IAP NEWS UPDATE July 2nd – July 8th 2011 Publication: Education Week Title: Running a Race Against Ourselves Author: Jonathan Plucker & David Rutkowski Website: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/07/05/36plucker.h30.html Surveys: PISA, PIRLS, TIMSS
Inefficient, ineffective education policy reforms rule the day
The past decade has seen tremendous changes in America’s public education system, with the past 12 months among the most active in our country’s history. Indeed, in each state legislature this past winter and spring, education reform was as hot of a topic as we have seen in years. The media circus in Wisconsin was the most visible example, but education issues are at the heart of heated political controversy in several states. Within our state, Indiana policymakers enacted a wave of reforms that are arguably the most comprehensive and aggressive in the nation, ranging from how teachers are evaluated to how school boards are organized to how schools are graded.
This heat surrounding K12 education is often appropriate, given that the most significant economic investment in many state budgets is devoted to K12 public education. During the current and recently concluded sessions, the most contentious topics include collective bargaining restrictions for teachers, charter school expansion, and creation of private school vouchers, among other controversial reforms.
As would be expected, many of these reforms have been touted as the silver bullets that will result in major improvements in American education. However, the dirty little secret among researchers is that these reforms will almost certainly have little to no effect on the performance of most students.
Volumes of nonpartisan research over the past 20 years suggest that most reforms (e.g., vouchers, charters, merit pay) have marginal effects on student achievement. Reforms that show benefits usually produce effects that are so small they call into question the enormous resource and opportunity costs of the interventions. Put simply, most education reforms are not effective, and those that show even a sliver of potential are very inefficient.
A close look at international test data, including the last round of scores from the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, helps us understand why we aren’t making progress: The United States unquestionably has one of the very best and very worst performing school systems.
That’s not a typo. For example, the U.S. average on PISA in reading was 500, a rather mediocre showing that ranks us about 15th (similar to Iceland and several other European countries). But AsianAmericans scored a worldclass 541 (second only to Shanghai, on par with South Korea and Finland), and Caucasians averaged an impressive 525 (on par with Singapore and Canada in the middle of the top 10). Not too shabby!
Hispanic Americans, however, scored a wellbelowaverage 466 (similar to Lithuania and Turkey, ranked 40th and 41st, respectively), and AfricanAmericans averaged 441 (similar to 45thranked Serbia and just ahead of 46thplace Bulgaria). Breaking out the scores by poverty level would tell a similar story: American “haves” are among the bestachieving students in the world, but the “have nots” perform at shockingly low levels.
These results suggest we have two very different educational worlds, each of which is a legitimate target for education reform. Hence the problem: Most policymakers act as though all aspects of our education system are failing, and they continually propose reforms that will fix “the problem” for all of our schools, and yet these reforms never stand a chance because their aim is too broad.
These interventions include charter schools, private school vouchers, alternative teacher certification, elimination of collective bargaining for teachers, and heightened accountability via huge increases in testing. These reforms may work some of the time for some students (the research is mixed), but this scattershot approach to reform is the metaphorical equivalent of trying to pound a square peg into a round hole—and a triangular one, too. Considering that the “square peg” costs literally hundreds of billions of dollars, it is surprising that leaders in the political, educational, and business worlds have not more frequently wondered, “Isn’t there a better way?”
We believe there is. First, any reform generically aimed at fixing America’s broken schools is a nonstarter. Over a dozen international assessments in the past two decades (the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS; the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, or PIRLS; and PISA) provide convincing evidence that America’s schools work very well for some students and very poorly for others. Any sweeping reforms that don’t acknowledge this reality should be taken with a big grain of salt.
Indiana’s recent reforms are a good case in point. Although some of the reforms are aimed broadly, others—such as the pending changes to the state accountability system—reward improvements for a wide range of students, including both low and high achievers. This type of reform stands a much better chance of improving student performance across the board than onesizefitsall initiatives such as testing reforms.
Second, reforms should focus like a laser on one of the groups mentioned earlier: the lowachieving students who receive a substandard education, or the highachieving students who are generally ignored and left to compete on their own with the best students in other nations—countries that invest heavily in improving educational opportunities for their brightest minds.
Third, and most importantly, we need to put ideology aside and adapt realistic goals for reform strategies. In our hyperpartisan age, calls for commonsense improvements to charter schools or voucher programs or collective bargaining, for example, get drowned out by howls of protest from advocates—who maintain that such interventions are the magic elixir for America’s education shortcomings and can’t be improved—and critics who shout that the reforms sound the death knell for our schools.
