Can the “School Improvement Industry” support system-wide improvements in K-3 Reading Outcomes in New York City?

This week’s post features a podcast with IEN founder Thomas Hatch.  The podcast discusses a recently released report and research brief drawn from a study designed to identify all the external support providers working with New York City public schools to improve K-3 reading outcomes. 

In the latest podcast from CPRE’s Research Minutes, CPRE Senior Researcher Ryan Fink talks with Thomas Hatch about his latest study “Mapping the reading improvement sector in New York City.”  Among other issues Hatch discusses the nature of the school improvement industry in general, as well as some of the challenges that “external support providers” have faced in trying to work with schools in the US most productively.  He also highlights the longstanding nature of the problem – citing his own experiences while working at the ATLAS Communities Project and described in a 2002 article “When improvement programs collide.” Hatch goes on to discuss how difficult it is get any sense of the size, scope, growth, or effectiveness of this external support even in one area (reading), at one level (K-3), in one region (New York City).  As he put it, when the research started:

how many programs are trying to help New York City elementary schools improve reading outcomes? Nobody had any idea…So this work has been designed to get a sense of not just how many organizations and people are out there doing this work, but exactly what kind of work they’re doing, and then to figure out what we can do to try and make sure that all of this work adds up to more than the sum of its parts, and really has a much more powerful and catalytic effect on reading in New York City.”

When Fink asks Hatch about the implications, he responds that “we need to come to the realization that there’s not going to be an adequate supply of proven programs, and they’re still going to be demands” from schools for help. He concludes by outlining some of the key steps that he thinks can help to build coordination, coherence, and collective responsibility in the reading improvement sector.



Mark Bray is Distinguished Chair Professor in Education at East China Normal University, Shanghai, and is also an Emeritus Professor at the University of Hong Kong. He began his career as a secondary school teacher in Kenya and Nigeria, and later joined universities in the United Kingdom and Papua New Guinea. He has long links with UNESCO, first as a consultant and then as Director of its International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP). His decades of work at the University of Hong Kong commenced in 1986 (with four years of absence for the IIEP role), and in 2011 he was designated UNESCO Chair Professor in Comparative Education. Mark Bray has been President of the Comparative Education Society of Hong Kong (CESHK), the US-based Comparative & International Education Society (CIES), and the World Council of Comparative Education Societies (WCCES). He has also played a major leadership role in the Board of Directors of the Comparative Education Society of Asia (CESA). He can be reached at

In this interview, part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, Dr. Bray talks about his work in international education with organizations such as UNESCO. As Bray puts it:

I have been privileged to work in and between multiple contexts and countries. Although born and educated in England, my first teaching jobs were in secondary schools in Kenya and Nigeria. They were culturally eye-opening, and provided additional exposure to neighboring Anglophone and Francophone Africa. I subsequently taught at the Universities of Edinburgh, Papua New Guinea and London, before moving in 1986 to the University of Hong Kong. From these bases, I undertook many consultancy assignments and research projects for such bodies as UNESCO, UNICEF, and the World Bank as well as for various non-governmental organizations and national governments. These arrangements have allowed me to operate “on both sides of the street”, crossing between the domains of academia and of practice in schools and policymaking. They have introduced me to cultures in rich, middle-income and lowincome countries, particularly in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and the South Pacific, and to some extent, also in the Arab states and in Latin America and the Caribbean. Thus consultancies have been in
countries as diverse as Dubai, Malta, Myanmar, Sudan, and Solomon Islands.

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.

Davos 2019: Education Headlines

The World Economic Forum meets in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. Davos 2019’s theme was Globalization 4.0: Shaping a Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Politicians and business people from around the world gathered to discuss issues such as the environment and global inequality.

Though the forum did not focus primarily on education, it was certainly an issue addressed throughout the conference. In this brief post, we offer various headlines that discuss Davos and education.

