was the food, the sports, the history. We read books from local authors and it was so rich and full, and I thought that’s the way I wanted it to be. Then, during the second year, the board at the time thought we needed to have students take the International Baccalaureate because that would give us some credibility, academic rigor, and respect. So, we did the IB for a couple of years. At some point, though, the students pulled me aside, and they sat me down and said this isn’t working. Many of them had been part of that first year where they just travelled, and learned, and experienced, and lived, and they grew as human beings.

So how did you respond?

JM: I said “Yeah, I know.” We were on a lawn in India and they had me in the middle of a circle. They said “We are an IB school that offers travelling. We’re not a traveling school that’s offering the IB.” and I said “I agree with you.” They were so stressed out about exams, and they were so stressed out about the number, you know “What am I going to get?”  It just made me so sad. The teachers were stressed out as well. So I went back to the board and I said, “Look, this isn’t working. This is not the school that I envisioned. This doesn’t feel right. So either we close it or we change it.” That’s when we looked for a new head and found our current head, Jamie Steckart.  The students were the ones that interviewed him, and they were the ones that said, “Okay, by far he’s the one we need.”

So, the key step was to work with the students to identify a new principal, and then for the principal to hire new teachers?

JM: No, at that point, we didn’t hire new teachers. When Jamie came in, he sat down with the students and said, “Look, the IB isn’t working. We want to get rid of it, and I know exactly what we’re going to do.” Jamie had been teaching project-based learning for twenty-five years before it was a thing. He was an Outward Bound instructor, and he used to use project-based learning and saw the turnaround and the engagement it brought.

It did take a lot of trust, because even though I wanted something different, I didn’t know how to make that happen. I knew it had to happen, but just didn’t know how. So I had to have that trust in Jamie and in the process. When he said “Okay, this is what we’ve got to do. We need extra money in the budget because we’ve got to send these teachers around the world for the next year to develop curriculum and set up the projects for the next incoming class,” I went, “Okay, whatever you need. Let’s just do it.”  Through a lot of work, Jamie and a team of educators self-designed the Changemaker Curriculum, which we have in place today and has completely transformed our school, bringing it much closer to the highs we experienced during that first year.

When you describe the school, what are some of the key features you talk about?

JM: It’s a nomadic boarding school with a curriculum based on project-based learning and a heavy emphasis on social emotional learning.  I always say that our kids live their learning, and the learning is relevant. I tell them when they arrive: “You can go into any class and ask your teacher ‘Why am I learning this?’ and the teachers have to be able to tell you why. If the teachers can’t tell you why you’re learning that, why it’s relevant to your life, then come and talk to me.” That’s so different from my education. I did two years of algebra and calculus in high school. I have never used algebra and calculus. Someone once said to me, “Well, you need to have algebra and calculus so that you have linear thinking.” But my thinking is completely lateral. What kids are going to need in the future is lateral thinking. They need to be able to look at a problem from many different angles. Come at it sideways and not look at it the standard way.  That’s what we do with the kids as they travel around the world.

You might expect pivoting away from the IB would make our curriculum less challenging, but the opposite is true. The difference now is that our students are held to their own lofty standards rather than just that of an academic status quo. Instead of spending hours in a classroom being talked at by a teacher, our students are creating projects relevant to the communities they visit and answering driving questions that tackle real problems in the world.

How can we deliver potable water to rural communities in India? How should Japan’s government approach the nuclear debate? In each of the four countries they visit on a yearly basis, students integrate into the local community, gaining firsthand perspectives from locals and experts. Our students come from all over the world and apply their own unique take to everything they do. It’s incredible to see the different ways they approach each project’s driving question.

One of the key things I’d like to stress about education today is that we should be encouraging individuality in students instead of the standard one-size-fits-all approach, as no two students learn in the exact same way. This is where our focus on social-emotional learning and our curriculum truly shines. Our kids are gaining mastery in the subjects they truly care about and the 21st-century life skills that will truly help them as they leave high school and enter the next stages of their life.

We just graduated our first class of non-IB students in Greece, and the majority of them are now headed off to university or a gap year with a clear picture in their mind of what they want to pursue, and that’s because they’ve had hands-on experience doing it over the last two years. Their educational experiences at THINK Global School have been invaluable in getting them to that point.


As a school, what are you working on now? What’s one of the challenges that you face?

JM: With the school one of the challenges is getting full-pay students. Right now, it is a scholarship-based system. Most of the students have scholarships because I always said that it’s not just a school for rich kids, it’s a school for the right kids. There are a lot of amazing kids out there that would never be able to afford to go to a school like this but who are really going to do something good to change the world. They are the ones I want to go to this school. But we’re not a normal standard school, so another one of the challenges we have is to show that what we’re doing is safe. We’re not putting your children at some future risk that they’re not going to be able to get a job or they’re not going to be able to get into university. So our challenge is to prove to parents that it is academically safe to be so diverse.

What are some of the things that you’ve learned that you think might be helpful to those who are trying to create new schools, even ones that are quite different from yours?

JM: Be brave. Don’t listen to the naysayers. Just keep going. Dare to be different. Connect with other people who are doing similar things. Reach out. The people that I’ve met who are doing innovative things in education, we all want to know one another. There is support in numbers. It’s not a competition. I’m not competing with anyone. I want to help you build your school to be the best school that can be and you will help me do the same thing. I think in education, especially with these top boarding schools and universities, it’s all such a competition. It’s not a competition. If we truly want to save the human species, education is the key. We have to get everybody a decent education and help them develop a true belief of who they are, of their potential, and of what they’re capable.



Dr Kay Fuller is an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership and Management. She works in the Centre for Research in Educational Leadership and Management (CRELM) at the University of Nottingham. Her research interests are centred in gender in educational leadership including research on the distribution of women secondary school headteachers in the UK; women and men’s constructions of identity among school populations; and the use of a variety of feminist theories including intersectionality theory. She is a member of the international Women Leading Education network. Kay is also an elected member of BELMAS Council, research co-ordinator and co-convenor of the Gender and Leadership Research Interest Group. She is a former English teacher and Deputy Headteacher of mixed comprehensive schools, an Initial Teacher Educator in secondary English education and currently leads the MA in Educational Leadership and Management at the University of Nottingham.

