The unparalleled growth in tertiary education was the focal point of this year’s Education at a Glance report. The OECD notes women now make up the majority of young adults with a tertiary degree, at 57% compared to 43% for males. Across all 25-34 year olds, tertiary education has become the most common educational attainment level, which the OECD attributes to the labor-market advantages tertiary degrees provide. The indicators in the report included student participation, progress, and outcomes, as well as the resources countries invested in tertiary education. Additionally, the report explored educational outcomes from the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, described by OECD as “a return to normalcy.” Correspondingly, many of the headlines, both those discussing the report in general and highlighting results from particular countries, focused on the results related to tertiary education. As in the past, a number of headlines emphasized problems that the report revealed (Australia; Finland; Ireland; Israel; Italy; Japan) with only a few highlighting more positive findings (Portugal; Spain).
“We must grow multiple pathways to success through an array of post-secondary options, including, of course, the rich array of some baccalaureate options and apprenticeships. ” – Amy Loyd, President of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education
“The share of young adults with advanced qualifications across the OECD, driven by the growing need for advanced skills in labor markets, reached a record 48% of 25-34 year-olds in 2021, compared to just 27% in 2000. Shares of tertiary educated 25-34 year olds are highest in Korea (69.3%) and Canada (66.4%), according to a new OECD report.”
“We have large shares of young people choosing degrees that actually may not exist when they graduate.” – Andreas Schleicher, OECD director for Education and Skills
“Only three countries reported mainstreaming all four aspects of the SDG 4.7.1 on Global Citizenship Education and Education for Sustainable Development which includes policies, curricula, teacher education, and assessment, (Brazil, France, and Spain).”
“In 2000, the proportion of highly educated younger adults in Finland was among the highest in the OECD countries, in the same league as the United States and South Korea. In 2021, instead, Finland’s position had dropped well below the OECD average, ranking at the level of Chile and Turkey.”
“The proportion of young people in Italy who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) has increased significantly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic… the proportion of 25-to-29-year-olds who are NEETS climbed to 31.7% in 2020 and then rose further to 34.6% in 2021.”
“Japan had the lowest share of female staff in tertiary education in 2020 among 32 comparable member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, at 30%…Women represent 45% of academic professionals across OECD countries on average.”
“The number of young New Zealanders with tertiary qualifications had grown in the past 10 years, but not as much as in most other OECD nations… In New Zealand the percentage of 25 to 34-year-olds with tertiary qualifications rose 16 percentage points from 29 percent in 2000 to 45 percent in 2021.”
“The findings appear to show that graduates everywhere receive higher salaries in the workplace than colleagues without degrees – particularly in Portugal where they can end up earning double the salaries of less qualified counterparts. The report cites Information Technology and Communication as the sector in Portugal paying the highest salaries.”
“Scottish head teachers tend to be paid more than the average earned by their counterparts in countries such as Finland, New Zealand and France – but they lag behind heads in England, new figures show.”
“This was an increase of 8.4 points more than in 2011 and nearly 15 points or 34 percent compared to 2000. Moreover, the figure is above the average for the OECD countries, where the percentage is 46.9 percent, and also above the average for 22 EU countries (45.9 percent), Erudera.com reports.”
Teacher shortages, at least the news about them, seems inescapable this year. For the next two weeks, we share many of the teacher shortage related stories that we encountered during our annual scan of back-to-school headlines. This week’s post focuses on articles from the US that discuss the shortage, describe the problems with the available data, and explore some of the efforts to deal with the challenges of hiring and retaining teachers; next week, Part 2 will draw together headlines about teacher shortages in other parts of the world.
As students headed back to school in the US in 2022, education news from many major education outlets raised concerns about shortages of teachers. Predictably, headlines describing a teacher shortage crisis were quickly followed by articles questioning whether there was a crisis at all. Matt Barnum, for example, noted both the reports describing a “catastrophic” teacher shortage as well as those expressing skepticism that there is sufficient evidence to support those claims (Is there a national teacher shortage? Here’s what we know and don’t know).
