Tag Archives: China

Principal evaluation in China and the U.S.

When principals and teachers are evaluated based on student achievement, what do they do to promote student learning? I recently spoke with Min Sun, Assistant Professor at the University of Washington, who explained that a principal’s leadership in promoting instruction might make a difference in improving student achievement. In 2012, Sun published a study titled “Association of District Principal Evaluation with learning-centered leadership practice: Evidence from Michigan and Beijing,” with Peter Youngs, Haiyan Yang & Hongqi Chu & Qian Zhao, which showed that one key difference between principals in China (where students earn top scores on the PISA exam) and in Michigan is the extent to which they can be instructional leaders.

China’s top-ranked performance on the international PISA exam has piqued the interest of many Western countries that hope to learn from its success. As Andreas Schleicher, OECD director for Education and Skills, has explained, “Obviously, one can’t copy and paste school systems wholesale. But PISA has revealed a surprising number of features that the world’s most successful school systems share and from which others can learn.” In their study, Sun et al. (2012) found that a comparison revealed a few key differences in leadership approaches.

For example, in Beijing principals more frequently report, “supervising and evaluating instruction, coordinating curriculum, protecting instructional time, maintaining high visibility, and providing incentives for student learning.” In both Beijing and Michigan, district principal evaluation informed personnel decisions, professional development, and was used to hold principals accountable for student achievement; however, in Beijing principals were more likely to feel that their evaluation was used to determine merit salary increases or sanctions. While the content of each evaluation was similar,

“a significantly higher percentage of Beijing principals felt that district leadership evaluation emphasized teacher evaluation, provision of professional development programs for teachers, curriculum design, and supervision of student learning during school time than their counterparts in Michigan did….Moreover, when district principal evaluation focused on leaders’ instructional and management knowledge and skills, leadership behaviors, and organizational impacts, principals were more likely to engage in various learning-centered leadership activities.”

Sun et al. (2012) found that principals in Beijing have more teaching experience than their Michigan counterparts. Therefore, they are able to engage with teachers and students on the classroom level. As Sun explained, when a teacher is absent in Beijing it is the principal who covers their class. Since principals typically have extensive experience with instruction, they can step in to help a teacher who is struggling in the classroom. As stated in the article, “In China, almost all K-12 public school principals are former senior teachers who have demonstrated pedagogical expertise in classrooms, and principals in China are respected as head teachers.”

The authors also found that Chinese principals were more likely to perceive that their evaluation held them accountable for student achievement, which, they say, is not surprising given the long tradition in China of accountability based on test scores. As a result, “Chinese principals perceived a stronger impact of specific aspects of district evaluation.” The emphasis on the purpose, content, and evidence, of specific leadership activities meant that the principal was more likely to focus on “learning-centered leadership activities.”

All of this raises questions about the current high stakes accountability measures we see in the U.S. While policymakers would like to see better outcomes on standardized tests, might we also need to consider whether or not the people responsible for improving such outcomes know how to do so? And, when those in charge don’t have the capacity to focus on learning-centered activities that might promote achievement on standardized tests, might we see instead a corruption of the system, such as in the recent cheating incident in Atlanta that resulted in x teachers and school leaders being sent to jail? Will we begin to view school leaders as untrustworthy when it comes to evaluating classroom instruction?

In the U. S., this topic is also highly relevant at the moment as high-stakes accountability has led to a growing number of parents across the country “opting out,” or allowing their children to refuse to take high stakes exams. Education Secretary Arne Duncan explained that if the number of students refusing State exams continues to grow, the Federal Government may need to step in to address the problem.

While the U.S. looks to the East for accountability policies that can promote student achievement, in contrast, China looks to the West for policies that can promote whole-child development and creativity. However, in the efforts of policymakers in the East and the West we can see what happens when “borrowed” policies confront cultural differences.

