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Do teachers matter? Measuring the variation in teacher effectiveness in England

Quality, Teacher performance


Helen Slater, HM Treasury

Neil Davies,  Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol

Simon Burgess, CMPO, University of Bristol

January 2009

Working Paper No. 09/212

Centre for Market and Public Organisation
Bristol Institute of Public Affairs
University of Bristol
2 Priory Road
Bristol BS8 1TX


It seems common sense that teachers matter, and that pupils will achieve more with an inspirational teacher than with an average or poor teacher. Anecdotes abound of the transformational effect of excellent teaching. Yet trying to quantify this is difficult, principally because of the data requirements. To a degree, social science research has emphasised family and home rather than teachers and school in the production of human capital. Disentangling the separate contributions of schools, teachers, classes, peers and pupils themselves needs extremely rich and full disaggregate data. Whilst a small number of papers have been able to make progress here, we do not yet have a settled view on the importance of teachers.
Using a unique primary dataset for the UK, we estimate the effect of individual teachers on student outcomes, and the variability in teacher quality. We show that teachers matter a great deal: being taught by a high quality (75th percentile) rather than low quality (25th percentile) teacher adds 0.425 of a GCSE point per subject to a given student, or 25% of the standard deviation of GCSE points. This shows the strong potential for improving educational standards by improving average teacher quality. However, implementing such a policy would not be straightforward, as we also corroborate recent US findings that good teachers are difficult to identify ex ante.
As Rockoff (2004) notes, most of the issues in this field relate to data quality. We use a unique primary dataset that matches a short panel of pupils to a short panel of teachers. We link over 7000 pupils, their exam results and prior attainment to the individual teachers who taught them, in each of their compulsory subjects in the crucial high-stakes exams at age 16. These exams provide access to higher education and are highly valued in the job market.
Our dataset complements and in some ways extends the current leading datasets in this field used by Aaronson, Barrow and Sander (2007) (ABS), Kane, Rockoff and Staiger (2007) (KRS), Rivkin, Hanushek and Kain (2005) RHK and Rockoff (2004) (R). Like ABS and R, but unlike RHK and KRS, we can match a student to her/his actual teacher, rather than to the school-grade average teacher. Unlike ABS, KRS, RHK and R, our context is one of students taking exams that are very important to them and to the school. Unlike ABS, KRS, RHK and R, we exploit the fact that we observe students taking three exams at the same date, allowing us to use a point-in-time student fixed effect, in addition to subject-specific prior attainment. We believe that this allows us to control well for variations in student ability that might otherwise corrupt our measures of teacher effectiveness if students are not randomly assigned to teachers (see Rothstein, 2008). Finally, and also unlike ABS, KRS and RHK, our student-teacher data are matched in and by the school, thus ensuring a high-quality match. Nevertheless, while our data have these advantages relative to existing datasets, there are other issues with our data, and we detail below these short-comings and what we can and cannot estimate.
We show that the standard deviation of teacher effectiveness is 32.6% of a GCSE point, or 18.9% of a standard deviation (1.722 GCSE points), from Table 5 column 1. The lowest bound estimate we have is 28.8% of a GCSE point or 16.7% of the standard deviation. These estimates are in line with those found in the US, which tend to be around a 10% impact on test scores of a unit standard deviation change in teacher quality. Using another metric, teacher effectiveness is about a quarter as variable as pupil effectiveness. However, a teacher’s effectiveness influences the GCSE outcomes of the entire class, and so the teacher’s effectiveness has greater leverage.
The next section reviews the current datasets used and highlights the advantages and disadvantages of ours; we also summarise the results from these studies. Section 3 discusses our own dataset, and section 4 the econometric approach. Section 5 presents the results. In the Conclusion, we discuss the implications of these results for policy on teacher effectiveness, teacher selection, and for the incentivisation of teachers.

To read more: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/cmpo/publications/papers/2009/wp212.pdf

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US$129b a year wasted on poor quality education: UN

Global news, Quality

Channel NewsAsia


PARIS: A quarter of a billion children worldwide are failing to learn basic reading and maths skills in an education crisis that costs governments US$129 billion annually, the UN’s cultural agency warned in a report on Wednesday.

Inadequate teaching across the world has left a legacy of illiteracy more widespread than previously thought, UNESCO said in its annual monitoring report.

It said one in four young people in poor countries was unable to read a sentence, with the figure rising to 40 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa.

The United Nations defines “youth” as people aged between 15 and 24, although UNESCO’s definition varies across regions.

“What’s the point in an education if children emerge after years in school without the skills they need?” said Pauline Rose, the director of the nearly 500-page Education for All Global Monitoring Report.

In a third of countries analysed, fewer than three-quarters of existing primary school teachers were trained to national standards, while 120 million primary age children across the world had little or no experience of school, the UNESCO report found.