“The public narrative has gotten way ahead of the data and is even misleading in most cases,” Chad Alderman quoted in The Atlantic
There may be many reasons for teachers to quit. In particular, one survey showed that fifty-nine percent of teachers say they’re burned out, compared to 44 percent of other workers. But it’s not clear the extent to which the number of teachers leaving the profession is significantly greater than it has been previously. Richard Ingersoll and colleagues have long highlighted challenges of staffing schools, pointing to problems with retaining as well as hiring new teachers (NEPC Talks Education). Furthermore, the shortages of teachers are being reported at the same time there have been recent declines in student enrollment and an increase in hiring of teachers and other support staff that has come along with the influx of federal funding to combat the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. “[I]s it useful to use the term shortage,” Derek Thompson wondered in The Atlantic, “when, compared with staff numbers before the pandemic, more teachers might be employed in America’s public schools right now than in 2019?” (There Is No National Teacher Shortage).
A return to school after the COVID closures and hopes for a “bounce back” characterize some of the back-to-school headlines; but in Ukraine and some parts of the developing world, many of the headlines focus on critical challenges including violence, war, floods and famine that are continuing to keep some students, particularly girls, out of school.
“[F]or many students here and around the world, especially girls, there is no excitement around supply shopping or reuniting with their friends again — because none of that will happen at all. Between schools staying closed over fears of a new COVID-19 wave and other barriers to getting an education, back-to-school doesn’t look quite as bright.” – Back to school? Think again, Plan International
“Every August a new cohort of students begin their apprenticeships across Switzerland. The appetite for vocational training remains strong despite the impact of Covid-19, with experts pointing to a return to pre-pandemic levels.”
“The new school year is a day of celebration in Ukraine, where children dress up and give bouquets of flowers to their teachers. But Russia’s invasion has cast a shadow on the happy day. Now educational facilities across the country are racing to build bunkers and bomb shelters for returning students,” CNN
““Right now, I don’t even have a pencil for my children to start classes in September,” said Florena Delgado, who teaches first and fifth grades at two schools in one of the lowest-income neighborhoods of the capital, Caracas”- NBC News
“Over it” but also unable to escape it seems to capture the sentiment of many of the back-to-school stories that address the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on schools. A series of articles from the74 in particular highlight that although many schools and educators are making decisions to end closures, remote options, and masking, there also appears to be a recognition that those decisions could lead to more surges requiring schools to respond again. Education Week also highlighted how, in the US, those decisions have been supported with new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and the White House to help schools deal with the “new abnormal.”
“According to a new review by the Center on Reinventing Public Education, the “approaches of America’s 100 largest districts suggest that most are jettisoning remote learning entirely, or reverting back to programs that existed before the pandemic forced them to swiftly provide all families with some sort of online option.”
“As students return from summer vacation, school systems nationwide are scaling back COVID masking and quarantine requirements — in some cases, eliminating them altogether. Many are simply telling students to stay home if they have symptoms, much as they did before the pandemic.”
“The White House followed the CDC’s lead, de-emphasizing the importance of masking and quarantining and instead focusing on vaccinations, testing, and air quality as major prevention strategies.” – Education Week
“My biggest concern is that we’ve seen a ton of viral infections just over the summer,” says Magna Dias, MD, a Yale Medicine pediatrician. “So, when we get back to indoor settings with kids being together again, it could mean that we will see more infections happening—both with COVID-19 and with other viral infections.” – Yale Medicine
“High dosage” tutoring has emerged as a common response, to help support student learning in the wake of pandemic school closures. In Part 1 of a scan of some of the headlines on the related news and research since the start of the pandemic, Naila Shahid reported on the discussions of the emergence of tutoring initiatives, related research, and support programs, particularly in the US. This week Part 2 of the scan focuses on some of the tutoring initiatives launched in different states and questions about implementation so far.
The emergence of high-dosage tutoring initiatives across the US
As students pile back into in-person learning settings, many school districts across the US are using COVID relief funding from the American Rescue Plan for high-dosage tutoring programs. A report from The Education Trust, FutureEd and Education Reform Nowreveals that by the beginning of 2022, “at least 17 states have committed to investing in targeted intensive tutoring, at least five have committed to building statewide tutoring programs, and at least six have committed to providing state-level guidance and support targeted intensive tutoring programs.” According to the report, states that have committed to utilizing a significant portion of their funding on high dosage tutoring include: Louisiana, New Mexico, Tennessee, and Texas. Louisiana expects to spend $90 million of its $4.1 billion, New Mexico $176 million out of $1.5 billion, Tennessee $200 million out of $3.9 billion; and Texas $1.4 billion out of $19.2 billion.
