Today, we do a deep dive into the World Bank’s 2018 World Development Report. With me is David Edwards, the Secretary-General of Education International, a federation of 32 million teachers and other educators affiliated with unions and associations in 173 countries.
David takes us through the report’s main points and offers a series of critiques compiled in a new report called “Reality Check.” He also gives us a behind the scene look at global education governance and comments on the teacher strikes happening in many states in America.
Citation: Edwards, David, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 114, podcast audio, April 30, 2018. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/davidedwards-2/
Transcript, translation, and resources:
Will Brehm 0:58
David Edwards, welcome back to FreshEd.
David Edwards 1:00
Thank you, Will. It’s good to be back.
Will Brehm 1:02
So I want to start with this broader question: What is the World Development Report?
David Edwards 1:10
The World Development Report is a yearly World Bank report which provides analysis on different key issues affecting development. It’s been going on for over 50 years now – actually, the next one is on the changing nature of work – and it’s an important report because the policy recommendations that are in it in many instances are what’s used by finance ministers and governments as they try to put together applications for loans and grants and projects in developing countries. So it sort of signals a direction of track, an important direction of travel, in various policy spaces.
Will Brehm 1:52
So in a way, many people in the development world take this seriously because it does have major impacts on future funding.
David Edwards 2:03
Yes, absolutely. And I think those who are trying to figure out what are the words, what are the signifiers, that you want to use to increase your chances as these applications are being evaluated, that you’re using what the banks use, the sort of state of the art research, or whatever frame it’s very important. And a lot of attention is paid to it in the development world.
Will Brehm 2:32
Do you know how the World Bank settles on the different topics over the years?
David Edwards 2:37
You know, it’s a great question. They usually pick from about… I think it’s three years ahead of time… the the board, there’s a Bank -wide consultation and they have to sort of make a pitch for different things. The one that’s coming up next is on work, which is coming at the same time that the ILO is reaching it’s 100th year anniversary, and it’s putting out its major report that it’s been working on, which is called The Future of Work. And it’s kind of strange that they actually chose that one when the ILO was putting out this big report. So I’m not exactly sure if we should read into it in terms of what the actual theme is, or that they just one one anchor – the education anchor, or whatever – they’re able to bubble up and make the case. Many people were sort of surprised, it took the Bank this long to do one on education, but, I think they were trying to frame it within President Kim’s view on human capital development. This was the time of the GP replenishment, you also had the Education Commission. So there were a number of things that were happening. And I think the Bank also wanted to make sure that they were out in front in terms of what they thought was good policy advice.
Will Brehm 4:07
So just to back up here, the current World Development Report put out by the World Bank this year was on education. And that was the first time in this 50-plus year history that it’s been on education.
David Edwards 4:23
That’s right, yes. This is the first time, and I think there were a lot of people that were asking them to do this. I think if you go old school with some of the old back to Psacharopoulos, and some of the old school bank economists, I’m sure they would have liked to have. Because this gives a lot of prominence inside of the Bank to your area – right – in terms of the investment case. And, I’m not exactly sure why. I think, if you talk to some people, they would say, because the investment in education, the sort of hard science, wasn’t there. And now it’s there, because you’ve got this new frame on learning outcomes and test scores, and that the data is better now. And there’s the frame of the learning crisis, and all these kinds of things allowed for some of the chief economists to feel better about education, and the advice and the direction; buying test scores, or investing in assessment, and those kinds of things. So, I think it kind of fit a model of development that the bank has always pushed, but education has always been about more than just economic growth, or preparing workers. But they were looking for that hook, maybe, and so they picked two people to write it. You usually have someone from the sector area, and then you’d have some more general from human development or an economist to work in tandem. And then they pull together a team and they commission a lot of background papers. So it’s a big process to get it up and going.
Will Brehm 6:11
And so in this World Development Report on Education, what are the main points that the World Bank is pushing?
David Edwards 6:19
The one thing that they were trying to say is that you should make decisions based on evidence, according to them. But evidence is defined in a very narrow, quantifiable way, based on learning outcomes data. That’s one thing. The other thing they try to say is that we need to measure what we’re doing – again, that’s back to the testing. And the other thing is about aligning actors. And this is sort of a polite way of saying that the sort of “letting a thousand flowers bloom” approach has not worked and you need everyone coherently thinking about what’s the direction, what’s important. And for them, the thing was focused on test score data. And so that was sort of aligning actors around test score data. You could also say that it’s very much about a delivery system in their frame and the main messages they wanted to give there were to try to say that if you want to deliver an education system, you need to get your teachers aligned, you need to get the system aligned, you need to get all these other pieces aligned around this broader purpose, which is raising test scores.
