Category Archives: Interviews

Leading Futures: Alternative Perspectives on Education Reform and Policy

In this latest post in the Leading Futures Series, edited by Alma Harris and Michelle Jones, Jenny Gore and Geoff Whitty describe an alternative approach to improving teaching that challenges predominant forms of accountability. Drawing from their public lecture at Bath Spa University on May 17, 2017, with a focus on the potential of Gore’s work in Australia on Quality Teaching Rounds, they suggest that the approach should now be trialed elsewhere.  Jenny Gore is Professor of Education and Geoff Whitty holds a Global Innovation Chair at the University of Newcastle, Australia. 

Improving teaching: some lessons from Australia

Jenny Gore and Geoff Whitty

Why on earth would we look to Australia for lessons about education? After all, its PISA scores have dropped down the rankings where they now sit alongside those of many other OECD nations. What does Australia have to offer that differs from the apparently more successful countries in Scandinavia and East Asia that have often been the focus of policy tourism?

One answer is, of course, that PISA is not the be-all and end-all of educational assessment. But another reason is that other factors have overridden ‘PISA envy’ for countries like the US and UK, which are much more similar to each other than they are to either Finland or Shanghai-China. Their continuing mutual interest in each other’s reforms probably lies with shared social and political networks and assumptive worlds – and, of course, a common language with which to describe reforms.

Indeed, readers in the US and UK, and many others influenced by Anglo-Saxon policies, will readily recognize the major challenges identified by Bentley and Savage in a recent book on policies changes in Australia in recent years. These include:

  • a national curriculum
  • standardised national assessments in literacy and numeracy (NAPLAN)
  • national reporting on schools (through the My School website)
  • professional standards for teachers and school principals
  • a universally accessible year of pre-school
  • partial implementation of needs-based funding reforms (Gonski).

But they also point out that, despite these reforms, there is unfortunately very little sign of positive impacts or outcomes. For example:

  • The percentage of Australian students successfully completing Year 12 is not improving.
  • State and federal school funding policies are still reproducing a status quo that entrenches sectoral division and elitism.
  • New evidence-informed methods, such as clinical and targeted teaching models, are being taken up very slowly in teacher education degrees and schools.
  • The status and efficacy of vocational learning have shown little meaningful improvement.
  • NAPLAN and My School have not led to improvements in literacy and numeracy, with 2016 data showing either stagnation or decline.
  • The performance of Australian students in international assessments of maths, science and literacy skills has steadily declined.

Depressingly familiar stuff to many of us, isn’t it?  Similarly, take this recent statement by Geoff Masters, CEO of the Australian Council for Educational Research.

There is no shortage of challenges in school education. Some of the biggest challenges we face can appear frustratingly intractable. Despite reform efforts, regular government reviews and ongoing calls for change, progress in addressing our most significant challenges is often slow and solutions continue to elude us.

Equally familiar are the five key challenges he identifies as facing Australian education:

  1. Equipping students for the 21st Century, including by increasing reading, mathematical and scientific literacy levels.
  2. Reducing disparities between…schools, particularly along socioeconomic lines, by ensuring that every student has access to an excellent school and excellent teaching.
  3. Reducing the ‘long tail’ of underachieving students who fall behind year-level curriculum expectations and thus fail to meet minimum international standards.
  4. Getting all children off to a good start, by reducing the number of children who begin school with low levels of school readiness and so are at risk of ongoing low achievement.
  5. Raising the professional status of teaching, by increasing the number of highly able school leavers entering teaching.

While this last challenge resonates with the aspirations of many countries, and policy direction of initiatives like Teach for America, Gore et al. have demonstrated that the solution identified here by Masters may be misleading. Rather, the sort of approach we describe below may be a better way to enhance professionalism in teaching.

Bentley and Savage say of Australia, over the past decade ‘the policy landscape has become riddled with reform “solutions” that subject students, teachers, administrators and policymakers to mounting levels of pressure and stress’ and that ‘the short-term cyclical churn of today’s politics and media clearly exacerbates these problems.’

