Newsletter 125 - Teacher Accountability, Social Change Theory, Teacher Capacity Building & Education Research

Summary of an interview with Nic Spaull on (1) teacher accountability (2) social change theory (3) teacher capacity building (4) education research

The 2018 AERA theme is The Dreams, Possibilities, and Necessity of Public Education. What can be the promise of public schools and how does— or should—educa t i o n a lchange bring us closer to such schooling?

  • In South Africa, which is the context I know best, I think the main way that we are currently falling short is that we do not properly understand the way that the political economy in the country affects educational policy and educational reform.
  • In South Africa the real divide is along feecharging versus no-fee schools. Most of our research is on the under-performing 80% of no-fee schools that the majority of students attend. Often when reforms are proposed for this part of the schooling system the main opposition is actually political
  • The ruling party does not want to antagonize the unions due to an upcoming e l e c t i o n
  • In South Africa, Yael Shalem was making a similar argument in her paper "Do we have a theory of change: Calling change models to account
  • I would say the biggest accountability constraint is that the major teacher union in South Africa (SADTU) is extremely powerful and blocks any and all forms of accountability no matter what is proposed.
  • The major capacity constraint is that teachers lack even the most elementary content knowledge of the subjects they are teaching. Although one does require a teaching qualification to be a teacher in Sout h Af r i ca, we have found that qualifications are not a good indicator of content knowledge or pedagogical content knowledge.
  •  To give you an idea of how severe this is, in a nationally-representative sample of primary schools where Grade 6 mathematics teachers were assessed, 79% of these teachers had a content knowledge level below the grade 6-7 level

Given your focus on accountability and capacity building, and given your call to work within a theoretical framework to understanding educational change, how might learning opportunities improve  teacher s ’ content knowledge and pedagogical skills look like?

  • I think we really need to ask questions about the quality of the professional development courses that we provide to teachers in South Africa, both in-service and pre-service.
  • I am currently trying to develop a highquality video and coaching-based course to teach isiXhosa Foundation Phase teachers how to teach reading, since I’ve become convinced that unless we can get reading right it doesn’t really matter what we do later in the system.
  • I also think there is a lot of potential in internships for new teachers in South Africa and using our high-functioning schools as national sites of teacher development. These schools often have a wealth of expertise that we aren’t currently utilizing.

What do you think are the most important issues in educational change today? What excites you about the educational change field today?

  • I think the most important issue is the same as it has always been: conducting policy relevant research
  • Things like understanding how decoding might be different in agglutinating African languages, o r
  • Whether t h e- r e a d i n g- f l u e n c y - comprehension relationship is different in African languages than in English
  • I'm also excited about the increasing use of quantitative methods and large-scale data in educational change research.

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