Tag Archives: teacher education

My View from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Trista Hollweck on School Closures and the Pandemic

This week IEN features an e-mail interview with Dr. Trista Hollweck, (@tristateach) Project Director of the ARC Education Project & Part-Time Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa.

This post is the eighth in a series that includes views from Chile, Japan, the Netherlands, Scotland, Liberia, Pakistan, and Australia. The “A view from…” series editors are IEN’s Thomas Hatch and Karen Edge, Reader/Associate Professor in Educational Leadership at University College London’s Institute of Education.

IEN: What’s happening with you and your family?

Trista Hollweck: Where I live in Ottawa, Canada, the final week of June marked the ‘official’ last days of the 2019-2020 school year. And what a strange year it has been. Since the start of 2020, my three elementary-aged children have been out of school due to a number of unusual events: a province-wide labour dispute, which resulted in a number of rotating strike action days, inclement weather (this year it seemed we had an unusually high number of snow days) and a global coronavirus pandemic that catapulted 91% of students across the world into a full-time ‘learning at home’ context. As a result of COVID-19, my husband and I have also found ourselves working at home and sharing space, screens and bandwidth with our children. To say that I have found the experience challenging is likely an understatement, but I also recognize my extreme privilege. There have been no deaths due to the coronavirus in my immediate circle. I also continue to have paid work, have access to technology and outdoor green space and share virtual schooling responsibilities with my partner. I know it could be a lot worse and it certainly has been for many and these disparities will continue into the future.

Dr Trista Hollweck. Photo: annemariebouchard.com

IEN: What’s happening with education/learning in your community?

TH: As I reflect on the end of this academic year, I am definitely relieved to have the weight of ‘learning at home’ off my shoulders for the summer. However, the recently released provincial reopening plan gives me pause. The plan requires school boards to prepare for three different scenarios: a normal school day routine with enhanced public health protocols, a modified school day routine based on smaller class sizes, cohorting and alternative day or week delivery, and at-home learning with ongoing enhanced remote delivery. My children are part of the Ottawa Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) who released their plan for a fall school schedule which breaks students into cohorts of 15, with one cohort attending school on Monday and Tuesday, all cohorts home Wednesday while schools are deep cleaned and a second cohort attending Thursday and Friday. Apparently, cohorts at home will be learning alongside those in school. There are many remaining questions about this plan for students, families and educators. How will students and staff be protected? Why the deep cleaning on Wednesday? How will students at home be learning simultaneously with those at school or will teachers be responsible for both in class and online workloads? As expected, this plan has not been well-received by parents and health care providers who have raised serious concerns about the safety and mental health of children if they remain isolated and take issue with some of the quality of distance learning. In response, there is an active movement advocating for a full return to school in the fall. Educators and school staff remain concerned about the health and safety protocols in any school reopening plan. Personally, I struggle with the possibility of continuing to balance work and home beyond the summer, especially since all our children’s summer camps were cancelled. In fact, I think 15-year-old Ontarian, Liv McNeil, brilliantly captures what I and so many are feeling at this moment in her short film “Numb” submitted for a pandemic assignment at the Etobicoke School of the Arts.

Usually at this time of the year I am feeling more chipper and optimistic, but instead I am left with a sense of loss. As a part-time professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa, I am disappointed for the teacher candidates who were unable to complete their first practicum placements in schools and worried about what their second year might look like. As a mentor-coach and teacher leader, I am deeply worried for my colleagues and other teachers and school leaders who are very concerned about what the fall will look like, whether they will have the necessary time to plan and whether their health and safety will be considered. They are also exhausted from having to pivot rapidly from traditional bricks and mortar schooling to emergency remote learning, learn new instructional skills at breakneck speeds whilst simultaneously navigating often unclear and conflicting opinions and expectations from the Ministry, school district, union, parents, and education experts and public intellectuals. Many of them also remain very concerned about some of their students who they know have difficult home lives and feel quite helpless in being able to support and care for them. Finally, I feel sorry that so many students did not get to experience their proms and graduation events as they were intended. That said, a quick tour around my neighbourhood and across my social media feed shows just how creatively schools, families and communities have rallied to celebrate events, mark graduations and reimagine the traditional convocation ceremony. Lawns and windows are dotted with signs broadcasting that a “Graduate from the Class of 2020 lives here” and it is inspiring to see the sheer volume of innovative virtual proms, farewell tributes, and powerful commencement speeches. One of my friends who is a principal at a small school even told me that their individualized pandemic graduation approach was so well-received by students and families that it will likely become a school tradition. This idea of using the pandemic as an opportunity to rethink schooling- to build on what is working well and discard that which has long been broken, also leaves me feeling a sense of hope and inspiration for the future of public education. I do not yearn for a return to ‘normal’ schooling which has never served all children well or equitably. Rather, we have an important opportunity to learn from this unique pandemic experience and build our system back better.