“At least 17 states have committed to investing in targeted intensive tutoring, at least five have committed to building statewide tutoring programs, and at least six have committed to providing state-level guidance and support targeted intensive tutoring programs.”
Two years ago, the College of New Jersey’s School of Education, in partnership with the Overdeck Family Foundation, launched the New Jersey Summer Tutoring Corps. The program hired in-service and preservice teachers to tutor students for a minimum of 10 hours a week. The tutoring locations were YMCA and Boys & Girls Club. Tutors earned $20 to $25 per hour. The NJ Summer Tutoring Corps provided tutoring to 2,000 students in the summer of 2021 and expanded to 42 sites in the fall of 2022.
The Arkansas Department of Education has also launched an Arkansas Tutoring Corps. That initiative aims to build a system to recruit and train tutors to meet the academic needs of students in their geographic area. Total compensation for tutors is expected to be up to $3,000 in their first year and $2,500 in subsequent years. Arkansas Tutoring Corps tutors can be students enrolled in the educator prep programs in institutions of higher education, retired educators, current teachers, and community members.
The City of Indianapolis in Indiana also planned to expand a virtual tutoring initiative as part of their effort to help students catch up on reading and math skills. According to a Chalkbeat report, the results of two pilot programs showed improvement in participating students’ math scores of 12% to 26% and English/language arts scores by 4% to 9%.
“High dosage” tutoring has emerged as a common response, to help support student learning in the wake of pandemic school closures. Naila Shahid has been scanning the tutoring-related headlines throughout the pandemic, and this week she reports on some of the discussions of the emergence of tutoring initiatives, related research, and support programs. Later this month, Part 2 of this post will describe some of the tutoring initiatives launched in different states and related questions of implementation so far.
What is high dosage tutoring and why is there a need for it?
Over the past year, a number of news reports have highlighted the expansion of tutoring initiatives across the US and in some cases other countries. Many of these initiatives have emerged specifically to combat fears about pandemic-driven “learning loss.” Illustrating the interest in tutoring, an EdWeek Research Center survey reported that, on average, about 40% of educators and 45% of parents say their students could benefit from tutoring to address “learning loss,” and 97% of district leaders said that they expected to offer tutoring for this purpose in the 21-22 school year. Those leaders also anticipated that about 1 in 3 students would receive tutoring (equivalent to about 17 million of the 51 million public school students in the US). If that’s the case, the total national expenditure on tutoring this year could reach over 12 billion dollars.
But what makes these initiatives – often referred to as involving “high dosage” or “high impact” tutoring – different from regular tutoring? According to Kevin Huffman and Janice K. Jackson, high dosage tutoring reflects some basic principles: student groups of four or fewer meeting multiple times a week, with a trained and consistent tutor, with a focus on helping students gain ground academically, improve attendance, and connect with trusted adults for support. Drawing on recent research, the Annenberg Institute at Brown University outlined a set of design principles (related to frequency, personnel, group size, focus, etc.) they argue will help make “high-dosage” tutoring effective. SmartBrief also highlights in a FAQ that what they refer to as high-impact tutoring should not be remedial. Instead, it should focus on scaffolding content so students can learn new skills built on their previous knowledge. A related overview of the research from the Hechinger Report explains that the emphasis on “high-dosage/high impact” tutoring has been influenced by studies suggesting that tutoring is most effective when “the tutors are specially trained and coached and adhere to a detailed curriculum with clear steps on how to work with one or two students at a time. As Jonathan Guryan, an economist at Northwestern University who has studied tutoring programs put it, “it is not once-a-week homework help.”
What programs have emerged to support tutoring?
Along with the growing interest in tutoring, after the start of the pandemic, a number of organizations and funders have proposed or launched initiatives designed to provide resources, financing, and other supports for new tutoring initiatives. In March 2020, for example, Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform started the National Student Support Accelerator to help give K-12 students access to tutoring. The late Robert Slavin and researchers at John Hopkins University also proposed an Educational Marshal Plan to scale-up tutoring initiatives. Based on the AmeriCorps model, the proposal envisioned using billions of dollars in Title 1 funding to recruit and train 300,000 tutors. Relatedly, the Center for American Progress also proposed an Opportunity and Counseling Corps to consist of high school graduates, college students, and community members to tutor students in high-poverty schools. The model suggests employing up to 17,000 tutors and resident teachers and up to 12,000 social workers, counselors, and school psychologists.
