Rapid Rise: Computer Science Education in NYC Part 2 (2015-2025)

This week’s post builds on last week’s discussion of the foundation of the Computer Science for All movement in New York City, focusing on how and why this work has taken off.  

Like Finland’s enactment of a policy requiring that all studentsparticipate each year in “a multi-disciplinary learning module,” setting a goal of providing a computer science experience for all students within ten years created a demand for the development of computer science related learning experiences. But it did not prescribe the teaching of a particular course. In this case, NYC’s new policy initially left open exactly what counts as “meaningful” and “high-quality” computer education, stating only that “NYC students will learn to think with the computer, instead of using computers to simply convey their thinking.” Further the announcement declared that “Schools can implement computer science education in a way that aligns best to their educational vision.”   “The DOE deliberately avoided being too specific about a definition of computer science when the initiative launched,” Preston said. “The K-12 Computer Science Framework had yet to be written and New York State did not have computer science standards, and work in computer science education had been very decentralized until that point. I think the DOE wanted to learn from doing… without schools immediately going to requirements and seat time.”

At the same time, as part of the new policy, CS4All built on initial efforts of the Software Engineering Pilot to develop the infrastructure that could support the spread of coherent and focused computer science learning experiences. As one article from Code.org put it, CS4All started with an explicit “focus on providing resources for every step of the education pipeline.” For example, since New York’s statewide computer science framework had not yet been created, CS4All developed a CS Blueprint as well as a wide range of K-12 curricula.

In order to meet the increase in demand, the new policy also sought to increase the supply of teachers with the experience and skills to spread computer science learning experiences across the City.  The approach, however, had to take into account the fact that it could take quite some time to build a “pipeline” of computer science teachers to serve students in a variety of different computer science learning experiences at different levels.  Therefore, “we started with creating a job market for computer science educators,” Preston explained, recognizing that they would have to “catch up” with providing the preparation experiences and materials and programs later. Describing the challenges of preparing teachers, Preston continued, “without state certification, without dedicated teacher education programs, and without a job market for computer science teachers, there wasn’t going to be a pipeline.”  At the same time, Marcus stressed that from the beginning, the “pipeline” was designed to prepare teachers who can both teach computer science courses and who can act as leaders and computer science advocates who can support the spread of computer science education from inside the system.

To support the growing group of computer science teachers, the third goal of the new CS4All policy sought to build on and expand the portfolio of computer science programs working in the City. In particular, CSNYC cultivated connections with a number of programs that provided opportunities, often outside of school, for NYC youth to work and learn with technology.  With encouragement and support from CSNYC and the CS4All related funding, these programs turned their attention to developing the materials and the professional development programs that could help to build an “infrastructure” to support a wide range of computer science learning experiences. “Ultimately the idea is to offer a lot of on-ramps of different shapes and sizes that schools can choose from” Preston reported. Ideally, this variety would help to meet the varied interests and needs of different schools and students.

All of these developments contributed to substantial increases in the number of students receiving Computer Science education and taking and passing Computer Science AP exams.  In New York City, almost 134,000 students received Computer Science education in 2017-18, a 44% increase from the previous year.  In addition, the number of students in New York City taking an AP Computer Science exam in 2017 more than tripled compared to 2016, and the number of students passing an AP Computer Science exam increased more than fourfold compared to 2016. New York City public school students also accounted for approximately 7 percent of AP Computer Science Principles exam-takers nationwide; and in a matter of only two years, AP Computer Science has become the third most popular of all Math/Science AP courses in the City. Notably, the students taking the AP computer science exam are among the most diverse of any subject, and, notably, the number of female students taking that exam increased from 379 in 2016 to 2,155 in 2018.

 

Why the rapid expansion?

As Monica Disare reported, New York City’s Computer Science for All “plan progressed from a concept to reality at a notably rapid pace, thanks to a rare combination of factors: a focused and well-connected champion, a growing national focus on career readiness, and the sustained interest of the city’s political leadership at a time when the mayor needs to demonstrate clear progress.” Although the combination might be somewhat rare, these factors coalesced along with Wilson and CSNYC’s deliberate effort to work with the NYC DOE and to cultivate relationships with and engage a variety of other funders, programs, companies, and educators who developed an interest in computer science education.

Like a typical development campaign at a major university or cultural institution, the initial investments in computer science education in the City helped to lay the groundwork for de Blasio’s announcement long before it was made. As a consequence, when the de Blasio administration was exploring which education initiatives to support, CSNYC and other computer science supporters were able to promise to raise half of the funding needed to meet the new policy’s ten-year goals.  The private commitment helped to leverage the public commitment, while the public commitment helped to encourage private donors. As Preston explained, “we were able to convince the City to do this by promising to raise half the money privately so for every dollar they commit they get two, but they can also flip that around and say to donors we can say that the public sector will match every dollar you pay.”

