A lesson in teaching from the grassroots

by Andreas Schleicher
Deputy Director for Education and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the OECD's Secretary General

I was in London last week to give a talk on “how to transform 10,000 classrooms” at the annual Teach First/Teach for All conference in London. Some 3,000 teachers and social entrepreneurs from around the world gathered there to discuss ways to re-invent and strengthen the teaching profession. The aspiration of the organisations under the Teach for All umbrella is to enlist promising future leaders from across academic disciplines and careers to teach at least two years in high-need schools and become lifelong promoters of educational quality and equity.

The enthusiasm, commitment and growing professionalism of these grassroots organisations was inspiring. I heard many stories of people who had left successful careers to join the teaching force in order to make a significant impact on the lives of disadvantaged children. In some countries, participation levels have reached the critical mass to have a transformative impact on student achievement, and have made the success of this work both scalable and sustainable. Wendy Kopp, who co-founded Teach for America 22 years ago, recounted the evolution of her organisation from a small group of friends to one that reaches more than 750,000 students. In New Orleans, 25% of teachers are now from Teach for America. In the UK, too, Teach First is now the third largest recruiter of graduates and reaches over 150,000 children.

Still more impressive were the stories told by the young participants who had designed and were delivering intensive training courses for 400 teachers per year in Nigeria – a country with an essentially non-existent teacher-training infrastructure; and a participant from China shared how she was collaborating with local governments to build urgently needed teaching capacity in remote rural areas.

Critics of these organisations maintain that there is just no alternative to the traditional route of undergraduate studies, teacher training and then a career in the classroom. But those critics may simply underestimate the potential for creativity in the field of education that this combination of talent, passion and experience represents. The fact that, in many countries, these programmes are now so attractive that they can recruit the most promising candidates, even where the general status of the teaching profession is in decline, speaks for itself. We should also not overlook the rapid professionalisation of these organisations, which combine intensive initial training, ongoing support, and a work environment in which teachers work together to create good practice. They also offer intelligent pathways for teachers to grow in their careers, and support teachers in their efforts to find innovative ways of teaching.

What struck me most is the vision of social transformation behind all this work – extending from teacher leadership through school leadership, policy and political leadership, up to community organisation. The work of these organisations can complement the OECD’s efforts to design and implement policies by challenging the teaching profession and education systems from within. We should do what we can to engage with them.


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A Window into the classroom

Dirk Van Damme
by Division Head, Innovation and Measuring Progress (IMEP) and Head of Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)

An excellent teacher is what makes students learn and succeed in school. Everything else – standards, curricula, assessments, resources, school leadership – come second. Yet, what do we actually know about what teachers are doing?

Classrooms seem to be the ‘black boxes’ of the education system. There is not an awful lot of research on classroom teaching practices, but TALIS 2008 provides some self-reported data on teaching practices and professional activities including participation in collaborative learning with colleagues. The main TALIS report, published in 2009, compared the relative preference for three different teaching practices – structuring, student oriented and enhanced activities – across the 23 different countries that participated in the survey. The report showed differences between countries regarding the extent to which teachers are favouring directive and teacher-directed practices over more activating and learner-centred ones. These TALIS results were received as rather disappointing signals, suggesting that the teaching profession was relatively resistant to change in many countries.

In collaboration with the TALIS programme and as part of its Innovative Teaching for Effective Learning project the OECD’s Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) has just released a research report which delves deeper in the TALIS data on teaching practices in classrooms and schools. Based on some advanced analytical tools (multilevel latent profile analysis), this new book called Teaching Practices and Pedagogical Innovations: Evidence from TALIS  identifies underlying profiles in teachers’ classroom practices. A large set of variables about teachers, such as gender, training, subjects taught, but also their pedagogical beliefs, the degree of professional development, the amount of feedback and appraisal received, etc., were brought together and in each country different profiles of teachers were distinguished.

