School Networks, Accountability and Improvement in Scotland, Northern Ireland, England, and Chile

Last week, IEN described a number of the sessions from this year’s conference of the American Educational Research Association conference. This week’s post draws from a session focusing on educational networks and accountability organized by Melanie Ehren and chaired by Cindy Poortman and Mei Kuin Lai .  Participants included Melanie Ehren and David Godfrey; Martin Brown, Joe O’Hara, and Gerry McNamara; Alvaro González, Carmen Montecinos, Luis Ahumada, and Mauricio Pino; and Christopher Chapman; with comments by James Spillane and Thomas Hatch.  This post draws from the comments Hatch made during the session. Previous posts on IEN from Melanie Ehren and Chris Chapman address related issues of networks, improvement and accountability.

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School networks have taken off around the world:

  • In Northern Ireland, 30 Area Learning Communities bring together voluntary coalitions of “post-primary” schools to develop plans and share practices to address a special area of need
  • In Chile, nearly 500 School Improvement Networks, with an average of 10 schools each, stretch across all 15 regions of the country. Within each network, school administrators such as principals and curriculum coordinators meet on a monthly basis to discuss best practices and ways to make improvements
  • In England, the government has incentivized a variety of school-to-school partnerships including “Multi-Academy Trusts.” Similar to charter school networks in the US, Multi-Academy Trusts are chains of publicly funded independent schools (called “academies”), run by a Board of Directors (called a “Trust”) to increase efficiency and improve performance. As Melanie Ehren and David Godfrey report, “in 2012, there were 312 academy chains in England, with 39% of the academiesbeing part of a chain. By 2015, nearly two thirds of the 4725 academies were in MATs and 517 MATs had 2 to 5 academies, 98 with 615 and 19 MATs with 16 or more or schools (some up to as many as 66 schools), located in different regions across England.”
  • In Scotland, six ‘Regional Improvement Collaboratives’ take responsibility for leading system improvement across Scotland by joining schools and other organizations and public institutions in different regions. The Collaboratives intend to provide a coherent focus and related support for educational improvement efforts.
  • In New York City, the Learning Partners Program brings together almost 200 schools in small groups of three and four to participate in biweekly meetings, monthly intervisitations, and related educational development activities.

 

Fueled by a belief in the power of social networks and social capital, these educational networks reflect the idea that when schools work together with one another or with other agencies, they can share their expertise and support one another’s development, improvement and success more effectively than they can working on their own.  As Santiago Rincón-Gallardo and Michael Fullan report, as yet, there is little evidence that connects school network activities directly to improved student outcomes; but the efforts to study and learn from both the successes and challenges of these networking efforts so far, raise a number of questions that can be addressed to help harness the power of networks for schools.

 

What does networking really involve?
The benefits of networking depend crucially on exactly who is interacting with whom around what and to what end.  In Chile, the networks may depend on head teachers and administrators talking together across schools, but in Scotland they may rely on teachers joining together in inquiry groups.  In either case, those individuals and groups will then need to find ways to share whatever they learned with their colleagues “back home.”

 

What kinds of supports will make networks effective?
Many initiatives in education are based on the hope that someone, somewhere, already has the resources and expertise needed to improve schools.  As A Nation at Risk in the US stated 35 years ago: “It is our conviction that the essential raw materials needed to reform our educational system are waiting to be mobilized through effective leadership.”  Some networking strategies reflect that hope by suggesting that putting people in the same room together will lead to productive learning.  In contrast, as James Spillane, David Cohen, and Donald Peurach argue, concerted efforts and investments need to be made to build the infrastructure that can support educational improvement.  Effective networking, for example, relies on meeting structures and routines, expert facilitators, protocols, and the development of a host of other resources and capabilities.

 

To what extent do networks reduce or increase work and complexity?
Ideally, networking should reduce work and create efficiencies by encouraging individuals and groups to share ideas and distribute responsibilities.  Nonetheless, interacting and collaborating is hard work.  It takes dedicated time and the development of the infrastructure to support networking takes funding, and resources away from other valued pursuits.  As a result, networking strategies done poorly can end up undermining rather than building collective capacity.  As a consequence, successful networking depends on reorganizing and rethinking the use of time and resources – deciding what not to do as well as what to do – not just adding more meetings onto already overloaded schedules.