In some ways, though, Wilson and CSNYC were taking a chance by working closely with the NYC DOE during the Bloomberg administration. In fact, de Blasio directly opposed many of Bloomberg’s education policies, including Bloomberg’s efforts to link teacher evaluations to test scores and his embrace of charter schools.  However, Bloomberg’s emphasis on supporting the development and use of technology as an engine of the City and the economy in general was widely supported. As a consequence, computer science education was one initiative on which many could agree. “What’s nice about computer science education is it’s fairly bipartisan,” Preston said, “it’s a rare topic that many people can agree on.”

Beyond this support from what scholars like Tyack and Cuban call “policy elites,” the growth of the computer science commitment and movement in NYC also benefitted from the fact that computer science education can be incorporated and “fit into” many of the existing structures and practices of existing schools. For example, adding one of the AP courses dedicated to computer science education not only fits neatly into a typical high school course schedule, it also aligns with existing AP tests and takes advantage of all the incentives and supports that go with the existing high school graduation and college entrance processes. As Tyack and Cuban explain, these “add-on’s” (like the addition of kindergartens to elementary schools earlier in the 20thCentury) can be put in place without disrupting normal patterns of activity in schools. Furthermore, computer science education fits the conception that many people have of what “real school” could be. Sociologist Mary Metz coined this phrase that helps explain why many “innovations” and practices that challenge conventional educational expectations have difficulty taking hold and spreading.  Thus, computer science learning experiences benefit from the fact that many see them as directly connected to both valuable careers in technology-related fields and to valued academic outcomes in math, computation, and critical thinking.

Nonetheless, both the political support and the ability to add computer science to conventional school structures come with downsides. Embracing political support leverages many aspects of the government infrastructure – making it possible to link to other professional development and preparation initiatives, to build on other DOE trainings and resources, and to get access to data to track progress and inform future planning. At the same time, the computer science work in the City is no longer independent; it’s subject to the requirements and expectations of the DOE and dependent on continuing support from district administrators and politicians who may change as political fortunes rise and fall.

In addition, although computer science education initiatives take advantage of the structures and expectations of conventional schools, the course requirements, standardized tests, schedules, staffing patterns and many other aspects of conventional schools make it difficult to carry out student-centered, collaborative, or project-based learning experiences that many computer science programs seek to develop. Most critically, adding computer science learning experiences into all conventional schools demands a massive investment in the preparation and professional development of computer science teachers. Whether or not those investments will pay off remains in question. Countless reform efforts and literature reviews point to the difficulty of substantially increasing teachers’ skills and abilities through preparation and professional development. Even spreading AP courses in traditional subjects like physics and chemistry across all schools has proven difficult, as very few schools in New York City have the staff to offer these courses.

Ultimately, even if the initiative succeeds in helping 5000 teachers develop the skills and expertise they need to support students’ learning of computer science in 10 years, many of those teachers may leave the system (particularly if the skills they develop end up encouraging and enabling them to take higher paying technology jobs outside schools).  Even with substantial capacity-building efforts like those taking place in New York City, this kind of “revolving door” that makes it difficult for many improvement initiatives to reach and sustain their goals and momentum.

Under these conditions, one might expect relatively conventional CS4All courses and learning experiences to spread rapidly across conventional schools; but how well executed those classes are and how different they are from conventional classes, remains to be seen.

  • Thomas Hatch

 

Rapid Rise: Computer Science Education in NYC Part 1 (2010-2015)

This week and next week Thomas Hatch describes how the effort to provide “computer science for all” has developed in New York City.  The first part focuses on some of the ways that early initiatives to develop new schools and courses with a focus on computer science education helped to lay the foundation for New York City’s pledge to provide all NYC public school students with a “meaningful, high‐quality computer science education.” The next week’s post will reflect on how and why computer science education has taken off and will consider the extent to which it fits into what David Tyack and Larry Cuban have called the “grammar of schooling.” 

“Computer science for all” has taken off.  A variety of teachers, academics, and programsaround the US have been working to help students learn about computer science for some time, but many point to 2013 as the year when a new movement began to pick up steam. That year, nationally, Code.org launched the now annual “Hour of Code” campaign; districts, including Chicago, quickly started adding computer science classes; and in New York City, CSNYCwas created to ensure that all New York City’s 1.1 million public school students have access to a high-quality computer science  education. Then in 2015, New York Citypledged that all its public schools would be required to offer computer science classes by 2025; and in 2016, then President Obama provided the official stamp of approval by announcingthat “in the new economy, computer science isn’t an optional skill—it’s a basic skill, right along with the three R’s.”

