International Education Reform September 21, 2011Posted by keithsawyer in New research.
Tags: mckinsey, pisa, poland, saxony, school reform
The Economist of 17 September 2011 has a detailed three-page story about “the great schools revolution” resulting from “a global battle of ideas.” This has resulted from new masses of comparative data, such as the PISA tests developed by the OECD and first used in 32 countries in 2000, and McKinsey consulting group’s new education research practice, which assesses which school systems improve the most over the years. And computers and the internet seem to have finally reached the point where they could actually make a difference in schools (this hasn’t been true in the past; despite spending a lot of money to put computers in schools, going back to the 1970s in the U.S. when schools bought Apple II computers, there’s been no evidence to date that computers improve learning).
The Economist story also says that “the three great excuses” for bad schools are no longer accepted. They are skimpy government spending, social class, and cultures that don’t value education. The article acknowledges the research suggesting that social class plays a big role in school outcomes, but argues that schools can still make a difference, particularly if the culture emphasizes education (with a reference to Asian cultures, where even poor children study hard and do well on tests).
Then the article identifies four important themes that work to improve schools: decentralization, a focus on underachieving students, providing a choice of different types of schools (they mention charters as the U.S. example), and high standards for teachers. They then provide examples of schools that a recent McKinsey report has identified as high performers: Ontario, Poland, and Saxony (in Germany). The most important are the last two: providing a variety of schools (The Economist‘s economic liberalism leads them to advocate “schools free of government control,” no surprise) and enhancing teacher quality. Is the U.S. ready to double teacher salaries and then grant them autonomy and professional discretion, as is done in Singapore for example? Unfortunately, U.S. schools aren’t going down that path.
How To Improve Schools July 11, 2011Posted by keithsawyer in New research, Uncategorized.
Tags: mckinsey, school improvement, school reform
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I’m reporting this from Shanghai, where I gave the keynote talk this morning to a conference of educators at East China Normal University. I’ve just learned of the McKinsey report “How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better.” After studying twenty countries, they identified eight key take-home messages:
1. A school system can make significant gains from whatever level it is currently at, and in six years or less.
2. There is too little focus on the processes of learning in today’s debate; instead, the public debate is focused on school system structures and on resources. This was exactly the argument we were making in the Global Policy Forum last week; see my previous post.
3. Each particular stage of school improvement requires its own unique set of interventions. In other words, you can’t just keep doing the same thing for six years, you have to adapt along with the changes.
4. A system’s context determines not what must be done, but rather how it is done. One example the report cites is whether to “mandate” or “persuade” changes.
5. Six interventions are common at every stage of the performance journey: Building the instructional skills of teachers and the management skills of school leaders; assessing students; introducing data systems; facilitating improvement through the introduction of public policy documents and laws; revising standards and curriculum; and ensuring appropriate reward systems for teachers and principals.
6. Poor performing schools improve more by centralized control and scripting of teachers, but once schools perform better, they need to grant more autonomy and flexibility to teachers to gain further improvements.
7. Leaders take advantage of changed circumstances to ignite reform (often in response to external crises).
8. Leadership continuity is essential. In systems that have shown dramatic improvement, the average tenure of the principal is six years and the average of the politicians involved, seven years.
The State of Creativity February 15, 2008Posted by keithsawyer in Enhancing creativity, Innovative networks, Regional innovation.
Tags: creativity, economy, education, oklahoma, regional development, school reform
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I spent a few days last week in Oklahoma City, as a keynote speaker for an event sponsored by the Creative Oklahoma initiative. Believe it or not, but Oklahoma is working hard to become known as the “state of creativity” (and they’ve gotten a good start by securing the domain name www.stateofcreativity.com). Like many of my readers, I was at first skeptical; Oklahoma doesn’t typically come to mind in connection with the creative economy. But Oklahoma’s creativity initiative has the backing of top political and business leaders, a rare combination. I met the Governor as well as a substantial number of local business leaders. And both Democrats and Republicans were united behind the initiative.
For about five years now, Oklahoma’s initiative has been guided by Sir Ken Robinson, a leader in the field of creativity and education who has spent most of his life in the U.K. (thus accounting for his knighthood by the Queen) and, seven years ago, attracted to the U.S. by a top position at the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles. No doubt as a result of this expert advise, Oklahoma is doing everything right–the campaign is proceeding on multiple fronts, including education, culture, and business.
I was invited to talk about innovation in the schools of the future. Oklahoma schools have adopted the A+ schools model that originated in North Carolina. If we want a creative economy, then we absolutely have to start with our schools, because the creative economy depends on creative workers. I haven’t written much on this blog about my research on schools and creativity, but let me just say that most schools today do a very poor job of fostering creativity in students. When I see Oklahoma investing in its schools in this way, I begin to believe that it truly could become known as the “state of creativity.”
They’ll have to be in it for the long haul; regional transformations like this historically have taken between ten and twenty years. Another invited speaker was Pascal Cools, of the Flanders District of Creativity project. Flanders is the Flemish region of Belgium, and until a few years ago was thought of as an agrarian backwater. Now it’s a center of the global innovation economy. In the small Belgium town of Leuven, Pascal coordinates a global network of “districts of creativity” that include Qindao, China, Karnatka, India, Catalonia (“in” Spain although the Catalonians would deny that), and yes, Oklahoma–the only state in the U.S. to be a member in this international effort.
I wish Oklahoma great success in this transformative effort.