“A Tutoring Marshall Plan would provide intensive funding to enable Title I schools nationwide to substantially advance the achievement of their students who suffered mightily from COVID-19 closures and related trauma”
More recently, in April 2022, funders like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Arnold Ventures, and the Overdeck Family Foundation helped to raise over $65 million dollars to establish Accelerate, which aims to provide district and state education leaders with technical assistance for high dosage tutoring. As part of their plans to help students recover from the pandemic learning loss, the Biden Administration also announced a plan to provide schools with 250,000 tutors, mentors, and coaches. This National Partnership for Student Success aims to bring together school districts, nonprofit organizations and higher education institutions to recruit, train, and support tutors. A search for virtual and technology-based solutions is also underway, including efforts by non-profits and private companies to utilize artificial intelligence to address the challenges of finding enough tutors.
“The majority of students could never afford a private tutor, so we wanted to build a private tutor that mimics all the qualities of a tutor. We can help personalize the attention and assess a student’s knowledge continually.” — Miral Shah, CK-12 quoted in The74
The interest in tutoring as a response to “learning loss” extends beyond the US as well. The UK, for example, announced a £350-million National Tutoring Program even before many plans got underway in the US. In China, in conjunction with plans to crack down on private tutoring, the Beijing Municipal Commission of Education has announced a plan to build an online tutoring platform where primary and middle school teachers can provide tutoring services in various forms, including one-on-one teaching, live-streaming classrooms, and pre-recorded videos. Each semester’s compensation for tutors can be up to 50,000 yuan ($7,880), and the platform is entirely free to use for students.
In part 2 of this interview, Patience Mkandawiretalks with Thomas Hatch about Fount for Nations recent evolution, work during the COVID school closures, and next steps. Part 1 of the interview focused on the origins and initial challenges in developing an organization that has developed school, hospital, and community programs to support the education and development of differently-abled children in Malawi. In addition to being one of the founders of Fount for Nations, Mkandawire was selected as an Obama Scholar at Columbia University during the 2021-22 year.
Gaining control of the program and focusing on schools Thomas Hatch: You’ve told us about the origins of Fount of Nations in the activity center you established at a hospital; about the first two years after you established Fount of Nations with work in activity centers in several hospitals and in resource centers in schools. What was the next step? What was the next big transition point?
Patience Mkandawire: At that point, we expanded to include more attention to community engagement, which also has its own set of challenges, but we also closed the hospital program. We narrowed our focus to working with schools and community engagement. At the same time, we realized that because we didn’t have our own space we operated basically on the whim of the schools and the teachers; we had no control over our programming. We started thinking that to really control our own program and maintain fidelity of our programs, we needed our own center, like our model school. We started planning for that and that opened in 2020, which was bad timing, of course, because that’s when the pandemic hit.
But when we started doing more work in the community, we realized the economic barriers that many of our parents faced, which was not something we had focused on. We started doing home visits and found that a lot of our parents had come from a village, left their land, and come into the city and were living in areas with very poor economic conditions. That started us thinking that we should develop an economic empowerment program. Initially, I was not too keen on this, but my field team insisted that we really had to do it because the parents weren’t listening to us. There was a time that one of the counselors went out for a group counseling session and when she came back her face was gloomy. “What happened?” I asked her, “Was the turnout not good?” And she said “This is by far the best turnout. I had close to 40 parents come to the session, but all of them are on my neck saying things like ‘words can’t help us because all you do is talk to us. We want money, we want a livelihood.’”
“This is by far the best turnout. I had close to 40 parents come to the session, but all of them are on my neck saying things like ‘words can’t help us because all you do is talk to us. We want money, we want a livelihood.’”
I was opposed to that because it’s not an area we knew anything about. Nobody on our team was an expert on it. But we began to do some research on micro-finance, and we tried a partnership with another organization that was already doing business and economic empowerment for mothers.That partnership however didn’t last long enough to yield results. We were stuck on logistics of how to train parents that often had to take care of their kids full-time. I am not sure what it really was but most organizations we tried to work with weren’t really willing to make adjustments to take into account the unique needs of children with disabilities or their families. But we soon learned about Opportunity International. They had been training farmers and other populations in financial literacy, and we were able to get them to do financial literacy training for us. Then, once the parents were trained, we realized we needed to give them access to money…so we reached out to some of our funder friends, the Segal Family Foundation who connected us with a funder that was willing to give direct social cash transfers to some of our parents. We linked the cash transfers to the child’s education. In that way, we created incentives for increasing children’s attendance at school, and it turned out great.