Will Brehm 7:39
It seems like a very narrow understanding of education.
David Edwards 7:42
Yes, I mean, it’s not surprising that it’s narrow, because I think that if you follow it back, in some ways, there are certain parts of the WDR, where they do talk about some of the social returns a little bit more. They’ve used, maybe not rights language; maybe they’ve recognized the SDGs but for the most part, it’s pretty narrow. When I would have a conversation with the authors or someone about it, they were always saying: “Yes, well, you have to remember, this isn’t for the edgy policy wonk community. These are for finance ministers and people who don’t really think about education.” But I think it’s a greater disservice personally when you try to dumb down a very complex process. I know you’re trying to make the business case for investment in it, you’re trying to tell everyone there’s this major crisis, which is why you should care, sort of like PR 101. And then here’s the silver bullet – or these things are silver bullets if I want to be more fair to them, because they are trying to get away from a single answer – but it tends to be very, very narrow. And it tends to gloss over the larger problems around economic development, human development, national sovereignty embedded in equality inside of countries, whether that’s gender, whether that has to do with with race or whether that has to do with poverty. And one of my main arguments with them is that they didn’t want to talk about the financing of all of this. If you read the GEM report, the UNESCO – well it was not UNESCO, it was independent from UNESCO but the GEM report – they don’t walk away from that pretty important detail: that at the end of the day, this has to be paid for.
Will Brehm 10:03
So wait, the World Bank didn’t discuss financing?
David Edwards 10:07
No. There was in an earlier draft a section on how it should be financed. But what we were led to believe was that there were different minds inside, and that they didn’t want to be in that way prescriptive in terms of what’s necessary around strengthening domestic resource mobilization, progressive tax policy, looking at a lot of the ways in which corporations aren’t paying any taxes in many countries, and how this was going to be sustainable. They stayed away from that bit, which sort of opens the door to those who would want to see the costs borne by the individual, by the parents, by the rights holders and not by the state. So it did open a door there because they just let it go. And I think that also given what’s happening with the GPE, it’s not completely unsurprising given the debates, what I understand, inside the bank around the outsourcing of public services. And President Kim, a month ago or so, made a speech at the CGD – Center for Global Development – basically calling for the massive outsourcing of public services in the developing world. So I’m not overly surprised that that was a major omission. It should give us hope that there were some people that weren’t willing to go down that rabbit hole with him. Maybe there’s some adults – maybe it’s sort of like the Trump White House, that there may be a few adults left that are trying to talk him down,
Will Brehm 12:02
It’s pretty wild to think that the World Bank – a bank that deals in financing – would not discuss that topic when it came to what they saw as the most important part of development for this year. It’s a crazy reality to get my head around.
David Edwards 12:25
Yes, I think it is absolutely incredible that the bank would leave it, leave that finance detail out.
Will Brehm 12:37
Especially when, you mentioned Psacharopoulos earlier, this is the academic who also worked for the World Bank for many years, that really popularized this idea of rates of return. And this is now, this is the standard way that the World Bank talks about education, the value of education is producing some level of rates of return in future economies.
David Edwards 13:03
They got their hands slapped, right, in terms of some of the rates of return over the years. They’ve had to sort of adjust and apologize for some of the damage that some of their recommendations have caused. The famous one was there about they had underestimated the rates of return to higher education, because they hadn’t really thought about innovation and evidence informed policy and things like that, which I guess are all externalities. I don’t know how you could, but they had to come back and adjust that, and then early childhood, because there was sort of a debate about whether the effects size faded over time. You really have to look at the assumptions that are built into these models. And I think you have to look at the assumptions that are built into the model of the WDR itself.
Will Brehm 14:00
Right. For instance, these test scores that are used. Obviously, if you dig in just a little bit, scratch the surface, you realize that even the test scores are quite problematic in how they were, were calculated, and the methodology of the test scores and how the test was given. And it just becomes very complex, but sort of hidden behind this very neat number that comes out.