“The cost of 250 million children not learning the basics is equivalent to US$129 billion, or 10 per cent of global spending on primary education,” the report said.

Thirty-seven countries monitored by the report are losing at least half the amount they spend on primary education because children are not learning, UNESCO said.

In developed countries including France, Germany and the United Kingdom, immigrant children lag behind their peers, performing far worse on minimum learning targets.

Indigenous groups in Australia and New Zealand face similar problems, it said.

The report called for global education policies to focus not only on enrolment rates but also on equal access and better teaching.

“Access is not the only crisis — poor quality is holding back learning even for those who make it to school,” UNESCO director general Irina Bokova wrote in the report’s foreword.

She said it was clear that the educational targets set in 2000 by the UN’s Millennium Developments Goals would not be reached.

Rose said “new goals after 2015 must make sure every child is not only in school, but learning what they need to learn”.

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Education to be in focus at Barack Obama’s State of the Union address

Quality, US

Economic Times


President Barack Obama will deliver his State of the Union address January 28, but, for my money, his secretary of education, Arne Duncan, already gave it. Just not enough people heard it.

So instead of Obama fishing around for contrived ideas to put in his speech – the usual laundry list that wins applause but no action – the president should steal Duncan’s speech and claim it as his own (I won’t tell) because it was not a laundry list and wasn’t a feel-good speech. In fact, it was a feel-bad speech, asking one big question. Are we falling behind as a country in education not just because we fail to recruit the smartest college students to become teachers or reform-resistant teachers’ unions, but because of our culture today: Too many parents and too many kids just don’t take education seriously enough and don’t want to put in the work needed today to really excel?

Is this the key cause of income inequality and persistent poverty? No. But it is surely part of their solutions, and it is a subject that Obama has not used his bully pulpit to address in any sustained way. Nothing could spark a national discussion of this more than a State of the Union address.

I’ll get to Duncan’s speech in a moment, but, if you think he’s exaggerating, listen to some teachers. Here are the guts of a letter published recently by The Washington Post from a veteran seventh-grade language arts teacher in Frederick, Md., who explained why she no longer wants to teach. (She asked to remain anonymous.)

After complaining about the “superficial curriculum that encouraged mindless conformity,” she wrote: “I decided that if I was going to teach this nonsense, I was at least going to teach it well. I set my expectations high, I kept my classroom structured, I tutored students, I provided extra practice and I tried to make class fun. … I quickly rose through the ranks of ‘favorite teacher,’ kept open communication channels with parents and had many students with solid A’s. It was about this time that I was called down to the principal’s office. … She handed me a list of about 10 students, all of whom had D’s or F’s. At the time, I only had about 120 students, so I was relatively on par with a standard bell curve. As she brought up each one, I walked her through my grade sheets that showed not low scores but a failure to turn in work – a  lack of responsibility. I showed her my tutoring logs, my letters to parents, only to be interrogated further.

“Eventually, the meeting came down to two quotes that I will forever remember as the defining slogans for public education: ‘They are not allowed to fail.’ ‘If they have D’s or F’s, there is something that you are not doing for them.’ What am I not doing for them? I suppose I was not giving them the answers. I was not physically picking up their hands to write for them. I was not following them home each night to make sure they did their work on time. I was not excusing their lack of discipline. .. Teachers are held to impossible standards, and students are accountable for hardly any part of their own education and are incapable of failing.”

I got an almost identical letter last month from a high school teacher in Oregon: “Until about 1992, I would have at least one kid in every class who simply wouldn’t do anything. A bad class might have two. Today I have 10 to 15. I recently looked back at my old exams from the ’80s. These were tough, comprehensive ones without the benefit of notes. Few would pass them today. We are dumbing down our classes. It is an inexorable downward progression in which one day all a kid will need to pass is to have a blood pressure. The kids today are not different in ‘nature.’ … The difference is that back then, although they didn’t want to, they would do the work. Today, they won’t. … This is a real conversation I had with a failing student who was being quite sincere in her comments: ‘I know you’re a really good teacher, but you don’t seem to realize I have two hours a night of Facebook and over 4,000 text messages a month to deal with. How do you expect me to do all this work?’ When I collect homework at the beginning of class, it is standard out of a class of 35, to receive only 8 to 10 assignments. If I didn’t give half-credit for late work, I think most would fail.”