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Education Stories

Reflections on Davos: The Global Reskilling Challenge (Forbes, January 27th)

Why AI Can’t be Education’s Cure-All (Forbes, January 28th)

More jobs, better education: What young people want from Davos leaders (Business Standard, January 21st)

Davos elites believe the answer to inequality is ‘upskilling’ (Union Leader, January 26th)

Davos 2019: The Young Want More Jobs, Better Education From Davos Leaders (Bloomberg, January 21st)

This is what matters in education according to the world’s best teacher (World Economic Forum, January 18th)

Teenage activist takes School Strikes 4 Climate Action to Davos (The Guardian, January 24th)

In Davos, JGU V-C calls for internationalisation of higher education (India Today, January 24th)

Davos 2019: Emerging markets have 20% youths without job, education or training, says Christine Lagarde (CNBC, January 24th)

JGU Vice-Chancellor speaks at the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos (Edex, Indian Express, January 23rd)


In addition to these headlines, several reports and headlines offer stories about inequality that closely relate to education.

  • An Oxfam report that looks at how “Universal health, education and other public services reduce the gap between rich and poor, and between women and men. Fairer taxation of the wealthiest can help pay for them”
  • A Vox article that addresses the Oxfam report and other lessons from Davos 2019
  • A New York Times piece on “The Hidden Automation Agenda of the Davos Elite”

An Informal Education Program for Talking to “Racists”

After the election of Victor Orban in 2010, Hungary saw a sharp turn towards nationalism. For many people there was a distinct sense of fear as nationalists routinely marched through the streets, espousing anti-roma and anti-semitic rhetoric. This atmosphere echoed the notion that “wars do not start with bullets – they start with words.” Rather than retreat, there were those who started to reach out to talk to people with very different views from her own, asking them questions and striking up conversations. These conversations provided the foundation for what Maja Nenadović calls the Applied Debate program, an informal education workshop she developed, which aims to fight discrimination and depolarize communication.


A Method for Talking to “Racists”

These initial experiments began with a flexible approach, but broadly followed three basic aims. First, Applied Debate seeks to find a “lowest common denominator” between people engaged in a dialogue. Doing so allows them to see each other’s humanity. Second, the dialogue aims to confuse, to create some uncertainty in thinking, though not as a way to “win” or assert one’s own certainty. Instead, uncertainty acts as a productive point of engagement. Third, Applied Debate looks to understand, to see where people with such different views are coming from. Understanding does not mean accepting or compromising. Applied Debate views understanding as a way to both humanize and alleviate fear.

The program was first publically presented at the Qatar International Conference on Argumentation, Rhetoric, Debate and the Pedagogy of Empowerment. It was here that Nenadović outlined Applied Debate’s basic plan. From here, it grew into wider conversations and a more specifically structured program. It has so far been taught with NGO’s, student organizations, and at universities across over 20 countries.


Inside the Workshops

Though Applied Debate differs from place to place, in general, participants engage in a 3-day seminar that explores rhetorical self-defense, demystifies hate speech, exercises sharing definitions (many misunderstandings come about from simply having different ideas of what things mean). Throughout, the activities and discussion address the polarization that permeates so much of life and work today, including education. Applied Debate’s informal setting opens a unique space to depolarize discussions and confront issues like hate speech, which is rarely addressed in schools. At the same time, these programs are not educational workshops on how to win arguments or gain “rhetorical supremacy.” If understanding is an ultimate aim, one cannot enter with a goal of winning. Yet, depolarizing is not the same thing as neutralizing. Building on that idea, instead of teaching a method for “beating the opposition,” Applied Debate develops strategies for listening. In a similar vein, the workshops offer activities that interrogate stereotypes. Where common approaches to teaching about stereotypes is to shame or deny one’s thinking, the Applied Debate program suggests that we can educate by identifying and engaging these ideas. While talking with participants from international education foundations in Hungary, for example, many wanted to examine their own biases but admitted that they were afraid of fueling the fires of polarization. They wanted to spend the seminar distancing themselves from hate speech and rhetoric. Yet, this tension is exactly the point. Applied Debate offers the opportunity to productively move out of one’s echo chamber.