 

To what extent do networks need to grow informally and “organically” and to what extent can they be induced?
Some of the excitement around social networks grows out of a belief that the informal and voluntary connections and interactions among people provide a particularly powerful and motivating opportunity for learning.  However, many school networks depend at least to some extent on education authorities providing encouragement or establishing requirements for schools to work together. Can networking be both voluntary and required or will required networking result in the kind of “contrived collegiality” that can limit the development of collaboration?

 

How can the collaborative goals and practices of networks mesh with the goals and practices of individually-oriented education systems?
As the participants in the AERA symposium on Networks and Accountability pointed out, the informal, collaborative, non-hierarchical basis of many networks runs counter to the pervasive focus in many education systems on standardized assessments, individual accountability and bureaucratic control.   That leaves those invested in networks to figure out how to carve out spaces and put in place supports that can foster collaboration and promote collective goals and purposes while buffering those efforts from most existing accountability initiatives.

All of these questions point to the considerable work that needs to be done to make educational networks as powerful as many hope they will be.  Though the work seems daunting, it also opens up possibilities for outcomes – engagement, trust, learning, and satisfaction— rarely obtained more easily or effectively than other approaches.

— Thomas Hatch

 

 

Fighting for and Reimagining Public Education: Rounding Up This Year’s AERA Conference

As conference season continues, we’re building on last week’s post about the CIES conference in Mexico City. This week, we’re reflecting on some of the many compelling work from this year’s AERA conference held last week in New York City. The conference’s theme was “the dreams, possibilities, and necessity of public education.” As many of the presenters and panels offered, fighting for public education is possible in looking to change and improve schools and systems. At the same time, presenters pushed at the very meaning of the conference themes, showing the possibility of thinking about public education in new ways; challenging and showing the potential for systems to change; and asking who is part of public education, in what ways.

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DREAMS AND POSSIBILITIES

Opening the conference on Friday afternoon, a range of scholars gathered on a panel about Maxine Greene:

Dreaming in Greene: Reframing Contemporary Educational Policy, Practice, and Research Through Maxine Greene’s Critical Lens

The 2018 Call bears Maxine Greene’s imprint: to tackle threats to public education, to equitable opportunity, and to respect for diversity, justice, and human dignity in all educative endeavors. 
Described in The New York Times obituary as “one of the most important education philosophers of the past 50 years,” Greene enacted a social vision and agency that fuels current fights for social justice. Symposium participants honor what would have been Maxine’s 100th year of life in 2018; further, they detail how Maxine’s work compels us still to “speak out . . . about the lacks that must be repaired, the possibilities to be acted upon in the name of what [we] deem decent, humane, and just” (Greene, 1978, p. 71).

Presenters such as Bill Ayers and Janet Miller engaged in conversation with Gloria Ladson-Billings (who also won AERA’s Division B Lifetime Achievement Award this year) and Michelle Fine to explore the lessons of Maxine Greene and, to use Ayers’ terms, articulate “a fresh and improved three “r’s”—reimagine, resist, rebuild—a project to reimagine schooling from top to bottom, challenging the politics and policies that dominate so much of the educational debates, and leaning toward a possible world, a world that could be but is not yet.”

 

From the Educational Change SIG, from whom we post Lead the Change interviews, several panels and symposia took up the conference theme to show genuine possibilities for systemic change.

The Dreams, Possibilities, and Necessity of Educators’ Professional Learning in North America

Connecting to AERA 2018’s theme of “The Dreams, Possibilities, and Necessity of Public Education”, this symposium positions equitable access to high-quality professional learning for teachers and school leaders as an integral component of public education in North America. Drawing on findings from a major study of educators’ professional learning in Canada, reviews of the international literature and commentary from experts in the US and abroad, this symposia will present and discuss opportunities and challenges for teachers to experience meaningful and impactful professional learning, with an emphasis on two enabling conditions– resourcing (both human and financial) and teacher federations with strong professional agendas.

 

Andy Hargreaves, colleagues from University of Toronto’s OISE, and other scholars working in Ontario explored the state of and necessary resources for professional learning in North America. The papers all addressed a critical gap in the potential in studying professional learning across Canada and in other countries.

