Tuesday / June 25

Why Are We Stuck In Education 1.0? 

The following is an excerpt from “Towards Education 3.0: The Changing Goalposts for Education” by Chris Goldspink & Robert Kay. To download the full white paper and others in the Corwin Educator Series, click here 

There is no shortage of experts when it comes to education. Unlike other professions or occupations, everyone has a view of what’s wrong or right with it. Unlike other occupations, most people have spent around 13 years in school, observing teachers, experiencing the testing regime, enjoying or hating the outcome, and building a deeply held point of view about what a ‘good’ education involves. This means that, while most parents are unlikely to tell a surgeon how to conduct an appendectomy on their child, they have few qualms about telling teachers how much homework they should be giving each week or why their child should be rote learning to pass the mathematics exam. 

The frame of reference parents bring to these discussions was drawn from the same source as the frame of reference of policy makers in education departments, as it was for lecturers in pre-service education courses and, by definition, teachers themselves—their direct and extensive experience of Education 1.0 (E1.0). For this reason, we shouldn’t be surprised that transforming a system based around E1.0 to one focused on E3.0 will not be the work of a moment.  

Cruise liners as large as the education system do not change direction quickly.  

That said, without an understanding of the key causal drivers that create and maintain the current patterns of practice in the classroom, we have very little chance of ever changing anything. The TESA results, whilst sobering in relation to the progress that has been made towards E3.0, also suggest a broader, more systemic influence that, to date, appears to be absent from debates regarding educational reform and school change. 

Demographic data collected with the teacher observations enabled us to explore the relationship between practice and several factors that are often discussed in relation to the performance of teachers. The figure below illustrates the effect sizes for some of these factors. 

Some of the effect sizes were expected, such as gender, for example, but others came as a surprise.  

Length of service, or experience, explained 0% of the variance in the quality of teacher practice. In other words, a teacher straight out of university was just as likely (or unlikely) to display E3.0-type pedagogies. Many teachers claim it takes time and experience to develop your teaching style, but there was no evidence from the data that this was the case, at least when it comes to moving from E1.0 practice to E2.0 or E3.0 practice. The story may be different if all we were concerned with was improving on E1.0 practice. 

The most problematic statistic relates to the effect of PD. This figure was based on an evaluation of a very well-conceived, highly resourced, and well-executed PD program in a public school system targeting E2.0 and E3.0 outcomes. The schools involved in the PD program had staff turnover statistics that meant that over the three-year course of the program approximately half the staff in the school had changed. Whatever change in practice individual staff may have made due to the PD program, at the level of the school, this change was being continuously washed away by the influx of new staff. The new staff had not experienced the PD program and naturally brought with them their own view in relation to what teaching meant—usually one based in E1.0. 

When it comes to achieving E3.0, our success is therefore likely to pivot on one single factor that impacts all elements of the system: teachers’ deeply held assumptions in relation to the nature of knowledge and learning.  

It cannot be understated how significant or powerful this finding is for school reform. It is very rare in sociological data to see an effect size of this magnitude, particularly when one considers the amount of noise in the data arising from human error in the observations and other variables associated with the context. Put simply, any strategy designed to effect school change that does not directly attempt to work with teachers’ assumptions about knowledge and learning—and control for staff turnover—has practically no chance of achieving a change to E3.0. 

There is good news in what could be seen as a fairly bleak picture: it’s not necessary for a teacher to hold E3.0 assumptions in order to teach in a way compatible with E3.0.  

Certainly, the evidence from our research would suggest that there are plenty of teachers with E3.0 assumptions teaching in an E1.0 way—even though they hate to do so. Social validation and organisational structures within the education system are a powerful influence moderating the effect of teachers’ worldviews on their practice. If there is sufficient social validation within a school that E3.0 practice is the norm, then E1.0 teachers will also take it up. They may not do it as well [at firstbut in a self-regulating, design-focused learning environment, the kids take over. They accept control of their own learning and keep going even if the teacher seems a bit lost. 

To read more from “Towards Education 3.0: The Changing Goalposts for Education” and other white papers in the Corwin Educator Series, click here or on the banner below.  


Written by

Chris Goldspink is an experienced educator, manager and researcher. He is also a research associate with the Institute of Sustainable Futures, University of Technology, Sydney. He has a long-standing interest in education and educational improvement. He was the lead researcher on the 10-year Learning to Learn and Teaching for Effective Learning project, undertaken by the Department for Education and Child Development in South Australia, and has published numerous peer-reviewed papers on this and other related projects.

Robert Kay, Honorary Professor at Macquarie University, has consistently bridged the gap between academia and industry. He was formerly the Head of Strategic Innovation at Westpac Banking Corporation; a Senior Lecturer in Information System and Organisational Development at the University of Technology Sydney and a research analyst at Bovis Lend Lease. He holds a first-class Honours degree in experiential curriculum design and a PhD on biological systems approaches to organizational learning and resilience.

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