Advocates from 91 Countries Call on Governments to Stop Education Profiteers | Peri Global

“Contrary to the right to education, the Education for All goals, and years of civil society campaigning — including that of RESULTS volunteers — to abolish school fees, the practice and acceptance of charging fees for primary school has crept back into the global education landscape. This trend has largely been driven by corporate providers, with some governments and donors now diverting funds towards fee-charging private schools rather than to quality improvements of free, public education systems.

In this context, the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) and its members, including RESULTS, are calling on governments to effectively and responsibly take up their roles as the primary duty-bearers in education. This week at the GCE World Assembly, a global event that saw the gathering of 190 education advocates from 91 countries gather in Johannesburg, the GCE movement passed a motion demanding governments to protect education from for-profit private companies, cease the channeling of public funds to private entities, and regulate private sector involvement in education.”

For more information, see: Advocates from 91 Countries Call on Governments to Stop Education Profiteers | Peri Global.

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From Afghanistan to the United States in search for “Best Practices” that don’t exist

Attending the education activist Diane Ravitch’s talk was an eye-opening experience for me. Before coming to the United States, I thought that I would learn “best practices” and “policies” from the U.S. education system and try to implement them in Afghanistan to solve some of education problems Afghanistan faces. However, I was not well aware of the drastic problems within the school reform in the U.S.

Ravitch’s talk flagged many problems with the U.S current education. In her talk, she engaged the audience in a marvelous imaginary debate with a school reformer. The reformer argued that public schools are failing, because they are not doing well on standardized tests. The reformer also emphasized that, since the test scores are declining, drastic measures are needed to save the nation and make it more competitive in a global economy.  Reformer further stated that teacher should be held accountable for student failures on standardized tests. If students do not perform well, according to reformer, the solution is to fire teachers. Ravitch raised a question, why shouldn’t teachers have a job for life?  Because firing teachers will not solve problems facing the field of education.

Ravitch’s counter arguments were very convincing.  In her talk, as well as in her book ‘The Death and Life of the Great American School System’, Ravitch argues that standardized testing has led school districts to narrow down the curriculum. Therefore, some subjects (such as art or history) are not perceived as important as math and science that dominate standardized tests. As Ravitch’s stated in her speech, this leads to more problems. Since students are more exposed to math and science rather than liberal arts courses, the system makes students more clerk-minded. While student may not know who the president was during the Civil War, they would know well how to eliminate answers on a multiple-choice test. Education thus becomes equated with either passing or failing the standardized test.

However, if students are failing the standardized tests, it’s not because teachers are not performing well. If the system insists on evaluating the teachers based on students’ standardized testing, why not use the same standard to evaluate lawyers? State legislators? Members of Congress? Governors? Why would they blame teachers for the failure of students instead of looking for faults in the system or considering the effects of poverty and segregation on poor student performance?

The fixation on standardized testing changes how we understand the purpose of education. With such a strong emphasis on tests, we are moving further away from what Dewey defined as “Education is a process of living and not a preparation for future living” (p. 54). In order to know the real meaning of education, we should not prepare students to be as clerks but rather students with a higher aim in their lives.

Keeping this in mind, I am motivated to rethink deeply the education system reform in Afghanistan. Similar to the United States, teachers in Afghanistan are often blamed for poor students’ performance in schools. Whereas the policy makers and administrators tend to forget about other dimensions of teachers’ and students’ daily lives. Teachers are being paid very poorly and they are expected to work hard. This could be the main reason for why people are beginning to avoid teaching as a profession. Since there are so many other factors influencing students’ test scores, it is not realistic to just blame teachers for their students’ low performance.

Conservative reformers – both in the United States and Afghanistan – have looked for similar solutions to low students’ test scores. In the United States, the emphasis has been on charter schools and the broader movement to privatize public education. However, as Ravitch argues, for the past 25 years students in charter schools did not get higher scores than public schools. So why not focus on fixing public schools instead of pouring more money to charter schools and private hands? As Michael Apple (2005) mentioned, “market driven politics can lead to a remarkably rapid erosion of democratically determined collective values and institutions” (p. 13). This only leads to commercialization of education and nothing else, which is really applicable in Afghanistan.