The scientific and policy implications of this research are huge. Many learning researchers and education policy makers strongly – and rightly so – believe in the benefits of more student-oriented, self-regulating approaches to teaching and learning. This suggests that a particular form of teaching is outdated and should be replaced by a more innovative one. Consequently, this report now suggests that we should not look at the quality of what happens in classrooms in an ‘either-or’ way. While it is true that the best teachers differ from their colleagues in their relative use of activating, student-oriented ways of teaching, they also use more structuring, teacher-driven forms of classroom practice. Teaching quality is a matter of diversity of practices, not of one set of practices against the other. Excellent teachers are those teachers who master a large repertoire of teaching practices, which they can deploy according to learners’ needs and varying classroom conditions. Those teachers are also the ones who actively advance their own professional competence by professional development and who feel more satisfied and effective about their own work.

A final important finding is that there is also a clear difference between these teacher profiles in the degree of co-operation with other colleagues and engagement in collaborative learning communities in and outside schools. Excellent teachers view teaching as a collective responsibility within the profession, not as an individualised thing happening behind closed doors. They open the doors of their classrooms, inviting colleagues to engage in what they are doing but also disclosing what happens in classrooms to the outside world. It is that kind of teachers we need to work with our kids.

Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) Activities
OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS)
Teaching in Focus Briefs
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Looking for equity in education? Follow the (public) money

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education

Talk of school vouchers inevitably triggers heated debate: do they give all students equal access to quality education? Or do they transfer resources away from precisely those schools that need them the most and inadvertently create a two-tier system of education?

This month’s PISA in Focus highlights results from PISA 2009 show that while privately managed schools do tend to attract advantaged students, the scale of the difference between the socio-economic profiles of publicly and privately managed schools is associated with the level of public funding allocated to privately managed schools – and with how that funding is provided.

In Finland, the Netherlands, the Slovak Republic, Sweden and the partner economy Hong Kong-China, principals in privately managed schools reported that over 90% of school funding comes from the government, while in Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Luxembourg and Slovenia, between 80% and 90% does. In contrast, less than 10% of funding for privately managed schools in Greece, Mexico, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States, the partner countries Albania, Brazil, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, Panama, Peru, Tunisia, Uruguay and the partner economies Dubai (UAE), Chinese Taipei and Shanghai-China comes from the government. PISA data reveal that in those countries where privately managed schools receive higher proportions of public funding, there is less of a difference between the socio-economic profiles of publicly and privately managed schools.

To refine these results further, PISA considered two systems through which public funding to privately managed schools is offered directly to parents: universal voucher systems, in which vouchers are available to all students, and targeted voucher systems, in which vouchers are provided only to disadvantaged students. Vouchers that are available for all students can help to expand the choice of schools available to parents and promote competition among schools; vouchers that target only disadvantaged students can help improve equity in access to schools. An analysis of PISA data shows that the difference between the socio-economic profiles of publicly managed schools and privately managed schools is twice as large in education systems that use universal vouchers as in systems that use targeted vouchers.

But PISA results also show that providing more public funding to privately managed schools will not necessarily eliminate that difference: other factors that are unrelated to funding, such as a school’s admittance criteria, academic performance, and learning environment, are also partly related to differences between schools’ socio-economic profiles.

What is crucial to take away from this analysis is that countries that manage to have small differences between the socio-economic profiles of publicly and privately managed schools also tend to achieve better overall performance. That means that policy makers – and ultimately parents and students – do not have to choose between equity and strong performance in their school systems: the two are not mutually exclusive.

For more information on PISA: www.oecd.org/pisa/
PISA in Focus No. 19: Is there really such a thing as a second chance in education? 
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Welcome to my world. Won’t you come on in?

by Valérie Lafon
Analyst - Institutional Management in Higher Education
As a young mother, in relation to my children’s age, and being the ripe old age of 40, I am discovering the daily ritual of education.

Education, we believe, will make our children’s dreams real, open the door to knowledge and experiences, help them grow, and ultimately give them the tools to live a happy, well-rounded life with a fulfilling career.

