Category Archives: Guest blog

What makes a school really great? [Guest blog post: Gabi Wills]


What makes a school really great? Those first impressions that count” – Dr Gabi Wills

Curriculum coverage? Teacher motivation? Print-rich environments? Learning goals and targets? These are a few of the things that I see as important as I have looked through mounds of literature on what makes an effective school. Together with a team of education experts we are preparing to engage in research in schools in South Africa in township and rural areas that exceed despite the odds. In preparation we are having to think hard and fast about questionnaires to capture what it is that separates these schools from the rest. Most of the time this can be a surprisingly difficult task. In post-Apartheid South Africa there have been numerous studies on schools where data is captured on indicators of school functionality. Using our fanciest modelling, we then try and see which of the many indicators of observed factors explain why certain schools do better than others. But most of the time we simply can’t explain the variation in learner performance that we observe across schools, particularly in the majority of poorer schools in the system. I am however starting to wonder if we simply have not measured effectively the things that really count.

As academics we tend to limit ourselves to our peer-reviewed readings, to our computer screens and the occasional conference. But we miss too many opportunities for the ‘aha’ moment when it all comes together. Increased burdens of work limit time to experiment and explore. Well at least for me. After feeling unusually disimpassioned and just wearied by just too much information, today I did something different but obvious. Rather than running off to the office and opening my computer, I started my day in the reception of a great preparatory school in Durban. I sat and observed. I started reading the display books on the reception table, observed the honour boards proudly displayed, watched teachers coming in and out and hearing in the background the sound of children vocalising their prose for the next drama production. After 60 minutes of this, and particularly reading an inspiring 2010 prize-giving speech of the headmaster in one of the coffee table books, things were becoming clearer. Before I even got to the classroom, I realised that great schools do this:

  • They celebrate their history – no matter how small or great. Equally they dream about the future. As read in one of the headmasters prize-giving speeches (also documented) there is “a deep affectionate respect for folk who have gone before”. When history has not been particularly becoming, they consider how they learn from this and how obstacles were overcome.
  • They celebrate excellence. Even the smallest achievement of present and past students is meticulously documented and preserved that all who visit can see. The annual prize-giving is a revered and celebrated event. Photographs of awards and those awarded take centre stage.

But you are probably wondering why these two features (past history, past achievement) matters for the now? The importance of this extends beyond school pride, it legitimises the worth of the institution beyond one individual. Great people create great institutions with a reason for existence beyond their founders. Moving on, great schools….

  • Are intentional about cultivating school pride. In just this reception area, school pride emanates from every intentionally displayed item on the walls, in the greeting of the security guard to the glow from the weekly polished floors. School logos, obviously displayed school songs and mottos are evident. Children don’t just come here to learn. They find a sense of a belonging in an organisation with its own unique character which parents have strategically worked at crafting with the school staff over decades.
  • They treat discipline and manners among children as non-negotiable inputs and outputs of the schooling process. I was greeted with respect by even the littlest grade Rs who politely stood aside and smiled as they did. Where the banter of naughty children is heard, the voice of disciplinary teacher towers louder. It’s clear who is in control.

These are just four observations before I have even spoken to a single person. Moving on to meeting two principals in the school…

  • Respect for teachers, visitors, cleaning staff and the security guard is evident from leaders in this institution. Despite the hassle I present, I am given a tour of classrooms, cupboards, facilities and libraries as two principals enthusiastically express why and how they do things around here. The cleaner is introduced as a fellow colleague.
  • Leaders have intentionally hired the right people (of course in this case they have the privileged control over hiring with lots of SGB paid teachers they can afford). The principal talks about each teacher as a “leader”, “striving relentlessly”, “passionate” and “dedicated.”
  • The economist in me can’t help but ask a few monetary related questions and it’s obvious that there are well-proven financial structures in place. This school doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to the financial operations it requires to keep this ship moving. This is where parents with financial skills come in and are drawn upon for their expertise. The principals I speak to are exactly aware of how much this ship requires, where it requires resources and if anything is ever left over.
  • Teachers have a sense of mastery of the curriculum and are acutely aware of where it can be altered or adapted to better the learning opportunities for their students without stepping beyond CAPS learning requirements. Official workbooks are only used if a more suitable option for their students is not available (and positively at times the workbooks are often considered the best option).

