A new model for integrating technology in schools? The work of eduLab in Singapore

This post originally appeared on https://thomashatch.org.

While we in the US often put our stock in the efforts of pioneers and entrepreneurial organizations to disrupt the conventional education system, my visit to Singapore last year made clear that Singapore takes a much more systematic approach to fostering new educational practices. Singapore’s current approach focuses on expanding learning opportunities to foster students’ 21st Century competencies and includes considerable “top-down” support – most recently from the Fourth Master Plan for Technology – that seeks to seed and scale promising developments across the system.

At the same time, reflecting its “centralized-decentralized approach,” Singapore has also invested heavily in supporting “bottom-up” initiatives in which teachers and schools develop their own new ideas and practices.   Since 2011, eduLab has served as a key vehicle for the support of bottom-up initiatives by funding a wide variety of projects proposed by teachers throughout Singapore.  Educators who receive funding work with eduLab staff, test out their ideas and develop prototypes, with all successful eduLab projects published on their website and in publications.  In addition, drawing on its current location at the Academy of Singapore Teachers (AST), Ministry of Education and eduLab staff and Master teachers from the Academy support the diffusion of eduLab supported tools and resources by facilitating workshops and supporting subject and theme-based communities of practice.

While the extent of Singapore’s central investment in development of productive uses of educational technology is unusual, eduLab shares a number of functions with organizations in other systems (like iZone in New York City for example), which also focus on finding, seeding, and spreading innovative practices that take advantage of educational technology.  Some of the parallels may reflect responses to the rapidly evolving character of educational technology in general.  In the late 1990’s and 2000’s, schools and systems in developed education systems like those in Singapore and the US were focused on building the infrastructure for educational technology in schools – establishing wired and then wireless connectivity, getting equipment, and building “platforms” to host online activities.  In that context, schools often faced multiple and competing bids from companies who could provide a “one-stop” solution with the expectation that the school, teachers, and students would adapt their activities to the chosen platform, computer system (primarily windows or mac), or technology (e.g. interactive whiteboards).  In that process, millions of dollars were spent on those computers, computer labs, other hardware and online platforms, but often without clear benefits (see for example the experiences of the New York City Department of Education in launching and then abandoning a 95 million dollar data system created originally by IBM).

Now the landscape has changed.  In 2016, students and teachers use a variety of different devices – laptops, desktops, ipads, kindles, mobile phones etc. – and access a wide range of applications developed by individuals as well as not-for-profit and commercial companies.  In some ways, these developments have flipped the technology “bidding war”—instead of schools having to decide which set of machines to buy or which platform to adopt, some teachers may be using google classroom, some may be using Moodle or Blackboard, and some may be cobbling together their own mix of tools and apps.

This shift from platform and equipment-based ICT to more application-based technology integration puts schools and educators in Singapore and the US in a different relationship with technology companies.  Where they were once consumers, listening to pitches from tech companies and having to decide which platform to pick, now schools can identify specific problems that address their students’ needs and ask tech companies to produce apps and applications in response (for one US edtech industry perspective on how to sell products to schools see “Choosing a ‘top-down’ vs. ‘bottom-up’ approach in edtech sales”). In this scenario, edtech companies have to figure out how to meet local demands and scale, rather than focus first on general issues they believe will scale most quickly, leaving it up to educators and schools to figure out how to adapt.

Today, organizations like eduLab can serve as a key link between educators and the resources and expertise in the educational technology community by helping teachers find the right partners, sorting out the qualifications of bidders, evaluating bids, facilitating the development process (with user tests and iterations of the proposed “solution”), negotiating contracts, and dealing with fundamental rights and responsibilities including issues of intellectual property. These relationships both give eduLab teachers access to the latest technologies and allow those companies access and opportunities to develop and adapt (and in some cases commercialize) products that meet the needs of teachers and schools.  In one illustration of that process, a chemistry teacher in Singapore noted a problem that many of his upper secondary school students faced:  remembering the specific nomenclature used in their beginning chemistry course. In response, the teacher developed a card game in which he found that students learned the vocabulary most effectively when they were involved in discovering the rules that governed the use of the terms. Building on that discovery, the teacher and several colleagues were given funding to pursue an eduLab project that started in 2014. Working with staff from the Ministry of Education and eduLab as part of the team, a comparative study was carried out that demonstrated the benefits of the game. Designs for an app were then developed that enhanced the game with visualizations and that allowed teachers to get data on students’ performance to inform their instruction. Finally, eduLab worked with local start-up developers to build the app, which is now commercially available (both on iTunes and through Google Play).

