Where Are We Going and Why?
Post submitted by Andy Hargreaves and Pasi Sahlberg
We are entering an age of post-standardization in education. It may not look, smell, or feel like it, but the augurs of the new age have already arrived and are advancing with increasing speed. [This] "Fourth Way" pushes beyond standardization, data-driven decision making, and target-obsessed distractions to forge an equal and interactive partnership among the people, the profession, and their government.
—Andy Hargreaves, The Fourth Way, 2009
Educational systems across the globe are under pressure to change. Many countries are focusing attention on additional accountability, school choice and competition, short-term outcomes, and data-driven decision making (what have been called the "second" and "third" ways). Many high-performing countries and systems, however, are reexamining their structures and policies to move toward greater collective professional autonomy from bureaucratic control, stronger active involvement of local communities, and diversified teaching to respond to today's widely varying populations of learners. This "fourth" way of educational reform heralds the next stage for educational improvement—a movement which reverts educational authority back from centralized bureaucracies to educators and communities, diversifies skills and content taught to suit each community and context, and is driven by the inspiring and also basic belief that there are skills and aptitudes that are just as critical as content knowledge.
A global chasm of educational achievement and emphasis is opening—a vast rift that is not only separating high-performing countries from low-performing ones but also dividing the dynamic innovators from the standardized fabricators of test score improvements in basic skills. The region that is widely touted to be the economic powerhouse of this century, Asia, has already begun to actively reinvent its educational systems around educational innovation, school-designed curriculum, and intelligent uses of technology: when traditional bureaucracies want to do no more than raise the bar in basic achievement, centralize and standardize the core curriculum, and introduce technology in a fast and faddish hurry. What the U.S. devalues or dismisses as soft skills are, for overseas competitors, the hard-edge entrepreneurial essentials of 21st century success.
Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Problem Solving
The world's leading expert on the extraordinary educational and economic success of Finland, Pasi Sahlberg (who is also a former World Bank education specialist), puts it this way:
Schools and other educational institutions should cultivate attitudes, cultures, and skills needed within creative and collaborative learning environments. Creativity will not flourish and be sustained in schools unless people feel secure to take risks and explore the unknown. Moreover, working with and understanding innovation requires creative and risk-intensive contexts. In brief, a sustainable learning society that also helps us all to understand how to retain our planet’s ecosystem in sustainable balance can be best promoted by developing safe and caring schools and thereby combat declining social capital and increasing the structural indifference in many Western societies.
—Pasi Sahlberg, "Rethinking Accountability for a Knowledge Society" (PDF), 2010
Unfortunately, the increased emphasis on academic success (particularly around language arts and mathematics) is having a regrettable ripple effect: an unwavering emphasis on content; a subsequent reduction in time, effort, and resources to areas outside these subject matters; and an unspoken refocus on why we teach and what is considered important in education. All this changes what we do and why we do it. And punitive measures to enforce these directives only quicken the shift toward the standardized basics that high-performing systems have moved far beyond.
Encouragingly, in 2007—in the middle of the No Child Left Behind years—ASCD (one of the world’s leading educational associations) introduced its Whole Child Initiative. The time was neither politically nor financially expedient for such a move, but the moral imperative was unanswerable.
When we commit to educating whole children within the context of whole communities and whole schools, we commit to designing learning environments that weave together the threads that connect not only math, science, the arts, and humanities, but also mind, heart, body, and spirit—connections that tend to be fragmented in our current approach.
—ASCD, The Learning Compact Redefined (PDF), 2007
What we are seeing as we view the strides taken by Singapore through its Teach Less, Learn More program; in the Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec; and, of course, Finland, is a growing and successful emphasis on teaching the whole child; developing children's social, interactive, and collaborative skills; and empowering teachers and students in their own learning. We are witnessing high-performing educational systems and approaches that are moving toward the fourth way, at the very same time as policymakers in the U.S. and elsewhere—the ones whom Sahlberg describes as advancing the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM)—are persistently and perhaps even deliberately being blinkered to these truths.
We can have the best standards in the world, but it will make not one jot of difference if teachers and leaders have neither the capacty nor commitment to address or deliver them. How can we respond to the diverse needs of local communities if more and more of our attention is geared toward what is central and what is core? How can we embrace true innovation in children’s learning if the system is endlessly focused on making marginal improvements on what already exists? Children need literacy and math, but emotionally and intellectually, they need so much else as well. The old ways of change are being abandoned by our peers and our competitors. There is a new way, a fourth way of change, that can inspire our teachers, engage our communities, and lift up all of our children through a more holistic approach.
We can stay the course, or we can seize the day. Which path will we take?
ASCD. (2007). The learning compact redefined: A call to action. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/ASCD/pdf/Whole%20Child/WCC%20Learning%20Compact.pdf
Hargreaves, A., & Shirley, D. (2009). The fourth way: The inspiring future for educational change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Sahlberg, P. (2010). Rethinking accountability for a knowledge society. Journal of Educational Change, 11(1), 45–61.
Andy Hargreaves is an educational researcher, writer, consultant, and adviser. Pasi Sahlberg is a teacher, teacher educator, and educational reform expert. Both have extensive international experience.
Both Andy Hargreaves and Pasi Sahlberg will be speaking on Saturday, March 16, 2013 at ASCD's 68th Annual Conference and Exhibit Show in Chicago, Ill., March 16–18, 2013. Their sessions will be streamed live as part of the ASCD Virtual Conference.