TH: You said the economic impact program was successful, but what was your measurement of success?
PM: We measured academic indicators such as attendance, progression and parent involvement in learning. We also measured social indicators like how many meals do the children eat a day. For example, before the program (and during the pandemic), 76% of the parents said their child ate once or twice a day because they just didn’t have any money. After the financial literacy training, the numbers flipped. Over 80% were able to eat three times a day. In addition, close to 70% of the businesses they started with the initial social cash transfers are still running.
The Pandemic & Beyond
TH: Can you talk a little bit about how the pandemic affected the development of your program. What did you learn and how has that influenced how you think about developing and sustaining the program in the future?
PM: The pandemic is why I am here in the US, as part of the Obama Scholars program. When the pandemic hit, schools closed. And that was the first time we had ever imagined that anything would happen to our schools, I just can’t describe the feeling… All our programming happened in schools; our teacher training happened in schools; our parent convening happened in schools; many of our community convenings happened in schools. Schools are central in almost every village so they were very easy access points for us to meet people and to convene people, and suddenly, schools were all closed. And our teaching was all paper and pen. We had started doing some digital data collection, but our teachers across the country still taught on the blackboard
I remember one of the first things I did was give a break to the entire team. We just decided “Okay we’re all going to go home, and we’re going to take a two week break to think about what we’re going to do. Can we survive without schools? Like what sort of work can we do? How can we support our participants? Our community members? Our champions? Our advocates?”
“Can we survive without schools? Like what sort of work can we do? How can we support our participants? Our community members? Our champions? Our advocates?”
Over that break, the Government started to respond. They said “We’re going to have remote learning programs and we’re going to have TV and radio programs.” But I was thinking, “How is this going to reach a child who learns differently? Who cannot process? Who cannot hear?” Fount for Nations needed to respond too, but at that point, our team was also at risk and there was a lot of fear that we might die. But the team realized “if we are this scared, imagine what our parents are going through?”
It was really a team effort, and my husband and I would check in with individual team members and ask, “How are you doing? What are you going through?” But one by one, they said things like “We need to come back to work.” First, we said “We’re going to support the government in doing remote learning, and our parents are going to be teachers.” That was a gamble, but we brought back our volunteers and decided they would provide the support because teachers could not go in the homes. We had the volunteers meet with the teachers and learn about the typical lesson plans for the week and then the volunteers would call the parents, and the parents taught the children. Fount for Nations led a coalition of 4 education partners of the Segal Family Foundation to deliver remote learning to 3000 primary school learners across the country. One of our other long-time-partners, Rays of Hope ministries, released a handbook for teachers to support the school radio programs, and we used that to train our volunteers. Then we just started deploying SMS texts and phone calls, and that’s how the kids learned during that period. All this is happening on the phone. It was a surprise in some ways how well parents responded. Our volunteers would set appointments with the parents, and if our volunteers were late, we’d receive a phone call, “I just wanted to check with you because I’m looking at the time, and she hasn’t called yet. Is everything okay?”
The second thing was the counseling sessions. We also did that on the phone. Our counselors set up a protocol for mental health screening, and we started calling all our parents. They’d get a call – “How are you doing?” – to check in. If the parents’ needed extra support, the counselors would refer them or consult with them. We were also taking a gamble because this was the first time we’d ever called the parents for counseling sessions. Our counseling sessions had been in person. If the parents needed to cry, the counselor was there to just feel that with them. Now the sessions were not only over the phone, some of them were with a person the parents had never met because we had to increase the number of volunteers to make all the calls. It was a much higher volume.
