Sunday, January 6, 2013

ICSEI Day 2 - Fresh Eyes

One of the very best aspects of attending an international conference is the opportunity to gain a fresh perspective on 'home' through the lens of the experiences in different countries. Let me try to capture a little of the flavour of the work presented in three very different countries - Chile, Australia and Kenya.

The story and trajectory of educational change in Chile is important and s driven by genuine desire to improve quality and equity. Currently 39% of students attend municipal (public) schools, 7% attend privately owned schools and 54% attend publicly funded private schools. 21% of the total federal budget is spent on education  - this represents the third highest per capita spending of all OECD countries. (Canada is slightly below the OECD average). The results of Chilean students on PISA, TIMMS and PIRLS are below the OECD average BUT recently Chile has been identified as one of the most rapidly improving countries in terms of education achievement and attainment.

 During the dictatorship in Chile, privatization and choice were dominant policies. This lead to a highly stratified system with extreme gaps between the rich and the poor. Between 1990 ad 2007 Chilean education relied on the assumption that school improvement would be achieved by means of centralized programs prescribed by the Ministry of Education. Program evaluation showed that learning outcomes in disadvantaged schools could not be driven by these programs in any significant way. Legislation in 2008 created a subsidy law as a mechanism to improve quality and equity by providing additional funds to schools serving poor children. The law has four pillars:
1. To concentrate resources on the most vulnerable sector
2. A focus on learning
3. School autonomy - a focus on school teams and community engagement
4. Accountability - especially connected to the use of resources.

School participation is voluntary - but this statement might be somewhat questionable since the funding only comes with a signed agreement and, as of 2013, 98% of all public schools have signed on.

The preliminary results from the impact of the legislation are generally positive especially with regards to school culture, a focus on teaching and learning, and an increasing academic emphasis for school leaders.

What struck us most from this session was the clarity of the presentation from the Deputy Minister who outlined not only the moral imperative for action but also the specific theory of action underlying the legislation. He was also very clear about the challenges especially connected to achieving the right balance between autonomy and control and developing better quality support to build school capacity and technical expertise.

It was also great to hear the program evaluators presenting alongside the Deputy. Even as they acknowledged the significant progress that has been made, they highlighted additional challenges - including issues related to school classification, and the emphasized even more strongly the very weak state of professional development or technical assistance. In a sense this session is what ICSEI is all about - the convergence between research, policy and practice presented with honesty and clarity that creates the platform for additional thinking and responses. Next year in Indonesia, we will very much look forward to hearing more about the ways in which Chile is continuing to strive for equity and quality.

This takes us next to Australia. Currently Australia is launching a charter for professional learning through AITSL (the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership). Linda and I were part of an international team who consulted on the standards for teacher learning and the process for developing the standards was open, transparent and comprehensive. You can check out all the materials on the AITSL website and take a careful look at the standards. We'd be very interested in what you think. The presentation included a short video that is worth watching - created by the Innovation Unit in England for AITSL, it is entitled Why Great Teachers are Great Learners.

Finally, a quick trip to East Africa where Sarah Ruto, the director of UWEZO challenged all of us to think differently and deeply about using the power of citizens to create education change. Uwezo means Capability in Kiswahili and is focused on improving LEARNING in schools in Kenya, Mali, Sengal and Uganda through citizen involvement. While there has been considerable improvement in access to education in East Africa, the quality of learning, especially in public primary schools remains low. There are three pillars underlying the work of Uwezo - assessment, communication and action. Consider this - teams of volunteers go directly to the homes of students to assess them in basic numeracy and literacy. The parents get to observe the assessment (and to appreciate what their children and learning) and then the results are presented in simple, easy to understand forms. What started as a small citizen based movement is now having a huge impact. Last year over 400,000 student assessments were conducted - and more important, the media is paying attention to this work and so is the government. Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people!  We were proud to see that one of the groups supporting Uwezo is ACCES. ACCES (African Canadian Continuing Education Society) was originally started by a retired educator from Surrey and now involved hundreds of BC teacher volunteers working to provide young Africans with the education and tools necessary to benefit themselves and their society.