This idea of using the pandemic as an opportunity to rethink schooling – to build on what is working well and discard that which has long been broken, also leaves me feeling a sense of hope and inspiration for the future of public education

IEN: What do you/your community need help with?

TH: In Ontario, it is safe to say that from a parental perspective the remote emergency teaching and learning has been a bit of a mixed bag. Whilst some educators have been incredible in their ability to offer innovative and impressive distance learning provisions, others seem to have struggled. Moving forward into a hybrid or blended learning situation, there will need to be opportunities for educators to learn from and support one another through mentoring and coaching, collaborate in professional networks, have clearer expectations for what is expected and access useful professional learning and development. During the pandemic, there have been incredible professional learning offerings. I have found curated resources on websites, webinars and online workshops focusing on trauma-informed approaches to teaching, culturally responsive approaches, restorative justice in education, repurposing our pedagogies, and building community in an online environment very useful. I think teachers and school leaders will need help navigating the sheer magnitude of available resources. Clear expectations and directives as to what effective distance learning and hybrid learning should look like would also help.

Systems will also need to find and fund supportive structures for the social and emotional wellbeing of students, teachers, school staff, school leaders and the wider school community. As an educational community, we will also need to take a moment to consider the purpose of schooling and reject practices that are not aligned with our aims. We must also listen to our students. Whereas some have thrived with self-directed learning, others as Liv McNeil captured in her video have found it a soul-destroying experience. In my own family, it has been hardest on my grade-five son, despite his teachers’ best efforts. With organization and self-direction already an issue, virtual schooling required constant supervision and prodding. He dreaded the twice weekly google meets (even though they were very well-structured), never remembered to submit assignments (even though they were complete and the platform was easy to use) and overall, missed learning by listening in class and the supportive feedback he received daily from his teachers. As he said to us, “I always liked doing my work at school so I never had homework and now all I have is homework.” Incredibly, his teachers noticed his struggles and set up individual weekly chats to keep him on track and check in. Going forward, we will need to continue to be creative in our instructional approaches, embed new pandemic pedagogies, prioritize wellbeing and relationships, collaborate and learn with and from other systems, work with stakeholders, and be innovative in finding ways to get all students learning in a safe and consistent manner.

“I always liked doing my work at school so I never had homework and now all I have is homework”

IEN: What resources/links/supports have you found most useful?

TH: In my work as the Project Director for the ARC education Project, I am fascinated by how our different member systems are managing the pandemic and education. I am also following what we can learn from other responses across the country and globe (see Educational International, the OECD, HundrEd, Unicef, People for Education, UNESCO). I believe Ontario can learn a lot from and with its global partners and that we need more ways to share our experiences and include key stakeholder voices at the decision-making table. Twitter has always been an excellent resource for me as an educator and it has been truly wonderful during the pandemic. I have an opportunity to learn from educators around the world and access content and practices I may not normally. I have been following People for Education, Carol Campbell and Caroline Alfonso among others to give me insight on what is happening in Ontario. I have also been actively engaged with my Facebook friends and gauging their responses to the numerous articles and opinion pieces that I am posting. This helps me get a sense of different perspectives and keeps me thinking critically. There are no easy solutions and no plan that will make everyone happy. Finally, as a mentor-coach and practitioner, I have appreciated Growth Coaching International’s #curiousconvos webinars (and even participated in my first one) as well as the resources made available by the Instructional Coaching Group and Cult of Pedagogy.

A typical day at home. Photo: Trista Hollweck

IEN: What are you reading, watching, listening to that you would recommend to others?

TH: During this time, I have been co-teaching a graduate course in the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa with my colleague Dr. Linda Radford called Pandemic Pedagogies: Responsive Teaching and Learning in Times of Crisis. Together with our students, we have been thinking with and against Deborah Britzman’s (1998) Lost subjects, contested objects toward a psychoanalytic inquiry of learning and Cherie Dimaline’s (2017) young adult fiction novel “The Marrow Thieves.” This course has been very helpful to push my thinking and help me make sense of my own pandemic experience. As other writers have noted, dystopian books (I am revisiting Margaret Atwood’s body of work), movies and TV series are bizarrely comforting to me during this time.

IEN: What have you found most inspiring?

