Tag Archives: education reform

The search for a more equitable education system in Chile

Recently, I spoke with Dr. Beatrice Avalos-Bevan, Associate Researcher at the Center for Advanced Research in Education, at the University of Chile, in order to follow-up on an earlier post about the recent reforms in Chile. In that post, we noted that reports on educational reforms in Chile made it seem that the country might be putting an end to private education. Diane Ravitch also commented on these reports and followed up with Mario Waissbluth. As we explained in our earlier post, while the country is not ending private education, President Michelle Bachelet aims to eliminate parental payments or co-funding of subsidized private schools and increase funding for all schools by implementing new education and tax reforms that would help pay for a more equitable education system.

In conversation with Dr. Avalos-Bevan, we spoke about the issues of educational inequality that have captured the attention of teachers and students, leading to the large and sometimes violent protests over the past decade. Beginning in 2006, protests were organized by secondary students during the first term of President Michelle Bachelet’s administration – a movement that came to be known as the “Penguin Revolution” (after the white shirts and dark jackets of students’ school uniforms). The protests became more numerous and violent during the following Sebastián Piñera administration. When Bachelet returned for a second term as President in 2014, she was elected on an education reform platform that was embraced by students and teachers, and she even brought some of the former student leaders in to work in her administration.

As Mario Waissbluth explained in our last post, the “first wave of legislation” was sent to Congress in May; however, students continue to be dissatisfied because initial actions did not consider as yet changes in the administration and improvement of municipal or public schools, although these have been announced for the second semester of this year. This has caused students and teachers to reconvene their street protests as a way to put pressure on the administration and call attention to their ongoing concerns this past June. Those protests ended with the use of tear gas on thousands of university students

School Funding and Student Protests

As Dr. Avalos-Bevan explained, in the current system there are public or municipal schools, subsidized private schools, and elite private schools. The concern over inequality stems from the fact that the subsidized private schools are able to collect money from the government while also charging tuition. As a result, these schools receive a level of funding that the public or municipal schools cannot attain. Over time, the student population attending public schools has been shrinking, as more families strive to place their children in well-resourced subsidized schools.

The student protests have honed in on school funding because the students personally experience the increasingly segregated school system and the differences in the quality of education provided by the public or municipal schools versus the subsidized private schools. They also pay attention to the country’s poor performance on international assessments, such as Pisa and TIMSS, and attribute it to the flaws they see in the system.

Dr. Avalos-Bevan explained that in order to create a more equitable system, all schools need to receive a higher amount of government funding. For this reason, President Bachelet has suggested increasing taxes by 3% of gross domestic product, and increasing the corporate tax rate to 25% (up from 20%). President Bachelet will also stop funding of current private subsidized schools that operate on a for-profit basis, making all subsidized primary and secondary education free, creating more universities and increasing kindergarten funding and pre-K institutions.

Quality and Teacher Education

Colegio de Profesores, the largest teachers’ union in Chile, joined the student effort and held a strike last month to protest President Bachelet’s reform efforts, which they say don’t go far enough to address the fundamental issues of inequality that plague Chilean schools. Despite what some have seen as indicators of significant reform, others are concerned that the process has not encouraged “adequate public participation in the bill-writing process.”

In addition to refining school funding in Chilean schools, Dr. Avalos-Bevan says that there is a similar problem with private universities and the teacher preparation programs they have created. In the years between 2004-2010, private colleges have increased and are now being criticized for what many identify as an increase in profits without sufficient evidence of quality education. These institutions are known to admit students to their teacher education programs with very low qualifications, who graduate without adequate skills. According to Dr. Avalos-Bevan, the government has created a test (the Prueba Inicia, or Start Test) that aims to assess the students’ content knowledge as they leave university, but the test is currently administered on a voluntary basis. Therefore, many teachers graduate without taking this assessment. Of the few who take this test, many perform poorly.

Despite this issue of teacher education, Dr. Avalos-Bevan believes the main problem has to do with teachers’ working conditions. Salaries are low compared with those who enter professions that require the same level of education (4-5 years), and 75% of a teacher’s contract time has to be spent teaching in the classroom (27 hours per week, which is the highest of all OECD countries, according to the latest TALIS survey), leaving little time for planning, grading, and meeting with other teachers. Dr. Avalos-Bevan would like to see the establishment of a teaching career, with specifications as to how teachers may progress, what kinds of salaries they may achieve, and paths for them to move into other positions in the education system. Currently, there is a strong civil society movement pushing for changes in this direction that expects to propose a plan for the President to consider.