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The Role of Education Quality in Economic Growth

Eric A. Hanushek
Hoover Institution
Stanford University
CESifo and NBER
Stanford, CA 94305-6010, United States
Phone: (+1) 650 / 736-0942
E-mail: hanushek@stanford.edu
InternLudger Wößmann et: www.hanushek.net
 Ludger Wößmann
 University of Munich,
Ifo Institute for Economic Research and CESifo
Poschingerstr. 5
81679 Munich, Germany
Phone: (+49) 89 / 9224-1699
E-mail: woessmann@ifo.de
Internet: www.cesifo.de/woessmann

World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 4122, February 2007


It takes little analysis to see that education levels differ dramatically between developing and developed countries. Building upon several decades of thought about human capital – and centuries of general attention to education in the more advanced countries – it is natural to believe that a productive development strategy would be to raise the schooling levels of the population. And, indeed, this is exactly the approach of the Education for All initiative and a central element of the Millennium Development Goals.
But there are also some nagging uncertainties that exist with this strategy. First, developed and developing countries differ in a myriad of ways other than schooling levels. Second, a number of countries – both on their own and with the assistance of others – have expanded schooling opportunities without seeing any dramatic catch-up with developed countries in terms of economic well-being. Third, countries that do not function well in general might not be more able to mount effective education programs than they are to pursue other societal goals. Fourth, even when schooling policy is made a focal point, many of the approaches undertaken do not seem very effective and do not lead to the anticipated student outcomes. In sum, is it obvious that education is the driving force, or merely one of several factors that are correlated with more fundamental development forces?
The objective of this study is to review what is known about the role of education in promoting economic well-being. We are interested in assessing what research says about these issues. More than that, we pay particular attention to the credibility of this research in establishing a causal relationship between education and economic outcomes and between policy initiatives and educational outcomes.
The discussion also has one distinctive element. We have come to conclude that educational quality – particularly in assessing policies related to developing countries – is THE key issue. It is both conventional and convenient in policy discussions to concentrate on such things as years of school attainment or enrolment rates in schools. These things are readily observed and measured. They appear in administrative data, and they are published on a consistent basis in virtually all countries of the world. And, they are very misleading in the policy debates.
We will show in graphic terms the differences in educational quality that exist. Most people would, in casual conversation, acknowledge that a year of schooling in a school in a Brazilian Amazon village was not the same as a year of schooling in a school in Belgium. They would also agree that families, peers, and others contribute to education. Yet, research on the economic impact of schools – largely due to expedience – almost uniformly ignores these. The data suggest that the casual conversation may actually tend to understate the magnitude of differences.