A prime example is the rhetoric surrounding charter schools. Dozens of studies provide evidence that some charter schools are working well, and some are not. The statelevel differences between charters and traditional public schools are usually quite small. Yet wellmeaning suggestions to improve charters are attacked by advocates as attempts to kill charters (often accompanied by bizarre pronouncements that charter schools are doing fantastically well) and attacked by critics as attempts to kill traditional public schools (marked by equally bizarre assertions that most charters are failing). All of this rhetoric prevents honest appraisals of charter progress and analysis of aspects of charter schools that are and are not working. So we continually miss opportunities to improve charter schools and learn anything that could also be helpful to traditional public schools.
These manufactured debates result in expensive reforms that work for few students. Indeed, we worry that the allconsuming passion for ideological, onesizefitsall solutions to our “broken” schools is putting us in a position where the United States simply will not be competitive.
Indeed, we know of few other countries that are choosing such an odd path to global competitiveness. For example, China, whose largest city, Shanghai, took high scores in the last round of PISA, has placed a heavy emphasis on creativity and problemsolving, with significant efforts to ensure its best and brightest students perform at internationally competitive levels. South Korea followed a similar path as it emerged from the Asian currency crisis over a decade ago. Finland, an international leader in education, allows teachers a great deal of autonomy to focus on creativity and problemsolving in their classrooms. None of these countries abandoned issues of equity in its schools; rather, they all recognized that schools can focus on both equity and excellence.
We believe in American exceptionalism as much as the next redblooded patriots, but if we look around and see that we’re the only country running in a certain direction, we should be forgiven for asking if we are running the same race.
Publication: Education Week Title: Schools Struggle to Balance Digital Innovation, Academic Accountability Author: Michelle R. Davis Website: http://www.edweek.org/dd/articles/2011/06/15/03innovation.h04.html
Educators struggle through trial and error to forge new approaches that work
When North Carolina's Mooresville Graded School District launched a 1to1 laptop initiative three years ago, Superintendent Mark Edwards prepared himself for an"innovation dip," a small drop in student performance as educators and students adjusted to the new approach.
He says he anticipated it would take time for students and teachers to master the use of laptop computers, digital curricula, and more personalized ways of teaching and learning. Though he believed that in the long run the approach would benefit students and be borne out in test scores, Edwards says he and the school board were mentally and philosophically prepared for a drop in scores over the first couple of years as the 5,600student district worked out the kinks.
But just the opposite happened.
In three years, the district went from ranking 30th in the state in school performance measurements to fourth, and Edwards says he is gunning for first place this year. District officials saw boosts in other areas, too. Suspensions dropped at the high school level by 65 percent and districtwide by 50 percent, Edwards says.
"Students like using relevant tools and materials," he says. "The kids are more engaged and excited about school. They're doing things in class and saying, 'I will do this in my future.' "
Balancing digital innovation and academic accountability is a tricky task for schools—one that is fraught with worries about what will work and what won't. Schools want to utilize new tools and embrace different ways of teaching, but not at the expense of their performance on state achievement tests. Experts say finding that balance through trial and error is one of the keys to improving schools.
"The ways you measure quality and hold folks accountable are going to limit your ability to solve new problems," says Frederick M. Hess, the director of education policy studies for the American Enterprise Institute, in Washington, and the author of the book Customized Schooling: Beyond WholeSchool Reform. If K12 policymakers insist on holding fast to gradelevel assessments in reading and math currently used to determine whether a school or district is succeeding, Hess says, "what we're going to do is limit the kinds of solutions that are going to emerge."
Christopher Dede, a professor of educational technology at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, likes to use the analogy of a hospital when he talks about balancing innovation and accountability in education. If a hospital with a high death rate refused to try new, modern practices
because they'd be unsure of the outcome or there might be a learning curve, "people would be upset because they're maintaining a bad situation under the guise of being accountable," he says.
The translation to education is the same, Dede says. Schools are often reluctant to incorporate new technology and apply 21stcentury methods because they're worried about a drop in test scores or other risks in shaking up the way things are done. But schools need to think about all the ways they're accountable—not just through scores on state tests, Dede says. Schools are also accountable to students to provide a highquality education, and to parents and local business leaders to produce students prepared for college and careers. And yes, they're also accountable to state and federal educational leaders in the form of test scores, Dede acknowledges.
As a consequence, the approach to balancing innovation and accountability in K12 schools needs to be particularly thoughtful, says John Danner, the cofounder and chief executive officer of Rocketship Education, which runs charter schools for 1,000 elementaryage students at three campuses in San Jose, Calif. At Rocketship, students spend part of the day in a traditional facetoface classroom and part of the day in a Learning Lab, where they use computer software to improve their literacy and math skills. The schools, whose students are primarily lowincome Englishlanguage learners, have quickly risen to the top on California test scores, outpacing many more affluent schools.
