Andreas Schleicher runs the PISA programme for the UN. PISA is the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment, a test given to 15-year-old students from most of the world. Data about the students, countries, and education systems are analysed to see not just who is high-performing and who is improving, but why. He came to New Zealand in July, and his talk to Members of Parliament was recorded. My transcription is below. If you can fix some of the parts which are unintelligible, for a limited time you can edit the Google Doc which also has screencaps of some of his slides (please feel free to add more slides).
If you’d like to engage with what this means, I’m @gnat on Twitter and we can use the hashtag
#ednz to join up disparate conversations. Andreas is @SchleicherEdu, though he doesn’t appear to do more than tweet out his press coverage. Hekia Parata is @HekiaParata, and does occasionally engage. Labour’s spokesperson on education is @ChrisHipkins (Chris Hipkins); the Green’s is @GreenCatherine (Catherine Delahunty); NZ First’s is @TraceyMartinMP (Tracey Martin); ACT’s is @JohnBanksPR (John Banks); and the Maori Party’s is @PapaPita (Pita Sharples).
Hekia Parata (HP) introduces: Good evening everyone, and thank you very much for coming along to this hour-long event. We have the honour and the opportunity of having Andreas Schleicher with us here this afternoon. You’ve had some background notes on him but just to refresh your memory, he is deputy-Director of Education in Schools at the OECD, he is special advisor on Education, and [….] spinoffs from PISA. PISA as you know is the programme of International Student Achievement. Andreas is the person I quoted in the house who said, “without data you’re just another person with an opinion”.
While PISA started purely and as characterised by some a league table, and it is in a sense that 15-year-olds across 76 countries are administered a test every three years, it has grown into a much richer base of information and has been added to, which Andreas can speak about. It’s entirely up to him which presentation he gives, as he’s given three so far. There will be an opportunity after he’s done for questions, and you should feel free to ask those. I’m aware, and I think Andreas is, that some of you will have to leave because you have house calls that you have to make, s we won’t be offended by that and nor will we take it as any suggestion that your interest has waned.
So if I can invite you again, now, Andreas, to give another one of your fabulous conference presentations and thank you for being so prepared to be so available in the time you’re here in New Zealand.
Andreas Schleicher [AS]: Thank you and I must say that I have had a fascinating two days here in New Zealand. I’ve learned a lot, really. I have just come back from a meeting in Treasury where we talked not about PISA and schooling but very much about how skills are actually deployed in the economy and how better education translates to better jobs and better lives, and other fascinating discussion.
I want to start by giving you a sense of the pace of change that we’re seeing. the idea is to show that in the global economy, the improvement by national standards is important (becoming better) but we need to look outwards and see how the world is changing because the pace of improvement varies a lot across countries. You can see that on this chart nicely. On the horizontal axis, I put the graduate supply (higher education) and on the vertical axis the amount of money invested per student, and the size of the dot showing you where the money comes from—the larger the dot, the more money is mobilised through private resources.
You see that the United States is #1 in terms of highly qualified people coming out of the system. Number one in terms of investing a lot, and number one in terms of mobilising a lot of resources. The only thing I didn’t say is that this was in 1995. And if you look a the very same picture in the year 2000 you can see that it looks very different.
The United States is still sort of up there, but a lot of the other countries have moved to the front. UK was #1 in the year 2000. And the world didn’t stop in the year 2000, as some people predicted. You could actually see that, in the year 2001, Australia (your neighbour) was #1. And things have gone on, 2002, 3, 4, 5. And you can see, New Zealand very close to the front here.
2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010.
So, in the course of a bit more than a decade, the relative standing of countries have fundamentally changed. Not because some countries decline in their performance but because the pace of change varied enormously. If you think about (points to US) that was everybody’s benchmark for success in 1995, now it’s an average performer.
You can see that very nicely (animation) while everybody else moved rightwards, the US became just more and more expensive in higher education. So this tells you a story: everybody improves, we can all say that our education systems become better, but it’s the relative performance that really matters. So that’s what we’re trying to watch with things like PISA.
This is just a map of how we started assessing testing 15 year olds: what can children actually do, and progressively more and more countries have joined in assessment. Today we have a reasonable picture of quality of learning outcomes in principal industrialized countries. Covering about 87% of our world economy. The latest data we have is from 2009, more recent data will be available at the end of the year.
