Tag Archives: School reform

Bringing Effective Instructional Innovation to Scale through Social Movement in Mexico and Colombia

As part of a symposium focused on educational innovation around the world  at the annual conference of the American Educational Assocation in Chicago next week, we are sharing commentary papers from the participants.  Today’s contribution is from Santiago Rincón-Gallardo, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. 

 

The Learning Community Project (LCP) in Mexico and Escuela Nueva in Colombia are examples of effective instructional innovation at scale. When I talk about instructional innovation I refer to pedagogical principles and practices that deliberately disrupt the traditional instructional culture and power relations of schooling. More specifically, an instructional innovation is one that radically redefines the instructional core by deliberately shifting the relationships between teachers and students in the presence of content.

Learning Community Project (LCP)

In the LCP, for example, students select their topics of study from the available collection of topics mastered by a tutor in the group, they develop individual lines of inquiry at their own pace, and are expected to demonstrate their learning in writing and in public presentations to the group and often to the larger community. Once they master a topic, they are expected to become tutors to other students – and even to adults in the group. The boundary between teachers and students becomes blurry, with teachers becoming students and students becoming teachers depending on who masters a particular topic and who is interested in learning it. Tutorial relationships are the key technology to encourage deep learning in these learning communities: the tutor and tutee engage in one-on-one dialogue to make evident what the tutee already knows about a topic, identify areas of struggle, and to crafts questions or point to additional materials so that the the tutee t can come up with her own answers.

Escuela Nueva

Escuela Nueva in Colombia transforms the conventional culture and structure of schooling into a learner-centered participatory model with a flexible promotion mechanism that allows students to move from one grade to another and complete academic units at their own pace. In these multi-grade schools, children work individually and in small groups using learning guides that are by design interactive and dialogue-based as well as learning materials available whenever needed in a “Learning Corner.” Students help each other when they struggle, and ask the teacher for suggestions or comments when necessary. Individual mastery and cooperation are seamlessly integrated into every classroom activity. Teachers constantly move from group to group, tailoring their one-on-one and group interventions to the emerging needs in the classroom. Community participation and a student school government are integrated in the everyday activities of the school, offering multiple opportunities to practice and master democratic behaviors and values.

Innovation, effectiveness, and spread

These are examples of instructional innovation in action. They have radically redefined the instructional core. But innovation per se is meaningless if it doesn’t deepen and improve student learning. Both the LCP and Escuela Nueva have demonstrated significant improvements in student performance on national standardized tests, even though standardized tests have not been their area of focus. Learning Community schools increased in 3 years the percentage of students achieving good and excellent levels in language and math at a faster pace than the national average (DGDGIE, 2012), whereas in the 1990s Escuela Nueva students – mostly from rural schools – consistently outperformed their better-off counterparts in urban schools (Psacharopoulos, Rojas & Velez 1992).

And maybe more importantly, these two models, have spread from a handful to thousands of schools at some point in time. In 2012, LCP model was operating in 9000 public schools across Mexico. In the 1980s, Escuela Nueva had been adopted as national policy and reached 20,000 rural schools in Colombia. These initiatives are similar in their genesis and development to social movements. Upon witnessing powerful learning themselves and observing clear improvements in the learning and engagement of their students, teachers and local educational authorities have mobilized in coordination with project leaders to activate social networks, spread interest and gain support. Leaders of both projects have been able to gain access to institutional power and political influence to disseminate the new pedagogies on a large scale. Dalila López and Gabriel Cámara, historical leaders of the LCP were invited in 2009 to the Department of Innovation at the Mexican Ministry of Education and once there brought in several project leaders to her team. Vicky Colbert, co-founder of Escuela Nueva, was Deputy Minister of Education in Colombia when Escuela Nueva was adopted as a national policy, she also brought to her team teacher leaders with strong experience on instructional innovation. Once in power, these two guiding coalitions developed a progressive partnership between policy and practice, rather than the conventional top-down separation that has characterized education policy in Latin America and abroad . Across the system, project participants, regardless of their formal role in the institution, were expected to practice and model the new pedagogies on a regular basis. 

Conditions and challenges for innovation and spread

Here are, in a nutshell 5 key conditions that were created to enable the large-scale dissemination of the new pedagogies advanced through the LCP and Escuela Nueva.