We will also provide strong evidence that ignoring quality differences significantly distorts the picture about the relationship between education and economic outcomes. This distortion occurs at three levels. It misses important differences between education and skills on the one hand and individual earnings on the other. It misses an important underlying factor determining the interpersonal distribution of incomes across societies. And, it very significantly misses the important element of education in economic growth.
The plan of this study is straightforward. We begin by documenting the importance of cognitive skills – the measure of educational quality we use – in determining individual earnings, and by implication important aspects of the income distribution. We then turn to the relationship of education and economic growth. Research into the economics of growth has itself been a growth area, but much of the research focuses just on school attainment with no consideration of quality differences or of other sources of learning. We show, in part with new evidence, that the evidence is highly biased by its concentration on just quantity of schooling.
In both of these areas, attention has been given to causality; i.e., is it reasonable to believe that changing education would directly lead to a change in economic outcomes? Again, the concentration on quantity of schooling has distorted these discussions of causality, and consideration of quality considerably alters the issues and implications.
The simple answers in the discussion of economic implications of education are that educational quality, measured by cognitive skills, has a strong impact on individual earnings. More than that, however, educational quality has a strong and robust influence on economic growth. In both areas, there is credible evidence that these are truly causal relationships.
To be sure, none of this says that schools per se are the answer. Even though it is common to treat education and schooling synonymously, it is important to distinguish between knowledge and skills on the one hand (educational quality in our terminology) and schooling. This semantic distinction has important substantive underpinnings. Cognitive skills may be developed in formal schooling, but they may also come from the family, the peers, the culture, and so forth. Moreover, other factors obviously have an important impact on earnings and growth. For example, overall economic institutions – a well-defined system of property rights, the openness of the economy, the security of the nation – can be viewed almost as preconditions to economic development. And, without them, education and skills may not have the desired impact on economic outcomes.
Yet, while recognizing the impact of these overall institutions, we find that schools can play an important role. Quality schools can lead to improved educational outcomes. Moreover, from a public policy perspective, interventions in the schools are generally viewed as both more acceptable and more likely to succeed than, say, direct interventions in the family. Given the evidence on the importance of educational quality for economic outcomes, the study turns to important policy issues. To begin with, what can be said about the educational quality and cognitive skills in developing countries? Although information on enrollment and attainment has been fairly widely available, quality information has not. We use newly developed data on international comparisons of cognitive skills (also employed in the analysis of growth) to show that the education deficits in developing countries are larger than previously appreciated.
Discussions of quality inevitably lead to questions about whether it can be affected by policy. An extensive literature, albeit one biased toward developed countries, now exists on a number of policy issues. Perhaps most well known is that simply putting more resources into schools – pure spending, reduced class sizes, increased teacher training, and the like – will not reliably lead to improvements in student outcomes.
These findings are, however, often misinterpreted. First, they do not imply that schools have no effect. They say simply that common measures of school quality are in reality not closely related to student outcomes, but this is not the same as finding that school quality differences do not exist. Second, the findings do not say that spending and resources never matter. Indeed, there is some indication, particularly in developing countries, that a range of resources are important – textbooks, rudimentary facilities, and the like. The potential impacts of these are nonetheless too small to be instruments for radical changes in outcomes, something that the prior evidence indicates is needed in many developing countries. Third, the findings do not say that resources cannot matter. They indicate that resources may not have any consistent effects within the current structure and institutions of schools, but the findings do not put resource discussions into the context of alternative structures.
One consistent finding that is emerging from research, albeit largely from developed country experiences, is that teacher quality has powerful impacts on student outcomes. The problem from a policy aspect is, however, that quality differences are not closely related to the common measures of quality and to the common policy instruments that are employed. Within countries where the data exist, there is little indication that quality is closely related to teacher education and training, teacher experience, teacher certification, or teacher salaries. These facts disrupt the policy discussions. They also make it clear that different sets of policies must be contemplated if schools are to improve. A different view of schools, however, concentrates on larger institutional issues. There is growing evidence that a number of devices – things that effectively change the existing incentives in schools-have an impact. Accountability systems based upon tests of student cognitive achievement can change the incentives for both school personnel and for students. By focusing attention on the true policy goal – instead of imperfect proxies based on inputs to schools – performance can be improved. These systems align rewards with outcomes. Moreover, increased local decision making or local autonomy, coupled with accountability, can facilitate these improvements. The evidence on a set of larger, and potentially more powerful, policy changes is relatively limited
at the current time. There is suggestive evidence that greater school choice promotes better performance. Further, direct incentives to teachers and school personnel in the form of performance pay have promise. Unfortunately, however, these policies can lead to substantial changes in the incentives within schools, and such substantial changes are frequently resisted by current school personnel. Current employees, often through their unions, generally tend to resist and to stop even experimentation with such changes. Thus, direct evidence on them is more limited, and may require more inferences. Nonetheless, there remains reason to believe that pursuing these larger changes could lead to the substantial improvements in outcomes that are desired or hoped for in the policy process.

To read more: http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/IW3P/IB/2007/01/29/000016406_20070129113447/Rendered/PDF/wps4122.pdf

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Building better universities

Higher Education, Quality

The Hindu


 The regulatory mechanism for higher education should aim to ensure quality and accountability, rather than leave institutions constrained by rules
As the University Grants Commission (UGC), the apex body regulating higher education in India, marks its 60th anniversary — it was inaugurated on December 28, 1953 — some introspection is in order. The democratisation of the higher education system and improved and expanded access and opportunities are some of the milestones of the last half-a-century. However, there are concerns expressed by all stakeholders that the current models of governance of universities do not inspire confidence about an appropriate framework to regulate them. Several issues need to be examined in the context of the existing framework for regulating universities.The existing model is based on deep and pervasive distrust among regulators over the possibility of universities doing things on their own, and doing it well. The current framework that require universities to be constantly regulated by laws, rules, regulations, guidelines and policies set by the government and the regulatory bodies have not produced the best results.There are at least five factors that increasingly govern such regulation. The first relates to Central laws and rules concerning universities and higher education. A second concerns laws and rules of State governments. A third relates to rules, regulations and guidelines formulated by the UGC. A fourth one concerns rules, regulations and guidelines formulated by regulatory bodies such as the Medical Council of India and the Bar Council of India. A fifth concerns orders and directions passed by courts.

If there is one lesson we can learn from the last 60 years of regulating universities, it is the need to reduce the burden. But regulation in general and the governance of universities in particular have certain important social objectives.

There are issues relating to quality and accountability that need to be ensured, and regulatory bodies should assume that role and responsibility. That role needs to significantly change from the existing model to a more progressive approach where universities are allowed to take greater responsibility on their own. There is a need to develop a framework of Earned Autonomy for universities where new forms of regulatory models are created. This model can have a system in which universities could be identified on the basis of indicators and assessment criteria so that a number of them, public and private, could be allowed to function more autonomously than others. This framework should allow upward mobility: universities should be able to fulfil a specific set of goals to develop and reach different stages of autonomy.

There is a case for changing the existing regulatory framework that has a disparaging attitude towards private universities. The model of distinguishing public and private universities in terms of the original source of funding — whether it was created by the state or through private initiatives — is archaic and has to be reexamined. They have to be assessed on the basis of their contribution, looking at what they are doing as opposed to who created them.