Although Congress never authorized the $4 billion dollars the Obama administration requested for computer science education in the 2017 budget, the White House and the National Science Foundation partnered to commit $120 million to the Computer Science for All effort. More recently, the Trump administration directed the US Department of Education to make available $200 million dollars for grants related to computer science education while another $300 million dollars in pledges came from a partnership with the Internet Associationand companies like Amazon, Facebook, Salesforce, Google and Microsoft.  As one indicator of the increasing attention to computer science, the introduction in 2016-17 of a new AP course on “Computer Science Principles” contributed to a sharp increasein the number of students taking an AP exam in computer science, including significant increases in the numbers of female, Latinx, and Black students taking the exam. Between 2017 and 2018, the number of students taking the AP Computer Science Principles exam increased again, by almost 50% from 50,000 to 76,000.

Changes usually seem to come slowly in schools, but this rapid expansion of K-12 computer science initiatives illustrates both some of the key opportunities and the challenges of making large-scale changes in education systems. In particular, the development of Computer Science for All illustrates how initiatives that fit into what Tyack and Cuban call the “grammar of schooling” can take off with the backing and resources of political elites. In fact, in some ways, “Computer Science For All” has emerged as a kind of “social movement.” Marshall Ganz describes social movements as emerging from “the efforts of purposeful actors (individuals, organizations) to assert new public values, form new relationships rooted in those values, and mobilize the political, economic, and cultural power to translate these values into action.” But, Michael Preston, the former Executive Director of CSNYC (a partner organization for New York City’s Computer Science for All [CS4All] initiative) stresses that what the movement actually achieves depends on much more than how far and how fast it spreads.  In a series of conversations, Preston highlighted some of the developments that set the stage for New York City’s commitment to provide a “meaningful, high‐quality computer science education” at every level by 2025. In the process, he highlighted that engaging all students in meaningful and rigorous computer science learning experiences depends on developing what amounts to an “infrastructure” for computer science learning, including developing the curricula, assessments, tools, preparation programs, professional development supports, professional networks, and organizational relationships that can reach every school in the City.

From two new schools to a portfolio of computer science programs

Even before computer science education picked up steam across the country, Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist, was working to support the spread of computer science education in New York City. Wilson’s interest grew as he realized that many of the technology related start-ups he invested in couldn’t hire enough local talent.  From Wilson’s perspective, the fact that computer science courses were primarily available in the most selective high schools with exceptionally high percentages of White and Asian students also made increasing access to computer science to students from all backgrounds a particularly pressing equity issue.

To respond to the problem, in 2010, Wilson sought out the advice of members of the New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE). They recommended Wilson start a new school dedicated to computer science education and take advantage of the NYC DOE’s decade-long support for creating and replicating small schools. As Preston, described it:

“I think the consensus at the DOE was that if you create a new school model, you can set the conditions for an innovative new practice to take shape. The idea was that they would open up a new small high school that would be a model for teaching computer science at an unscreened school [a school without admissions requirements] so that any student could apply; there wouldn’t be any academic pre-requisite; and every student who came through the door could get a rigorous sequence of computer science. But in every other way it would be a typical new small school.”

Acting on that advice, Wilson teamed up with the DOE’s Office of Postsecondary Readiness to open the Academy for Software Engineering in 2012. The Bronx Academy for Software Engineering launched a year later and both schools quickly got to work developing a multi-year sequence for computer science instruction.  While those schools were able to enroll high percentages of Hispanic and Black students as well as students qualifying for free or reduced price lunch, from the beginning those efforts also sought to address predictable challenges like developing a gender-balanced approach that appealed to both males and females. “Both schools were 80% male initially,” Preston explained, which reflected the applicant pool. “If you name your school something with software engineering in the title,” he added, “you may not attract the most balanced applicant pool.”

The intense effort that those schools had to put into creating a rigorous computer science sequence also highlighted the need for more extensive curricula as well as a “pipeline” of K-12 educators with relevant preparation and expertise in computer science.  To begin to meet those demands, in 2013, the DOE also launched the Software Engineering Pilot Program, which aimed to develop a 3-4 year sequence of computer science courses for middle and for high school. As Debbie Marcus, current Executive Director for Computer Science Education at the DOE described it, the program was a key step in pursuing the vision that “Computer Science education could be for every student in New York City, not just those in the new schools.” According to Marcus, the work on the pilot helped to build a foundation for the later rollout of Computer Science education across the City and contributed some key learnings along the way. In particular, the pilot engaged 40 teachers a year from many different subjects in a professional learning partnership with DOE-created curricula and resources. Those teachers were able to bring pedagogical and subject-matter expertise that made it clear that computer science learning opportunities could be integrated into many different courses, not just computer science courses. In addition, the pilot created opportunities to learn how to engage principals in the implementation process, both to ensure time for teachers to learn from experiences with a new subject  and to set up plans to spread computer science learning opportunities throughout a school.