Privatization of schools is becoming a serious issue. Nowadays, private schools are like business industries that pop up everywhere and attract students for various reasons. In most cases, the quality of education is the same as in public schools and they are teaching the same curriculum as public schools in Afghanistan. So why not support public schools when there is no difference in quality as well as curriculum? How would private schooling make education better if it has never done better before?  In Afghan culture, we have a proverb which says, “to retest the one tested is a fault in itself”. Ravitch also touched on this in her speech by saying that, the US is the most over tested nation in the world. Why are we so fixated on the tests that have never worked before and can’t change anything in the future?

References:

Apple, M. W. (2005). Education, markets, and an audit culture. Critical Quarterly,47(1‐2), 11-29.

Flinders, D. J., & Thornton, S. J. (Eds.). (2004).The curriculum studies reader. Psychology Press.

Ravitch, D. (2011).The death and life of the great American school system: How testing and choice are undermining education. Basic Books

Dreaming big: Diane Ravitch can talk educational policy form, but walking it out is a different story

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The audience packed tightly into Lehigh University’s Baker Hall on Tuesday February 10th in anticipation of hearing Diane Ravitch’s controversial approach to stifle our government’s current efforts towards school reform. Ravitch presented her argument through a witty self-debate that vehemently defended the American public school system and fought against any interventions that posed to threaten it such as privatization, choice/voucher systems, and the establishment of charter schools. Her reasoning was compelling: transforming education into a for-profit, business-like industry turns students into commodities, encourages efficiency and money over student innovation, and attempts to, in her eyes, inaccurately quantify the abstract character of intellect through the use of standardized measures. She also argued that permitting school choice through voucher systems would not result in academic competition between schools that would increase quality of education, but rather leave schools’ disparities and children’s education largely unchanged. This would be likely due to the lack of knowledge and/or interest from low socioeconomic families in changing their children’s schools, the inaccessibility of transportation for the students across towns, the lack of seating available in better schools, and the insignificant amount of vouchers available compared to the extensive needs of many districts.

Ravitch also considered charter schools a major threat to the success of the public education system, pointing out that not only do charter schools students not perform any better than regular public school students on assessments, they have also deviated from their original missions of helping the neediest students to becoming specialized academies that are in many cases operating as an industry and luring away the most motivated students through their attractive, creative programs. In this way, charter schools continue to foster segregation among students by collecting money from states for their newly specialized programs for specialized students, leaving public schools to suffer with the most challenging and expensive heterogeneous student body, including the learning disabled and non-native English speaking children- and to do this under increasingly restrictive funds.

While these arguments are neither epiphanous nor unfamiliar to educators, Ravitch was able to make her position unique by the sheer scope of her perspective. While teachers struggle every day in the classroom to find better, more effective ways to improve their students’ education, Ravitch acknowledged that this struggle is futile on the individual level because the issues hindering academic success remain much bigger than the classroom. Zooming out past a classroom, a school building, a district, and even a state, she posited that the real sources of our current academic system’s failure lay in macro-level influences such as self-interested business powers, misled government policy, and major inadequacies in social services contributing to a lack of academic resources, poor mother and child healthcare, and persisting poverty. Ravitch not only challenges, but places blame on these dominating, powerful overhead forces like private corporations and the federal government that she herself once worked for.

The way Ravitch uses language is her most powerful tool. She purposely chose to present her speech with a dramatic, igniting vocabulary, claiming that she wants to ‘destroy’ the current education reform, that we are ‘failing’ to defend our public schools, we are inhumanely using ‘fear’ and ‘punishment’ to incentivize better assessment scores, that business elites have ‘no place’ in public education, and that for-profit charter schools should be ‘banned by law’. It is this fearless, defiant attitude that separates Ravitch from the masses that agree with her, but it is also the quality that has her labeled as a radical.

She insists that the problems that current education reforms are designed to attack, such as low test scores, are not the true problems at all, but rather the negative consequences of much larger underlying causes such as under-resourced schools, under-trained teachers, poor social services, poverty, and poor health. And while I absolutely agree that these struggles inhibit student’s performance as well as their wellbeing, Ravitch’s suggestion to address these great forces are just as grand as their scale. Ravitch is absolutely correct that a poor, malnourished child attending an under-resourced school is going to face overwhelming barriers to academic success and benefit little from privatization, voucher systems, or charter schools. However, how exactly she plans to eradicate global crises such as poverty and hunger and persuade the federal government to significantly increase funding to public education and improve social services, I have no idea. The importance of addressing these crises is immense, and I do not think anyone is willing to dispute that. However, I would like to ask Diane Ravitch how she plans to practically overcome these barriers to educational equality and success, and if stifling current governmental reforms is just the place to start.

