Why Is Achievement Rising in Some Countries, Going Down in Others?

TOP-Performers-with-opinion-slugMarc Tucker of the Top Performers blog for Education Week has a new piece discussing the important research of Australian Geoff Masters. Masters argues that an important way to study the success of education reforms is to take into account which countries have had sustained educational success, with the thought that culture plays a key part in ongoing achievement. Not all countries should just do what those countries do, because changing culture takes a long time. Rather, Masters wants to look at those countries that have made educational reforms that have brought improvement in a shorter amount of time, which would suggest that those changes are not a part of deeply ingrained educational culture and are more easily attainable.

Following is an excerpt:

Geoff Masters, the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Council for Educational Research, is one of the treasures of Australia.  Not just my opinion.  He holds the Medal of the Order of Australia, the highest honor the Australian government can bestow on its citizens.  He’s written a paper you need to read, with the innocuous title “Is School Reform Working?”

In it, Masters makes the point that countries that have long been top performers may have that status for reasons-mostly cultural-not directly related to their education policies and practices.  So, to determine which policies and practices work best, he looks first at countries that have been doing well and improving rapidly, on the assumption that cultures do not change very quickly, so it is more likely that education policies and practices are responsible for the high performance.  Then he looked for systematic differences in policies and practices between these improving countries with others in which student performance has been relatively poor and either holding steady or declining.

Masters observes some common themes among the countries in which average student performance and equity were improving: “[R]eform efforts tend to have been focused first on building the capacity of school leaders and classroom teachers to deliver high quality teaching and learning, and on ensuring that excellent teaching and leadership are distributed throughout the school system.”  He also notes that top performers have emphasized the training of teachers to “undertake systematic research into their own teaching,” another mark of an effort to professionalize the occupation of teaching.  He observes that “[a]nother feature of high-performing systems is that they have put in place system-wide processes to identify students who are falling behind and to intervene quickly to put students back on track…These countries set high expectations for every student’s learning…[and] appreciate the importance of effective system and school leadership.”  He makes a particular point of the importance of making sure “that performance improves across the entire education system.”  And they do this, he says, in part by making sure that resources are equitably distributed across all schools.

Read the report here: http://research.acer.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1000&context=policyinsights

Read the full blog here:



There Isn’t Really a Mass Exodus of Good Teachers

teacherThere is no systemic evidence that all the best teachers are leaving. In fact the opposite appears to be true. More research and more years of data, are needed, but early results seem promising that evaluation is playing a positive role in keeping the best educators.


Numbers have already been crunched on teacher retention and retirement rates, and the early news is good. So what is actually happening in a place like Tennessee that has been one of the more aggressive implementers of rigorous evaluation?

Teachers who are retiring tend to be less effective than the retirement eligible teachers who are choosing to stay in the classroom.

Before rigorous evaluation, this gap didn’t exist. Only after rigorous evaluation did the most effective retirement eligible teachers remain in the classroom more often than their peers.

Highly effective educators tend to be retained at higher rates than less effective educators, especially among educators with less experience – it will be interesting to see if this gap widens over time.

Crucially, one of the working conditions associated with retention of highly effective teachers is a well-functioning evaluation.

Based on available evidence of real behavior by teachers, rigorous evaluation in Tennessee is helping to keep the best teachers with kids.

For more information, please visit:



The Importance of Social and Emotional Skills for Student Learning

gtl-logoMuch has been made in recent years about the importance of “grit” for student success and achievement. Grit has been a term that broadly includes such concepts as persistence, perseverance, and ability to overcome challenges. A new Policy Snapshot from GTL sheds light on how students can come by this crucial trait.

Employers and colleges want candidates who are motivated and adaptable, are able to work well in teams and communicate effectively, have strong work ethics, have solid interpersonal skills, and are strategic in their planning skills. In short, students need social and emotional skills to prepare them for work and for life.

The Center on Great Teachers and Leaders has released a new Policy Snapshot, Social and Emotional Skills for Life and Career: Policy Levers that Focus on the Whole Child (February 2015). It provides a summary of existing research about the effects of education on students’ social and emotional skills. The brief identifies important state and district policy considerations for initiating and integrating SEL, as well as for supporting and developing teachers and administrators to focus on the whole child.

For more information, please visit:


From Pre-Fab to Personalized: How Districts Are Retooling Professional Development

big_edsurge_copy-1423861733Every learner is different. Nowhere is this as true as it is for teachers. Every teacher comes to the classroom with a different background, different set of skills and differences in how they learn best. Add to this complexity the fact that every teacher has a different set of students each year, all with their distinct needs.

Teachers need individualized learning opportunities to an extreme degree.

They know this. Many pursue a variety of methods to individualize their own learning: They tweet out questions, share videos of their practice, join community conversations via sites like edWeb or tools such as Voxer. By contrast, many districts who support teacher professional development are stuck in the past, using traditional models to providing teachers with one-size-fits-all PD.

