Tag Archives: teacher quality

Leading Futures: Alternative Perspectives on Education Reform and Policy

In this latest post in the Leading Futures Series, edited by Alma Harris and Michelle Jones, Jenny Gore and Geoff Whitty describe an alternative approach to improving teaching that challenges predominant forms of accountability. Drawing from their public lecture at Bath Spa University on May 17, 2017, with a focus on the potential of Gore’s work in Australia on Quality Teaching Rounds, they suggest that the approach should now be trialed elsewhere.  Jenny Gore is Professor of Education and Geoff Whitty holds a Global Innovation Chair at the University of Newcastle, Australia. 

Improving teaching: some lessons from Australia

Jenny Gore and Geoff Whitty

Why on earth would we look to Australia for lessons about education? After all, its PISA scores have dropped down the rankings where they now sit alongside those of many other OECD nations. What does Australia have to offer that differs from the apparently more successful countries in Scandinavia and East Asia that have often been the focus of policy tourism?

One answer is, of course, that PISA is not the be-all and end-all of educational assessment. But another reason is that other factors have overridden ‘PISA envy’ for countries like the US and UK, which are much more similar to each other than they are to either Finland or Shanghai-China. Their continuing mutual interest in each other’s reforms probably lies with shared social and political networks and assumptive worlds – and, of course, a common language with which to describe reforms.

Indeed, readers in the US and UK, and many others influenced by Anglo-Saxon policies, will readily recognize the major challenges identified by Bentley and Savage in a recent book on policies changes in Australia in recent years. These include:

  • a national curriculum
  • standardised national assessments in literacy and numeracy (NAPLAN)
  • national reporting on schools (through the My School website)
  • professional standards for teachers and school principals
  • a universally accessible year of pre-school
  • partial implementation of needs-based funding reforms (Gonski).

But they also point out that, despite these reforms, there is unfortunately very little sign of positive impacts or outcomes. For example:

  • The percentage of Australian students successfully completing Year 12 is not improving.
  • State and federal school funding policies are still reproducing a status quo that entrenches sectoral division and elitism.
  • New evidence-informed methods, such as clinical and targeted teaching models, are being taken up very slowly in teacher education degrees and schools.
  • The status and efficacy of vocational learning have shown little meaningful improvement.
  • NAPLAN and My School have not led to improvements in literacy and numeracy, with 2016 data showing either stagnation or decline.
  • The performance of Australian students in international assessments of maths, science and literacy skills has steadily declined.

Depressingly familiar stuff to many of us, isn’t it?  Similarly, take this recent statement by Geoff Masters, CEO of the Australian Council for Educational Research.

There is no shortage of challenges in school education. Some of the biggest challenges we face can appear frustratingly intractable. Despite reform efforts, regular government reviews and ongoing calls for change, progress in addressing our most significant challenges is often slow and solutions continue to elude us.

Equally familiar are the five key challenges he identifies as facing Australian education:

  1. Equipping students for the 21st Century, including by increasing reading, mathematical and scientific literacy levels.
  2. Reducing disparities between…schools, particularly along socioeconomic lines, by ensuring that every student has access to an excellent school and excellent teaching.
  3. Reducing the ‘long tail’ of underachieving students who fall behind year-level curriculum expectations and thus fail to meet minimum international standards.
  4. Getting all children off to a good start, by reducing the number of children who begin school with low levels of school readiness and so are at risk of ongoing low achievement.
  5. Raising the professional status of teaching, by increasing the number of highly able school leavers entering teaching.

While this last challenge resonates with the aspirations of many countries, and policy direction of initiatives like Teach for America, Gore et al. have demonstrated that the solution identified here by Masters may be misleading. Rather, the sort of approach we describe below may be a better way to enhance professionalism in teaching.

Bentley and Savage say of Australia, over the past decade ‘the policy landscape has become riddled with reform “solutions” that subject students, teachers, administrators and policymakers to mounting levels of pressure and stress’ and that ‘the short-term cyclical churn of today’s politics and media clearly exacerbates these problems.’

Although the policy context of other countries differs in detail, their actual policies have much in common. In many countries, regulation and accountability have taken a hold on government attitudes towards the teaching profession, alongside (though in different degrees) a belief in market forces as providing a way forward. Education academics (ourselves included) have been rather better at critique of such developments than in pointing to an alternative way forward. What we want to argue is that widely sought-after improvements in teaching will remain elusive unless teachers are afforded more respect, trust and, especially, professional support.

One tested example of such an approach lies in work conducted at the University of Newcastle, Australia, which puts down a challenge to policy makers who seek genuine improvement in teaching. The approach, known Quality Teaching Rounds (QTR), has produced measurable impact on the quality of teaching while simultaneously enhancing teachers’ morale and confidence.