The regulatory model of governance needs to focus on empowering public and private universities with a view to achieving excellence. A large number of universities will have to cater to the growing demands and aspirations of Indian youth to be educated and, in that process, employed. However, the regulatory bodies have a critical responsibility to identify a select group of public and private universities to empower them to achieve global research excellence.

These objectives should go hand in hand; there is no need to trump one over the other. There is a need to promote non-profit private university education; philanthropy of private individuals and corporate philanthropy have to be encouraged. The question of accountability is relevant both for public and private Indian universities.

Not one Indian university figures today as one of the top 200 in any of the major rankings of universities in the world. In fact, the debate relating to global rankings of universities in India has matured into a constructive dialogue initiated by the UGC, the Ministry of Human Resource Development, the Government of India and the Planning Commission. Serious, transparent and candid discussions are being held about rankings and how to improve the quality of universities. There cannot be a better occasion than the 60th year of the UGC for it to work towards a specific set of targeted goals in a time-bound manner that will bring some Indian universities to the top 200 list.

It is worth examining the achievements in establishing and developing universities of global excellence in Asian countries, particularly in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan. This will reveal that an extraordinary impetus to seek the transformation of universities has been undertaken in the last two decades for universities in Asia to be among the top 200. India will do well to draw inspiration from some of these experiences from Asian neighbours.

The heart of university education is research and knowledge-creation. But teaching informs research and research contributes to better teaching. India needs a lot more colleges, particularly undergraduate institutions that will fulfil the dreams and aspirations of young India.

India’s Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) is a matter of concern and the demographic dividend we hope to achieve will be possible only if we provide opportunities for quality education to young people. The regulatory framework ought to make an important distinction between the role of colleges in promoting access to higher education on the one hand and the larger focus of universities in India, which should be to create knowledge and promote research and scholarship leading to publications.

One of the reasons for Indian universities not figuring among the top 200 is that since Independence our focus on expanding the higher education sector to provide access has led to a situation where research and scholarship have been neglected. We need to strike a balance.

Over 60 per cent of the criteria used to assess the quality of universities are based on research, publications and citations. We can make amends for this by recognising that different universities are situated to achieve different sets of important educational goals and objectives. Not all universities need to be research-oriented. Nowhere in the world is that the case. A systematic, coherent, and transparent approach is needed to determine the suitability of universities to pursue objectives of excellence.

The way forward
If we accept the proposed theory of regulation, there should be a greater focus on the establishment of universities and the need to maintain higher standards and sharper scrutiny at the time of establishment.

Gradually, the scrutiny of universities before starting programmes or schools should come down, as they are expected to assume greater responsibility in having self-regulating mechanisms and internal quality assurance systems. The role of regulators should change, as the purpose after the establishment of the universities would be to empower and enable them to perform better. But for this to be effective, tools of assessment that are credible and internationally benchmarked should be developed.

The vision, nature, and scope of regulation of universities will determine the ability of higher education institutions to fulfil their goals of academic excellence and research achievements with a view to helping India establish a knowledge society.

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‘Give autonomy to Raise edu Quality’

Higher Education, Quality

The New Indian Express


In order to promote quality of education, educational institutions must be accorded autonomy, opined VIT University chancellor G Viswanathan. While speaking at a function on Saturday organised by associations, NGOs and institutions to commemorate his 75th birthday celebrations, Viswanathan recalled that had he not met former chief minister of TN Annadurai, he would have ended up as an advocate and not an educationist. He said the educational institutions across the country were not being given adequate support by the government and wherever these institutions enjoyed freedom and autonomy, they were able to provide quality education. Quality education must be the goal for both the State and Centre, he added. Viswanathan also stressed on the importance of providing good tree cover to Vellore, which, in the next ten years would change the climate  of the city. He also offered to donate `50 lakh to renovate the Sangeetha Sabha building in the old bus stand area. Former union minister S R Balasubramaniam, termed Viswanathan as an open-minded person, who was a friend of all parties. The VIT University, founded by Viswanathan had become an additional landmark of the historical city of Vellore, he added. The organisers of the event conferred the ?Kalviko’ award  on Viswanathan. The diamond jubilee souvenir was released by the former vice-chancellor of  Anna University A Kalanidhi, on the occasion.

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Higher education not a priority for Akhilesh Yadav government

Higher Education, Quality



Agra :

When young Akhilesh Yadav took over as the Uttar Pradesh chief minister in March 2012, there was the natural expectation that his top priority would be education and that state – as distinct from central – institutions of higher learning would be comprehensively revamped to clean up the mess created by previous regimes.