TH: I have found many moments of inspiration during the pandemic. It is amazing to see how quickly schools and districts have found innovative ways to deliver food, social services support, technology and mobile hotspot devices to students as well as how they’ve delivered curriculum using online, radio, television and printed methods. So many teachers have been incredibly innovative in their pandemic pedagogies and their use of online platforms and social media apps such as Tik Tok and Instagram to connect with their students. Colleagues at my previous school district, the Western Quebec School Board (WQSB), are also a constant source of inspiration. Since most elementary schools outside of the greater Montreal area in the province of Quebec reopened in May, I believe we can learn a lot from their experience and creativity (see the interviews with WQSB teacher Letha Henry and principal Sam Halpin). Ultimately, I tend to dwell in a place of hope and am inspired to believe that together we can use this terrible situation to catalyze transformational change and improve our public education system.

The Latest Recommendations for Education Reform in Finland

Even in Finland, consistently a top performer on international tests, declines in recent national and international assessments have spawned tasks forces and calls for improvement. As Pasi Sahlberg tweeted last week, recently released reports in Finland have focused on creating a “Continuum of Teacher Development,” establishing “Tomorrow’s Comprehensive School,” and (most recently) exploring the future of higher education. While teacher preparation is often highlighted as a strength of the Finnish system, improving support for teachers figures prominently in many of the proposed recommendations. In fact, the report on creating a “Continuum of Teacher Development” is described as calling for an “overhaul” of teacher training. That report includes recommendations for Universities and teacher education colleges to develop an approach to mentoring and “induction” into the teaching profession that includes training and supporting mentors, developing a national network of mentors, and ensuring that graduating students have a personal development plan and support in the transition to “working life.”

“Tomorrow’s Comprehensive School” (with an accompanying brochure in English) was produced by a task force that included researchers, teacher educators, school principals and teachers. As Jari Lavonen, a task force member and Professor and Head of the Department Teacher Education at the University of Helsinki explained, their main charge from the Minister of Education was to assess the current situation, examine the reasons for the drop in learning outcomes in the PISA survey and other national assessments, and “find ways to make students feel more motivated and enjoy school.” The task force identified challenges to improvement at the national, municipal, and classroom level, as well in teacher preparation. In response to these challenges, the report highlights several key “themes” deemed central to improving learning attitudes and outcomes:

  • The structures and practices of basic education must strive to eliminate links between a pupil’s learning outcomes and his or her social background, living area or gender.
  • Allocation of resources adequate to guarantee a high standard of teaching in basic education must be ensured in the future.
  • Development of new pedagogical solutions that will support both communal and individual learning.
  • Developing the school as an ethical and a learning community where pupils have a voice and a choice, and also responsibility for their own learning.
  • Further development of research-based teacher education in cooperation with universities and municipalities to form a continuum of initial education and professional development of teachers
  • Support for teachers’ lifelong professional development.
  • Develop new models for teachers’ work and the use of their working time.
  • Enhancing principal’s preparation and establishing personal plans to support their professional development.

One news item on the task force report focused particularly on proposals to increase extra-curricular activities and to make changes in the school schedule, quoting Aulis Pitkälä, Director General of the Finnish National Board of Education, as saying, “We more or less unanimously came to the conclusion that the school day should begin no earlier than nine in the morning.” (Notably, calls for reform in the United States often involve demands to increase class time, already substantially more than is required in Finland, though not as much as is often reported, as Sam Abrams sorted out in a recent post on teaching time in the U.S.)

Auli Toom, University lecturer in Higher Education at the University of Helsinki, highlighted that creating a more systemic approach to “in-service” support for teachers and connecting pre-service and in-service teacher education have been under discussion for over ten years, but she hoped that this report might finally lead to some changes. She was also encouraged by a task force recommendation to establish a national, longitudinal programme of research that would investigate the characteristics of the Finnish educational system and its impact on student learning, but it is not clear if that recommendation will be implemented.

Pasi Sahlberg, author with Andy Hargreaves of a new post about “saving” PISA, commented that the report was particularly welcome because it provides a much-needed look at Finland’s education system and its current challenges. “It takes a comprehensive look at not only cognitive aspects of education but also how to make teaching and learning more meaningful,” he added. “However, it remains silent about what many have said to be the most important shortcoming in Finland: What kind of comprehensive school do we need in 2030?” Without a clear vision Sahlberg worries that some will see the report as an effort to bring PISA results in Finland back to the top of the charts. “Making Finland the top PISA performer is the wrong vision.”

Thomas Hatch

 

 

Improving teacher education in Norway

In 2013, Karen Hammerness and Kirsti Klette reported on the efforts to improve teacher education in Norway. In this post, following recent conversations with members of the Ministry of Education in Norway, Hammerness puts the work on teacher education in historical perspective and describes some of the latest developments.

