Category Archives: Global Reports/Studies

Teacher and teaching quality in the world’s top-performing education systems

The National Center on Education and the Economy’s (NCEE) Center on International Education Benchmarking (CIEB) has recently published Empowered Educators: How High-Performing Systems Shape Teaching Quality Around the World—an international comparative study of teacher and teaching quality in the world’s top-performing education systems. To explore and share the findings of this research, the NCEE held a conference featuring presentations and panel conversations with several of the authors of the study, including Linda Darling-Hammond, A. Lin Goodwin, Karen Hammerness, Misty Sato, Dion Burns, and Ann McIntyre.

Marc Tucker, president and CEO of NCEE moderated the event, and Andreas Schleicher from OECD and policymakers and educators from the US also provided their perspective. The conference was also streamed live and can be viewed online.

Linda Darling-Hammond launched this three-year study from the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) at Stanford University with a team of education researchers from several different parts of the world. The study focused on the policies related to teachers and teaching quality in seven jurisdictions across four continents including Shanghai, Finland, Singapore, and Australia.  According to the study, these seven jurisdictions that have demonstrated higher achievement and greater equity than the U.S. have focused on building effective systems, rather than on narrow solutions and have made a commitment to professionalizing teaching as an occupation.

During the conference, researchers expanded on how these countries have achieved their success.  While each jurisdiction takes a somewhat different approach, the conversation highlighted that:

  • Recruitment and selection processes help to identify teacher candidates who are both talented academically and have a passion for teaching
  • Teacher education takes place in research universities, combining rigorous coursework and substantial practical experience in schools
  • Standards support professional development and career ladders create new options for expert teachers

Notably, in most of these countries teacher education is free and new teachers start their jobs with no burden of student loans.

When asked about the potential of and challenges for the U.S., Andreas Schleicher remarked that the U.S. has invested heavily in education, but that teacher pay, professional development and career structures have not received as much financial support as other issues like class size. Schleicher also argued that in higher performing countries it’s not just about giving teachers a higher salary; it’s about making teaching an intellectual profession, accompanied by a sense of agency and autonomy, that offers opportunities for learning and growth over time.

In subsequent conversations, questions were raised about the ability of states to take the same systemic approach and make the same significant investment that these jurisdictions have made in teacher education and teaching.  In response, panelists pointed to examples of states like Connecticut and Massachusetts that have invested heavily in teacher preparation and professional development and have high levels of student achievement.  Ryan Wise, Director of the Iowa Department of Education, also described how Iowa has already set aside 50 million a year for planning grants for schools and districts to develop teacher learning and leadership opportunities.

Beyond the event itself, discussions took place on Twitter (#empowerededucators) and Checker Finn, President Emeritus of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, has already published a critique of the study, with Marc Tucker posting a response on his EdWeek blog.

New OECD report leads to questions about educational innovation

While the OECD has released a number of reports this year, their most recent report addresses the measurement of educational innovation at the classroom and school levels. In this report, the OECD looked at “innovations” in education improvement strategy and ranked 19 countries accordingly. The report acknowledges that while the private sector has established innovation indicators derived from research and development (R&D) statistics and innovation surveys, the measurement of innovation and its effectiveness in the public sector is still in its infancy. Creating such measurements might be more difficult, as the report states that “cultural values, social policies and political goals can lead to differing prioritization of these different objectives across countries.” Innovation indicators will need to be linked to specific objectives, such as learning outcomes, if they are to be better understood.

Denmark came in first place, followed by Indonesia, Korea and the Netherlands. While I could not easily find news reports that focused on the high ranking of Korea, and the sole report I found on the Netherlands referred to parental concerns over a lack of educational innovation, multiple sources published reports that pointed to the near-bottom ranking of the US. Yet, even with the report citing a ‘dearth’ of innovation in the US, EdWeek has a feature article on the ways in which school principals in the US are increasingly acting like entrepreneurs and innovators in business.

Interestingly, as Pasi Sahlberg pointed out in his recent article in The Washington Post, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Finland—all high performing countries—have sought out innovative ideas for education from the United States, where many such ideas are largely ignored by the country’s education reformers. So, not only is educational innovation difficult to measure for the ways in which the concept of innovation might be country-specific, as the OECD explained, it might also prove difficult to measure due to the ways in which innovative ideas can travel, as countries share and borrow ideas from one another. In his brief response to Sahlberg’s article, Howard Gardner pointed out that innovative ideas have a history of being co-opted, borrowed, and misunderstood. Further, he notes that it is a mistake to attribute these ideas to sole individuals, such as himself–for he was inspired by other scholars, and all scholars are influenced by the freedom or constrictions of the conditions in which they work. To that point, a recent study of Norwegian teachers, which aimed to study those conditions in which “newness is created,” showed that innovative work is brought into being when “pluralities of perspectives” are taken into account.

