California Educator

September 2015

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 6 of 63

president's message I nspiring that "I got it!" moment and seeing it on our students' faces is what drove many of us into the education profession. Being part of changing lives and creating the future is the "rush of teach- ing," which CTA celebrates in our back-to-school media campaign (see story on page 40). As I visited schools in Singapore and China in late August, I discovered that this rush is international. I also discovered that concerns about high-stakes testing are equally international. Finnish educator and scholar Pasi Sahlberg raises these concerns when he warns against what he calls the Global Education Reform Movement, or GERM. GERM is the standardization of education with a focus on test-based accountability policies, corporatization, and investment in low-risk ways to reach learning goals. I visited two so-called high-performing education sys- tems to which the United States is frequently compared: Singapore and Shanghai. I also talked with educators and met with the education unions. MOVING AWAY FROM TESTS In Singapore, the environment of the schools and the commitment of the teachers to their students are much the same as in the U.S. I felt right at home there; I could have stepped in front of the class and started teaching. There is, however, a very high-stakes test at the end of primary school. The test scores determine whether a student goes into the academic (university) track or the technical training (polytechnic) track. The exam is highly stressful for both students and families, and Singapore educators are speaking out against it. They are looking to move away from an absolute cutoff number and toward a range of scores. The line is also starting to blur between academic and technical education, with some students choosing to go through technical training and still attend a university. Meanwhile, Shanghai is considering not having stu- dents participate in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests. Instead, they want to focus on sound educational principles that lay a solid foundation for students' lifelong development. In significant contrast to the U.S., public education in both Singapore and Shanghai is well-funded and considered a priority to the economy and future. The governments offer strong support to teachers to improve their practice. The emphasis is on teaching the whole child and supporting the whole teacher. The systems are highly structured in terms of expectations and curriculum, but how to teach is left up to the teacher. CONTINUOUS PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT In Singapore, for example, the National Institute of Education prepares teachers and provides professional development. Teachers choose from three tracks. One leads to school leadership, similar to principals in the U.S. The second leads to becoming a curriculum or instructional leader — like a master teacher or mentor. The third offers teachers continuous support for improving their craft and becoming better educators. The role of the union is different in Singapore and Shanghai. In Singapore, unions face issues similar to what CTA is facing now — the importance of leading educational change and reaching out to and engaging all members in the work of the union. Shanghai's union is funded through the government, and members them- selves pay very little. Funding includes mental health centers. I visited a newer center that offers confidential mental health and counseling services and is staffed 24/7. One of the main issues they deal with is job-related stress. The center includes a punching machine, and a scream machine that measures the decibels in one's scream — something we all could use from time to time. It was an interesting trip, and I thank the UCLA Labor Center for inviting me to attend. As we join together in California to stand up for our students and the future of public education, it's comforting to know we are not alone. We are part of a global movement that understands students are more than a test score, and the art of teaching lies in that "I got it!" moment. Eric C. Heins C T A P R E S I D E N T Class Acts in Singapore and Shanghai With Koh Yiak Keng, principal of Palm View Primary School in Singapore, and my host Seet Ying Ling Britta. 5 V O LU M E 2 0 I S S U E 2

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of California Educator - September 2015