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 and 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.

Professional Learning in Canada: A Review of Recent Reports

“A research team led by Carol Campbell, Associate Professor of Leadership and Educational Change at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto, examined the professional learning that educators experience in the provinces and territories of Canada. The study identifies key components and features of effective professional learning and highlights findings from what educators in the nation experience.”

In this post, we highlight some of the reports that came about from this study. All of these reports are available from Learning Forward. Learning Forward is an organization whose mission is to “build the capacity of leaders to establish and sustain highly effective professional learning.” These reports emerged from the Learning Forward 2016 Conference

The State of Educators’ Professional Learning in Canada by By Carol Campbell, Pamela Osmond-Johnson, Brenton Faubert, Kenneth Zeichner, and Audrey Hobbs-Johnson, with Sherri Brown, Paula DaCosta, Anne Hales, Larry Kuehn, Jacqueline Sohn, and Karen Steffensen

“Canada has been recognized in international assessments, benchmarks, and research as a country with high educational performance and there is interest, within Canada and internationally, in knowing about approaches to educators’ professional learning in Canada. However, as Canada’s school education system is the responsibility of 10 provinces and three territories, there is limited Pan-Canadian data and research available to examine teachers’ professional learning across Canada. This study sought to address this gap in available research by investigating, ‘What is the current state of educators’ professional learning in Canada?'”

Bringing the Profession Back In by Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves

“If you want good return on investment in teachers and teaching, you have to attract, select, and develop teachers with high levels of human capital in terms of knowledge, skill, and talent; you have to deliberately improve these qualities over time through the decisional capital of structured experience and feedback that continuously supports and challenges all educators as professionals; and you have to move this knowledge around or circulate it through the social capital of shared commitment to and engagement in all students’ success. Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 2013) show that high-performing systems such as Canada invest in all three aspects of the professional capital of their educators. But even they have room for greater consistency and further growth.”

The State of Educators’ Professional Learning in British Columbia: A Case Study by Sherri Brown, Anne Hales, Larry Kuehn, and Karen Steffensen

“This case study report, therefore, offers a comprehensive analysis of BC’s education system, the experiences and values of educators, as well as the enabling conditions, opportunities, and challenges to professional learning in the province.”

From After School Learning to Extended Learning Time: The Evolution of The After School Corporation/ExpandED (Part 2 of 2)

Last week, we posted the first part of this piece on TASC/ExpandED. This week, we continue tracing the organization’s evolution.

Shifting from TASC to ExpandED

As with NCLB, the development of this major new public policy initiative created an unanticipated opportunity for TASC. A nimble approach to this spandrel of opportunity allows TASC to, in some ways, return to that original vision of changing the traditional school day. Although TASC had an interest at the time in running and managing New York City’s Out-of-School Time Initiative, the architects of the program instead asked TASC to step in as “trusted advisors and capacity builders.” For Whipple, this was a liberating moment for the organization, freeing TASC from management responsibilities to think creatively about their future work. This provided room for TASC to ask and experiment with questions such as “How do we better connect the network to formal learning? How do we jump in to the school reform space and say, let’s try out hand at reforming schools by expanding the school day, in partnership with community organizations?”

Over the next few years, TASC worked with a number of partners to broaden their afterschool model. That work included helping to launch Every Hour Counts in 2006 which sought to bring together a variety of community partners to support and sustain afterschool programming in cities from Baltimore to the Bay area. It also included the development of Frontiers in Urban Science Exploration (FUSE) in 2007 which incorporated a focus on STEM into their afterschool work by providing STEM training and resources for after-school educators.  Along with continued efforts support and assess the development of a growing network of afterschool programs, these projects, in turn, helped to set the stage for TASC’s next phase and helped to spawn the development of the ExpandED Schools model.