At the same time, as another way to build the infrastructure to support the spread of computer science education in New York City, Wilson  worked with nonprofit expert Sarah Holloway and NYU computer science professor Evan Korth to create the New York City Foundation for Computer Science Education (CSNYC).  Among its initiatives, CSNYC developed partnerships with a number of computer science related programs from around the country and sought to help them take root in New York City. As Leigh Ann DeLyser (current Director of Education and Research at CSNYC) and Preston described in an initial history of the development of CSNYC, those program partners included:

  • Exploring Computer Science Curriculum– A year-long, introductory level,high school computer science curriculum and teacher professional development program
  • Beauty and Joy of Computing– An AP Computer Science Principles Course developed by faculty at the University of California at Berkeley and members of the Education Development Centerin partnership with the DOEd
  • Bootstrap– Curriculum modules to help teachers of math and science in 6th-12thgrades to incorporate computer science content into their courses
  • Scalable Game Design– Classroom guides and professional development activities that help teachers to enable students to learn computational thinking while creating computer-related games.
  • TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) – A program of Microsoft Philanthropies that recruits, trains, mentors, and places volunteer technology professionals from industry in high school classrooms as partners with teachers

These initial investments created a kind of “portfolio” of programs that represented a variety of different approaches to computer science education and engaged many different stakeholders in the work.  In the process, CSNYC itself began to expand its own goals from providing seed funding to providing connections and coordination to help the computer science education sector in the City develop in a more coherent way.  For example, CSNYC established two “meetups” where teachers and others involved and interested in computer science education could get together on a regular but relatively informal basis.  CSNYC also helped to track progress and identify several critical challenges that the various initiatives in the sector experienced: finding enough qualified teachers and creating enough “real world” computer science related internships and experiences for students.  To address these needs, CSNYC cultivated relationships with a variety of local universities and businesses.

All of this activity established a loose network of programs and a wide and engaged group of stakeholders that, according to CSNYC helped to expand computer science opportunities from a few New York City schools in 2013 to over 100 schools and over 10,000 students by 2015. As a result, when new Mayor Bill de Blasio was ready to develop some signature initiatives, Preston noted that expanding computer science across the City was already “tee’d up.”  Building on that momentum, in the fall of 2015 de Blasio significantly upped the ante with the establishment of CS4All and the announcement that by 2025 all NYC public school students, from kindergarten through 12th grade, would receive “meaningful, high‐quality computer science education.” In addition, the announcement pledged that over the ten years from 2015 to 2025, the DOE and private partners would train “nearly 5,000 teachers who will bring computer science education to the City’s ~1.1 million public school students.”

  • Thomas Hatch

 

What have we learned about the learning crisis? (from Brookings)

Today, we are highlighting a report from the Brookings Institution about learning in international development contexts. The report’s author, Michelle Kaffenberger, offers several key insights, some of which we highlight below.

PISA for Development (PISA-D), a new effort to include more low- and middle-income countries in the internationally comparable PISA assessments, released its first results in late 2018. Test results revealed shockingly low learning levels. Across the seven countries participating, only 12 percent of children who were tested met minimum proficiency levels for math, and 23 percent for reading, compared with 77 percent and 80 percent in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, respectively. Further, the test is only administered to 15-year-olds who are in school and in at least grade seven. When children who were ineligible for the test are taken into account, only six percent of all 15-year-olds on average across the PISA-D countries demonstrated proficiency in math (Figure 1). In Zambia it was only one percent. These measures of minimal proficiency correspond with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for literacy and numeracy, meaning these countries are far from achieving this basic goal.

Small tweaks will not be sufficient to address the severity of the learning crisis, nor to increase the pace of learning enough to reach universal basic skills in the foreseeable future. The scale of the problem suggests education systems, which have successfully achieved high levels of schooling attainment in most places, now need to be reoriented to be coherent not just for schooling but also for learning. The RISE Programme is conducting research to shed light on how to accomplish this. Other efforts are working to understand how approaches that achieve learning can be dramatically scaled, such as the Center for Universal Education at Brookings’s Millions Learning Real-time Scaling Labs, Pratham and JPAL’s Teaching at the Right Level, and RTI and USAID’s Tusome Early Grade Reading Program in Kenya. New data make it abundantly clear that profound improvements are urgently needed if we are serious about achieving learning for all.

Network learning for sustainable development in education: How to create collective impact (a cross-post from JET Education Services)

This week, we share some interesting work from colleagues Melanie Ehren, James, Keevy, and Tom Kaye. This report initially appeared through JET Education Services.

 

Melanie EhrenJames Keevy and Tom Kaye (May 2019) write: This week (28-29 May) will see the launch of the National Association of Social Change Entities in Education (NASCEE) in Johannesburg. NASCEE aims to establish a collaborative structure to support NGOs in addressing the challenges in education and to deliver on their mandates. The association hopes to assist non-profit organisations in networking and communication, accessing funders and government, and developing their internal capacity. This collective approach should help to improve South Africa’s standard of education and ensure a more effective and efficient practice and delivery in the education space. Critically the approach also provides a platform for the professionalisation of practitioners in the sector.