Although the policy context of other countries differs in detail, their actual policies have much in common. In many countries, regulation and accountability have taken a hold on government attitudes towards the teaching profession, alongside (though in different degrees) a belief in market forces as providing a way forward. Education academics (ourselves included) have been rather better at critique of such developments than in pointing to an alternative way forward. What we want to argue is that widely sought-after improvements in teaching will remain elusive unless teachers are afforded more respect, trust and, especially, professional support.

One tested example of such an approach lies in work conducted at the University of Newcastle, Australia, which puts down a challenge to policy makers who seek genuine improvement in teaching. The approach, known Quality Teaching Rounds (QTR), has produced measurable impact on the quality of teaching while simultaneously enhancing teachers’ morale and confidence.

QTR is a form of teacher professional development designed by Bowe and Gore to bring together the benefits of professional learning communities (PLCs), instructional ‘rounds’, and the Quality Teaching (QT) pedagogical framework (NSW Department of Education and Training [NSW DET], 2003). The framework centres on the three dimensions of Intellectual Quality, Quality Learning Environment, and Significance. QTR involves teachers working in PLCs of three or more teachers to observe and analyse each other’s teaching, using the QT framework, followed by extended conversation about their collective practice. QTR is a distinctive form of professional development which: is applicable across stages and subject areas; addresses teaching comprehensively; requires minimal external input; and is adaptable to the specific teaching context. This is in contrast to professional development that: is stage or subject-specific; addresses a part of teaching practice only; requires ongoing provision of external expertise; and is highly prescriptive of practice.

In a recent randomised controlled trial, 24 NSW public schools participated in an investigation of the impact of QTR. Eight teachers at each of the schools were involved in the study, with lesson observations carried out by researchers, who were blinded to group allocation, at three time points – baseline, post-intervention (6-months), and follow up (12- months). There were two intervention groups (QTR-Set and QTR-Choice) and a wait-list control group.

Participating in QTR was found to significantly impact on the quality of teaching (d =0.4-0.5) within the relatively short timeframe of this intervention (most teachers were involved for four days or less) across a diverse range of schools. Moderators of intervention effects were explored for: type of school, SES, location, teaching experience, and gender of teacher.

The key findings were that the quality of teaching improved for both intervention groups and these effects were sustained six months later, signaling the sustainability of impact into a new school year. Effects were independent of school type (primary/secondary) and location (urban/rural) and years of teaching experience. Effects on teacher morale and sense of recognition and appraisal yielded similar results for the two intervention groups, relative to control group. In interviews, teachers reported positive impacts on their own and their colleagues’ teaching and professional confidence, on collegiality and school culture, and on their students. The next study in this programme of work is another RCT designed to investigate further the impact of QTR on student learning outcomes.

The findings from the earlier study demonstrate the value of QTR in not only improving the quality of teaching but simultaneously enhancing teacher morale and teaching cultures across a range of schools and classroom settings in diverse communities. QTR was found to be an effective form of professional development, improving the quality of teaching in primary and secondary schools across subject areas and for teachers at different stages of their careers. The positive effects of QTR are thus highly generalisable across school contexts.

The approach not only builds on widely accepted ‘principles of effective PD,’ but can be implemented at scale and at a relatively low cost. It supports teachers in improving their practice while also developing their efficacy, well-being and professional engagement. This is in stark contrast to approaches that subject teachers to greater levels of accountability, evaluation, and performance review.

This Australian approach simultaneously, and ambitiously, provides evidence of a kind that is persuasive to governments and education systems that want to be sure their investments have pay-off and empower teachers. Such an approach is part of the jigsaw of educational improvement that has somehow been missing in many contexts. We argue that improving teaching in order to improve pupils’ learning depends, in large part, on teachers’ confidence in themselves and each other. This differs from prevailing approaches that seek to improve teaching through forms of accountability premised on a lack of confidence in and respect for teachers. In short, QTR is an alternative that can build public confidence in teachers from the ground up.

