Category Archives: Interviews

Interview with Sakena Yacoobi

Sakena Yacoobi

Sakena Yacoobi

Sakena Yacoobi is the Founder and CEO of the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL), a Private Hospital in Herat, and two Private High Schools in Kabul and Herat. AIL is an Afghan women-led NGO founded in 1995 to support the education of Afghans and provide health education to women and children. This interview, which is part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, 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.

Curriculum reform in Australia

In 2010, Australia established its first national curriculum: the Australian Curriculum. The Australian Curriculum has defined content and achievement standards for the entire country. After a staged process of development, it is now being implemented. Recently, this curriculum was reviewed for the first time by the Australian federal government. The review raised a number of concerns that have led federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne to announce he will work with advisors to make sure it is serving the needs of Australian students. Pyne has stated, however, that any changes to be made as a result of the review won’t be implemented until at least 2016, due to the difficulty of earning the support of states and territories.

To learn more about this curriculum reform and the context of reform in Australia, I spoke with Dr. Glenn Savage of the University of Melbourne. Dr. Savage, with Kate O’Connor, recently published an article in the Journal of Education Policy titled “National agendas in global times: curriculum reforms in Australia and the USA since the 1980s.” From his perspective, there may be similar driving forces for reform in the US and Australia, but the reforms themselves have been quite different.

Savage and O’Connor (2014) wanted to understand how curriculum reform in Australia and the US were playing out, given that both countries have federal systems and histories of state and local control over education. Their research identified three key historical phases in the development of curriculum, which are shared by both nations. The first is the late 1980s, when both countries developed national education goals for the first time. They see this phase as a shift towards thinking in national terms, but also as a precursor to the standards movement of the 1990s and the push towards nationalizing aspects of the curriculum. The second was in the 1990s, when both countries attempted to create national curriculums or frameworks. In both countries those efforts failed when the realities of actually having to put the reforms into practice came along. For example, in both countries there was strong pushback against the idea of moving towards a national approach. The third phase was when each country rejuvenated their national reform efforts as a result of global economic and social pressures in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Influences included the global PISA testing program, which put the performance of each country in a global perspective and helped put standards-based national reforms back on the agenda. 

While there have been common historical driving forces in both countries, Savage and O’Connor (2014) see current reforms as very distinct in scope and form. In the US, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are voluntary national standards that focus on the areas of literacy and numeracy, whereas in Australia the national curriculum is more extensive and discipline-based. Savage and O’Connor (2014) argue that the distinctive nature of reform in each country can be explained to a large extent by four key differences in the ‘national policy space’ of each nation: 1) contrasting system diversity and complexity; 2) different roles and expectations of federal governments; 3) different forms of state-to-state intergovernmental cooperation; and 4) the contrasting involvement of non-government policy actors. The authors argue that the distinctive features of each system mean that each country provides different “conditions of possibility for reform” (Savage & O’Connor, 2014, p. 18). Their key argument is that while global flows of policy ideas and practices are powerful, these influences manifest differently in different national contexts. As such, reforms must be thought of as both national and global

Looking ahead, Savage identifies several issues that Australia will need to work through in relation to the curriculum.

First is the fall-out from the recent review of the curriculum. It is the first review of the curriculum and it has been heavily politicized. There are ideological arguments around it and it has raised questions about what a contemporary curriculum should look like. There is the possibility that the review could lead to the reshaping of certain elements of the Australian Curriculum.

Second is an ongoing debate about federalism and the role of state and tertiary governments in education. A Reform of the Federation White Paper, which was developed by a taskforce in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, was released in late October. The goal is to work out the appropriate division of responsibility between states and government. In contrast to the US, national intergovernmental organizations have long been essential to the Australian reform process and have the capability of bringing all of the states together with the federal government to consider a number of education-related issues.