While Danner's model relies on technology for innovation, that technology is only used when it adds value to the studentachievement equation."We have to be really careful that these programs are productive for kids," he says. "If they're not, you're really costing kids learning time."
But how do you move forward with such an innovation, when there isn't definitive proof that it will work? That is the key question educators and policymakers are grappling with.
Under the education priorities of President George W. Bush's administration, the catchphrase "research base" was drilled into educators" heads when it came to new programs and initiatives. If it wasn't researchbased, it wasn't worth adopting.
But technology innovations occur so rapidly that it's often impossible to do scientifically based trials proving effectiveness before schools embrace new approaches. Think of socialnetworking tools,
iPads, and ereaders. And what other new digitallearning tools might also emerge well before scientifically based research can justify their use in classrooms?
Kathy Onarheim, the director of the Institute at the Cooperative Educational Service Agency #1 for 45 school districts in southeastern Wisconsin, helps districts incorporate innovative technology. The region often relies on rapid prototyping to determine which initiatives have potential. The design, implementation, and analysis of a pilot project takes months instead of years, and then the approach is quickly sent out to other districts to replicate, Onarheim says.
She says she encourages her districts to use the "80 percent" rule. "When we're 80 percent sure of something, we go forward, rather than waiting until it's 150 percent perfect. Otherwise, we'd never do anything" Onarheim says. "We need to take that challenge and move forward and innovate."
One district, for example wanted to target middle school algebra and decided to use special instructional videos. The district was able to monitor in real time whether the effort was helping students grasp the material, she says. At the Florida Virtual School, which receives state funding based on how many students successfully complete a course, officials try out projects on a small scale for a short time before offering new programs to all students, says Pam Birtolo, the chief learning officer for the 97,000student online school, based in Orlando.
When the school piloted its nowpopular Conspiracy Code video game for studying American history, administrators gave any student enrolled in the experimental course the option to move at any time to the more traditional American history course offered by the school.
Florida Virtual officials also collected massive amounts of data from the students enrolled. The information wasn't limited to student test scores. It also focused on whether students liked the graphics and interface of the course, Birtolo says.
"It's not just an assessment; there's an attitudinal thing going on" she says. "We want to know how the student engages and learns, and how the student retains information."
Faster Research Tactics
Today's new assessment technology makes it much easier to measure in real time whether a program is having its desired effect, giving educators more immediate incentives to take risks, says Tom Vander Ark, the chief executive officer of OpenEd Solutions, a Federal Way, Wash.based blended learning service provider. Even just a few years ago, collecting such data was more difficult, often creating frustratingly long lag times between when assessments were given and when teachers and students saw the results and could act on them.
Now, "Instead of randomized longterm control trials, we can use rapid shortcycle control trials," Vander Ark says."You can get good results in three hours and not three years."
Often, educational innovations don't translate into higher numbers on state tests, as they did in Mooresville. But that doesn't mean they're not valuable, some educators say.
Seven years ago, the 2,000student Pascack Valley Regional High School District, in Bergen County, N.J., adopted a 1to1 laptop program, using digital curricula. The district, which serves students in grades 912, had reasonably high test scores already, and the hightech initiative didn't add to or detract from them, says Erik Gundersen, the district's director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment, who was recently named superintendent and was a supervisor of science and technology education at the time the initiative began.
The overarching goal of the initiative, however, was not directed at raising test scores, Gundersen says. Instead, the district focused on embracing the 21stcentury skills students need in today's world. When students use projectbased learning, employ videoconferencing to work with Arizona students on an ongoing immigration project, or collaborate using Ning or Google Docs, district officials and the school board believe students are benefiting, even if there is no measurable impact on test scores.
Still, it's worth pointing out that the district doesn't ignore accountability measures, either. Teachers work together to link students' projects to state standards 'so we make sure there's a valid connection there, and we're always under pressure to make sure that test scores are where they need to be" Gundersen says.
But he says the imbalance between innovation and accountability occurs because paperandpencil standardized exams don't always measure those 21stcentury skills the district is emphasizing.
Dede, of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, believes districts and states need to develop a "multidimensional scale of accountability" that values responsible innovation and change in addition to test scores.
"The structural problem is there's a single mode of accountability being applied," he says. "The only dimension is test scores."
Officials at the U.S. Department of Education, where federal accountability requirements have shaped the educational landscape since the 2001 passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, seem to be also moving in that direction as the law comes up for renewal.