The initiative is particularly relevant for low and middle income countries who have seen an influx of developmental partners, NGOs and private companies all aiming to improve access to, and quality of education through a series of disparate reforms and interventions. As these organisations all have their improvement agenda, collaboration and alignment of initiatives is often fraught with difficulties, leading to a fragmented system overloaded with short term, disconnected interventions. In an attempt to find the ‘silver bullet’ of educational improvement, and chasing after financial opportunities as and when they present themselves, educators struggle to work towards long-term goals in an efficient and consistent manner. Tablets with online materials to teach literacy skills end up in a drawer when support for their use is terminated, while long term educational change only ever comes about when integrated into the wider education system: through teacher training, school funding, accountability structures and policy planning.

NASCEE is expected to address the lack of alignment in, and sustainability of, change by creating a network of leaders and organisations across public, private and not-for-profit entities. These partners are expected to collaboratively address complex problems and cultivate collective intelligence. How valid is this assumption? Similar initiatives can be found elsewhere, such as METIS in Kenya, or CAMPE in Bangladesh. Can these networks lead to sustainable system change and what conditions are needed to ensure the collective impact of their individual members? We argue that bringing organisations and people together is a good starting point, but creating coalitions that traverse the system requires leadership and role models, trust, enabling technology, collaboration, and evaluation and monitoring:

  1. Leadership and role models. Networks are devolved structures which often lack a central coordinating authority. Particularly in large networks, leadership is essential to structure the collaborative work, bring partners together and work towards a common goal. The best network leaders are those who are seen as role models with high moral integrity and exemplary behaviour in improving education and serving the public good. Given the crucial role of leaders to support and coordinate the collaboration, adequate succession planning needs to ensure that high-quality leadership is sustained when leaders transition out of the network.
  2. Trust is a lubricant for collaboration. Only when partners trust each other will they share ideas and resources. Trust requires a mutual understanding of problems that need to be addressed, values and how to work together. Trust is built when partners positively evaluate each other’s competence, benevolence and integrity in improving outcomes of learners across the system. Various tools can support the process of building trust, such as Muethel’s cross cultural trust game[1], or Williams’[2] (2012) activities of ‘perspective-taking’. Trust between partners is not self-evident and needs to be managed; these tools can be used to do so.
  3. Enabling technology. Networks, particularly the ones exemplified here, are often constituted of many partners who are located in various parts of a city or country and have little opportunities to see each other on a day to day basis. Technology can enable their communication and allow partners to share and understand good practice and communicate and develop solutions together. Technology, particularly in the age of ‘big data’ and the ‘platform revolution’[3], is also vital in supporting network members in analysing available data to understand the problems that need to be addressed.
  4. Collaboration: working on a set of shared activities provides a purpose to the network and ensures the network has meaning and engages participants in working towards a common goal. As Mulgan[4] explains, ‘it is much harder to get a disparate group to agree on underlying principles and values than it is to get them to agree on actions’. Even when there is no shared purpose, having a set of activities to work on can create a common vision or goal to work towards. It also prevents a group from ‘over-analysing’ a problem without taking any action. Given the ‘wicked’ nature of how to ensure access to high quality education in developing contexts, any analysis will, by definition be incomplete, contradictory or address requirements that will have changed during the analysis.
  5. Sharing resources: members of the network need to fund the collaborative work of the network. Resources can help organize joint activities and provide some back office support. But more importantly, having members have “skin” in the game, can often help to add to the perceived importance of a network. Even if it is just small running costs to engage one staff member to run a secretariat or something similar.
  6. Evaluation and monitoring. Collaboration is not without problems and various authors talk about the unintended consequences of networks, such as group think, high transaction costs or power struggle over values and prioritization of goals. Evaluation and monitoring can support in identifying effective solutions to identified problems, but can also bring order in the relations between partners and prevent fragmented collaboration. Evaluation and monitoring needs to be agile and address a small number of key indicators which keep partners on track in working towards improved learning outcomes. Less relevant are evaluations of the collaborative processes (number of meetings, events organized) as these reduce time and energy for more meaningful activities and divert people’s focus on what really matters.

The first conference of the South African NASCEE, with a purposefully inspired theme From Promise to Practice, is an opportune moment in bringing organisations and people together. Our six points offer an agenda for the association to make a real impact on the South African education system and set an example for other countries who aim to ensure a purposeful and long-term approach for collaboration and improvement.

 

[1] In: F. Lyon, G. Mőllering, and M. Saunders (Eds). Handbook of Research methods on Trust. Cheltenham/Northampton: Edward Elgar Publishing.

[2] http://drmichelewilliams.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Building-and-Rebuilding-Trust-Why-Perspective-Taking-Matters-1.pdf

[3] Platform Revolution, 2018, by Professors Geoffrey G. Parker of Dartmouth College and Marshall W. Van Alstyne, of Boston University, research fellows at the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy and industry expert Sangeet Paul Choudary founded Platform Thinking Labs, a strategic consultancy.