Creating a Model for Expanding Learning (ExpandED 2008- )

With the establishment of New York City’s Out-of-School Time initiative and growing national interest in the importance of learning time outside of school, TASC found itself at the center of a growing movement to improve schools by extending learning time. While some of these opportunities may have been unanticipated, they could also be seen as a natural outgrowth of the conditions conducive to its overall goals that TASC had worked to foster at the city, state, and national level.


In 2008, TASC changed its name to ExpandED Schools and shifted its focus to develop an extended learning time model.  As a first step, ExpandED launched a pilot model, Expanded Learning Time New York City (ELT NYC) in ten schools. The ELT NYC model had a number of key features including:  adding three hours to the regular school day; creating a more flexible schedule that allowed the integration of opportunities for athletic and artistic expression, leadership development, and social emotional learning; and partnering with community organizations to support the expansion of activities and responsibilities. Their ELT model shared some features with community schools, such as integrating community partners into a lengthened school day, but did not include wrap-around services such as healthcare that are important to community schools. As such, they maintained a clear focus on closing the “6,000 hours” opportunity gap between under-served and more affluent students in extracurricular opportunities beyond the traditional school day.

At the end of each year of the ExpandED Schools demonstration, TASC commissioned  external evaluations which reported some increases in math scores, student attendance, and student, parent, and teacher satisfaction (Year One, Year Two, Year Three). These studies also served as a means of reflecting on key challenges and successes that highlighted the need for strong principal leadership and sustainable funding sources. Building on these evaluations, ExpandED Schools committed itself to a ELT NYC model which included four core elements: “more time for a balanced curriculum, school-and-community partnerships, engaging and personalized instruction, a sustainable cost model.”  Following three years of piloting, in 2011, TASC launched this ExpandED Schools model in 11 schools in NYC, Baltimore, and New Orleans with grants from Open Society Foundations and Wallace Foundation. By 2013, they had grown to 30 ExpandED Schools in NYC.


Today, the ExpandED schools model has grown to encompass socio-emotional learning and a focus on building community-based educator’s capacity to complement school STEM and literacy curriculum. In particular, ExpandED has worked with Every Hour Counts on FUSE: Next Generation. FUSE: Next Generation seeks to “lay the groundwork for a new instructional approach employing community partners in collaboration with formal educators to create real-world STEM learning experiences that integrate the principles of the Next Generation Science Standards as well as social and emotional learning.” TASC’s collaborations have also continued with partners like the NYC Department of Education, the City Council, Robin Hood, and Harvard EdLabs on programs for enrichment and tutoring for middle schools students (MS ExTRA) and with the New York Hall of Science, the Institute of Play, and the Pinkerton Foundation to bring teachers and community educators to develop skills for project-based STEM learning (on STEM Educators Academy).


Next Steps

ExpandED continues TASC’s work to build infrastructure and develop new models for enriched learning opportunities outside and inside schools. That work includes ongoing efforts to foster further funding and to create new training opportunities, while also establishing partnerships and building connections across diverse community organizations, funders, and public agencies. In the process, as Friedman explains, ExpandED seeks to both build on the strengths of already existing organizations and to create the bridges that can establish a better foundation for coordination and collaborative work.

Throughout its development, ExpandED has had to walk a fine line in trying to respond to the demands and opportunities for working in the regular school day without losing sight of commitments that many afterschool programs make to enriched learning experiences that go beyond academics.  Today, ExpandED faces another opportunity as the Community School movement grows.  Like the expanded learning time initiatives, work on community schools has been going on for some time but many of the core ideas — such as expanded learning time and integrating community-based partners for extra-curricular opportunities – are consistent with key aspects of the ExpandED model.  Recent policies, however, like the Every Child Succeeds Act’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers and New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio’s Community Schools Initiative have created funding and incentives for developing schools that have many of the characteristics of the extended learning time schools ExpandED already supports.