Another issue Savage identified is that even though Australia now has a national curriculum, there are differences in how states interpret and enact the standards. Despite a common national framework, state-based inflections emerge. While this can be positive, in that it allows for tailoring to state-based needs and issues, it can also present problems of consistency, which is partly what the national curriculum set out to tackle in the first place. In one example, the state of Victoria has adopted a hybrid curriculum called “AusVELS” that takes some from the national Australian Curriculum, and some from the prior Victorian Essential Learning Standards.

Savage also said that since federation in 1901, there have been debates around the role of academic knowledge versus vocational knowledge and skills. From the early 1900s, for example, many Australian states tracked students into either high schools (academically-focused) or technical schools (vocationally-focused). In 1980s, most states eliminated tech schools and established a common, unified school system that aimed to provide all students with the opportunity to go to university. While this effort was intended to be a more inclusive model, it has also led to an increase in high school drop out rates. In order to address this, the pendulum has swung back and there are now proposals at Federal and State levels to return to a more vocational curriculum.

Finally, Savage said there are now debates about what a curriculum should look like for the future. Some argue that the curriculum should prioritize disciplinary knowledge, while others argue more for 21st century skills and competencies so that students are ready to participate in global workforce. There are huge tensions around this issue as many feel the skills focus is too short-sighted and too focused on what students should be able to do, rather than what they should know.

As Savage explained, the issues that Australia is grappling with at the moment are also educational issues that many countries across the globe are dealing with, illustrating the point that educational policies need to be recognized as simultaneously national and global in nature.

Deirdre Faughey

Interview with Viviane Robinson

Viviane Robinson

Viviane Robinson

Viviane Robinson is a Distinguished Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Auckland and Academic Director of its Centre for Educational Leadership. She is the author of five books and numerous chapters and journal articles on school improvement, leadership, and the relationship between research and the improvement of practice. This interview, which is part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, 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.

A conversation with Eric Schwarz about the evolution of Citizen Schools

Reflecting on incremental and disruptive change in school and out: A conversation with Eric Schwarz about the evolution of Citizen Schools

Eric Schwarz

Eric Schwarz

I had a recent conversation with Eric Schwarz about the evolution of Citizen Schools. Eric is the founder of Citizen Schools and author of The Opportunity Equation: How Citizen Teachers Are Combating the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools. Citizen Schools began in 1995 in Boston as an afterschool program designed to provide opportunities for students in low-income communities to participate in apprenticeships with mentors from a wide range of professions. Since that time, it has grown into a national organization that partners with public middle schools to integrate apprenticeships and other rich learning opportunities into a longer school day. While Citizen Schools works only in the United States, the evolution of the Citizen Schools model illustrates broader questions of educational change and innovation that are relevant around the world. In this post, you can listen to the interview, get a summary my conversation with Eric, and see slides(below) I developed for my class on school change that highlight issues of “incremental” and “disruptive” change and innovation. See weeks 2 and 3 of the online syllabus for related references and resources, including readings by David Tyack and Larry Cuban, and Clayton Christensen.  

Citizen Schools 1.0: “Apprenticeships are core”

When Schwarz first started working on the ideas that led to Citizen Schools, his key concerns included the limited access that many students in lower income communities have to the kind of rich and extended learning opportunities commonplace in many upper income communities. In order to address this problem, Eric and his colleagues created an afterschool program that engaged students from several middle schools in low-income communities in activities like producing a newspaper in which they worked with volunteer mentors – “citizen teachers” – from related professions. The program took place in the schools, for a few hours a week, with a little time devoted to tutoring and help with homework, but with the main focus on the apprenticeships.