[4] https://media.nesta.org.uk/documents/collaboration_and_collective_impact_-_geoff_mulgan.pdf

Exploring the Role of Teachers College in International Education

Since Daniel Friedrich took over as the chair of the Curriculum and Teaching department at Teachers College in 2017, he has had a number of people visiting Teachers College from outside the U.S. During their time at Teachers College, these scholars would often ask about alumni from the program who returned to their home countries after graduation. As they returned to their home countries, many of these scholars became foundational figures in their own settings. For instance, the person who developed and implemented early childhood education in Chile completed their doctorate at Teachers College in 1931. Professor Friedrich had already begun developing questions about the role of Teachers College in the world when, while presenting at Nanjing Normal School, Professor Friedrich noticed a bust of the school’s founder. Studying the plaque, he noticed that this person had studied with John Dewey at Teachers College. These observations and inquiries led Friedrich to begin thinking about the role of Teachers College across the world. He teamed up with doctoral students Nancy Bradt and Kara Gavin, and visiting doctoral student Ana Paula Marques de Carvalho. Together, they have recently embarked on a project that asks “what is the role of Teachers College in knowledge production and education at a global level?”

Early Investigations

The project begins with 111 dissertations written between 1900 and 1940. The researchers follow a simple search criteria, including dissertations from these years that focus on international education systems. Considering that World War II would set up a different set of dynamics, the researchers stop at 1940. Of these 111 studies, 25 come from China. There are also multiple dissertations focused on Canada, South Africa, and Palestine. Among other aspects, the early stages of the project consist of the team reading through the dissertations, searching for themes, and analyzing them together.

The team offers initial findings from the dissertations that fall into three categories. First, they suggest that these dissertations serve to build and measure alleged truths. Many people came to Teachers College to take tools from Edward Thorndike and psychometricians. Second, comparisons serve to perpetuate hierarchies of knowledge production. For example, one dissertation from a South African researcher focuses on how the U.S. education system approached the education of African American students. The dissertation uses this line of study to propose a new system of “native education” in South Africa. In other words, the dissertation uses how the “U.S. educates the inferior race” to inform how South Africa could do the same. Friedrich points out that John Dewey, paragon of progressive and democratic education, was on this committee and signed off on the dissertation. Third, they find dissertations that offer descriptions of systems. This category of dissertation aims to understand and describe something like “rural schools in China.” In creating that description, these dissertations often serve to shape and define what counts as part of the system and what doesn’t count.

Overall, the project takes up questions about fields of education writ large. It explores how knowledge is generated in the field of education and how it moves across different places. In doing so, the project asks how a field of study is constituted.

Teachers College Is Not the Hero Here

Professor Friedrich and his team plan to continue exploring these themes and taking up new directions in the research. They have toyed with ideas of taking several countries as case studies or possibly tracing ideas traveling. They may even look at the posts scholars take up as they return to their home countries. Bradt points out that in pursuing these lines of inquiry knowledge would have to change, or translate, across borders. Knowledge allegedly produced within Teachers College must still change as it moves across contexts. In a similar vein, a question could be asked of how ideas from other geographies impact Teachers College’s shape. Yet, all of these ideas remain as future possibilities.

One strong perspective that has already emerged is that of a post-colonial lens. Rather than sharing Teachers College as a beacon of knowledge spread across the world throughout the 20th century, they aim to examine a dark history of the field. This research builds on work such as that of Takayama, who examines Teachers College’s role in a colonial vision of the field. Even still, the project aims to do more than simply critique Teacher College or these dissertations. Instead, the project seeks to reveal a complex history in which the researchers themselves are entangled.

Talking to the Field

As the project continues, the researchers hope that it speaks to historians and those in curriculum studies. Bradt suggests that this line of work could also be helpful in thinking about the kinds of curriculum used in places and question the typical “importing of western programs.” For policymakers, Friedrich says “it is important to complicate the fields of histories we work in. Adding layers of power dynamics and knowledge production as a complicated site can provide insights into understanding the present.”

 

LEAD THE CHANGE SERIES Q & A with Osnat Fellus

Osnat Fellus recently completed her PhD in Education: Teaching, Learning, and Evaluation from the University of Ottawa. Her PhD work focuses on theories of identity in mathematics education and learning English as an additional language. Osnat was the Head of English for Academic Purposes at Talpiot College of Education where she was also a teacher educator teaching courses in classroom discourse, research methods, and statistics. She has recently co-authored One is Not Born a Mathematician: In Conversation with Vasily Davydov in a special issue of the International Journal for Mathematics Teaching and Learning where she discusses, together with her coauthor Dr. Yaniv Biton issues paramount to the question of teaching and learning mathematics. Osnat holds an M.Ed. in TESOL and an M.A. in Translation and Interpreting from Bar Ilan University. She can be contacted at osnat.fellus@uottawa.ca or at osnat.fellus@gmail.com