One thing that is important is that PISA doesn’t limit itself to looking “Can students reproduce what they can be taught?”, it looks at whether they can extrapolate from what they know, apply their knowledge to novel situations. Some educators don’t like it, assessing students with things they haven’t taught—they think it’s unfair to young people, but the reason for it is that the modern economy doesn’t pay you for what you know, it pays you for what you can do with what you know.
Then we collect a lot of data on the personal background, on social factors, from parents, principals, systems, to get a good understanding of the context in which educational results are produced.
Then we can talk about results. 15 year olds’ performance, the first thing everybody does is “how do countries come out”? That’s the league table feature. You can see: red is below OECD average, yellow is so-so, and green are the countries doing really well. You can see Shanghai and China come out on top, many Asian systems doing well (not all of them, see here some are average performers [points to Macao, Taipei). New Zealand clearly in the green area: strong performing education system, don’t forget that when you talk about the challenges—overall performance is very good.
There’s a lot of variability. The quality of education varies significantly depending on where you are. A lot less is predicted by culture than you’d think. Here’s a Chinese partner, here’s another Chinese partner. A lot of variation even within culturally homogeneous contexts.
I want to bring a more challenging dimension into this for New Zealand, and that’s equity. In some countries, the gaps between winners and losers in education are very large—social background is a very strong predictor of success. In other countries/societies, educational systems seem to be better at moderating social inequalities.
You look at this (top-right) quadrant, this is where everybody wants to be. Performance is good, systems are very effective at moderating the impact of cultural/social background on outcomes. Nobody wants to be there (bottom left) where perforamnce is poor and large social disparities are obvious.
The question in educational policies and practices, is what about this quadrant (top left). Some people believe to do well on average, you have to accept large disparities. Other people believe that if you focus on equity, you’ll have to accept mediocrity. The interesting thing is that, when you look at data, you don’t have to make quality/equity trade-off. You can do well for all students.
These are the top performing education systems, that realise the potential of all young people. And if you look at the (top right) corner there, you can see that no country has made it to the top, mobilising the talent of all student population.
You can combine quality and equity, and I think that’s the first lesson we can take from it.
I want to bring one more dimension into this, and that’s money. I give countries each a colour dot, and I make it proportional to the amount of money that is being spent per student.
You can actually see, New Zealand is a reasonably small bubble (an average spender). Not a very expensive system, not a very cheap one, average spending per student. But if money would tell you everything about quality of education, you would find all the large bubbles at the top and all the small bubbles at the bottom. Spending per student is about 20% of the variation by population. This is Luxembourg: very expensive, lot of money, but not very well-doing. This is Korea: little money, high performance.
Q: Is that just primary/secondary education?
AS: Up to fifteen, because we measure performance at age 15.
So, if the volume of money isn’t telling us very much, what about how you spent the money. Let’s look at that.
How do countries spend their money? This is Korea, highlighted here, and you can actually see they put a lot of money into attracting the most talented people into teaching. They pay teachers really well, about twice what the other countries pay. The bar goes up.
Korea does one thing more: they say, “we not only want to have teachers well-paid, we want students to have long hours of instruction, learning hours”. That costs you more money, so the bar goes up. And Korea does a third thing, they say “we want our teachers to do other things than teaching”. That’s a very strong part of Asian culture, where basically teachers have a lot of social responsibilities in addition to teaching. And that costs you more money so the bar goes even further up.
And you ask yourself, “how do they actually finance this? How can they pay teachers so well? Students learn for long hours, and teachers have many opportunities for collaboration, teamwork, professional development, and so on. The answer is that they pay for that, largely, with very large classes. They make a trade-off between the quality of teaching and the size of classes.
You go to the next country on the list. This is Luxembourg. Luxembourg spends the same amount of money as Korea. But spending patterns are very different: in Luxembourg, parents like small classes, teachers like small classes, and so on, and that’s where the money has gone. But even Luxembourg can spend its money only once, so the price of this has been short school days, salaries are so-so, and teachers have little time to do anything else than teaching.
You go to the countries at the bottom end of the list, and compare Finland and the United States, and you’d see that Finland has a very different culture to Korea. They have nothing in common but they have spent their money in very similar ways. And the United States and Luxembourg, very different countries, but they have something in common.
If you bring New Zealand into the picture, it looks more like Luxembourg and the United States than Finland and Korea.
When you do that analysis in a more systematic way, you do see that more high-performing education systems do tend to prioritise the quality of teachers over the size of classes. They don’t necessarily spend more, but they have a very different set of spending choices on education.
So that’s basically where the world stands. The volume of money explains some things, the nature of spending choices are a better predictor of the performance of nations.