For example, in striking contrast to the U.S. parents engaged in the growing opt-out movement, parents in China are focused on doing whatever it takes to help their children perform well on standardized tests. While Chinese policymakers are now starting to think about whole-child development, creativity, and student happiness—other things that children need, such as physical and emotional health—the primary focus remains on test scores. Chinese parents view the college admission exam as crucial for their child’s future success, and therefore they are willing to devote considerable time and money to preparing their children for it from a very young age. As a result, Chinese parents pushback when schools attempt to promote non-academic activities.

In addition to cultural factors that might influence student achievement, a new book raises questions about the connections we have made between test scores and education policies. In Real Finnish Lessons: The True Story of an Education Superpower, Gabriel Heller Sahlgre presents the (somewhat controversial) idea that Finland’s high ranking on international assessments has more to do with economic factors than it does with educational factors.

In the midst of all of these questions and concerns about student achievement, we might need to begin a deeper conversation about how we can a) promote policies that cohere with real-world practice, and b) develop universal assessments that allow us to address global questions of educational equity, while also considering the needs of unique cultures and communities—and even individual stakeholders, such as parents, students, teachers, and principals.

Deirdre Faughey

Teacher autonomy in South Korea and around the world

Teacher autonomy – which refers to teachers’ ability to develop their own curriculum and instruction – has sometimes been seen as a way to support teachers’ professionalism. However, in a recent conversation, Won-Pyo Hong, an Associate Professor at Yonsei University, described how teachers may not always see “autonomy” as a positive development. He talked with me about a study he conducted with with Peter Youngs, Associate Professor at the University of Virginia, titled “Why are teachers afraid of curricular autonomy? Contradictory effects of the new national curriculum in South Korea.” That study focused on teachers’ experiences with the new national curriculum (designed in 2009), which was supposed to allow for teacher autonomy. As Hong explained, the reality was more complicated:

“Policymakers insisted that granting curricular autonomy would provide more freedom to schools from the central controls and encourage them to develop varied curricula according to their local conditions and student interests. However, it needs to be noted that the curriculum revision in 2009 was made under a conservative government who pursued a market-based approach to education reforms. So, the curricular autonomy embedded in the 2009 national curriculum had conveyed dual meanings; on the surface, it seemed to empower teachers by giving more curricular discretion to individual schools. On the other hand, it reduced government interventions over curricular issues which could cause competition among schools and widen the gap between schools of poor and better conditions in terms of the quality of school curriculum.”

While the prior curriculum presented a sequence of study in each content area and grade level, the new curriculum set a total number of instructional hours for a given subject over three years. Additionally, the number of subjects that a school could offer was reduced to eight or less in a semester (down from ten), and schools were encouraged to offer intensive courses. As Hong explained,

“if a school previously offered both music and visual arts for an hour per week throughout the year, now it had to make a semester-long course to offer only one subject per semester. This change was made to reduce students’ workload and thus make learning more engaging and comprehensive. Schools were also allowed to reduce or increase the number of instructional hours for each subject up to 20% in general schools, 35% in self-managing schools designated by provincial authorities. This was quite a substantial change, as it was the first time that trade-offs became possible across the subject areas. For instance, schools were allowed to teach more hours for a certain subject area as long as it maintained the total number of instructional hours by reducing hours assigned to other subjects. Therefore, teachers in a school were required to work together to determine how to adjust instructional hours across the subject areas, considering the local context and student needs.”

Hong and Young found that when autonomy was built into the curriculum the teachers questioned its authenticity, as they felt that the autonomy had been provided as an expectation, rather than obtained through their own efforts. Hong explained that another notable finding was that “teachers worried that schools would abuse the given autonomy to teach major subject areas more often, further marginalizing other subject areas. This is because student performances in Korean, English, and math carry the most weight for the college admission process, thus becoming primary concerns for parents and students.”

As a result, Korean teachers did not feel more empowered as the autonomy felt artificial. The authors noted that “curriculum scholars need to examine more closely when and how teachers’ curricular autonomy promotes positive results in practice.” They also noted that teachers who participated in the study felt that autonomy was impossible when subject area content standards remained unchanged.