Others gathered for a symposium on “The State and Future of the Out-of-School Time Field”

This symposium serves to highlight five core themes emerging in the out-of-school time (OST) field: positive youth development as a key frame for child and youth engagement and learning both in school and beyond; the role of mentors and authentic contexts in supporting diverse populations, in particular, traditionally underserved and underrepresented children and youth; the need for meaningful professional development of youth-serving professionals; and the rise of social-emotional skills as a vehicle for 21st century learning. Through thought provoking qualitative analysis, the presenters examine how the field has evolved over the past twenty years and where the research agenda might be headed. Together, the papers take a comprehensive stock as to where the OST field is and its future directions.

 

Friend of the blog and SIG chair Helen Janc Malone chaired this panel and co-edited a recently released book on the subject. Presenters here argued for the same dreams and possibilities for public education, but focused on different spaces and partnerships to work toward that goal.

In a thematically related roundtable, researchers gathered to explore the possibilities of “Transforming Schools Through Community-Driven Organizational Thinking”

In one session in particular, Lea Hubbard and Amanda Datnow took up:

the essential question of how school leaders work to introduce teachers to innovations in education. The purpose of this paper is to present findings from a qualitative comparative case study of two U.S. schools that place Design Thinking (DT) an innovative instructional approach to education at the core of their theory of action. This study examines the actions and dispositions of school leaders in supporting DT and discusses implications for educational change. Both principals recognized and communicated the values of DT, established structural supports, and addressed cultural aspects of change. However, their approaches varied in key ways that led to school wide support for DT in one setting, and waning support in another.

 

DIFFERENT CONCEPTIONS OF EDUCATION AND PUBLIC

Other scholars challenged the very ideas and functions of schooling, but with a critical eye equally focused on equity.

The Idea(l) of Deschooling: International and Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives on a Continuing Debate

This panel, which brings together scholars from Europe and Latin America, will present historical and philosophical perspectives on the notion of deschooling, considered both as idea and ideal. As an idea, it epithomizes the critique of schooling as part of the institutionalization and bureaucratization of education, a critique famously represented by Ivan Illich’s work but that has a longer history in educational thought. As an ideal, it proposes the end of the mediation of teachers and curriculum, which will be replaced by learning networks or systems –usually machinic. The panel wants to explicitly engage with AERA 2018’s main theme, focusing on past and present challenges to schooling and how they have expanded or curtailed the dreams of public education.

In this symposium, historian Daniel Tröhler, philosophers Jan Masschelein and Maarten Simons, and others gathered to debate the notion of deschooling in light of this year’s theme.

 

Words We Never Said

In this interactive symposium, four prominent education studies scholars will present their perspectives and takes on the question, “What are the words that we dare not speak in education?” With an intention to respectfully but intentionally disrupt long-standing assumptions of goals and approaches, this session purposefully prioritizes the perspectives of established scholars from nondominant populations. From our varied positions, we agitate and unsettle taken-for-granteds of the goals of education and the practices of education research.

In this panel, Leigh Patel, Eve Tuck, Michael Dumas, and R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy gathered to challenge traditional understandings of education, schooling, and the possibility of both to achieve the aims the conference presents.

 

Through the range of ideas and work presented at this year’s conference, themes emerged of both the possibilities and problems for public education. A consistent theme, however, could be found in the possibility of using different ways of thinking to engage these issues.

Notes from CIES

With conference season upon us, we here at International Ed News have been busy attending and preparing for various education conferences. This week, we’re rounding up the recent Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) conference, which was held at the end of March in Mexico City.

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This year, “conference theme was ‘Re-Mapping Global Education: South-North Dialogue’ which promoted a shift in the traditional starting point of research toward the global South. CIES President Professor Regina Cortina (Teachers College, Columbia University) and SOMEC (Sociedad Mexicana de Educación Comparada) hosted the conference where attendees and guests from 114 different countries around the world were rewarded with stimulating dialog and wonderful weather in this vibrant and culturally rich and diverse city of Mexico.”

 

Below, we’ve highlighted a few sessions from the conference.

 

Friends of IEN Alma Harris and Michelle Jones presented their work on international comparison of leading school turnaround in Indonesia and Malaysia along with Bambang Sumintono and Donnie Adams.

This paper reports on a small-scale, in-depth, qualitative comparative study of 10 low performing schools in Malaysia and Indonesia respectively that have secured significant improvement. 

