Investing in Children and Teachers (Singapore’s Crest Secondary School)

Seven CTQ Collaboratory teachers are in Singapore to meet with policymakers from 8 cities around the globe—Kristoffer Kohl and I are tagging along. Today: a visit to a Singaporean school that serves high-need students.

Seven CTQ Collaboratory teachers (from four countries) are in Singapore right now. I’m tagging along, with my colleague Kristoffer Kohl. Our international team of teacher leaders is here to contribute to policy discussions among education ministers, superintendents, and governing board members from across the globe. The topic for this Global Cities Education Network (GCEN) convening organized by the Asia Society: 21st-century skills.

We kicked off the meeting with visits to local schools, and I was reminded yet again of Singapore’s smart investments in children—and those who teach them.

Crest Secondary School students take part in academic learning and vocational training.

Still in its infancy, Crest Secondary School will serve 800 high-need students (96% of whom live in government housing) and employ some 150 teachers. Students will experience a customized curriculum that integrates academic learning and vocational training, offering practical experiences in the retail and service industries.

Here are some observations that may interest you:

Singapore invests approximately $10.6 billion each year on 510,000 students, served by 34,000 teachers and 5,500 administrators. A great deal of the funds are committed to the preparation, support, and compensation of teachers, who are highest-paid in the world.

“We care for our teachers,” Ho Peng (Director-General of Education for the Singapore Ministry of Education) noted last night, reminding us that in Singapore, “Every teacher gets first-class preparation.”

Singapore spends far more on its high-need students than its most gifted and privileged learners. The Singapore Ministry of Education fully funded the development of Crest, allowing founding principal Fred Yeo to work with 2 vice-principals and 16 teachers over the course of a year to plan and launch the school.

 

Teachers in Singapore teach less (and spend more time planning effective instruction) than their counterparts in many other countries. At Crest, teachers are assigned to teach only 16-18 hours a week so they can spend the rest of their time integrating curriculum, developing and scoring assessments, revising lessons, and working with community partners to serve their high-need students.

Singapore’s teacher evaluation system does not fixate on student test scores. At Crest, how well teachers “identify with the kids”  is a key factor in hiring decisions—remember, all teachers have already received “first-class preparation.” Fred was adamant that effective teachers for the country’s “gifted” and “much wealthier” students may not be the “right ones” for Crest. Fred was insistent that teachers “would never be rated ‘down’ just because of their students’ academic scores.” Teachers are assessed by administrators and peers on how well they teach, the pastoral care the offer their students, their relationships with parents, and their contributions to the school and beyond.

As Fred put it, “I cannot decide who is an effective teacher or not all by myself.”

Singapore’s education system takes on “out-of-school” factors in student achievement and strives to develop a “culture of care” in schools. At Crest, teachers and administrators make home visits to ensure there are strong connections with parents — many of whom had “very poor experiences when they themselves were students.” My visit revealed how the school’s “culture of care” is experienced by students — like these I met – who told me how their teachers were  “helpful” and “kind” and “made learning fun.”

 

Now off to the National Institute of Education, where I’ll develop a deeper understanding of how Singapore as well as other global cities are preparing teachers for 21st-century schools.

What’s more, I’ll get to watch seven teacher leaders from the CTQ Collaboratory contribute to the dialogue fostered by the Asia Society (and consider how to spread good ideas to their colleagues). I’m honored to accompany teachers Paul Charles (Toronto), Cynthia Seto (Singapore), Irene Tan (Singapore), Karen Wagner (Denver, CO), Ali Wright (Lexington, KY), Jianlan Xu (Shanghai), and Noah Zeichner (Seattle, WA).

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