In The Washington Post, Valerie Strauss also questioned the meaning innovation by looking at the language used in the report. She notes that Hong Kong’s main innovation was “more peer evaluation of teachers in primary and secondary education”; Korea’s main innovation was “more peer evaluation of teachers in secondary education”; and Singapore’s main innovation was “more use of incentives for secondary teachers.” But is innovation a matter of degree? Reports such as this one raise questions about how we can measure concepts without a shared understanding of what those concepts mean. As the news report from Indonesia points out, even Indonesian education experts were surprised to see the country at the top of the list, especially when it has been ranked among the lowest performing countries in math and science on the 2013 OECD Pisa exam.

Deirdre Faughey

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Scanning the Globe: Access, Protests, and PISA 2012

A quick review of the headlines on education and educational policy we’ve seen from around the world over the last few weeks reveals continuing concerns about issues of access and financing in both developed and developing countries.  Australian Teacher Magazine reported on concerns about the extent to which the current Australian government will support the previously approved “Gonski” reforms, and Education International raised questions about a bill that will introduce an income cap to Japan’s tuition-free program for public high schools. An article in The Hindu described how school cancellations caused by excessive holidays and weather can interfere with the requirements for increased instructional time in India’s Right to Education Act. Euronews reported on the difficulties that students in countries like Uganda, Kenya, and Mexico face just getting to school.

Protests over the past few weeks included those over conditions for education and support for educators in the Ukraine that took place as part of the demonstrations against the government’s efforts to delay an association agreement with Europe; rallies against education cuts in Spain; and protests by students at the University of Copenhagen in response to a working paper from the University administration describing proposals designed to get students to complete their courses on time.

But the big news, at least for a moment, was OECD’s release of the 2012 PISA results including overviews, country-specific notes, full reports and data.  We pulled together headlines from around the world, many of which labeled the results “bad news,” except in countries like Lichtenstein, Poland, Estonia and the usual high-performing Asian countries and portions of countries (like Shanghai).  Alexander Russo rounded-up the responses in the United States and The Times Education Supplement put together their own list of news and opinion.

Concerns about the orchestration of the announcement and the media blitz surrounding it were raised on both sides of the Atlantic, by Paul Morris on the Institute of London Blog as well as Richard Rothstein and Martin Carnoy from the Economic Policy Institute in the US. While Marc Tucker and Tom Friedman agreed on some of the multiple factors that might contribute to Shanghai’s success, Adam MinterJunheng Li, and Diane Ravitch pointed to some of the problems and concerns about the Chinese education system expressed both inside and outside China (as well with some of the concerns about vast numbers of students in Shanghai who are unrepresented in the PISA tests).

Although slipping a bit in math, Finland – along with several other European high-performers like Estonia (discussed by Pasi Sahlberg), Poland (discussed by Amanda Ripley), and Liechtenstein – still serves as a focus for some examinations of the ingredients of a successful education system. Given the domination of the rankings by the Asian high-performers however, some of the main story lines for the next few years seem to be set. On the one hand, stories about success on PISA will highlight how hard students’ work and the amount of time students spend on schoolwork while mentioning concerns about the amount of pressure on students and the need to support the development of higher-order skills. (See for example, reports from the BBC about South Korea and a report in the Japan News that credits Japan’s strong performance on PISA 2012 in part to a decision by the Japanese Ministry to back-off a commitment to “pressure-free” education and an increase in the volume of study content and the number of class hours). On the other hand, others will continue to point to the many issues of inequality and the social and economic factors that play into these results and other comparisons (see for example stories from France, and the US; while it does not focus on PISA, a recent article from the Asia Pacific Journal of Education explores the inequitable distribution resources across schools in South Korea).

Denmark

Denmark’s latest education reforms require that both teachers and students spend more time in school, but what is the plan for how that time will be spent? A recent news report describes that it is the conservative Danish People Party’s view that in order to address a disparity between the number of students studying at the general upper secondary schools and the needs of the Danish job market, the government should limit the enrollment to upper secondary schools and increase the number of students studying at vocational and commercial schools. The ruling government, for it’s part, has developed a plan that focuses on ” improved academic standards, increased professional standards of teachers, principals and other pedagogical staff and clear objectives and increased local independence for the development of the public school.”

This follows reforms proposed in Norway earlier this year, which sought to review the practicality of the curriculum and explore how vocational education could better meet the needs of that country’s job market.

Equality of access in math and science in Finland, Sweden, and the United State

In a recent paper presented at the American Educational Research Association, “Moving on up? A framework for evaluating equality of access in education, with illustrations from Finland, Sweden and the United States,” Jennifer von Reis Saari shared the results of a study of the ways in which schools in Finland, Sweden, and the United States, track students in math and science. In this post, von Reis Saari briefly describes some of the current concerns about inequality in Sweden and Finland, as well as some of the differences she has documented in the way these countries, and the US, approach tracking.