It was crazy, and I was just upset at how in 2020, we still didn’t have any digital options for kids with special needs to learn in Malawi. In 2020, we didn’t have any psycho-social or mental health support for parents. In 2020, we didn’t have any therapists that could offer mobile services or online services. In 2020, Fount for Nations was one of three, maybe four organizations in the country that focused on education for kids with special needs. I just felt “I can’t do this,” because clearly people were not convinced that our work was as important as we think it is. That’s when the opportunity to come to Columbia came up. Joseph, my husband, said “Go. You need inspiration. You’re stuck. I think you need to go and meet awesome people. Meet experts. Get inspired. Come with ideas and then we’ll continue.” So I did, and I’ve been studying things like comparative policy studies at Teachers College, non-profit policy and advocacy, learning how international education policy is formulated. So now I’m thinking Fount for Nations is much more than a direct service provider. I’m thinking of Fount for Nations as a critical player in the ecosystem for inclusive education: as bringing all these stakeholders together to define and sustain the ecosystem and to inspire more actors to care about this issue.
in 2020, we still didn’t have any digital options for kids with special needs to learn in Malawi. In 2020, we didn’t have any psycho-social or mental health support for parents. In 2020, we didn’t have any therapists that could offer mobile services or online services
That’s been a big shift in terms of our plans and in our overall strategy. For example, in our training, we’re thinking of using a “train the trainer” model and focusing on being really, really good at that. We could offer that training to a wider range of organizations that can support learning and development for teachers and for children, particularly those who have learning difficulties. I’m also thinking about how to get back to the health care system because there’s still a role that they play, especially in assessment and diagnosis. I’m also thinking more about research now. How do we collect action-oriented data? How do we apply evidence-based research and implementation? Now merging those three things – advocacy, training and research – is becoming the core of our future plans. We are now working towards Fount for Nations becoming the Center of Excellence for Inclusive Education in the country and bringing together all these elements to really reduce the inequalities that exist in access to quality education for these children. I want to acknowledge that from our journey we’ve learned that the child’s education has not really been what the child is taught, but who else is around them that supports their learning. If the teachers’ perceptions are wrong; if parents’ perceptions are wrong; if community perceptions are wrong; if healthcare is not supported; if research is not adequate; if the government does not fund social services, then, no matter how creative our approach is – which was our initial idea – kids still won’t be learning. They still won’t be succeeding.
“We’ve learned that the child’s education has not really been what the child is taught, but who else is around them that supports their learning.“
TH: You really tied up that story beautifully and transitioned into where you’re heading. One thing you didn’t mention, though, that kind of brings you back to your initial experience with your brother, is your interest in growth monitoring because you’ve identified early screening and assessment as critical factors moving forward. Can you just say a word about your strategy with that?
PM: Yes, it was like a light bulb moment when I realized we could build on that. Like I said before, children in Malawi go to see a community health care worker for the first five years of their lives. From birth up to five, every single month, they have to go for growth monitoring. They are just going to get their weight checked; they’re going to get their height checked. And it’s mostly for nutrition screening, deworming, vaccinations, but they never get screened for developmental delays or learning difficulties. But I realized it’s a great opportunity because we could intervene early. The project I’m working on right now is, first of all, to adapt the assessment tools that are recommended so they are simple to screen for developmental delays and learning difficulties. And then we’ll train the healthcare workers to administer those assessments at the regular checkups that the kids come to anyway. That way we’ll get to see how many kids are at risk of developmental delays or at risk of learning difficulties. Then we can design workshops for the parents, because, with the pandemic, we’ve found that they can teach and help support their kids. For example, now that we know a child is struggling to sit up, how can we support the kid early on? And how can we intervene early? For most of these issues, parents would not know or understand that their child has something like epilepsy or even cerebral palsy until they were in primary school or even later. For example, I remember Elisa, whom I met when she was 17, and she had to drop out because she was just too big to be in primary school, and no one knew she had epilepsy until she repeated the same class 4-5 times! I wonder if we had met Elisa when she was six months or a year old? What difference might that have made? Could she have coped with her condition and been more successful? We want to make sure that these kids have a strong start by giving parents the information about what conditions their children have and the information that they need to help cope. Hopefully this generation of children will have a much better start.
This blog by Melanie Ehren and Martijn Meeternwas originally published by LEARN!. Ehren is a Professor in Educational Governance and Director of Research Intsitute LEARN!, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Meeter is Full Professor, Faculty of Behavioural and Movement Sciences, Educational and Family Studies, LEARN!