Time for change. Teachers are demanding more choices. A few brave school and district leaders are trying to deliver, breaking the “pre-fab” style of PD for a more personal approach:

  • By pulling data from across the district to better recommend courses and resources for PD;
  • By offering teachers menus of choices for PD that is both in person and virtual;
  • By shifting from a PD that only counts time, to one that counts proficiency.

Over the past year, EdSurge has explored the work going on in districts, the tools they’re using and what it takes to get personalized PD started. Here are the stories they’ve heard–and the tools that they’ve found:


Data Privacy? Get Schooled

foundation for excellence in ed logoData Privacy? Get Schooled is an online course for policymakers and education professionals developed by the Data Quality Campaign (DQC) and the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

It will discuss the value of education data, offer recommendations for addressing privacy concerns while promoting effective data use, and explore lessons learned from existing and emerging policies in education and other sectors.

Data Privacy? Get Schooled opens March 23 and is free and self-paced. Throughout the course, which features experts like DQC’s president and CEO Aimee Rogstad Guidera and vice president Paige Kowalski, Center for Democracy and Technology president and CEO Nuala O’Connor, policymakers and education professionals, you will learn to:

  • Recognize the importance of data’s use to improve education outcomes and understand the role of the individual in promoting the value of data and security.
  • Examine the core responsibilities for protecting education data at the federal, state, and district levels and gain tools to shape education data privacy policy.
  • Analyze the current data privacy debate within and beyond education, its relationship to how people feel about data and current education policy reform efforts.

In order to create a culture of trust that enables effective data use, policymakers and education professionals must ensure that the public has confidence that state and local leaders act to protect student data privacy.

For more information, and to enroll, please visit: https://www.canvas.net/browse/excelined/courses/data-privacy-get-schooled


Gender Gap in Education Cuts both Ways

logooecd_enFor decades now, education researchers have discussed the fact that girls tend to do worse in math (and to a lesser but still significant degree, science) than do boys. As follows, girls also tend to go into math and science related fields less often than do boys. This has been known by researchers for decades, and efforts have been made, without much success according to new PISA results, to resolve this gender gap. But less has been made of an equally troubling fact: boys are tending to do worse than are girls in education overall. Following is an excerpt from an article about this trend by Eduardo Porter writing for the New York Times:

Six out of 10 underachievers in the O.E.C.D. — who fail to meet the baseline standard of proficiency across the tests in math, reading and science — are boys. That includes 15 percent of American boys, compared with only 9 percent of girls. More boys than girls underperform in every country tested except Luxembourg and Liechtenstein.

Across the board, girls tend to score higher than boys in reading, which the O.E.C.D. considers the most important skill, essential for future learning.

At the bottom, the gap is enormous: The worst-performing American girls — who did worse in reading tests than 94 out of every 100 of their peers — scored 49 points more than bottom-ranked boys, a 15 percent gap. And the deficit across the O.E.C.D. was even bigger.

And it is not only the least educated boys who are falling behind. Research by Mr. Stoet and David Geary of the University of Missouri based on PISA tests from 2000 to 2009 concluded that on average, boys score worse than girls across the three subjects in 70 percent of the countries tested.

Clearly, more work needs to be done to investigate preferences of girls and boys in education around the world. More work also needs to be done to investigate how much good teaching and parenting practices can influence these gaps. If these trends are allowed to continue in the coming decades, we will begin to see some striking differences in female and male careers.

For more information, please visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/11/business/gender-gap-in-education-cuts-both-ways.html?_r=0


Teacher Retention and TFA

tfa.ashxMore than 87 percent of TFA teachers say they don’t plan on remaining teachers throughout their careers, compared with 26.3 percent of non-TFA teachers working in the same subjects, grades, and schools, according to an analysis released last week by Mathematica Policy Research (PDF).

The study suggests the risk of turnover is relatively high for the recent grads that become teachers through TFA’s program. A full 25 percent of them said they would quit teaching after the current school year, compared with only 6.7 percent of non-TFA teachers. And of those who plan to quit, 42.9 percent of TFA teachers anticipated leaving education altogether, compared with 6.7 percent of non-TFA teachers.

“We do encourage our corps members to pursue leadership in whatever way feels most impactful for them. That said, we are seeking ways to continue to get better and provide more options for those who want to stay in the classroom,” says Takirra Winfield, vice president of national communications for TFA.

To be sure, turnover in teaching is a problem much bigger than just TFA. Richard Ingersoll, a University of Pennsylvania professor, estimates (PDF) about 41 percent of teachers will leave the classroom within five years—meaning teachers quit at a higher rate than nurses, lawyers, and engineers.