In this interview, part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, Dr. Fuller discusses education movements, social transformation, and impacting people’s lives. As she puts it:

We have to question the drivers of educational transformation. Is the transformation designed to align a school’s practice with the dominant discourses of the day about ‘what works’ in education? Or is it about enhancing, and possibly changing some people’s lives, by establishing a focus on equality, diversity and inclusion? Will it enable access to learning and resources? If our perspective is critical, we must find ways to support grassroots movements that clearly resist some of the dehumanising impacts of contemporary education systems. A recent research project looking at an international social media based network for women in education, #WomenEd, demonstrates its members are more concerned with why and how they do leadership than with who does leadership. They desire humane organisations that are people, family, work- life and women friendly. Organisations where everyone can thrive, not just survive. It is up to us to uncover these desires for the profession and to disseminate the findings to give others the evidence to believe this approach is possible in their own settings. It is possible for equity to sit alongside excellence in education.

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 Osnat Fellus.


Headlines Around the World: TALIS 2018 Results

In June, the OECD released the TALIS 2018 results. The “Teaching and Learning International Survey covers about 260,000 teachers in 15,000 schools across 48 countries and economies.” The report “looks first at how at how teachers apply their knowledge and skills in the classroom in the form of teaching practices, with an accompanying assessment of the demographic makeup of those classrooms and the school climate to provide context on learning environments. The volume then assesses the ways in which teachers acquired their knowledge and skills during their early education and training, as well as the steps they take to develop them through continuous professional development over the course of their career.”

In this post, we share reflections from Professor Sam Abrams and news headlines from a number of countries.

According to Abrams:
The 2018 TALIS study leaves me with three concerns.
First, the data for teaching time for the United States continue to appear exaggerated. As I noted in my comparative analysis of teaching time in 2015, The Mismeasure of Teaching Time, the 2013 TALIS study reported that U.S. teachers at the lower-secondary level spend 26.8 hours per week (or 5.4 hours per day) leading classes. The average for the 31 countries surveyed for that study was 19.3 hours per week (or 3.9 hours per day). The length of the school day in the United States, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), is 6.7 hours. According to the TALIS survey, teachers are supposed to report only “actual teaching time,” nothing more. Covering study hall or seeing students for extra help should not be counted as “actual teaching time,” but that appears to be what U.S. teachers provided in the survey, given that typical lower-secondary teachers teach five classes running 45 minutes each, meaning a weekly load of 18.8 hours of teaching. Even if they teach six classes running 45 minutes, the weekly load would be 22.5 hours, not 26.8 hours, as reported in the 2013 TALIS study. The situation is worse with the 2018 TALIS study, according to which U.S. lower-secondary teachers spend 28.1 hours per week (or 5.6 hours per day) leading classes, compared to an average for the 48 countries surveyed of 20.3 hours per week (or 4.1 hours per day).
Second, this increase from 26.8 hours per week to 28.1 from 2013 to 2018 is nevertheless significant. Setting aside the interpretation of “actual teaching time,” U.S. teachers report a teaching load that has increased by 78 minutes per week. Such an increase did not happen for the teachers in the countries surveyed in 2013. Again, their average in 2013 was 19.3 hours per week. If we look at the countries in the 2018 TALIS study that were included in the 2013 study, we get an average of 19.9 hours a week, which means an increase in teaching time of 36 minutes per week (of the 31 countries in the 2013 study, all but Malaysia and Serbia were included in the 2018 study). This increase of 78 minutes per week–whether it came in the form of “actual teaching time” or monitoring study hall or seeing students for extra help–comports with the well-justified feeling among teachers across the United States of being overworked. The teacher walk-outs for better pay in 2018 in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona give these numbers additional context. Teachers are working more and getting paid less. And they had no choice but to protest.
Third, the OECD needs to do a more consistent job of reporting teaching time. On the one had, in their annual digest, Education at a Glance, the OECD publishes data from national administrative registers or surveys. On the other hand, in its TALIS studies, the OECD publishes data about teaching time from surveys alone. In response to my analysis in 2015, NCES withdrew its survey data from Education at a Glance. NCES had been reporting for years that “net statutory contact time” for lower-secondary teachers was 1,080 hours or thereabout, which translated into 6 hours per day for a 180-day year. That number came from the Department of Education’s Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), which turned out to be significantly flawed, as I documented in my analysis. NCES subsequently used the number from the TALIS study: 981 hours. Going forward, in Education at a Glance, the OECD should use either administrative registers or surveys but not a mix. The result has been a misleading picture of how teachers in different countries work.

Headlines from Around the World


Teacher Magazine (June 28th) — Teacher Staffroom Episode 5: International research


Croatia Week (June 23rd) — Croatian teachers more educated than EU average, survey shows


CNA News (June 19th) — Singapore teachers work longer hours than OECD average: International survey

South Africa

All Africa (June 30th) — South Africa: Minister Angie Motshekga Releases Talis Research Study Results

Inside Education (July 2nd) — #TALIS 2018 – What SA Teachers Are Saying

Business Tech (July 2nd) — 5 of the biggest problems South African teachers struggle with

United Kingdom

FE News (June 19th) — Research and analysis: Teachers in primary and secondary schools: TALIS 2018

Forbes (June 20th) — It’s Recruitment As Much As Workload That’s Key To Tackling The Teacher Shortage

United States

Education Drive (June 19th) — Survey: Despite long working hours, US teachers satisfied with jobs

The Progressive Pulse (June 20th) — Teachers enjoy the work, but don’t think they’re appreciated

30 New Findings in Global Education: RISE Conference 2019 (Repost from CGD)

This week, we are reposting a piece from Dave Evans on the recent RISE conference. Dr. Evans’ original post can be found here.


Last week, Research on Improving Education Systems (RISE) held its annual conference, which economist Karthik Muralidharan has dubbed “the top conference on education in developing countries in the world.” Over the course of two days, researchers presented over 30 new findings on education systems. If you weren’t able to attend, you can find the full line-up and livestreams here. If you want a quick taste of this year’s research highlights, read on!