(Re)Examining Privatization and Public Education in Eastern Europe and Eurasia

The latest issue of European Education addresses a heatedly debated topic of privatization of public education in post-socialist Eastern Europe and Eurasia. This region is of particular interest because of the rapid transition from central to market economies, and the lack of subsequent systematic research on privatization in education either in the global literature on education or the regionally focused literature on privatization and its extension into marketization and public–private partnerships. This special issue aims to bridge this gap by stimulating further research and debate about the effects of privatization on education across the former socialist region. Drawing on case studies from Romania, Ukraine, Russia, and Tajikistan, the articles in this issue raise questions about the incentives and potential for structural discrimination that are created as private funds for education are directed into school systems through a variety of mechanisms that include school choice, private schools, parent payments to public schools, not-for-profit private providers, and supplementary tutoring courses.

If you would like to read the entire paper or any other content from our journal, you can find out more about subscriptions here. We will also be featuring video interviews with the authors about their articles published in this special issue!

Table of Contents

Editorial Introduction: (Re)Examining Privatization and Public Education in Eastern Europe and Eurasia

Kate Lapham, Daniel Pop, and Iveta Silova

Private Pre-University Education in Romania: Mixing Control with Lack of Strategy

Cristina Stănuş

Reworking of School Principals’ Roles in the Context of Educational Privatization: A view from Ukraine

Serhiy Kovalchuk and Svitlana Shchudlo

Parental Choices in the Primary and Secondary School Market in Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Christopher Whitsel

The “Language Barrier” in Private Online Tutoring: From an Innocuous Concept to a Neoliberal Marketing Tool

Olga Kozar

“Get the door. It’s Domino’s!”

In 2012, the United States Department of Agriculture began to raise nutrition standards for foods served in schools, causing consumer advocates and nutritionists to believe that fast foods would disappear from school lunch lines. This did hold true for many commercialized products, as most fast foods did not meet these new “healthy” standards. However, some food giants like Dominos began to use these new rules to their advantage, changing their already existing products to fit in with the reformed school nutrition guidelines.

Sensing that this change would come, Dominos quickly looked toward its research and development team in developing a new type of pizza eating experience, designed specifically for school-aged children. In 2010, Dominos introduced the “Smart Slice,” which has 1/3 less fat, 1/3 less salt in the sauce, and 1/2 of the fat in the cheese. It also uses 51% whole-wheat grains as opposed to exclusive white grains that have more sugar. In 2010, the “Smart Slice” was being delivered to school cafeterias across three states. Now, this has expanded to over 3,000 lunchrooms in 38 states. I think it’s about time for some critical Domino’s-inspired analysis.

as.lsu.edu

as.lsu.edu

First, let’s look at the actual extent to which Domino’s has made a drastic nutritional change to their pizza. If we look at the nutrition information on the Domino’s website, it does not specify the calories for one slice of pizza. Instead, let’s look at the smallest pizza size, the 10”, which is designed for individual consumption. Domino’s reports that for a small, 10” thin crust pizza the serving size is 1/4. That is much smaller than one regular slice of pizza. I speak from collegiate experience when I say that most people consume the entire 10” pizza, which is 880 calories – a calculation that Domino’s does not give on their website. And that’s just the thin crust! If we switch this calculation for “hand tossed” crust, which is what Domino’s is known for, the serving size magically changes to 1/6 of a 10” pizza at 200 calories. This means that this individual pizza would cost you 1,200 calories of the average 2,000-calorie a day intake.

The calorie count for the “Smart Slice” is most likely slightly lower than these calculations, although I cannot be sure because the nutritional information about this specialty is no where on their main consumer website. There is simply a beautiful picture of the “Anatomy of a Domino’s Smart Slice,” but nothing about overall nutritional content.

And if that wasn’t enough of an “ew” moment for you, we haven’t even gotten to the discussion about the effects of this commercial material on children’s minds! Dominos delivers these pizzas directly to schools, and “its trucks, employees, insulated boxes and lunch-line placards help imprint the company’s red-and-blue logo on the brains of students.” Students are becoming “brand brainwashed” in schools, and nutrition and consumerist experts warn that this will drive more students to head to Domino’s after school hours. Not only is Domino’s able to develop a loyal following of young eaters, but the “Smart Slice” creates a false sense of reality that Domino’s pizza, or pizza in general for that matter, is healthy.