Deirdre Faughey

Education reform in Mexico

Dr. Santiago Rincón-Gallardo

Dr. Santiago Rincón-Gallardo

The following post is based on a conversation with Dr. Santiago Rincón-Gallardo. I reached out to Dr. Rincón-Gallardo to learn more about his work in Mexican schools and to better understand how the current political climate in Mexico has influenced the grassroots reform efforts of Redes de Tutoría, a small NGO that catalyzed a movement to transform conventional classrooms in public schools into learning communities where independent learning and tutorial relationships are practiced by students and teachers. An excerpt of our conversation appears below. Click here to read more of the interview.

As we have covered in earlier IEN posts, when President Enrique Peña Nieto was elected in 2012 he introduced education reforms that sought to address issues of educational quality and governability through what Andres Delich called a “mix of centralization and decentralization.” As covered in the Harvard Policy Review, lackluster Pisa scores have called attention to the fact while enrollment and basic skills have improved, repetition rates remain high and resources are distributed inequitably. The country’s system for hiring and paying teachers has been pinpointed as a problematic issue. In Mexico, all teachers join the union (SNTE), and the union assigns teachers to schools; teachers earn lifetime tenure after just six month of service. In an effort strengthen government control, President Peña Nieto bolstered the power of the national evaluation agency (INEE), and established higher professional standards and accountability measures for teachers. Peña Nieto also arrested union President, Esther Gordillo, on charges of embezzlement and money laundering, and teachers have been protesting the reforms everywhere from Mexico City to Guerrero.

In the context of all of this change, we wanted to learn more about how the new policies influence the practice of education and, as Dr. Santiago Rincón-Gallardo explains, the social and political aspects of pedagogical reform.

Deirdre Faughey:

Can you tell us about your work in Mexico, and the ways in which political changes in the country have been influential?

Dr. Santiago Rincón-Gallardo:

Let me tell you a little bit about the Learning Community Project (LCP), which provided the context for my research. In 2004, I was part of a small NGO called Convivencia Educativa, A.C. (now Redes de Tutoría, S.C.) that started working with a few teachers in a small number of schools, providing very intensive classroom-based support for teachers interested in turning their classrooms into Learning Communities. We started working on a very small scale, about eight schools total, working with voluntary teachers in middle schools that were built in marginalized communities with very small populations. We started working with some teachers there, providing coaching and training, but also spending a lot of time in classrooms working with them to turn their conventional classroom into a learning community. We would spend a whole week with each teacher every month in their classrooms, trying to understand what we needed to do and what we could do to turn the classrooms into Learning Communities.

Even though the scale was very small there was a strong impact on the engagement and excitement of the teachers and students who joined the project: students were learning better and they were gaining a lot of confidence to undertake individual study, to engage in research and learn on their own, but also to express their views and their learning in public, both in writing and in oral presentations. Maybe most importantly, they also started to work as tutors to other students who were interested in learning what the students had come to master.

The excitement that we started seeing in this small number of schools started to spread through the outreach of teachers themselves, and some local authorities who started to get excited to see what these young kids were capable of and how excited they were about learning. They started reaching out to other teachers in other schools, other local authorities in other regions, visiting other classrooms to showcase or display the practice, and then having other people come to their classrooms to see what was going on there. There was a lot of movement and excitement.

In four years we had moved from eight schools to about 400 schools that were engaged in this new practice of Learning Communities – we call it the Tutorial Relationships Practice. At that point the Deputy Minister of Education at that time visited one of our schools, and he was very impressed with what he saw there, in terms of the engagement and the skill of the students, so he decided to adopt the model and bring it to scale to 9,000 schools all over the country.

At the same time that the movement at the grassroots was taking place, one of the key leaders of the NGO, whose name is Dalila López, was invited to join the Department of Innovation at the Ministry of Education at the national level, and she was able to bring in people from our organization to the ministry. So we were able to create a team within the Ministry to support the kind of work that we felt was worth supporting, which was developing the conditions for teachers to learn the new practice of tutorial relationships and disseminate it to other places. What the leadership at the top did was create opportunities and mobilize infrastructure for teachers to be able to visit other schools in their regions or in other states so that there was the exchange of information and practice all over the country. We found really good results really quickly.

The large-scale project started in 2010. By 2012, the schools that had data available, but also the ones that had been engaged in this model for a long time, since 2010, increased the percentage of kids scoring with an excellent levels, at a faster pace than and surpassing the national average. This happened in 2012, everything was moving very smoothly and powerfully. There has not been any other program or initiative in Mexico that has shown a clear and significant impact on student learning, even as measured by standardized tests. We started getting a lot of international attention. We had Richard Elmore from the Harvard School of Education, come to visit our schools. He experienced being tutored by a girl from a rural community, Maricruz, a 13 year old girl who was just amazing at guiding him through his own thinking, and identifying some of the weaknesses in his own thinking about how to solve a geometry problem. She was very masterful in supporting him. Throughout that visit, Richard and I were able to write a paper for the Harvard Education Review that discusses this model, and he got very excited about it. He’s been talking about it in his classes, and in 2012 and 2013 we welcomed about 10 students from Harvard’s Educational Leadership Doctorate program to come and learn about the model and report back to their cohorts about what they have learned. We had that for two years, so in total we have had 21 visitors or so. The work has been attracting the attention of several other international experts.