Talking to School Systems

In many of the places where the workshop has occurred (from Colombia to Bosnia and Herzegovina), Applied Debate could easily fit into a school’s curriculum. Yet, the program exclusively remains in informal education spaces. At issue is a broad conception that school is supposed to remain an apolitical, neutral space. Even in divisive political contexts, many people want to maintain the view school as a neutral space (often as a way of maintaining the current order). Meanwhile, Applied Debate directly takes on and brings up political beliefs. Of course, school is already a political space, and, what’s more, students constantly encounter divisive political issues around the globe, whether it be online and somewhere else.

At the same time that it focuses directly on issues often avoided in schools, the content of Applied Debate directly relates to the skills and knowledge teachers aim for in classrooms. Critical thinking and analysis as just two of the skills central to Applied Debate. In sessions, for instance, participants practice these skills by examining Facebook posts. Nenadović notes that “as they scratch below the surface of a post, they not only dismantle certain assumptions, they also develop new skills in critical engagement.”


Going Forward

As more take note of it, the Applied Debate program continues expanding. Its developers and practitioners keep introducing workshops and developing the concept with those who practice discriminatory behavior and those impacted by discrimination.  However, there have been a number of requests to expand the program or at least offer a manual so that others can run their own workshop. Although there are now plans to develop such a manual, this development raises the challenge of keeping the design highly localized. Education systems adhere to and reflect larger political structures, making it difficult to drop in this highly contextualized program. As a result, Applied Debate is intended to remain open and flexible, both to avoid creating a “script” that others have to follow and to encourage adaptions in both local languages and content. But, the enduring goal remains to create the conditions that support a renewed sense of agency in polarizing and isolating times.



Maja Nenadović developed the Applied Debate program. Nenadović is an experienced debate coach, public speaker, political consultant, researcher, human rights and advocacy trainer and identity de/construction educator. She holds a special affinity for challenging and transforming societal stereotypes through applied debate, “radical” empathy and dialogue as means of resolving miscommunication and conflicts – particularly amongst vulnerable and marginalized groups in society.  As a global trainer and consultant with 18years experience, she has taught in more than 40 countries worldwide.  Her recent work throughout Europe focuses on dealing with the rise of populism and extremism.  Maja is one of the initiators of the Model International Criminal Court Western Balkans (MICC WeB), the project that brings together high school students and teachers from all over Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia to simulate war crime trials and learn about human rights and their violations, throughout history as well as in the 1990s breakup of Yugoslavia. She is currently also working as the Anne Frank House coordinator of the EU-funded project ‘Historija, Istorija, Povijest – Lessons for Today.’ She holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Amsterdam.

2018 in International Ed News

Happy New Year to all our readers! Continuing an International Ed News tradition, we begin this year with a reflection on our posts and coverage of international education stories from the previous year. In 2018, our most popular posts included a two-part piece about the Luminos Fund’s accelerated learning program in Liberia and Ethiopia, an article on the education system and out-of-school education in Singapore, and a post on the beginnings of Sesame Workshop’s work with young children displaced by conflict in the Middle East.

On Twitter, our top Tweets covered stories ranging from Singapore abolishing school exam rankings to Macron’s attempts to “fix” France’s education system.

Looking at some of our statistics, IEN had visitors from 161 countries. Next to the United States, the majority of visitors came from Philippines, U.K., Singapore, and Australia. Other visitors came from Bahrain, South Africa, Turkey, and Canada. We covered stories on dozens of countries and five continents, focusing on everything from informal education programs to education policies.

In 2018, we continued our examination of educational improvement efforts in the U.S. with posts on ExpandED/TASC and Collective Impact.

Throughout the year, we scanned headlines around the world. Highlights of these roundups focused on examining the migrant caravan and a timeline of Trump’s war on immigrant families. Given current news, we will certainly revisit these stories on IEN in 2019.

We also continued posting work from our colleagues and partners. Each month, we featured interviews from AERA Education Change SIG’s Lead the Change series. Among other interviews, Lead the Change interviewed IEN co-founder Thomas Hatch. Additionally, we continued the Leading Futures series, including a post on Flip the System.

As we move into 2019, we look forward to continuing to share these ongoing pieces as well as many new posts from stories around the world.