After just 2 hours, I think I have got clearer what my next questionnaire needs to be about and probably saved myself two day of agonising thinking. For all our studies after just bumbling along as a regular person I come that much closer to realising what matters, what separates out the average school from the great. I suspect I have just observed what every interested parent or teacher has known all along.


One of Gabi’s recent Working Papers on principal leadership changes in South Africa is available here.

Black graduates: 3 400 in 1986… 55 600 in 2011. Enough said :)

On the topic of the change in the number of black African graduates over the last twenty years (and the recent media hype) this study by my colleague and friend Dr Hendrik van Broekhuizen  is all that needs to be said:

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“In addition to the expansion of South Africa’s yearly graduate outputs, the nature of the policy changes which have affected the HE system over the past 25 years means that the demographic composition of South Africa’s stock of graduates has also changed radically over time. This is clearly evident when looking at changes in the racial composition of the graduates produced by the HE system each year. Figure 3.2 reveals that, while the number of White graduates produced annually has increased only moderately from about 27 500 to just over 35 000 in the past 25 years, the number of Black graduates produced has increased more than 16-fold from about 3 400 in 1986 to more than 55 600 in 2011. The implications of the racial differences in graduate output growth are simple: while the HE system produced 7.9 White graduates for each Black graduate in 1986, by 2011 it produced 1.6 Black graduates for every single White graduate. Figure 3.3 offers a similarly poignant illustration of the extent of change in the racial composition of South Africa’s stock of graduates by showing the respective racial shares of the total number of graduates produced in each year since 1986″ (p13).

From his 2013 Economic Society of South Africa paper.

Important new SA education research (SAJCE Special Issue)


As part of my postdoc at Stellenbosch University and Stanford University I have been managing a large research project commissioned by the SA Presidency and funded by the EU in the Programme to Support Pro-Poor Policy Development (PSPPD for short!). The aim is to identify the ‘binding constraints’ in the SA education sector – more on that in the coming months. As part of that project we asked Elbie Henning if we could dedicate a special issue of the South African Journal of Childhood Education (SAJCE) to the research emerging from the project. As the editor she agreed and we asked Nick Taylor (JET) and Thabo Mabogoane (Presidency) to be the guest editors for the special issue. That special issue was published online last week and there is no pay wall (viva open access!). I have included the abstract for each article as well as links to the full text for each one. I would strongly recommend reading Nick and Thabo’s editorial if you don’t have time to read through all the articles. They provide a good overview of the key findings. The research here covers a number of fields ranging from ECD, matric assessment, reading, teachers, principals, and education data.

Editorial: “Policy research comes of age in South Africa” (Nick Taylor and Thabo Mabogoane)