QTR is a form of teacher professional development designed by Bowe and Gore to bring together the benefits of professional learning communities (PLCs), instructional ‘rounds’, and the Quality Teaching (QT) pedagogical framework (NSW Department of Education and Training [NSW DET], 2003). The framework centres on the three dimensions of Intellectual Quality, Quality Learning Environment, and Significance. QTR involves teachers working in PLCs of three or more teachers to observe and analyse each other’s teaching, using the QT framework, followed by extended conversation about their collective practice. QTR is a distinctive form of professional development which: is applicable across stages and subject areas; addresses teaching comprehensively; requires minimal external input; and is adaptable to the specific teaching context. This is in contrast to professional development that: is stage or subject-specific; addresses a part of teaching practice only; requires ongoing provision of external expertise; and is highly prescriptive of practice.

In a recent randomised controlled trial, 24 NSW public schools participated in an investigation of the impact of QTR. Eight teachers at each of the schools were involved in the study, with lesson observations carried out by researchers, who were blinded to group allocation, at three time points – baseline, post-intervention (6-months), and follow up (12- months). There were two intervention groups (QTR-Set and QTR-Choice) and a wait-list control group.

Participating in QTR was found to significantly impact on the quality of teaching (d =0.4-0.5) within the relatively short timeframe of this intervention (most teachers were involved for four days or less) across a diverse range of schools. Moderators of intervention effects were explored for: type of school, SES, location, teaching experience, and gender of teacher.

The key findings were that the quality of teaching improved for both intervention groups and these effects were sustained six months later, signaling the sustainability of impact into a new school year. Effects were independent of school type (primary/secondary) and location (urban/rural) and years of teaching experience. Effects on teacher morale and sense of recognition and appraisal yielded similar results for the two intervention groups, relative to control group. In interviews, teachers reported positive impacts on their own and their colleagues’ teaching and professional confidence, on collegiality and school culture, and on their students. The next study in this programme of work is another RCT designed to investigate further the impact of QTR on student learning outcomes.

The findings from the earlier study demonstrate the value of QTR in not only improving the quality of teaching but simultaneously enhancing teacher morale and teaching cultures across a range of schools and classroom settings in diverse communities. QTR was found to be an effective form of professional development, improving the quality of teaching in primary and secondary schools across subject areas and for teachers at different stages of their careers. The positive effects of QTR are thus highly generalisable across school contexts.

The approach not only builds on widely accepted ‘principles of effective PD,’ but can be implemented at scale and at a relatively low cost. It supports teachers in improving their practice while also developing their efficacy, well-being and professional engagement. This is in stark contrast to approaches that subject teachers to greater levels of accountability, evaluation, and performance review.

This Australian approach simultaneously, and ambitiously, provides evidence of a kind that is persuasive to governments and education systems that want to be sure their investments have pay-off and empower teachers. Such an approach is part of the jigsaw of educational improvement that has somehow been missing in many contexts. We argue that improving teaching in order to improve pupils’ learning depends, in large part, on teachers’ confidence in themselves and each other. This differs from prevailing approaches that seek to improve teaching through forms of accountability premised on a lack of confidence in and respect for teachers. In short, QTR is an alternative that can build public confidence in teachers from the ground up.

Scanning the globe

Photo by Dao Ngoc Thach

Photo by Dao Ngoc Thach

Several reports over the past month highlight the variety of causes that are blamed for failures to improve educational performance around the world. This short scan of reports focusing on issues like school quality and test-score performance, reveals typical concerns about teacher training and teacher quality, questions about the language of instruction and equality of education, as well as questions about the choices policymakers have made and the “policy churn” that can undermine implementation.
 

School Quality

Earlier this year in Sweden, 11,000 students were left without a school to attend when the private education firm that operated it went bankrupt. According to an article published online by Reuters, additional concerns raised about the quality of education in these schools led the opposition Green Party, a long-term proponent of school choice, to issue a public apology in a Swedish newspaper, with the headline: “Forgive us, our policy led our schools astray.”

In Vietnam, concerns have been expressed over the quality of care and education children receive in privately operated preschools. Referring to the government policy to privatize education as a failure, thanhniennews.com writes that limits placed on the growth of public preschool facilities has allowed private preschools “of dubious quality to mushroom.” Another article, posted on Vietnam.net, points out the additional problem of inadequate teacher training in provincial and privately operated preschools.

Test-Score Performance

In Malaysia, we see a debate over the cause of the decline of TIMSS scores. The World Bank released a report that found the decline to be caused by the switch in the language of instruction from Bahasa Malaysia to English. However, an article in The Malay Mail online cites the Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE), for pointing out that in 2007 (the year scores declined sharply), the students had yet to receive their instruction in English. Instead, PAGE attributed the decline to the poor quality of teachers and insufficient teaching hours. The Education Ministry announced plans to form a panel to investigate Malaysian students’ decline in performance.

Finnbay.com reports that Krista Kiuru, Finland‘s Minister of Education and Science, has allocated €22.5 million in state aid to promote equality in education for the period 2014-2015 to regain Finland’s top seat in PISA. “Success of Finnish education in international comparisons must be regained by having educational equality and non-discrimination,” said Kiuru.