Reflecting on 'home' we are struck once again by what we can learn from the varied efforts across the world to improve the lives of young people through quality education. We are proud to be from BC where we know we have some of the finest teachers in the world - and there is also much for us to do if we are really to achieve the goal of EVERY learner crossing the stage with dignity, purpose and options.   Making sure we have quality policies that will ensure every child has access to the best possible learning environment, creating shared understanding of what high quality teaching and learning looks like, supporting capacity building at al levels, and then thinking about how we can better engage our communities and citizens in understanding and supporting public education - lots for us to consider.

Just in case you were wondering, not all of ICSEI is about papers, presentations, and sessions. There are lots of opportunities for fun as the Nanaimo smiling faces show. Enough for now! Day three beckons.

Friday, January 4, 2013

ICSEI 2013 - Canadians Make a Big Contribution

Today is the first full day of the 26th International Congress of School Effectiveness and Improvement in Santiago Chile. The setting is stunning, the weather is glorious (the sunshine feels great), and the learning promises to be very rich. This is the first time that ICSEI has been held in Latin America and it is exciting to learn about the advances that are being made in Chilean education over the past ten years, Chile has been identified by the OECD as the most rapidly improving education system based on TIMSS and PIRLS - and the congress organizers also acknowledge that they have a long way to go to achieve the levels of quality and equity to which they aspire. The partnership between Canada and Chile in many education reform effort has been very important. We have been impressed with the number of Canadians in attendance and the strong contributions Canadian educators and researchers are making both in Chile - and on an international scale.

Just take a look at the program to see the number of Canadian colleagues represented!

Yesterday started with a pre-conference on leadership. Teams from across the world were asked to bring short video clips of interesting practice to stimulate discussion. Three of the short presentations weren't just from Canada, they were from BC. First Lynn Brown and Michelle Jones shared a clip about the connection between Dover Bay Secondary and a primary school in Wales. The clip featured a visiting Welsh teacher interviewing and expressing her amazement at the depth of knowledge demonstrated by Lynn's students involved in literacy inquiry projects. The second clip was from Kamloops where John Churchley introduced the delegates to the Beattie School of the Arts and the importance of an arts infused curriculum in a short and powerful piece. And finally, Linda and I shared one of the AESN clips featuring the focused inquiry work of Mike Skinner and the team at Lakes District Secondary in improving student outcomes. (This clip can be seen on the NOII website -

Last night Michel Fullan (recently recognized as a Officer of the Order of Canada) provided the keynote address. You can see a video stream of all the keynotes, including Micheal's on the ICSEI site. We  were particularly interested in hearing his description of the characteristics of effective networks. Consider these in terms of the networks you are involved in - and the ones we are so closely connected to as well:
1. Focus on student learning
2. Have effective leadership
3. Adult learning is key
4. A focus on learning and persisting with specific strategies
5. Combination of mutual allegiance (bigger sense of commitment) and collaborative competition
6. Reach outside for learning and contribute to the system you are in.

His powerpoint hasn't been posted yet but here's a recent one that includes much of the content of last night's talk.

Today started with a keynote from Marlene Scardamelia (U of T) on Knowledge Creation. Marlene's work is truly brilliant and to do justice to it in a blog post is beyond my capacity. At the very least, I hope you'll check out her website.

Since ICSEI 2009 in Vancouver, BC educators have increasingly become involved in this congress  - and are making a great contribution. Paige Fisher from VIU is now on the Board of Directors and the final session on Sunday involves Paige, MaryLynn Epps, Lynn Brown (all from Nanaimo) and Doug Livingstone from Nisga'a showing how an inquiry approach in a variety of contexts is having a significant impact on student learning. There is also a group from TRU who are attending for the first time - and making their presence known in a very positive way as well. Linda and I are also part of two international leadership symposiums - and running around like nuts trying to absorb everything we can.

In the meantime, I'll try to provide some additional highlights from the sessions. You can also follow the twitter conversation at #icsei2013

It feel great to see the impact that Canadians at all levels of the education system are having. Our work matters and is making a difference.