1) developing a new pedagogy that allows teachers to experience powerful learning themselves and to witness observable improvements in the knowledge, skills and attitudes of their students as a result of changing their practice

2) creating access to multiple opportunities to observe, practice, and refine the new pedagogy (e.g., classroom-based coaching, communities of practice, and school visits/exchanges);

3) gaining the support or permission from local educational authorities to depart from conventional schooling practices

4) starting at the margins of the educational system, where the needs are greatest and the presence of institutional controls over the everyday activities of schools is weaker. This offers tremendous opportunities to radically depart from conventional practice

5) creating a guiding coalition of pedagogical change leaders with access to institutional power and political support to protect and expand the influence of the innovation

A key limitation to the large-scale instructional innovation approach just presented is that it is subject to marginalization or disappearance from the policy arena when there are drastic shifts in the political agenda. This has been the case in both the LCP and Escuela Nueva. At the pinnacle of their success, changes in administration and in system priorities resulted in the departure of the national leadership of these projects from their respective Ministries of Education.

Bureaucratization, ritualization or mechanization of the original model is also a risk when the innovation is brought to scale too quickly, a phenomenon that has been observed in the two cases in question. In both cases, the work to sustain the movements of pedagogical change spurred by these projects and to ensure quality of their core pedagogical practices has continued through NGOs formed by the former leaders of LCP and Escuela Nueva. As is often the case with social movements, their visibility may be reduced for now, but they continue to cultivate a movement that is radically redefining teaching and learning in public schools. In this new phase, the model of dissemination at scale will have to rely more on the power of effective networks to consolidate and spread the new pedagogies reliably and at scale than on formal access to institutional power.

Lockout and reform: A turbulent year for schools in Denmark

Jakob Wandall

Jakob Wandall

As the school year begins again in Denmark, we asked education researcher and consultant Jakob Wandall to take a look back at the lockout that closed the schools last March, review the key disagreements that led to the standoff, and consider the implications for the upcoming school year and beyond.

In Denmark, the month of March is usually the most intense period of time in the school year as teachers and students prepare for final examinations; however, this past year was an exception as schools were closed. The Municipalities Association (KL), backed by the center-left government, closed the schools in an effort to dismantle long-standing teacher privileges that the teachers’ union refused to concede in negotiations. The 99 municipalities in Denmark are responsible for running the public schools.

In the first days of April, the four-week “lockout” of teachers came to an end, but as a result, schools are now valued even more highly by the more than 600,000 pupils and about 60,000 teachers who were affected.

The standoff between the Municipalities Association (KL) and the Danish Teachers’ Union (DLF) raised questions about the viability of the so-called “Danish model” on the public sector labor market, which is largely governed by collective agreements between employers and trade unions, relative equals in negotiations. These two parties are accustomed to reaching agreements without the need for the national government to step in through legislation.

Danish teachers protest during teacher lockout.

Danish teachers protest during teacher lockout.

This dispute arose because the main teachers’ union did not want to give up the principles upon which working hours were regulated. A full-time teacher taught approximately 25 class periods per week (45 minutes per lesson), unless it was decided that the teacher should perform other tasks (e.g. administrative work, guidance of pupils, further education). This equals approximately 19 teaching hours, and a total of 41 working hours per workweek. This pre-lockout arrangement resulted in schedules that consisted of less than 40% of working hours spent teaching, and no obligation for teachers to be present at school during the remaining working hours. Historically, this schedule represented the belief that teachers had a right to work independently on planning and organization.

According to the Danish model if the parties cannot come to an agreement and further negotiations seems useless, there are four possibilities: the prior agreement could be prolonged, the union could strike, the employers could institute a lockout, or the government/parliament could intervene through legislation as a last resort. The idea behind the strike/lockout is that this should hurt both sides: employers lose production and the workers lose wages. In the public sector, where there is loss of production, there is a greater risk for local politicians as the population could turn against them. In this case, there were several unsuccessful attempts by KL to dismantle the existing working time agreement with the teachers prior to the ultimate lockout of March of 2013.

While Danish students usually go to school from about 8 AM to 1 PM and often attend a publicly financed after-school club, the government and a large part of the opposition to the existing agreement wanted to extend the school day.  The additional time would be devoted to academic work and give less time for “free” play, which is something the Danes have always prioritized. Generally, the teachers were against this approach as well as the proposed changes to their workweek, which was viewed as a preliminary step to making the school day longer in the future. They wanted to solidify their right to a specific length of preparation time in a national agreement rather than leave it to local heads of school who may be pressured by budget considerations.

