Saturday, December 31, 2011

ending the groundhog day of educational reform

Some notes on a talk given by Noel Pearson on the launch of his book, Radical Hope, in September, 2011 :
Bringing Explicit Instruction to remote aboriginal schools in Cape York, Queensland

Primary school education was the hardest domain for us to penetrate. NAPLAN results over the past 3 years provided useful evidence to break out of failing education programmes. We could say to professional educators: “We can no longer leave the future of our children in your hands”. We could end the groundhog day of educational reform

The grandmothers in Cape York are more literate than their grandchildren. The Missions had succeeded in teaching children to read and write in their own indigenous language. Over the past 40 years indigenous children have become illiterate in both their native and English language

We arrived at the conclusion that in the Reading Wars, the Explicit Instruction / Phonics side of the war was correct.

MULTILIT (Making Up Lost Time in Literacy) and all Explicit Instruction programmes have their genesis in Direct Instruction, an American programme developed by Professor Siegfried Engelmann at the Universities of Illinois and Oregon. In early 2009 we visited the USA and subsequently formed a partnership with the American National Institute of Direct Instruction.

We established this programme in two Cape York primary schools: Aurukun and Coen. The programme consists of Class and Club. Class is the western curriculum. Club is indigenous culture.

The compulsory school day runs from 8:30 to 2:30. This is followed by a voluntary programme which runs from 2:30 to 4:30.

The new programme commenced on January 28, 2010. The first few months were marked by chaos, controversy, revolt and alarm. But eventually things settled down. There were 65 kids in the Time Out room one week. Then there were 3 kids the following week. This transition marked school acceptance of the new programme.

There is regular coaching of teachers in the required methods every 3 months. Each week there are mastery tests of the previous 5 or 10 lessons. Students do not move to the next level unless they achieve a 90% achievement score.

Every Tuesday morning there is a conference with coordinators in the USA with the Principals of Auruken and Coen. The operating assumption is that if the student has not learned then the teacher has not taught. There is no alibi for the teacher. The Principals main task is to lead instruction.

When kids experience success, then behaviour changes and interest engages.

Aurukun was possibly the worst school in Queensland. In 2009 police were called to the school 160 times, for a school of 230 students. The attendance rate was 30%. We are now 18 months into this educational reform.


Welfare System
The welfare system must be reformed from unconditional welfare to conditional welfare. Parents must meet four conditions to continue receiving welfare:
1. send children to school
2. children free from abuse or neglect
3. meet housing tenancy obligations
4. don’t break the Law

The welfare system has been funding dysfunctional lifestyles. The Commonwealth government has been paying for people’s drug habits. There has been unconditional financing of dysfunction. Welfare is not a wage, it is social assistance which comes with conditions.

Trust Accounts
Trust accounts were created to cover educational expenses (uniform, tuckshop, equipment, computers). The money comes from the parents. They are completely voluntary.

At Coen there was a 100% signup to the trust accounts. The trust accounts now contain $1500 per child and over 1 million dollars in total. The swift uptake of trust accounts persuaded us that parents care deeply about their children’s education.

We use DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy), which is more informative than NAPLAN, to assess the progress of students. This tells us that:
- the top 30% is progressing at double mainstream speed
- 50% are progressing at above mainstream speed
- poor attenders continue to have poor results

Lack of Support from Education Department Bureaucracy
A Cairns Principal who was prepared to run a Direct Instruction stream was banned from visiting Aurukun by the Department!!

What sort of teachers are required for Direct Instruction?
The DI programme has been described as “teacher proof”. For Pearson the biggest surprise was that they are making progress with the stock, standard issue Queensland trained teacher. As long as the teacher is amenable to the program there are good results. However, teachers college has not taught these teachers how to teach reading!

audio: Noel Pearson: Radical Hope (the above notes are made from this extract)
video: Radical Hope Book: A Talk by Noel Pearson (the whole talk including an informative Q&A session)

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