Word cloud of paper titles from RISE conference

A word cloud of paper titles from the 2019 RISE conference

Learning inequalities and social mobility

  • You want kids to go further in school because more school improves their life outcomes. Across five countries, if you close the learning gap between poor kids and rich kids at age 12, it narrows the gap in completed years of schooling by age 22 by between a quarter and half (Singh, with Das & Chang; video).
  • In Benin, exposure to education in the colonial era increases “social mobility across three generations.” The largest effects are for grandchildren of people with only indirect exposure: They didn’t get an education, but they were in villages with a school (Wantchekon; video).
  • Indonesians exposed to a major school construction program in their childhood are doing better now, in their 50s. They got more education, make more health investments, and did better on the marriage market. Their children are also getting more education, especially daughters whose mothers were exposed to the program (Kleemans, with Akresh & Halim; video).
  • After examining 275 educational interventions across 50+ countries, two-thirds don’t report gender differentiated impacts, and general interventions deliver similar gains for girls as interventions that are targeted to girls (Evans, with Yuan; video; blog post).

Motivation, management, and incentives for teachers

  • Leave your problems at home? Not so easy! In rural Ghana, personal and professional challenges in the lives of new teachers are associated with lower learning and reduced socioemotional development among their students (Fatima, with Wolf; video).
  • When teacher incentives are removed, does performance drop? In Tanzania, non-monetary incentives (i.e., cool cell phones) increased test scores. After the incentives program ended, scores didn’t fall (Sabarwal, with Filmer & Habyarimana; video).
  • In Rwanda, pay-for-performance contracts (using the pay-for-percentile design) attracted more money-oriented candidates, but those candidates were at least as effective as traditionally recruited candidates. Pay-for-performance boosted student learning (Zeitlin, with Leaver, Ozier, & Serneels; video).
  • Poorer countries don’t just have higher pupil-teacher ratios: They also have higher variation in pupil-teacher ratios within the country. From a new data set of almost two million schools across 86 countries, we learn that changing how teachers are allocated across schools could significantly boost learning (Walter; video).

Inside the classroom

  • Technology aided education improved learning for kids in a small scale after-school program in Delhi. Integrated into schools in Rajasthan, the program still significantly increases learning, and at much lower cost. But it doesn’t boost the test scores that teachers are evaluated on, creating a conundrum for the future (Muralidharan, with Singh; video).
  • In middle schools in Pakistan, in-class technology together with teacher training (to help them integrate the technology effectively) increased both effort and test scores among students (Beg, with Lucas, Halim, & Saif; video).
  • “Does gamification in education work?” Math games in low-performing primary schools in Chile lead to sizeable gains in math learning. It also increased “the idea among students that study effort can raise intelligence” (good) and math anxiety (bad) (Cristia, with Araya, Ortiz, & Bottan; video).
  • Adolescent girls in Zambia received e-readers plus an empowerment curriculum and study groups: Literacy and non-verbal reasoning skills rose (Mensch, with 11 co-authors; video).
  • What explains why Vietnam’s primary schools are so effective? A panel study shows that just as elsewhere, easily measured teacher attributes don’t explain it (Glewwe, with 5 co-authors; video).
  • In Gambia, combining three effective interventions—para-teachers delivering after-school classes, scripted lessons, plus frequent monitoring and coaching—delivered big gains in learning, but it wasn’t cheap (Eble, with 6 co-authors; video).
  • In South Africa, teachers who received coaching maintained their improved teaching practices in subsequent years. Student learning for new cohorts was still elevated, but not as high as in the year the teachers received coaching (Cilliers, with Fleisch, Kotze, Mohohlwane, & Taylor; video).
  • Want to know how teachers are doing? Ask the students! A survey of 4,000+ primary school students and their parents showed that student perceptions of teacher performance—particularly teacher engagement and praise of students—were associated with students advancing in school (Weldesilassie, with Woldehanna, Oketch, & Sabates; video).

School accountability by parents and communities

  • Eight years after a school report card intervention in Pakistan, improvements in test scores and price declines in private schools are maintained, together suggesting large improvements in productivity in the education market (Das, with Andrabi and Khwaja; video).
  • In Uganda, a scorecard about the quality of schools increased student learning, but only when communities had input into what would be monitored on the scorecard. New work tries to understand whether this would work administered at the district level (Kabay; video).
  • School council members—teachers, parents, & community—in Pakistan received regular phone calls encouraging them to spend the funds they’d received. It worked: Spending rose. But there was no impact on attendance or learning (Asim; video).

What parents do

  • Lots of people pay for after-school tutoring, but in the slums of Delhi, offering prices to different families shows that paying a higher price leads to higher attendance and lower prices reduce dropout rates (from tutoring). There is “no evidence that tutoring impact average test scores” (Mukherjee, with Berry; video).
  • Do parents invest in their children’s education in order to maximize household income, or do they seek to reduce inequality across their children? A lab-in-the-field experiment in Malawi shows that parents care about both, but that they sacrifice a significant proportion of income to avoid inequality (Jagnani, with Berry & Dizon-Ross; video).

Reducing the cost of schooling

  • A scholarship program aimed at improving high school graduation rates in Mexico had no impact. The program was mistargeted, largely missing the poorest students. But many eligible students also lack the minimum skills to finish high school. As de Hoyos said in the presentation, “If kids don’t know how to add, and you want them to do calculus, you can give them a million US dollars & they still won’t be able to do calculus” (de Hoyos, with Attanasio & Costas-Meghir; video).
  • Merit-based or needs-based scholarships? Nine years after the scholarships were distributed in Cambodia, beneficiaries of both had more schooling, but only beneficiaries of merit scholarships had higher learning or well-being (Barrera-Osorio, with de Barros & Filmer; video).