Here’s the kicker: the “Smart Slice” is not available at any local Domino’s locations and the company has no plans to sell this type of pizza in their actual stores. So their increased adverting in schools may claim to be aimed at this “revolutionary” pizza slice, but I (and I hope most consumers) can see right through this type of immoral advertising.

Domino’s is not alone in this endeavor, and this is not a new phenomenon. For years, commercial companies have been promoting school-related projects, textbooks, lunches, posters, and more in the hopes of advertising to young children. It seems genius for these companies: reach a large number of young people who are likely to buy a certain product, and target them where they spend the most time exercising their brains. If students are learning important material while sifting through corporate logos and slogans, the advertising strategy is likely to work.

A Domino’s spokesman was quoted by the New York Times, stating, “Some schools like the branding because brands drive sales…”. Shouldn’t we be more concerned with this type of marketing tactic’s affect on students? Shouldn’t schools realize that equating one of the unhealthiest food chains with health is not such a good idea? I think it is time for a cold, hard look at these corporate sponsorships and their impact on the youth of America.

The effects of privatization of education on teacher professionalism: evidence from the UK

If universities continue to heed the call of corporatisation, the role of the academic will become extinct.’

Recently I read an interesting blog post on theguardian.com. By comparing oneself with a ‘precious bird’ who is struggling among the ‘bustling sale of cheap, plastic imitation bird-objects around it’, the anonymous author sadly predicts that this bird may face extinction, leaving only its exotic feathers as relics of rapidly fading ideals. The post argues how a ‘wholesale corporatisation’ of the British higher education sector creates inequalities and adversely affects teacher professionalism. In addition to the increases in tuition fees due to the marketisation of higher education, the author argues that unfair pay between senior representatives and junior academics, particularly university support staff, will inevitably lead to more inequality. In an environment where private sector ideals are thriving, the author also feels that students are drawn more to the issues of ‘customer satisfaction’ rather than their commitment to study and academic aspirations. The blog points to the fact that as academics are being asked to undertake more administrative tasks, they have less time to undertake scholarship. Most importantly, academics find the private sector-style environments unsupportive to sustain their professionalism, being treated simply as information providers or sellers of their expertise.

I believe that the author is not the only ‘bird’ who has such a gloomy feeling. In fact, 2013 was seen as the year of marketisation of UK higher education with the government’s complete removal of student number controls. Although the sector is still far from a fully functioning market, a great number of academics in the UK have been expressing their increasing concerns about the consequences of extending market competition in universities’ activities of teaching and research.

In a large-scale strike, which broke out across the UK last year and early this year (2014), many interviewed academics held that education should not be seen as a commodity and be left to the fluctuations of the market. It is true that when education is increasingly viewed in instrumental terms, serving the ultimate for-profit goal of the private sector, the universities are trying hard to squeeze all the costs including the salaries of academics and staff. Meanwhile, the academics are required to work more and more, leading to their overall low morale and satisfaction with their jobs.

Indeed, privatisation of education is a growing worldwide trend, which continues to spread in the context of globalization. The problems it creates remain unaddressed, even in the countries like the UK where marketisation was originally traced back in the 1980s. In the eye of many academics, private, for-profit education in the UK seem to become a big business, causing public universities to reduce the value of a higher education to the laws of supply and demand to compete in the marketplace. As a result, British academics feel a growing sense of frustration and demoralization in a career that they might choose because of their interest instead of the pay it offers.

The impact of privatization of education on teacher morale has also long been documented in different contexts. For example, teachers in New Zealand with the rising administrative functions reported high levels of stress, declining job satisfaction and the desire to leave the profession [1]. In Australia, teachers were found demoralized and deprofessionalized by crude performance indicators such as research output and teaching performance in neoliberal education reforms [2]. In the same vein, the expansion of market principles in education also has negative effects on Chinese professionals in terms of their workload, payment, wellbeing, social status and teaching and living conditions [3].

In addition, it is no surprise that in many for-profit higher institutions, the professionals are not required to engage in advanced research. This is simply because the institutions only hire the faculty on the part-time basis, which can help them drive down the cost and better deal with the changes in the market’s demand. Without doubt, academics in these private, for-profit universities also do not have many opportunities for professional development offered by universities. This is most evident in newly marketised higher education systems in many Asian countries like China, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

Where is my professionalism?