 

A panel of scholars from Penn State, Lehigh, and elsewhere presented a session on Connecting Sustainability Education to Action and Change. This session was part of the Environmental and Sustainability Education Special Interest Group (SIG). This SIG focuses on:

describing, challenging, and mapping the interaction between education and sustainability, the global spread of sustainable development discourse across and within borders, examining the tensions between various methods of teaching sustainability, and other topics more generally related to environmental and sustainability education. We are particularly interested in papers based on empirical research (qualitative, quantitative, and/or mixed methods).

 

Another session focused on “Privatization and Globalizing Education Reform Policies” in Chile, India, Brazil, South Africa, Australia, and the U.S.:

 This panel presents data and analyses to consider the extent to which market mechanisms in education shape educational opportunities for disadvantaged children—for better or worse—in Chile, India, Australia, Brazil, South Africa, and the U.S. We show that policymakers in many countries around the globe have been leveraging privatization and market models to address social problems. In education policy, advocates of this approach view it as means to remedy problems inherent to state-run schooling.

 

In a highlighted session for the Post-foundational Approaches to Comparative and International Education SIG, scholars working around the globe gathered to examined “Revisioning Archival and Ethnographic Methods in the Study of Difference.”

It can be said that ethnography and historiography “romanticize” their sources in order to excavate and narrate particular truths of the subject (Popkewitz, 2013). For the ethnographer, notions of truth can be found in the field; for the historian, these truths are located in the archive. Yet essential to both are theories and methods that prioritize the subject as the origin of and source for positive knowledge that provide the basis for qualitative research (Scott, 1991; Stoler, 2009). This session brings together scholars who engage, in different ways, “ethnographic” and “archival” methods in their research in order to crack open some of these methodological tenets of faith and challenge some of the qualitative traditions that assume, a priori, the qualities of the subject as repositories of truth. 

The papers draw upon different geographic and topical areas of focus—India and the making of a moral panic of child criminality and discourses of girl empowerment, Iran and the making of entrepreneurial subjectivities, and Kenya and the making of the impoverished target of low-fee schooling—in order to challenge traditional constructions of their “fields.” 

 

Another friend of the blog, Santiago Rincon-Gallardo, chaired a panel and presented alongside educators such as Escuela Nueva’s Vicky Colbert, which focused on “A South-North Dialogue on Educational Change: Pedagogy, the Teaching Profession, and Systems Change”

This panel will discuss diverse approaches to transforming pedagogy, developing the teacher profession and pursuing whole system reform in the Global South and North America. The discussion on these topics will be grounded on three large scale pedagogical change initiatives from the Global South (South Africa, Colombia, and Mexico), one from North America (the province of Ontario in Canada), and existing knowledge on a fast-growing student population: transnational students. – children and youth who live and attend school across two or more countries while keeping active social ties to their multiple homelands. Representing a wide range of contexts, theories of action, and strategies (from government-initiated top-down reform to bottom-up change from the grassroots), the presenters this panel will offer insights into the challenges and possibilities for the education sector in the Global South and North America. Each of the panelists will address the following questions: 
What are the status, the theory of action and the core strategy of the approach to educational change developed or proposed in your case?
What are key achievements and remaining challenges?
What are key lessons on changing pedagogy, developing the teacher profession, and pursuing whole system reform?
What are the implications of these lessons for the education sector in the Global South and the Global North?

 

In the next weeks, we’ll follow up with another roundup of some highlights from AERA, which starts this week in New York City.

Lead the Change with Mel Ainscow

Mel Ainscow is Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Manchester, UK. A long-term consultant to UNESCO, he is currently working on international efforts to promote inclusion and equity globally. A distinctive feature of his approach is the emphasis he places on carrying out research with schools and education systems to
promote improvements. Between 2007-2011, Mel led the Greater Manchester Challenge—a project that involved a partnership between national government, ten local authorities, and 1,150 schools—with a government investment of around £50 million. Then, between 2014 and 2017, he headed up Schools Challenge Cymru, the Welsh Government’s flagship program to accelerate improvement across the country’s schools, focusing in particular on the progress of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. In the Queen’s 2012 New Year Donors list, Mel was made a Commander of the British Empire for his services to education. Mel Ainscow can be reached at mel.ainscow@manchester.ac.uk

In this interview, part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, Ainscow talks about his work in developing inclusive schools and shares his thoughts about educational change in England and other countries. As Ainscow puts it:

Somebody asked me, why is it that when education professors retire they are often
asking the same questions as when they started their careers? In my own case, the
agenda has certainly remained broadly the same throughout my professional life: it is
that of finding ways of including all children and young people, and ensuring that they
are all treated fairly. In responding to this challenge, there is growing interest internationally in the use of strategies that place an emphasis on the power of market forces to improve educational standards. In particular, a number of national education policies are encouraging schools to become autonomous; for example, the academies in England, charter schools in the USA, and free schools in Sweden. Such developments have the potential to open up possibilities to inject new energy into the improvement of education systems. On the other hand, there is growing evidence that they are tending to lead to increased segregation that further disadvantage some learners , particularly those from economically poorer and minority backgrounds.