Schwarz explained that in the early years, the work was challenging, but the feedback from many parents and students was powerful. At the same time, some of the same parents who saw these benefits also raised concerns that there was no corresponding improvement in most students’ grades or academic performance. In some cases, parents wanted to take their children out of the program because they felt that they needed more help with their school work. In addition, principals who were providing Citizen Schools with space also wanted to see more academic benefits. As Schwarz put it in The Opportunity Equation, with increasing pressure on schools and principals from new state policies demanding improved performance, some principals had “less tolerance for our rookie mistakes and seemed in some cases to lose their appetite for the enrichment-based learning we were offering.” (p. 63)

Citizen Schools 2.0: Supporting academic development

In response to the feedback they were getting, Schwarz and his colleagues decided to refine the Citizen Schools model. They wanted to remain focused on apprenticeships, but also chose to make support for academic development a more explicit goal and aspect of the design.  To do so, they started offering the program on an almost daily basis, substantially increasing the amount of programming they could offer. They continued to offer the apprenticeships but also significantly increased the time they spent working with students on homework and tutoring. In order to staff those additional hours, however, they also had to change their staffing model and, in addition to the Citizen teachers, they brought in AmeriCorp volunteers to work in the program on a regular basis, and they also hired program directors to work on full-time rather than half-time. With these changes, students continued to report powerful experiences, but the grades and test scores of many of the students improved as well. As Schwarz explained, “The schools changed us in a good way–they made us better academically.”

Citizen Schools 3.0: The extended learning time edition

Citizen Schools continued to expand its afterschool model in Boston and then to a few other cities, but then in 2006, Citizen Schools had the opportunity to partner with The Edwards School as part of a pilot program in Massachusetts to support schools in developing Extended Learning Time (ELT) models. The approach to ELT developed at the Edwards School built on the Citizen School’s approach, but it also had to respond to local circumstances at the Edwards that influenced their design and that made it different from many other ELT models. In particular, rather than simply adding the Citizen Schools afterschool program onto the end of the school day, they integrated the apprenticeship approach and the added help with academics into the regular school day. As a consequence, the school was able to offer a 2 hour “elective/apprenticeship block” four days a week, add a regular 60 min “math league”, and provide time for a half-day of professional development for teachers every Friday. To make that possible, Citizen Schools provided the staff for many of the apprenticeships/electives, but Citizen Schools staff also took on responsibility for teaching some academic subjects, particularly, math. While progress was slow at first, eventually there were clear signs of significant improvements. In addition to offering increased instructional and enrichment programs, there improvements in test scores including an 80% reduction in achievement gap between students’ performance in ELA and science on state tests. Furthermore, while only 17 families in 2005 made the Edwards School their first choice on the application asking which middle school they would like the children to attend, in 2008 over 450 families applied to the school (see The Opportunity Equation, p. 92).

Citizen Schools 4.0: Spreading the model and reshaping thinking about “after” school

With the development of the ELT model and some success both at the Edwards School and in other schools where they tried the ELT approach, questions of how to scale the model came to the forefront. Correspondingly, one key part of the work since that time has been to build an organization capable of spreading the model to other schools. However, as Schwarz explained, the current model is very intensive, requiring significant staffing, time and resources. As he put it, it might be possible to develop the model in a hundred schools, but probably not a thousand. In response, Citizen Schools has also begun exploring other options to support further spread. In particular, they have started to work more broadly in collaboration with government agencies and policymakers to create programs and resources that can support ELT models and afterschool programs in general. Further, they are partnering with private and public organizations and networks to advocate for the development of more ELT models and to develop a broader vision for how learning time can be used both in schools and after school.

The development of Citizen Schools to this point illustrates the ways in which changes and innovations in education evolve between and among organizations and schools. In this case, the Citizen Schools model adapted in response to the challenges and opportunities encountered when working with and in schools during after-school and in-school time. While the integration of the Citizen Schools approach into the regular school day may not have disrupted many of the conventional structures and patterns in schools, learning opportunities for students have expanded. Further, one can argue that Citizen Schools has, at least to some extent, “disrupted” conventional views of after school programs and now provides a different model for afterschool programs as well as an existence proof that that model can be effective. At the same time, the efforts to disrupt the conventional institutions, structures, and beliefs that reinforce inequalities in access to educational opportunities continue. While Eric has stepped down as CEO of Citizen Schools, which is now led by Steven Rothstein, he plans to turn his attention to new work, perhaps in higher education.