David Edwards 14:27
Exactly. We have just countless stories after stories. Everyone knows it’s only as good as the test is, you know, but people sort of take for granted the face value that they’re going to be great tests. And then you kind of push on them a little bit, because I think one of the interesting things that’s been – you’ve looked at the different kinds of testing providers and actors over the last few decades, and there’s been those that have done it by by age; and there have been those that have done it by grade; there are those that are doing it through what they call these “participatory citizen led assessments”, the sort of door-to-door household survey approach. And it’s really interesting, because what happens is, they kind of conflate all of this together. And which is the test that everyone feels confident in somehow measures basic skills, knowledge and whatever and it’s all contested and there’s no agreement even at the body that’s supposed to make those decisions which UIS (UNESCO Institute of Statistics) is trying to convene. So somehow it’s just completely laughable, that there is this test that tests this thing called quality. And at the same time, we had the International Summit on the Teaching Profession two weeks ago in Portugal with the OECD, and we were pointing out in high performing OECD countries and where you have better equity and all these different investments and things like that, that which is easy to test, is easy to digitalize, automate, source and so we really need to get away from the things that are easy to test – except not for developing countries for some reason. It’s quite a world.
Will Brehm 16:32
So I want to ask you about Education International’s response to the World Development Report, because this was the first time this whole reality check – it was these multiple blog posts, there was big social media about it. It was quite amazing to see the sort of the effort that Education International put in to responding to what is effectively one report by the World Bank. As the new Secretary General of Education International, what were you hoping to be the outcome, or achieve, from doing this sort of reality check effort?
David Edwards 17:13
Well, we had gone through the consultation process around the WDR, right. And we had made formal submissions and we had other academics that we were working with, or we contacted teacher leaders in countries that had been gone through sort of a World Bank structural adjustment process, and whatever, and told that they could never have a pay increase, or whatever, or they had to retire/had to work until they’re seventy, whatever. So, we were talking to all of them, we were trying to sort of pull things together that we could submit to the WDR team, and we were feeling like, “Well, probably, they’re going to listen.” And then we started seeing some of the drafts that were leaking out, and there was none of it, nothing, no critical voices, and none of the alternative explanations for the same problems, or these symptoms that people like to focus on as problems. And so we were thinking, “What is the role of the world’s teachers at this moment?”. The world’s teachers are in every classroom, in every country with the actual students that are being discussed here. They’ve seen every reform trend come through, they’ve had to protect their students from the worst ones, they’ve tried to help fix some of the OK/decent ones, and they’ve tried to stand up to and defend their students’ rights and their rights when they could.
And I thought, well one of the differences between the EI and the Bank is that we actually created – the teaching profession – created assessment. And it’s not something that we want to give over very lightly to anybody else to do, or to promote, or to narrow. And the reason why is because we actually have this idea that in our practice, in our professional practice, assessment is a tool used to improve something. You assess because you have a question that you’re trying to answer, you’re trying to improve. Others use assessment as an accountability tool because they want to be able to rank and track and punish and reward and things like that. We actually want to improve. So we did this thought experiment – we said: “OK, here we have this WDR, and it’s got all these problems.” One of the things is: “What if we were to treat it in terms of thinking about it from a formative assessment process to the WDR and the WDR team? And what if we were to kind of think about the ways in which we could collaborate with other professions, with our colleagues who have expertise and would take different angles? What if we sort of opened it up and said, “Listen, right now, there’s very few critical voices that are out there. Everyone is sort of cheerleading how great the WDR is.” and “What if we actually tried to give a platform to those, and then what if we tried to think about that platform using social media blogs as a portfolio of reflections based on evidence, we could sort of hyperlink all sorts of cross-reference and data and pieces in there.” And we could go get practitioners, academics, bank critics, others to kind of come and say…
On testing, one of the ones I love is Pasi [Sahlberg] who I know is on your show a lot. They actually quote him/his research, and he wrote to me. It’s like: “They’re completely got my research wrong; they’re using me for their own ends. This is absurd.” And I said: “Well, guess what? Now you have a platform to call them out on it.” We wanted to be able to actually contact some of the researchers, the universities and people and say: “This is the way this is getting framed.”, or “This is the way this story is getting told, and they’re calling this as the sort of ‘what works’. What do we know what works? Can you help problematize that? Or can you help us think through that?”. And, you know, and we put it out there, and the response was fantastic. We had like, 25 different submissions that kind of came in, and we were able to spread them out over the past six months to keep the conversation going. And our members was really helpful, because I think the Bank remains, for a lot of teachers and education support personnel as a big, shiny, illustrious building in Washington, very far removed. And it’s hard to see the thread that connects to the things that they live in their daily life with the recommendations, with the economics, with the neoclassical economic thinking that comes out of the Bank, and what we heard back from our members was: “Oh, yeah, so this is … Oh, right… OK…” So I think it’s been a really successful undertaking. To our minds, we haven’t been able to spot anybody else that has been doing a critique or a formative assessment, if you will, of the WDR.