Norway is a particularly interesting country to follow in terms of teacher education policy. Questions about the quality of education came to the forefront in 2000, with the publication of the first PISA results (what some Norwegians refer to as “the PISA-shock”). Those results showed that Norwegian students had not performed as well as many had hoped or expected. In fact, along with students in the United States, Norwegian students’ outcomes, were slightly lower than the average of the OECD countries measured. Concerns continued to mount when the second round of PISA revealed Norwegian students’ performance declining further.

A weak system of teacher education was considered to be one of the key problems. Policy makers and educators pointed to several key challenges. First, teacher preparation was organized around a ‘generalist’ conception of teaching. At the time, the Norwegian system of teacher certification allowed teachers to teach all subjects at all grade levels—a conception captured by the term allmenlærer—roughly translated as “teacher of all.” Next, the quality—and size—of teacher preparation programs varied considerably throughout the country. Furthermore, teacher education coursework in the programs seemed disconnected from teaching practice and was not tightly tied to current research on teaching and learning. Finally, reports suggested a steady decline in applications to teacher education institutions, amplifying concerns about a lack of qualified teachers in the near future.

Teacher education reforms

In response, over the last five years, Norway has invested heavily in funding for work on teacher education and teaching and made a number of important policy changes. In 2010, building upon a white paper that had summarized key concerns about preparation of teachers, Norway transformed their system of certification and established two ‘lines’ or ‘streams’ of certification—a stream that prepares teachers for grades 1-7 (somewhat similar to a primary school certification in the US), and another that prepares teachers to teach grades 5-10 (when lower secondary school ends in Norway). A new national curriculum framework for teacher education was also developed and came into effect in 2010. The framework required more coursework on pedagogy and learner knowledge, including an emphasis upon research-based subject-specific methods, learners’ development, and classroom management. The new framework also created new graduation requirements including the completion of a bachelors’ thesis, related to teaching and learning. In addition, new regulations stipulated that teacher education programs would need to increase the percentage of faculty who have completed doctoral studies—ultimately, requiring programs to ensure that 50% of faculty have PhDs.

A proposal was also made to address some larger ‘structural’ issues that affected the quality of higher education. In particular, in 2008, the government released a report calling for a reduction in programs in higher education, including teacher education. Correspondingly, some policymakers expected that the new requirements might lead to significant restructuring, particularly among smaller and more remote teacher education programs. Conceivably, such programs might decide to focus upon one degree; they might start to share students, collaborate or even merge with other local institutions; or the programs might determine that they could not meet the new demands and might voluntarily choose to close.

Responses to the reforms

These moves to streamline programs are not easy in a country like Norway. Teacher preparation has been central to the identity of many of the smaller institutions throughout the country—reflecting a social policy that has been supportive of small institutions in a country in which the population has been somewhat ‘spread out’ across a wide geographical area. The existence of such small, local academic institutions (and teacher preparation programs) reflects a national investment and policy support for the deeply held value of living and working locally. This support for living in in widely-dispersed regions throughout the country in fact has been a historical Norwegian value–and it seems understandable, given that Norway spans about 2,500 miles from north to south (and, with 25,000 miles of rugged coastline, it is among the ten countries with the longest coastlines).

Norwegian educators point out that teacher education programs have been central to supporting and financially maintaining smaller regional institutions of higher education. As Øyvind Johnson, a Senior Advisor at the Ministry, noted, “Teacher education is the pillar of many of these small institutions.” Many of these institutions prepare only a very few teachers every year (although of course, they also are intended to prepare teachers who are committed to remaining local). For instance, reflective of the small scale of some of these institutions: a recent report found that of the twenty programs in Norway that prepare teachers for teaching in grades 1-7, as many as twelve institutions have fewer than 50 student-teachers, and two have as few as nine students.

The new requirements have put considerable strain on some of the smaller institutions throughout Norway to redesign, develop new curriculum, and to change program expectations. However, Ministry representatives reported that none of the programs thus far had chosen to focus only upon one certification ‘stream’ nor had any programs voluntarily closed entirely. At one point, the Ministry considered requiring programs to have a minimum of twenty students in order to remain open, but never put such a requirement in place. As Johnson noted, “If programs had under twenty applicants, what would you do?” In short, policymakers have been trying to develop policies that both strengthen programs and continue to provide support for small, local institutions (and local communities) all the while, maximizing flexibility and equity of participation. Not surprisingly, under these conditions, the number of teacher education programs that offered the allmenlærer degree has not changed since the reform: there were twenty programs prior to the latest reforms, and twenty remain.