What’s happened since that pinnacle of performance? We had a change in administration at the presidential level, and also a change in the Ministry of Education. They came with a very clear agenda of cutting down any relationship with union leadership, in particular Esther Gordillo and her people. And it so happened that the Deputy Minister who had been supporting this work at the national level, and the one who invited us into the Ministry, was the son-in-law of Gordillo, the leader of the teachers’ union. As soon as this new administration came, they decided to cut down any relationship with them which meant also kicking out the whole team that had been building and supporting this work from the top. So the the leaders who launched and disseminated the Learning Community Project are again grouped around a small NGO called Redes de Tutoría, and they’ve continued to support the work on a smaller scale, but at a deeper level. Right now they’re working with five states that have expressed very clear interest in continuing this work. So the idea is to still go to scale – not at the national level, but at the state level. The strategy is to create “Regions of Excellence,” where you would have several schools who are engaged in this practice and sites where people could come and see what’s possible but also having this as a professional development site for others interested in learning the practice. We’re not entirely sure how many schools are going to continue with this work. As we are putting the pieces together we are trying to find ways in which we can continue to support teachers who are committed to this work but not getting a lot of support from the state-level authorities. We are trying to find a strategy to help continue this work. We’re doing the lobbying that we can because we know that there is some vibrancy in this work that won’t disappear unless somebody wants to really shut it down. I don’t think that’s going to be the case, but we don’t have the political backing at the national level so that teachers can feel free to innovate. The practice has gone underground, it’s invisible but it’s still there.

Please continue reading.

Education reform in Chile

Is the government really putting an end to private education in Chile? A recent article in Xinhua.net (which was also picked up by Shanghai Daily) makes it seem so. On April 20th, Diane Ravitch noticed the article and posted it on her blog using the headline: BREAKING NEWS. However, later that same day, Ravitch posted two more posts: “More on Chile’s education reforms,” and “Chile: Dismantling the most pro-market education system in the world.” In each of these posts, Ravitch calls upon Mario Waissbluth, President of Educación 2020 Foundation (a Chilean citizen’s movement founded in 2008, which put forth reform proposals) for clarification.

Dr. Mario Waissbluth

Dr. Mario Waissbluth

I also wrote to Professor Waissbluth for more information and he made it clear that Chile was NOT actually ending private education, as Xinhua.net and  Shanghai Daily made it seem. Waissbluth pointed me to his clarifying post, in which he explains that the educational system in Chile is far too complex for such a simple solution. He details the cultural hurdles that Chile must overcome to address what has become, in his words, “a true apartheid.” He also explains what will be changing in Chile: 

Education Minister, Mr. Nicolás Eyzaguirre (with a powerful political and financial experience and profile) has announced the first wave of legislation, to be sent to Congress in May, whose details are now being drafted. They include, amongst other things, the radical ending of academic selection and skimming, the gradual elimination of cost-sharing (to reduce social skimming), the phasing out of 3,500 for-profit schools (to be converted into non-profits), the radical pruning of the standardized testing system, the strengthening and expansion of the public network of schools (so that they can compete in a better way with the charters) and a major reform to the teaching profession, from its training (completely unregulated so far), to improving salaries and working conditions.

While it is not an overall end to private education, these changes do seem – to use a word Waissbluth employs in the quote above – somewhat radical. What seems even more striking, to an outside observer, is the fact that these changes have come about after the student protests that came to be known as the “Chilean Winter” of 2011-2013.

Valentina Quiroga

Valentina Quiroga

It will be interesting to understand better the link between these protests and the reforms. For example, in February Valentina Quiroga (one of the student leaders involved with the protests) was appointed undersecretary of education.

It is also interesting to note that coverage of Chile’s education reforms has been somewhat limited, and information in English-language news sources is not easy to find. We will continue to pay close attention to the evolving situation in Chile and will follow-up with another post in the coming weeks.

Deirdre Faughey

For more information:

Reforma educacional: las claves del proceso que busca poner fin a la selección en los colegios

Chile: Students set to win free higher education

Chile’s Bachelet to unveil $8bn tax hike to fund education boost

Chile: Bachelet elected, social reforms begin

Education Reform in Japan

Dr. Christopher Bjork’s most recent publication, Japanese education in an era of globalization, which he co-edited with Gary DeCoker, was published in May of 2013 by Teachers College Press. The following post is based on a conversation in which he discussed educational reform in Japan.

