Wednesday, June 27, 2012

government failure in indigenous education documented

Although this report falls short of recommending a Noel Pearson style full immersion Direct Instruction program it does thoroughly document the problem of education of indigenous Australians in remote communities and doesn't hesitate to blame the Government for it's failure in supporting separatist education philosophies and fudging the targets.

Indigenous Education 2012
Helen Hughes and Mark Hughes
The Centre for Independent Studies

from the Introduction:
We again give special attention to the estimated 20,000 (of a total 170,000) Indigenous students enrolled in Indigenous schools in ‘bush’ communities on Indigenous lands. These students have been the principal victims of separatist education philosophies for Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. In Indigenous schools, 90% literacy and numeracy failure rates have been, and often still are, common. Another 40,000 Indigenous students attend underperforming mainstream schools with above-average failure rates, side by side with non-Indigenous students. However, the majority of Indigenous students—more than 110,000—attend quality mainstream schools where they are achieving national minimum literacy and numeracy standards; these students are therefore not the subject of this report. Unwillingness to recognise these Indigenous students’ high literacy and numeracy pass rates has fed low expectations of Indigenous students’ abilities.

from the Executive Summary:
The situation
In 2008, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) reduced the Indigenous education target from fix the problem in four years to fix half the problem in 10 years. The first four year’s NAPLAN results show that only Queensland and Western Australia have made significant progress. All states and territories will struggle to reach the reduced target. On the education ministers’ timetable, Indigenous children will not have the same education as non-Indigenous children until 2028.

Most Indigenous Australians live and work in cities and towns. Their children—more than 110,000—attend mainstream schools and achieve minimum national literacy and numeracy standards like non-Indigenous students. Indigenous students have the same intellectual capabilities as non-Indigenous students. The education industry’s focus on ‘indigeneity’ is a politically driven distraction. If indigeneity was the problem, the majority of Indigenous students would not be passing.

School failure is the problem
Some 20,000 students attend Indigenous schools—those with 75% or more Indigenous students. But only a handful of these schools are delivering effective literacy and numeracy. Another 40,000 Indigenous students attend underperforming mainstream schools, side-by-side with many more non-Indigenous students. Poor education delivered by these underperforming schools is the principal cause of educational failure in Australia for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.

Measuring literacy and numeracy 2008–12
The majority of Indigenous students pass NAPLAN tests, but there is also a significant poorly performing minority. Queensland and Western Australia have made the most progress. But other states and territories—and therefore Australia as a whole—are not on track to meet COAG targets. Even where COAG targets will be met by 2018, Indigenous student failure rates will still be above those of non-Indigenous students.

Causes of Indigenous education failure
Evidence shows that indigeneity, remoteness and a non-English speaking background are not the reasons for high Indigenous failure rates. Non-performing schools are the principal cause of Indigenous student failure. Welfare dependence, with entrenched low parental and student expectations, is a major contributing factor.

COAG and Indigenous education
By adopting politically correct rhetoric instead of numeracy and literacy solutions, COAG—the peak government body—contributes to the lack of progress.

Underperforming schools
About 200 Indigenous schools have the lowest NAPLAN results in Australia. A larger group of mainstream schools in cities and towns deliver below average education to their Indigenous and nonIndigenous students. Under existing policies, only a handful of these schools are being reformed.

Indigenous education expenditure
Indigenous education is well funded. Much of the $360 million per year of ‘Indigenous specific’ education expenditure is, however, wasted on counterproductive ‘feel-good,’ ‘culturally appropriate’ programs that take time and attention from classroom instruction.

Trapped by illiteracy on Indigenous lands
The lack of education for the 70,000 Australians living on Indigenous lands is compounded by a lack of job opportunities. In response, governments have created pretend jobs and training programs that lead nowhere.

from section 11: Conclusions and Recommendations
In 2008, Australian governments dropped the target of educational equality for Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders, replacing it with the soft target of ‘halving the gap’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students by 2018.

NAPLAN results for the four years from 2008 to 2011 show only Queensland and Western Australia making significant progress towards that target; a target that will still see half the students in Indigenous schools in the Northern Territory, Queensland, Western Australia, and South Australia fail reading and numeracy tests in 2018.

