Category Archives: About K-12 International Education News

LEAD THE CHANGE SERIES Q & A with Michael T. O’Connor

Michael T. O’Connor is the director of the Providence Alliance for Catholic Teachers (PACT) program at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island, USA. In this role, Michael coordinates a Master’s secondary track, teaches Master’s level courses, provides supervision and instructional coaching to the program’s teachers, and offers support to the program’s partner Catholic schools in the New England region. A former middle school English Language Arts (ELA) teacher and instructional coach, Michael received his Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from the Lynch School of Education at Boston
College. At Boston College, he worked with Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley on the Northwest Rural Innovation and Student Engagement (NW RISE) network project. This project, and specifically his work with ELA teachers participating in the network, informed his dissertation work on examining secondary students’ language choices in authentic, community-based writing activities and the ways in which teachers collaborated to support student writing across rural contexts. His work with NW RISE also served as a key case for his work on collaborative professionalism, resulting in the publication of his book with Andy Hargreaves: Collaborative Professionalism: When Teaching Together Means Learning for All (Corwin Press).

In this interview, part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, Dr. O’Connor  talks about, among other things, the role of collaboration in educational change. As Bray O’Connor puts it:

As someone who greatly values collaboration in education, I (perhaps to no surprise) find collaboration and collaborative professionalism to be an important issue in educational change. This past year, I am working with all K-12 Catholic school principals in the state of Rhode Island in a professional development series. When I met with the superintendent to discuss this work, he said that, in many ways, collaboration is at the heart of all educational change. If we seek to make changes to our individual schools and broader systems, it requires the will of the many, not just the will of one. This sentiment has stayed with me when thinking about the field of educational change. At the same time, I recognize that there is much beyond collaboration that impacts meaningful and transformative educational change and am grateful to the many researchers and practitioners in the
field who are doing important research and leading our field forward. As I mentioned in my previous response, issues of identity, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging are also
paramount. We must consider these issues for students, certainly, but also for teachers
and other educators. How are we considering teacher well-being, in addition to student well-being? How are we considering equity and diversity in school leadership opportunities? How do empirically-informed proposed educational change strategies impact schools and communities, especially those that have been historically or are currently marginalized? I have seen members of our field take up these issues in their work and I look forward to seeing how research evolves going forward. 

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.

Puerto Rico Charter Sector to Take Off

This week, we share a cross-post from Sam Abrams, director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education, which initially appeared on the Center’s website. Abrams was in San Juan last week to give a lecture on charter schools and vouchers at a symposium on governance hosted by the University of Puerto Rico Law School. While there, he learned about hearings for charter school proposals. The hearings, in fact, took place the same day as the symposium.

Puerto Rico is currently home to one charter school but may soon be home to 30 more, according to hearings held by the island’s Department of Education on Friday, February 8.

The island’s Education Reform Act, approved in March 2018 in the wake of Hurricane María, which wrought havoc the previous September, introduced charter schools as well as vouchers, with the stipulation that no more than 10 percent of schools could be charter schools and no more than 3 percent of students could attend private or non-district public schools with the use of vouchers.

In the first year following the Education Reform Act, one charter school opened: Vimenti, an elementary school in San Juan operated by the Boys and Girls Club of Puerto Rico.

According to an article published by Noticel,Vimenti started in August 2018 with a kindergarten and first grade, enrolling 58 students in total–31 of whom come from the neighborhood, 27 of whom come from nearby, and 13 of whom are classified for special education. The plan is to add one grade per year as students progress through school.

Supplementary funding for Vimenti, reported Noticel, comes from the Colibri Foundation, which donated $1 million, and the singer Marc Anthony, who gave $500,000.

In the hearings last week, the Department of Education considered proposals for four more charter schools in San Juan, five in Humacao, one in Bayamón, three in Caguas, six in Ponce, two in Arecibo, and nine in Mayaguez.

In contrast to Vimenti, these schools would not be new schools built one grade at a time but, rather, conversions from traditional schools to charter schools.

According to a school administrator with direct knowledge of the hearing process, it is expected that at least 13 of the proposed conversions will be approved for the 2019-2020 year while the remaining 17 will be approved for the 2020-2021 year.

For charter schools, the baseline for determining the 10 percent was the number of schools as of August 15, 2018, which means that if additional public schools across the island are closed, the proportion of charter schools could in time  exceed 10 percent. The government of Puerto Rico closed nearly 25 percent of the island’s schools following Hurricane María. Before the storm, there were 1,110 schools. A year later, according to a report by Education Week, there were 847.

Whether 14 schools or 31 in 2019-2020, the number of charter schools in Puerto Rico would mark striking growth.  By comparison, Minnesota, the state that introduced charter schools with legislation in 1991, opened one charter school in 1992 and six more in 1993. By 2017, there were 164 charter schools across the state, enrolling 6.5 percent of the state’s public school students.