Let’s go back to the year 2000. This is how the world looked then. And let’s see how things changed.
I want to talk about Korea. When Korea saw the PISA results in the year 2000, they said “we are doing really well, we are in the right quadrant”. But they were not happy with this because they did not look at the average performance, they looked at the top end of the distribution. They said “we’re not even doing as well as the United States, a much lower performing country, at the academic elite of our country”. The Koreans worked on that and they were able to double the share of top performers in the course of ten years, nine years. You can see that here, the dot moved upwards. But because they only worked with the top performing students, they moved leftwards and lost out on equity.
Chile would be here (off the map) in the year 2000. Moved up to there, raising performance from very low levels by the equivalent of a school year. Or you look to Poland and Europe: big improvements in quality, a little improvement in equity. More impressive, Portugal: moving upwards, moving rightwards. Actually, Portugal has done something which New Zealand struggles with as well: they had a lot of very isolated schools, spread out in the country. It’s very hard to deal with this, and they created larger networks of schools, bringing students together across the schools, something that is really hard to do. Talk about how they did this, but it created some hope and better environments for many children and they were actually able to create a much more equitable learning environment because the penalised students were often those in rural areas.
So impressive moving upwards, rightwards, adn we’re not talking about history here. This is nine years of time. Now you look at Hungary, moving upwards, rightwards. Now you look at Germany, moving upwards, rightwards, from lower levels.
I think what these data tell you actually is that there’s a lot you can do, not only in raising quality but also in improving equity in a short time span of history. There’s a lot that countries can actually do to change those things. There’s a lot I could say about how those countries got there.
Let’s move back to New Zealand. I can look at the social background of students in schools here, performance on the vertical axis. Every school gets a white or green or brown dot, larger dots are larger schools, smaller dots are smaller schools. The green dots are the private schools, and by the way you see that green dots are not higher than white dots in a similar class. Public and private schools in New Zealand do a similar jobs.
More interestingly, the brown dots (the small rural schools) have the image of doing really badly but actually they do as well as other schools in similar neighbourhoods.
You look at this chart overall, and you see something that everybody has been telling me over these days—social background is a big driver of school success. But you look at this chart more carefully and you can see that is only part of the equation. Actually, the smaller part of the equation.
The way you can see this nicely is if you look at the drivers of this, parental background (context that comes from families) explains some of that relationship. But the bigger part is explained by the way in which your system works.
You can actually see that nicely when you look at schools that are disadvantaged, all on the left side of the chart, these are all schools in a similar social environment. You can see that some of them have great results, and others have poor results. Under similar conditions, you get quite different educational outcomes. And that tells you: social background, yes, makes a different overall, but there are a lot of differences.
When you move to the rich parents’ schools, what you do see here? It doesn’t matter to which school you go: if you come from a rich family background, outcomes are very similar. Actually, I can tell you that it doesn’t matter whether you go to school in New Zealand, you can go to school in Japan, or Finland, or the United States, or even in Brazil. Brazil is one of those countries that has a really steep gradient, and at the top end of the distribution people do quite well.
So what distinguishes the educational system on equity is the capacity to mobilise the talent of the entire student population. The data show in a very powerful way that, in the case of New Zealand, social background is part of the challenge but you can do a much better job. If I were to show you the same chart for Finland, you would find the yellow line like in New Zealand: Finnish parents are like NZ parents, better educated parents have a positive impact on outcomes. But the blue line in Finland is very flat: the system is very good at mobilising everybody’s talents.
I want to show one last picture, and that has not something to do with New Zealand. The more challenging thing is changing the mindset of teachers: how do you change not only the structure and allocation of resources, but how do you change the mindset of teachers. When PISA came out in 2000, the Japanese were doing well but they were also not satisfied with their results. They said, “we are good at filling out boxes, reproducing subject matter content, we are not very good in creative skills”, so the Japanese worked on that. And you can see here what happened.
When you look at OECD as a whole, you can see OECD countries improved a bit on multiple choice/content knowledge and a bit more on open ended/constructed knowledge. And I must tell you that New Zealand does well, but New Zealand has not seen the improvement that we have seen on average of other countries. So New Zealand would more or less remain what was here. That is what we saw around industrialised world—every educational system, or most, have become a bit better.
But look at what happened to Japan. You can see, they wanted to strengthen student capacities in this area and they were able to do that. This is not something you can do by giving people more money or changing work hours or classroom hours. This has to do with what happens in the classroom, with instructional practice. The reason I’m showing this is that you can change those things in a system on a predictable system-wide basis. It’s another very impressive outcome, not just changing averages but changing the nature of things that students are good at.