Innovating at the system level

  • If we want education systems to align around learning, then the idea that providing quality education is the responsibility of the government needs to shift to all actors in the system. To do that, we need to create space for innovation throughout the system. Levy illustrates this with examples from South Africa (Levy; video).
  • Trust and control reinforce each other in South Africa’s education system. Whether that is positive or negative depends on how the accountability is implemented: Is it followed up with support? Is it meaningful for schools? (Ehren, with Paterson & Baxter; video)
  • In Kenya, an effective pilot to improve literacy was scaled up nationally, retaining the essential program inputs—classroom visits with feedback to teachers, updated textbooks, detailed learning guides—and delivering improved early grade literacy throughout the country. (Piper and DeStefano, with Kinyanjui and Ong’ele; video).

Measurement and methods

  • Can we construct quantitative, meaningful measures of bureaucracy in education? A new instrument measures coherence in terms of whether bureaucrats share a common understanding of which jobs are whose. Across four countries in Latin America (the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Peru, and certain states in Brazil) and levels, bureaucrats identify just 56 percent of tasks officially assigned to them as their own (Adelman, with Lemos, Nayar, & Vargas; video).
  • A new, first-of-its-kind dataset measures learning across 164 countries and territories—98 percent of the world’s population. It suggests that girls do better than boys on learning but have less schooling. Learning is associated with growth, but it matters more for countries at certain levels of development (Angrist, with Djankov, Goldberg, & Patrinos; video).
  • How big a problem is cheating on large-scale national exams? Indonesia introduced an integrity score in 2015, which showed a full third of middle schools with evidence of substantial cheating. But new, computer-based exams is making cheating more difficult (Berkhout, with Pradhan, Wati, Suryadarma, & Swarnata; video).
  • There is so much variation within categories of education interventions that trying to figure out “which interventions work” is unlikely to yield success. Rather, try to figure out why specific interventions work (Masset; video).
  • A large-scale randomized trial Andhra Pradesh, India shows that “paper-based tests overstate achievement a lot” relative to tablet-based tests (Singh; video).
  • Teacher skills matter for learning, but so do the initial distribution of student skills, the pace of the curriculum, and other factors. In different cases, the factor that matters the most for improving learning outcomes will vary (Kaffenberger, with Pritchett; video; blog post).

Beyond research

In addition to the research presentations, the conference included insightful policy discussions.

  • Kwabena Tandoh, Deputy Director General of Quality & Access for the Ghana Education Service discussed “Hard Choices: From Long Lists to Prioritised Action” with Karen Mundy (video).
  • Laura Savage of the UK’s Department for International Development led a discussion with Pinelopi Goldberg (World Bank), Raphaelle Martinez (Global Partnerships for Education), and Bronwen Magrath (Oxford University) on Big Efforts in Education.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.

Rapid Rise: Computer Science Education in NYC Part 2 (2015-2025)

This week’s post builds on last week’s discussion of the foundation of the Computer Science for All movement in New York City, focusing on how and why this work has taken off.  

Like Finland’s enactment of a policy requiring that all studentsparticipate each year in “a multi-disciplinary learning module,” setting a goal of providing a computer science experience for all students within ten years created a demand for the development of computer science related learning experiences. But it did not prescribe the teaching of a particular course. In this case, NYC’s new policy initially left open exactly what counts as “meaningful” and “high-quality” computer education, stating only that “NYC students will learn to think with the computer, instead of using computers to simply convey their thinking.” Further the announcement declared that “Schools can implement computer science education in a way that aligns best to their educational vision.”   “The DOE deliberately avoided being too specific about a definition of computer science when the initiative launched,” Preston said. “The K-12 Computer Science Framework had yet to be written and New York State did not have computer science standards, and work in computer science education had been very decentralized until that point. I think the DOE wanted to learn from doing… without schools immediately going to requirements and seat time.”

At the same time, as part of the new policy, CS4All built on initial efforts of the Software Engineering Pilot to develop the infrastructure that could support the spread of coherent and focused computer science learning experiences. As one article from put it, CS4All started with an explicit “focus on providing resources for every step of the education pipeline.” For example, since New York’s statewide computer science framework had not yet been created, CS4All developed a CS Blueprint as well as a wide range of K-12 curricula.

In order to meet the increase in demand, the new policy also sought to increase the supply of teachers with the experience and skills to spread computer science learning experiences across the City.  The approach, however, had to take into account the fact that it could take quite some time to build a “pipeline” of computer science teachers to serve students in a variety of different computer science learning experiences at different levels.  Therefore, “we started with creating a job market for computer science educators,” Preston explained, recognizing that they would have to “catch up” with providing the preparation experiences and materials and programs later. Describing the challenges of preparing teachers, Preston continued, “without state certification, without dedicated teacher education programs, and without a job market for computer science teachers, there wasn’t going to be a pipeline.”  At the same time, Marcus stressed that from the beginning, the “pipeline” was designed to prepare teachers who can both teach computer science courses and who can act as leaders and computer science advocates who can support the spread of computer science education from inside the system.

To support the growing group of computer science teachers, the third goal of the new CS4All policy sought to build on and expand the portfolio of computer science programs working in the City. In particular, CSNYC cultivated connections with a number of programs that provided opportunities, often outside of school, for NYC youth to work and learn with technology.  With encouragement and support from CSNYC and the CS4All related funding, these programs turned their attention to developing the materials and the professional development programs that could help to build an “infrastructure” to support a wide range of computer science learning experiences. “Ultimately the idea is to offer a lot of on-ramps of different shapes and sizes that schools can choose from” Preston reported. Ideally, this variety would help to meet the varied interests and needs of different schools and students.

All of these developments contributed to substantial increases in the number of students receiving Computer Science education and taking and passing Computer Science AP exams.  In New York City, almost 134,000 students received Computer Science education in 2017-18, a 44% increase from the previous year.  In addition, the number of students in New York City taking an AP Computer Science exam in 2017 more than tripled compared to 2016, and the number of students passing an AP Computer Science exam increased more than fourfold compared to 2016. New York City public school students also accounted for approximately 7 percent of AP Computer Science Principles exam-takers nationwide; and in a matter of only two years, AP Computer Science has become the third most popular of all Math/Science AP courses in the City. Notably, the students taking the AP computer science exam are among the most diverse of any subject, and, notably, the number of female students taking that exam increased from 379 in 2016 to 2,155 in 2018.