Growth in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, however, sets the standard for the rapid increase in charter schools. Following the devastating storm in August 2005, charter schools replaced traditional public schools at a fast clip. Of the city’s 87 schools today, all but one, McDonogh 35 Senior High, is a charter school. According to an article published in December 2018 by The Times-Picayune, McDonogh 35 will also soon be a charter school. The school is slated to assume charter status for the 2019-2020 year, making New Orleans the nation’s first all-charter district.

While the response of New Orleans to Hurricane Katrina established a precedent for the response of Puerto Rico to Hurricane María, the impact on schools of Katrina and María differed substantially. María left Puerto Rico hobbled, but it did not leave an entire school system in ruins, as was the case in New Orleans, allowing the state to take over and dismiss all teachers to clear the way for the imposition of a largely charter system.

With the summary dismissal of all teachers in New Orleans, the teachers’ union had little if any countervailing power. Teachers in Puerto Rico retained their jobs after María, and the presence of their union remained strong, constituting a significant obstacle to plans for a transformation of the island’s school system akin to the overhaul in New Orleans.

Although charter schools and vouchers are new to Puerto Rico, the concept of alternative forms of public school management is not new. The island’s Instituto Nueva Escuela (INE), in fact, sets the international standard for running neighborhood public Montessori schools.

INE, celebrated in a recent story published by El Nuevo Dia, comprises 44 schools across the island enrolling 14,600 students. Like conventional neighborhood public schools, schools in the INE network require no application. Unlike conventional neighborhood public schools, the schools in this network all employ the Montessori child-centered curriculum and get significant supplementary funding from foundations.

According to Ana María García, the founder and director of INE, the network spends 10 percent more per pupil–or $6,600 compared to $6,000.

García was pressured by the Department of Education, she said in an interview in San Juan last week, to transform INE into a charter network, but she refused, contending that fundamental to INE was the idea that the network’s schools be open to all students in the neighborhood, without any application process. García prevailed.

In recognition of García’s work, as El Nuevo Dia reported in a separate story, the American Montessori Society will be presenting García with its highest honor, its Living Legacy Award, at its annual meeting in March.

– Samuel E. Abrams, Director, NCSPE, February 13, 2019

Can the “School Improvement Industry” support system-wide improvements in K-3 Reading Outcomes in New York City?

This week’s post features a podcast with IEN founder Thomas Hatch.  The podcast discusses a recently released report and research brief drawn from a study designed to identify all the external support providers working with New York City public schools to improve K-3 reading outcomes. 

In the latest podcast from CPRE’s Research Minutes, CPRE Senior Researcher Ryan Fink talks with Thomas Hatch about his latest study “Mapping the reading improvement sector in New York City.”  Among other issues Hatch discusses the nature of the school improvement industry in general, as well as some of the challenges that “external support providers” have faced in trying to work with schools in the US most productively.  He also highlights the longstanding nature of the problem – citing his own experiences while working at the ATLAS Communities Project and described in a 2002 article “When improvement programs collide.” Hatch goes on to discuss how difficult it is get any sense of the size, scope, growth, or effectiveness of this external support even in one area (reading), at one level (K-3), in one region (New York City).  As he put it, when the research started:

how many programs are trying to help New York City elementary schools improve reading outcomes? Nobody had any idea…So this work has been designed to get a sense of not just how many organizations and people are out there doing this work, but exactly what kind of work they’re doing, and then to figure out what we can do to try and make sure that all of this work adds up to more than the sum of its parts, and really has a much more powerful and catalytic effect on reading in New York City.”

When Fink asks Hatch about the implications, he responds that “we need to come to the realization that there’s not going to be an adequate supply of proven programs, and they’re still going to be demands” from schools for help. He concludes by outlining some of the key steps that he thinks can help to build coordination, coherence, and collective responsibility in the reading improvement sector.



Mark Bray is Distinguished Chair Professor in Education at East China Normal University, Shanghai, and is also an Emeritus Professor at the University of Hong Kong. He began his career as a secondary school teacher in Kenya and Nigeria, and later joined universities in the United Kingdom and Papua New Guinea. He has long links with UNESCO, first as a consultant and then as Director of its International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP). His decades of work at the University of Hong Kong commenced in 1986 (with four years of absence for the IIEP role), and in 2011 he was designated UNESCO Chair Professor in Comparative Education. Mark Bray has been President of the Comparative Education Society of Hong Kong (CESHK), the US-based Comparative & International Education Society (CIES), and the World Council of Comparative Education Societies (WCCES). He has also played a major leadership role in the Board of Directors of the Comparative Education Society of Asia (CESA). He can be reached at

In this interview, part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, Dr. Bray talks about his work in international education with organizations such as UNESCO. As Bray puts it:

I have been privileged to work in and between multiple contexts and countries. Although born and educated in England, my first teaching jobs were in secondary schools in Kenya and Nigeria. They were culturally eye-opening, and provided additional exposure to neighboring Anglophone and Francophone Africa. I subsequently taught at the Universities of Edinburgh, Papua New Guinea and London, before moving in 1986 to the University of Hong Kong. From these bases, I undertook many consultancy assignments and research projects for such bodies as UNESCO, UNICEF, and the World Bank as well as for various non-governmental organizations and national governments. These arrangements have allowed me to operate “on both sides of the street”, crossing between the domains of academia and of practice in schools and policymaking. They have introduced me to cultures in rich, middle-income and lowincome countries, particularly in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and the South Pacific, and to some extent, also in the Arab states and in Latin America and the Caribbean. Thus consultancies have been in
countries as diverse as Dubai, Malta, Myanmar, Sudan, and Solomon Islands.

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.

Davos 2019: Education Headlines

The World Economic Forum meets in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. Davos 2019’s theme was Globalization 4.0: Shaping a Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Politicians and business people from around the world gathered to discuss issues such as the environment and global inequality.

Though the forum did not focus primarily on education, it was certainly an issue addressed throughout the conference. In this brief post, we offer various headlines that discuss Davos and education.

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Education Stories

Reflections on Davos: The Global Reskilling Challenge (Forbes, January 27th)

Why AI Can’t be Education’s Cure-All (Forbes, January 28th)

More jobs, better education: What young people want from Davos leaders (Business Standard, January 21st)

Davos elites believe the answer to inequality is ‘upskilling’ (Union Leader, January 26th)

Davos 2019: The Young Want More Jobs, Better Education From Davos Leaders (Bloomberg, January 21st)

This is what matters in education according to the world’s best teacher (World Economic Forum, January 18th)

Teenage activist takes School Strikes 4 Climate Action to Davos (The Guardian, January 24th)

In Davos, JGU V-C calls for internationalisation of higher education (India Today, January 24th)

Davos 2019: Emerging markets have 20% youths without job, education or training, says Christine Lagarde (CNBC, January 24th)

JGU Vice-Chancellor speaks at the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos (Edex, Indian Express, January 23rd)


In addition to these headlines, several reports and headlines offer stories about inequality that closely relate to education.

  • An Oxfam report that looks at how “Universal health, education and other public services reduce the gap between rich and poor, and between women and men. Fairer taxation of the wealthiest can help pay for them”
  • A Vox article that addresses the Oxfam report and other lessons from Davos 2019
  • A New York Times piece on “The Hidden Automation Agenda of the Davos Elite”

An Informal Education Program for Talking to “Racists”

After the election of Victor Orban in 2010, Hungary saw a sharp turn towards nationalism. For many people there was a distinct sense of fear as nationalists routinely marched through the streets, espousing anti-roma and anti-semitic rhetoric. This atmosphere echoed the notion that “wars do not start with bullets – they start with words.” Rather than retreat, there were those who started to reach out to talk to people with very different views from her own, asking them questions and striking up conversations. These conversations provided the foundation for what Maja Nenadović calls the Applied Debate program, an informal education workshop she developed, which aims to fight discrimination and depolarize communication.


A Method for Talking to “Racists”

These initial experiments began with a flexible approach, but broadly followed three basic aims. First, Applied Debate seeks to find a “lowest common denominator” between people engaged in a dialogue. Doing so allows them to see each other’s humanity. Second, the dialogue aims to confuse, to create some uncertainty in thinking, though not as a way to “win” or assert one’s own certainty. Instead, uncertainty acts as a productive point of engagement. Third, Applied Debate looks to understand, to see where people with such different views are coming from. Understanding does not mean accepting or compromising. Applied Debate views understanding as a way to both humanize and alleviate fear.

The program was first publically presented at the Qatar International Conference on Argumentation, Rhetoric, Debate and the Pedagogy of Empowerment. It was here that Nenadović outlined Applied Debate’s basic plan. From here, it grew into wider conversations and a more specifically structured program. It has so far been taught with NGO’s, student organizations, and at universities across over 20 countries.


Inside the Workshops

Though Applied Debate differs from place to place, in general, participants engage in a 3-day seminar that explores rhetorical self-defense, demystifies hate speech, exercises sharing definitions (many misunderstandings come about from simply having different ideas of what things mean). Throughout, the activities and discussion address the polarization that permeates so much of life and work today, including education. Applied Debate’s informal setting opens a unique space to depolarize discussions and confront issues like hate speech, which is rarely addressed in schools. At the same time, these programs are not educational workshops on how to win arguments or gain “rhetorical supremacy.” If understanding is an ultimate aim, one cannot enter with a goal of winning. Yet, depolarizing is not the same thing as neutralizing. Building on that idea, instead of teaching a method for “beating the opposition,” Applied Debate develops strategies for listening. In a similar vein, the workshops offer activities that interrogate stereotypes. Where common approaches to teaching about stereotypes is to shame or deny one’s thinking, the Applied Debate program suggests that we can educate by identifying and engaging these ideas. While talking with participants from international education foundations in Hungary, for example, many wanted to examine their own biases but admitted that they were afraid of fueling the fires of polarization. They wanted to spend the seminar distancing themselves from hate speech and rhetoric. Yet, this tension is exactly the point. Applied Debate offers the opportunity to productively move out of one’s echo chamber.