Reflecting the complexity of these relationships, eduLab has developed several different ways of working with vendors.  For resources and applications that educators have already developed, eduLab may simply put the project out for bid.  For example, teachers at one school in Singapore developed a tool for automatic marking of students’ papers that an industry partner commercialized and helped to make widely available. At the other end of the spectrum, in cases where solutions have not yet been developed, risks are high, and success uncertain, eduLab might help search for industry partners who will take on the development costs themselves.  In one instance, a school wanted to explore the possibilities for adaptive learning in science and sought a tool that would help tailor content and activities based on students’ performances. An industry partner took up the request and created a tool that both gives students’ feedback and helps teachers to assess each student’s development.

Of course, industry partners are most likely to respond to and invest in projects that they believe have potential commercial benefits.  As a consequence, intermediaries like eduLab also have to engage with research organizations and non-profits who might be willing to invest in issues that are crucial to students and educators but may not have as much commercial potential.

In playing this kind of intermediary role, eduLab benefits from its close ties to Singapore’s Infocomm Development Authority (now called the Infocomm Media Development Authority or IMDA) and the National Research Fund, managed by the National Institute of Education (NIE) and the Ministry of Education (MOE).  Those ties are formalized as members of the Ministry, NIE, and IMDA all serve on the committee overseeing eduLab.  These formal connections also facilitate a wide range of personal relationships among educators, policymakers, and researchers who participate in various aspects of eduLab’s work.

Of course, neither having educators engaged in developing eduLab projects from the beginning nor making them widely available guarantees that they will be used or used well.  To that end, eduLab is turning more attention to issues like assessment and evaluation.  Those issues include how to develop assessments that focus on competencies that are not addressed in current tests; how to evaluate projects that are designed for small groups of teachers (like those teaching introductory chemistry in high school); and how to deal with reliability and validity in uncontrollable classroom contexts and other challenges of “rapid cycle evaluation and improvement.” (In the decentralized US system, however, with few “intermediaries” like eduLab or iZone, many districts are left to their own devices and have to rely instead on the development of edtech evaluation tools like Mathematica’s EdTech Rapid Cycle Evaluation Coach or leverage other private sources such as the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s work on improvement science.)

While there is no simple measure of what impact eduLab projects might have on Singaporean students’ educational experiences overall, eduLab’s current work presents a very different image of how technologies may influence teaching and learning.  Rather than affecting all aspects of a teachers’ practice and transforming conventional instruction, in many cases, eduLab projects develop tools and resources adapted to specific instructional “niches” – such as the teaching of vocabulary in a beginning Chemistry class.   In these instances, the novelty of the tools and products and the extent to which they support conventional teaching or more student-centered learning may be less important than the fact that organizations like eduLab provide a new means of bringing together the professional expertise and local knowledge that educators have with the technical expertise of those in the edtech community.

— Thomas Hatch

Community Schools as a Hyper-Local Strategy

In this latest post in the Leading Futures Series, edited by Alma Harris and Michelle Jones, Reuben Jacobson and Helen Janc Malone shine a spotlight on the success of the community schools strategy. They argue that hyper-local strategies like community schools can lead to school improvement. Jacobson and Malone both work at the Institute for Educational Leadership, which houses the Coalition for Community Schools. As they suggest, these and other hyper-local community schools initiatives are particularly important considering the U.S. policy shift toward state and local solutions.