Targets are easy to set and change when they get too hard. Governments and education departments refuse to face the evidence that school ethos and classroom instruction are at the heart of education problems. The failure to reform welfare also contributes to high failure rates through low expectations and attendance rates.

Indigenous students have the same intellectual capabilities as non-Indigenous students. The children of working Indigenous parents achieve the same NAPLAN results as the children of non-Indigenous parents. The education industry’s focus on indigeneity is a politically driven distraction. So is remoteness and English as a second language. Non-Indigenous remote schools have high NAPLAN achievement rates. Migrant children are taught English successfully.

About 200 Indigenous schools are at the extreme of failing Indigenous performance. The Northern Territory’s more than 40 Homeland Learning Centres, where students do not even have full-time qualified teachers, are at the bottom of Australia’s more than 9,000 schools. Only 200 out of 2,000 students starting in Indigenous schools in 2012 are on a path to mainstream education. Each year, Indigenous schools add 2,000 non-literate and non-numerate teenagers to existing welfare-dependent communities on Indigenous lands.

Underperforming mainstream schools in cities and towns betray both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. The NAPLAN performance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in these schools cannot be fixed without improving the performance of the non-Aboriginal students sitting next to them.

Indigenous education is well funded. Most of the more than $300 million Indigenous-specific expenditure, however, is spent on programs for which there is no evidence of positive impact. These programs are counterproductive because they take time and energy away from classroom teaching.

COAG Council of Australian Governments
NAPLAN National Assessment Plan—Literacy and Numeracy

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

You may not believe in Direct Instruction because your memes won't allow it

What we approve of and what we deride or ignore depends on which memes we have assimilated most from our culture and upbringing.

 Hence, Direct Instruction is often not considered seriously by educational "progressives". It is not that the education establishment has thought deeply about it, considered the evidence and developed good arguments against DI. It is more that Direct Instruction falls outside the framework of the established Piagetian or developmental educational culture, built over decades. From such a framework a "mere" theory of instruction has less weight than the "more important" theories of development or learning or mind. A theory of instruction by its very nature appears to be "conservative" since, from a distance, it is a variation of the traditional teacher centred framework, whereas the other theories (development, learning and mind) allow far more scope to be child or learner centred and hence would appear to be more enlightened, progressive and modern. Note the vague fuzziness of the language.

I have been part of this process. For example, in 1997 I wrote an article, Invitation to Immersion, in which I outlined one version of the "thoughtful", "progressive" and "ground breaking" principles on which education ought to be based. In brief they included:
  • Play is OK ...
  • The emotional precedes the cognitive ...
  • Our knowledge is like our relationships with other people, full of subtle nuances and never ending contradictions ...
  • Trust your intuition. Frankly, logic is over-rated ...
  • Take risks! ...
  • Take your time ...
  • A good discussion promotes learning ...
These principles arose out of what I still consider to be a successful application of Seymour Papert's (just to name the best known proponent) logo based computers in education initiative. I am still fondly attached to these principles. I believe I can go through each one and argue a strong case of sorts in favour.

However, the principles of Direct Instruction are quite different, and sometimes contrary, to the above principles. Direct Instruction is based on a different set of memes. Logic rates very highly; intuition is unscientific. Time is precious, instruction proceeds at a brisk pace. Cognition precedes emotion; positive emotions arise through success in learning. As well there are other important elements that are not considered in the list above, such as a strong emphasis on continual and rigorous monitoring, through testing, that learning is happening. As Zig Engelmann says, "Give me the data".

If you are wearing the "progressive" education set of blinkers and / or filters you are probably not even going to look hard at Direct Instruction because that requires putting on a contrary set of blinkers / filters.

There is one cloud of memes which predispose their possessor to supporting "progressive education" and a different cloud of memes which pushes their host in the direction of Direct Instruction. Moreover, some of these memes have been acquired during the formative childhood years and it is more than likely that we have forgotten how we acquired them or what they were in their primitive, childhood form. Childhood amnesia of our learning processes is a well established belief. As our minds build complexity we forget the original building blocks. This may result in mutual incomprehension of the apparent perversity of the "other side" in the education culture wars.

