Yi-Hwa Liou, Ph.D. is Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Management at the National Taipei University of Education. Her research primarily focuses on leadership and development, organizational dynamics and learning, professional and networked learning communities, with a particular methodological emphasis on social network analysis. She has led and participated in multiple (inter)national research projects and works with research teams/scholars from across different countries/areas around the evolution of organizational networks and systemic change across all levels of education. She currently serves on the editorial boards for Journal of School Leadership and School Leadership & Management, and as a guest editor for International Journal of Educational Research. While her scholarly works primarily focus on educational leadership in PK-12 settings, she also expands her work to include the examination of social and emotional aspects of professional learning for pre-service and in-service teachers. She is committed to using network analysis to support organizations’ strategic planning and development. She is currently conducting several longitudinal projects using a design-based approach to organizational innovation by looking into the effect of network interventions on the development of individual and organizational capacity for improvement. She can be reached via e-mail at yihwa.liou@gmail.com and you can learn more about her work at: https://ntue.academia.edu/YiHwaLiou


In this interview, part of the Lead the Change series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, Dr. Liou discusses her work on how understanding social ties and cultural norms impact educational change. As she puts it:

This social perspective may help us think about leadership roles in creating conditions for learning. For example, formal leaders include those who have a formally designated role such as principals, department heads and coordinators, etc. The informal leaders are those who do not necessarily have a formal leadership title but are influential individuals among school staff. These leadership roles are somewhat distinct by definition, but sometimes overlap within individuals and/or coexist within an organization. Each of these roles has to do with how conditions are created for desired change. The formal leaders can be helpful in communicating the vision, goals, policy and school development plan with their staff at some of the structured meetings to develop a shared value and language, which remains to be one of the top challenges most schools face. In practice, school leaders, on average, spend less than 20% of their time on discussing, revisiting, or co- developing their core values and plans together, even less time invested in making sense of the reform policy (Grissom et al., 2013; Horng et al., 2010; Sebastian et al., 2017). A useful approach to address this issue might be to change the structure of staff meetings to a “mini workshop” format. In this approach, teachers are able to share their thoughts within and across their grade level or subject team, present it to the whole staff, and continue this discussion and practice until they come to have a shared understanding. This ongoing course of practice is ideally coupled with the use of social influence through informal leaders such as those staff members to whom others would turn to for advice, information, or addressing immediate problems at work. Many times, these informal leaders are also formal leaders, but the key point here is the notion of peer influence through which individual beliefs are likely shaped. These informal leaders are often active teachers who initiate opportunities for collaboration and exchange of resources among teachers and act as spokespersons or representatives of their teacher teams. These leaders can convey the needs and messages or support information flow between different segments of school structure. They can be helpful in diffusing ideas and information, getting more teachers’ buy-in, and identifying needs for professional development. In the meantime, formal leaders have to make sure resources (e.g., time, budget, space) exist supported by infrastructure to assist the execution of initiatives or reform related plans that were collectively prioritized among school staff. In all, both formal and informal leadership roles go hand in hand in creating the conditions for learning and development (e.g., Liou & Canrinus, 2019; Liou & Daly, 2018; Sun et al., 2013).

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 Christina Dobbs.

Coherence and Alignment: Reflecting on Two Decades of Research on Educational Reform

This week, Elizabeth Leisy Stosich discusses her interview with IEN’s Thomas Hatch, published in the new Cornerstone Series from the CPRE Research Minutes podcast.  This will be our last post of 2019, as we will be on hiatus until January 7th. Happy New Year!

Last week, I had the chance to speak with Thomas Hatch from Teachers College about  two articles that I have drawn on in my own work on coherence and standards-based reform. In the interview Hatch discusses his 2002 article “When Improvement Programs Collide” and his co-authored 2004 study, led by Meredith Honig, “Crafting Coherence: How Schools Strategically Manage Multiple, External Demands.”

