Anyway, the booklet held some interesting ideas closely related to my current research, which I want to summarise on this blog. Levin presents some of the key lessons that have been learned over the last 20 years about effective, large-scale improvement in the quality of school systems operating from a sound base of universal access, reasonably capable teachers and adequate facilities and operating in an environment of relative political and social stability.
He begins and ends by acknowledging that although change knowledge is increasingly understood and used, there are barriers to how successfully it is being used. He cites three reasons for this.
- It doesn't not promise the quick fix or simple picture which political or media agendas often demand
- It is complex and therefore hard to grasp and use effectively
- It requires cultural shifts in the way we approach change
However, he argues, the shift towards wanting/ needing educational improvement that affects all classrooms and fosters sustainable quality and equity, coupled with poor results from previous reform efforts and a better understanding of how to implement change, means that change, and more specifically capacity building, will become more common place in such efforts.
Achieving real and lasting change in student learning outcomes requires the focused, sustained and collaborative effort of all parts of the system, with careful attention paid to implementation as well as policy-making. He lists 8 key elements for an effective change strategy in improving school systems, which I will elaborate on in my next few blog postings:
- a small number of ambitious yet achievable and well-grounded goals, publicly stated;
- a positive stance on improving all schools and success for all students;
- an emphasis on capacity building and a focus on results;
- multi-level engagement with strong leadership and a ‘guiding coalition’;
- continuous learning through innovation and effective use of research and data;
- a focus on key strategies while also managing other interests and issues;
- effective use of resources;
- a strong implementation effort to support the change process.
Research and evidence-informed practice
One of the things he highlights is that teaching, like any other profession, needs to develop its use of research evidence as a prime determinant of effective practice, something which I was reading about recently on Alex Quigley's blog: The Problem with research evidence in education and The Problem with research evidence in education Part 2.
There is a growing knowledge base about what works and what doesn't work in education. Hattie (2008) and Marzano (2003) provide excellent summaries of the growing knowledge base about effective practice. Yet practice lags well behind still. Levin argues that while we should be looking to reference such sources more in our decision making, we should not be too discouraged by the gap between knowledge and practice - 'it can take many years to translate what research has unequivocally demonstrated to be effective into common practice'. We should therefore keep on trying.
Levin, B., 2012. System-wide improvement in education. Education Policy Series: 13. IAE: Brussels and IIEP-UNESCO: Paris.
Hattie, J. 2008. Visible learning. London: Routledge.
Marzano, R. 2003. What works in schools: Translating research into action. Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.