While these initiatives create opportunities to extend ExpandED’s influence in public schools, they come with the continuing challenge of maintaining a focus on holistic learning in the face of academic accountability pressures. In particular, ExpandED’s experience in working with community-based organizations and work to develop appropriate outcome indicators suggests that the three-year timeline of the Community Schools’ plan creates demands for CBO’s to turn around schools in an unreasonably short time.  At the same time, Katie Brohawn argues that this initiative can “open up the New York City Department of Education’s eyes to the notion of measuring more than just what happens in the traditional classroom setting,” such as attendance (as a proxy for student engagement) and social-emotional learning.  Here, a nimble approach might turn this challenge into a spandrel of opportunity for advancing programs that support SEL in school.

For ExpandED, social-emotional learning may be the next frontier. Building infrastructure and models to support and measure SEL are already part of another ExpandED collaboration with the New York City Department of Education, New York City Department of Youth and Community Development, and community-based organizations.  If the past is any indication, that work could serve as the basis for new policies and further funding.

From After School Learning to Extended Learning Time: The Evolution of The After School Corporation/ExpandED (Part 1 of 2)

Since its founding in 1998 as The After-School Corporation (TASC), ExpandED has focused on leveraging “out of school learning” to improve underserved students’ experiences and outcomes in schools.  Along the way, ExpandED helped to establish a network and infrastructure for afterschool programs in New York City. The organization’s shift from TASC to ExpandED marked a mission to advance an extended learning time model that integrates community-based partners—and, learning experiences aimed at a more holistic development of the child’s socio-emotional skills and personal interests—into the school day. Throughout its evolution, ExpandED has both shaped and been shaped by the growing interest and support for expanded learning time in the US.  As part of a continuing series of posts documenting the development of a variety of education-related organizations in the US as well as in other countries, we talked with ExpandED President Lucy Friedman, Vice President of Programs Chris Whipple, Senior Director of Program Support Rashida Ladner-Seward, and Senior Director of Research Katie Brohawn to get their perspectives on the early work of TASC, the current efforts of ExpandedED, and what they see as the next steps for expanded learning time.


Creating an infrastructure for learning afterschool (TASC 1998-2008)

Founded in 1998, TASC sought to respond to what they saw as a critical problem: only 1% of New York City’s 1.1 million students attended an after-school program, indicating an opportunity gap between more affluent, well-connected students, and students with little access to educational opportunities beyond the school day.  To address this problem, the Open Society Foundations provided a five-year, $125 million challenge grant to help TASC achieve two key goals:

“1) change public policy to make high-quality after-school options accessible to every New York City child

 2) establish a sustainable, scalable model for comprehensive, daily after-school programming”

While the objectives were oriented to educational opportunities beyond the school day, TASC saw its support for the development of afterschool programs as a means of influencing learning in schools as well. For example, in those early years, TASC partnered with Project Zero to introduce a more holistic, project-based approach to afterschool programs.  The hope was that those activities might serve as a model and inspiration for similar work during the regular school day.


A nimble approach to spandrels of opportunity

However, the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001, shortly after TASC launched this initiative, created both a challenge and opportunity for TASC. On the one hand, it would be harder to have a trickle-down effect on learning during the school day, as partner schools felt pressure to focus directly on improving ELA and math scores. On the other hand, the emphasis on tested subject areas during school led to increased demand for afterschool programs. As Lucy Friedman explained, “a lot of principals valued us even more because they valued the arts and sports and knew kids needed that and they weren’t getting it.” Shifting their message, TASC stressed that their afterschool model could provide academic enrichment, arts and other extracurricular activities that schools were having more and more difficulty carrying out during the regular school day.


Creating the conditions conducive to its goals

To build wider access to meaningful and productive arts-based and extracurricular activities, TASC envisioned itself as a systems architect rather than a direct services provider.  As a consequence, while TASC did launch a few afterschool programs itself, its early emphasis was on capacity building and advocacy. In that role, TASC focused on identifying areas of strength and weakness in the infrastructure for after-school programming. Friedman noted that New York City had some obvious strengths as a place for TASC to carry out its mission: it had “a wealth of community organizations that had a lot of strengths, and stability, and high standards and systems.” Nonetheless, TASC identified and sought to address three primary areas of weakness including access to funding sources, professional development, and opportunities for collaboration.