I believe that privatization of public services has certain advantage of injecting competition into a market-based playing field. But when it is seen as the primary approach to education reform without proper supervision and outcome evaluation, this playing field turns out to be not at all level and equal, causing great many problems, including adverse impact on teacher morale and professionalism. To me, teaching academics hold a very important and special position in maintaining the goals and values of education as a public good in their communities. When market position places more pressure on them to pursue and construct academic identities in line with corporate identities, education has more negative consequences than positive outcomes.

References

[1] Power, S. 1997. “Managing the State and the Market: ‘New’ education management in five

countries.” British Journal of Educational Studies 45 (4): 342-362.

[2] WELCH, A. (1996) Australian Education: reform or crisis? (Sydney, Allen & Unwin), cited in Chan, D., & Mok, K. H. (2001). Educational reforms and coping strategies under the tidal wave of marketisation: A comparative study of Hong Kong and the mainland. Comparative Education, 37(1), 21-41.

[3] Guo, S., Guo, Y., Beckett, G., Li, Q., & Guo, L. (2013). Changes in Chinese education under globalisation and market economy: emerging issues and debates.Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 43(2), 244-264

 

Blossoming Demand of International Schools in Hong Kong

            

internationalization in education

 

The blossoming of international schools in Hong Kong is an interesting topic to discuss within the context of privatization of education. Although parents need to pay a fortune to secure a seat, they are still very much willing to do so. There is a long list of international schools ranging from preschools all the way to upper secondary level where they adopt the British, American, Canadian, and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs accordingly.[1] Recently, Harrow International School, an elite boarding school that originated in Britain, has opened in Hong Kong.  While fees are high, long waiting lists still exist for international schools.[2] Why is there such a huge demand in this city? I have some insights about it after working in an international school for some time.

First of all, parents who send their children to international schools are highly educated and better off financially. They have realized the uncertainty about the future of Hong Kong’s local education system, which has undergone a series of reforms since the handover in 1997. The major ones included changing the medium of instruction from English to our mother-tongue language, introducing community colleges, transiting from the British to American model, and introducing civic education. So, what will be the next one? Parents may be afraid that their kids are only the experiments of the HKSAR government. Many parents believe that studying at international schools will ensure more stable growth and development of their children without interruptions by constant policy changes. Paradoxically, senior education officials often praise the excellence of Hong Kong local public education. In reality, only a few of them let their own children matriculate locally while most of them would like to send their children to study abroad or in international schools.

Second, the curriculum of international schools can provide a lot more than that of local schools. For example, the core of an International Baccalaureate Diploma Program comprises of “The Extended Essay”, “Theory of Knowledge”, and “Creativity, Action, and Service (CAS)”. The first one gives students a chance to examine topics of global significance through their independent research and in-depth study. The second one allows students to develop their critical thinking and coherent approach to unify and articulate various academic disciplines. The third one encourages students to engage in art for creativity, physical activity for healthy lifestyle, and service to community for having universal values. [3] The main focus of IB Program is to cultivate the global mindedness and international competence of the next generation to become all-rounded individuals who are prepared to tackle emerging unknown worldwide problems in the 21st century. These elements are what the local education system lacks.

IB learner profile

Third, with the considerable amount of money that parents invest in their children, international schools are able to offer more resources than local public schools. Most importantly, there are at least full-time university guidance counselors for mentoring senior high school students to make the right decision about choosing the most suitable university according to their ability, character, and interest. In addition, international school students have more exposure to universities worldwide as many of them would visit their schools to set up booths for giving out brochures and answering queries. It could have an overarching effect on their career paths as well. In addition, there are numerous enrichment programs for students to select, like intensive English programs in America or England, short-term overseas trips to different continents, or musical performances, which also enhance their capacity of multicultural communication with classmates from various backgrounds.