Esteem interview with Karen Edge

Dr. Karen Edge

Dr. Karen Edge

Karen Edge is the Pro Vice Provost (International) at University College London (UCL) and Reader in Educational Leadership at the UCL Institute of Education in London, UK. Karen is an academic and advocate committed to asking new questions to shake up how policy and educational leaders think about educational opportunities and challenges. Karen’s latest international research project was funded by the ESRC (UK) and engaged 60+ Generation X school leaders in London, New York and Toronto in exploring their careers, leadership and future aspirations. She is a member of the six-person Advisory Panel for International School Leadership Principals and a visiting academic in Canada, Malaysia and Chile. Karen is Past Editor-in-Chief of Educational Assessment Evaluation and Accountability and sits on the Editorial Boards of School Leadership and Management and Leadership and Policy in Schools. Karen regularly gives talks and support organizations in relation to knowledge management, leadership, networks, talent spotting, retention and wellbeing. Karen can be reached at k.edge@ucl.ac.uk or on twitter @drkarenedge

In this interview, which is part of an Esteem series focusing on the public scholarship of women in education leadership, Dr. Edge shares how her current research has helped her to see the importance of role modeling and talent spotting for women in education. Edge believes that we are seeing a new willingness to make conversations around these and other topics more public, which can help us to move forward in a way that’s better for everybody:

Conversations about women in leadership used to be about what women needed to do to be seen as the leaders. I think we are now entering an age where the conversation needs to shift to what are things that are happening in the system that may be institutionally getting in the way of women being successful? But it’s not just women. We also need to consider how the experience of a white woman, a white straight woman, would be radically different than a woman who identifies as LGBT or a person of color. Not all experiences are the same and we need all leaders in our education systems for them to be successful. This is not happening, in my opinion, to the extent necessary at the moment.

This Esteem interview appears as part of a series that features experts in education leadership from around the globe. Recent interviews have included Helen Janc Malone, Gillian Hamilton, and Andrea Stringer.

Learning from successful education reforms in Ontario: Part II

imagesIn 2003, the Ontario government began to focus on issues of educational improvement. The government instituted a series of reforms that have proven incredibly successful, with elementary achievement results rising from 54% in 2003 to 72% in 2014, and high school graduation rates rising from 68% to 84% in the same amount of time. This past summer I spoke with Mary Jean Gallagher, Ontario’s Chief Student Achievement Officer and Assistant Deputy Minister of the Student Achievement Division, and Richard Franz, Ontario’s Director of Research, Evaluation & Capacity Building, to learn more about their experiences with this reform effort thus far, and their plans for the future. As this conversation was so informative, we have decided to post it in two parts. In part one we focused on aspects of the reform that have been key to its success thus far. Here, in part two, we explore Ontario’s approach to moving forward with an expanded reform agenda.

Planning the Future:

In 2013, Ontario’s Ministry of Education (MOE) set a renewed vision for the education system. This process allowed them to identify critical information about what they have achieved, and share this information with parents, business leaders, community members, teachers and students. As Gallagher explained, as a result of Ontario’s success over the past decade, “we have a newfound respect for our ability to set goals and measure progress and achieve them, so we are more careful about goals we set.” By engaging in a broadly based, 7-month collaborative consultation process, they engaged both qualitative and quantitative research methods to determine their next steps.

This process culminated in the production of their “Achieving Excellence” report. This report identifies four new, interconnecting goals for the education system. As they are described in the report:

  • Achieving Excellence: Children and students of all ages will achieve high levels of academic performance, acquire valuable skills and demonstrate good citizenship. Educators will be supported in learning continuously and will be recognized as among the best in the world.
  • Ensuring Equity: All children and students will be inspired to reach their full potential, with access to rich learning experiences that begin at birth and continue into adulthood.
  • Promoting Well-Being: All children and students will develop enhanced mental and physical health, a positive sense of self and belonging, and the skills to make positive choices.
  • Enhancing Public Confidence: Ontarians will continue to have confidence in a publicly funded education system that helps develop new generations of confident, capable and caring citizens.

As Gallagher and Franz explained, the process of determining these goals helped them to understand that in the future they need to “heighten the relevance of what people are learning, increase experiential learning, and use the community more broadly.” By engaging community members in the process they were able to learn that those members felt they had valuable information and experiences to offer the educational system, and were being underutilized. As a result, the MOE is now thinking of better ways to reach out.