While the current government in South Korea is pursuing a new revision of the national curriculum, one that focuses on cross-disciplinary thinking, attention to teacher autonomy is quickly waning. As Hong explains, the Korean cases illustrates some of the complexities of government-initiated curricular autonomy and raises questions about what it might take to support teachers’ autonomy in productive ways.

Teacher autonomy around the world

The conversation about teacher autonomy in South Korea was particularly interesting given recent interest in issues of teacher autonomy in a number of different parts of the world. In the US, in particular, the word “autonomy” is used frequently to describe what some educators believe is lacking in the teaching profession today. For example, recent Global Teacher prizewinner Nancy Atwell, noted for her innovative and playful pedagogy, has called for a more “autonomous, creative and thoughtful” approach to teaching, which she fears is now impossible in U.S. public schools. Atwell caused a bit of a stir online when she said, “If you’re a creative, smart young person, I don’t think this is the time to go into teaching unless an independent school would suit you.”

In addition, this past month NPR in the US presented a series in which they focused on the teacher pipeline, noting in one segment that enrollment in teacher training programs is down as much as 50% in some states. The reporters followed up in another segment with Richard Ingersoll, a Professor of Education and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania who has studied the topic of teacher retention for decades. As Ingersoll explained, his research has shown that the problem of teacher retention is related to teacher autonomy, and few opportunities for teachers to have “input into the key decisions in the building that affect a teacher’s job.” Ingersoll says, “One thing we’ve found is that the shrinking classroom autonomy is now the biggest dissatisfaction of math teachers nationally.”

Similar concerns about teacher autonomy have been echoed in news reports from around the world as well. For example, one report from Canada decries the country’s lack of support for teacher professionalism, and provides a comparison with Holland, Finland, Switzerland and Japan; teachers in British Columbia call for greater control over their own professional development; leaders of the Labour Party in the UK have criticized what they see as an ‘exam factory’ approach to schooling, and call for more teacher autonomy; and, a new national curriculum in Wales has been designed to allow for teacher autonomy. However, is everyone talking about the same thing?

Does “autonomy” = more responsibility?

One report from Hong Kong presents an example that shows that when “autonomy” is linked with “professionalism,” it can mean that teachers are expected to become stakeholders in their schools. The South China Morning Post writes that since Hong Kong introduced a school-based management policy, teachers must “participate in groups such as student academic affairs and pastoral care committees to help keep the school functioning effectively.” The article goes on to commend these changes, but it also notes that in other countries teachers might expect to be compensated for these additional responsibilities – rather than have them incorporated into a newly defined “professionalism.”

Does “autonomy” = innovation?

In another article from the UK, Labour Party leader Tristram Hunt criticized what he called the “exam factory” approach to schooling, and called for changes from the “bottom up, ‘through giving teachers and school leaders the freedom and autonomy to deliver an exciting education.’” However, as with much of the discussion on teacher autonomy, there is little attention to how teachers and schools interpret what the term “autonomy” means, and/or what it is that teachers and schools want to do, or will be expected to do, with this autonomy. Will teacher autonomy lead to the excitement and innovation that many hope for? Or, will it leave teachers alone to address the needs of the students and the community? For example, in Shanghai, teachers are expected by parents to prepare students for high stakes exams. As one article explains, student performance on such exams is so important that parents are willing to attend school with their children so that they can learn the material and reinforce it at home. Lacking support, teachers might feel pressured to do more of what they feel they need to do, which might be more test prep.

Deirdre Faughey

Early childhood education and the economy

A scan of online news reports published in countries around the world over the past month found that current reports on the topic of early childhood education show a range of economic concerns. While the news in some countries focuses on early childhood education as it relates to childcare, others focus on the connection between education in the early years and economic development. For example, reports from China focus on education as one aspect of whole child development, and similarly, reports from Thailand, India, and Australia, emphasized that early childhood education can be a crucial factor in lifting individuals out of poverty. Other reports focus on the ways in which early childhood education can be an overall investment in a country’s future.