Fourth, the growing numbers of expatriate communities increase the demand for international schools to accommodate their children.  The laissez faire economic market of Hong Kong attracts many foreign investors to come for business in this free-port metropolis with low taxation. Some of them move there as senior management executives in multi-national corporations or scholars in well-known tertiary education intuitions. According to the survey conducted by Employment Conditions Abroad Limited, expatriates in Hong Kong obtain the fourth highest compensation packages in Asia. [4] In order to attract more of them to move to Hong Kong, the companies usually pay the expatriates rewarding salaries, housing allowances, plus tuition fees for international schools for their kids.

internationalization in edu

After taking the course of “International Education Policy” this semester, I see the different sides of privatization of education clearly by having more profound knowledge about its advantages and disadvantages. What’s your opinion about the international schools then? Do they distort the original meaning of education? At the very least, international schools have given the “consumers” more choice in the education “market”. At the end of the day, however, who can afford it? Obviously, international schools will keep marginalizing students from lower socio-economic status. The gap between rich and poor will just be more visualized in the field of education. People generally have a stereotype that those who can receive “quality education” are from rich backgrounds. If this kind of “privileged education” can be enjoyed by all of the children, what will our future society be like? This leaves us a lot of room to rethink the above questions and strike a balance in the global context.

 

[1] Yan, C. (2014). Guide to Hong Kong Schools and Education. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved on       April 19, 2014, from http://guides.wsj.com/hong-kong/guide-to-hong-kong/education/

[2] Hunt, K. (2012, September 3). Elite Schools head east as Asia’s education market booms. Cable News Network. Retrieved on April 19, 2014, from http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/03/world/asia/asia-education/

[3] International Baccalaureate Organization (2014). The IB Diploma Program. Retrieved on April 19, 2014, from http://www.ibo.org/diploma/

[4] Employment Conditions Abroad Limited (2012). Expatriates in Hong Kong enjoy Asia’s fourth-highest pay packages. Retrieved on April 19, 2014, from http://www.eca-international.com/news/press_releases/7706/Expatriates_in_Hong_Kong_enjoy_Asia_s_fourth_highest_pay_packages#.U1MApPldWFU 

 

Teacher pay: Many teachers left behind

Alyssa’s recent blog on teacher’s status really hits home. She brings up the issue of teacher’s salaries, which has been nagging me for so long.

This is an issue of global concern. It affects not only less developed nations like my home country of Vietnam but also many wealthy European countries and the United States. The issue of teacher status also comes to mind when searching for what makes my country similar with the U.S. While I did not come up with as many similarities as the differences, some commonalities are really fascinating! One of these commonalities in the field of education is related to public school teachers’ pay. According to the OECD data, average American school teacher salary is approximately US$45,000 per year, higher than the OECD’s average of $37,000.[1]  Meanwhile, a Vietnamese teacher gets around VDN30,000,000 per year (an equivalent US$1,422). But it would make no sense to make such absolute economic comparisons. What I would like to focus on in this blog is a common public concern about teacher salaries and status in the two countries.

When I was young, I read a lot of stories in which teachers would be portrayed as “poor, respected old teachers” who led a very simple but virtuous life. In my childhood, this was understandable simply because Vietnam was in wartime. The national budget was limited and the economy was stagnant. Recently, the country has changed significantly with dramatic progress in economic development. Given that the government has spent significantly on education (about 3.5-4% of GDP), salaries of school teachers are still much lower compared to other professions. Sadly, most teachers can barely survive on their meager salaries. Many attempt to supplement their salaries by having extra jobs or teaching extra classes. Ironically, the notion of “poor, respected teacher” is still taken for granted today, as if once being a teacher, she or he must be poor and lead a simple life. Does it mean that poor teachers are more worthy of being venerated?

I was struck one day by the fact that low teacher pay is not unique to developing countries like Vietnam. Unfair compensation has been the complaint of pre-K-12 teachers in many states of the U.S. for years. Indeed, in contrast to a myth that teachers are overpaid and that teacher’s perks are too ample, the Americans acknowledge ‘the bitter truth of how difficult it is for the teachers to make ends meet.’  And in order to raise a family on one’s salary, over 60 percent of American teachers work outside the classroom. While seeking extra earnings, it is likely that teachers may not be wholeheartedly devoted to their main task of teaching.

Interestingly, just as in Vietnam, low teacher pay has become a real joke amongst friends’ conversations in the U.S. The following reflection from an American teacher also holds true in Vietnam:  “We go out to dinner and everyone takes turns paying, but when it’s my turn, someone always says, ‘Let me get that, you’re a teacher.’  It sounds funny then but, perhaps, no teacher wants to have this kind of treatment in his or her life. Also, no teacher, particularly in the case of Vietnam, wants to learn that parents send the children to extra classes as a way of ‘contributing’ to teacher’s income.