Slides: hatch citizen schools

 
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Interview with Carol Campbell

 

Dr. Carol Campbell

Dr. Carol Campbell

Carol Campbell is Associate Professor of Leadership and Educational Change at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto and Co-Director of the Knowledge Network for Applied Education Research (KNAER). Carol has international experience in bringing together evidence and strategies to advance policies and practices for higher quality and equity in education systems. This interview, which is part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, 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.

The search for a more equitable education system in Chile

Recently, I spoke with Dr. Beatrice Avalos-Bevan, Associate Researcher at the Center for Advanced Research in Education, at the University of Chile, in order to follow-up on an earlier post about the recent reforms in Chile. In that post, we noted that reports on educational reforms in Chile made it seem that the country might be putting an end to private education. Diane Ravitch also commented on these reports and followed up with Mario Waissbluth. As we explained in our earlier post, while the country is not ending private education, President Michelle Bachelet aims to eliminate parental payments or co-funding of subsidized private schools and increase funding for all schools by implementing new education and tax reforms that would help pay for a more equitable education system.

In conversation with Dr. Avalos-Bevan, we spoke about the issues of educational inequality that have captured the attention of teachers and students, leading to the large and sometimes violent protests over the past decade. Beginning in 2006, protests were organized by secondary students during the first term of President Michelle Bachelet’s administration – a movement that came to be known as the “Penguin Revolution” (after the white shirts and dark jackets of students’ school uniforms). The protests became more numerous and violent during the following Sebastián Piñera administration. When Bachelet returned for a second term as President in 2014, she was elected on an education reform platform that was embraced by students and teachers, and she even brought some of the former student leaders in to work in her administration.

As Mario Waissbluth explained in our last post, the “first wave of legislation” was sent to Congress in May; however, students continue to be dissatisfied because initial actions did not consider as yet changes in the administration and improvement of municipal or public schools, although these have been announced for the second semester of this year. This has caused students and teachers to reconvene their street protests as a way to put pressure on the administration and call attention to their ongoing concerns this past June. Those protests ended with the use of tear gas on thousands of university students

School Funding and Student Protests

As Dr. Avalos-Bevan explained, in the current system there are public or municipal schools, subsidized private schools, and elite private schools. The concern over inequality stems from the fact that the subsidized private schools are able to collect money from the government while also charging tuition. As a result, these schools receive a level of funding that the public or municipal schools cannot attain. Over time, the student population attending public schools has been shrinking, as more families strive to place their children in well-resourced subsidized schools.

The student protests have honed in on school funding because the students personally experience the increasingly segregated school system and the differences in the quality of education provided by the public or municipal schools versus the subsidized private schools. They also pay attention to the country’s poor performance on international assessments, such as Pisa and TIMSS, and attribute it to the flaws they see in the system.

Dr. Avalos-Bevan explained that in order to create a more equitable system, all schools need to receive a higher amount of government funding. For this reason, President Bachelet has suggested increasing taxes by 3% of gross domestic product, and increasing the corporate tax rate to 25% (up from 20%). President Bachelet will also stop funding of current private subsidized schools that operate on a for-profit basis, making all subsidized primary and secondary education free, creating more universities and increasing kindergarten funding and pre-K institutions.

Quality and Teacher Education

Colegio de Profesores, the largest teachers’ union in Chile, joined the student effort and held a strike last month to protest President Bachelet’s reform efforts, which they say don’t go far enough to address the fundamental issues of inequality that plague Chilean schools. Despite what some have seen as indicators of significant reform, others are concerned that the process has not encouraged “adequate public participation in the bill-writing process.”