Will Brehm 22:35
Yes, certainly not as quickly as Education International has done. Maybe there’s some academics out there that are going through the peer review process now to get some papers out. But that’ll be in a few years when we actually see them. It’s just amazing how quickly this response was from Education International. So you said you are having effect among your members and sort of making what the World Bank does a little more accessible to people who might feel very far removed from it. But do you think you’re having an effect on people who would agree with the World Bank? Like, are you preaching to the choir? Or is there going to be certain people that will disagree with a lot of what was being said in the reality check, maybe listening and having this, maybe creating this, debate? Or is it just we’re all in our own little camps? And that’s it?
David Edwards 23:30
Yes, well, let me think, think about this a couple different ways. So one way is you go: “Well what would be evidence of that you weren’t just preaching to your choir, preaching to your to your regular camp?” That would be if there was some responses, or if it was being retweeted or there were some rebuttals or we were picking it up. So there have been ministries of education, some ministers that I’ve bumped into at the GP replenishment or at other global meetings, and sort of talked to about it. And they were relatively interested, because they, they were saying — I don’t want to throw anybody under the bus — but there’s one minister who said a lot of sort of the SWAPs, the sector-wide assessments and whether that’s for poverty or whaterer, they’re written by bank staff. And there’s sort of always the same formula in them. And what this kind of does is it allows us to sort of point to… If they’re saying: “We need to, you know, do something on teacher policy”, we now have something we can point to and say: “Well, that is contested.” And just being able to say that something is contested, and that it isn’t sort of “the truth”, is useful for some policymakers. In terms of sort of the “Edu-economics” blog blob, the sort of the RISE people, that if they don’t see an effect size over x, they’re not interested in it, because whatever. I had some conversations with some of those folks; I’ve sent them the report and copied them or tagged them on some of the tweets and things and had a few sit downs. And, you know, these are not people that agree with us, right? These are people who feel like we’re dinosaurs, we’re not seeing the change that’s coming, we’re not seeing their sort of ‘Rise of the Robots’ for what it is. They would say, “You think that somehow we’re going to be able to pay for education for poor kids, and the money’s just not there, right?”
And then we are sort of saying: “OK, the money is not here. But here’s this piece on tax, here’s this piece looking at domestic resource mobilization, here’s what the Norwegians are doing with Action Aid in Malawi on tightening up reporting around multinational tax and blah, blah, blah. Here’s these things.” “Oh, yeah, well, OK, I’ll give you this and I’ll give you that.” And then you start saying, “But you know this idea that somehow the private sector is going to solve all these things. And then you refer back to this Jim Kim speech at the Center for Global Development and they’re like, “Oh, no, no no. Is that happening? Did he say that?” And you kind of link up his speech with some of the things from the WDR, even though the WDR said, there isn’t data to suggest that private is better than public, which is further than they’ve ever gone before. And that’s the one thing that we do like, we think that was really honest to say that at the least. But the economists are themselves wondering: maybe the bank is getting caught; maybe the bank is oversampling from US examples; maybe there is a Western dominance; maybe we are going to just the same seven researchers and rehashing all of their research. So I do think that we are able to problematize some of the bits. I don’t believe that we’re going to turn these econometric experts into rights’ champions. I don’t think we’re going to get them to fully question whether or not fluency words per minute can be equated with comprehension, because comprehension is harder to measure, and they don’t like things that are harder to measure. But I do think we’ve made a dent with this one. And I do know that that the staff, the WDR staff were receiving and reading each blog that was coming out, as I was being told by someone inside that they were they were actually circulating them.