"As our blueprint for ESEA reauthorization describes, we have to create space and flexibility for schools to have room to make mistakes and recover without overly penalizing them," says James H. Shelton, the department's assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement.
But those with decisionmaking power often have only existing test scores to rely on, says Jeff Mao, the learning technology policy director for Maine's Learning Technology Initiative, which aims to equip middle and high school students in the state with laptops. He says he runs into that problem when he goes to state lawmakers for financial support.
"We do have some data" to show the Maine initiative is working, he says, "but it's hard to get a doubleblind, goldstandard research study to speak to that notion."
Lawmakers sometimes ask whether the initiative could use a control group and compare it with the group using the hightech programs, Mao says. "But we asked legislators if they wanted their son or
daughter to get the placebo versus the students who are getting the latest and greatest," he says, pointing out that everyone wants to be in the group using the innovative techniques. "Education is not something that is as easily measured as a new widget. ... There are a million variables."
Mao says he believes educators are wary of innovation because of concerns about having a negative impact on children's education. "They're not averse to change; they're afraid to do something that's not right for kids," he says, "which makes it a real challenge to do anything."
In New York's 4,100student Chappaqua Central School District, within commuting distance of New York City, officials have tried to create their own version of Dede's multidimensional accountability scale. In 2007, the district's school board adopted a strategic question as an underlying philosophy of education. The question asks how the district can go beyond content knowledge and focus on ensuring that all students "learn to think deeply, support their thinking, apply problemsolving skills, and actively participate in their learning."
Based on that philosophy, a more thoughtful process of adopting innovative technologies to improve teaching and learning has occurred, says Darleen M. Nicolosi, the director of instructional technology for the district. "We try to move beyond the test scores to more creative and critical thinking for our students," she says.
In doing so, the district doesn't separate the use of new technology from that goal. "We incorporate emerging technologies in a natural progression" along with the educational goals in the district, she says.
As part of that approach, the district has developed its own Web 2.0 think tank of teachers and educational leaders to study emerging technologies and their place in the classroom. The district also has an administrators' network that meets regularly to observe new technology in the classroom.
"We're not focused on technology bells and whistles," Nicolosi says. "We're focused on what improves teaching and learning."
Publication: Brookings Institution Title: A Global Compact on Learning: Taking Action on Education in Developing Countries Website: http://www.brookings.edu/reports/2011/0609_global_compact.aspx
The full report can be found here: http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Files/rc/reports/2011/0609_global_compact/0609_global_co mpact.pdf
The case for education, as expressed in the quotation above from a Sudanese woman in Breijing refugee camp in eastern Chad, is simple. First and foremost, education is a fundamental human right and the birthright of every child. It is also the springboard for human development, creating the conditions for progress in health and gender equity and it plays a key role in helping to tackle some of the world’s other pressing challenges such as climate change, food security, and peace building. Economic growth and poverty reduction depend on an educated and skilled workforce.
In developing countries, one additional year of education adds about 10 percent to a person’s earnings. For a woman farmer in Ethiopia, this can mean being able to provide adequate nutrition, health care, and education for her children. There are more young people on the planet than ever before with 1.3 billion of the world’s twelve to twentyfour year olds living in developing countries. Investing in their knowledge, skills, and competencies has been called the “education growth premium” and no developing country has sustained high rates of growth without investing heavily in educating its young people. For example, if all children in lowincome countries left school knowing how to read, something which currently does not happen, then 171 million people could move out of poverty. There is broad agreement— and significant evidence—that education enhances people’s ability to lead happier, healthier, and more productive lives.
CountrySpecific Education Articles Publication: Rossiyskaya Gazeta (Russia) Title: Dmitry Medvedev addresses Russia's failing education Author: Alesya Lonskaya Website: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sponsored/russianow/society/8611443/DmitryMedvedev addresseseducation.html Survey: PISA
Along with parents and teaching professionals, President Dmitry Medvedev has stepped up the campaign to address falling standards in education
“Over time, apes waded into water more and more often, further and further away from the shore, learning how to swim and to dive for food. They developed an erect posture. For some yet unknown reason, some apes resumed their way of life on land, while others became so adapted to life at sea that they remained there forever and turned into dolphins.”
This version of the origin of man from a recently approved civics textbook for fifthgrade pupils prompted some parents to write a letter to President Dmitry Medvedev complaining of the incompetence of the Education Ministry.
The parents’ frustration was echoed by some of the teachers: “Some dubious subjects have recently been introduced in the curriculum. This rubbish takes away time from the main disciplines. It’s no wonder the quality of education is declining,” said Sergei Raisky, a Russian language teacher in Moscow.