In this interview, part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, Dr. Fellus talks about democratizing education and evidence as well as her views on the future of educational change research. As she puts it:

For me, educational change is a field heading toward being recognized as the central and continuing task of educational systems. What excites me about educational change now is the continual feed of new ways of teaching and learning that research produces. In the future, I believe educational systems will be structured in the form of flipped classrooms where learning takes place in the afterschool hours and knowledge is refined during school hours as students work together on problem-based projects. Ivan Illich’s vision of students coming together to work on topics that interest them (Illich, 1970) will bring education closer to the real meaning of the word curriculum, which etymologically means to run. That is, educational change in the future, as I see it, will focus on structural and organizational implications of new ways of teaching and learning where students themselves engage in bricolaging their own curriculum under the wise guidance of their teachers.

This Lead the Change interview appears as part of a series that features experts from around the globe, highlights promising research and practice, and offers expert insight on small- and large-scale educational change. Recently Lead the Change has also interviewed Kristin Kew and Thomas Hatch.

Launching a New School in China: An Interview with Wen Chen from Moonshot Academy

Moonshot Academy, a new private school for an initial group of 37 14-16-year-olds, opened in the fall of 2018 on the campus of the Affiliated High School of Peking University. Wen Chen, Head of Research at Moonshot, talked about the origins of the school, the key features, and a few of the things that the school leaders have learned as the school has evolved.  We spoke with Wen Chen during the US-China Education Forum, organized by the Columbia-Teachers College Chinese Students’ Association. Future posts from the Forum will feature Joan McPike, founder of THINK Global School and Christopher Bezsylko Head of the Imagination Lab School.

 

How did Moonshot Academy get started?

Wen Chen: We actually started with an App designed to help high schoolers in Beijing organize themselves into learning communities. The App promoted learning companions or communities:  Students coming together and then learning things together. We tried to focus on anything that the school doesn’t teach you, but that you really need when you go into society because we recognized there’s a huge gap in terms of what you learn from school and what you really need to be able to do. So, we established a research team to study what the curriculum covers and what you need in your real life and in the job market, such as financial skills and other career-related skills. For example, financial management might be something we all share an interest in at the age of sixteen, so let’s just get together and learn. That’s the idea of the App. During the App stage, we successfully hosted an animation exhibition initiated by one of the high-schoolers using the App. Another group created a band.

 

How did the App turn into a school?

WC: We realized that if you are only doing extra-curricular things you can never accomplish the mission which is to prepare the younger generation to face the future. So, we realized that having an App to organize this online community or offline community is definitely not enough. And then we got the chance to work with the affiliated high school of Peking University and to create a school.  The principal of the high school has been very supportive as he wants to have this innovative force on campus and to make room for new things to emerge.

Originally the idea was to create a school that is learner-centered and provides necessary support for teenagers in the world. To create the school, we focused on the education goals of “cultivating fulfilled individuals and compassionate active citizens.” Then we started a lot of discussions before we had any students. Basically, we wanted to figure out what we mean when we say that this is a fulfilled individual, or this is a compassionate and active citizen. With that in mind, we started to look around and look for all the agencies and institutes that conducted research on what future talent should look like. We drew on a lot of models to guide our work including OECD’s Competency Framework, the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, the EU’s Competence for Lifelong Learning, and the Chinese Education Bureau’s Core Competencies and Values for Chinese Students’ Development (in Chinese). Eventually, we developed a competency model composed of three main domains. First, we emphasized the thinking tools that are the foundation of personal development. The second domain focuses on self-management, career development, and also mental and physical health. The last domain, which we think is most important is effective social cooperation. This is the structure that we use to consider how to help learners learn, how to make sure that we are seeing all the changes and to connect the missing part that traditional schools are not providing.

 

What are some of the key features of the school now?

WC:  Some of the key features include: project-based learning for the main pedagogy; advanced curriculum standards – a little bit from AP and from the Common Core (in the US) to be our course standards; and for assessment, we changed the assessment system from traditional letter grades to a mastery transcript.  We also use OKR (Objectives and Key Results) a management system used in Google and a lot of other companies. It’s aligned with empowering the employee and the staff to come up with solutions. It’s different from KPI (Key Performance Indicators). Instead of “I tell you this is the number that you need to reach,” learners need to set their own personal development goals. They need to figure out what it takes to reach that goal and what are the key results they really need to accomplish. We’re using that system for our company as well as for our learners.

For the school, we offer a number of different courses/learning experiences.  Then the learners choose from these options based on their personal development goal so that they can get support and more exposure to the content knowledge and competencies where they want to improve. For instance, someone might want to acquire more social emotional skills which means that the learner might choose courses related to those skills. Some learners might choose to focus on self-management. So, this learner might choose courses that are related to those skills. Or some may say I don’t want to be a shy person and may want to practice oral presentation and communication skills, so we also have courses for that. Basically, they go through course selection phase based on their personal needs. Then this creates the learning group for each course. We offer more courses than the learners need so some of the courses offered aren’t going to open if there are not enough learners who choose it.