Why the rapid expansion?

As Monica Disare reported, New York City’s Computer Science for All “plan progressed from a concept to reality at a notably rapid pace, thanks to a rare combination of factors: a focused and well-connected champion, a growing national focus on career readiness, and the sustained interest of the city’s political leadership at a time when the mayor needs to demonstrate clear progress.” Although the combination might be somewhat rare, these factors coalesced along with Wilson and CSNYC’s deliberate effort to work with the NYC DOE and to cultivate relationships with and engage a variety of other funders, programs, companies, and educators who developed an interest in computer science education.

Like a typical development campaign at a major university or cultural institution, the initial investments in computer science education in the City helped to lay the groundwork for de Blasio’s announcement long before it was made. As a consequence, when the de Blasio administration was exploring which education initiatives to support, CSNYC and other computer science supporters were able to promise to raise half of the funding needed to meet the new policy’s ten-year goals.  The private commitment helped to leverage the public commitment, while the public commitment helped to encourage private donors. As Preston explained, “we were able to convince the City to do this by promising to raise half the money privately so for every dollar they commit they get two, but they can also flip that around and say to donors we can say that the public sector will match every dollar you pay.”

In some ways, though, Wilson and CSNYC were taking a chance by working closely with the NYC DOE during the Bloomberg administration. In fact, de Blasio directly opposed many of Bloomberg’s education policies, including Bloomberg’s efforts to link teacher evaluations to test scores and his embrace of charter schools.  However, Bloomberg’s emphasis on supporting the development and use of technology as an engine of the City and the economy in general was widely supported. As a consequence, computer science education was one initiative on which many could agree. “What’s nice about computer science education is it’s fairly bipartisan,” Preston said, “it’s a rare topic that many people can agree on.”

Beyond this support from what scholars like Tyack and Cuban call “policy elites,” the growth of the computer science commitment and movement in NYC also benefitted from the fact that computer science education can be incorporated and “fit into” many of the existing structures and practices of existing schools. For example, adding one of the AP courses dedicated to computer science education not only fits neatly into a typical high school course schedule, it also aligns with existing AP tests and takes advantage of all the incentives and supports that go with the existing high school graduation and college entrance processes. As Tyack and Cuban explain, these “add-on’s” (like the addition of kindergartens to elementary schools earlier in the 20thCentury) can be put in place without disrupting normal patterns of activity in schools. Furthermore, computer science education fits the conception that many people have of what “real school” could be. Sociologist Mary Metz coined this phrase that helps explain why many “innovations” and practices that challenge conventional educational expectations have difficulty taking hold and spreading.  Thus, computer science learning experiences benefit from the fact that many see them as directly connected to both valuable careers in technology-related fields and to valued academic outcomes in math, computation, and critical thinking.

Nonetheless, both the political support and the ability to add computer science to conventional school structures come with downsides. Embracing political support leverages many aspects of the government infrastructure – making it possible to link to other professional development and preparation initiatives, to build on other DOE trainings and resources, and to get access to data to track progress and inform future planning. At the same time, the computer science work in the City is no longer independent; it’s subject to the requirements and expectations of the DOE and dependent on continuing support from district administrators and politicians who may change as political fortunes rise and fall.

In addition, although computer science education initiatives take advantage of the structures and expectations of conventional schools, the course requirements, standardized tests, schedules, staffing patterns and many other aspects of conventional schools make it difficult to carry out student-centered, collaborative, or project-based learning experiences that many computer science programs seek to develop. Most critically, adding computer science learning experiences into all conventional schools demands a massive investment in the preparation and professional development of computer science teachers. Whether or not those investments will pay off remains in question. Countless reform efforts and literature reviews point to the difficulty of substantially increasing teachers’ skills and abilities through preparation and professional development. Even spreading AP courses in traditional subjects like physics and chemistry across all schools has proven difficult, as very few schools in New York City have the staff to offer these courses.

Ultimately, even if the initiative succeeds in helping 5000 teachers develop the skills and expertise they need to support students’ learning of computer science in 10 years, many of those teachers may leave the system (particularly if the skills they develop end up encouraging and enabling them to take higher paying technology jobs outside schools).  Even with substantial capacity-building efforts like those taking place in New York City, this kind of “revolving door” that makes it difficult for many improvement initiatives to reach and sustain their goals and momentum.

Under these conditions, one might expect relatively conventional CS4All courses and learning experiences to spread rapidly across conventional schools; but how well executed those classes are and how different they are from conventional classes, remains to be seen.

  • Thomas Hatch


Rapid Rise: Computer Science Education in NYC Part 1 (2010-2015)

This week and next week Thomas Hatch describes how the effort to provide “computer science for all” has developed in New York City.  The first part focuses on some of the ways that early initiatives to develop new schools and courses with a focus on computer science education helped to lay the foundation for New York City’s pledge to provide all NYC public school students with a “meaningful, high‐quality computer science education.” The next week’s post will reflect on how and why computer science education has taken off and will consider the extent to which it fits into what David Tyack and Larry Cuban have called the “grammar of schooling.” 

“Computer science for all” has taken off.  A variety of teachers, academics, and programsaround the US have been working to help students learn about computer science for some time, but many point to 2013 as the year when a new movement began to pick up steam. That year, nationally, launched the now annual “Hour of Code” campaign; districts, including Chicago, quickly started adding computer science classes; and in New York City, CSNYCwas created to ensure that all New York City’s 1.1 million public school students have access to a high-quality computer science  education. Then in 2015, New York Citypledged that all its public schools would be required to offer computer science classes by 2025; and in 2016, then President Obama provided the official stamp of approval by announcingthat “in the new economy, computer science isn’t an optional skill—it’s a basic skill, right along with the three R’s.”