Investment in Early Childhood Development (ECD) has the prospect of cultivating potential within individuals and can assist in bridging the social equity gap from a very young age. Over the past decade Grade R has been the strongest policy lever used by the Department of Basic Education to improve early learning. The National Development Plan calls for universal access to two years of early childhood development prior to entering Grade 1. This paper explores the merits of this proposal, given the specific South African context. More specifically, this analysis intents to bring new information to bear on three matters. The first relates to the demand-side and aims to identify participation trends among four and five year olds. The second objective is to consider the supply-side and aims to understand the policy space in which pre-Grade R will function, the quality and quantity of infrastructure already in place, and the expertise of ECD practitioners. The final question considers the implementation of a universally accessible pre-Grade R within a constrained system and the requirements to ensure that it will have a significant impact on those children most in need.
Much hope is placed on education systems to reduce socioeconomic learning gaps. But in South Africa, uneven functioning of the school system widens learning gaps.This paper analyses education performance using ANA data. Weak calibration and inter-temporal or inter-grade comparability of ANA test scores limit their usefulness for measuring learning gains. However, relative performance provides meaningful information on learning gaps and deficits. A reference group that is roughly on track to achieve the TIMSS average is used to estimate the performance required in each grade to perform at TIMSS’ low international benchmark. By Grade 4, patterns across quintiles of on track performance approximate matric exemption patterns. Viewed differently, academic and labour market prospects may be bleak for children who are no longer on track. Improvement in outcomes requires greater emphasis on the Foundation Phase or earlier, before learning deficits have grown to extreme levels observed by the middle of primary school. This statement is true whether deficits arise from weak early instruction, or simply because a disadvantaged home environment requires early remedial action. The emphasis on the early grades that this analysis of the ANAS suggests is contrary to the conclusions drawn from the ANA results by policy makers, that weak test scores in Mathematics in Grade 9 require major interventions in that grade.
The ability to read for meaning and pleasure is arguably the most important skill children learn in primary school. One integral component of learning to read is Oral Reading Fluency (ORF), defined as the ability to read text quickly, accurately, and with meaningful expression. Although widely acknowledged in the literature as important, to date there have been no large-scale studies on ORF in English in South Africa, despite this being the language of learning and teaching for 80% of ESL students from Grade 4 onwards. We analyze data provided by the National Education and Evaluation Development Unit (NEEDU) of South Africa, which tested 4667 Grade 5 English Second Language (ESL) students from 214 schools across rural areas in South Africa in 2013. This included ORF and comprehension measures for a subset of 1772 students. We find that 41% of the sample were non-readers in English (<40 Words Correct Per Minute, WCPM) and only 6% achieved comprehension scores above 60%. By calibrating comprehension levels and WCPM rates we develop tentative benchmarks and argue that a range of 90-100 WCPM in English is acceptable for Grade 5 ESL students in South Africa. In addition we outline policy priorities for remedying the reading crisis in the country.
This study analyses information and feedback from matriculation level continuous assessment in the South African education system. Continuous assessment (CASS) at the time carried a 25% weight in the final matriculation (Grade 12) mark, and it provides feedback that affects examination preparation and effort. Weak assessment in schools sends wrong signals to students that may have important consequences for the way they approach the final examination. Moreover, similarly wrong signals earlier in their school careers may also have affected their subject choice and career planning. This study compares CASS data to the externally assessed matric exam marks for a number of subjects. There are two signalling dimensions to inaccurate assessments: (i) Inflated CASS marks can give students a false sense of security and lead to diminished exam effort. (ii) A weak correlation between CASS and the exam marks could mean poor signalling in another dimension: Relatively good students may get relatively low CASS marks. Such low correlations indicate poor assessment reliability, as the examination and continuous assessment should both be testing mastery of the same national curriculum. The paper analyses the extent of each of these dimensions of weak signalling in South African schools and draws disturbing conclusions for a large part of the school system.
In the past decade there has been a notable shift in South African education policy that raises the value of school leadership as a lever for learning improvements. Despite a growing discourse on school leadership, there has been a lack of empirical based evidence on principals to inform, validate or debate the efficacy of proposed policies in raising the calibre of school principals. Drawing on findings from a larger study to understand the labour market for school principals in South Africa, this paper highlights four overarching characteristics of this market with implications for informing principal policy reforms. The paper notes that improving the design and implementation of policies guiding the appointment process for principals is a matter of urgency. A substantial and increasing number of principal replacements are taking place across South African schools given a rising age profile of school principals. In a context of low levels of principal mobility and high tenure, the leadership trajectory of the average school is established for nearly a decade with each principal replacement. Evidence-based policy making has a strong role to play in getting this right.
This research makes use of hierarchical linear modelling to investigate which teacher characteristics are significantly associated with student performance. Using data from the SACMEQ III study of 2007, an interesting and potentially important finding is that younger teachers are better able to improve the mean mathematics performance of their students. Furthermore, younger teachers themselves perform better on subject tests than do their older counterparts. Identical models are run for Sub Saharan countries bordering on South Africa, as well for Kenya and the strong relationship between teacher age and student performance is not observed. Similarly, the model is run for South Africa using data from SACMEQ II (conducted in 2002) and the relationship between teacher age and student performance is also not observed. It must be noted that South African teachers were not tested in SACMEQ II so it was not possible to observe differences in subject knowledge amongst teachers in different cohorts and it was not possible to control for teachers’ level of subject knowledge when observing the relationship between teacher age and student performance. Changes in teacher education in the late 1990s and early 2000s may explain the differences in the performance of younger teachers relative to their older counterparts observed in the later dataset.
This paper provides an overview of the various datasets pertaining to education in South Africa that are informing or could inform policy making in education. The paper serves as an inventory for anyone interested in understanding what data is available, how it may be accessed, what the quality of the data is and in what formats it may be accessed. The paper is divided into three parts. The first part provides a description of existing education datasets and the basic data elements contained in each of these datasets. When discussing each of the existing education datasets, the paper addresses the quality of the education data available in South Africa. The first part also refers to the policy implications and the important role that data plays in policy-formulation. No information system on its own is comprehensive enough to provide all the information needed in strategic decision-making. Hence, part two of this paper discusses the need for data integration as an important data management strategy. The third part examines the effectiveness of implementing a learner unit record system nationally in comparison with the EMIS system that is currently in place and that is based on aggregate or summary institution–level data.