What’s Next: A continued focus on “existing programs”

In considering future steps to continue to improve teacher education, the ministry has also just released a new strategy, Lærerløftet (or, raising teachers), which has set forth a set of key themes for continued improvement of teacher education. Top among them is the requirement that teachers in both streams will have to obtain a master’s degree. By 2017, all teacher education programs must be structured as 5-year programs. Senior advisors from the Ministry reported that several reasons underlay that decision: the desire to ensure that teachers are substantially well-prepared and the belief that an additional year beyond a Bachelor’s degree provides more depth of training; more support for teachers to use research in their teaching and to draw upon scientific knowledge in their work; and an opportunity for teachers to develop an understanding of the research base of teaching and learning through their work on a Master’s thesis. As Dalen Tennøe explained, “We looked to Finland, that teacher education should be research-based.” The latest strategy also calls for tightening requirements for entry into teacher education—Norwegian students are graded on a scale of 1-6 (1 being lowest and 6 highest), and currently the requirement has been that to enter teacher preparation one needed a three average in mathematics and Norwegian. Now, prospective teachers will need at least a four in mathematics to enter teacher education. Illustrating the challenges however, at the same time that the policy makers use the example of Finland to support the strengthening of these requirements, a recent newspaper article with the headline “Yrket som falt fra statustoppen” (the profession fallen from high status), shows that critics of these policies also use Finland as an example to argue that teachers should be granted greater autonomy without policy makers’ intrusions.

However the debate develops, Norwegian policymakers are not considering the development of alternative routes into teaching as a policy lever for improving teacher preparation. (For a related argument on why policy makers might not consider alternative pathways into teacher education, see Pasi Sahlberg’s post on why there is no Teach for Finland.) Senior Advisors in Norway were quite clear that the focus of policy was improvement of current programs, not on adding new or alternative pathways. Although Norway does have a “Teach First” program, it is the only alternative program in the country—it is offered at the University of Oslo and has only 20 students. As Fredrik Dalen Tennøe, Deputy Director General, Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, noted, “The main focus has been improving the teacher education programs which are there already, not introducing new [pathways] into the schools.”

 

Multicultural Education in South Korea

Over the past decade or so, South Korea (as well as Taiwan and Japan) has experienced a wave of immigration that has resulted in an increasingly ethnic and racially diverse population. The issue has received considerable attention—from the media, as well as from politicians—as the country works to find ways to address the needs of multicultural population, as well as a rising concerns about ethnic conflictsdiscrimination, and a general sense that South Korea is “not ready for multiculturalism.” However, South Korea is a country that been considering ways to “redefine multiculturalism,” such as with the concept of Tamunhwa (multiculturalism), which suggests that South Koreans need to learn as much as they can about the new immigrant population while finding ways to create a “new national identity not based on ethnicity.”

Dr. Jeehun Kim & Dr. Jang-ham Na

Dr. Jeehun Kim & Dr. Jang-ham Na

In order to learn more about how educators are addressing multiculturalism in the classroom, Eun-Kyoung Chung and Deirdre Faughey spoke with Dr. Jeehun Kim and Dr. Jang-ham Na, two visiting scholars at Teachers College, Columbia University, this semester. In this interview, posted on Esteem: Conversations Between Educators, the two scholars explain what they are learning about the multicultural classroom in South Korea. For example, while textbooks and the curriculum are centralized and the Ministry of Education has established guidelines for multicultural instruction, there is no mechanism for ensuring that these guidelines are followed by teachers and schools. This might be problematic for curricular reforms that aim to cater to multicultural populations that are geographically specific, as well as curricular reforms that aim to promote sensitivity to multiculturalism throughout the country.  The scholars also address the issue of teacher education, and the difficulties that sometimes arise when student teachers ask for strategies and methods that address the needs of a diverse student body. Since South Koreans have long considered their population homogenous, the issue of multiculturalism can become personal. As Jang-ham Na explains, “When it comes to multiculturalism, depending on what social background you have, sometimes you have some privilege compared with others. But the privilege will be gone in other places. So we have to be more critical.”

Esteem has also published recent interviews with scholars such as Luis Huerta, Christopher Emdin, Karen Hammerness, Maxine Greene, and Pedro Noguera.  To learn more please visit www.esteemjournal.org

“El Plan Maestro” & Teacher Education

During my recent visit to Chile, the deep and growing interest in issues of education was obvious as photographers and journalists crowded to document what was largely an academic gathering to discuss issues of teacher education. Lorena Meckes, a professor of education and one of my hosts at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, joked that eight years ago, “We would have had to buy all the journalists lunch to encourage them to write about education. But now, they call us up and say, ‘What do you have for us?’” However, as Cristián Cox, Dean of the Faculty of Education at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, also noted: “Chilean society is obsessed with education, but also deeply divided about how to go about it.”