The passage of the U.S. federal education law Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has signaled that the education policy pendulum is swinging away from federal and toward the state and local decision-making. (For a brief history of the federal-state relationship, see The Ever Debatable Federal Role; for perspectives on ESSA and local strategies, see Coalition for Community Schools op-eds in Education Week and the Washington Post). One of the key emerging policy considerations is how can we improve outcomes for all students and close the opportunity gap in our communities? With an increased emphasis on local solutions and innovation, it is important to explore the promising local strategies that have already taken hold across the country that offer illustrative examples of the power of school-community partnerships.

There are many examples across the U.S. of local strategies that are making the difference in student learning and developmental outcomes. One such strategy gaining national momentum is community schools.

What is a community school?

A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. Its integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement leads to improved student learning, stronger families, and healthier communities. Community schools offer a personalized curriculum that emphasizes real-world learning and community problem-solving.

The growth of community schools at the systems level over the past 20 years represents a hyper-local educational change and reform strategy that mobilizes community assets to improve outcomes for students, families, and neighborhoods. In these places, diverse stakeholders work to solve problems with local assets.

At the school site community schools are transformative models of education and youth development where results-focused partners unite with educators and families to help children thrive. In a community school, the student is at the center of learning and partners support them with health and other supports, family and community engagement, and expanded learning opportunities. A community school coordinator works with the principal, other school staff, and partners to assess the needs and assets of the community and to develop a comprehensive set of programs, partnerships, and activities to support students and their families. Community partners and educators are closer to students than any federal or state policy can be and are able to respond to each individual’s learning and other needs.

At the systems level, an intermediary organization (e.g., school district, local non-profit, United Way) supports multiple community school sites and helps identify and mobilize partners and leaders across systems to strengthen and deepen the community schools work within and across institutions. A collaborative leadership group comprised of leaders across sectors helps set the direction for the initiative, creating local policies that are responsive to local contexts.

Systems-wide community school initiatives

The Coalition for Community Schools works with nearly 90 places that have developed systems-wide community school initiatives. These places cross political boundaries. Local leaders have created thriving community school initiatives from Oakland, CA to Tulsa, OK, from New York City to Grand Rapids, MI, from Nashville, TN to Milwaukee, WI. A few examples help illustrate the contributions of these initiatives. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has created approximately 130 community schools and has been able to leverage partners with systems-wide impact like Google and Warby Parker. In Multnomah County (which includes Portland, OR), five districts, the City of Portland, the County and other systems-level institutions are working together to more efficiently braid and utilize resources by placing them in community schools that reach students and families that need them the most. And in Milwaukee, WI leaders from the school district, teachers union, and the United Way are working together to grow community schools in some of the city’s most high-needs neighborhoods.

Baltimore has created a system-wide community schools initiative that is coordinated by Family League of Baltimore. In partnership with the school district, the city, local universities, and many other community based organizations, Family League builds capacity, directs funding, and evaluates approximately 55 community schools. A council of leaders helps guide the work and a recently approved school board policy will help grow and sustain the work. Baltimore’s community schools are seeing results – participating students are less likely to be chronically absent, an important indicator of academic success. For more research on community schools visit www.communityschools.org/results.

These and other hyper-local community schools initiatives have sustained their efforts over time, even as local, state, and federal leaders change. Local leaders are best positioned to collaborate across institutions and agencies; they can best make decisions about funding, understand how to braid resources to meet local needs, and have created organizational arrangements – ways of working together effectively. Local community school initiatives have created structures, have nurtured trusting relationships, and have collaborated on mutually beneficial programs and practices and are thus best able to respond to local needs.

As the U.S. education policy pivots toward local solutions, strategies like community schools offer promising examples of how local innovation could lead to supportive learning environments and improved whole child outcomes for students.


Poland: Reforming an improving school system

A recent scan of the education news in Europe highlights that new education reforms in Poland are making the headlines.  While Poland’s PISA scores are going up, there is still considerable controversy over the direction of further improvement initiatives. The current reforms have been positioned as occurring within a broader political struggle in the country.

The proposed new reforms would change the system from a three-tier school system (with elementary, middle, and high schools) to just two levels.  In the new system, students will attend an eight-year elementary school, and then they will spend four years in either a high school or a vocational school.