The full Special Issue can be found here.

NEEDU 2013: Moving from Form to Substance (Guest blog post: Gabrielle Wills)


NEEDU 2013: Moving from Form to Substance

Guest blog post by Gabrielle Wills

The NEEDU 2013 report entitled “Teaching and Learning in Rural Primary schools” has finally entered the public domain. Subsequent to the release of the first NEEDU 2012 report, sensational headlines in the press presented certain findings that were isolated from the wider objective of the report. This potentially misrepresented both the objective of the report and the much needed role of NEEDU, which (as its name suggests) is the national evaluator of education. It is no surprise then that the 2013 report has been withheld from public view, delaying constructive dialogue and systems thinking that will emerge out of this insightful material. Compared with the press’ responses to the release of NEEDU 2012, media reporting has been somewhat less damaging in its representation of the findings this time round. However they have still not conveyed the most pertinent messages of the report. This article is intended to direct the reader to the report’s substance.

Before considering the details, a noted conceptual contribution of the report is this: it moves towards being systemic in its evaluative approach, even when considering individual elements that make up the whole. In Lant Pritchett’s book “Rebirth of Education” he draws on Howard Gardener’s (1991) evocative phrase, arguing that we live with an “unschooled mind” about systems. Many activities and research undertaken in the field of education and education economics are modular, focusing on aspects or isolated interventions without considering how these link together within the wider system. NEEDU 2013 moves beyond just a discussion of just individual symptoms of a broken system, of which we are becoming acutely aware (for example poor teaching content knowledge and absurdly low levels of learning in the classroom), getting closer to the institutional inefficiencies that must be addressed before we can move forward.

Much of the discussion of the report is framed under two headings: accountability and instructional leadership. The first is a term with which most economists are well-familiar (and our education system far less so). However the notion of ‘instructional leadership’ is used in the education administration literature, usually in reference to school leaders and the extent to which they organise the school environment to focus on the core business of the school, namely learning. The report extends this terminology to wider administration at the district, provincial and national level to consider that the management of curriculum, assessment and resources will have a strong bearing on learning improvements.

“Instructional leadership may be thought of as the ensemble of processes, operating at different levels of schools, and directed towards leading the system to improved quality (NEEDU 2013, pp 13)”.

One of the most important processes within this ensemble is the management of human resources and particularly the post provisioning process, recruitment and promotion, and professional development. “HR management is the single most important tool available to PDEs (provincial directorates of education) in giving effect to curriculum policy. It provides the tools for the optimal deployment of the costliest and most important resource, educators.” The discussion draws our attention to how provinces have lost control of the post provisioning process, which has the largest budgetary implications for the department (and arguably national spending). The provincial personnel-non-personnel spending split should be 80:20 but has become increasingly skewed towards personnel, impeding on the system’s ability to deliver non-personnel resources to schools.

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Without discipline in spending, the stability of provincial departments to execute functions is severely threatened. This has far reaching consequences for system functionality. It follows that the first three recommendations of the report, and rightly so, are that post provisioning norms and standards need to be unambiguously communicated and applied where strengthening education management information systems aids this process. It also highlights how the process of post provisioning and the recruitment and promotion of personnel must be removed from the influence of the predatory behaviour of organised interest groups.

Strongly related to instructional leadership, the report raises the importance of monitoring and evaluation required within education. However, much of what is being done in this regard takes on a ‘form’ of these things yet lacks any substance. This quotation sums it up well:

“.. in large parts of the system and with respect to a number of instructional leadership processes, both systems management and teachers are going through the motions, with little impact on the objects of their attention… Activity does not necessarily signify progress: there is a great deal of instructional leadership activity throughout the system, but much of it is undertaken at too superficial a level to make any impact on the quality of teaching and learning If going through the motions is the first step towards effective instructional leadership, then engaging with the substance of the activities is the next (NEEDU 2013, pp 48).”