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 Emerson Rolkouski and Charlene Tan

The evolution of collective impact in New York City

This post initially appeared on thomashatch.org

          For Deborah Chang, collective impact begins with rock climbing – an informal way to build the personal relationships and trust that undergird institutional and organizational connections. Chang started “ClimbingCrew” by inviting colleagues, friends, and friends of friends, many of whom were involved in educational technology in New York City, to go rock climbing once a month.  But those conversations also helped her to realize the limits of their work in educational technology: “It got to the point where I realized education technology is all well and good but there were conversations that we weren’t having.  We weren’t having conversations about diversity and equity and housing justice and all of these really big challenges that are part of the system of educational inequity.”

In order to expand these conversations and her own work beyond education and technology, Chang set out to meet, interview and learn from many of those who were already deeply engaged in work on education and community development in the Bronx, Harlem and in other parts of New York City.  From these conversations, Deborah established #NYCEDU with a mission “to ensure that all children have the skills, resources and community support they need to flourish.”  To pursue that mission, #NYCEDU concentrates on three main activities: convening local leaders, facilitating community innovation, and building systems for scaling impact.  All of that work contributes to the development of resources, structures, expertise, and relationships that enable the initiatives of many different institutions and organizations to add up to more than the sum of their parts. This kind of “infrastructure” for collaboration and collective impact has been missing in places like the US, even as countries like Finland with an emphasis on shared responsibility make it a central part of their education systems.

 

The evolution of collective impact

#NYCEDU is part of a larger national and global movement to support collective impact – a term that took off after John Kania and Mark Kramer, from the FSG consulting group, published an article with that title in the Stanford Social Innovation Review in 2011.  Kania and Kramer distinguished collective impact from other forms of collaboration by arguing that “Unlike most collaborations, collective impact initiatives involve a centralized infrastructure, a dedicated staff, and a structured process that leads to a common agenda, shared measurement, continuous communication, and mutually reinforcing activities among all participants.”  From their perspective, the collective focus helped to shift attention from efforts to develop and scale individual and often isolated interventions to cross-sector collaborations, like that of the Strive Partnership in Cincinnati which their article helped to establish as a national model.

As Jeff Henig and colleagues pointed out in two reports for the Wallace Foundation (“Putting Collective Impact Into Context” and “Collective Impact and the New Generation of Cross-Sector Collaborations for Education”) collective impact initiatives have a long history in cross-sector collaborations.  In fact, these reports identified 182 different community initiatives with well over half in existence before 2011 that met their criteria for collaborations: the initiative had to be place-based and education-focused; include the participation of top leaders from at least two sectors (such as education and government); and have school system officials playing a prominent role.  They also found that one in four of the collaborations launched before 2011 now use the term “collective impact” somewhere on their websites. As Mark Cabaj and Liz Weaver noted in their article “Collective Impact 3.0”, Kania and Kramer’s term established a clear, distinctive label that helped those in the field to categorize and describe their work.  As one collective impact leader they quoted put it, the term provided a kind of shorthand so that they don’t have to try to explain what they are doing, and, instead, “We can spend more time doing the hard work on the ground.”

Five years later, frameworks and lessons for collective impact continue to evolve. A number of articles expand on and update the framework, and the Collective Impact Forum, sponsored by FSG and the Aspen Institute, hosts events and an online community to support continued development of collective work. In “Collective Impact 3.0” Cabaj and Weaver also argued that enough had been learned by those engaged in collective impact and other collaborative efforts to warrant what they called an “upgrade” in the collective impact framework.  While suggesting that the key conditions for collective impact that Kania and Kramer’s laid out in 2011 are “roughly right”, Cabaj and Weaver also urged a shift from what they termed a “management approach” in which a set of leaders and organizations develop and manage a collective effort to a “movement approach” that brings together a diverse group of stakeholders to develop and pursue a common vision for the future.  From their perspective, movements “open up people’s hearts and minds to new possibilities, create the receptive climate for new ideas to take hold, and embolden policymakers and system leaders.  Movements change the ground on which everyday political life and management occur.”