Compare my thoughts here about education with Douglas Hofstadter's thoughts about some current memes and further reflections leading him to change his mind about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis:
Since a sizable fraction of one’s personal repertoire of perceptual chunks is provided from without, by one’s language and culture, this means that inevitably language and culture exert powerful, even irresistible, channeling influences on how one frames events. (This position is related to the “meme’s-eye view” of the nature of thought, as put forth in numerous venues, most recently in Blackmore 1999.)

Consider, for instance, such words as “backlog,” “burnout,” “micromanaging,” and “underachiever,” all of which are commonplace in today’s America. I chose these particular words because I suspect that what they designate can be found not only here and now, but as well in distant cultures and epochs, quite in contrast to such culturally and temporally bound terms as “soap opera,” “mini-series,” “couch potato,” “news anchor,” “hit-and-run driver,” and so forth, which owe their existence to recent technological developments. So consider the first set of words. We Americans living at the millennium’s cusp perceive backlogs of all sorts permeating our lives — but we do so because the word is there, warmly inviting us to see them. But back in, say, Johann Sebastian Bach’s day, were there backlogs — or more precisely, were backlogs perceived? For that matter, did Bach ever experience burnout? Well, most likely he did — but did he know that he did? Or did some of his Latin pupils strike him as being underachievers? Could he see this quality without being given the label? Or, moving further afield, do Australian aborigines resent it when their relatives micromanage their lives? Of course, I could have chosen hundreds of other terms that have arisen only recently in our century, yet that designate aspects of life that were always around to be perceived but, for one reason or another, aroused little interest, and hence were neglected or overlooked.

My point is simple: we are prepared to see, and we see easily, things for which our language and culture hand us ready-made labels. When those labels are lacking, even though the phenomena may be all around us, we may quite easily fail to see them at all. The perceptual attractors that we each possess (some coming from without, some coming from within, some on the scale of mere words, some on a much grander scale) are the filters through which we scan and sort reality, and thereby they determine what we perceive on high and low levels.

Although this sounds like an obvious tautology, that part of it that concerns words is in fact a nontrivial proposition, which, under the controversial banner of “Sapir-Whorf hypothesis,” has been heatedly debated, and to a large extent rejected, over the course of the twentieth century. I myself was once most disdainful of this hypothesis, but over time came to realize how deeply human thought — even my own! — is channeled by habit and thus, in the last accounting, by the repertoire of mental chunks (i.e., perceptual attractors) that are available to the thinker. I now think that it is high time for the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis to be reinstated, at least in its milder forms.
- Analogy as the Core of Cognition

Monday, June 11, 2012

special legitimises normal

It seems to me now that that was the beginning of two tactics used by public schools to win their battle for existence; first, to establish special groups of kids in various categories ranging from "immature" through neurogically or emotionally or educationally "handicapped" to "deprived" to the marvelous, blatant "non-achiever", and second, to take teachers who wish to teach in some odd way and let them teach these odd kids. For all the terms for special kids really just mean kids who can't or won't or don't do things the way the school thinks they ought to be done; once labelled as special, the school can pretend there is a normal group which is well served by the custom of the school. The school's obvious inability to satisfy many children can then become natural, since the kids are "special" and shouldn't be satisfied by any normal procedures and the school does not need to change its ways at all, has only to create some arrangements on the outskirts of the school to keep them special kids and special teachers out of the way
p. 64, How to Survive in Your Native Land (1971) by James Herndon

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Peter Norvig's quotes page

I very much like these quotes from Peter Norvig's quotes page:
Far and away the best prize life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.
- Theodore Roosevelt

A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.
- William James

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
- Aristotle

I don't see any god up here.
- Yuri Gagarin (in orbit, 1961)

The world has arrived at an age of cheap complex devices of great reliability; and something is bound to come of it.
- Vannevar Bush (1945)

Power corrupts, and obsolete power corrupts obsoletely.
- Ted Nelson, on the Microsoft DOS operating system

He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense.
- John McCarthy

Belief is no substitute for arithmetic.
- Henry Spencer

Errors using inadequate data are much less than those using no data at all.
- Charles Babbage

In the future, search engines should be as useful as HAL in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey--but hopefully they won't kill people.
- Sergey Brin

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one.
- Voltaire

I have often thought that if there had been a good rap group in those days, I might have chosen a career in music instead of politics.
- Richard Nixon

If I have made myself clear, you must have misunderstood me.
- Alan Greenspan

In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
- Martin Luther King Jr.