I was interested in doing this interview to share it with the students in my course, Leading Educational Policy and Reform, for experienced educational leaders in Fordham’s Ed.D. program. Often, when discussing policy, we only consider one policy at a time rather than examining it in the complex policy environment that educational leaders must navigate on a daily basis. In the interview, we discuss how Hatch’s work on coherence has evolved, our common interests in the social process of interpreting and making sense of policy, and connections to the work of other scholars in the field including Richard Elmore and Karen Seashore Louis.

In our conversation, Hatch describes the challenge of policy alignment as “a technical issue”; whereas, policy coherence is an issue of meaning. He was motivated to pursue this line of research when working to support educational reform in the 1990s. As he explains, “Even if all of the efforts of systemic reform in the 1990s were successful and we produced all these aligned policies, there could be so much work and so many demands on people that they’d still feel overwhelmed and fragmented. And it’s that sense of overwhelmingness and fragmentation that we were trying to address, particularly in thinking about that article around crafting coherence where I think we really emphasize that this is an issue of learning and meaning making that people and organizations like schools are engaged in.” Over time, his work has reinforced the importance of understanding the challenge of “crafting coherence” among external policies and internal goals from a collective perspective, one that takes into account the fact that educators are engaged in this meaning making process simultaneously but from their own unique perspectives.

In the interview, Hatch also shares practical advice for educational leaders at the school- and district-level who face the difficult task of leading policy implementation. As he explains, educational leaders should “recognize this is a part of the job. It’s not a sign that you’re not doing well if you’re feeling overwhelmed. It’s a reality of the circumstances in which the work is done, and you have to recognize that you’re facing conflicting incentives.” My recent article, “Principals and Teachers ‘Craft Coherence’ Among Accountability Policies,” examines how educators respond to the demands of the Common Core and a new teacher evaluation policy and reinforces how challenging maintaining this balance can be in the face of high-stakes accountability policies. In fact, the pressure from standards-based accountability policies can lead some leaders to abandon their local school goals to focus on external demands. To be successful in the long run, leaders must both respond to the requirements imposed by external mandates but also maintain a focus on the goals that matter most to the community they serve.

Around the World in PISA 2018 Headlines

Around the world, another flurry of headlines followed the release of the 2018 PISA results last week.  As we did in 2015, we’ve pulled together some of those headlines and links in a scannable alphabetical list.  That scan showed that critics continue to stress the difficulty of using the PISA results to draw any definitive conclusions on the quality of educational systems (“PISA Doesn’t Define Education Quality, And Knee-Jerk Policy Proposals Won’t Fix Whatever Is Broken,” The Conversation; How PISA Created An Illusion Of Education Quality And Marketed It To The World,” The Washington Post), but at the same time, most headlines focused on changes in scores or rankings by trumpeting gains, highlighting losses, or lamenting stagnation.

Overall, the negative news stole the spotlight, even for countries like Singapore at the very top of the rankings (“Mainland Chinese students best in world as Singapore, Hong Kong slip down rankings”, South China Morning Post).  Pasi Sahlberg summed it all up by pointing out that, on average, scores were declining in the 37 OECD countries (including top PISA performers like Finland, Japan, Korea, and many provinces of Canada) and declaring “Sleepless, distracted and glued to devices: no wonder students’ results are in decline.”

Although China’s astronomical scores were featured in many stories, some international headlines pointed to the problems with those scores as well (“Teens From China’s Wealthiest Regions Rank Top Of The Class In Global Education Survey,” CNN.com; “China Is No. 1 On PISA — But Here’s Why Its Test Scores Are Hard To Believe,” Washington Post). Some of the headlines from sources in China also noted areas for improvement, including concerns about inequity, students’ emotional health, and lack of attention to learning that cannot be measured in standardized tests like PISA (“China To Further Promote Education Equity In Light Of PISA Test: Ministry,” Xinhua Net; “给看不见的教育指标更多关注” [translated as “Pay More Attention To Invisible Indicators”] China Education Daily; 教育体检PISA的启示:成绩卓越但仍需努力 [“Reflection From PISA Test: Excellent Scores But Need Improvement”], China Education Daily).