In addition to refining school funding in Chilean schools, Dr. Avalos-Bevan says that there is a similar problem with private universities and the teacher preparation programs they have created. In the years between 2004-2010, private colleges have increased and are now being criticized for what many identify as an increase in profits without sufficient evidence of quality education. These institutions are known to admit students to their teacher education programs with very low qualifications, who graduate without adequate skills. According to Dr. Avalos-Bevan, the government has created a test (the Prueba Inicia, or Start Test) that aims to assess the students’ content knowledge as they leave university, but the test is currently administered on a voluntary basis. Therefore, many teachers graduate without taking this assessment. Of the few who take this test, many perform poorly.

Despite this issue of teacher education, Dr. Avalos-Bevan believes the main problem has to do with teachers’ working conditions. Salaries are low compared with those who enter professions that require the same level of education (4-5 years), and 75% of a teacher’s contract time has to be spent teaching in the classroom (27 hours per week, which is the highest of all OECD countries, according to the latest TALIS survey), leaving little time for planning, grading, and meeting with other teachers. Dr. Avalos-Bevan would like to see the establishment of a teaching career, with specifications as to how teachers may progress, what kinds of salaries they may achieve, and paths for them to move into other positions in the education system. Currently, there is a strong civil society movement pushing for changes in this direction that expects to propose a plan for the President to consider.

Deirdre Faughey

Education reform in Mexico

Dr. Santiago Rincón-Gallardo

Dr. Santiago Rincón-Gallardo

The following post is based on a conversation with Dr. Santiago Rincón-Gallardo. I reached out to Dr. Rincón-Gallardo to learn more about his work in Mexican schools and to better understand how the current political climate in Mexico has influenced the grassroots reform efforts of Redes de Tutoría, a small NGO that catalyzed a movement to transform conventional classrooms in public schools into learning communities where independent learning and tutorial relationships are practiced by students and teachers. An excerpt of our conversation appears below. Click here to read more of the interview.

As we have covered in earlier IEN posts, when President Enrique Peña Nieto was elected in 2012 he introduced education reforms that sought to address issues of educational quality and governability through what Andres Delich called a “mix of centralization and decentralization.” As covered in the Harvard Policy Review, lackluster Pisa scores have called attention to the fact while enrollment and basic skills have improved, repetition rates remain high and resources are distributed inequitably. The country’s system for hiring and paying teachers has been pinpointed as a problematic issue. In Mexico, all teachers join the union (SNTE), and the union assigns teachers to schools; teachers earn lifetime tenure after just six month of service. In an effort strengthen government control, President Peña Nieto bolstered the power of the national evaluation agency (INEE), and established higher professional standards and accountability measures for teachers. Peña Nieto also arrested union President, Esther Gordillo, on charges of embezzlement and money laundering, and teachers have been protesting the reforms everywhere from Mexico City to Guerrero.

In the context of all of this change, we wanted to learn more about how the new policies influence the practice of education and, as Dr. Santiago Rincón-Gallardo explains, the social and political aspects of pedagogical reform.

Deirdre Faughey:

Can you tell us about your work in Mexico, and the ways in which political changes in the country have been influential?

Dr. Santiago Rincón-Gallardo:

Let me tell you a little bit about the Learning Community Project (LCP), which provided the context for my research. In 2004, I was part of a small NGO called Convivencia Educativa, A.C. (now Redes de Tutoría, S.C.) that started working with a few teachers in a small number of schools, providing very intensive classroom-based support for teachers interested in turning their classrooms into Learning Communities. We started working on a very small scale, about eight schools total, working with voluntary teachers in middle schools that were built in marginalized communities with very small populations. We started working with some teachers there, providing coaching and training, but also spending a lot of time in classrooms working with them to turn their conventional classroom into a learning community. We would spend a whole week with each teacher every month in their classrooms, trying to understand what we needed to do and what we could do to turn the classrooms into Learning Communities.

Even though the scale was very small there was a strong impact on the engagement and excitement of the teachers and students who joined the project: students were learning better and they were gaining a lot of confidence to undertake individual study, to engage in research and learn on their own, but also to express their views and their learning in public, both in writing and in oral presentations. Maybe most importantly, they also started to work as tutors to other students who were interested in learning what the students had come to master.