In addition to low income, teachers in both countries are often under great pressure for other reasons. In both countries, they have to work under rigid requirements and have high expectations from parents and society to produce high quality workforce. They take such a very important role in education, but when students’ test scores are low, teachers are the first and only ones to be called bad teachers. Even, many of those teachers face being sacked.

A long-term consequence of low teacher pay comes at a high cost for schools and children, who lose good teachers to better-paying professions. In the U.S., some 20 percent of new public school teachers leave the profession by the end of the first year, and almost half leave within the first five years. Approximately 46 percent quit before their fifth year. The turnover costs the United States US$7.34 billion yearly.

Such high turnover has a devastating effect on schools. In Vietnam, many best and devoted teachers have to leave the profession. Many of those who remain in the teaching career feel demotivated, which obviously affects their effective teaching. Worse, this low pay scenario scares even the bravest students who want to become teachers, leading to further teacher shortage. There was time that teacher education colleges in Vietnam had to lower the entrance scores and exempted tuitions to lure enough students into teaching majors. Not to mention that by doing so, quality of potential teachers was downgraded, the problem of recruiting and retaining teachers remains unsolved. The puzzle of low teacher’s pay and teacher education is even complicated when it comes to teaching condition in the rural and disadvantaged areas.

As said earlier, low teacher pay issue is popular not only in Vietnam or the U.S. It is a global concern, evident in recent strikes for better pay and working conditions in the UK, Iceland, Maldives, and Australia. The Varkey GEMS Foundation’ 2013 Index reveals that 95 percent of the surveyed countries said that teachers should be paid a wage in excess of the actual wage they thought they received.

However, I cannot help but feel that this concern is taken serious in teacher communities only or by those who truly value the work that teachers have to perform in their job. Still, quite a few people hold that teaching is a simple job, because ‘all what teachers do is just repeating from class to class with little modification’. People think that it is a leisurely work, because ‘teachers have much free time: may not teach whole days while enjoying a long summer’. People believe that teacher’s income is quite high, because ‘teachers have high compensations and they may earn a fortune from their private tutoring classes’. And thus, merit pay or market-based pay systems are viewed as novel solutions to teacher pay reforms.

We hope that policy makers who consider teacher pay solutions are not those people. The simple logic they should know is: if the country wants to have highly qualified teachers that is essential to student success, it has to “invest” in them.

Ukrainian Government Says NO to Western Educated Ukrainians

Ukrainians with Western education are eager to fight corruption and bureaucracy in order to improve their country’s welfare in the aftermath of recent political upheaval. According to the most recent data of the Ukrainian information agency “UNIAN,” 1.5 million professionals with degrees from Harvard, Oxford, Columbia, and other leading universities are willing to work for the Ukrainian government for free. The question is: How willing and interested is the government to use their services?

The answer is an almost definite “no.” On the one hand, accepting the volunteer services offered by Western educated Ukrainian would save the Ukrainian government millions of dollars. On the other hand, the human factor will serve as a barely surmountable obstacle. How would the corrupt power benefit from the reforms by Ukrainian citizens educated into understanding the corruption as an undesirable, and, furthermore, shameful practice? To the relief of education specialists, there is hope for the Ministry of Education. Apparently, Serhiy Kvit is actively collaborating with Western education officials in order to combat corruption. However, doesn’t the anti-corruption initiative have to be uniform and target all the spheres of life to be effective? Can it cause serious change while addressing education exclusively?

Obviously, the people who have been building a kleptomaniac state for years will not easily allow the newcomers to overtake their business and implement Western anti-corrupt reforms. The system that exists in Ukraine now is so well-embedded and accepted that it will be difficult to deconstruct even for the people who truly wish to make a change. As a student who has gone through all the major levels of Ukrainian education, what concerns me the most is the reaction of the student population to the changes. Are they going to be able to face the fact that hryvnas will not be purchasing their grades anymore?

My prediction is that until the government agrees to hire qualified workforce that was not exposed to and socialized into corruption as a way of life, Kvit’s efforts to create a fair education system will not produce a radical turn that students are expecting and hoping for. Currently, every first grader in Ukraine is aware of the unfortunate reality that he/she needs to pay extra or give bribes in order to receive quality services from doctors, post office workers, and teachers. My 5-year old nephew has already heard of the prices of As and Bs in school. He is now accustomed to the idea that he is going to grow up in the corrupt state. There is a high possibility that when he grows up, he is not going to perceive giving money “for tea” (a Russian metaphor for tips) as an unacceptable practice similar to the current Ukrainian administration. It is only when he leaves the country and has an opportunity to look at it from the outside that he is going to understand the effect of this practice on the society as a whole. Western educated Ukrainians have already done that and it would be a major loss for Ukraine not to take advantage of the life-transforming ideas that they are ready to offer.