In a recent article, titled “Household income and preschool attendance in China,” Xin Gong, Di Xu, and Wen-Jui Ham, found a positive association between household income and preschool attendance in both rural and urban settings. By showing that household income is influential in determining which children access early childhood education, this article relates with findings presented in a recent report on early childhood development by UNICEF. The UNICEF report points out that “millions of children, especially the most marginalized, are excluded from school,” and finds that international funding for education is on the decline. Yet, according to an article in Want China TimesChina has increased spending on early childhood education, budgeting 50 billion yuan ($8 billion) for a three-year project to provide access to quality education.

Singapore presents the example of a country that, according to the World Bank, placed “education at the core of the nation’s development.” Yet, as an article in The Huffington Post explained, “early-childhood education is one of the few spots where Singapore is not yet a world leader.” However, in response to the 2012 Economist Intelligence Unit, which ranked Singapore’s early childhood education system 29th in the world, the government has “announced funding initiatives for subsidies for parents and childcare centers, new sources of scholarship money for teachers, and the creation of new preschools and kindergartens.”

In Australia, a Productivity Report on Childcare and Early Childhood Learning, released on February 20th, received a critical reception in the press because it did not recommend an increase in funding. Instead, the report recommended the simplification of a complicated system with the introduction of a single early learning subsidy. Geraldine Neylon, writing for The Conversation, called this a “missed opportunity” to build upon prior reforms that focused on teacher quality. In another commentary, published in The Sydney Morning Herald, Matt Wade emphasized that while the current system is due for an overhaul, an investment in early education would lead to greater economic gains for the entire country. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Abbott has suggested policy reforms that would (similar to the report’s recommendations) make childcare more affordable and less regulated, noting in particular that such a move would potentially enable more women to join the workforce. As John Cherry, advocacy manager with the non-profit Goodstart Early Learning, explained in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald: “The number one reform objective is to make childcare more accessible and more affordable for low and middle income families….The number two objective is to continue to raise the quality of care so that children have a better start to their school education. The number three one is to make sure that vulnerable children are getting the support that they need. That costs money.”

Deirdre Faughey

Global Perspectives on Professional Learning Communities

Dr. Jane B. Huffman

Dr. Jane B. Huffman

At the 27th annual International Conference for School Effectiveness and Improvement, held in Yagyakarta, Indonesia, early this January, Dr. Jane B. Huffman presented a paper, “Professional Learning Community Development in High Schools: Conceptualizing the PLC Process through a Global Perspective,” in which she shared her research on the PLC process within multiple Asian cultural contexts. In a recent conversation with IEN Contributing Editor Paul Chua, Huffman defines professional learning communities (PLCs) as “professional educators working collectively and purposefully to create and sustain a culture of learning for all students and adults.” She described PLCs as a multi-dimensional process, including shared and supportive leadership; shared values and vision; collective learning and application; shared personal practice and supportive conditions. Through her research in the U.S. context over the past two years, she has found that successful implementation of PLCs district-wide depends on a coordinated vision of leadership working together towards a common goal, strong interpersonal relationships, and carefully targeted professional learning.

While the PLC process has been practiced and studied in Anglo-American cultures for twenty years, Huffman’s work with the Global PLC Network extends this work to non-Anglo countries including China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan. Huffman and four research colleagues – one each from Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Australia and the U. S. – began the network in 2009 by studying schools in Taiwan and Singapore that were using the PLC model. From those conversations, they began to construct the essential structures of what came to be called the “Global PLC Model.” Their research on the global construct has five facets for development: structures, policy and procedures; leadership; professionalism; learning capacity and a sense of community.

A Dr. Huffman explained, a brief history of the five educational systems show that external and internal differences in educational systems make it impossible to create a ‘boilerplate’ improvement effort that will fit all contexts and meet all teacher and student needs. In Taiwan, the Ministry of Education (MOE) PLC policy began in 2009 and encouraged K-12 teachers to build school-based PLC teams for teacher professional development. Some government programs, such as a high school improvement project (School Actualization Program) and science education (High Scope Program), continue to motivate teachers to establish subject-based or interdisciplinary PLCs for curriculum innovation or professional development. In Singapore, PLCs started in 2000 with the establishment of Teachers Network, and Learning Circles, a teacher collaborative learning model of action research. In China, although the term PLC is seldom used, schools have a long history of enhancing teachers’ professional competency and instructional skills through collaboration and collective inquiry. In Hong Kong, early steps have been initiated to establish policies related to PLCs.