So that brings me to the question: what can you actually do about this? I want to order things by their relevance, their impact on success, and I want to take into account what is actually do-able (focusing on the things that are easy to do and important). Of course, trying to avoid those things that are not so important and very difficult to do. It’s not so obvious: a lot of things where, ten years afterwards, you always discover what is in this [bottom right quadrant]. Then looking at the things that are very important, but are hard to do (a lot of things in education). A difficult theatre for public policy, heavily laden with beliefs, sometimes ideologies, and many of the policies and practices have a long trajectory until you see results. If you do something in kindergarten today, it’ll take you ten years before you can possibly see something in PISA. And I’m going to pick up some things that are low-hanging fruit: easy things that aren’t important.
So let’s talk about the kinds of policies and practices that countries have used to move equity, to improve equity and the distribution of opportunities. I want to start with the issue of commitment to universal achievement. One thing that we see very clearly in high performing educational system is that high expectations are squarely placed on every young person. I mentioned this morning that we see this mirrored in what students think about education: if you have students (one extreme is the United States, New Zealand is quite a bit distance from that but similar pattern), you ask students “what do you believe makes you successful in mathematics”. Many students will tell you, “it’s talent—if I’m born as a genius, great, if not I’m going to study something else” so education is here to sort people by their talents.
If you ask the same question to many of your Asian neighbours, 9 out of 10 students tell you “it depends on my effort—if I’m going to try hard, I trust my teachers are going to help me, and I’m going to be successful.” In one case, the educational systems convey to you “there’s nothing you can do, we’re just sorting people”. In the other case, the educational system says “it’s your responsibility, you’re going to work it out, we’re going to help you”.
These are not just curricular issues, these are deeply reflected in people’s mindsets. We can see that those countries have universal educational standards, same expectations, high degree of individualised learning opportunities, teachers understand that students learn differently and are able to embrace that diversity, and also very clear articulation of who is responsible for student success—what is the role of the teacher, what is the role of the parent, what is the role of the student.
That’s quite hard to achieve. Some would say that’s all the word “culture”, but it’s prevalent in countries as different as Canada, Finland, Shanghai, Japan. So it’s not so easy to say that this is just culture. Probably, those systems create that kind of culture rather than inheriting it. Still, I put it very much to the left side [“commitment to universal achievement”].
Next I put something very influential and easy to do. New Zealand has more or less done that: creating gateways and instructional systems standards and diagnosis systems. What’s also very important is to establish this delivery change through which you translate those standards into what happens in the classroom. And it’s about a high level of metacognitive content, and it’s about innovative learning environments—not just about what we want students to achieve but also creating the conditions in which this works.
I spoke about the trade-off between class size and teacher quality. Let’s have a look. I visited a very interesting school in Singapore where they were using technology in very creative ways to personalise learning.[video: we leverage this technology to make a significant impact in the classroom instruction. I give you an example: in a classroom of 40, it is impossible to get all these to ask questions at one time. When we open 40 windows to 40 kids, they can ask questions at the same time and see that they are thinking. Kids get more excited because they are using the tools that they are very good in using, not just a pen and pencil. New teachers come inthey are more savvy in the use of information and communication technology tools. I see them teaching the more senior teachers how to use those tools effectively.]
AS: I don’t want to overplay the role of technology—there’s very mixed evidence about real impact. But what you can see is that in countries with great teachers, technology can leverage great teaching and enable you to work in very diverse very large classrooms in very effective ways. You could see the level of activity in the classroom, quite in contrast to the stereotype we have of Asian kids sitting in a row and doing the same things. It’s really about “instructional systems” as I call them: you have standards clearly articulated and ways to bring it into teaching.
The much harder thing to do is here, very much on the left side, is capacity at the point of delivery. That’s about attracting people into the teaching profession, making the work of teachers attractive. The country that’s doing that best is Finland: they have 10 applications for every teaching post. It’s the second-most prestigious occupation, everybody wants to become a teacher. And, actually, salaries are not as good as in New Zealand! That’s only one dimension of it: you have a profession that makes it attractive for people to work there. You have career opportunities, you can grow in your careers. It has career diversity: you can become a social worker, a curriculum expert, and so on. It’s a highly mobile, highly dynamic profession. You work every day with other teachers.