As one effort to address those divisions and develop some consensus regarding efforts to improve teaching in particular, while I was in Chile, more than twenty different institutions delivered a statement to the government titled “El Plan Maestro.” The plan—a play on “master plan” as well as the Spanish word for teacher—has been developed by organizations that include the teachers’ union, research centers, institutions connected to teacher education, as well as members of student groups. In addition to a set of policy recommendations more generally aimed at improving the quality of teaching in Chile, “El Plan Maestro” also includes a call for three changes particularly relevant for teacher preparation: 1) A greater focus upon the process of recruiting potential teachers; 2) Stronger criteria to determine the selection of candidates; and 3) development of a set of national standards for the accreditation of teacher education programs.

The call for these changes grow out of a series of concerns about Chilean teacher education as a system. Teacher education programs vary considerably and are numerous—ranging from university-based institutions to private institutions, mirroring the K-12 landscape that includes a mix of public/private, not-for-profit and for- profit schools of variable quality. With no compulsory entrance exam, teacher education programs also vary in terms of selectivity—some programs serving students who have demonstrated high levels of academic performance and others who have not. Furthermore, there’s no required certification or exit exam to determine what students have learned in their teacher education programs or to what extent they are prepared to be successful in the classroom. Adding to this variability, applications to teacher preparation programs have skyrocketed with enrollment in teacher education tripling since 2002. (Current estimates suggest about 100,000 students are enrolled in teacher education institutions—including primary, secondary and special education).

While applicants for teacher education programs increase, educators, national committees within Chile as well as organizations such as OECD have raised questions about the nature and quality of the preparation. Many of these questions echo those in the US and elsewhere including concerns about the ‘gap’ between theory and practice and the relevance of coursework to classroom practice and to the everyday work of teaching.

Even before the delivery of El Plan Maestro, some recent policy developments since 2007 have begun to address these challenges for teacher education. First, institutions that prepare teachers must now be accredited. Second, policy makers put in place a new exit exam for all graduates (although it is not compulsory). Third, educators and policy makers have developed a set of standards—the Estándares Orientaciones para los Egresados de las Carreras de Pedagogía — for recently graduated teachers, published in 2010 by the Ministry of Education. These standards are intended to guide the development of curriculum within teacher education programs—from primary to upper secondary levels of teaching. The standards focus upon the disciplinary content knowledge, the pedagogical content knowledge, and the skills and practices that new teachers need to be able to enact in their classrooms. For instance, the standards include topics related to children’s literature as well as the representations of key ideas: “Teachers know a wide range of literature for children” and “Teachers know a range of representations of the concepts they will be teaching.” These new standards are intended to underscore a conception of teaching as a professional practice; as complex; and one which requires skills, strategies, and approaches that are research-based, and not easily learned through individual experience. In particular, the standards help communicate an understanding, that there are specific aspects of the practice of teaching that must be learned in the context of a deep and extended engagement with peers and more experienced teachers—not simply ‘on the job’ or in unsupported practical experiences in schools.

Despite these developments, recent results of the new non-compulsory certification exam revealed that of the 24 institutions participating, graduates from the less-selective institutions struggled. In at least 8 of those institutions, more than 50% of the graduates scored at what was identified as an ‘insufficient’ level on the exam. Of particular concern is the finding by Meckes, which suggests that the graduates who scored below the minimum requirements on the exit exams are more likely to be employed in lower-income communities. Conversely, graduates who were more successful on the exit exam were more likely to be employed by schools that served higher-income communities—again pointing to considerable inequities for children.

Looking forward, next steps include government funding for research on the current state of teacher education. For instance, faculty based at Centro De Estudios De Politicas Y Prácticas En Educación, CEPPE, at the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, developed a survey of graduates of all the teacher education institutions across Chile (more than 28 different institutions have participated so far). The survey measures teacher candidates “opportunities to learn” and to reach the standards for teacher education. The goal of the survey is ultimately, to ‘lift up’ the curriculum and pedagogy within teacher education across Chile by sharing online data on the results of reports by graduates. An institution participating in this survey will get a series of individual, program-based results that describe, for instance, the extent to which teacher candidates report opportunities to learn about the theoretical basis for teaching writing as well as the opportunities candidates report to learn about practical strategies for teaching pupils to write introductory paragraphs and to develop an argument in writing.