Talking to School Systems

In many of the places where the workshop has occurred (from Colombia to Bosnia and Herzegovina), Applied Debate could easily fit into a school’s curriculum. Yet, the program exclusively remains in informal education spaces. At issue is a broad conception that school is supposed to remain an apolitical, neutral space. Even in divisive political contexts, many people want to maintain the view school as a neutral space (often as a way of maintaining the current order). Meanwhile, Applied Debate directly takes on and brings up political beliefs. Of course, school is already a political space, and, what’s more, students constantly encounter divisive political issues around the globe, whether it be online and somewhere else.

At the same time that it focuses directly on issues often avoided in schools, the content of Applied Debate directly relates to the skills and knowledge teachers aim for in classrooms. Critical thinking and analysis as just two of the skills central to Applied Debate. In sessions, for instance, participants practice these skills by examining Facebook posts. Nenadović notes that “as they scratch below the surface of a post, they not only dismantle certain assumptions, they also develop new skills in critical engagement.”


Going Forward

As more take note of it, the Applied Debate program continues expanding. Its developers and practitioners keep introducing workshops and developing the concept with those who practice discriminatory behavior and those impacted by discrimination.  However, there have been a number of requests to expand the program or at least offer a manual so that others can run their own workshop. Although there are now plans to develop such a manual, this development raises the challenge of keeping the design highly localized. Education systems adhere to and reflect larger political structures, making it difficult to drop in this highly contextualized program. As a result, Applied Debate is intended to remain open and flexible, both to avoid creating a “script” that others have to follow and to encourage adaptions in both local languages and content. But, the enduring goal remains to create the conditions that support a renewed sense of agency in polarizing and isolating times.



Maja Nenadović developed the Applied Debate program. Nenadović is an experienced debate coach, public speaker, political consultant, researcher, human rights and advocacy trainer and identity de/construction educator. She holds a special affinity for challenging and transforming societal stereotypes through applied debate, “radical” empathy and dialogue as means of resolving miscommunication and conflicts – particularly amongst vulnerable and marginalized groups in society.  As a global trainer and consultant with 18years experience, she has taught in more than 40 countries worldwide.  Her recent work throughout Europe focuses on dealing with the rise of populism and extremism.  Maja is one of the initiators of the Model International Criminal Court Western Balkans (MICC WeB), the project that brings together high school students and teachers from all over Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia to simulate war crime trials and learn about human rights and their violations, throughout history as well as in the 1990s breakup of Yugoslavia. She is currently also working as the Anne Frank House coordinator of the EU-funded project ‘Historija, Istorija, Povijest – Lessons for Today.’ She holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Amsterdam.

2018 in International Ed News

Happy New Year to all our readers! Continuing an International Ed News tradition, we begin this year with a reflection on our posts and coverage of international education stories from the previous year. In 2018, our most popular posts included a two-part piece about the Luminos Fund’s accelerated learning program in Liberia and Ethiopia, an article on the education system and out-of-school education in Singapore, and a post on the beginnings of Sesame Workshop’s work with young children displaced by conflict in the Middle East.

On Twitter, our top Tweets covered stories ranging from Singapore abolishing school exam rankings to Macron’s attempts to “fix” France’s education system.

Looking at some of our statistics, IEN had visitors from 161 countries. Next to the United States, the majority of visitors came from Philippines, U.K., Singapore, and Australia. Other visitors came from Bahrain, South Africa, Turkey, and Canada. We covered stories on dozens of countries and five continents, focusing on everything from informal education programs to education policies.

In 2018, we continued our examination of educational improvement efforts in the U.S. with posts on ExpandED/TASC and Collective Impact.

Throughout the year, we scanned headlines around the world. Highlights of these roundups focused on examining the migrant caravan and a timeline of Trump’s war on immigrant families. Given current news, we will certainly revisit these stories on IEN in 2019.

We also continued posting work from our colleagues and partners. Each month, we featured interviews from AERA Education Change SIG’s Lead the Change series. Among other interviews, Lead the Change interviewed IEN co-founder Thomas Hatch. Additionally, we continued the Leading Futures series, including a post on Flip the System.

As we move into 2019, we look forward to continuing to share these ongoing pieces as well as many new posts from stories around the world.