Although Congress never authorized the $4 billion dollars the Obama administration requested for computer science education in the 2017 budget, the White House and the National Science Foundation partnered to commit $120 million to the Computer Science for All effort. More recently, the Trump administration directed the US Department of Education to make available $200 million dollars for grants related to computer science education while another $300 million dollars in pledges came from a partnership with the Internet Associationand companies like Amazon, Facebook, Salesforce, Google and Microsoft.  As one indicator of the increasing attention to computer science, the introduction in 2016-17 of a new AP course on “Computer Science Principles” contributed to a sharp increasein the number of students taking an AP exam in computer science, including significant increases in the numbers of female, Latinx, and Black students taking the exam. Between 2017 and 2018, the number of students taking the AP Computer Science Principles exam increased again, by almost 50% from 50,000 to 76,000.

Changes usually seem to come slowly in schools, but this rapid expansion of K-12 computer science initiatives illustrates both some of the key opportunities and the challenges of making large-scale changes in education systems. In particular, the development of Computer Science for All illustrates how initiatives that fit into what Tyack and Cuban call the “grammar of schooling” can take off with the backing and resources of political elites. In fact, in some ways, “Computer Science For All” has emerged as a kind of “social movement.” Marshall Ganz describes social movements as emerging from “the efforts of purposeful actors (individuals, organizations) to assert new public values, form new relationships rooted in those values, and mobilize the political, economic, and cultural power to translate these values into action.” But, Michael Preston, the former Executive Director of CSNYC (a partner organization for New York City’s Computer Science for All [CS4All] initiative) stresses that what the movement actually achieves depends on much more than how far and how fast it spreads.  In a series of conversations, Preston highlighted some of the developments that set the stage for New York City’s commitment to provide a “meaningful, high‐quality computer science education” at every level by 2025. In the process, he highlighted that engaging all students in meaningful and rigorous computer science learning experiences depends on developing what amounts to an “infrastructure” for computer science learning, including developing the curricula, assessments, tools, preparation programs, professional development supports, professional networks, and organizational relationships that can reach every school in the City.

From two new schools to a portfolio of computer science programs

Even before computer science education picked up steam across the country, Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist, was working to support the spread of computer science education in New York City. Wilson’s interest grew as he realized that many of the technology related start-ups he invested in couldn’t hire enough local talent.  From Wilson’s perspective, the fact that computer science courses were primarily available in the most selective high schools with exceptionally high percentages of White and Asian students also made increasing access to computer science to students from all backgrounds a particularly pressing equity issue.

To respond to the problem, in 2010, Wilson sought out the advice of members of the New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE). They recommended Wilson start a new school dedicated to computer science education and take advantage of the NYC DOE’s decade-long support for creating and replicating small schools. As Preston, described it:

“I think the consensus at the DOE was that if you create a new school model, you can set the conditions for an innovative new practice to take shape. The idea was that they would open up a new small high school that would be a model for teaching computer science at an unscreened school [a school without admissions requirements] so that any student could apply; there wouldn’t be any academic pre-requisite; and every student who came through the door could get a rigorous sequence of computer science. But in every other way it would be a typical new small school.”

Acting on that advice, Wilson teamed up with the DOE’s Office of Postsecondary Readiness to open the Academy for Software Engineering in 2012. The Bronx Academy for Software Engineering launched a year later and both schools quickly got to work developing a multi-year sequence for computer science instruction.  While those schools were able to enroll high percentages of Hispanic and Black students as well as students qualifying for free or reduced price lunch, from the beginning those efforts also sought to address predictable challenges like developing a gender-balanced approach that appealed to both males and females. “Both schools were 80% male initially,” Preston explained, which reflected the applicant pool. “If you name your school something with software engineering in the title,” he added, “you may not attract the most balanced applicant pool.”

The intense effort that those schools had to put into creating a rigorous computer science sequence also highlighted the need for more extensive curricula as well as a “pipeline” of K-12 educators with relevant preparation and expertise in computer science.  To begin to meet those demands, in 2013, the DOE also launched the Software Engineering Pilot Program, which aimed to develop a 3-4 year sequence of computer science courses for middle and for high school. As Debbie Marcus, current Executive Director for Computer Science Education at the DOE described it, the program was a key step in pursuing the vision that “Computer Science education could be for every student in New York City, not just those in the new schools.” According to Marcus, the work on the pilot helped to build a foundation for the later rollout of Computer Science education across the City and contributed some key learnings along the way. In particular, the pilot engaged 40 teachers a year from many different subjects in a professional learning partnership with DOE-created curricula and resources. Those teachers were able to bring pedagogical and subject-matter expertise that made it clear that computer science learning opportunities could be integrated into many different courses, not just computer science courses. In addition, the pilot created opportunities to learn how to engage principals in the implementation process, both to ensure time for teachers to learn from experiences with a new subject  and to set up plans to spread computer science learning opportunities throughout a school.

At the same time, as another way to build the infrastructure to support the spread of computer science education in New York City, Wilson  worked with nonprofit expert Sarah Holloway and NYU computer science professor Evan Korth to create the New York City Foundation for Computer Science Education (CSNYC).  Among its initiatives, CSNYC developed partnerships with a number of computer science related programs from around the country and sought to help them take root in New York City. As Leigh Ann DeLyser (current Director of Education and Research at CSNYC) and Preston described in an initial history of the development of CSNYC, those program partners included:

  • Exploring Computer Science Curriculum– A year-long, introductory level,high school computer science curriculum and teacher professional development program
  • Beauty and Joy of Computing– An AP Computer Science Principles Course developed by faculty at the University of California at Berkeley and members of the Education Development Centerin partnership with the DOEd
  • Bootstrap– Curriculum modules to help teachers of math and science in 6th-12thgrades to incorporate computer science content into their courses
  • Scalable Game Design– Classroom guides and professional development activities that help teachers to enable students to learn computational thinking while creating computer-related games.
  • TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) – A program of Microsoft Philanthropies that recruits, trains, mentors, and places volunteer technology professionals from industry in high school classrooms as partners with teachers

These initial investments created a kind of “portfolio” of programs that represented a variety of different approaches to computer science education and engaged many different stakeholders in the work.  In the process, CSNYC itself began to expand its own goals from providing seed funding to providing connections and coordination to help the computer science education sector in the City develop in a more coherent way.  For example, CSNYC established two “meetups” where teachers and others involved and interested in computer science education could get together on a regular but relatively informal basis.  CSNYC also helped to track progress and identify several critical challenges that the various initiatives in the sector experienced: finding enough qualified teachers and creating enough “real world” computer science related internships and experiences for students.  To address these needs, CSNYC cultivated relationships with a variety of local universities and businesses.