At the same time, given that the standards only specify a set of outcomes for teacher preparation without identifying the kinds of learning opportunities that might lead to achieving them, the government has also created a grant program aimed at improving the quality of teacher preparation, and in turn, at stronger teacher performance and increased learning outcomes for students. With this funding, eleven teacher education institutions have begun efforts to redesign courses, improve teaching practices within courses, and, in some cases, redesign specific experiences and assignments in courses in teacher education. For example, the faculty at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (PUC) has identified a set of ‘core practices’ upon which their program will focus (see related work at the University of Michigan and the CATE Project with which I am involved). Correspondingly, PUC faculty have redesigned courses and assignments and have also been working on professional development for other teacher education faculty to help incorporate these core practices into the redesign of the whole program. The funding is also being used to develop specific ways to address the considerable inequity for students, which is mirrored in (and amplified by) inequities in teacher education. One strategy the university has developed is to create a program and a credential or “certificate” specifically for teachers who will be working in low-income, urban areas. Other universities are using this funding to improve their coursework and student teaching experiences; at least one has introduced a mid-program assessment to enable a more timely determination of any gaps and weaknesses in candidate’s preparation; and another institution is using the funding to redesign their program to purposefully connect faculty and staff to the international research community.

–Karen Hammerness

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

Teacher Education in Singapore

The following post was written by Sarah Butrymowicz and was originally published on the Hechinger Ed blog of The Hechinger Report.

Lessons from Abroad: Singapore’s secrets to training world-class teachers

Singapore has been a hot topic in education circles ever since it began to appear near the top of the pack of international assessments in math and science in the mid-90s. The country has been held up as an example of a place where education is being done right: Singapore’s standards were higher and better than ours. Its commitment to education stronger. Its teacher training more rigorous.

This month, I visited the tiny nation to see firsthand just what it’s doing and whether lessons from Singapore are really something the U.S. can replicate. During a week touring schools and talking to students and educators, I had a chance to spend several hours at the National Institute of Education (NIE), the school responsible for training all the country’s teachers. It’s a selective school regarded highly by many in the international education community. But I learned a few things that surprised me:

– The school averages 16,000 applicants for 2,000 slots annually, without bothering to do any outreach to high school students.

Teaching is a sought-after profession in Singapore, so the NIE doesn’t need to send brochures to top students or advertise in schools. It is guaranteed an abundance of good candidates because becoming a teacher is highly prestigious. Admissions staff only look seriously at those in the top third of their class, though, and a competitive interview process weeds out those who might just be interested in the salary the Ministry of Education pays students during their training to become a teacher.

– In 2010, the NIE started a pilot e-portfolio program, which quickly expanded to the entire school. All teacher trainees must collect a sampling of projects and main assignments from each of their classes and write about their philosophy of teaching – and document how that changes as their training goes on. Originally intended as an assessment, the portfolio now has no grades or consequences attached to it. Students must present it to faculty prior to graduating, but NIE administration decided that it was better used as a resource and opportunity for reflection, rather than a high-stakes assessment.

– Once students graduate, they must serve in the classroom for at least three years. In that time, though, they have a lighter workload – about three quarters of what a regular teacher has – and a mentor to help them. They’re also not done with the NIE.

The school offers ongoing training for all teachers and has some courses specifically geared towards beginner teachers. A few are even required by the Ministry of Education for recent grads.

Singapore, of course, is a small, centralized country and not everything that they do can apply to the United States. But there were some marked contrasts—such as the popularity of the teaching profession and the continued relationship between teacher and training program even after they’re in the classroom—that the U.S. could learn from. I’ll be checking in again later this week with more of my observations.

Addressing teacher quality in Australia and India

Reports over the past month show that Australia and India are countries are implementing new policies to address teacher quality, albeit with two distinctly different approaches.

In Australia, principals will be given the power to address teacher behavior as part of an $150 million reform effort to improve the quality of teaching. Education Minister Adrian Piccoli described it to the AAP as “more like a private sector approach to performance management….It’s going to be a fair process but a tougher process than what exists already.” Teachers who fail to meet the new standards of conduct could be released, demoted, fined or cautioned. Additional reforms include salaries based on meeting standards rather than employment length.

In India, the government has adopted a three-pronged strategy to improve teacher quality, which includes (i) the strengthening of Teacher Education Institutions, (ii) the revision of curriculum for teacher education in accordance with the National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education 2009 and (iii) the laying down of minimum qualifications for Teacher Educators and their continuous professional development.

In Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of the Indian state of Kerala, the District Institute of Education and Training (DIET) will embark on a three-month study to analyze how classroom practices correspond to the prescribed curriculum of the district’s primary schools.  As Mohammed Kabir, a DIET official, explained to The Hindu, “There is an increasing need to analyze the problems faced by practicing teachers to get a complete picture. Sometimes, teachers follow textbook-based teaching while the curriculum mandates on activity-based learning. This might be out of habit or due to lack of understanding about the methodology. Here, teachers can open up on the problems they face in adapting to the methods”, said Mohammed Kabir, a DIET official.

