Thursday, June 15, 2006

JIS Topics hits the big time!

Thanks so much to Edspresso, a fantastic edu-blog from the States, which featured a story about JIS Topics in its commentary section this week. How cool is that?

Edited by Ryan Boots at the Alliance for School Choice, Edspresso tackles some of the more contentious issues in education today, like school vouchers for families in under-performing US school districts and charter schools to compete with public schools. It's good stuff -- especially the site's debate section, which features running debates on hot topics by some of the greatest minds in education today. Definitely worth a look!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Seeking out diversity in parental involvement

Couldn't resist plugging this article on a groundbreaking program in California that has resonance for any school with a diverse community. Julie Feldmeier, writing for the Washington Post, explores the International Parent Leadership Program being implemented in the Howard County school district.

The program's goal: "to encourage immigrant parents to assume leadership roles in their schools and at the district level."

Interestingly, the Howard school district isn't so different than JIS -- students hail from 85 countries, Asians make up 12 percent, Hispanics 4 percent, and the district's schools have a reputation for excellence. And like JIS, they've recognized that cultural differences can affect how parents see their roles within the school.

This program aims to bring parents from those different cultures to the table by providing training in leadership structure, policy making, and curriculum. The hope is that, with the training and information, parents from other countries will feel more comfortable and confident with how their children's school works -- and they'll want to play a role in the decision making.

What a great idea!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Happy Holidays

I just want to join Cheryl in wishing the JIS community a lovely and re-energizing break.

We'll soon reach the 3-month anniversary of the blog. I hope we've laid the groundwork for more open and spirited discussion of education issues in the 2006-2007 school year. We look forward to serving the community "IRL"also as President and Vice President of the PTA. At the bottom of this web page, you'll find a blue box noting that the opinions expressed on the blog are personal, and do not represent those of the PTA.

During the summer months, we'll be posting only occasionally from various points on the globe. If you are traveling, stay well and safe...and don't stray too far from a computer screen.

Thanks to our readers and especially to our commenters. You've enriched and educated us.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

As the school year winds down....

Every morning this week I've been greeted by the excited voice of my 4th grader exclaiming "Only [fill in the blank] more days of school!" He's apoplectic with joy -- and for good reason. Another year of education under the proverbial belt!

As the school year wraps up, I'm reminded of the bittersweet quality these last few days embody. There's that unadulterated excitement in anticipation of a hard-earned break as students revel in yearbooks, class parties, graduations and "moving-on" ceremonies.

But then there are the goodbyes, with friends leaving Indonesia and beloved teachers moving on. Our transient community is the source of both great joy in its diversity and friendships, and great sorrows when it comes time to part ways. The most we can hope is that we're better people for knowing each other.

So as the curtain falls on this school year, we at JIS Topics wish you and your loved ones restful breaks, rejuvenating times with family and friends, and safe travels. And to those in our community who are moving away from Jakarta, Selamat Jalan.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Raising the Rhetorical Bar: More on Diversity and Global Citizenship

Open discussion is best served by responsible argument and rhetoric, particularly when the topic is a sensitive one. So as a follow-up to Saturday’s posting on global citizenship, this posting addresses each of the italicized comments made by an anonymous reader.

“Quotas are the wrong solution. All of the baggage (key assumptions) you uploaded upfront does not take into account the unfortunate student that would be a high achiever at JIS if they were not denied admissions on a pre-defined quota.”

Anonymous and I seem to have very different definitions of excellence in education. He or she apparently defines excellence as the abilities of the best and the brightest students. I, on the other hand, think we should look to school attributes – particularly high-quality teaching and curriculum – as the primary elements of educational excellence. All students can be “high achievers” – defined as growth from their personal starting points – with these elements in place. And many more students can be “high achievers” – defined as standardized test scores – when schools focus their efforts on that goal with concerted team work and discipline and combine a traditional standards-based approach with innovative educational approaches.

In her “Cherry picking” posting of 27 May, Cheryl discussed a fascinating and inspiring case in point at two Illinois schools. According to the Director of Education Research and Evaluation at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the two schools achieved the following gains:
  • The average ACT score rose from the 60th percentile nationally in 2000 to the 75th percentile in 2005 even as the percentage of students taking the ACT increased from 80 percent to 100 percent after the state passed a law requiring all 11th graders to take the exam. This shift might have been expected to drive average scores down because more low-performing and special education students were taking the test.
  • From 2003 to 2005, measured student growth in performance on ACT-benchmarked assessments exceeded predicted growth by approximately 71 percent. Value-added growth gains were most dramatic for students most at risk, including low-income and special education students.
  • For every 100 students who enter 9th grade requiring remediation, 50 to 75 are enrolled in college prep or honors courses by the beginning of 11th grade.

JIS often cites the number of students who make perfect scores on IB exams and the highest possible score on AP exams as a measure of its excellence. However, many educators acknowledge that they can’t claim responsibility for the best and brightest few, who would achieve the same results even in average schools. I believe the far more reliable measure of educational excellence is this: What gains is a school able to achieve and document for the majority of students?

"The grandfather clause will not help. On the one hand you are recommending that JIS adopt a nimble and adaptable admissions policy, yet you recommending [sic] tying the hands of the decision makers with a policy that does not allow rapid change. The grandfather clause will not allow change, but will hamper it for many years in the future."

There is a 30 percent turnover in the student population every 6 months. At that rate, approximately 2,300 students (i.e., a number almost equivalent to the current student population) leave JIS and are replaced every year-and-a-half. Furthermore, the average student stay at JIS is 4 years. Suppose a ceiling of 15 percent per nationality was adopted. At present, just 2 countries exceed that quota schoolwide: the USA and Indonesia by 6 and 2 percent respectively. By the way, after South Korea at 14 percent, the 4th largest national group is Australia, which accounts for a mere 7 percent of the student body. Unfortunately, I don’t have disaggregated data in full so the percentage of American and Indonesian students may well be higher on individual campuses. At the high school, for example, 3 countries exceed the hypothetical quota: Indonesia at 23 percent, the USA at 18.6 percent, and South Korea at 18.6 percent.

Given these facts and assuming a quota of 15 percent, it is logically and mathematically impossible that a grandfather clause would “hamper” JIS for “many years in the future.” On the contrary, with the high turnover rate and relatively low average stay per student, it would take only a few years to trim back the percentage of students of these 2 or 3 nationalities. Meanwhile, JIS would be free to accept many high-achieving students from the 58 other countries represented in the student body – and still other countries for that matter.

When you add to these facts and arguments my proposal that admissions policy allow modification or elimination of quotas under emergency conditions, it is simply impossible that quotas or grandfather clauses would put JIS in a policy straitjacket.

"Furthermore, the following statement of ‘Once the size of any national group crosses a certain threshold, insularity results. In turn, appreciation of diversity and the capacity to learn from it suffer’ is just a weak attempt to justify an overtly racist position. This position does not measure the academic record of the majority population. It just measures their race and makes flawed assumptions on those conditions."

Irresponsible rhetoric tends to shut down dialogue about sensitive topics. I am proposing a single quota for all national groups, including the one I belong to (the USA). Furthermore, I have stressed that no national group is exempt from the tendency to insularity. I also suggested that Indonesians may be at particular risk of insularity by virtue of this accident of geography: JIS is located in Indonesia. So the charge of racism is unfounded.

There is one important correction and clarification in my thinking since my earlier posting. Given JIS’ relationship and obligations to its 3 surviving founding Embassies (the USA, Great Britain, and Australia), I was not sure whether the school could set quotas for students of those nationalities. However, I have since realized that the “Category 1” designation applies to families holding diplomatic passports and companies or organizations holding Certificates of Guarantee. Since the number of American students whose parents work for the US Embassy or for companies and organizations holding Certificates of Guarantee is very small, JIS can and should impose the same 15 percent ceiling on these three national groups. Above all, I am an advocate of equity.

"I agree that educational policies can change to teach true globalization. However, issuing quotas is not the way to teach people to work together."

We agree on the need for a more rigorous approach to teaching global citizenship, Anonymous. Our difference is this: I think a quota system is a necessary but not sufficient means for enabling us to come together as a community and learn from diversity. May the dialogue continue!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Building Responsible Global Citizenship at JIS: By Osmosis or Design?

Last Tuesday, our outgoing Headmaster, Niall Nelson, led an interesting review of demographic trends at JIS over the past decade. So it seems timely to revisit the topic of diversity, last addressed by the blog on April 19th.

Charts and graphs highlighted the impact of economic and political instability on Jakarta’s expatriate community and JIS’ student body. As a result of the Southeast Asian financial crisis in 1997, Indonesia’s political crisis of 1998, and security concerns here over the last 5 years, Jakarta’s American population has shrunk as the number of Asian expatriates has grown. JIS’ student body has mirrored these trends in percentage terms. Furthermore, the number and percentage of Indonesians attending the school has increased significantly in part as a result of the government’s relaxation of entry requirements for nationals wishing to attend international schools.

Two issues, among others, surfaced in the discussion that followed the presentation.

1. Should admissions policies change as a result of these demographic trends?

2. Should educational policies change as a result of these demographic trends?

In my opinion, the answer to both questions is yes.

To avoid misunderstandings, I am unpacking some of my key assumptions and values up front.

  • Diversity strengthens and enriches any group or community. That’s why I feel privileged to be able to send my children to an intensely multicultural international school.
  • “Emotional intelligence” is a more reliable predictor of success in life than I.Q. (For an accessible review of the extensive literature supporting this theory, have a look at an article by Professor Cary Cherniss of Rutgers University.)
  • Our school is therefore wise to set goals for teaching non-cognitive abilities or “life skills” such as “Responsible Global Citizens” and 6 other “Essential Qualities for JIS Learners.”
  • Because their student populations represent so many nationalities, international schools have a potential comparative advantage in teaching global citizenship.
  • Another source of comparative advantage in promoting global citizenship, learning about the host culture is best accomplished by admitting students from the host country. Indonesian students are an indispensable part of the demographic mix at JIS. Of course, offering opportunities to study the language and culture is also important.
  • Demographic diversity alone will not produce optimal global citizenship outcomes in an international school setting.

The last assumption is supported by recent trends at JIS. As our Headmaster noted, the school is more diverse than ever before. Yet the ownership perception audit and forums revealed concern over “culture clashes” and “segregation” by nationality. Korean and Indonesian respondents worried that their children’s ability to master English could be compromised if current demographic trends continue. Other respondents voiced the opinion that community feeling at JIS is not as strong now as in the past.

Some of these concerns were echoed in the discussion following Tuesday’s presentation. I believe they are motivated not by prejudice, but by common sense and parents’ desire to secure the best possible education for their children. Rubbing shoulders with people of different nationalities every day is not enough to create responsible global citizens. Paradoxically, unity is necessary for appreciating and learning from diversity. In other words, administrators, teachers, parents, and students must feel a strong sense of allegiance to our international school community, which is defined by core values such as diversity, a global perspective, compassion, and empathy.

While espousing these values is a good start, it can be difficult to internalize them and even harder to put them into practice. Cultural and national identities are very powerful. It is human nature to prefer the ease of the familiar to the rigors of cross-cultural communication and learning.

That is why I believe JIS’ admissions policies should ensure demographic balances at school, campus, and classroom levels. Once the size of any national group crosses a certain threshold, insularity results. In turn, appreciation of diversity and the capacity to learn from it suffer.

Of course, insularity is a tendency across all national groups. However, Indonesian students may be at particular risk because JIS is – if you will – a tiny island of internationalism in an Indonesian sea. The school plays a less prominent role in the lives of local students and their parents because they have a stronger and more extensive network of family, professional, and community ties here.