In the media, the government’s reform was presented as very popular; the general school debate over the last decade has been strongly influenced by mediocre PISA results. KL pointed to teachers’ working hours as the main cause of the PISA scores.

The teachers' union DLF, led by Anders Bondo Christensen (left), in grueling negotiations with Michael Ziegler (right) and KL (Photo: Scanpix)

The teachers’ union DLF, led by Anders Bondo Christensen (left), negotiated with Michael Ziegler (right) and KL (Photo: Scanpix)

At the start of the lockout, parents were faced with the prospect of no school and not knowing when it would start again. It was particularly awkward and difficult for the children. But the parents recruited grandparents, took vacation early or brought the kids along to their workplace as many companies established educational facilities or made space available for the kids. The vast majority in the population felt that this was a legitimate fight between municipalities and the teachers union, and that it should be fought without intervention.

On April 2nd, The Danish parliament passed a law that decided the terms and conditions of Danish teachers without consulting them. The DFL argued that the lockout was premature, heavy-handed, and unfairly one-sided in favor of the local authorities. The teachers union had lost the battle.

But what about the teachers? Many of them spent a month trying to mobilize support led by their trade union and used Facebook and email to show the Danes that they were against the action taken by KL. Most appeared to be delighted to get back to work, despite the general opposition to the agreement forced through by the government. After the conflict everyone worked together and the majority felt that there were no negative effects on cooperation inside the school. Many local governments and school leaders silently disapproved of the lockout. Despite the loss of one month, the mandatory tests and examinations were carried out according to plan. Whether the students have learned less will probably never be explored.

On June 8th 2013, the government and a majority of the opposition in the parliament agreed upon the details for a new plan for school reform. Beginning in August of 2014, the students in Denmark will be spending more time in school. At the same time the applications to teacher training colleges in Denmark has dropped dramatically and 1 out of 2 teachers in Denmark is considering leaving the profession.

The debate over whether this additional teaching time will lead to a better school and more proficient students is ongoing. Meanwhile, at this year’s annual Soroe Meeting (a traditional meeting that brings together those most familiar with pressing educational concerns, including members of parliament, educational journalists, civil servants, researchers, and others) invitees met to discuss leadership and preparation for change. This annual meeting has a strong impact on Danish educational policy, which makes this year’s theme (“Klar til fremtidens skole,” meaning  “Ready for the School of the Future”) of great interest to those concerned about what will happen with Denmark’s schools in the near future. While reporters in attendance do not write about what is discussed at this informal meeting, many attendees shared their experiences on Twitter.

For more information:

Denmark: School Reform

Photo: Klaus Holsting

Anders Bondo Christensen
Photo: Klaus Holsting

The latest school reform proposal in Denmark calls for a 25-hour workweek for teachers, inclusion education, measurable goals, and a collaborative discussion about teacher training. Despite the fact that the reform has controversial implications for wages, work hours, and professional development, Anders Bondo Christensen (chairman of the Danish Union of Teachers) has garnered the support of the majority of teachers. Christensen is now hoping that Education Minister Christine Antorini will see that the plan is close to the government’s objectives.

Education Minister Christine Antorini

Education Minister Christine Antorini

However, in a controversial move, Minister Antorini has just  introduced a large-scale study in which more than 3,500 students in a total of 200 schools will be taught in their native languages, including Arabic and Turkish. In a press release, Antorini said, “We want to know more about what helps develop the language skills and knowledge of bilingual students. The trials will use and strengthen the tools that some schools and councils already have available today.”

Danish People's Party Education Spokesperson, Alex Ahrendsten

Danish People’s Party Education Spokesperson, Alex Ahrendsten

Alex Ahrendtsen, Danish People’s Party education spokesman, expressed the his disapproval.  “I’m shocked,” he said. “In the midst of school talks, she allows such a bomb blast.It destroys a really suitable climate for negotiations.” Instead, Ahrendtsen would prefer to see greater efforts to include bilingual students in Danish culture.

Other Nordic countries are debating similar issues and are watching closely.

For more information:

Please consult links embedded in the scan above, as well as those listed below.

Primary School Gets Back Hours in Mother Tongue (link in Danish)

Broad Support for Bondo’s Teacher Initiative (link in Danish)

Liberal Alliance: High school test should not determine access to secondary education (in Danish)