Another key aspect that emerged is the importance of student voice. Since the consultation process included school-age students, the MOE was able to learn more about what the students felt needed to be changed about their own education. The MOE, for example, developed a program called “Students as Researchers,” which invites students to formulate questions about how to make their schools better places and trains them in research skills and ethics so that they can design and implement their own research projects, which are then shared with the MOE.

Challenges of new goals:

Looking ahead, Gallagher and Franz explained that there is some tension around the notion that good teaching and learning must be measured. New challenges include thinking about ways in which the system might be able to broaden the measures of success, and what counts as success, so that the emphasis is not only on test scores. This is particularly relevant since one of their new goals is to improve student well-being. In setting the goal, the MOE also must consider how to measure something that has no history of measurement or policy focus.

Another concern is the additional demands of the bureaucracy that might be added once new goals, and new measurement systems for those goals, are implemented. As Gallagher and Franz noted, one of the reasons for the success of the education reforms so far has been attributed to the narrow focus on a small number of goals. With a focus on the renewed four goals, how can they be incorporated into a successful system without overburdening it? As Franz explained, the new tension is about how to do it all is such a way that gets you the insight and information needed to guide the practices of all involved in the system in addressing the new goals, while continuing to build coherence such that actions in the name of one goal also support achievement of the other goals.

For more information:

Ontario Ministry of Education

Deirdre Faughey

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Learning from successful education reforms in Ontario

class-roomIn 2003, the Ontario government began to focus on issues of educational improvement. The government instituted a series of reforms that have proven incredibly successful, with elementary achievement results rising from 54% in 2003 to 72% of elementary students performing at or above the provincial standard in in reading, writing and mathematics in 2014, and high school graduation rates rising from 68% to 84% in the same amount of time. This past summer I spoke with Mary Jean Gallagher, Ontario’s Chief Student Achievement Officer and Assistant Deputy Minister of the Student Achievement Division, and Richard Franz, Director of Research, Evaluation & Capacity Building, for the Student Achievement Division, to learn more about their experiences with this reform effort thus far, and their plans for the future. As this conversation was so informative, we have decided to post it in two parts. Here, in part one, Gallagher and Franz share some of their thinking on aspects of the Ontario reform effort that have been essential to its success.

Bringing educators into policymaking realm

In 2008, Gallagher was the leader (Director of Education) of Canada’s southernmost school district when she was selected for her new position at the Ontario Ministry of Education (MOE). This position – Chief Student Achievement Officer and Assistant Deputy Minister of the Student Achievement Division– was envisioned as an innovation. While MOE officials were typically promoted from public service positions, Gallagher’s experience was in schools, as a teacher, a principal, superintendent, and Director of one of Ontario’s 72 school districts. With the creation of this Division and position, and the hiring of Gallagher, the MOE demonstrated that it valued the expertise of educators. This went along with the MOE’s renewed emphasis on valuing the work of educators, particularly in positions that focused on student achievement. At that time, the MOE wanted to ensure that all of their work was based on valuing educators—seeing improved learning as a result of improved teaching.

With this new effort to bring educators into the policymaking realm, the MOE also made sure that approximately two-thirds of staff within the Student Achievement Division was comprised of practicing educators who had already proved themselves to be strong instructional leaders. In order to do this they created new positions in which practitioners, such as teachers and school leaders, could work for up to three years with the MOE. The theory behind this model was that working closely with “front-line” educators would build the capacity of both those who worked in the field, as well as those who worked in the central offices. Franz pointed out that working with educators on the creation of new policy helps the MOE officials by providing perspective on how such policy might “land” in schools. Additionally, once those educators complete their temporary positions in the MOE offices and return to their schools, they arrive with more knowledge and understanding of how such policies were developed and created. This new “blended” model builds appreciation in both spheres. As Gallagher and Franz explained, this effort helps create alignment between goals, priorities, methodologies and implementation, and over the past 13 years it has proven a “formula for wonderful results.”

Maintaining a limited number of goals

Gallagher and Franz also attributed Ontario’s success to the MOE’s narrow focus on a limited number of educational goals, specifically increasing student achievement, closing educational gaps, and increasing confidence in public education. As Gallagher and Franz explained, these are the goals that everyone working in the Ontario education system can recite, as well as the targets associated with them. By focusing closely on a limited number of goals they have seen a huge difference in their ability to keep focused on what is important.