Speculations on Education in the 2020’s…

My current work focuses on how to develop an education system that prepares us all for a future we can’t predict.  Nonetheless, rounding-up the year-end reviews from many of the education/news outlets I follow (see the links below) always inspires some reckless speculation. This year, as last year, issues related to educational technology and personalization/customization in the US, immediately came to mind:

Virtual reality will be the whiteboards of the 2020’s — Almost everywhere I travel I find whiteboards in classrooms, and almost everywhere I travel I find teachers (including me) who don’t use them.  These “hardware” innovations manage to scale because they make schools look like they are doing some “new”, but can be plugged-into conventional structures and practices without really challenging the status quo. Furthermore, new hardware can be difficult to maintain, the basic technology changes so fast that it can be difficult for schools and educators to keep up, and, ultimately, effectiveness depends on the expertise of individual teachers.  As long as educators have to rely on evolving hardware to take advantage of virtual reality, there will be some amazing and powerful uses, but it will remain limited in wide-scale effectiveness. (As a corollary, I also predict that whenever I see another innovation that is not working out as intended, I will soon find out that Larry Cuban has already pointed this out in a succinct and enlightening way)

AI will do for education in the 21st Century what standardized tests have done in the 20th – Artificial intelligence is already flowing into many classrooms in “smart” assessments, “intelligent” tutoring systems, online services and the phones and social media accounts of teachers and students, and the costs and benefits need to be carefully considered. These carriers may increase efficiency, particularly on routine and standardized tasks, by providing individualized feedback and guidance.  On the positive side, these developments can create opportunities for students and educators to spend more time on activities involving deeper learning, social emotional development and other worthwhile pursuits; and just as standardized tests had some benefits – by making inequities in educational opportunities and outcomes visible for example – AI could help historically underserved students get access to more effective feedback and customized support.  At the same time, the most sophisticated uses of AI to support “deeper learning” and support more complex tasks will likely remain out of reach for many schools and educators for some time.  As a result, using AI in education may well reinforce the same narrow set of academic skills and abilities – and may reflect the same biases and systemic racism – as standardized and high-stakes tests.

Personalization in classrooms will be as successful as project-based learning – This year, the blowback and concerns about personalization seemed to get as much attention as the efforts to promote it.  Given the ease of saying education is personalized and the difficulties of actually carrying out any kind of individualized instruction in conventional classrooms, personalization may well remain a niche reform.  It will continue to have adherents, particularly among those who seek an alternative to traditional schooling, but many will continue to be skeptical and to resist large-scale efforts to adopt it without considerable community input and support.

Customization of educational pathways will be the new frontier for “choice.” Even as it remains difficult to individualize instruction in classrooms, the rapidly multiplying opportunities to support learning outside of traditional education institutions will create opportunities for individuals to get “just-in-time” learning when they want and need it.  Employers, new providers as well as traditional schools, colleges, and universities are already creating badges, micro-credentials, new degree programs, and other targeted learning opportunities.  As a result, students will have more and more opportunities to choose providers (online and off) to help them develop abilities and expertise that support their academic, personal, and professional development.  In the process, institutions focused on preparation may face more competition from organizations and individuals that offer professional development and ongoing support.  Again, although students from different backgrounds may find new educational opportunities that better meet their needs and interests, there is no reason – yet – to think that the resources and support needed to find those opportunities will be equitably distributed.

These reflections rely primarily on wild extrapolation, mixed with a small dose of my own experiences with the challenges of making rapid and wide-scale changes in schooling.  However, I have more confidence in saying that changes in work and the workforce and related uses of time are more likely to change schools than any particular reform effort, policy change, new technology or other “innovation.”  As long as parents have to continue to rely on schools to house their children from 8 AM to 3 PM or so – in buildings that separate them from the surrounding community; in isolated classrooms with one adult and a relatively small group of peers; with limited funds and resources – there is no reason to expect that schools will look substantially different from the teacher-centered, age-graded, academically oriented, standardized test based form that has developed over the past century all over the world.