Educational Improvement and “Policy Churn”

Despite declines in New Zealand students’ test scores, The Otago Daily Times reports that Education Minister Hekia Parata will not do anything differently. Parata attributes the slide to 10 years of a changing education system and not its controversial National Standards assessments, or a lack of school funding. According to Parata, Andreas Schleicher, Deputy Director for Education and Skills and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the OECD’s Secretary-General, has assured her that the country is already doing “what they recommend should be done when you want a whole of system change.”

The Nation has reported that the recent political upheaval in Thailand could mean that the sweeping curriculum-based overhaul of the education system might not come to fruition. The country had planned radical changes, such as decreasing the number of school hours for primary students from 800 to 600 per year, and requiring that students learn outside of the classroom for up to 400 hours per year. In addition, the Pheu Thai party’s controversial, yet “much-touted election policy” called the One Tablet PC Per Child Project, might not be implemented. Other policies at risk of being shelved include changes to the university admission system, promotion of vocational education, and the ongoing effort to improve Thailand’s international educational ranking.

Teacher Quality in India, England, Finland, and Sweden

A quick scan of the recent news on teacher quality illustrates the continuing debates over the best strategies to develop the most effective teaching force.  In India, a recent panel discussion suggested there is a divide between those who call for greater focus on attracting the most promising candidates by elevating the status of the profession, raising salaries, and establishing guidelines for professional responsibilities, and those who call for updating teacher training programs so that candidates will be better prepared for the challenges of the profession.

In England, the strategy of using financial incentives and higher standards for professional entry to increase the quality of the labor pool has been in the news again as the Mail Online reports that the number of job applicants for teaching training positions in math and physics in particular has “collapsed.”  Two years ago the UK Education Secretary, Michael Gove, sought to improve teacher quality by withdrawing funding for teacher training to students who achieved only the third class honors degree. The measure put the country in line with other high performing countries, such as Finland and South Korea, but the story reports that the cut-off score contributed to over 700 teacher training vacancies in math and almost 400 in physics. Related reforms include an increase in the number of candidates training in schools rather than teacher training colleges which Geoff Whitty discussed in a recent IEN post. ICTScoop also describes a project designed to recruit new teachers help improve literacy and numeracy in underserved areas as “getting off to a slow start.”

At EDUCA 2013, Thailand’s annual conference for teacher professional development, Pasi Sahlberg explained Finland’s approach to teacher quality. The government has accomplished this by funding teacher education, recruiting the best candidates as teachers, and giving teachers more time to prepare for classes. While what Sahlberg calls this “Less Is More” approach often emphasizes teacher preparation and recruitment, Sweden is experimenting with further investments  in professional development. For example, with funding provided by the European Union, a new project will provide coaching and observation support for teachers in select schools.

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.

New Zealand

Editorial: Size matters, but excellence even more so
New Zealand Herald (17 May 2012)

While it acknowledges that class size matters, the New Zealand government has adopted the position that the quality of teaching is more important.  Leveraging on the research findings of the Grattan Institute report that raising teacher quality is more effective than reducing class size, New Zealand would allow class size to increase so as to save money to boost teacher quality.  All trainee teachers will be expected to possess a post-graduate qualification, and teachers will be assessed under a new performance management system.  Performance-based pay might be a possibility under the new measures to be adopted.  Despite the government’s stance, parents and unions remain worried about the proposal.

Australia

Annual appraisal plan includes observing teachers in classroom
Arlington, K.  Sydney Morning Herald (27 April 2012)

Australia is implementing its first national guidelines for performance assessments of teachers, giving them a clear understanding of 1) what they will be expected to achieve each year and 2) how their performance will be measured.  Every teacher will set goals for the year, have their performance reviewed, and provide evidence in support of their performance.  (Evidence will include improved student results and feedback from students, parents, peers or supervisors on goal attainment.)  Classroom observations will also be carried out.  In return, teachers will receive constructive feedback and may be eligible for performance bonuses. National consultations of the document, developed by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL), will be held before it is implemented next year.  Anthony Mackay, the chair of the AITSL, argues for “recognizing and supporting the best” teachers here.

In addition, below is a video from AITSL about the desired outcomes of teaching standards:

Scotland

More powers for newly independent teaching regulator
Marshall, C.  Scotsman.com.  (27 March 2012)

Scotland instituted an “independent, self-regulating professional body for teaching after the decision to bring it into line with organisations such as the General Medical Council.”  The General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) will have greater flexibility and power when dealing with teachers who have “have fallen short of the standards of conduct or professional competence,” according to the UK edition of the Huffington Post.  The Chief Executive of the GTCS, quoted in Scotsman.com, said, “We now have full responsibility for current and future professional standards; we determine the qualifications for entry to teaching; we accredit courses of teacher education; we determine the ‘fitness to teach’ of teachers and applicants for registration; and we have a duty to bring forward a system of Professional Update for registered teachers.”  Also, see the video below from the Press Association: