Luis Lizasoain (Madrid, 64 years old) was deeply impressed by an idea that appeared in the 2006 education law (the LOE): evaluations of the education system have to serve to improve things. Thus, this professor of Research Methods in Education at the University of the Basque Country (now retired), an expert in data analysis and statistics, gradually got it into his head that the evaluations carried out by the Basque Country —“which are very well done ”— had to be used for something more —as important as this is— than to provide information to students and schools about their results in mathematics and language (Spanish and Basque). And it occurred to him to dive into the data, locate the excellent schools – which do not have to be the ones that get the best grades – and see how they work. He proposed the project in 2010, he proposed it to the Basque Institute for Evaluation, which jumped on the bandwagon, and launched a line of research that has since been replicated in other regions of Spain (La Rioja, the Balearic Islands, Andalusia) and in other countries: Mexico, Colombia and Ecuador. “You don’t have to go to Finland to find schools that work very well,” says Lizasoain one day in January in a cafeteria in Madrid. But, let us start at the beginning.
Ask. What do we understand by a good school?
Answer. With the data from the assessments in hand, the first idea, the most obvious is the raw scores. In the Community of Madrid, for example, some ranking of schools that were very controversial. In Colombia, a magazine called Money It publishes classifications of this type each year with the evaluations made by the Government and what happens? The ones that get the highest scores are private centers with a high socioeconomic level and those that do very badly are public schools in very difficult situations. precarious What good is that? All the research tells us that education is a very complex process, and I cannot judge the quality of the educational service without taking into account in what context it is done.
R. As we say in the jargon, contextualizing the results. It is not the same to teach in a school where all the kids are upper-middle class, and the families have higher education, than in one that serves a very disadvantaged population, with a very low socioeconomic and, above all, cultural level. , with situations of labor instability. That is why we introduced into the equation the contextual conditions, both of the student and of the school, which gives us a ranking different, in which those schools that obtain scores that are much higher than what would be expected due to their socioeconomic and cultural context are at the top; those are, for us, the centers of high efficiency.
Q. And what did they find? What are those schools like?
R. In the Basque Country we find that highly effective schools were of all kinds, public and subsidized —in an autonomous community in which the presence of subsidized schools is one of the highest in Europe (it hosts 50% of the students)—, urban and rural, of middle, lower-middle, low and some even very high social class. And at the bottom of the rankingthe same, although curiously there was a slightly higher presence of middle-class schools.
Q. Once the schools were identified, what did they do?
R. We went to the centers, armed with tape recorders, to ask them what, in their opinion, were the factors that explain their results. It is true that they were their opinions, but we completed the views of the teachers and management teams with that of two other groups. We start with the education inspectors, who are people who know a lot about the educational reality, probably not from inside the classroom, but from the school, and also in many cases they know their trajectory. And we include advisors from teacher training centers, where each school has a reference advisor. But we also needed to contrast.
Q. To contrast?
R. With the reality of schools that obtain scores much lower than what would be expected. That was complicated. But hey, we approached proceeding with great respect, making it very clear that we were talking about partial issues; because we handle results from the purely instructional field, and only from three skills (mathematics, Spanish language and Basque language), and they are also very good in music or art. And we find clear elements of contrast. For example, in the field of school coexistence, the climate and issues of bullying They greatly affect the daily life of a center. I remember that the director of a school, when I asked her about the weather, told me: “Well, we have improved a lot this year; I only go more or less every 15 days to the police station”. I am talking about a very exaggerated case, but it is a very important matter.
Q. What other issues are important?
R. The permanent training of teachers. In Spain, teachers are trained a lot, but in high-efficiency centers there is a kind of virtuous circle: under the pedagogical leadership of the management, they normally assess the needs they have, they look for who is the best trainer in that area, they They bring it to the center, they train, put it into practice and evaluate how it has gone. And they start again. What happens in those with less efficiency? They are trained a lot, but each one to their own ball: one takes a power point course, the other one in robotics, the other is trained in competitions…. That is very good, but they do it without there being a coordinated action.
Q. And what makes that coordination exist?
R. Leadership is crucial. A democratic pedagogical leadership that distributes responsibilities. Let there be a cloister, a teaching team in which —as in the drifters— they all row in the same direction. Another crucial variable is the actual time dedicated to the learning task. In high-efficiency centers they make good use of time. That is, if the modules are 55 minutes, 50 are dedicated to teaching-learning; In other centers, between entering and leaving the change of teacher, or that there are many disruptive behaviors, in the end, the real time dedicated to the task is 30, 35 minutes. That every day, in the end you are almost losing half a course a year.
Q. Did you find any evidence about the importance of material means? Because at the moment all the elements revolve around the teaching staff.
R. No, we did not find anything about material means. Research suggests that, once a minimum is achieved, material resources are not as important. In Spain they do occur, but not, for example, in some schools in Latin American countries. There it can be crucial and make a difference. But not here, and see if here it depends on the teaching staff and the management teams, that another key is expectations. In highly effective schools, both the students, and the faculty in relation to the students, have the highest expectations. As one director said: “Here we help everyone get ahead”. In other cases it is not so. I am going to cite again a very extreme and fortunately very unrepresentative one in which the director of a center with a very high rate of students from migrant families took me to the patio, pointed to the students and asked me: “And what do you want me to do? do with these?
Q. Again, the work and attitude of the teacher make the difference.
R. The crucial figure is the teaching staff, either exercising management tasks, heads of study, in the classes… We draw up a kind of catalog of good practices, but in the end it all boils down to two things: commitment and professionalism. That in reality they are the same thing and they feed each other. In other words, the difference is made by teachers who really like teaching —this is the best job in the world, but if you like it, if you don’t, it’s hell— and who are very aware that the work they do is of an enormous complexity, since a lot of variables affect it, a lot of phenomena and unfortunately we still do not have very strong theories about education…
Q. And perhaps precisely because of that complexity there are no single recipes and there are many ways to reach a successful conclusion.
R. Precisely, one of the surprises that we get is that, in the field of methodology, which many people think is going to be crucial and about which there is a great debate right now, and it is not so much. There are competency-based approaches that work very well, but not in all cases; and we found people who used other methodologies that someone could label as more classic or more traditional, which also work, because in the end the important thing is to say: “Here all the students have to get ahead.”
Q. Any conclusions about the educational system?
R. Since the first PISA assessments were carried out, many ministries have organized almost veritable pilgrimages to Finland in search of the Holy Grail of educational quality, of excellence, as some say. But I have always maintained that you don’t have to go that far to find schools that work very well. I have always known that we have excellent teaching teams very close. In Spain we have schools that are doing very well, a large majority that are doing reasonably well and, unfortunately, some with serious problems. We have little evidence on this complex fact of education, but the few that we have, let’s put it into action, because we know that there are some things that more or less work. In short, let us look at exemplary centers and learn from them and from the excellent practice developed by their professionals.
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