There’s a lot of instructional leadership in those systems: you have principals who are capable and willing to see themselves as instructional leaders rather than managers of an infrastructure. Countries are able to keep teaching an attractive profession, and there’s a lot of emphasis on system-wide career development. Quite a powerful way to do that.
I have a short video to show you how they prepare people to get into this profession. What you’re going to see is a very interesting mix between a strong emphasis on theory (they want you, a teacher, to remain a researcher in your life; you do a research masters thesis before you become a teacher) but they also have a strong emphasis on practice in a very systematic and rigorous way. Nine out of ten people don’t survive in teacher education, and the area where they’re going to cap out is where they’re in the practice. They’re judged by professionals, experts, principals, on their pedagogical talent.
Teacher in-service development also very important. Basically ensuring how people grow in the profession, what investment is being made. You have some countries in which you have a lot of investment being made in people to grow in their careers. Professional development is not going to lead to anywhere if it is not mirrored by career diversity, maybe even salary progressions. This is something in which NZ is quite challenged: after eight years, you reach the top and then … Even the salary differentials in New Zealand reflect more your age than the level of expertise that you can actually demonstrate. I think that’s a very important part of the picture, even more important than pre-service training of teachers, according to our analysis.
I want to show you something. How does professional development take place? This is what teachers in the OECD actually do. There’s very little in the way of individual and collaborative research going on (teachers working together to address issues in a systematic way). Qualification programmes? Even less so. And then there’s a lot in terms of informal dialogue, reading professional literature, courses and workshops, and so on.
But let’s ask a different question. Let’s ask ourselves: what actually makes a difference on teacher’s perceived self-efficacy. What makes teachers believe they’re more effective teachers?
You can see the picture looks quite different. Here you can see, for example, individual and collaborative comes out really highly. Teachers think this is an enabling tool for me. Qualifications progress also: we don’t do very much about it, but it is perceived to make a real difference on the behaviour of teachers.
One country that does this really well, getting teachers to work together on research, again is Singapore where schools have a very systematic approach to observe lessons. Teachers go to see the lessons of other teachers, work together on the lessons, and so on. They do monitoring of the classrooms, videotape classroom experiences and share with other teachers. Teachers see what everybody else is doing, analyze it, learn from it, bring it back into classroom instruction. Very powerful learning experience.
The next point I want to make is to do with things that are easier to do and are very powerful. Incentive systems and structures and accountability. This doesn’t necessarily mean testing. What I mean by accountability is that you know what other people around you are doing; you know what your fellow teachers are working on; you know what your neighbouring school is doing, how your neighbouring school is doing. It’s about managing knowledge in the system.
Slide: Incentives, accountability, knowledge management.
Aligned incentive structures
How gateways affect the strength, direction, clarity and nature of the incentives operating on students at each stage of their education.
Degree to which students have incentives to take tough courses and study hard
Opportunity costs for staying in school and performing well
Make innovations in pedagogy and/or organisation
Improve their own performance and the performance of their colleagues
Pursue professional development opportunities that lead to stronger pedagogical practices
A balance between vertical and lateral accountability
Effective instruments to manage and share knowledge and spread innovation—communciation within the system and with stakeholders around it
A capable centre with authority and legitimacy to act
And you can actually see this has different forms. For students, it affects how gateways are structured, exam systems, incentives to take them. For teachers, it’s about making innovations in pedagogy, improve your own performance and the performance of your fellow teachers, pursue professional development and so on. Getting the balance between vertical and lateral accountabilities right. Vertical is about corporate up to government, lateral is through your peers. We have some countries that are striking the balance differently but what matters in the end is the tools you have.
I want to show you some data on that. And that’s the relationship between school autonomy and accountability. On this part [autonomy], New Zealand is very very strong. I don’t think there’s any country that gives their schools more discretions. In this part [accountability], New Zealand can probably develop this further. If you’re in a system with a well-developed accountability culture (and this isn’t about tests necessarily, it’s about sharing knowledge and good practice) you can actually see that schools with more autonomy come out better. So the combination of schools working with a high degree of professional autonomy, but in a collaborative culture, seems to be conducive to outcomes.
If you go to systems with less of an accountability culture, you see the reverse—schools with a high degree of discretion, that work in isolation, come out as the lowest performing class of schools. So it’s the interaction between the responsibility given to schools and the system that is built around them that seems to be related to outcomes on this PISA test. The differences are really substantial by PISA terms.