The excitement that we started seeing in this small number of schools started to spread through the outreach of teachers themselves, and some local authorities who started to get excited to see what these young kids were capable of and how excited they were about learning. They started reaching out to other teachers in other schools, other local authorities in other regions, visiting other classrooms to showcase or display the practice, and then having other people come to their classrooms to see what was going on there. There was a lot of movement and excitement.

In four years we had moved from eight schools to about 400 schools that were engaged in this new practice of Learning Communities – we call it the Tutorial Relationships Practice. At that point the Deputy Minister of Education at that time visited one of our schools, and he was very impressed with what he saw there, in terms of the engagement and the skill of the students, so he decided to adopt the model and bring it to scale to 9,000 schools all over the country.

At the same time that the movement at the grassroots was taking place, one of the key leaders of the NGO, whose name is Dalila López, was invited to join the Department of Innovation at the Ministry of Education at the national level, and she was able to bring in people from our organization to the ministry. So we were able to create a team within the Ministry to support the kind of work that we felt was worth supporting, which was developing the conditions for teachers to learn the new practice of tutorial relationships and disseminate it to other places. What the leadership at the top did was create opportunities and mobilize infrastructure for teachers to be able to visit other schools in their regions or in other states so that there was the exchange of information and practice all over the country. We found really good results really quickly.

The large-scale project started in 2010. By 2012, the schools that had data available, but also the ones that had been engaged in this model for a long time, since 2010, increased the percentage of kids scoring with an excellent levels, at a faster pace than and surpassing the national average. This happened in 2012, everything was moving very smoothly and powerfully. There has not been any other program or initiative in Mexico that has shown a clear and significant impact on student learning, even as measured by standardized tests. We started getting a lot of international attention. We had Richard Elmore from the Harvard School of Education, come to visit our schools. He experienced being tutored by a girl from a rural community, Maricruz, a 13 year old girl who was just amazing at guiding him through his own thinking, and identifying some of the weaknesses in his own thinking about how to solve a geometry problem. She was very masterful in supporting him. Throughout that visit, Richard and I were able to write a paper for the Harvard Education Review that discusses this model, and he got very excited about it. He’s been talking about it in his classes, and in 2012 and 2013 we welcomed about 10 students from Harvard’s Educational Leadership Doctorate program to come and learn about the model and report back to their cohorts about what they have learned. We had that for two years, so in total we have had 21 visitors or so. The work has been attracting the attention of several other international experts.

What’s happened since that pinnacle of performance? We had a change in administration at the presidential level, and also a change in the Ministry of Education. They came with a very clear agenda of cutting down any relationship with union leadership, in particular Esther Gordillo and her people. And it so happened that the Deputy Minister who had been supporting this work at the national level, and the one who invited us into the Ministry, was the son-in-law of Gordillo, the leader of the teachers’ union. As soon as this new administration came, they decided to cut down any relationship with them which meant also kicking out the whole team that had been building and supporting this work from the top. So the the leaders who launched and disseminated the Learning Community Project are again grouped around a small NGO called Redes de Tutoría, and they’ve continued to support the work on a smaller scale, but at a deeper level. Right now they’re working with five states that have expressed very clear interest in continuing this work. So the idea is to still go to scale – not at the national level, but at the state level. The strategy is to create “Regions of Excellence,” where you would have several schools who are engaged in this practice and sites where people could come and see what’s possible but also having this as a professional development site for others interested in learning the practice. We’re not entirely sure how many schools are going to continue with this work. As we are putting the pieces together we are trying to find ways in which we can continue to support teachers who are committed to this work but not getting a lot of support from the state-level authorities. We are trying to find a strategy to help continue this work. We’re doing the lobbying that we can because we know that there is some vibrancy in this work that won’t disappear unless somebody wants to really shut it down. I don’t think that’s going to be the case, but we don’t have the political backing at the national level so that teachers can feel free to innovate. The practice has gone underground, it’s invisible but it’s still there.

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