As Dr. Bjork explained, education reforms in Japan in the 1990s aimed to “relax” strict educational standards and policies that many viewed as contributing to anti-social student behaviors, such as bullying and violence. In an attempt to relieve students of stress caused by high stakes testing, long hours spent in school, and rote learning, Japan implemented progressive, student-centered policies that privileged creative thinking and collaboration.  These changes were designed augment student interest in learning.

Teachers tended agreed with the goals of the relaxed education (yutori kyoiku) reforms, but often had difficulty implementing the initiatives in their classrooms.  Secondary instructors, in particular, were reluctant to diverge from practices that had proven effective in the past.  Dr. Bjork attributes this resistance to the cogent influence of entrance examinations, which act as gatekeepers and determine students’ future level of education attainment. Concerns about student performance on these exams made teachers reluctant to adopt strategies that they saw as unrelated to the content of the exam, and parents less willing to rely on the school system to sufficiently prepare their children for the challenges that lay ahead. As a result, many parents looked to private tutoring programs to fill what they saw as a gap in the children’s education.

Today, despite the country’s superior performance on the 2012 PISA test, the conservative government of Japan has a new agenda for overhauling the education system, which includes improving English fluency among teachers and students, teaching morals, and revamping the college entrance exam. A flurry of reports over the past few months also show that there is much debate over the government’s plan to revise curricula to state Japan’s territorial claims over disputed islands in teaching guidelines.  Although some vestiges of the relaxed education policies remain in place, their impact fell far short of the Ministry of Education’s initial projections.  The goal of alleviating pressure in the schools proved more ambitious than had been anticipated.

Education reform in East Asia

Dr. Philip Hallinger

Dr. Philip Hallinger

This post is drawn from a conversation with Dr. Phillip Hallinger, the Joseph Lau Chair Professor and director of the Asia Pacific Centre for Leadership and Change at the Hong Kong Institute of Education.  He spoke with us about some of the issues surrounding the last two decades of education reform in East Asia, which he addresses in his most recent article, Synthesis of findings from 15 years of educational reform in Thailand: lessons on leading educational change in East Asia,” published in the International Journal of Leadership in Education: Theory and Practice. 

East Asian countries have been actively pursuing education reform over the past two decades. Largely, goals of such reforms have included student-centered learning, teaching with technology, school-based management, and teacher empowerment – ideas that have originated in either the US, the UK, or Australia, and travelled around the world on what Hallinger calls “the winds of globalization.” As Hallinger explained, where Asian societies years ago were once much more isolated, cultural and national boundaries today are permeable. While this “policy borrowing” can be interpreted as a move to build a more modern education system, it belies a “cultural mismatch” that can render the policy ineffective in practice. As Hallinger (2013) suggests, “where educational changes conflict with fundamental cultural values, the process is likely to encounter even greater resistance and require a longer time frame for implementation” (p. 17).

Hallinger’s (2013) recent article, written with Darren A. Bryant, focuses on Thailand and identifies lessons that can apply broadly to the region and beyond. As Hallinger and Bryant explain, Thailand aimed to expand access to education during the 1990s by increasing compulsory education from six to nine years, and finally to 12 years of free schooling, in an effort to improve the knowledge and skill level of the labor force. However, with the increase in access came concerns over educational quality, and in 1999 the National Education Act (1999) was passed, setting ambitious new goals for teaching and learning that many today feel the country has not attained in the ten years since the initial implementation of the reform. Some have also  linked the country’s recent social unrest to the perception of unequal access to quality education.

Hallinger and Bryant also note that in countries such as Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, China and Taiwan, there is a similar gap between the vision of educational change and the reality on the ground. In Thailand, for example, despite the government directive that all teachers implement student-centered learning, a survey of 1800 principals found that only about a one-third reported that their teachers actively engaged the reforms in their teaching practice. Hallinger attributes this disappointment to “over-promising,” rather than faulty strategy, and explains that a successful implementation would require more than a decade in any country. In Thailand, “local factors,” such as budget constraints, cultural mismatch, and political instability, have further tested reform efforts.

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.”

Denmark

Denmark’s latest education reforms require that both teachers and students spend more time in school, but what is the plan for how that time will be spent? A recent news report describes that it is the conservative Danish People Party’s view that in order to address a disparity between the number of students studying at the general upper secondary schools and the needs of the Danish job market, the government should limit the enrollment to upper secondary schools and increase the number of students studying at vocational and commercial schools. The ruling government, for it’s part, has developed a plan that focuses on ” improved academic standards, increased professional standards of teachers, principals and other pedagogical staff and clear objectives and increased local independence for the development of the public school.”

This follows reforms proposed in Norway earlier this year, which sought to review the practicality of the curriculum and explore how vocational education could better meet the needs of that country’s job market.