Under these circumstances, what will change?  The most significant changes may come in the experiences, perceptions, and treatment of childhood. The rise of industrialization came along with decreases in child labor (though by no means it’s elimination).  Those developments also created space and time for a different kind of childhood for some. Today, the advent of new technologies and social media can make childhood more public in ways that may lead children to become “young adults” much more quickly.  With personas and histories that are widely visible through social media, serious debates about the abuses and uses of children’s work, images, and perceptions by their parents and others have already begun.  I’ve experienced this in my own work as I’ve struggled with how and when to draw on and represent my children’s experiences in schools in Norway and Finland as well as on my social media accounts.  But the publication of everyday life affects us all, as we find our actions and identities subject to much wider interpretation and critique.  But at the same time that the pervasiveness of social media opens children up to inspection, monitoring, and new forms of profiteering, it can also create opportunities for transparency, making visible young people’s experiences in ways that reveal – and address – inequality and injustice. What’s more, the changing times also afford opportunities for young people to become artists, entrepreneurs, and activists who can have a much wider impact on the world around us than they ever have before.

— Thomas Hatch


An (unsystematic) scan of 2018 year-end reviews education stories, issues,   and predictions for 2019

Education in 2018 seems to have been distilled into a series of sub-topics as sources like Education Week, the74, and EdSurge all offered multiple reviews in areas like Higher Education, Politics, EdTech, EdBusiness and others.

Year in Review: Our Top Edtech Business Stories of 2018, Edsurge

EdSurge’s Year in Review: The Top 10 K-12 Stories of 2018, Ed Surge

EdSurge HigherEd Year in Review: Our Top Higher Education Stories of 2018, Ed Surge

2018 in Research: How Principals Lead, Gates Faltered, and Teens Balk at ‘Growth Mindset’, Education week

U.S. Education in 2018 in 10 Charts, Education Week

Top Posts of 2018 Focus on Big Education Companies and Popularity of Digital Tools, EdWeek Market Brief

The Hottest Stories in the Ed. Market in 2018, and What It Means for the New Year, EdWeek Market Brief

Education Week’s Biggest K-12 Technology Stories of 2018, Education Week

Our 2018 Education Journalism Jealousy List: 22 Important Articles About Schools We Wish We Had Published This Year, the 74

The Top 2019 Priorities Inside America’s 15 Biggest School Districts: Teacher Strikes, Integration Fights, Sexual Misconduct Claims & More, the 74

Best Education Articles of the Year: Our 18 Most Popular Stories About Students and Schools From 2018, the 74

How School Policy Changed in 2018: The Year’s 7 Biggest Federal Storylines, From Unforgettable Student Advocacy to an Already Forgotten White House Proposal, the 74

6 Education Predictions for the New Split Congress: From School Infrastructure to Student Discipline to ‘Groundhog Day’ on Higher Ed?, the 74

2018 in charts:

11 Charts That Changed the Way We Think About Schools in 2018, the 74

U.S. Education in 2018 in 10 Charts, Education Week

In New York City

What happened in New York City education this year — and what to expect in 2019, Chalkbeat

In California

California education in 2018; A look back at EdSource’s top stories, EdSource

California education issues to watch in 2019 — and predictions of what will happen, EdSource

Philanthropy & Social Innovation

Crystal Ball Check-In: How Did We Do at Forecasting 2018 Philanthropy?, Inside Philanthropy

Philanthropy Awards 2018, Inside Philanthropy

Top 10 Most-Read CEP Blog Posts of 2018, The Center for Effective Philanthropy

Looking Back and Looking Ahead

What worked (and didn’t) this year: 10 lessons from education research to take into 2019, Chalkbeat

Ten Education Stories We’ll Be Reading in 2019, Education Week

The Year of Thinking Forward, CRPE

Reflections from education reporter Jenny Abamu on Twitter

Some of the “favorite development papers of 2018” from the World Bank, including three from economist David Evans who highlighted three papers related to education in the developing world:

Accelerating Learning in Africa: The Expansion and Adaptations of Second Chance (Part 2)

**This post initially appeared on**

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Photo Credit: Rosie Hallam

Expanding Second Chance in Liberia and Lebanon

Second Chance’s efforts to carry out such an unconventional pedagogical approach in what are usually remote areas depends on building an alternative infrastructure for learning that incorporates local materials, training for local youth, partnerships with government schools, and support for parent self-help groups. Rather than creating this infrastructure itself – and growing a larger organization to do it – the Luminos Fund’s efforts to expand Second Chance build on the expertise, resources, and relationships that local implementing partners have already established. Those partners include NGO’s that have a record of accomplishment and a presence in the communities where Second Chance seeks to work. Luminos provides training, materials, guidance and oversight for the partners, but the partners hire and train facilitators, supervisors and project coordinators.