In the US, headlines predictably focused on the bad news (“It Just Isn’t Working’: PISA Test Scores Cast Doubt on U.S. Education Efforts,” New York Times), and even those with a more slightly positive take still ended with a negative spin (“U.S. Students Gain Ground Against Global Peers. But That’s Not Saying Much,” Education Week). The Director of the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, Mark Schneider, didn’t see the PISA results as providing grounds for optimism either (“The New PISA Scores Tell Us Lots About the Sad State of American Education. What They Can’t Tell Us Is How to Fix It,” The74).  But there’s always next year, or, in this case, PISA 2021…

‘Alarm bells’: Australian Students Record Worst Result in Global Tests (Brisbane Times, December 3, 2019)

Belarus Fares Well in its Maiden PISA Test (Belarus News, December 3, 2019)

Young Francophones’ Improve at Maths, but Remain Poor at Reading (Brussels Times, December 3, 2019)

Canadian High School Students Among Top Performers In Reading, According to New International Ranking (The Globe and Mail, December 3, 2019)

China To Further Promote Education Equity In Light Of PISA Test: Ministry (Xinhua Net, December 4, 2019)

给看不见的教育指标更多关注 [translated as “Pay More Attention To Invisible Indicators”] (China Education Daily)

教育体检PISA的启示:成绩卓越但仍需努力 [“Reflection From PISA Test: Excellent Scores But Need Improvement”] (China Education Daily)

Pisa Tests: UK Rises in International School Rankings (BBC News, December 3, 2019)

Estonia Tops Tables in PISA International Education Rankings (ERR, December 3, 2019)

PISA: Gap Between Girls’ and Boys’ Reading Skills Largest in Finland (YLE, December 3, 2019)

German Education System Has Room for Improvement: Report (DW, December 3, 2019)

Icelandic Students Below Average in Reading (Iceland Monitor, December 3, 2019)

Pisa Rankings: Irish Teens Among the Best at Reading in Developed World (The Irish Times, December 3, 2019) 

Japanese 15-Year-Olds Rank High in Math, sciences, but Reading Down: PISA Exam (The Mainichi, December 3, 2019)

Malaysia’s Ranking in Pisa Improves (Malay Mail, December 3, 2019)

Northern Ireland
Pisa Tests: NI Pupils Better than World Average at Reading (BBC News, December 3, 2019)

Philippines’ Dismal Pisa Scores Spark Soul-Searching Over State of Education (South China Morning Post, December 8, 2019)

Polish Students’ Results in Top Three in International Study (The First News, December 3, 2019)

PISA 2018 test results show over 4 in 10 Romanian students don’t understand what they read; education minister not that worried (Romania Insider, December 3, 2019)

Pisa: Mixed Report for Scottish Education in World Rankings (BBC News, December 3, 2019)

Pisa 2018: Singapore Slips to Second Place behind China but Still Chalks Up High Scores (The Straits Times, December 3, 2019)

Spain Receives Its Worst Ever Science Results in PISA Test (El País, December 3, 2019)

PISA Study Finds Swiss Students ‘Still Behind’ on Reading (Swiss Info, December 3, 2019)

United Arab Emirates
UAE Is Up 8 points in Mathematics According to PISA 2018  (Emirates News Agency, December 3, 2019)

United States
U.S. Students Gain Ground Against Global Peers. But That’s Not Saying Much (Education Week, December 3, 2019)

It Just Isn’t Working’: PISA Test Scores Cast Doubt on U.S. Education Efforts (New York Times, December 3, 2019) 

U.S. Students’ Scores Stagnant on International Exam, With Widening Achievement Gaps in Math and Reading (The 74, December 3, 2019)

U.S. Students Show No Improvement in Math, Reading, Science on International Exam (U.S. News, December 3, 2019)

U.S. Students Continue to Lag Behind Peers in East Asia and Europe in Reading Math and Science, Exams Show (Washington Post, December 3, 2019)

VN Gets High Scores but Not Named in PISA 2018 Ranking (Vietnam News, December 6, 2019)

