I had coffee today with Anita, one of the year 10 teachers in our longitudinal study. She was in my School & Society course (foundations course) in initial teacher education and I have observed and interviewed her each year since. She is a very strong teacher in every way, but has just moved to a new school and is facing some challenges. She said about 40% of her grade 4/5 class have very low SES backgrounds and the government is reducing special education support, ostensibly to promote inclusion but actually to save money. One thing she talked about relates to how difficult it is to teach math skills and concepts without concerted system direction and teacher training (as noted in my previous posting about the PISA results). She said it will probably take most of the year to teach her class how to do a 3-part math lesson (direct instruction/group work/whole-class discussion), whereas if the whole school was doing it and all the teachers had been trained in it she could have used this approach immediately. We also talked about how the principal needs to provide leadership in getting all the teachers pulling together around such pedagogy, but principals aren’t being trained in this role or receiving a consistent message that it’s a major part of their job. Anita, then, has to fine-tune and prioritize her teaching activities largely on her own (there are effectively 2 PD days a year), hoping to survive and thrive as a teacher and be there for her students. Clive
We thought you might find these excerpts from two scholarly papers on PISA interesting. Clare
Professor Gemma Moss and colleagues, London Institute of Education
Some features of [high PISA performing] education systems are not suitable for borrowing; for instance, pupils in Korea and Japan also spend substantially more time being privately tutored outside of school hours. This would not be acceptable to parents in the UK. Education systems are deeply linked to local political as well as educational cultures. No one would want to import an authoritarian one-party system of government from China, yet that may be a key ingredient in how their education system runs. [Further] it is not clear whether or how performance in PISA relates to the economy. China’s economic growth has not been driven by uniform access to high quality education; rather high quality education in Shanghai has followed economic growth. Britain remains amongst the top-performing economies, out-performing our PISA rankings in education.
(Excerpt from a brief for UK politicians)
Professor Paul Morris, London Institute of Education (formerly Dean of Education, Hong Kong University, and President, Hong Kong Institute of Education)
[In Hong Kong] reforms have been both developed and implemented over long time periods [and] the direction of reform has been developed through fairly nonpartisan discussions with a wide range of stakeholders, including school principals, local and overseas academics, and draws upon a range of sources of evidence…. [Further] in Hong Kong the good Math’s results in PISA 2012 have been attributed by their Government to teachers using ‘project work and exploratory activities’ and the good science results to the promotion of ‘scientific literacy and generic skills (e.g. critical thinking and problem-solving skills)’. Not exactly an endorsement of [UK Education Secretary] Gove’s direction of travel!
(Excerpt from: PISA 2012: What can we learn from East Asia?)
Our blog post on the PISA scores generated a lot of feedback. Here are some of the comments we have received:
- We can add the lack of time for collaborative planning in schools and the lack of professional development opportunities that are job-embedded are factors that must be considered.
- Is it just my idea or is PISA becoming a ruler for our educational systems? Even telling the way we need to teach? PISA results make even Finnish feel nervous because they dropped some points 🙂
- I have not read anything by anyone else that remotely comes close to what Clive has said. I will share this with my teacher candidates.
- The gap between the rich and poor in my country is great. This affects education in all ways.
- When people use words like “failure”, “crisis’, and “floundering” they are being silly.
- Clive’s piece has motivated me to write an op-ed for our newspaper.
- The news about PISA scores have been a new in Peru too… beyond our low position in the ranking compared with the other countries, one salient topic is the huge inequality gaps.
The recently released PISA results have many Asian countries scoring substantially higher than the US, UK, and Canada on math, reading, and science. Some people are saying this shows that the latter countries need to place more emphasis on “the basics” (such as times tables, formulas, spelling, etc.) rather than problem solving and relevance. My response is threefold:
· Part of the disparity in scores is due to typical features of Asian schooling that I don’t think are desirable: high-stakes national exams, cram schools, and enormous pressure on students to learn the basics at any cost. I rarely meet people from Asia who are glad they experienced this kind of schooling.
· Part of it is because we’ve asked teachers to teach for meaning and relevance without showing them how. In math, for example, we give them an 36 hour math methods course in teacher education and send them out to reverse a lifetime of experience and cultural initiation.
· Clearly, teachers need to do BOTH – teach the basics AND meaning, relevance, etc. And I believe this is entirely possible. But we need to figure out how to do it and systematically teach and model it in pre-service and in-service (in the context of the various subjects), rather than just making general pronouncements about constructivism, discovery learning, and teaching for understanding.