Increasing funding for afterschool activities

To increase access to funding, TASC deliberately sought to raise money from both private and public sources.  In its first year of operation, in 2000, TASC matched its initial challenge grant 3 to 1 with grants from private philanthropies like the Wallace, Ford, Robin Hood, and Mott Foundations and with government funding from the New York City Department of Education, New York City Department of Youth and Community Development, and United States Department Of Education 21st Century Community Learning Centers  TASC also developed organizational offshoots, such as New York State Afterschool Network (NYSAN) and New York State’s Advantage After School Program to advocate for more funding in the field and to help consolidate funding streams, which TASC then used to provides grants for schools and community-based organizations to create after-school programming. TASC describes New York State’s Advantage After School Program, as “a dedicated funding stream that provided matching funds for after-school services based on TASC’s model for high-quality, school-based services involving a strong school-community partnership.” By requiring its own grantees to match TASC’s dollars by at least 3 to 1 and providing assistance to help grantees apply for local, state, and federal grants TASC helped to spur public investment in after-school programming, reaching a ratio of approximately six public dollars for every private dollar raised.


Building an “industry” of afterschool support

TASC also provided advice and technical assistance directly to support the development of a number of mission-aligned after school related initiatives.  These included New York State’s Extended School Day/ School Violence Prevention program, New York City’s Out-of-School Time Initiative, New York City Summer Quest, and the U.S. Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers (whose continued funding has been a source of debate in the current US budget talks). In addition, in 2004, TASC incubated the National Coalition for Science After School, with a focus on piloting and developing effective models for after-school STEM programs.


In order to try to reach a larger group of organizations, TASC also helped to establish a variety of professional development opportunities.  As Friedman noted, at the time of TASC’s founding, there was little training available for community-based and afterschool educators. However, along with the Partnership for After School Education, TASC contributed to the emergence of what Friedman called “a new industry.” While TASC provided technical assistance on topics such as budget alignment, grant writing, partnerships with schools, and data management, university partners and the National Institute on Out-of-School Time helped to create professional development opportunities in areas such as effective learning environments and teaching styles, classroom and program management, and serving students with special needs.  Notably, these professional development offerings created differentiated learning opportunities to meet the needs of many of those involved in afterschool education including site directors, program leaders, program educators and staff.  Reflecting the expansion of support for the development of personnel and expertise throughout the sector, training even extended to include high school students working as counselors and assistants in summer and after-school programs.  While these initial efforts helped to develop key aspects of the infrastructure for afterschool programing, as Rashida Ladner-Seward emphasized, this capacity-building work also sent a strong message about the value of afterschool education and the professional nature of the work in which afterschool educators are engaged.


Providing research and advocacy

TASC also worked directly to create more supportive conditions for afterschool education by engaging in a variety of advocacy activities both in New York City and nationally.  For example, TASC helped establish the New York State Afterschool Network (NYSAN) which TASC considered “essential for keeping frontline practitioners and youth developers in constant conversation with state lawmakers and agency staff.” Noting increasing public desire for afterschool programs across the country, Ladner-Seward noted that the demand for capacity-building organizations like TASC was growing outside New York as well. TASC responded to that demand by advising on projects like the design of New Jersey After 3, the first state-wide, state-sponsored network of after-school programs in the nation. Nationally, TASC contributed to the development of the Afterschool Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to building public awareness and advocating for policies in support of afterschool programs across the country.


TASC also advanced this advocacy work by sponsoring research and evaluations to explore the impact of afterschool programs.  This focus on research had several benefits. For one thing, the research provided information that the programs could use to make improvements. Research and evaluations also provided opportunities to try to develop tools and measures that went beyond a traditional focus on academics.  At the same time, by attending to both traditional and other outcome measures, the research and evaluations helped to demonstrate the value of afterschool programs both as part of the school day and as valuable in their own right.