The style of the class depends on the topic.  Some courses are more similar to traditional classes where you have discussions, Socratic questions, or seminars. Some courses are more maker-oriented, such as computer designing and programming, so for those courses learners do a lot of things in the maker space.

 

What are the learning activities like?

WC: In the fall, we had three different kinds of learning activities or what we call “learning scenarios”: Blended learning, project-based learning, and deeper learning.  Blended learning focuses on knowledge requirements. Learners make their own academic goals for the semester and then they just directly use Khan Academy or other online materials as their learning resources. All the learners go at their own pace, but we designed milestones to check learners’ progress and their mastery of the content. For the milestone, we design a defense session or if they want, they can choose to take a standardized test. It’s up to them. For the defense, the learners randomly pick questions out of a question pool, and then they need to give an oral representation within ten minutes. That is followed by some questions.

The second scenario, project-based-learning, is considered our main course. All of the projects are designed by our teachers, and learners will choose the course based on their OKR’s.

The deeper learning scenario is designed to accomplish three outcomes: One is learning how to learn, one is systems thinking, and the last one is self-awareness.

We changed these scenarios significantly after the first semester. We decided to keep the names of the key elements, but instead of using those as our curriculum structure, we changed into a different structure which includes our common core (which still includes some elements from our original Blended Learning scenario), the Focused Curriculum (courses that are interdisciplinary and focused on project-based learning), Media Courses (Math & English) and the Personal Project which emphasizes learner-initiated projects.

The way that we define the common core is, we provide four different domains in the disciplines: social science, humanities, science and engineering. We try to select “discipline competencies”, which are shared by all of the courses or subjects inside of each of the domains. For instance, in the social science domain, subjects like anthropology, psychology, and sociology share some competencies so we tried to use those as competency standards for course design. Learners need to choose at least one course out of each of the domains before they graduate.  We want to make sure that they have those competencies (maybe not the course itself or the content knowledge itself), but definitely have that kind of a shared competency mastered after the Common Core.

 

Why did you make these changes?

WC: There were two main reasons. One is that when we conducted the blended learning, we realized that in a mixed group sometimes it can be really challenging for the learners to be on their own with the content. No matter how frequently you try to interact, we’re missing the part where the learner is watching the video themselves. We don’t want them get into the habit of passive learning. So we decided to design a better scenario where we can see and be with them. The second reason is that we realized we want to have three sets of assessment standards. One is efficacy competency, like global citizenship or global perspective. But we also want to make sure that our curriculum is very rigorous and academic-driven. So, we needed to put more emphasis on subject competency as well as subject knowledge mastery. We had to figure out what would be the best way to combine subject competency and the subject content knowledge learning without jeopardizing what makes us a different type of school. We definitely couldn’t go back to traditional courses, like one teacher preparing one course and then just talk and talk. However, we really wanted to make sure that the face-to-face interaction time is enough to meet the subject competency or habit of mind of the subject learning. We decided to adopt a scenario where the teacher and learner have more interaction but we definitely needed something that’s not one-direction instruction all the time. We created the common core scenario which is more like the flipped classroom where the learners do pre-course reading and listen to the audio materials, but once they are in the classroom, it is a facilitated process and discussion.

We still kept the part where learners can go on their own pace. You can learn as much as you want, but in class we try to sit together and discuss something that we all share and ask questions. We still provide the blended learning as a separate course or a separate activity and experience that learners can choose. Because we’re a really small school, we don’t have the capacity of having all of the subjects covered for all of the teachers. For some courses, learners still need to go online to learn the materials, and they are going to learn on their own. However, we need to make sure that we answer their questions in time, when they run into trouble.

 

It’s still early in the journey, but is there already anything in particular that you’ve learned from this that other people trying to start their own schools might find beneficial? Things you wish you’d known before you started?

WC:  I would say the most important thing what we learned so far is to “know your audiences and know your families”. We are very transparent and very honest with parents. I want to share this with people who want to open a new school in China: be honest with your parents and also work with them. That’s something that I learned from the previous semester.

China is a complicated society and you ave all different types of audiences and families. The reason why I’m saying know your families and work with them is to emphasize the complicated features of the families. For us, we have a lot of families who used to stay in the public school system. However, their kids are in the public schools’ international sector. The learners have already made up their minds to go to a college or university abroad when they graduate from high school. Then there is also part of our group who are already in international schools or schools with the International Baccalaureate system or A-Level system. Then there are a few families that are just in a traditional public school setting. Those are our audiences. We try to create a lot of opportunities to discuss the school with the families before they decide to jump on board. We really want to make sure that what they are looking for is something that we can provide.