But Yadav’s casual manner and the nonchalance towards this vital sector of growth have surprised educational pundits who see nothing but doom ahead – the distribution of 1.5 million laptops notwithstanding.

“Higher education in the state is facing an unprecedented crisis and the level of research in our institutions has touched a new low,” said retired educationist H.S. Sisodia, who has just got his third doctorate from Agra University. “It took me eight years. I registered and began working in 2005 and got my degree a few days back,” Sisodia told IANS.

Corruption and lethargy are rampant in most universities in the state. “The campuses that once were the hubs of student movements on many social issues and which nurtured and projected a large number of today’s politicians are today islands of conformity and apathy,” said Vinay Paliwal, a student leader of 1970s.

“Student activism for a new egalitarian social order on our campuses is dead and that’s the reason you see only vested interests and groups taking over the politics of the country,” Ram Kishore, president of the Socialist Foundation, told IANS.

“The universities in UP are no longer centres of excellence or creativity. Look at Agra University, one of north India’s oldest institution of higher learning. In five years, Agra University has awarded 1,600 PhDs. But has anyone heard of some notable contribution to science or technology or even humanities that has won international recognition?” rued Neville Smith, the retired head of the English department at RBS College.

Rapid commercialisation of higher education has affected the quality of teaching. “With mushrooming of private engineering, management, IT and B.Ed colleges all over the state, the demand-supply equation has been disturbed and since competent faculty is not available, contract teachers take classes. The managements save a lot of money, but in the process quality suffers,” Smith added.

A university must have an optimum size. Agra University at present has more than 500 institutes and colleges affiliated with its campus extending from Noida to Lucknow. It also has to oversee the academic activities of the S.N. Medical College and the Institute of Mental Health (Agra Mental Hospital).

Is the university capable of doing justice to its functions? The university in its present form and size is clearly out of sync with the demands of modern education. Its elephantine-size makes governance impossible. It’s high time to look at alternatives. Perhaps the university needs to be split into at least three entities.

The crudest joke an institution can play is in the field of research, says Abhinay Prasad, head of NGO Adhar that specialises in skill development and in promoting industry-academia ties. “Agra University’s pathetic record in the field of research deserves international recognition,” he said wryly.

The only bright spots in this otherwise gloomy scenario are institutions like Allahabad University, Aligarh Muslim University, Benaras Hindu University and the Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur – but these are central entities.

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CBSE open book exam plan evokes mixed reactions



The Indian Express

The decision of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) to introduce open text-based assessment (OTBA) for developing “higher order thinking skills’ from March 2014 has evoked mixed reactions from principals and teachers. While many hailed it as a progressive concept with the potential to revolutionise the country’s education system, a section felt the scheme was “another half-baked experiment”. And even though there is little clarity on how the system will actually work, most agree adequate teacher training will be the key to make it a success. “Open book exam is a fantastic move that has the potential to make quality of learning far more superior than what exists in the country right now. It is a revolutionary answer to the ‘cramming culture’ in schools and will enable children to become independent thinkers and thought leaders,” Lata Vaidyanathan, principal of Modern School, Barakhamba Road, said. According to L V Sehgal, principal, Bal Bharti School, the new system will “challenge students to learn more, and find their own answers”. “Since it’s not a book-driven thing, it is that much more open. Students will be forced to think beyond narrow definitions of what they learn from books, making learning more experiential.” However, Abha Sehgal, principal, Sanskriti School, believes the system will only work if teachers and students are “comfortable” with it. “On paper, it looks a great system, but it will take a little time to evolve a proper methodology to make the system work in the context of the current education system.” Many are also of the opinion that the move is a half-baked attempt at copying the Western model of education. “We are still not done with implementing CCE, and the CBSE has introduced this new system. In a country, where thousands of schools lack even basic infrastructure, this new system will only fuel confusion. It’s a system made keeping only a few schools in mind, aped from the so-called developed Westernised world,” R C Jain, Chairman, Delhi State Public Schools Management Association, said. According to Jain, the system will also promote “copying culture” among students, who will now have access to text material during exams. Teachers said more clarity was needed on the conduct and evaluation of the tests, as extra exams would only increase the burden on students already preparing for the Boards. “What are the creative questions or high-order thinking questions that we are suppose to come up with? We need more briefings and workshops on how to conduct such tests, because the questions here won’t be direct, and we will have to prepare students on what to expect,” a senior teacher from DPS, Vasant Kunj, said.

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Ten ways to fix schools


Business Day Live


THE National School Effectiveness Study is the culmination of six years of work by education researchers and economists who analysed the test results and school and home backgrounds of 16,000 children at 300 primary schools.

The children were tested over three consecutive years, from 2007 to 2009, while in Grades 3-5. The objective of the study was to learn, in great detail, what takes place — or doesn’t — in the classroom and what shapes a child’s ability to perform.