For more on the topic of Professional Learning Communities and how they are being put to use in various countries around the world, readers can look back to Dr. Huffman’s earlier publications and earlier conversation with ICSEI President Dr. Alma Harris, who shared that some of the debates about professional collaboration range from discussions about the best models to follow, about the time and resources available to support these activities, and the issue of impact. In addition, in a recent conversation with IEN, Dr. Philip Hallinger, described the some of the issues related “policy borrowing,” in which countries attempt to utilize policies that have been successful in different contexts.

Widespread call to improve vocational education

Christopher Furlong, BBC

Christopher Furlong, BBC

News reports from this past month have shown that many countries are rethinking the role of vocational training in their education systems.

In Denmarkwww.dr.dk reports that the government is considering new academic entrance requirements to vocational programs that some fear would result in thousands of students being barred from such programs.

Denmark is not alone in it’s effort to “raise the bar” on vocational education. The BBC reported that a survey of British employers showed almost 60% believe the government does not do enough to provide students with the vocational training they need.  The Guardian has also reported that a new standard will be applied to vocational education, allowing for diplomas endorsed by companies such as Kawasaki, Honda, and Volvo, but also hotels and even the Royal Ballet School, which is backing a qualification in performing arts.

Similarly, Thailand is also pledging to reform education to meet the demands of employers by reforming their system of vocational education. As reported in The Nation, the Education Ministry shared plans to work with the private sector to jointly design curriculum and training programs that give students real-life experiences as well as an academic education. The Thai government will also work with Germany, Australia, Japan and China – countries that have large investments in Thailand. However, in an earlier article, The Nation also reported that some researchers have expressed concerns that the government could still be doing more.

Similar news reports, collected from online sources over the past month, show a widespread call to improve vocational education, to reconsider the academic curriculum, and for educators to work alongside employers. These reports can be found coming from countries such as MalaysiaNigeriaThe United Arab EmiratesLiberiaSudanGhanaIreland, and India.

Inclusive education in Denmark and China

Recent articles from www.dr.dk and The New York Times, describe recent moves toward more inclusive education policies in Denmark and China.

In Denmark, the policy aims to include students with behavioral and learning difficulties in public primary and lower-secondary schools. 10,000 children are expected to be transferred to standard schools by 2015. The Danish Union of Teachers supports the idea, but is concerned that schools don’t have the necessary resources and support; parents are concerned that teachers are not trained to teach in inclusive classrooms.

China gave disabled citizens the right to attend mainstream schools in 2008. According to the New York Times article, in September 2012, about 8,700 disabled children began school in Beijing, with about 5,700 going to mainstream schools and nearly 3,000 to special schools. As in Denmark, parents have, in some cases, objected to the inclusion of disabled children in class. Experts have called for more trained therapists in schools, and a loosening of bureaucratic and political control to allow specialists with “on-the-ground” experience to be in charge.

Education reforms in Spain, Mexico, and China

Philippe Lopez | AFP | Getty Images

Philippe Lopez | AFP | Getty Images

Over the past month, reports have touched on large scale reforms and resolutions. Spain’s recent reform effort includes a revised national syllabus and a proposed shift in the language of instruction, and has been met with protests, mainly over the cuts to funding, wages, and working conditions. Mexico’s Senate passed a controversial education reform bill that will institute standardized testing for teachers, and a new teacher evaluation system – measures that have led to massive protests as well. Meanwhile, China’s Ministry of Education plans to reduce homework, mandatory exams, and the “100 point” assessment system. Teachers will be expected to use confidence-building comments, such as “excellent,” “good,” “qualified” and “will-be qualified.”