Selected publications (.pdf)

"Education Change, Leadership and the Knowledge Society" 
Global e-Schools Initiative (GeSCI)  

Survey of ICT in education in the Caribbean
Volume 1: Regional trends & analysis
Volume 2: Country reports

Using technology to train teachers:
Appropriate uses of ICT for
teacher professional developmen
infoDev (Mary Burns, co-author)

Project evaluation:
Uganda rural school-based telecenters

World Bank Institute
(Sara Nadel, co-author)

The Educational Object Economy:
Alternatives in authoring &
aggregation of educational software 

Interactive Learning Environments
(Purchase or subscription req'd) 

Development of multimedia resources 
UNESCO (Cesar Nunes, co-author)

Real Access/Real Impact
Teresa Peters &
(hosted for reference; RIP TMP) 

Main | Tolerance is not a Sapiens trademark »

CIES, measurement and (teachers') creativity (part the first)

Following are a few thoughts about the recently completed CIES (Comparative and International Education Society) convention in San Francisco. The conference was held local to me, at the Hyatt Regency by the Embarcadero, which meant that I could bike 15 mins to BART in Oakland, then get off 15 mins later right at the hotel. The Hyatt Regency opened about 1971, with a fine fountain/sculpture that drew crowds to the hotel's vast indoor atrium. Never anything like it, at that point, in San Francisco.

I spent one night there, once, one, as the guest of our chum J. Garcia. On new year's eve, 1995, I think. It was super, actually. Even though at the time my (now) wife and I lived only 7 or so blocks away. The next day, New Year's Day in San Francisco, 1995, was surreal. We were home, we were not home, it was foggy I think. We walked home in the fog.

But the conference. I am I'm sure late as usual to see what's happening, but there's a split. Now,  CIES is the largest (or among the largest) annual conferences addressing education in non-OECD countries. 40-60 concurrent sessions 4x per day for 4 days. It's a lot. So  my understanding is based on my keyhole-Dormouse view of the whole. But...

There's a schism between measurement and a more apparently impassioned, post-modern, anti-imperlalist (I can't believe I just typed "anti-imperialist, what's next?) approach to education. Measurement, to be sure, links to high-stakes testing, which links to accountability, which links to "merit pay" for teachers and other ideas that are unworkable for reasons that emerge in practice, if they haven't been anticipated by theory. (How do you measure student progress in order to decide merit? How do you account for poverty, conflict, local weather and cropping, semi-relevant [at best] curriculum and non-mother-tongue literacy instruction as you go about determining merit, and pay? And if you do account for these things, how do you keep teachers from gaming this system in order to earn a fair wage or a living wage? And, unfortunately, merit pay and other accountability measures are generally and fervently opposed to teacher rights, teachers' unions and organizing, and other key elements (teacher education and professsional development) in the education system.  So, measurement -- which is supported by donors, by national governments -- plays a role in keeping teachers down.

And if you are a good socialist, or even a bad one, teachers are -- of course -- labor, at least within the terms of this system. And so they are easily exploited, leaving their capacities stunted and unrewarded and unused, and schools torn up by their alienation -- from a nonsensical curriculum, from inadequate leadership and lousy infrastructure and supplies, to very low pay and even lower levels of education, training and other support. When donors and country governments realign their efforts to focus on teacher accountability, the glaring questions are revealed: Why isn't the system held accountable for its own inadequacies? Hmm?

The answer, from some quarters, quarters represented at CIES but perhaps not as widely as reputed, is that the system is best held accountable by the introduction of competition, such that low-cost private schooling and even high-cost private schooling are available as alternatives to publicly provided (government) education. If children can emerge from a low-cost private school with abilities to read and do math and think, then more families will opt to send their kids to such schools, thus increasing pressure on the government system to improve.

See DeVos, Betsy.