The findings have been captured in Creating Effective Schools, a book edited by Nick Taylor, Servaas van der Berg and Thabo Mabogoane, published by Pearson Education.

The main findings are extracted below, accompanied by a short commentary on the effectiveness of the policy response, mostly provided through an interview with Deputy Education Minister Enver Surty. Distilled from the book are 10 practical ways that would go a long way to fixing schools.


Primary school literacy at the root of the problem

Tests showed that between Grade 3 and 5, few learners had reached the point where they could undertake sentence writing or exercise the higher cognitive skills of inference and interpretation. For instance, the mean achievement for a task that required writing in full sentences to interpret a nonfiction text was below 10% throughout the three years.

This is a critical problem because apart from illustrating the weakness of primary school literacy, these capacities underlie learning in all other subjects, including mathematics.

The key reasons for the poor test results, says the study, are that “too little work is done in each lesson; teachers stick to low-level cognitive tasks and don’t involve learners in critical textual analysis”.

What are policy makers doing?

The recognition in about 2007 that primary schools should be the focus of interventions, rather than efforts to raise the matric pass rate, marked a turning point in the government’s approach to fixing education. Among the interventions put in place are:

• the introduction of Grade R to prepare children for school;

• all new schools built have facilities and equipment for preschool children;

• annual testing for numeracy and literacy from Grades 1-6 and 9;

• the provision of a set of eight workbooks for all children from Grades R-9;

• through the workbooks, the amount of work done in each classroom can be tracked and supervisors can intervene where appropriate;

• some schools have “library corners” provided with reading books; and

• the department has made a large number of bursaries available for foundation-phase teaching.

But the problem remains that because teachers themselves are unaccustomed to higher-level cognitive tasks and a critical approach to written text, they cannot teach it either.


Weakness in language skills undermines success in mathematics

The test results found that word sums were found much harder than plain mathematical operations, even with numbers of the same magnitude. This is because, say the researchers, word sums first require translation into a mathematical function before the answer can be computed, and invoke language proficiency, conceptual understanding and logical reasoning in their solution. The longitudinal tests showed that even as they progressed through school, the same children did not improve in mathematics at all where questions were language intensive.

Second, the overwhelming majority of maths teachers avoid topics that are in any way challenging. Only the simplest topics are taught in a largely mechanical fashion. Written text in mathematics lessons is especially neglected and avoided by teachers, which the study says “severely inhibits learning”.

What are policy makers doing?

• Interventions to improve literacy include workbooks and library corners.

• Workbooks do include language-based maths exercises. Principals and subject advisers can monitor whether these exercises are done.

But to make real improvement in mathematics, teachers themselves have to become proficient and confident in language-based maths problems.


Poor children are at an enormous disadvantage on entering school

The study found that as children from poor backgrounds progressed at school, they fell increasingly further behind children from affluent backgrounds. In other words, the system does not offer a route for poor children to “catch up” as they go through school.

The test results showed that while children from both types of schools showed an increase in knowledge from year to year, children in township and village schools fell increasingly further behind those in suburban schools in both literacy and numeracy.

What are policy makers doing?

Some steps have been taken to reduce the educational disadvantage of poor kids upon entering school. These include:

• the implementation of a compulsory Grade R before Grade 1 (however, this does not yet cover everybody, is not done by trained teachers and the quality is uneven);

• steps to improve the quality of Grade R by providing a curriculum and setting a minimum qualification for teachers of matric learners (the aim is to eventually integrate teachers into the teaching profession and make a two-year training course after matric compulsory); and

• plans to draw recently literate caregivers — mainly grandmothers in rural areas — into education on stimulating children younger than four.

But as the complexity of the curriculum increases over time, children in poor schools will continue to fall behind each year without better teachers and better home support.


Reading at home and exposure to English make a big difference

The study found that other than socioeconomic status, the most important home factors influencing educational achievement were the frequency of reading on one’s own at home and exposure to English.

Researchers found that even when controlling for home language and handicaps of poverty, speaking and hearing English on TV were associated with higher achievement at school. Those who spoke English at home up to three times a week did significantly better than those who never spoke it, while children who practised English four times a week or more did even better. The same increments emerged for hearing English on TV one to three times a week, four times or more.

What are policy makers doing?

• In recent years, greater effort has been made to get parents involved and make them responsible for their children’s education. One way this is being done is by providing all parents with their children’s results for the annual national assessment tests. This, says Mr Surty, has opened parents’ eyes to the size of the challenge.


Good school management makes a big difference to how well children do at school

School resources — such as pupil to teacher ratios and school facilities — did not make a big difference to test results but good school management was consistently related to good learning outcomes.