 

Expanding collective impact in New York City

Like other parts of the US, New York City has had a long history of organizational and institutional collaborations and more recent collective impact initiatives including 30,000 Degrees and South Bronx Rising Together.  As Chang spoke with the leaders of these initiatives around New York City, Cabaj and Weaver’s article resonated with what she was learning.  In particular those conversations highlighted three challenges.  Ensuring: that meetings and collaborations go “beyond Manhattan” to take place in all neighborhoods and elevate the voices and leadership of those most impacted by educational inequity;  that education initiatives take on major challenges like poverty and racism that contribute to poor educational outcomes; and that community initiatives find ways to address the policies needed for systemic solutions.

Those realizations led to some straightforward developments.  For example, Chang, who was then serving as an organizer for “Startup Weekend Education”, moved it from a location in Manhattan to the Bronx. These conversations also introduced Chang to a host of people across the boroughs of New York City who have the expertise that successful community-based collective efforts depend on – people like like Ocynthia Williams, a long-time parent organizer and founding member of the New York City Coalition for Educational Justice and now co-director of Harlem Renaissance Education Pipeline.  As Chang put it, these growing connections help to bridge the gap between the people “who know what to do, and those who want to do it but haven’t figured it out yet.”

Those conversations and connections also paved the way for the launch of #NYCEDU’s partnership with the Alliance for School Integration and Desegregation (ASID). ASID seeks to facilitate the coordination and collective impact of a growing set of initiatives designed to address school segregation in New York City.  For Chang, the partnership with ASID is more than a pilot effort.  It’s a way to create the “backbone” and infrastructure that can support additional collective impact efforts in New York City.  As one example, Chang described the development of a calendar that now lists many of the different events related to school integration and desegregation. That calendar enables those who want to get involved to find out what’s happening across the City.  But the calendar also makes it possible to see where things are happening – what are the hotspots as well as the neighborhoods that are left out – so that strategic and collective choices can be made about how to support the work in the future. Now that this calendar has been tested, #NYCEDU plans to launch additional calendars to facilitate coordination around different issues.

As another example, #NYCEDU is co-organizing a conference on April 7th, Frontier 2018, to explore how cross sector collaboration can support more holistic and coordinated improvements in schools.  That event will bring together leaders from education, education technology, community organizing, social entrepreneurship and arts activism to seed collective impact throughout the city.  The conference will also help to address the fundamental issue that even these leaders have had relatively few formal opportunities to develop many of the skills and abilities demanded by collaborative, cross-sector work. As Chang puts it, “there is professional development and learning and a whole new way of thinking that is required to shift to a collective impact mindset.”  In particular, Chang continued, “Collective impact leaders are hungry to have conversations about diversity, equity and identity.” To help meet that need, Frontier 2018 hosted a workshop in preparation for the event that brought the conference speakers together to build connections, design interactive sessions that engage diverse audiences, and shape the conference goals.

For Chang, all of these initiatives revolve around bringing together the people, putting in place the platforms, and creating the policies that will make it possible to address issues like school segregation that no single institution can address on its own. Ultimately, as Chang points out, success will also depend on a willingness for all those involved to let go of power and control so that a truly shared vision and agenda can emerge.  Ironically, for Chang and others engaged in collective impact that means that the organizations they are working so hard to build will be most successful when they have outlived their usefulness.

 

— Thomas Hatch

An International Look at School Choice

This week, we’re sharing a 3-part series on school choice in different countries produced by the Hechinger Report with support from the Education Writers Association Reporting Fellowship program.

The author, Sarah Butrymowicz, is senior editor for investigations. For her first four years at The Hechinger Report, she was a staff writer, covering k-12 education, traveling the country and developing an affinity for rural America. She then fell in love with spreadsheets and statistics and served as data editor for two years. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, as well as on Time.com and NBCNews.com. She was the winner of the 2012 New York Press Club’s Nellie Bly Cub Reporter Award. Before receiving a bachelor’s degree from Tufts University and an M.S. from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, she attended public schools in Connecticut, where she had a tendency to go overboard on school projects. Her family still talks about her sixth grade haunted house project in hushed, reverent tones.