Jennifer von Reis Saari

Jennifer von Reis Saari

The recent riots in Sweden are drawing attention to how the assumption that Nordic countries, as well as their school systems, are equitable is oversimplified. Finland, for example, is often considered untracked.  However, visitors to Finland are sometimes surprised that the country has a system of competitive school choice at the upper-secondary level, after age 16.   In fact, despite the Finnish Minister of Education, Krista Kiuru’s resistance to the publishing of league tables of individual school performance, savvy students and parents are well aware of school rankings, and lists of upper-secondary school averages on national exams are published at the end of May each year. In addition, there is an increasing appetite for more differentiation and choice.  In neighboring Sweden, comparatively liberal school choice policies and the allowance of for-profit, publicly funded schools, have coincided with increasing social disparities in educational outcomes.  In a study of student persistence in mathematics and science, I found that students I surveyed and interviewed in both countries experienced ability grouping and tracking in mathematics and science during both compulsory school, and upper-secondary school. To characterize Finnish or Swedish school systems as equal, or un-stratified, obscures the ways these systems react to, and create, inequalities.

A closer look at the experiences of students I interviewed in Finland, Sweden, and the United States, however, highlights how critical aspects of these choice and tracking systems, such as the mechanism for allocation (the how, why, and when students choose, or are selected into, particular schools or tracks), the transparency of the system (how clear the different educational choices and their consequences are), and the permeability (the degree of mobility allowed between tracks and schools), can either promote or obstruct the pathways of students who aspire to careers in mathematics and science related fields. In particular, the Finnish education system can be described as more permeable than either Sweden or the United States; the Finnish secondary school students I studied could more freely choose advanced mathematics and science courses and tracks in contrast to their counterparts in Sweden or the United States.  They could make these choices even if they were not in advanced mathematics tracks before they reached the secondary level.   This seemed to result in a greater retention of passionate, interested students, particularly young men who may have struggled earlier in their school careers.

Focusing on permeability is important not only from a standpoint of equity, but also in terms of efficiency, for retaining and fostering skilled talent in STEM fields.   The lack of permeability of math and science tracks may be a particular concern in the United States, where the high cost of post-secondary education and widening disparities between universities and community colleges, which once served to increase opportunities for mobility, compounds lost opportunities during primary and secondary school. Fostering passion for mathematics and science among students may require structures that respond to increasing commitment and performance by providing clear, built-in pathways for upward mobility.

For more information:

“Equity trends in the Swedish school system: A quantitative analysis of variation in student performance and equity from a time perspective”

“School choice and its effects in Sweden”

“Middle class children’s choices to avoid local schools”

“Tracking Effects Depend on Tracking Type: An International Comparison of Students’ Mathematics Self-Concept”

 

Scan of Education News: 10/8/12 – 11/10/12

Funding

This month, the European Union’s biannual convention focused on funding for education. There is a growing concern that too many E. U. countries are implementing drastic cuts that will make it difficult to sustain growth once the economy recovers.  As reported in the New York Times, Rok Primozic, E. U. vice chairman, pointed out that “if European governments continue to cut back on education, they are also cutting back on skills.” Nevertheless, SpainGreeceIrelandItaly and Estonia, (as well as non-E.U. countries, such as Chile and Scotland) continue to implement austerity measures that cutback on education spending and lead to protests. In contrast, France,RussiaAustraliaNorway, and South Korea have all declared plans to increase education funding in the coming year, while private funding for education is on the rise in Vietnam and Cambodia.

 

Teacher Quality

In Guatemala, the issue of access to education becomes complicated as the government’s efforts to increase requirements for teacher qualifications have led to protests by those who see higher levels of education as an impediment to job applicants. However, a recent report from Scotland indicates a link between levels of teacher education and student performance. This link has led the United Arab Emirates to send teachers back to school, but it also might be responsible for a growing skepticism about the qualifications of teachers worldwide. For example, the governments of both France and Japan are questioning the contents of teacher-issued report cards, Malaysiahas decided to test teachers on their knowledge of English, the UK has increased Ofsted school inspections, and India plans to include students in the curriculum design process.

 

Major Reforms

Several major reforms spotlight the dire need for high quality education and propose drastic changes.  For example, France proposed a ban on homework and a shorter school week, Malaysia and Japan are redesigning curriculum so that it promotes creativity and innovation, and New Zealand’s Education Amendment Bill of 2012 allows for the creation of charter schools.

 

Australia

PM Pledge for Top Five School Spot

Michelle Grattan, The Age (September 7, 2012)

The Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, announced a new school funding arrangment (dubbed the “Gonksi Plan”), promised to “legislate for a goal of having Australia in the top five schooling systems in the world by 2025.” By then, Gillard said that Australia should be among the top five nations in reading, science, and math, and be noted for the provision of high quality and equity education. Among other things, the Gonski funding plan recommended an extra $5 billion a year overall (in 2009 dollars) for school funding, and variables such as economic disadvantage, disability, school size and the particular needs of indigenous students.

For more information:

“PM Pledge for Top Five School Spot” (video clip)

In a panel discussion, presented by La Trobe University, Ideas and Society Program, May 2012, Carmen Lawrence, Richard Teese, Dennis Altman and (host) Lorraine Ling, discuss the Gonski Report and educational issues present in Australia today.

Experts respond to Gillard’s announcement.