Coming to another issue, and that’s to do with investing resources where they yield most. This is another challenge: how do you attract the most talented teachers into the most challenging classrooms. How do you get the best principals into the toughest schools. This is where a county like Shanghai has seen such remarkable progress. In 2003, Shanghai was an average performer on PISA. In 2009, they were on top. What did they do? Much of the change was driven among the lower-performing schools. How did they do that?
Actually I had a very interesting discussion with the mayor of Shanghai in the early times, when I told them all the good things that were happening in OECD countries in terms of attracting new teachers, developing new teachers, and so on. The Chinese were telling me “all very interesting, but we don’t have the time to do those things, we want to move faster”. So they said, “why don’t we figure out who is talented in our system and mobilise that talent”. If you’re a vice-principal in a high-performing school in Shanghai and want to become a principal, the only way to get there is for you to demonstrate in a low-performing school that you can make a difference to that school. If you are a teacher in Level 1 of their system, and want to move to Level 2, the only way you can get there is to show that you can actually make a difference in a low-performing class. They did this in a very systematic way, creating the kinds of systems that made it prestigious to leverage improvement. They said “performance is important, but improvement is equally important”. So much of the professional growth in the case of Shanghai is more around improvement, and they were able to make in a short time a very big difference.
[Video subtitles: How to change this situation? Could we pair the good schools and the bad schools together? This suggestion gained the support by the municipal government as well as the community at large, so we started the process of doing it. How did we do it? From the municipal government point of view, we created some new policies that encourage and support the good schools to assist the lesser performing schools. Secondly, we had these good schools sign a cooperative consortium agreement with the lesser performing schools. In this agreement, we clearly defined each school’s responsibilities, rights, and obligations.]
The reason why this is so instructive, you know, people again say “these Chinese people have this mathematics gene” and so everything that makes them so successful… They’re talking about six years of time and of policy changes. They didn’t fire the underperforming teachers, which we always think of as solving the problem, they didn’t change their education system, they just changed the ways they allocated resources.
When I heard about this, first I was very skeptical. What’s going to happen to the high performing schools that are taking out a principal, sometimes a fair number of teachers? We’ve not seen any performance change at the top of the distribution. Where we’ve seen a huge improvement is in the lower performing schools. It’s about mobilising talent, spreading knowledge.
In the Nordic countries in Europe they do it in different ways, they basically create lots of shared spaces and shared opportunities. I mentioned this morning: if you’re a principal in Finland, you work for ⅔ of your time on your school, but you work for ⅓ of your time in your educational system. You’re not only a school leader, you’re responsible for the education system, you’re a system leader. If you’re a teacher, you work in your classroom but you’re also responsible for curriculum development–you work with the municipal government on the local curriculum to make sure your students learn from real contexts. You’re not only responsible for your own work, you’re contributing to the system. Very powerful systems.
And the final point I want to make is actually an obvious one, it’s about about coherence, making sure that what you do here is coherent with what you do there. Making sure that what you do today is consistent with what you do tomorrow. It’s actually a non-trivial challenge in education. A lot of things have happened over time that are not particularly consistent. It’s about making sure that what you intend to do is actually implemented in the classroom, and ensuring fidelity of implementation.
One province that has done a remarkable job in getting that right is the province of Ontario in Canada, where you can see over a trajectory of ten years that they changed the dynamic. In the year 2000 they had very bad relationships between government and the unions. Also, on PISA: not a very well-performing system. And they put this in place. I interviewed Premier Dalton McGinty on how he explains success.
[Video: first of all, you need to bring to the task a sense of urgency, a sense that this is a very high priority. Then you need a plan. Then you need to enlist people to your cause, teachers included. Then you need persistence. We are close to 4/10 Ontario students are immigrants, so we have a student population that’s extremely rich in its diversity. “We need to deal with that diversity, so it’s not seen as a barrier, it’s seen as an opportunity and a challenge. I think one of the ways in which we’ve done that is by ensuring that we provide more support and more resources in meaningful ways to schools that are more challenged. So we can identify the proportion of children living in poverty in a particular school population, we can identify the proportion of children who come to school without either English or French as their first language, and we can work with that school and that school district to provide additional resources and build additional capacity in the teaching staff and in the leadership of the schools in those districts, to assist them in meeting the needs of those children.”
Ontario provincial literacy standard: 2004, 54% of children met the standard; 2008, 64% met the standard. Ontario high school graduation rate: 2004: 68% graduated, 2008: 77% of students graduated. In 2009, Ontario rated 6th in the world in reading.]
So that’s all I really wanted to share with you. Questions?
HP: Right, questions. We have 15m.