Though JIS may not be at liberty to impose ceilings on enrollment of students from countries represented by its founding embassies or other “Category 1” applicants, I believe the school should develop an equitable quota system based on nationality for the two other categories of students identified in the current admissions policy. Grandfather clauses are also needed so that no students enrolled before quotas are imposed lose their places at the school.

Some might argue that ceilings or quotas are a rigid policy instrument that could threaten JIS’ survival. After all, the admission of proportionally more Asian and Indonesian students helped the school ride out the fiscal crisis it experienced in the late 90’s. To maintain a nimble posture in the event of economic or political instability, JIS should adopt a nimble admissions policy that allows modification or elimination of quotas under specified emergency conditions.

At the end of the day, however, astute admissions policies are not enough to protect our fragile island of internationalism. Significant demographic changes call for changes in educational policy. As I suggested in my posting of April 19th, the means currently in place for creating responsible global citizens may not be adequate to the task, particularly given demographic trends of the past decade. If so, JIS is not alone according to Bambi Betts, Director of the Principals’ Training Center for International School Leadership.

"To write the notion of global citizenship into our mission statements was the easy part. Many of our schools have been struggling for well over a decade to understand what it really means to be a global citizen, and how we actually produce such citizens from our schools. Check out the report cards in most of our schools....It is unlikely that you will see a holistic, analytical or any other approach to describing student progress toward this all important goal. Our lack of clarity regarding what it really means to be a global citizen naturally translates into very little when it comes to assessing same."

Betts suggests that the bulleted factors below prevent international schools from realizing their potential comparative advantage in teaching global citizenship.

  • Schools fail to identify the specific knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors that would need to be taught on the pathway to becoming a global citizen.
  • Teachers and administrators may lack the skills that should be part of an effective global citizenship curriculum.
  • It will be a challenging task to develop assessment tools for measuring global citizenship in part because most schools are far more comfortable assessing content knowledge than attitudes and behavior.

Her conclusion is a fitting one for this posting.

"We have set ourselves a demanding, but clearly worthwhile and essential challenge by including global citizenship in our missions. We cannot rely on the fact that we have the word ‘international’ in our name, that we have X number of cultures and nationalities represented in our schools, or that we hold intercultural events to meet that challenge. These are simply some of the conditions that should make it easier and should allow us, the international schools, to be leading the thinking and practice in this vital undertaking."

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Singapore teachers form learning communities

When I think of learning communities, usually an image of young students and their wise teachers pops into my head -- something like the tv shows Room 222 or Welcome Back, Kotter. But learning communities also can consist entirely of adults who want to become smarter together, as "life-long learners." Educators in Singapore are embracing that concept, actively nurturing learning communities in an effort to support and expand their expertise as teachers.

According to Channel NewsAsia, "There are some 1,000 learning communities in [Singapore] schools today, up from just 8 in 1998. These are informal groups of teachers who gather to exchange ideas on how to improve themselves." This is movement supported by the nation's Ministry of Education, which is hosting its 3rd annual Teachers' Conference from May 31 to June 2.

Speaking at the opening session of the conference, Singapore's Education Minister Tharman Sanmugaratnam highlighted the concept of teacher Learning Circles, noting that Learning Circles provide teachers with "a safe and reassuring environment to engage in open, reflective dialogue and inquiry into their concerns about teaching and learning. He went on to say that:

Learning Circles have the added benefit of being ground-up and organic, not top-down. It brings flexibility. There can be as many Learning Circles as there are interested and willing groups of practitioners. Groups can form, close down or re-form, as issues of interest change and as problems are solved and new opportunities identified. And extensive use of Learning Circles gives teachers the sense of autonomy - to go ahead and improve practices and try out new things.

Teachers teaching -- and learning from -- teachers. That's cool, and I know it's happening at the Jakarta International School. Does the concept have further applications, perhaps with parents?