Filled with goodwill, well-informed thanks to working at the OECD and steeped in the notion that higher education will provide my children with the best and most appropriate skills, I found myself, like many other parents, lost in this new environment.

Looking at all of these issues, different worlds having different rules with goals at times at odds with each other and difficult to reconcile. Five separate worlds…

The world of learning

A plethora of various stakeholders are saturating the media and students are fighting to be heard. Perhaps so many different players makes it difficult to figure out who wants what.

  • How do these students see their future? What do they expect? What do they want?
  • How to bring their aspirations into the debate?

The world of knowledge 

Mass higher education affects all countries and academic systems. Participation, role, impact, and responsability of higher education institutions have taken on greater significance and will continue to do so.

  • How can institutions maintain and improve quality despite limited resources?
  • Which institutional strategies are more effective to improve students’ learning experience and keep them engaged and motivated?
  • How to help students, parents and governments make informed choices based on information that has been certified, verified and accepted internationally?

The world of public goods

Developed economies rely on skilled labour to drive productivity and economic growth as well as to support social cohesion. Besides, the economic benefit of higher education is good for individuals as well as society.

  • How can governments, or should governments, steer higher education?
  • How to hold on to the public good while faced with the commodification of higher education?
  • How to reconcile individual aspirations, the public good and the economic reality?

The world of economics

As skills are a country’s future, each and every government should be thinking about how to manage these skills strategically. Erasing the “bright red dividing line” between education and work will require, among many other things, greater collaboration between education systems and industry.

  • How to recreate the link between higher education and the job market?
  • What skills does the knowledge economy need most and how to strike the balance between specific skills and generic skills?

Planet Earth

Lastly comes globalisation, the planet, English as the dominant language, the internet, facebook, twitter, McDonalds, the financial crisis and, within the higher education market, we can add rankings and student mobility. To be free to make the right choices, we need to understand the balance of power, and then the landscape becomes even more complex!

Sometimes at night, after the children have gone to bed, I think about the different colours of all these different worlds. How do we bring these worlds together and build bridges rather than remain in silos? The OECD is organising a conference in Paris from 17 to 19 September that will examine the issues around mass higher education. Governments, universities, students and the private sector will discuss the present and the future of higher education

I will be wearing two hats: that of a parent, and that of an OECD analyst. Will you join me?

Follow the Conference live on twitter @OECD_Edu and @OECDLive (#OECDIMHE)

General Conference 2012: "Attaining and Sustaining Mass Higher Education"
OECD Skills Strategy
Education at a Glance: www.oecd.org/edu/eag2012
Visit our interactive portal on skills: http://skills.oecd.org
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Investing in people, skills and education for inclusive growth and jobs

by J.D. LaRock
Senior Analyst, Innovation and Measuring Progress Division, Directorate for Education
As the spectre of another economic downturn looms large in many countries and is already a reality in others, new data from the 2012 edition of Education at a Glance: OECD Indicators – released today – provides powerful insights into the link between education, economic progress and social mobility around the world.

For example, as detailed in the book’s new indicator on education and economic growth, more than half of the GDP growth in OECD countries over the past decade is related to labour-income growth among workers with higher education.  Indeed, even as GDP across all OECD countries shrank by 3.8% during the global recession year of 2009, growth in labour income among people with higher education contributed nearly 0.4% to the GDP of these countries overall. In contrast, the contraction of labour income that year among people with a medium level of education reduced the GDP by 0.8%, while shrinking incomes among people with lower levels of education trimmed another 0.5% off GDP.

In light of the substantial role education can play in promoting economic growth, countries’ success in assuring that younger people achieve a higher level of education than their parents – what is known as intergenerational mobility in education – is especially important. The new indicator on educational mobility in this year’s Education at a Glance shows that many countries are making good progress in this regard.  On average across all OECD countries, 37% of 25-34 year-old non-students have surpassed their parents’ level of education, while only 13% have achieved a lower level.  Half of younger adults in OECD countries have achieved the same level of education as their parents: 13%, a low level of education; 21%, a medium level, and 16%, a high level.