In a brief conversation, Butrymowicz offered us some of the driving ideas behind this work. “With Betsy DeVos’ appointment and increased talk about school choice,” Butrymowicz reminds that “the U.S. did not invent school choice. So, what can we learn from other contexts? What questions are these countries still grappling with? And, how does what has happened in those countries relate to different states in our country?”

Piece #1:
What would actually happen if we gave all parents the chance to pick their children’s schools?

New Zealand’s history of school choice offers some lessons

New Zealand is a school choice utopia. In 1989, the country passed a set of ambitious education reforms based on the same arguments for school choice that DeVos and others have made here. The “Schools of Tomorrow” laws abolished the concept of neighborhood schools and gave parents total freedom to enroll their children wherever they wanted.

New Zealand is a school choice utopia. In 1989, the country passed a set of ambitious education reforms based on the same arguments for school choice that DeVos and others have made here. The “Schools of Tomorrow” laws abolished the concept of neighborhood schools and gave parents total freedom to enroll their children wherever they wanted.

Piece #2:
Betsy DeVos’ school choice ideas are a reality in Sweden, where student performance has suffered

Critics say loose accountability is a problem

Sweden adopted a nationwide universal voucher program in 1992 as part of a series of reforms designed to give more control over education to towns and schools. Families can choose any school, public or private: Taxpayer money follows the student. This voucher system has led to a burgeoning industry of mostly for-profit, private schools, also called “free schools.” Two of the companies that run schools in Sweden are listed on the country’s stock exchange.

Johan Ernestam, a senior officer at Lärarförbundet, the Swedish teachers union, said whether or not free schools are the root cause of Sweden’s sinking education scores, one thing is clear: “It’s proof that school choice is not a way to make schools better in itself,” he said. He added that it’s impossible to place blame for the decline solely on free schools because there are no “good measures of whether a school is good or bad.”

Piece #3:
This country spends billions on private schools — and has a terrible learning gap between poor and wealthy

In practice, most low-income students can only pick between their local public schools, which many say are under-resourced, and cheaper private schools, which face their own budget challenges.

France is already serving as a test case for the belief, like that espoused by DeVos, that private school choice can increase equity. The nation heavily subsidizes private schools, which enroll more than 17 percent of French students, compared to 10 percent in the U.S. In parts of the country, like Brittany, more than 40 percent of students are enrolled in a private school.

The French system works like this: Private schools sign a contract with the government in which they agree to accept children of any racial or religious background, to follow the national curriculum and hire state approved teachers. They also agree to regular government inspections. In return, teacher salaries – typically the largest budget item for any school – are fully funded by the government. Schools also receive additional per pupil money from local municipalities.

On the 2015 PISA science results, France’s public-school students scored 20 points lower than those in private school. The organization that administers the exam, OECD, said the difference could be explained by the fact that public schools serve significantly more low-income students, who tend to perform worse on tests. If public and private schools served students with the same socioeconomic backgrounds, public schools would actually out-perform private schools. This held true for 22 OECD countries, including the United States, where voucher programs have failed to eliminate disparities in access and achievement.

 

Lead the Change Interview with Charlene Tan

CHARLENE TAN Charlene Tan (PhD) is an associate professor at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. A former high school teacher in Singapore, she has taught for close to two decades in a variety of education settings. Her research focuses on the philosophical and comparative aspects of education with a particular interest in Confucian education, education policy in China and Singapore, critical thinking, and Islamic/Muslim education. She has (co)authored 7 books and over 100 refereed journal articles and book chapters. Her recent books include Learning from Shanghai: Lessons on Achieving Educational Success (Springer), Confucius (Bloomsbury), Educational Policy Borrowing in China: Looking West or Looking East? (Routledge) and Islamic Education and Indoctrination: The Case in Indonesia (Routledge). Her forthcoming book is on high-performing education systems in Asia.

In this interview, part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, Tan talks about her experiences and work on topics such as Confucianism and education and educational policy borrowing in China and Singapore.

In my view, the promise of public schools is a promise of hope t o all children , particularly those from low socioeconomic status and girls who would otherwise be
trapped in a poverty cycle and social oppression. As someone who was educated
in public schools all the way from kindergarten to university, I can testify to the
transformational power of such institutions.

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 Emerson Rolkouski.