The study looked at various proxies for good management, including whether the principal was present on the day of the annual survey; how many teachers were absent; and the state of the teacher attendance registers. In schools where the teacher attendance register was not up to date, teacher absenteeism was twice as high as schools where it was. The key to school management, says the study, is good time management and the capacity of the head of the school to set and communicate learning goals.

What are policy makers doing?

• Training courses for principals have been introduced and more than 6,000 principals and deputies have been trained over the past five years.


The more written and numerical work that was done during the year, the better children performed in the annual tests

The researchers monitored the exercise books of pupils and mark books of teachers and measured these against the test results. The more written work done and the more frequent the assessment, the better children fared in the tests.

Children who improved their test scores most over time had teachers with a focused approach to assessments, which were frequently done and recorded. Improved test scores were also associated with the completion of at least one writing exercise a week, frequent mathematics homework and a larger number of mathematics exercises completed in exercise books.

What are policy makers doing?

• Workbooks aimed at increasing the amount of work done and assessments of it have been introduced that effectively monitor teachers’ progress and the number of assessments done.

• The government is establishing 53 teacher resource centres that will provide resources and voluntary in-service training. On the basis of the performance of learners in the annual national assessment (ANA) tests, education officials will be able to identify areas of the curriculum that teachers are struggling to teach and provide training.


Instruction in English from Grade 4 (which is government policy) is a disadvantage for speakers of other home languages.

However, the solution is not clear or simple. A comparison between tests conducted in English and equivalent testing done in mother tongues showed that particularly in literacy, non-English speakers were at a disadvantage in the classroom. But the study does not take a strong view on other options, particularly because mother-tongue instruction is not practical in an urban, multilingual environment.

The study points out that learners are performing at very low levels of literacy no matter in which language they are tested.

What are policy makers doing?

The government has faced up to the fact that mother-tongue instruction is not possible throughout schooling. It has therefore taken steps to:

• introduce the teaching of English (or Afrikaans) as a first additional language from Grade 1; and

• provide reading materials in reading corners in multiple languages. There are, however, “challenges” when it comes to how many classrooms actually have these, and there is a general shortage of reading material in African languages.


“To improve writing, is to improve thinking”

Writing leads to the development of higher cognitive thought but is neglected in South African schools. The researchers found that extended writing — paragraph writing or longer — is seldom performed in primary school classrooms, which, it says, “must rank as one of the biggest shortcomings of the school system, particularly for children from poor homes”.

In 44% of Grade 4 classrooms and 32% of Grade 5 classrooms, the study found that no paragraph writing was done at all throughout the year.

Language-based mathematics is also neglected by teachers, and students find it particularly difficult.

What are policy makers doing?

• Emphasis has been placed on the practice of extended writing, through, for example, the workbooks.


The biggest problem with the curriculum is that it is not covered

Only a small portion of the primary school curriculum is covered by teachers.

The National School Effectiveness Study looked at this from the point of view of the mathematics curriculum. An analysis of the workbooks of the best learners in each class found that only 24% of topics in the mathematics curriculum were covered in Grades 4 and 5.

What are policy makers doing?

• Workbooks allow the tracking of progress through the curriculum.


Most South African teachers know little more about the subjects they teach than the curriculum demands of their children.

Several studies that have tested teachers on their subject knowledge have found it “simply inadequate to provide learners with a principled understanding of the discipline”, says this (and several other) studies. All other pedagogic interventions — such as time management or setting extending writing tasks — will have a limited ceiling unless this is done.

What are policy makers doing?

• Both pre- and in-service training have shifted in emphasis towards providing teachers with content knowledge.

• Both the ANA tests and the workbooks allow supervisors and subject advisers to pick up problem areas and home in on these for in-service training.

• There are moves afoot to establish a new performance management system that will link teacher performance and training.

But the difficulty remains that training is voluntary and short courses have often been found to be ineffective.


West Bengal forms Education Commission to improve state education sector


Digital Learning


The higher education  department of West Bengal has constituted an education commission for  preparing a road map to improvise the education sector of the state over the next two decades. The education commission is a 12 member panel which comprises of eminent teachers  and scientists. It is headed by Council of Scientific and Industrial Research director general Samir K Brahmachari  and  the panel includes river expert Kalyan Rudra, Amitava Bose, former director, Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta and Shantanu Maharaj of the Ramakrishna Mission. The commission  aims to highlight the areas which needs improvement and to provide appropriate solution to it.

This commission is formed keeping Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee’s “vision 2020 and 2030” education road map  to “take the state towards education glory” in view.

The panel will cover  elementary, secondary, higher secondary, higher education, mass education, technical and vocational education, non-formal education and madrassa education of the state as well. The commission was launched on October  1 and will start to function once the festive season ends.

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