The protest against the Law and Justice (PiS) party's education reform proposal (pictured) (AFP Photo/Janek Skarzynski)

The protest against the Law and Justice (PiS) party’s education reform proposal (pictured) (AFP Photo/Janek Skarzynski)

Since a series of education reforms passed in 1998-1999, Polish students have attended 6-year elementary schools, three-year lower secondary (or, middle) schools, and three-year upper secondary schools. This approach had been a part of a broader school improvement effort that has contributed to Poland’s success on international measures of student achievement, such as the PISA exams. According to a 2011 OECD report, the structural changes of the 1998-1999 reform included the creation of a new type of school, called the lower secondary school “gymnasium,” which became a symbol of the reform. Vocational training was postponed by one year, allowing a greater number of students to be assessed. The reformers of the time argued that these improvements would allow Poland to raise the level of education by reaching more students in rural areas. Reformers also argued that these changes would allow teachers to use methods and curricula more suited to the needs of students, and that by linking the structural change with curricular reform, teachers would be encouraged to change what and how they teach.

Critics of the 1998-99 changes, like current Law and Justice MP Dariusz Piontkowski (and former teacher), however, complained that students were only being prepared to take tests. Piontkowski looks forward to curricular reforms that will come after the structural reforms:

“We are bringing back the teaching of history. We are bringing back patriotic education,” he declared. “It’s time that pupils understand what they are learning.”

Nonetheless, tens of thousands of people, mostly teachers, are reported to be protesting against the new reforms fearing dramatic loss in jobs and “chaos” in the schools. However, these protests are not focusing on schools alone; they are seen as part of a wave of concern about what is seen as the government’s broader populist, conservative agenda. Questions are being raised about restrictions placed on journalists and what is seen as new barriers to transparency in government, particularly as politicians were frustrated about the voting process that ushered in this new reform. Protestors reportedly chanted: “No to chaos,” and, “The death of Polish education.”

For more on educational reform in Poland see:

Eurydice: The System of Education in Poland in Brief

NCEE:  Poland Overview

OECD: Education at a Glance 2016, Poland Country Note

The Impact of the 1999 Reform in Poland

Deirdre Faughey

Bringing Effective Instructional Practice to Scale

10833The Journal of Educational Change publishes important ideas and evidence of educational change. Contributions represent a range of disciplines, including history, psychology, political science, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, and administrative and organizational theory. The journal also draws attention to a broad spectrum of methodologies, including quantitative and qualitative approaches, documentary study, action research, and conceptual development.

The journal’s most recent special issue, edited by Santiago Rincón-Gallardo and Brahm Fleisch, brings together articles by reform leaders and scholars who have developed and/or studied education change efforts in various contexts: Escuela Nueva in Colombia, the Learning Community Project in Mexico, the Gauteng Language and Mathematics Strategy in South Africa, Pratham’s Literacy Strategy in India, the Ontario Literacy Strategy in Canada, and Long Beach Unified School District’s system-wide instructional strategy in California, United States.

The editors also share two commentary papers by Richard Elmore and Michael Fullan. As the editors explain in their introduction to the special issue, “The two concluding essays pull together common and divergent threads across the six cases, derive key lessons, and articulate critical perspectives for the future of improvement in the education sector. While Elmore raises fundamental questions about the very project of policy-driven improvement, Fullan argues that, though elusive, whole system improvement centered around deep learning is doable.”

To read the complete introduction, click here:“Bringing effective instructional practice to scale: An introduction.”

To find the complete special issue, click here: The Journal of Educational Change.