The assumptions underlying this model _appear_ to be that the barriers to systemwide improvement stem from unwillingness—in the forms of corruption and self-interest and other conditions of agency. Rather than, let us say, endemic lack of resources, labor 'issues,' poor leadership and lousy infrastructure (none of this addresses the malign effects of gender discrimination or conflict, among other out-size factors). IF public schools systems suck because the people embodying them suck wilfully, then competition will save them. Or if it doesn't, the devil take the hindmost (whatever that means).

And of course, measurement and accountability become the devil's tools. The devil needs them to point out the lousiness of the government as an educator, in part, so the thinking goes, to hold open access to the private sector. (The total education sector in the US was valued in 2017 at a little more than 1.3 trillion. We are not discussing chump change.)

At CIES, there were some strikingly well-conceived arguments against the forces of measurement, seen as proxies for teacher accountability and privatization. Among them: Marcelo Parreiera do Amaral's panel--"The (de)contruction of national education systems: Transforming education for economic growth and post-national identity?"

I'm a sucker for deconstruction of a national system, AND for titles that end in question marks. The panel was energizing,with participation by Amaral, Sigrid Hartong, Sieglinde Jornitz (who rocks!), Susanne Tiomm, Wivian Weller and Paul Fossum (offering "A (post-)national response to the teacher shortage in the US." It was an engaging bunch, engaged with the most part for considerations of the detrimental effects of privatization on public education (resource stealing), and with the increasing complicity of national governments in that privitization.

I was so taken with the panel that I
snapped a photo of Prof. Amaral's nametag

(We _might_ find that privatization leads to several outcomes of value: 1) Students in affordable private schools learn more than kids in govt schools; 2) increased competition leads to improvement of the national school system. We might. However...

The very-smart and open-minded Martin Carnoy, with Patrick McEwan, looked at 20 years of vouchers and competition in the Chilean school system, and determined:

Our estimates using extensive data on test scores in the 1980s and 1990s show that, on average, this type of privately-run school is marginally less effective than municipal schools in producing Spanish and mathematics achievement in the fourth grade (or, at best, similarly effective). Further results suggest that non-religious private voucher schools are even less effective than municipal schools when they enroll lower-SES pupils or are located outside of the capital. Some evidence suggested that the gap is explained by different resources in private schools, such as a greater percentage of teachers with short-term contracts (McEwan and Carnoy, 1999a).

So, not so great. (That excerpt, btw, is from "Does privatization improve education? The case of Chile's national voucher plan.")

There is other evidence of the ineffectiveness of the system—and Carnoy's and McEwan's article contains other, similar findings. (Notably, they also find that religiously affiliated private schools do deliver improved learning, largely by spending more per pupil than public schools do. [So why don't we try that?])

And at CIES, underlying the push to privatization, for those decrying it, is the "Global Education Industry" (more on this elsewhere, I think). Let's say that very large transnational technology companies are part of the GEI (think Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon, among others) along with Pearson Education, the largest education publisher in the world, donor/development agencies such as the World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education. These very-large players are promoting a range of models, including GEMS Education, the largest operator of private schools in the world (but with 70 schools in 12 countries, about, so how big is it _really_?), and the tablet-driven Bridge International Academy (operating in five countries, but with investment support from Gates and Zuckerberg).

The representatives of these forces, at least at CIES,

The proponents of this perspective are in agreement on the need for increased equity, the empowerment of teachers, and better preparation for a world in which:

  • Globalization and inequality minimize national boundaries;
  • AI diminishes the chance for work, and;
  • Climate change increases poverty.
Well, if that's how it is--no work, a hyper-dynamic context, catastrophic levels of poverty--what's the proper role of education? Right now, school systems around the world are struggling to help kids build job-ready skills. These skills range from the usual literacy and numeracy skills, across 21st-century skills such as creativity and problem-solving, to higher-tech skills such as coding and 'making,' as in doing the thing that appears at a Maker Faire. But if the world of work fades down to that last pinpoint of blue-white light on the B&W TV screen, what do we want schools to do?
(More on this in a bit.)