In many countries, COVID-related school closures affected already disadvantaged students most in their opportunities to learn and progress. In the Netherlands, the Inspectorate of Education raised the alarm over how the pandemic is leading to further inequality, with alarming numbers of students leaving primary education without the basic skills in arithmetic, reading and writing. As in many countries across the world, the Dutch government is developing new policies to address learning loss from COVID and ‘build back a better system’. These policies include funding for schools to organize targeted support for students in need (e.g. tutoring, remedial teaching) with further investments for schools serving a disadvantaged population. In addition, a government-wide investigation is now underway to better understand the root causes of educational inequality and how to make the education systems more responsive to policies addressing those root causes.
A decentralized system and a coordinated approach
Improving education from the top is not an easy task, given the highly decentralized nature of the education system in the Netherlands and the value placed on school autonomy. The OECD describes Dutch schools as having the highest autonomy internationally. Freedom of education has been the backbone of Dutch education for decades, and is a core value for many policymakers and practitioners working in education.
A more centralized and coordinated approach is, however, crucial to reduce inequality, given that differences in learning opportunities and outcomes often lie outside a school’s span of control. Examples are of parents’ free school choice, which leads to highly homogenous schools with a concentration of social, behavioural and learning problems in some schools, or the early tracking in secondary education which tends to disadvantage children from poorly educated and/or migrant backgrounds. Various studies have mapped out the causes and consequences of the high inequality in the Dutch system with one clear message: this is a complex problem because of its multidisciplinary nature (spatial, social, economic inequalities interact and reinforce each other) where any type of measure to improve education will have multiple outcomes, a high level of interconnectedness, and non-linear outcomes. The high complexity requires a coordinated approach that goes beyond individual interventions or programmes, but where the goal is to change how the whole education system operates to reduce inequality.
Where should we start when trying to address high inequality?
Ideally we want a set of interventions that have a multiplier effect where their collective impact on reducing inequality is greater than the sum of single activities. As good teachers and high quality teaching are the backbone of any education system, this is where we should start: We need to ensure that all school have sufficient high-quality teachers.
“The OECD TALIS report also indicates a sharp decline in the status of the teaching profession in the Netherlands… By reducing entry requirements, we unintentionally lower quality standards as well as the status of the profession.”
However, the Netherlands faces a large teacher shortage that will only become bigger in the future. Predictions are that secondary schools in 2023 will have a shortage of more than 1000 teachers with a further estimation of a shortage of 2600 fte in 2026, due to retirement. Certain subjects (Dutch, German, French, ICT, Mathematics, Science etc) will be particularly affected in the future, while schools in some urban areas in the country are already in constant crisis management to fill vacancies. Approximately 12% of primary schools in the large cities (e.g. Amsterdam) have permanent vacancies as teachers are moving to more affordable places to live and work. Even when a sufficient number of teachers enters the profession (which is unlikely given current student numbers on teacher education programmes), many of them leave due to high workload and stress, a lack of support and too much responsibility when starting to teach, an unsupportive school environment with too few opportunities for career progression and lack of communication with colleagues and school leadership. An average of 31% of beginning teachers in secondary education tend to leave teaching within five years of graduation.
The Ministry of Education has tried to increase the number of teachers by allowing schools to hire unqualified teachers while they train to be teachers on the job, but these teachers seem to be particularly prone to exit the profession. It’s also worth questioning this strategy for the message it sends to the profession at large: how should we understand the nature and status of teaching when we allow anyone with a degree in Higher Education to be a teacher? The Inspectorate of Education reports that an average of 7% of primary schools have unqualified teaching staff and this has detrimental consequences for the instructional quality and children’s learning outcomes. The OECD TALIS report also indicates a sharp decline in the status of the teaching profession in the Netherlands. This may well be an important factor in shortages, as low status affects the potential to recruit sufficient high quality teachers. By reducing entry requirements, we unintentionally lower quality standards as well as the status of the profession. Unfortunately, past policies have seen more of such inconsistencies, such as the introduction of a professional register which provides entry barriers but also increases the administrative workload of teachers without necessarily improving the overall quality of their work.
What can we do to increase the number of high quality and qualified teachers?
Various studies look at the types of interventions that can help build a strong and sufficiently large body of teachers. Here is a summary of the top 6:
Ensure high-quality school leaders. School leaders play a critical role in determining whether teachers are satisfied at work and remain at their school (Kraft et al, 2016), while their instructional leadership can improve the teaching in their school.