Singapore

Educators need to make primary school engaging for students: Heng Swee Keat

Channel News Asia (July 10, 2013)

Minister Heng Swee Keat

Minister Heng Swee Keat

In the continuation of efforts to deliver an engaging education to the young so as to fulfill the vision of a Student-Centric, Values-Driven Education, the Ministry of Education organsied the inaugural Primary School Education Seminar and Exhibition. About 2200 teachers attended the seminar during which the Minister of Education outlined the principles of primary school education – “to build strong fundamentals, to provide active, visible and interactive learning, to give feedback to support learning and to affirm the children’s efforts” – so as to lay a good foundation for life long learning for the young charges. The exhibition focused on the demonstration of teaching approaches that promote engaged learning and the holistic development of children.

For more information:

Minister’s speech

Teacher Education in Norway

In “Examining Features of Teacher Education in Norway,” recently published in the Scandinavian Journal of Education, Karen Hammerness, a Fulbright Grant recipient (2009-2010), describes the vision, coherence, and opportunities to learn she observed in teacher education programs in Norway.  In this post Hammerness and Kirsti Klette, Professor at the University of Oslo, Co-Directors of an ongoing study of comparative teacher education in Norway, Finland, the US, Chile, and Cuba, discuss recent teacher education reforms in Norway.

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Karen Hammerness, Inga Staal Jenset, and Kirsti Klette

At the beginning of this millennium, Norwegian educators and policy makers were surprised to find that Norwegian students had performed lower than the mean in comparison to other OECD countries (and in comparison to other Scandinavian countries) on international tests—a phenomenon that became known as “PISA shock.” In response, educators and policy makers in Norway took a number of steps to improve the quality of teaching, to boost recruitment into teaching, and to increase respect for the profession of teaching. For instance, in 2009, the Ministry of Education proposed new standards for teacher education curriculum and created new curricular guidelines. In addition, in recent years, the country has been investing substantial resources in teacher education, including supporting research grants intended to better understand and develop quality teaching and teacher education.

One of the key debates around teacher preparation today in Norway is one that we see in many of the other countries in our study as well—it revolves around the role that practice plays in teacher preparation. For example, the study described in “Examining Features of Teacher Education in Norway” revealed that the Norwegian teacher educators interviewed saw schools as the primary site where student-teachers should learn about practice: an assumption that learning about practice should be relegated specifically to school settings. They did not describe university courses as a site for novices to learn about teaching practice—reflecting a historical separation between theory and practice that has characterized the field of teacher education in many countries for years. This separation can make it difficult for student-teachers to see the relationship between what they learn in their university courses and their experiences in real schools.

However, some teacher educators in Norway are now embarking upon efforts to try to address these issues and bring the teaching of practice more directly into the teacher education curriculum. For instance, the teacher education program at the University of Oslo has redesigned its curriculum to focus upon core practices of teaching (such as observation of children; classroom management; and assessment of learning). Faculty report that the pilot program has been successful, in terms of student-teachers’ evaluations of their experiences and learning, so that initial plans to revise only the mathematics coursework have been extended to other subject areas.

These efforts in Norway build on work by educators like Deborah Ball and Pam Grossman in the U.S. who have been examining the teaching of “core” and “high leverage” practices to novice teachers. In our ongoing comparative  study of teacher education programs in five countries we are also seeing a number of different efforts to bridge the gap between theory and practice. Programs in Finland, for instance, have increased the use of videos that student teachers take of their own practice, so that student teachers have multiple opportunities to examine their own classroom teaching with expert teacher educators coaching them in their work.  In addition, the Oslo University program and a program in the US at Stanford University, provide student teachers with extensive opportunities to analyze pupil learning, drawing on samples of K-13 classroom work.  Meanwhile, student teachers at the University of Santa Barbara in the US and at the University in Havana in Cuba report that teacher educators explicitly model the kinds of practices discussed in class, such as how to give good feedback, orchestrate classroom discussions, and organize groupwork. All these examples reflect different ways that teacher education courses can make linkages between theory and practice. One of the challenges of this work, however—which we again see across many contexts—is that focusing upon teachings practice in university courses requires very different roles for teacher educators. This shift to practice demands teacher educators use many more materials and resources from real classrooms and requires them to shift their own teaching to provide more attentive and careful coaching around specific, targeted teaching practices.

For more information:

Coherence and Assignment Study in Teacher Education (CATE) at the University of Oslo