Education: Why Have Wales’ Teenagers Under-Performed? (BBC News, December 3, 2019)


Anna Sfard conducts research in the domain of learning sciences, with particular focus on the relation between thinking and communication. Her studies are guided by the
assumption that human thinking is a form of communication. Inspired mainly by the work of Wittgenstein and Vygotsky, this basic non-dualist tenet implies that discursivity – the discursive mediation of all our activities – is the hallmark of humanness. Discourses are repositories of complexity that underlie uniquely human ability to always build on
achievements of previous generations rather than beginning every time anew. Results of Sfard’s theoretical and empirical research guided by this communicational (or “commognitive”) framework and focusing mainly on the learning of mathematics have been summarized in the book Thinking as communicating: Human development, the
growth of discourses, and mathematizing (2008). Her other volumes, edited or co-edited,
include Learning tools: Perspectives on the role of designed artifacts in mathematics learning (2002), Learning discourse: discursive approaches to research in mathematics education (2003), Development of Mathematical discourse: Some insights from
communicational research (2012), and Research for educational change: Transforming
researchers; insights into improvement in mathematics teaching and learning (2017). Sfard is Professor Emerita at the University of Haifa, Israel. She served as the first Lappan-Philips-Fitzgerald Professor at Michigan State University and is the Visiting Professor in the Institute of Education, University College of London. She is the recipient of 2007 Freudenthal Award, the Fellow of American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the member of the American National Academy of Education (NAEd).

In this interview, part of the Lead the Change series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, Dr. Sfard discusses her work on building teacher capacity through context specific and collaborative professional development efforts. As Sfard puts it:

I want to talk about the need for a change in discourse. This time, it is the discourse of practitioners that has to be transformed. In other words, my advice to Educational Change people would be to try to open the eyes of the educational transformers to discursive bumps evenly spread along the roads traveled by the teacher, the curriculum designer and the policy maker. In the words of Wittgenstein (1967), this is a call for “erect[ing] signpost at all junctions where there are wrong turnings” (p. 47). Those who wish to spearhead the change must have a clear picture of what it is that needs to change. My research has showed time and again that, more often than not, what happens around us is the product of our tiniest, automatically performed discursive moves rather than of those macro-action that we can name, discuss, plan, and change at will. Thus, in the already-mentioned South African study we saw how a good-meaning teacher, through his minute discursive moves – the words in which he chose to present mathematical tasks, the brief phrases with which he invited the students to participate – unwittingly deprived the learners of proper opportunities for learning (Sfard, 2017). In another recent study, Candia Morgan and I showed that in England, some elusive, but critically important aspects of school mathematical discourse have been changing incessantly over the last 30 years (Morgan & Sfard, 2016). This made us realize that those who claimed a gradual decline in students’ achievement might have been grounding this assessment in comparison between things that should not be compared: after all, different mathematics was learned by the students of different periods. In result, in their attempts to make a change, the reformers were likely to direct their efforts at a wrong target.

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 Christina Dobbs.

Season of Giving, Featuring International Education Organizations

With the holiday season starting here in the U.S., we wanted to look back at some of the organizations we have featured on IEN and offer links to their donation pages. These organizations are doing impactful work around the world and we encourage our readers to consider supporting their work. Happy holidays to all!


The organization was featured in our recent post on the HundrED Summit. We will also be featuring them in an upcoming post in 2020.
Donate to Educate! here


Second Chance (Speed School)
Last year, we featured Second Chance, an organization bringing thousands of students back to formal schooling in Ethiopia and Liberia. As part of the Luminos Fund, you can donate to organization here.


Sesame Workshop
Sesame Workshop’s work, in partnership with the IRC, has led to the creation of a new Sesame Street show and related health and educational programs for displaced children in the Middle East.
Donate to this project and 
other here.

The Citizens Foundation

Back in May, we featured The Citizens Foundation in a 2-part piece, examining their work to open schools for girls across Pakistan. Donate to TCF here.