In addition to knowing these goals, educators have become increasingly aware of the ways in which they can measure improvement and identify success as they work to achieve them. This allows teachers to develop an understanding of their own efficacy and agency, which, as Gallagher and Franz noted, excites and motivates educators. Ontario’s focus on province-wide testing standards in literacy and numeracy, and a set curriculum, has promoted clarity about what students are expected to know, understand, and be able to do.

Using data and assessments to test the system, not individuals

Starting in the mid-1990s, Ontario’s government began implementing a set of tests based on Ontario’s Curriculum Expectations and Standard of Achievement for grades 3 and 6 in reading, writing, and math, as well as in grades 9 (math) & 10 (literacy). As Gallagher explained, Ontario holds very high standards for their students. Student work is identified as level 1, 2, 3, 4, and the provincial standard of success is level 3 (the equivalent of a letter grade of B), which is higher than what is expected on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Ontario’s assessment organization is an arms-length organization of the government, funded by the MOE but separate from it with its own board of directors. This organization has become, over time—an opportunity for professional learning as well, as teams of educators are assembled to devise test items and mark assessments over the summer months. As a result, teachers become well versed in the standards and measurement of performance and thereby build their own assessment literacy.

Gallagher and Franz note that these assessments are not standardized, and are not proprietary. Instead, they are criterion referenced assessments of the curriculum. The tests are used to gather information about the degree to which the students are able to demonstrate what they have learned from the curriculum. As a result, Ontario’s teachers feel less pressure to “teach to the test”; instead, the teachers are teaching to a curriculum they approve of and which teachers have had a hand in developing. The overall sense is that the tests are used to assess the entire educational system, rather than individual teachers and students. This collective focus also encourages teachers to work collaboratively and use assessment for learning for student achievement efforts.

Ontario has also moved to a common data system across the province as well. Starting in the late 1990s, the government created a tracking system in which all students were assigned an ID number. This allows the MOE to track individual school’s assessments of student performance, and compare those results to province-wide results. The ID number is also now being used to track students from early childhood education through to college (or apprenticeships). As Gallagher and Franz noted, this ID number is not linked to student names, but is used to analyze trends and patterns to understand what is happening system-wide.

Collaborative Inquiry

Teachers in Ontario regularly work together to analyze student work and plan new instructional strategies. These practices are articulated in an assessment policy called “Growing Success” and have been put into practice through a collaborative inquiry model of professional learning. Professional learning through collaborative inquiry has been so successful that it has replaced the old model of professional learning in which teachers were corralled in “banquet hall style” training sessions, where experts presented and teachers broke out into workshops. As Franz explained, “We assume that teachers come now with a certain level of skill, and we work with teachers on how to use a collaborative inquiry approach to examine student work, thinking about how to move students, and making that the object of their inquiry.”

How have classrooms changed?

As Gallagher explained, one of the things that everyone has learned is that the ideal classroom is less about teaching strategies and more about teacher thinking and behavior. This process starts in the assessment domain, with deep teacher knowledge of the students, the curriculum, and the learning goals. Then, the teachers can utilize any of the strategies they might have in their “backpack,” to help the students progress. Generally, in an ideal classroom one might see high levels of engagement, individual and group work, and differentiation; however, there is no particular reliance on any specific strategies or programs throughout the period. The aim is to allow teachers the space to try out their own strategies, and to develop their ideas through collaborative discussion with other teachers. This way, teachers feel accountable to one another and the classroom becomes a “de-privatized” place.

What Gallagher and Franz have noticed is that there is a trend of more inquiry-based learning in classroom. While there are some concerns about how much curricular content there is to learn, there is an increase in student-led learning, focusing on problem solving and creative work. In the following audio excerpt, Gallagher describes a recent visit to a kindergarten classroom where the teachers allowed students to lead an extended study of trees:

Be on the look-out for part two of this post, in which we focus on how Ontario plans to move ahead with an expanded reform agenda.

Deirdre Faughey

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Interview with Rukmini Banerji

Dr. Rukmini Banerji

Dr. Rukmini Banerji

Rukmini Banerji is director of the Assessment Survey Evaluation Research (ASER) Center in New Delhi, India, and senior member of the national leadership of Pratham, an organization that reaches three million primary school age children in India every year.