Will Brehm 28:35
It’s interesting that Education International, and you as the Secretary General attend many meetings where World Bank officials are there, but also OECD officials, as you were saying earlier. Presumably many differing opinions in the same room when talking about education. What is that like for you to be in that room, sort of having these discussions with people who have very different opinions than you do?
David Edwards 29:06
Sometimes it can be frustrating, but I would much rather be in the room and hear it than not be in the room and hear about it later. And not have the opportunity to sort of speak to some of the false assumptions. And I think, OECD… these summits that we do with ministers and teacher union leaders, if you thought that we’ve almost 10 years now (we just did the eighth one). And at the time we were agreeing to do it, there were a number of people that were saying, “Oh, going toe-to-toe with the ministers – that’s going to be really tough.” And I was thinking, “No, education union leaders who are democratically elected because they’re good thinkers, because they’re articulate, because they’re strategic, because they know evidence can sit next to a minister who’s been appointed because they were a big campaign donor, or, you know. I’m not going to go on about that particular Secretary of Education. But you know, it’s actually not really fair, because we’re the constant, right? We’re the ones that have seen the trends and seen the fads come and go. And we remember the time when it was all about “destroy teachers’ unions”, “teachers’ unions don’t represent true teachers”, and “we just need good delivery systems”. And now everything’s about “an education system is only as good as its teachers”. And the curve has been interesting to watch. And so I’ve been inside the room and outside the room in the streets while that curve was happening. And, you had the Finland situation – you’ve got high union density and most of the countries that are sitting around the table and you have Andreas Schleicher from OECD going, “Well everybody, we all know that good labor policy lays the groundwork for good education policy.” So you have to have good labor conditions first. And this last summit was on teacher well-being because the OECD was saying we know from research, you can’t have good student well-being if you don’t have good teacher well-being. That means you have to pay them well, you have to give them time to plan, to collaborate, give them the professional autonomy, the trust, the space, you know. There’s a lot we could work with there, especially in countries like the UK, where you have the teachers that are working the most hours, and they’re getting, let’s just say there’s some diminishing returns there if you want to use the economist language.
And I got to see an education leader teacher, one of our affiliate leaders in that country, have a debate with the Education secretary on phonics, and she was brilliant, and he was trying to read from a script and it was very clear that it wasn’t working. So, you know, it’s exciting, I think it’s important, I think that as we are trying to figure out how we’re going to deal with all of these global problems, and issues and threats, you know and I think there’s been a lot of over promising and under delivering by the sort of “consultant class”, that’s trying to sell a product or a technology. And things keep coming back to teachers, you know, we’ve been collaborating and thinking and learning and researching for a very long time, under very different circumstances and conditions, and always with sort of a vision of the world we’re trying to help create and construct with our students, that’s better, that’s more fair, more just, and I think I take great pride in getting to lead a delegation of teacher leaders and union leaders that are effective in doing that across those different platforms, whether that’s at the GPE or the OECD. I think – just to close that out – the opportunities to engage and to have a sort of a policy debate through social dialogue is something that that EI really values doing, because we do believe that we know a great deal, we’ve learned a great deal as the teaching profession, the organized teaching profession, and when we are sitting down with the OECD, UNESCO, the World Bank, whoever, whatever forum, we want to make our voices heard and we want to engage them. And we want to do that as respectfully and authoritatively as we can.
Will Brehm 34:15
The last question I really have is about Education International’s involvement in some of the teacher strikes, and the teacher movement that we see kind of rippling through many states in America. Is EI involved in any way in these different protests?