All of this activity established a loose network of programs and a wide and engaged group of stakeholders that, according to CSNYC helped to expand computer science opportunities from a few New York City schools in 2013 to over 100 schools and over 10,000 students by 2015. As a result, when new Mayor Bill de Blasio was ready to develop some signature initiatives, Preston noted that expanding computer science across the City was already “tee’d up.”  Building on that momentum, in the fall of 2015 de Blasio significantly upped the ante with the establishment of CS4All and the announcement that by 2025 all NYC public school students, from kindergarten through 12th grade, would receive “meaningful, high‐quality computer science education.” In addition, the announcement pledged that over the ten years from 2015 to 2025, the DOE and private partners would train “nearly 5,000 teachers who will bring computer science education to the City’s ~1.1 million public school students.”

  • Thomas Hatch


What have we learned about the learning crisis? (from Brookings)

Today, we are highlighting a report from the Brookings Institution about learning in international development contexts. The report’s author, Michelle Kaffenberger, offers several key insights, some of which we highlight below.

PISA for Development (PISA-D), a new effort to include more low- and middle-income countries in the internationally comparable PISA assessments, released its first results in late 2018. Test results revealed shockingly low learning levels. Across the seven countries participating, only 12 percent of children who were tested met minimum proficiency levels for math, and 23 percent for reading, compared with 77 percent and 80 percent in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, respectively. Further, the test is only administered to 15-year-olds who are in school and in at least grade seven. When children who were ineligible for the test are taken into account, only six percent of all 15-year-olds on average across the PISA-D countries demonstrated proficiency in math (Figure 1). In Zambia it was only one percent. These measures of minimal proficiency correspond with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for literacy and numeracy, meaning these countries are far from achieving this basic goal.

Small tweaks will not be sufficient to address the severity of the learning crisis, nor to increase the pace of learning enough to reach universal basic skills in the foreseeable future. The scale of the problem suggests education systems, which have successfully achieved high levels of schooling attainment in most places, now need to be reoriented to be coherent not just for schooling but also for learning. The RISE Programme is conducting research to shed light on how to accomplish this. Other efforts are working to understand how approaches that achieve learning can be dramatically scaled, such as the Center for Universal Education at Brookings’s Millions Learning Real-time Scaling Labs, Pratham and JPAL’s Teaching at the Right Level, and RTI and USAID’s Tusome Early Grade Reading Program in Kenya. New data make it abundantly clear that profound improvements are urgently needed if we are serious about achieving learning for all.

Network learning for sustainable development in education: How to create collective impact (a cross-post from JET Education Services)

This week, we share some interesting work from colleagues Melanie Ehren, James, Keevy, and Tom Kaye. This report initially appeared through JET Education Services.


Melanie EhrenJames Keevy and Tom Kaye (May 2019) write: This week (28-29 May) will see the launch of the National Association of Social Change Entities in Education (NASCEE) in Johannesburg. NASCEE aims to establish a collaborative structure to support NGOs in addressing the challenges in education and to deliver on their mandates. The association hopes to assist non-profit organisations in networking and communication, accessing funders and government, and developing their internal capacity. This collective approach should help to improve South Africa’s standard of education and ensure a more effective and efficient practice and delivery in the education space. Critically the approach also provides a platform for the professionalisation of practitioners in the sector.

The initiative is particularly relevant for low and middle income countries who have seen an influx of developmental partners, NGOs and private companies all aiming to improve access to, and quality of education through a series of disparate reforms and interventions. As these organisations all have their improvement agenda, collaboration and alignment of initiatives is often fraught with difficulties, leading to a fragmented system overloaded with short term, disconnected interventions. In an attempt to find the ‘silver bullet’ of educational improvement, and chasing after financial opportunities as and when they present themselves, educators struggle to work towards long-term goals in an efficient and consistent manner. Tablets with online materials to teach literacy skills end up in a drawer when support for their use is terminated, while long term educational change only ever comes about when integrated into the wider education system: through teacher training, school funding, accountability structures and policy planning.

NASCEE is expected to address the lack of alignment in, and sustainability of, change by creating a network of leaders and organisations across public, private and not-for-profit entities. These partners are expected to collaboratively address complex problems and cultivate collective intelligence. How valid is this assumption? Similar initiatives can be found elsewhere, such as METIS in Kenya, or CAMPE in Bangladesh. Can these networks lead to sustainable system change and what conditions are needed to ensure the collective impact of their individual members? We argue that bringing organisations and people together is a good starting point, but creating coalitions that traverse the system requires leadership and role models, trust, enabling technology, collaboration, and evaluation and monitoring:

  1. Leadership and role models. Networks are devolved structures which often lack a central coordinating authority. Particularly in large networks, leadership is essential to structure the collaborative work, bring partners together and work towards a common goal. The best network leaders are those who are seen as role models with high moral integrity and exemplary behaviour in improving education and serving the public good. Given the crucial role of leaders to support and coordinate the collaboration, adequate succession planning needs to ensure that high-quality leadership is sustained when leaders transition out of the network.
  2. Trust is a lubricant for collaboration. Only when partners trust each other will they share ideas and resources. Trust requires a mutual understanding of problems that need to be addressed, values and how to work together. Trust is built when partners positively evaluate each other’s competence, benevolence and integrity in improving outcomes of learners across the system. Various tools can support the process of building trust, such as Muethel’s cross cultural trust game[1], or Williams’[2] (2012) activities of ‘perspective-taking’. Trust between partners is not self-evident and needs to be managed; these tools can be used to do so.
  3. Enabling technology. Networks, particularly the ones exemplified here, are often constituted of many partners who are located in various parts of a city or country and have little opportunities to see each other on a day to day basis. Technology can enable their communication and allow partners to share and understand good practice and communicate and develop solutions together. Technology, particularly in the age of ‘big data’ and the ‘platform revolution’[3], is also vital in supporting network members in analysing available data to understand the problems that need to be addressed.
  4. Collaboration: working on a set of shared activities provides a purpose to the network and ensures the network has meaning and engages participants in working towards a common goal. As Mulgan[4] explains, ‘it is much harder to get a disparate group to agree on underlying principles and values than it is to get them to agree on actions’. Even when there is no shared purpose, having a set of activities to work on can create a common vision or goal to work towards. It also prevents a group from ‘over-analysing’ a problem without taking any action. Given the ‘wicked’ nature of how to ensure access to high quality education in developing contexts, any analysis will, by definition be incomplete, contradictory or address requirements that will have changed during the analysis.
  5. Sharing resources: members of the network need to fund the collaborative work of the network. Resources can help organize joint activities and provide some back office support. But more importantly, having members have “skin” in the game, can often help to add to the perceived importance of a network. Even if it is just small running costs to engage one staff member to run a secretariat or something similar.
  6. Evaluation and monitoring. Collaboration is not without problems and various authors talk about the unintended consequences of networks, such as group think, high transaction costs or power struggle over values and prioritization of goals. Evaluation and monitoring can support in identifying effective solutions to identified problems, but can also bring order in the relations between partners and prevent fragmented collaboration. Evaluation and monitoring needs to be agile and address a small number of key indicators which keep partners on track in working towards improved learning outcomes. Less relevant are evaluations of the collaborative processes (number of meetings, events organized) as these reduce time and energy for more meaningful activities and divert people’s focus on what really matters.

The first conference of the South African NASCEE, with a purposefully inspired theme From Promise to Practice, is an opportune moment in bringing organisations and people together. Our six points offer an agenda for the association to make a real impact on the South African education system and set an example for other countries who aim to ensure a purposeful and long-term approach for collaboration and improvement.


[1] In: F. Lyon, G. Mőllering, and M. Saunders (Eds). Handbook of Research methods on Trust. Cheltenham/Northampton: Edward Elgar Publishing.


[3] Platform Revolution, 2018, by Professors Geoffrey G. Parker of Dartmouth College and Marshall W. Van Alstyne, of Boston University, research fellows at the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy and industry expert Sangeet Paul Choudary founded Platform Thinking Labs, a strategic consultancy.


Exploring the Role of Teachers College in International Education

Since Daniel Friedrich took over as the chair of the Curriculum and Teaching department at Teachers College in 2017, he has had a number of people visiting Teachers College from outside the U.S. During their time at Teachers College, these scholars would often ask about alumni from the program who returned to their home countries after graduation. As they returned to their home countries, many of these scholars became foundational figures in their own settings. For instance, the person who developed and implemented early childhood education in Chile completed their doctorate at Teachers College in 1931. Professor Friedrich had already begun developing questions about the role of Teachers College in the world when, while presenting at Nanjing Normal School, Professor Friedrich noticed a bust of the school’s founder. Studying the plaque, he noticed that this person had studied with John Dewey at Teachers College. These observations and inquiries led Friedrich to begin thinking about the role of Teachers College across the world. He teamed up with doctoral students Nancy Bradt and Kara Gavin, and visiting doctoral student Ana Paula Marques de Carvalho. Together, they have recently embarked on a project that asks “what is the role of Teachers College in knowledge production and education at a global level?”

Early Investigations

The project begins with 111 dissertations written between 1900 and 1940. The researchers follow a simple search criteria, including dissertations from these years that focus on international education systems. Considering that World War II would set up a different set of dynamics, the researchers stop at 1940. Of these 111 studies, 25 come from China. There are also multiple dissertations focused on Canada, South Africa, and Palestine. Among other aspects, the early stages of the project consist of the team reading through the dissertations, searching for themes, and analyzing them together.

The team offers initial findings from the dissertations that fall into three categories. First, they suggest that these dissertations serve to build and measure alleged truths. Many people came to Teachers College to take tools from Edward Thorndike and psychometricians. Second, comparisons serve to perpetuate hierarchies of knowledge production. For example, one dissertation from a South African researcher focuses on how the U.S. education system approached the education of African American students. The dissertation uses this line of study to propose a new system of “native education” in South Africa. In other words, the dissertation uses how the “U.S. educates the inferior race” to inform how South Africa could do the same. Friedrich points out that John Dewey, paragon of progressive and democratic education, was on this committee and signed off on the dissertation. Third, they find dissertations that offer descriptions of systems. This category of dissertation aims to understand and describe something like “rural schools in China.” In creating that description, these dissertations often serve to shape and define what counts as part of the system and what doesn’t count.

Overall, the project takes up questions about fields of education writ large. It explores how knowledge is generated in the field of education and how it moves across different places. In doing so, the project asks how a field of study is constituted.

Teachers College Is Not the Hero Here

Professor Friedrich and his team plan to continue exploring these themes and taking up new directions in the research. They have toyed with ideas of taking several countries as case studies or possibly tracing ideas traveling. They may even look at the posts scholars take up as they return to their home countries. Bradt points out that in pursuing these lines of inquiry knowledge would have to change, or translate, across borders. Knowledge allegedly produced within Teachers College must still change as it moves across contexts. In a similar vein, a question could be asked of how ideas from other geographies impact Teachers College’s shape. Yet, all of these ideas remain as future possibilities.

One strong perspective that has already emerged is that of a post-colonial lens. Rather than sharing Teachers College as a beacon of knowledge spread across the world throughout the 20th century, they aim to examine a dark history of the field. This research builds on work such as that of Takayama, who examines Teachers College’s role in a colonial vision of the field. Even still, the project aims to do more than simply critique Teacher College or these dissertations. Instead, the project seeks to reveal a complex history in which the researchers themselves are entangled.

Talking to the Field

As the project continues, the researchers hope that it speaks to historians and those in curriculum studies. Bradt suggests that this line of work could also be helpful in thinking about the kinds of curriculum used in places and question the typical “importing of western programs.” For policymakers, Friedrich says “it is important to complicate the fields of histories we work in. Adding layers of power dynamics and knowledge production as a complicated site can provide insights into understanding the present.”