Second Chance’s expansion to Liberia uses this local approach to test the viability of program in what Baron described as an “under-resourced” context.  Khosla was more emphatic:  “It’s exactly the same program, but, oh my god, the challenges are so different.”  Those challenges include an out of school rate in Liberia of over 50% for children of primary school age (compared to about 35% in Ethiopia); extreme poverty and a lack of basic necessities; an economy growing at about half the rate of Ethiopia’s; and public spending on education also at about half the rate of Ethiopia’s.

All of these factors contribute to much higher costs.  With so little money for education, textbooks are scarce – roughly 1 textbook for every 28 students, according to Khosla. That means textbooks have to be imported and delivered to the schools, and the inadequate roads lead to high transportation costs that compound the problem. As a result, initial costs to set up a Second Chance classroom in Liberia run about $10,000 per classroom, where it only cost about about $6000 in Ethiopia.  Although Luminos’ aims for a 300$ per pupil cost once the program reaches scale, the per student costs in Ethiopia work out to only about $150.

Early on in the work in Liberia, the staff also discovered that the impoverished conditions meant that many of the students were going through an entire day without food.  As Khosla explained, “In Ethiopia they have a 1 ½ hour lunch break where they go home everyday to eat lunch and then go back. We thought the same model would work in Liberia, but there’s no food. “Kids were coming to school so hungry,” Baron added, “it was a fool’s errand not to address that need, but that means we are delivering rice and beans to mothers who are cooking food.”  Baron pointed out that this “small” change in the schedule in Liberia introduces a whole new series of problems to be addressed – where to get the food, how to import it, how to prepare it – that requires establishing a whole new supply chain, with new job responsibilities and added costs. “And there are hundreds of weak points in the chain,” lamented Baron. For example, there are periods for traditional religious practices where it is unsafe for children to be out collecting the wood needed to fuel the fires for cooking.  With no firewood, students can end up going several days without food, unless the staff at Second Chance make the local adjustments that enable he work inside the classroom to take place.

The difficult conditions and hardships in Liberia affect the Second Chance facilitators as well.  For example, although initial assessment results in Liberia indicated that students’ literacy learning was far behind the students in Ethiopia,  further analysis showed that the facilitators also had much lower scores on related literacy assessments than their peers in Ethiopia.  Similarly, Khosla pointed out that the content of the training for the facilitators is quite basic “because the focus is on the early grades.  But we are finding in Liberia that it’s not basic. There are still some issues that facilitators have with teaching parts of speech for example, so we are figuring out how we can fill some of those gaps in content knowledge.” These results are not surprising, however, given that the local youth the program relies on for facilitation have had to live through a series of wars and an Ebola crisis that interrupted their own schooling and development.

The transportation problems also complicate the training efforts; discouraging facilitators from getting together to share information, reflect on what they are doing, and address common challenges. Khosla explained, “If you have to deviate from the main road, then you are in the bush, and then you are in the bush for at least 10 miles to reach one school. So for us to tell the facilitators to meet up often is logistically impossible.” The Second Chance leaders solved this problem and the problem of distributing salaries to a widely dispersed staff of facilitators (who need to be paid once a month, in person, in cash, since they don’t have bank accounts) with one adjustment:  they pay the facilitators at the end of the day, after they have attended their monthly learning community meetings. “It’s a good way to ensure they come to the meetings,” Khosla noted.