 This is an acutely important observation. In reading recent Annual Plans and Annual Reports prepared by the DBE there is great deal of activity and forms of monitoring taking place. In many ways, some activities have been admirable and NEEDU 2013 directly acknowledges such successes. Yet many activities are divorced from the objective of improving learning. Consider the following examples:

  • The quality of management in school is being monitored using perfunctory checklists of certain documents such as school improvement plans (SIP) and up-to-date records. But the majority of schools have a SIP and documents can readily be organised and kept up to date even in the presence of incompetent leaders. What is required is hiring the best leaders, on the basis of expertise not years of service or political affiliation. What is required is monitoring their performance using proven instruments of assessment rather than a checklist of activities accomplished.
  • There is no doubt that the introduction of ANA has signalled a major step forward in monitoring whether the system is working. However these are neither standardized tests in the sense that year-on-year comparisons are possible, nor are the majority of schools and districts using these effectively to identify learning gaps. ANA is a form of monitoring yet currently lacks substance in influencing learning or even simply monitoring systemic progress.

While focusing on institutional inefficiencies, NEEDU 2013 does not shy away from obvious problems of addressing teaching in the classroom. In recommendations five and six, the need for a roll-out of a proven reading and writing programme as well as primary numeracy and mathematics programme is expressed. Recommendation nine focusses on addressing teacher proficiencies through educational development, calling for considerable investigation into the teacher education sector and whether it is equipping graduates with necessary competencies. Despite great intentions to improve education and accompanying strategies, it is currently not possible given inherent capacity constraints of both teachers and administrators.

The time of window dressing activities that hide systemic weaknesses has continued for too long. We must move away from forms of activity that mimic best practice while neatly steering away from threatening fundamentals on the surface. Systemic weaknesses must be seen and acknowledged for what they are, and action taken to address them. In this regard, the recommendations of the report should be strongly considered.


Gabrielle Wills is a PhD candidate at Stellenbosch University and is part of the RESEP team. Her latest research is titled “A profile of the labour market for school principals in South Africa” which she presented at a conference earlier this year (PPT here).

Martin Gustafsson on “Higher education policy challenges”


In the past three months South African higher education has come into full focus thanks to efforts of students in #FeesMustFall, #OpenStellies, #RhodesMustFall and others. The article below was written by one of RESEP’s researchers, Dr Martin Gustafsson, and first appeared in Business Leadership South Africa’s newsletter. I’ve highlighted the sections I think are most important to note…

Higher Education Policy Challenges – Dr Martin Gustafsson

“I recall a prominent person from organised business declaring some years back at a meeting that the business sector in South Africa had essentially withdrawn from the education policy discourse to avoid conflict with government. Instead, the sector had turned its attention to easier, less controversial areas of involvement, such as partnerships with individual education institutions and bursaries for promising students. This is not a good approach. Smaller projects can make a difference, but policy matters and it is something to which business should pay more attention. Business is well placed to provide policy advice in areas where it is strong: unit costs, cost-effectiveness, trade-offs between priorities and efficient management.

What are some of the difficult policy questions in what has recently become a volatile higher education sector?

Low public spending on higher education has been in the spotlight. This spending comes to 0.6% of GDP, compared to around 1.1% for comparable countries. The problem relates more to low student numbers than low spending per student. If we use countries at South Africa’s level of development as our benchmark, UNESCO education statistics suggest that our public spending per student should be 12% higher, while the number of students should increase by 30%. Current pressures to spend more per student are justified, but this should not be allowed to slow down the growth we have been seeing in enrolments.

Of course growing the sector is not just about enrolling more students, but also about a higher ratio of graduates to enrolments. What in South Africa is referred to as low ‘throughput rates’ – essentially high levels of dropping out and repetition – are commonly considered a core problem. We would be in a better position to respond to this problem if we understood it better.