Q: Thank you very much for a very thought-provoking presentation. One of the things you nailed was the buy-in necessary from the profession. We’ve got some outstanding teachers in NZ doing an outstanding job, but you hear time and time again their leaders in their unions absolutey oppose any initiative that this government (and probably some of the previous governments) [unintelligible] rephrase educational achievments. Coming to Ontario: they obviously got the teachers unions involved, how did they manage to do that?
AS: They did pay a pretty high price for this in terms of money. They paid over five years and got all the industrial issues out of the way and moved forwards on the professional issues. One of the things they did well is that they engaged the professionals on professional issues. Create more career diversity is very hard for the unions to fight against because it’s something that benefits the profession. This morning, someone asked me a similar question and I mentioned the example of Sweden in 1994. They introduced a system of [?] pay, they wanted principals to get the power to pay teachers [?]. There were hundreds of thousand of teachers on the streets demonstrating against it. Four years after, 70% of unionised teachers approved of it. The profession’s view of things changed. That’s the trick: reach the profession on professional issues, and get the focus out of the industrial issues. Sometimes I say, “every educational system gets the unions that it deserves” because the nature of the unions often reflect the work organisation of education. If you have an industrial work organisation in education who focus on classroom hours, teacher salaries, all those things, you get a union that fights on those things. If you have a professional work organisation, it’s much harder for unions to get that stance. If people see themselves as professionals, owning that [?].
Q: You focused on New Zealand’s socioeconomic disparity. How precisely do you measure that. I assume there’s huge variation internationally in how precise there are graduations. The whole system in NZ is based around decile ranking. How confident are you that you have a good comparison?
AS: We have twelve dimensions that we account for in this. It ranges from parental occupation, parental education, educational resources at home, all the factors (cultural context from the students). It covers all the dimensions of social, cultural, and economic status that you can actually measure, and then we create an index that works reasonably across countries.
Q: One piece of your presentation that stuck with me was that you could lift the bottom of achievement by having the teachers … and it didn’t affect the top achievement much. How was that achieved in that particular example you quoted. How did you high-achieving teachers? What was the methodology to achieve that? That’s something we grapple with.
AS: In the case of Shanghai, it was basically about moulding career prospects, career structures, around improvement. They said to teachers, “you can improve by taking on tougher environments”. In the case of the Nordic countries who do this very well, they do it with resource issues. They provide an environment for teachers that’s quite attractive. If you’re in Sweden and there are a lot of poorly-performing immigrants, the school creates an environment which pays teachers more if you get more educational results. You have more discretion as a school to engage with them. So there are different instruments but what they have in common is that they make it attractive to leverage improvement.
Q: Supplementary. What we see in our schools is as much variation within a class as there is within schools.
AS: Absolutely. In the case of New Zealand, the challenge is very tough. Your performance variation, 75% of it lies within schools. That underlines that there are too many young people going under the radar screen. But I think you’re introducing individual performance measurement amongst students, which gives you at least a handle to at first see those differences. In the past, there was no way you could make those differences visible. But it’s harder to address: if it lies between schools, you just pin down what those schools are, and you do something about them. In your case, you have to work through a lot of schools and a lot of teachers. It’s really a very big challenge.
Q: We had a guest from Finland who talked about their model and said many things the same as you about the way in which they have a high-status trusted profession, they have huge amounts of time for collaborative PD, and he also said that they’re not at all focused on assessment. He thought that was key to their success. So as a model, why do you think that’s so important to Finland whereas other countries (including this country, in my mind) are so focused on assessment.
AS: What strikes you about Finland is that only 5% of the performance variation lies between schools. That can only happen because every teacher knows what every other teacher knows, and every school knows what every other school knows. They may not do a lot of testing in one sense, but they have a lot of diagnostic tools and instruments in there, of which classroom-based assessments are an important part of the equation. They don’t feature in our statistics because they don’t nationally apply.
To be a Finnish teacher is actually quite tough, because every other teacher knows what you are doing well and what you’re not doing well. It’s not an environment you should under-rate. It’s not an environment where teachers are left to their own devices. In New Zealand, teachers have much greater room for manouver. In Finland, you are under constant collaboration with other teachers and it’s a tough environment.
Q: I’m the product of South Korea educational system. Having moved to NZ, many migrants move thinking that they’re providing their children with a better opportunity in life, particularly in education, because they worry about their children doing long hours at school–the extra lessons and all that. Are you saying they’ve made the wrong decision? Plus, what do you think is the difference. As with them, their perception is that we have such freedom, the greenness, children are able to play more, and yet, our South Korean kids are doing better than our kids.