When TFA teachers leave, it’s not inconsequential. It costs $51,400 to fund each teacher for three years, starting from when the soon-to-be college graduates are recruited to when they finish their two-year teaching commitment, according to TFA’s data. There’s also a less tangible cost: the effect a rotating cast of teachers can have on children. “Students in grade levels with higher turnover score lower in both English language arts and math,” researchers found in a 2013 study (PDF) published by the American Educational Research Journal. “These effects are particularly strong in schools with more low-performing and black students,” they added.

TFA has countered that, despite losing some of its young teachers every year, a large share of TFA alumni who do finish their two-year commitment continue to work in an education-related job. The organization has more than 37,000 alumni (defined as those who served the full two years), according to TFA’s Winfield, of which she says about 11,000 are teachers, 900 are school heads, and 250 are leaders of district and charter school systems. TFA doesn’t provide the number of TFA recruits who don’t complete the two-year commitment, or who don’t stay in teaching.

For more information, please visit: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-03-09/most-teach-for-america-instructors-plan-to-flee-teaching


Wired: Let Big Data Do Its Job in Education

smarter-balanced-and-PARCCA new article by Jason Tanz for Wired Magazine makes the argument that big data already reigns supreme, and for the most part helps us, in our lives, so why shouldn’t it do the same in education? Tanz understands that there are legitimate concerns from parents and education leaders about the role of large-scale standardized assessments in education, but he argues that these yearly assessments like PARCC are only annual checkups, and what we really need is seamlessly and continuously integrated formative assessments that will provide many more data points. By making assessment more of a constant part of the education process, we can see the benefits of assessment and data, such as real time feedback that allows for continuous monitoring and intervention.

Following is an excerpt from the article:

But ultimately, the solution isn’t to rely less on data. It’s to rely on more of it. Imagine if the process of data collection weren’t decoupled from the act of learning—if tracking and measurement were a natural part of the learning process, rather than an artificial adjunct tacked on at the end of the year. Imagine if every learning activity were automatically recorded—each homework assignment, class discussion, group project. Over time, all those points would come together to paint a full picture of a student’s intellectual life. Because that picture would be composed of so many data points, no one set would have outsized influence. And because it would be a record of actual learning, as it happens, it wouldn’t be as gameable with fancy test prep. Parents wouldn’t have to worry that their kid would be penalized because they couldn’t sleep the night before the big test. And there wouldn’t be teaching to the test, because the teaching would be the test.

For more information, please visit: http://www.wired.com/2015/03/standardized-tests-suck-fix-data-not-less/


Coherence in Education Reform


Often, it seems in schools that reform after reform is layered on with little thought to alignment or coherence. The Center on Great Teachers and Leaders is responding to that problem with a new special issues brief titled, A Framework for Coherence: College and Career Readiness Standards, Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, and Educator Effectiveness.   

When aligned and coherently implemented, college and career readiness standards, multi-tiered systems of support, and educator effectiveness systems have the potential to create lasting and meaningful changes to instruction and support for at-risk learners. Unfortunately, these three critical instructional reform initiatives are often implemented in isolation, sending teachers and instructional leaders mixed messages about instructional practices.

In this Special Issues Brief, GTL outlines a framework for coherence that supports states in connecting these three initiatives by capitalizing on their shared goal: improving instructional quality to enhance educational outcomes for students.

For more information, please visit: http://www.gtlcenter.org/products-resources/framework-coherence-college-and-career-readiness-standards-multi-tiered-systems


A State of Engagement: NASBE Study Group on Student Engagement

NASBEA new report from the National Association of State Boards of Education suggests ways that state policymakers can get more students invested in learning.

Education is a $600 billion-a-year enterprise, but the investments states make in education will not benefit students unless they are physically and mentally present in the classroom. Too many students are not. According to Gallup, nearly half are actively disengaged from school, and students often cite disengagement as the critical factor in decisions to drop out. In its new report, “A State of Engagement,” the National Association of State Boards of Education asks policymakers to promote student engagement through a suite of policy changes.

The product of a recent NASBE study group, “A State of Engagement” explores the behavioral, emotional, and cognitive dimensions of student engagement and the role peers, educators, school environments, parents and communities play in helping students become invested in their own learning. The report finds that an educational system that more meaningfully engages students will require state policymakers to act.

The report recommends five policy actions:

  • Promote measures of educational success that emphasize student engagement. What gets measured? Whose success is measured, and how?
  • Back an educator preparation, learning and support continuum that empowers school leaders, teachers and other staff to facilitate more engaging experiences for students. States can begin by ensuring professional development, licensure, and evaluation emphasize strategies for better student engagement.
  • Advance school climate guidelines that promote healthy, safe and engaging learning environments for all students, standards that are more conducive to student engagement.
  • Invest in school structures that help personalize student learning and thereby expand student engagement. This includes re-visioning where, when, by whom and how learning is delivered.
  • Encourage collaboration between schools, parents and other community stakeholders to address students’ comprehensive needs.

For more information, please visit: http://www.nasbe.org/study-group-report/a-state-of-engagement-nasbe-study-group-on-student-engagement/