Low throughput rates are not a peculiarly South African phenomenon. Similar patterns are found in many countries, which suggests that shifting the numbers is not easy. An Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report on dropping out at tertiary level indicates that around 53% of students enrolling for a degree in the United States do not attain the degree. The Council for Higher Education has found the figure to be a rather similar 55% in South Africa. For the OECD as a whole, however, the figure is a better 31%. My own analysis of household data suggests that the ratio of degrees obtained per year to the number of full-time equivalent students, the graduation rate is around 1:7 for South Africa and Brazil.

So what are the circumstances of around half of our university students who do not complete a degree? It is difficult to obtain an overall picture. Sample-based household surveys, such as Stats SA’s Labour Force Survey are of limited use partly because the students in question are a small percentage of the population, and because there are no questions relating to tertiary-level dropping out. Longitudinal surveys conducted by universities or faculties can tell us a bit, though they do not provide a national picture. By far the most commonly cited reason for dropping out is financial constraints. However, students’ academic results and their ability to find funding are closely linked. If their results are poor, it is more difficult to renew funding. Yet the data we have indicates that the tragedy of academically well-performing students who drop out mainly due to funding reasons is substantial. It is a tragedy for the individual, but also for the country’s development, given the skills shortfall in the labour market, and it is bad for the attainment of workplace equity targets.

The OECD report warns against an all-or-nothing approach of classifying all drop-outs as failures and a manifestation of wasted effort. Even an incomplete university education is likely to improve an individual’s wage prospects and productivity in the workplace. It is in the interests of business to advocate for and fund more rigorous research on, for instance, the relationship between wages and the actual range of higher education outcomes which includes non-completed graduates.

The policy debates should be informed by accurate estimates, which exist, of the graduate unemployment rate. This rate is relatively low, and lower than what is suggested by some figures which have been quoted, including figures from an inaccurate January 2012 article in The Economist.

An unfortunate blind spot in our strategies for expanding the university sector is the lack of attention paid to the role of private universities. Countries such as China and Brazil, which have expanded their university enrolments even faster than South Africa, have succeeded in doing so partly through carefully thought out policies governing the emergence of more private universities. Such universities need not be elite relative to public universities, and there are ways of dealing with the risk of sub-standard educational quality offered by unscrupulous institutions.

Brazil’s strategy for combatting low-quality private universities and poor quality higher education at public institutions, is unusual and fascinating. Final year undergraduate students must write, apart from examinations set by the university, a short discipline-specific nationally standardised test which allows the national authorities to gauge which universities are clearly not teaching their students the basics. Moreover, aggregate test results are publicly available, putting students and their families in a more informed position when they select a university. Marcelo Rezende, in an article in Economics of Education Review, argued that the system has helped universities to focus on producing quality graduates.

Two institutions other than the universities are critical for building a better higher education system. Problems in the National Student Financial Aid Scheme are at the core of the 2015 unrest in the sector. The recommendations of the official 2010 review report remain relevant today. Secondly, without further educational quality improvements in the schooling system, the expansion of universities will be difficult. The National Development Plan’s key strategy for improving schools, paying attention to school principals – specifically their hiring, functions, remuneration and performance contracts – is a sensible one.


On the issue of school principals I would strongly recommend following the work of Gabrielle Wills, a PhD student at RESEP who has done some very innovative and useful research on principals and leadership in South Africa. For example see her 2015 Working Paper “A profile of the labour market for school principals in South Africa” which she presented at a conference earlier this year (PPT here).

Guest blog post: Erin Raab

erinFor a while now I’ve been meaning to ask a few people who I know if they’d like to do a guest blog post on something they’re interested in. While I was at Stanford earlier this year I met Erin Raab in David Labaree’s course “A History of School Reform in the US” (which is a great course). Erin is currently doing her PhD at Stanford in the Graduate School of Education where she’s trying to answer the following question: “How might we might re-envision, re-design, and transform our schooling system so that it empowers teachers and students as positive changemakers, in their own lives and in their communities?”
Prior to Stanford she worked in international educational development, including five years in Durban where she completed her Master’s in Development Studies (cum laude) as a Rotary Scholar. She also founded the KwaNdengezi Education Centre which serves 8000 learners in 9 schools, and worked with the Department of Basic Education as a Senior Researcher for MIET Africa on SADC’s program Care and Support for Teaching and Learning.
After realising that we both loved James Scott’s “Seeing Like a State” (which is an absolute must-read for everyone interested in anything ever) I asked her to make a list of other influential books/articles/videos. This is what she sent 🙂
**-  Allen Article by Danielle Allen (political philosophy) on disentangling the relationship between equality & education – she really helped clarify links I was struggling with.
**-  Aukerman, Lyle Articles on Dialogic Pedagogy  – I think this way of thinking about understanding learning (combined with socio-cultural ways of thinking about it) is key, really fundamental, somehow
–  Boyce & HertzmanArticle on how our environments affect us at the genetic level attached — This FASCINATES me…I think it’s important to think about how this is all really affecting us…not just psychologically but physiologically….it’s related to Nadine Burke Harris’ talk in a way.
–  GehlbachArticle on why social psychology might be important for educators to consider