Mr Raisky, 41, is considered young compared to his colleagues: the average age of a schoolteacher is 48, and one in every five teachers is past the retirement age. Young people do not want to work as teachers because of the low pay, an average of $480 (£300) a month.
Critics say that Russian schools are steadily deteriorating, partly due to the age of teachers and underfunding of schools at all levels.
The big shock came when a recent Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) survey ranked Russia – a country once known for its education prowess – 43rd in the world. Pisa is an internationally recognized student assessment for 15yearolds carried out by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
After the Pisa survey results were announced last February, President Medvedev announced a programme for school reform. “Pupils will be involved in research projects and creative activities so they can learn how to invent, understand and assimilate new things, express their own thoughts and make decisions,” he said.
Giving schools a choice
The Government is preparing fullscale school reforms which will introduce individualised learning. Reforms in primary and secondary schools (grades 19) will begin in September. Some teaching will be done outside the classroom: students will be given 10 hours a week for tours, walks and creative work in places of cultural interest. The government has also promised a 30pc increase in teachers’ salaries this year. But reforms at high school (grades 1011) are still in the design phase.
“The school will have more power to form its own curriculum in accordance with the students’ wishes,” said Irina Abankina, director of the Institute of Education Studies at the Higher School of Economics National Research University.
The pupils will choose a total of six additional subjects and decide whether they want to study them at the basic or professional level. There should be at least four in which the pupil will pass the Unified State Examination. The applicant will then be admitted to university based on these results.
Accordingly, a student who is not interested in the natural sciences will not be forced to study chemistry, physics and biology separately, and will be able to opt for an integrated natural sciences course that includes a more general study of these subjects.
In Europe’s footsteps
The reforms, designed to bring Russian school education in line with the European model, have caused a public outcry, as many parents feel they are an attempt to destroy a classical general education.
“But the standard for high school assumes that basic subject knowledge already exists,” Ms Abankina said.
Supporters of reform have also targeted the system for teaching foreign languages. Languages can at present only be mastered properly at special or private schools. At most public schools, students study a language, usually English or German, twice a week. But they learn by focusing on grammar and memorising texts, forsaking conversational language, say critics.
“In recent years, our schools have offered only knowledge and not education. The result was a rampage staged by nationalists in the centre of Moscow last December,” said Alexander Kondakov, a research adviser to the state on educational standards.
He said that Russian schools were still authoritarian, but he also pointed out that there was a difference between now and 20 years ago. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia began teaching the works of dissident writers and alternative views of the country’s history.
However, the teaching system remains the same: lectures and repetition of what the students have been told by the teacher. Disagreement with the teacher, or any kind of inclassroom debate, is still perceived as insolent.
“The [contemporary] school is less authoritarian than the Soviet school, but a partnership model of teaching whereby teacher and pupil act as equals has not yet arrived,” Ms Abankina said. “The teacher has lost authority and has to deal with rudeness in class, and he has yet to learn how to organize teamwork in the classroom, where an interest in teaching and learning is reciprocal.”
How the system works
Tuition at Russian schools is free, as are textbooks. Parents pay only for school uniforms and meals (this applies to 48,809 staterun schools, while the number of private schools in the country is just 665).
Children start school at seven, and the academic year lasts from September 1 until the end of May, with winter, autumn, spring and summer holidays.
To enter a higher grade, pupils take set tests, and after the senior grades 9 and 11 they sit the Unified State Examination in Russian language, maths and two elective subjects that are required to enter their university of choice.
Publication: The Japan Times Title: All nurseries to provide preschool education service Website: http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgibin/nn20110707a7.html
The government plans to make all nurseries provide preschool education in addition to day care to address the gap between kindergartens as an education service and nurseries as a welfare service.
After finalizing the plan at a meeting of a council tasked with tackling the falling birthrate, the government aims to submit relevant legislation to the Diet next year for a possible phased implementation starting in fiscal 2013, government sources said Tuesday.
The government also plans to set up a separate council to work out a concrete design with municipal officials and representatives from business and labor groups, they said.
The consolidation of nursery and kindergarten functions was advocated by the Democratic Party of Japan during the 2009 general election. The plan is also aimed at enabling children in urban areas to attend nurseries without having to wait, and to provide every preschooler with both education and nursery services.
Under the current system, a kindergarten is stipulated as an educational institution for preschoolers, while a nursery is a welfare facility. Each category comes under the jurisdiction of a separate ministry.
According to the plan's final draft, the government would urge kindergartens to provide nursery functions but without specifying when that should begin.