To read IEN posts focusing on these reforms, click on the following links:

Attempting Change from Within: Student-Centered Change in Mexico

Bringing Effective Instructional Innovation to Scale through Social Movement in Mexico and Colombia

An interview with Vicky Colbert, co-founder of Escuela Nueva (Lead the Change)

Brahm Fleisch on building a new infrastructure for learning in Gauteng, South Africa

Learning from successful education reforms in Ontario

Learning from successful education reforms in Ontario: Part II

Lead the Change interview with Marnie H. O’Neill

Dr Marnie O'Neill

Dr Marnie O’Neill

Marnie O’Neill is a Senior Honorary Research Fellow in the Graduate school of education at The University of Western Australia. Her initial fields of teaching and research were in English Education studies, language, learning and literacy and teacher education. She has taught across all degree levels in the School and was Director of Teaching in the preservice program for a number of years and served as Dean and Head of School from 2000-2005.

Marnie co-ordinated the Doctor of Education program from 1998-2011, and was instrumental in reviewing the program in preparation for offering it in Hong Kong and Singapore. Major responsibilities were in supervision of doctoral students in both the on-shore programs and in the transnational programs in Singapore and Hong Kong. Recent publications include “Fitness for purpose: a problem for professional doctorates in Education?” in Stead, V. (2015). The Education Doctorate (Ed.D.): Perspectives on Access, Social Justice, Diversity, and Community Leadership. New York, NY: Peter Lang, and a special issue of Education Research and Perspectives (forthcoming), Globalization, Internationalization and English Language: Studies of Education in Singapore, Malaysia and Australia

In this interview, which is part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, O’Niell shares her thoughts on important issues in educational change today:

The promises associated with the technology revolution (as yet unfulfilled in Australia) are not equally distributed, but if fulfilled, they have the potential to give young people access to ideas, to opportunities and connections with like-minded potential collaborators and colleagues anywhere in the world. Curriculum adaptations, which encourage transnational projects (already undertaken in a number of schools through Global Learning Alliance, for example) can broaden students’ knowledge and skills bases and help them to develop global connections that are recognized in formal assessment practices.

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.


NYC Outward Bound Schools and the ecology of New York City Schools

As part of a series of posts on the evolution of organizations in New York City, the US, and other parts of the world including India and parts of Africa, this post explores the evolution of NYC Outward Bound Schools, an organization dedicated to experiential education in New York City. In order gain a better understanding of the possibilities and challenges for educational innovation NYC Outward Bound has encountered, we recently spoke with several former and current leaders of the organization. They talked about the development of NYC Outward Bound’s work and vision as well as the constantly changing conditions in which organizations like NYC Outward Bound have to operate and adapt. 

Emerging in the rapidly changing educational landscape of the 1980’s, particularly in the wake of A Nation at Risk, NYC Outward Bound Schools established its first educational programs. Since that time, the organization has remained focused on engaging learners in hands-on, experiential education. Over 30 years of evolution, NYC Outward Bound has expanded its presence in New York City. Yet, in contrast to the common practice of organizations attempting to scale rapidly and drastically, NYC Outward Bound has expanded slowly and strategically, moving from offering curricular programs for New York City public schools to operating a network of 11 public schools in the city by 2016. To more deeply explore the history and practices of NYC Outward Bound, we discussed the organization with three of its leaders: Richard Stopol, the president and CEO of NYC Outward Bound Schools, Anthony Conelli, former chief schools officer, and school designer Rebecca Tatistcheff.

The organization and philosophy

Founded in 1941 by Kurt Hahn and Lawrence Holt, Outward Bound began as a school on the coast of Wales that helped train seamen for the harsh life of living at sea. Relatively quickly, however, Outward Bound expanded to a broader focus of encouraging individuals and groups to explore nature and test their physical and mental strength through a number of different outdoor, adventure-based, programs. As NYC Outward Bound Schools’ website puts it, these programs reflect the central philosophy that people “learn and grow when they leave the safety of everyday experiences and challenge themselves in new ways.” After over 70 years, Outward Bound now operates these outdoor adventure programs throughout the world.

Outward Bound 1.0 –Startup Mode

In the 1980’s, at the urging of Greg Farrell, then-Executive Director of the Fund for the City of New York, Richard Stopol and a small team of colleagues brought the powerful, group-based experiential learning activities offered by Outward Bound to New York City youth. Among its goals, NYC Outward Bound aimed to translate outdoor adventure experiences to an urban environment and make them part of a school day.