David Edwards 34:37
We are providing solidarity and support wherever teacher uprisings or teachers are fighting for their rights around the world, whether that was with the faculty, academic faculty staff in the UK, whether that’s higher education faculty in Kenya, whether those are teachers in Oklahoma, and in Arizona and Kentucky and West Virginia. So what we do is, through our affiliates, which they are members, so in the US context, that’s NEA, and AFT who are EI affiliates, and those are their Arizona Education Association and young members that are really tired of being at the bottom of the compensation chart in the United States and putting it together. So one of the things that we do do is just let them know that they’re not alone. We write to them, we facilitate letters from our members who want to stand in solidarity with them, who want to repost pictures of their textbooks, their ripped up textbooks, or whatever, who just want to know that from in Australia, they held a solidarity rally with them, you know, and we want them to know that. Because I think that’s important. I mean, it’s part of the solidarity that fuels the global teacher movement. It’s our commonality in our cause, and in our objectives, and what we’re about. And so that’s one thing. The second part, I think, that how we contribute, and how we connect up with them, is that they understand, and more and more teachers across the United States are understanding, how the suppression of their wages, the fact that they’re having to teach for four days a week instead of five if they’re in poor communities, or they’re being told after seven years that they can’t have a pay rise because we have to be able to give tax cuts to corporations, they are understanding how the macroeconomic policies are impacting on at the micro level of where they are and where they work. And so we have been working through our research network and others to map on and show the impact of this sort of fiscal austerity on the lives of public education teachers, their well being, their students, the quality of education, the equity issues in the classrooms, and we try to do that comparatively, through our Status of World’s Teachers reports, through our toolkits that we produce, through research that we commission and share with them, and then their affiliates share with them, so right around the world.
But I’m very excited actually that this wave is coming. And I really think it is, and I’m seeing signs that something new is happening, and that people are just fed up and tired. And this idea that somehow you can squeeze and squeeze and squeeze this profession – that on one hand, you’re saying, “We want the best and the brightest.” This is what I call the professional paradox of teachers globally, right now. We want the best and the brightest who can multitask and teach higher order thinking, and use all these different rubrics and theories and be researchers and collaborative and use their professional capital and all these different kinds of things. And then we want to pay them, we don’t even want to pay them a living wage, we want to pay them by test scores, we want to make it absolutely isolating, and fragmented and demoralizing. And yeah, I think that the chickens are coming home to roost on that front.
Will Brehm 38:54
What I find so incredible is that, you know, the, one of the parts that is missing in the World Development Report, this financing to education, as we talked about earlier, is like, is the main factor driving these protests in America, it’s the main factor driving the social movements in education. And, you know, it just, it almost is so revealing that there’s such a big disconnect between the World Development Report and what is really going on in the lives of teachers.
David Edwards 39:32
Yeah, I think that’s absolutely true, Will. And I think, if you look at at Devex from yesterday, you know, the Spring meetings are happening now. And Trump is going in, his folks are going in to the Spring meetings pushing for take backs on World Bank staff salaries and conditions. And it’s the World Bank staff union that’s saying, “But we negotiated a contract, you know. We bargained this. What’s going on here? You can’t do that to us, you know.” The irony is not lost on me.
And so I’m reaching out to the World Bank Staff Association and unions and saying, you know the Global Union Federations stand with you in the fact that you have core labor rights, you know, and if you look in the south of the United States, where these are Right to Work states, and they don’t have the right to strike, they don’t have the right to collective bargaining, but still, they’re taking to the street because what else are we going to do? And now they have Trump coming after them. And I don’t know how many times President Kim will have to travel with Ivanka now to the Middle East to try to make up for this. But at any rate, I wonder if we could open up a dialogue and if as they’re thinking about the future of work and the next report for the World Development Report, and sort of being cheerleaders for the gig economy and the Uberization of the world, I don’t know I just take a look at these sort of… I was looking at the cartoons they’ve been creating about all the bureaucracy they’re having to do and all the hard reporting work and you know, and the downsizing that they’re feeling, and I was wondering maybe we should ask them to post pictures of old instead of textbooks, but like old Psacharopoulos econometrics books, that they could post to New York Times or something like that. So maybe we could get a sense of the stress. No I kid, but I actually think that at the end of the day, when you play these these economic models all the way out to their end, you get to you get to a breaking point and people get to a breaking point where they’ve saying, “Wait a second, I’m worth more than this”. And collectively we can actually negotiate something better and the system is a bit rigged in a certain direction and we can and when it’s Trump the one who’s rigging it coming at you maybe this is the time when the WDR staff writing the next report on the Future of Work maybe think twice before they say, “Well the time of unions is over”, because I think they need their union right now.
Will Brehm 42:23
It would certainly be just delights if the World Bank union joins in solidarity with Education International. It would be fantastic to see.
David Edwards thank you so much for joining FreshEd, and best of luck with all of the different struggles worldwide with teachers.
David Edwards 42:39
Thanks so much, Will. Thank you.