In this interview, which is part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, she describes her own work with educational change what she sees as the status of education in India today:

“Looking back at the last two decades and more, we can see the impressive progress that India has made in providing educational opportunities to children. Today we have more than 96% of children (in the age group 6-14) enrolled in school. There is a government primary school in almost every habitation in the country. Children get free meals in schools, in many states textbooks and uniforms are also free. In 2010, the India Parliament passed the Right to Education Act which guarantees free and compulsory education to all children ages 6-14. In terms of inputs and infrastructure, the Indian government has made huge strides in the provision of schooling. Now it is time to look at some of the outcomes of schooling and more specifically at the question: are our children learning?”

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 published interviews with Diane Ravitch, and the contributors to Leading Educational Change: Global Issues, Challenges, and Lessons on Whole-System Reform (Teachers College Press, 2013) edited by Helen Janc Malone, have participated in a series of blogs from Education Week.

 

Multicultural Education in South Korea

Over the past decade or so, South Korea (as well as Taiwan and Japan) has experienced a wave of immigration that has resulted in an increasingly ethnic and racially diverse population. The issue has received considerable attention—from the media, as well as from politicians—as the country works to find ways to address the needs of multicultural population, as well as a rising concerns about ethnic conflictsdiscrimination, and a general sense that South Korea is “not ready for multiculturalism.” However, South Korea is a country that been considering ways to “redefine multiculturalism,” such as with the concept of Tamunhwa (multiculturalism), which suggests that South Koreans need to learn as much as they can about the new immigrant population while finding ways to create a “new national identity not based on ethnicity.”

Dr. Jeehun Kim & Dr. Jang-ham Na

Dr. Jeehun Kim & Dr. Jang-ham Na

In order to learn more about how educators are addressing multiculturalism in the classroom, Eun-Kyoung Chung and Deirdre Faughey spoke with Dr. Jeehun Kim and Dr. Jang-ham Na, two visiting scholars at Teachers College, Columbia University, this semester. In this interview, posted on Esteem: Conversations Between Educators, the two scholars explain what they are learning about the multicultural classroom in South Korea. For example, while textbooks and the curriculum are centralized and the Ministry of Education has established guidelines for multicultural instruction, there is no mechanism for ensuring that these guidelines are followed by teachers and schools. This might be problematic for curricular reforms that aim to cater to multicultural populations that are geographically specific, as well as curricular reforms that aim to promote sensitivity to multiculturalism throughout the country.  The scholars also address the issue of teacher education, and the difficulties that sometimes arise when student teachers ask for strategies and methods that address the needs of a diverse student body. Since South Koreans have long considered their population homogenous, the issue of multiculturalism can become personal. As Jang-ham Na explains, “When it comes to multiculturalism, depending on what social background you have, sometimes you have some privilege compared with others. But the privilege will be gone in other places. So we have to be more critical.”

Esteem has also published recent interviews with scholars such as Luis Huerta, Christopher Emdin, Karen Hammerness, Maxine Greene, and Pedro Noguera.  To learn more please visit www.esteemjournal.org

José Weinstein on systemic change in Chile

This month, the Lead the Change Series features an interview with José Weinstein, professor at Universidad Diego Portales and formerly Deputy Minister of Education and then Minister of Culture in Chile. Weinstein talks about the need to engage the entire system in Chile in focusing on improving practice in the classroom. In the process, he expands on many of the issues we touched on last October including the recent proposals for system-wide change in Chile and efforts to strengthen teacher education and the teaching profession. Weinstein describes as well the key role that principals may play in this transformation, arguing that the Latin American context requires an “orchestrating leader” whose responsibilities include but go beyond those of the “instructional leader” that is the focus of work on educational leadership in the US and the UK. He also offers several different hypotheses that help to explain some of the positive developments in the Chilean education system and the significant dissatisfaction that has contributed to violent protests. As he concludes: “Chile will have to create its own path to continue its educational progress, taking ownership of the dark sides of its development but without losing sight of what has been accomplished. In the coming years, teachers and principals will have to be the key protagonists of education improvement in Chile.”

Thomas Hatch