To accomplish these goals, in its first iteration, NYC Outward Bound focused on 2 strands of work. First, they focused pairing New York City youth with adults in courses that involved outdoor expeditions. Stopol contends that many of the adults who participated in these early courses became key supporters of the new local organization. While this programming carried definite educational elements, it mostly focused on adapting “traditional” Outward Bound experiences incorporating the themes of adventure, service and cross-cultural exploration so that they could take place in New York City.

Second, as part of a partnership with “high-needs” public schools, the organization adapted Outward Bound learning experiences for a number of schools. NYC Outward Bound staff members paired with public school teachers to develop curriculum and courses rooted in Outward Bound philosophy, creating courses that looked like an Outward Bound expedition. In these collaborations, NYC Outward Bound sought to increase student engagement and improve attendance by helping to create curricula and professional development activities for teachers. In those efforts, in Stopol’s words, they sought to bring “as much Outward Bound as you could into the classroom while aligning it with whatever the standards were.” In the process, NYC Outward Bound staff co-planned and co-taught with teachers and worked to create whole sections of the school schedule for the implementation of Outward Bound related classes and projects. For instance, students might engage in an Outward Bound urban expedition, such as learning about and navigating the subway system, as part of their social studies class. At the same time, students would complete a range of assignments related to the expedition.

Outward Bound 2.0—Operating Schools

In the midst of NYC Outward Bounds’ initial efforts to work with schools a question kept popping up from students. “Why can’t the rest of my day be like my Outward Bound class?”  As interest in educational reform grew around the US, an opportunity to address that question also arose when the New American Schools Development Corporation launched a competition to create and implement “break the mold schools”.  The national organization of Outward Bound submitted a winning proposal to create their own model for schools. With the funding they received, Outward Bound opened a division within its national organization to design and implement Expeditionary Learning (or EL) schools in a number of cities. In contrast to the school partnerships in New York City, the EL schools would be based entirely on Outward Bound’s pedagogy and every classroom would incorporate the practices Outward Bound uses to spark and support student learning. Eventually, NYC Outward Bound came to operate the EL schools in New York City, and the answer to the question, “why can’t the rest of my day be like my Outward Bound class,” had become, “it can.”

With the election of Michael Bloomberg as mayor in 2001 and his administration’s support for the development of new schools, NYC Outward Bound Schools saw another opportunity to expand their work. As Stopol put it, NYC Outward Bound Schools decided to “more or less put all its eggs in one basket” and focus on opening new schools. These would be schools that are built upon the EL model and that also offer students opportunities to take part in Outward Bound experiences outside the classroom. With Gates Foundation funding and support from the Bloomberg administration, NYC Outward Bound started opening more new schools in 2004. By 2016, the total number of schools operated by NYC Outward Bound Schools grew to 11.

In this new environment, NYC Outward Bound has had to try to continue to build on the experiential learning model while balancing the shifting demands and expectations for schools reflected in changing policies at the City, State, and Federal level. For instance, each NYC Outward Bound school has a school designer who helps shape curriculum and thematic, experiential learning units called “expeditions.”  As their website proclaims, treating the entire city as a classroom is an important element of the organization’s approach, and many of the expeditions engage students in fieldwork experiences during which they conduct research and meet with experts in the fields they are studying.   At the same time, the designer and teachers have had to contend the establishment of new school report cards in New York City and subsequent state initiatives to use test scores to evaluate teachers and to implement the Common Core Learning Standards.

Outward Bound 3.0 – Beyond the whole school model

In the early 2010’s, although charter schools continued to expand in New York City, funds and support for the development of new public schools began to wane.  As a consequence, NYC Outward Bound staff members have wondered how they can both deepen their work in their existing schools and expand their influence.  The efforts to deepen their approach has included the establishment of a college preparation program to increase the number of its students who attend and finish college. This “to and through college” program looks at how to use college counselors as well as peers to support students in the NYC Outward Bound Schools both while they are in high school as well as when they are in college. The program includes a partnership with CARA (a college access program) through which graduates of NYC Outward Bound schools currently in college serve as coaches for students currently enrolled in NYC Outward Bound schools.