Ensure a good working environment for teachers. Sims (2021) review of empirical literature stretching back 20 years suggests that the quality of the working environment in a teacher’s school is an important determinant of retention. A good working environment includes limited administrative workload and marking, collaboration with colleagues and having a manageable classroom of students in terms of their behaviour and teacher-student ratios. The school leader will have an important role in shaping these conditions of work, but external stakeholders (e.g. Inspectorates of Education) will also have a role to play.
Ensure that new teachers are supported when starting teaching and receive feedback and coaching from experienced teachers in the school.
Ensure teachers are paid more in the most difficult schools, in the most unaffordable areas to live in, and to teach the subjects that are least popular. Sims and Benhenda (2022) find that eligible teachers are 23% less likely to leave teaching in state funded schools in years they were eligible for payments with similar results reported in the US.
Ensure that teachers have career prospects within the teaching profession, so that they don’t have to find these elsewhere. Singapore’s model is exemplary in this regard, while other countries (e.g. England) are also increasing the opportunities for a career in teaching (including formalizing professional development for the various stages).
Ensure that teaching is valued as a profession and has high status in society (e.g. such as when entry requirements are high and the job is paid well).
And one final take-away message: policies and measures need to be coherent and well-aligned in both aiming to increase quality and quantity; compromising on either will not reduce inequality in the long term.
Hope remains that, despite the tragic losses and disruptions of the pandemic there may be an opportunity to reimagine critical aspects of schooling. Correspondingly, over the past year, a variety of news and research outlets have shared a wide variety of hopes and proposals for change. At the same time, some long-time observers, like Larry Cuban, argue that the proposals and visions for change may not find their way into practice. As he put it, “I don’t see COVID producing a lot of reforms. If anything, it produces this huge public and professional need to resume schooling as it was. I think basically schooling has much more stability than change in it. And that’s the historian’s point of view.” Cuban continues, “I think COVID has reminded us that all parents want is a return to face-to-face teaching and to let the teachers teach the lessons that they had before school closures. Let them do what they do best.” To continue the exploration of the proposals and possibilities for changing schools post-pandemic, we highlight some of the related news stories we’ve come across from around the world, many of which echo trends in the US, including concerns about enrollment, “learning loss,” and well-being among students and teachers, and possibilities for digital/remote learning.
“I don’t see COVID producing a lot of reforms. If anything, it produces this huge public and professional need to resume schooling as it was.”
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, numerous proposals to “reimagine education” have been made. At IEN, we have been tracking both the news about those proposals for changing education and the discussions of what has (and has not) been changing in schools post-pandemic (see for example “What can change in schools after the pandemic?”). This week, Correne Reyes shares our latest scan of that news in the US and finds some media reports highlighting flexibility around “seat time;” increased attention to teacher wellbeing, and discussions of the ways online learning may serve as a substitute for classroom-based learning. A second scan will focus on educational changes reported in other parts of the world.
Rethinking Time in Schools?
The switch to remote learning in so many schools and districts prompted numerous proposals to rethink “seat time” – the conventional requirements for awarding credit based on the number of hours and days spent in classrooms. As Jonathan Alfuth put it , “While we agree that states must return to policies that ensure districts maximize the amount of time students spend on high-quality learning experiences, we also believe states must seize this unique moment to rethink the way in which they define instruction and credential learning.” These proposals argue for broadening definitions of what counts as “hours” of instruction, where instruction can take place, and how it can be measure (e.g. “How states are rethinking instructional time and attendance policies in the covid-19 era”; “Unlocking innovation in schools: Policies that create space for schools to better support their students”). Some states have begun reshaping their policies to adjust the barriers of seat time. For example, Minnesota proposed legislation that emphasizes personalized, competency-based education, which focuses on “outcomes—mapping to the pace of students’ mastery of knowledge and skills—instead of moving lockstep through time-based lessons and grades.” Arizona established an Instructional Time Model allowing school districts to adopt their own instructional hour requirements for attendance. Meanwhile, Washington created the mastery-based (or competency-based) credit as an option for high school students to earn credit for demonstration of learning on assessments that are tied to state learning standards.
“It’s not for lack of want, it’s not for lack of ideas…It’s really a lack of available professionals who are willing and qualified to provide these kinds of services to help kids and families and ultimately educators.” Ronn Nozoe