From TASC’s perspective, this research and advocacy work both helped to attract further funding to the afterschool sector and helped to provide the impetus for New York City’s Out-of-School Time initiative in 2005. With the establishment of this initiative, NYC announced its public support for and commitment to a system of after-school, holiday, and summer extracurricular opportunities for the city’s students, investing $200 million and providing over 600 programs free of cost to more than 80,000 students by 2008 (up from 50,000 students in the initiative’s initial year). The announcement coincided with Lights on Afterschool!, an annual event run by the Afterschool Alliance to create awareness of the importance of these programs. Chris Whipple recalls this event as “a moment of celebration and reflection,” as many of TASC’s goals for a system-wide network of after-school opportunities were institutionalized by the City. OST continued beyond the first three years of the initiative, rebranding itself in 2014 as the Comprehensive After School System of New York City (COMPASS NYC). As of 2016, COMPASS served nearly one million NYC students through over 900 programs.


*We will post the second part of this piece next week.

Headlines around the world: Academic Resilience and PISA

In December, we looked at headlines from around the world for Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) results. We also recently scanned the headlines around the world to explore PISA’s results around collaborative problem solving. In this post, we look at a working paper from the OECD released at the end of January. The paper, Academic Resilience: What schools and countries do to help disadvantaged students succeed in PISA, offers an overview of the countries and schools where disadvantaged students succeed on the PISA test. The paper defines “academic resilience as the ability of 15-year-old students from disadvantaged backgrounds to perform at a certain level” and looks at the importance of “school environments and resources in mitigating the risk of low achievement for disadvantaged students; and identifies school-level factors that are associated with the likelihood of academic resilience among socio-economically disadvantaged students.” We have here scanned headlines around the world to see how countries fared and responded to this report.

PISA Resilience Image

Source: OECD (2018)


Some highlights from around the world:


Sydney Morning Herald–January 31, 2018


New Zealand:

Radio New Zealand (RNZ)–January 31, 2018



The Jerusalem Post–February 1, 2018



Deutsche Welle–January 29, 2018


South Korea:

The Korea Bizwire–February 5, 2018

Lead the Change Interview with Emerson Rolkouski

Emerson Rolkouski graduated from the Federal University of Paraná in 2002 with a degree in Mathematics. He earned a Master’s degree in Education and a Doctorate in Mathematics from the State University of São Paulo – Rio Claro in 2006. Professor Rolkouski has experience teaching at the elementary school level and is a professor in the Federal University of Paraná, in Curitiba, Brazil, where he develops and researches public policies, teacher training, oral history, and numeracy. Professor Rolkouski currently coordinates the National Pact for Literacy (Pacto Nacional pela Alfabetização na Idade Certa—PNAIC) in Brazil and was the lead editor and creator in PNAIC.

In this interview, part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, Rolkouski shares his perspectives on the role of public education, teacher support, and teacher education in Brazil. As Rolkouski puts it:

Brazil is a large country with more than two hundred million people including the population in Brazil’s remote areas. There is incredible diversity in Brazil due to its long history of drawing immigrants and people from around the globe. We have more than two hundred native Indian nations. The diversity makes Brazil a great country and offers us challenges for teaching to all populations. One of our biggest challenges is a lack of a national teacher training system, and in turn, some devaluation of the teaching profession. In this context, there lies opportunity for public policy to engage in national large-scale teacher training that works to alleviate the inequalities in opportunity among some student populations. In 2012, the Brazilian government has collaborated with several public universities to create the National Pact for Literacy (Pacto Nacional pela
Alfabetização na Idade Certa—PNAIC). The objective of PNAIC was to create a network
for and of primary school teachers. To reach all 300 thousand elementary teachers in Brazil, university Professors were paired up with 25 tutors each working with groups of 25 teachers on specific didactical materials. The intention of this work structure was to increase the quality of literacy training for our educators. Over time, this policy aims to increase educational opportunity for all students.

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 Izhar Oplatka.