AS: Well, if you look at the results from PISA and you look at the social gradient, those kids are ending up in schools that their parents care about where parents do well. Actually they come out on average better than South Korea. I think NZ provides a fantastic education for kids who come into environments where parents care and schools work in privileged conditions. Overall, I don’t want to be negative. The performance of the educational system in NZ is very very strong, and if you’re in the right context then you’re doing a lot better than you do in Korea.
HP: One of the things that Andreas said this morning, is that if NZ cracks the challenge of equity in this system, we will shoot to the top.
Q: You talked a lot about teachers and teaching systems, how about the students. Do we have behavioural issues, attendance, do we have the right attitudes in our student bodies such that they understand the value of education. If you look at that classroom in Shanghai, they’re sitting there disciplined and listening (maybe to the tv!) but have we got that environment so that the best students are getting the best results from those students?
AS: That’s a very good question. What’s the best predictor for high levels of student engagement and motivation. Not making a nice environment, it’s about cognitive challenge. Wherever schools actually are challenging their students, students respond positively on almost every question we have. If you look at high levels of dropouts, some students respond to this by lowering standards. The opposite is true in the highest performing systems, they’re very very demanding.
Sometimes, you know, if you were running a supermarket and not a school, you would find that for 100 customers every day, 30 go out and don’t buy anything. This happens to you today, tomorrow, and the day after, you’d change the way you engage those people. There’s diversity in teaching and learning practices, but it doesn’t happen in education: there’s one model we apply to everyone and then we get surprised when students can’t relate what they learn to their current and future lives.
if you look at the share of students in NZ and many other countries who believe at age 15 that science has nothing to do with their current and future lives, how do you expect those people to become disciplined, motivated, and so on. Cognitive challenge, you know, that’s the best predictor for student engagement.
Q: Have you researched how to make that happen in Western countries?
AS: It has to do with the expectations you place on these young people. Basically, ensuring there’s no excuse and ensuring that you reach every student in the different classrooms. This personalisation of learning experience, we measure this in things like student/teacher relationship, has nothing to do with class size. It has to do with how willing the teacher is to work with different set of pedagogical strategies.
Q: Your presentation is great and it’s challenging. You’ve got this macro economy-wide tables. have you looked at how other groups, like special needs kids, kids with disabilities, and the types of systems that cater better to those kids who are often forgotten in the overall averaging out process that you have in the country analysis?
AS: Very good question, and the countries that consistently do well with special needs kids are the Nordic countries in Europe.
Q: What do they do?
AS: Take countries like Sweden or Denmark for example, they have children with an immigrant background. You have a much more privileged immigrant intake than those countries. Canada is also good at that. They try to reflect the cultural background from which the students come in the learning environment that provides a lot of adaptational curricula. There are a lot of interesting instruments to reflect this approach.
I’m not talking about the disabilities that are physical here, that’s a different story. We are not able to measure students who are not able to take the PISA test. I’m talking about disabilities or disadvantages that are more social.
Q: I’m interested in collaboration. You talked about the pairing between high-performing schools and low-performing schools. How does that happen? Who makes it happen?
AS: Interesting question. In the case of Shanghai, it’s (even more than NZ) only a system that relies on market forces. There’s a lot of competition amongst schools. The government is very strong around the framing: they pay their teachers and they are there to frame those opportunities. They built those career path spaces, they match resources to the challenges, but only by equity and people. That’s very interesting: teachers (and I’ve met them) who say “I’ve spent two years in a rural school and I’m really proud: I’ve learned a lot, I’ve changed a lot, and I’ve become a better teacher and a more respected teacher as a result”.
Q: Followup, so the government is the broker?
AS: Absolutely. Government is the manager of the process. The system has highly autonomous schools, but a very strong system around it. The government knows what the high performing schools are, and provides the incentives for low-performing students and schools to catch up.
It’s easy in Shanghai because most of the variation lies between schools. In your case, it’s harder to catch that variability.
HP: Thank you all very much. I think we can all agree that this has been a very comprehensive, a vast body of information. As I’ve indicated and Andreas can corroborate, this is about the sum of 28M students across 76 countries that account for 87% of the … This is a robust, in anyone’s terms, sample and so the information is reliable in helping us dig into our challenges in NZ and how they relate to other countries and what they’re doing about their challenges. Can I ask you all, in the cultural tradition of New Zealand, to sing a waiata–no! (Applause) Thank you very much everyone.