On a more organizational level, NYC Outward Bound Schools also endeavors, as former CSO Anthony Conelli explains, to answer the question “how do you create a context that allows people to share their practice, own their conversation, and improve this kind of work?”  As part of these efforts, the leaders of the 11 NYC Outward Bound network schools meet monthly.  With the “host” school rotating each month, the leaders visit classrooms and look at student work together, sharing observations and feedback with the host school.

In addition to deepening the work in the existing schools, NYC Outward Bound continues to look for ways to create what Conelli calls “places of influence” — new ways and new venues through which to share their educational philosophy and practices and to support others in doing so. With this in mind, NYC Outward Bound has expanded its work by developing a model for “associate schools.” Associate schools are existing public schools within New York City that work with NYC Outward Bound staff to adopt a particular feature or structure associated with its educational approach. For example, associate schools might look at how to organize their curriculum into expeditions, or they might adopt the “Crew” structure that is in place in all NYC Outward Bound Schools, a team-based approach to supporting and advising groups of students. In some ways, this way of working with partner schools, as Conelli puts it, takes the whole school model and pulls apart its strands. At the same time, it also serves as a way to provide an easier entry point and the scaffolding needed to help existing schools to take on the whole school model.

NYC Outward Bound—concluding by looping back

When Richard Stopol thinks back NYC Outward Bound’s 30-year history in New York City and this arc from infusing Outward Bound into schools, creating a network of new schools, and now sharing practices and resources with associate schools, he takes a moment to calculate that NYC Outward Bound Schools has worked with 14 chancellors of education and 5 mayors in New York City. Of course, he contends, the changing social and political landscapes of New York City have required some adaptation from the organization. And yet, Stopol sees a consistent mission for NYC Outward Bound over the years: To help the youth of New York City by bringing the Outward Bound approach to the city’s public schools in ways that “transform schools and change lives.”

Jordan Corson

Response to PISA: Exploring the success of Singapore

Last week, when the PISA 2015 scores were released, Thomas Hatch shared a response and a scan of headlines from around the world. We reached out to an international group of scholars and asked them to share their own response to the PISA results as well. Today we share a comment from Dr. Saravanan Gopinathan of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.

2016 has been a good year for Singapore Education. Results released in the TIMSS and PISA assessments shows a sustained trend towards high performance in Maths. Science and Literacy. Those who are critical of Singapore’s education model point to two features. One is that while Singapore students have admirable mastery of PISA content domains, they are incapable of problem solving, applying content to authentic situations, etc. This is attributed to teacher dominated teaching, memorisation and extra out-of-school coaching. The other is that while Singapore may have an excellent system, it is not sufficiently equitable, showing a long tail in performance. And yes, we have not produced any Nobel Prize winners.

What can be said in its defense? There has been a conscious, sustained effort since 1997 to promote knowledge building pedagogies via curriculum and assessment reform, teacher professional development and textbook redesign. It would be reasonable to assume that in a tight compact system like Singapore, reforms are beginning to change teaching and learning practices. With regard to the second, Singapore’s Ministry of Education (MOE) has pointed to the fact Singapore’s proportion of low performers in each of the three domains is at about 10% among the lowest of all participating systems and its proportion of top performers in each domain is the highest among all participating education systems.

Let us enjoy our status as a top education reference system, at least until the next PISA results!

For more from Dr. Gopinathan, read “Real Singaporean Lessons: Why do Singaporean students perform so well on PISA?” which was published as part of the Leading Futures series on IEN.

For more on the recent PISA results, explore the following recent articles:

Pisa results 2016: Singapore sweeps the board http://buff.ly/2hr1zYN (TES, 12/6)

Behind Singapore’s PISA rankings success http://buff.ly/2hsWfRB (ABC online, 12/7)

Asian countries dominate, science teaching criticised in PISA survey http://buff.ly/2hsS3RJ (Business World, 12/7)