Meanwhile, as detailed in the new indicator on early childhood education, many OECD countries are working hard to expand schooling opportunities for their youngest children. For example, among OECD countries with data for both years, 81% of four-year-olds were enrolled in early childhood programmes in 2010, up from 77% in 2005.  What’s more, enrolments among three-year-olds rose from 64% to 69% during this same period. Since participation in early childhood education is linked to better performance later on in school, these developments bode well for a future in which improving young people’s skills will be more important than ever.

At the same time, this year’s Education at a Glance also shows that many OECD countries need to address the growing problem of youth who are not in employment, education or training. After several years of decline, the so-called “NEET” population began to rise in 2009 and spiked to nearly 16.0% in 2010 – a sign of the particular hardship young people have borne as a result of the global recession. As such, OECD countries would do well to examine measures that can productively engage people in this crucial age group, such as vocational education and training programmes and opportunities for non-formal education and training.

As always, the 2012 edition of Education at a Glance contains a rich array of indicators on educational attainment, graduation and completion, education financing, enrolment trends and the globalisation of higher education, and schools and teachers. In addition to the data discussed above, this year’s edition contains a number of other new indicators, including information on how the career aspirations of boys and girls compare to the fields young men and women study in higher education ; the factors that influence immigrant students’ performance in school ; who makes key decisions in education systems ; and the pathways and gateways to gain access to secondary and tertiary education.

For more information, and to download a copy of the book, visit the Education at a Glance website at: www.oecd.org/edu/eag2012
Browse and share the book
Education at a Glance Highlights
Watch the video interview with Andreas Schleicher
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What can be done to support new teachers?

by Kristen Weatherby
Senior Analyst, Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS)

While many students in the Northern Hemisphere are starting a new school year, this is also the first day of school for thousands of new teachers around the world. Walking into a new classroom – “your own” classroom – for the first time can be exciting and daunting. The pressures on a new teacher are many: administrative tasks, classroom management issues, dealing with potentially intimidating parents, challenges of developing lessons and marking homework and more. Most importantly, though, new teachers need to take what they learned in the weeks or months of teacher preparation, as well as their knowledge of the subject area, and put that to practice in shaping and motivating the learning of the 25, 50 or 150 students in their classes.

It’s no wonder that on average nearly 10% of teachers leave the profession within the first 1-3 years of teaching. But as our new Teaching in Focus brief shows, there are many practices that schools and countries can put in place that might help new teachers stay teaching.

Many media reports attribute the high attrition rate of new teachers to the fact that they are placed in difficult classrooms in challenging or underresourced or otherwise hard-to-staff schools. Data from the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) refutes that claim. On average, new teachers surveyed in TALIS (those with two years of teaching experience or less) reported classrooms and school situations similar to those of their more experience colleagues, with nearly no differences in language or socio-economic status of their students, for example. So if these challenges don’t exist, what is making new teachers leave?

At the root of the issue seems to be a new teacher’s level of confidence in his or her own teaching ability. TALIS asks teachers to report on their own feelings of self-efficacy. Not surprisingly, new teachers report significantly lower levels of self-efficacy than their more experienced colleagues. The TALIS report The Experience of New Teachers discusses research on how self-efficacy can relate to a teacher’s instructional practices as well as student achievement. It can thus be rather important for a teacher to feel good about his or her on abilities as a teacher.

As the TALIS data shows, and the Teaching in Focus brief enumerates, there are programmes and policies that schools and governments can put in place to help new teachers. Activities like mentoring and induction programmes, when combined with feedback on a new teacher’s practice, can help provide support and additional professional development to new teachers.

To learn more about this topic, check out this month’s Teaching in Focus brief. Look for further Teaching in Focus briefs @ www.oecd.org/edu/talis on topics relevant to the experience of teachers in the coming months.

Follow TALIS and Kristen Weatherby @Kristen_Talis
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