Let’s Not and Say We Did

 

Since we’ve handed over the education agenda to testing companies, we’ve also been told that relying on standardized tests and looking at accountability measures would help to increase equity. In fact, this was one of the major calling cards of the No Child Left Behind act – that if we keep better tabs on student performance, we’ll be able to use this information to close the achievement gap. Most of the evidence out there today, however, shows that this gap has not been significantly reduced. So if we are putting all of our resources behind a program to reduce poverty and reduce the achievement gap, why isn’t it happening? Enter the axis powers of education: testing companies, policy makers, and textbook companies.

Could it be that it never was the intention to close the achievement gap?

Here’s how it works. Policy makers write curriculum, such as the Common Core Standards. On its face, the review and establishment of a national set of standards might not be so bad. While some critics ask if it is ethical for all students to learn the same thing, it isn’t clear whether these standards will actually standardize education. What they do intend, however, is for all students to be reaching for the same high bar. The content may be adapted or adopted by region or district, but the goal was to get all students to have a vertically aligned curriculum that would challenge suburban and urban kids alike. Holding high standards across the board is, in my opinion, an integral part of improving equitable education. So far, so good.

The problem though is that the policy makers who write the curriculum do not have the power to enforce their plan. It’s like a difference between the legislative and executive branches of the government. The curriculum developers can put out any kind of utopian-unicorn plan, but unless the test companies align their test with those standards, the curriculum remains a wish. Students must then learn what the test determines to be important and the curriculum becomes secondary.

Test companies are the new gatekeepers, and policy and tests remain in their own vacuums. And because the two entities continually evolve – tests are exchanged for newer ones, curricula is redesigned to meet new standards (as influenced by the knowledge economy and our fears of Ivan Drago). Thus, those two industries prattle on, independent of one another, while schools scramble with meager resources to consolidate the pieces and teach a unified program that’s worthwhile.

To throw in one more complication, most content taught in schools is done with the support of one or more textbooks. Textbook companies produce the books for states based loosely on the standards of the policy makers. Loosely because they are a company, and it is much more efficient to produce broad spectrum books that can be used in the majority of the states without having to change too much. These books cannot effectively keep up with test standards that change frequently. Nor are they truly aligned with the current standards/curricula of the policy makers, because textbooks are expensive and most schools don’t purchase a set for a particular group more often than once a decade. Thus, at best teachers are working with a textbook that’s several years old and covers about 70% of the current curriculum. The other 30% of the content that students must learn (according to the curriculum) the teachers generate from independent sources and expertise. But old books and new standards, neither of which align to the subject matter and rigor of a brand new test, is a recipe for disaster.

Aligning the Stars

Let’s take this down to the classroom level. At the end of the year, students must pass exam X. They follow a program in which they learn the skills and knowledge dictated by the state policy documents Y. To get them there, teachers use the textbook Z as the main resource. Because none of these products communicate with each other, it’s a veritable maze to simply organize. Only skilled, experienced educators (usually working together with other skilled, experienced educators) have the capacity to develop a plan that adequately addresses the content and skills necessary while simultaneously ensuring that students don’t fall behind. And still, we don’t support our teachers in this endeavor. No. Instead, we give them a three-tiered labyrinth to navigate and demand that they do it for less pay or no benefits.

The scary part is that we didn’t see this happening. Policy and decision making in general aren’t rational. They are reactionary and incrementalist. Bit by bit, the policies are tuned towards some new magic potion (accountability!) or away from some old fear (Ivan!). But bit by bit, we’ve ushered in changes that privatize schools, use our students as resources for the globalized economy, and increased our reliance on numerical data (that may or may not be accurate but certainly isn’t holistically reflective of a student’s ability or potential ability). We find ourselves in a place where none of our systems (textbooks, curriculum, tests) align with each other and we’re wondering how we got here. We are now the proverbial frogs in the pot. The temperature is boiling but we only got the message just now.

What’s the danger of handing over our educational agenda to corporations? Stay tuned for the next post in this series…