Some books that have been influential:

**- Seeing Like a State – Scott – a lens for analyzing the failure of big social engineering schemes of the 20th century & a useful framework for exploring the design and impact of a more varied array of smaller social reforms (or attempts at social reform).  I attached the reaction paper I wrote on it.
**-  KahnemanThinking Fast & Slow – This book blows my mind.  Looks at how the brain works and “the psychological basis for reactions, judgments, recognition, choices, conclusions, and much more”.  I’m halfway through.
**-  Capra & LuisiA Systems View of Life – Another one I’m working on in bits and pieces and am about halfway through because it’s mindblowing.  Starts with an overview of the history of scientific thought and how we’ve gone back and forth between believing we can boil things down to their smallest parts and then understand them, vs. the view that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.  I got into it as I started thinking that the answer had to lie in shifting the whole system — which meant considering how systems work and systems theory.
**-  Asch – Social Psychology – he’s one of the fathers of social psychology and, while dense, his book touches on so many core aspects of what humans need to flourish.
*-  Why We Do What We Do (by Deci) – precursor to Daniel Pink’s book Drive — about our three core human psychological needs – essential to considering intrinsic motivation.
* – Foucault – Discipline & Punish – A number of things stick with me, in particular about how we’ve made the punishment for “crime” to be separated from society and invisible.  I also think much of it relates to how we think about schooling & behavior.  Deleuze’s book “Foucault” is also a great accessible interpretation.
* – MarxDas Kapital – I haven’t read the whole thing, but the chapters I have read from the first volume blew my mind. If you haven’t read him at all, it seems important, especially for an economist 🙂
*-  LS Vygotsky & Education – Moll – — socio-cultural approaches to learning that I think are more representative of how we actually learn than traditional conceptualizations.  Relatively easy introduction to the ideas
*-  Scarcity – Mullanaithan — effects of scarcity mindset on people – — (I think this book and Daring Greatly & Deci & Soul of Money get at some of the core ways we are affected by our culture, but blame it on individuals).
*-  Pedagogy of the Oppressed – Freire – classic, amazing.
*-  Daring Greatly – Brown – I keep thinking about the role of shame in our organizations vs. wholeheartedness (also great for thinking about our own wholeheartedness 🙂 ).
*-  Soul of Money – Twist – Interesting look at interaction b/w cultural & individual relationships with money.
–  Flourish – Seligman – framework from positive psychology about what “flourishing” might mean.
–  Creative Confidence – Kelley – By the originators of design thinking.
–  The Price of Inequality – Stiglitz – looks at the political and social costs of inequality – rooted in the U.S. but perhaps even more applicable in SA.
–  The New Jim Crow – Alexander – unrelated to education, per se, but it really affected me and I’d like to write a similar kind of expose book looking at the system of education.
Interesting Videos
–  Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk – schools kill creativity

–  Nadine Burke Harris’ Ted Talk – effects of toxic stress

–  Story of Stuff Mini-movie – we should make one like this about ed!

–  Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk – the original why/how/what 🙂

–  Tony Robbins’ Ted Talk –  framework for thinking about motivation/psychological needs, I think he pulls from Deci a good deal

–  Shawn Achor’s Ted Talk – happiness advantage (basically, I just like this one ;o …and I think he has a good critique of methodologies that focus on the mean)



I’m always fascinated to know about the books/articles/movies/experiences that influence the way people see the world, themselves and each other. If you’d like to share yours please include links in the comments section below 🙂