The initial work in Liberia revealed challenges for Luminos’ strategy of relying on local partners as well. In Ethiopia, Luminos’ has a team of five working with fourteen implementing partners managing a program of 20,000 children. In Liberia, the relatively small number of established NGO’s who have the capacity to serve as partners means more intense engagement for Luminos:  a staff of three works with four implementing partners for a program (so far) of only 2000 children.  The early stage of the work in Liberia also means that, as Khosla put it, neither the local partners nor the facilitators they have hired “know what a Second Chance classroom looks like, and what to aspire to.”  Consequently, in the 2018-19 academic year, Luminos created 4 Second Chance programs to serve as “centres of excellence” with model classrooms so that facilitators, partners, and even government officials can come and see the program in operation. Given the need for all these adjustments, the initial rate of expansion in Liberia may well be slower than it has been in Ethiopia.

Despite these challenges, Luminos chose to work in Liberia because of the possibilities and assets that it found there.  With Liberia’s small size, Baron, Khosla and their colleagues have good relationships with a government working to re-imagine education and other sectors of the society.  That may create opportunities to influence government policies, for example, enabling facilitators to get a license to teach in government primary schools after they go through the Second Chance training.  “That would put facilitators in a really good spot to get placed in a government school,” Khosla said.  It would also create a powerful incentive for local youth to get Second Chance training and provide an entry point into government classrooms for Second Chance’s pedagogical approach. These kinds of possibilities, along with the fact that English is the official language, means that, if Second Chance is successful in Liberia, it may have more of a chance of being picked up by the government and scaled throughout the country than in Ethiopia.

The latest opportunities for expansion have taken Luminos to Lebanon, where the crisis in Syria has produced the largest recent wave of refugees and out-of-school children. In Lebanon, the conditions for refugees are extremely difficult, but the Lebanese government has its own well-established programs for accelerated learning.  However, English and French are the languages of instruction in the government schools and accelerated learning programs, but most of the refugees speak Arabic.  To respond to this situation, Luminos has shifted its focus to use its active learning pedagogy to help refugees make the transition into the Lebanese accelerated learning programs and then into the government schools.  .

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Photo Credit: Lloyd Massah

Moving forward: Building infrastructure and adapting to local conditions

Establishing an alternative infrastructure for learning – or, where possible, grafting it onto and into the local educational system – reflects a clear theory of action: this “second chance” for children to catch up to their peers and transition into primary school at grade 4 constitutes one of the most powerful and cost effective ways to substantially increase educational access. In continuing to pursue this theory of action, Second Chance’s expansion depends on far more than replicating a program “with fidelity.”

For one thing, Luminos has to pay attention to the larger context in which their work on education in the developing world takes place. That means recognizing the fact that priorities have shifted from a focus on increasing access by 2015 (in the Millenium Development Goals) to ensuring quality in education by 2030 (in the Sustainable Development Goals). As a consequence, Luminos needs to talk about the program differently so that those funders who are now working on quality can see the value of the Second Chance approach.

Luminos also has to be responsive to the local contexts in which they work. As Khosla acknowledged “Second Chance cannot just be plopped down in any regulatory environment.” Second Chance needs to find the right “fit” in contexts that provide the model with what the psychologist Lev Vygotsky called a “zone of proximal development”: places with both substantial need for accelerated learning and enough support and resources to take advantage of Second Chance’s alternative infrastructure for learning.

When it finds the right fit in places like Liberia and Lebanon, Luminos then works to stay true to its theory of action. On the one hand, that means remaining focused on key issues and opportunities for accelerated learning that gave rise to the model in the first place:

  • What capacities do children need to succeed in the “regular” school system?
  • What enables and motivates “over-age” students to stay in school?
  • Who has the will and the skill to support and sustain the success of the classroom approach?
  • What connections will ease and sustain the transition into the larger school system?
  • What mechanisms will enable parents and community members to embrace and support their children’s schooling?
  • What local capacities and local organizations can provide a foundation and a “home” for expanding the program?

On the other hand, that means looking for the specific contextual differences and pursuing the problem-finding and problem-solving in each context that makes it possible to adapt. “Pay attention to “all the really small ‘last mile’ things” advises Baron, “things that may not seem so groundbreaking but nonetheless create a foundation for success and expansion. If you are more modest about what individual change you can make, you can have a bigger impact.”

— Thomas Hatch