The Buildup to PISA Results with Highlights from the IOE Blog

In the buildup to releasing the latest PISA results, many sites have begun sharing PISA-related pieces. As we have done in previous years, IEN will share its own scan of headlines across the world when the results are released in a few weeks. This week, we wanted to highlight one piece in particular. As part of the IOE blog, John Jerrim offers an intriguing critique or caution of reading the PISA results. To share just a few excerpts from Jerrim’s “Should we eat more fish or more ice-cream to boost PISA scores?” Jerrim suggests:

If anyone has ever read one of the international PISA reports or seen Andreas Schleicher present they will know that the OECD is rather fond of cross-national scatterplots. These illustrate the relationship between two variables measured at the country level.

Take, for instance, the chart below. This has been taken from one of Mr Schleicher’s blogposts, and illustrates the relationship between a country’s test scores and its rate of economic growth. It has been interpreted by the OECD as showing “that the quality of schooling in a country is a powerful predictor of the wealth that countries will produce in the long run”.

The take-away message (no pun intended)

Hopefully, the point of this blogpost has become clear.

When the PISA results get released at the start of December, the international report and presentations given by the OECD are bound to include this kind of graph, along with stories about how ‘high-performing countries’ all do X, Y or Z.

Clearly, we should be treating any such interpretation of the PISA results with caution. There are likely to be hundreds, if not thousands, of reasons why some countries do well on PISA and others don’t. In reality, it is almost impossible to separate these competing reasons out.

What we do know is that overly simplistic “explanations” for the PISA results must be avoided. Organisations like the OECD have their own agenda, and it is just too easy for such groups to use the results to promote their own hobby-horses.


For the full blog post, see the IOE blog.

HundrED 2019 Innovation Summit

Just as we did last year, we’re checking in on the HundrED summit, which was held last week in Helsinki. As the organization describes, “the HundrED Innovation Summit is a 3-day, high profile invitation-only celebration of the world’s most inspiring education innovations – with talks, workshops and discussions.” The summit also introduces the HundrED 2020 Global Collection, 100 inspiring and innovative organizations that HundrED believes is changing the face of K-12 education around the globe. In this post, we highlight a few of these organizations from the list and share a couple of IEN posts on organizations featured in the list.

Anji Play (China)

Anji Play is a curriculum and approach to early education developed by Ms. Cheng Xueqin for the public early childhood programs of Anji County, Zhejiang Province, China. In the past five years, the Anji Play curriculum, approach and philosophy have become the focus of pilot and demonstration programs in the United States, Europe and Africa. The Anji Play curriculum and play materials have been adopted at the province level in Zhejiang (soon bringing Anji Play to two million more children), and Anji Play is being practiced in public early childhood programs in all of China’s 34 provinces and administrative regions. In recent months, Anji Play has become a focus of Ministry of Education efforts to expand universal access to public early education in China.

BRAC Humanitarian Play Labs (Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh)

Humanitarian Play Labs bring BRAC’s signature low cost, high quality play-based learning model to the humanitarian context of the largest refugee settlement in the world in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. They integrate playful learning with child protection, psychosocial support, and linkages to critical services; incorporate relevant cultural traditions; and engage both Rohingya and host communities.

AMAZE.org (United States)

AMAZE.org is an initiative that provides comprehensive, age-appropriate, and medically-accurate sexual health videos for adolescents ages 10-14, along with resources for educators and parents. As of September 2019 our videos have received 28 million views on our YouTube channel since AMAZE.org was launched in September of 2016. AMAZE has also been launched in South Africa and Latin America.

The Educate! Model (Uganda, Rwanda, and Kenya)

Educate! prepares youth in Africa with the skills to succeed in today’s economy. We tackle youth unemployment by partnering with schools and governments to reform what schools teach and how they teach it so that students in Africa have the skills to attain further education, overcome gender inequities, start businesses, get jobs, and drive development in their communities.

IEN Posts On Organizations in the Global Collection:

  • Our 2-part piece on Speed School from December, 2018
  • Our post on THINK Global School from earlier this year