Saturday, November 30, 2013

What did this Roman, Whitlam, ever do for us?

Noel Pearson delivers the 2013 Whitlam Oration
Extract @ 21 min:

Whitlam's was a reform government for which policy and economic management were secondary. In less than three years an astonishing reform agenda leapt off the policy platform into legislation and the machinery and programme of government. The country would change forever. The modern, cosmopolitan Australia finally emerged like a technicolour butterfly from its long dormant chrysalis.

Thirty eight years later we are like John Cleese, Eric Idle and Michael Palin's Jewish insurgents ranting against the despotic rule of Rome defiantly demanding, "And what did the Romans ever do for us, anyway?"

Apart from:
  • Medibank
  • End of the Trade Practices Act
  • Cutting Tariff protection
  • No fault divorce and the Family Law Act
  • The Australia Council
  • The Federal Court
  • The Order of Australia
  • Federal Legal Aid
  • The Racial Discrimination Act
  • Needs based school funding
  • Recognition of China
  • The Law Reform Commission
  • The Abolition of Conscription
  • Student Financial Assistance
  • The Heritage Commission
  • Non discriminatory immigration laws
  • Community Health Clinics
  • Aboriginal Land Rights
  • Paid Maternity Leave for Public Servants
  • Lowering the minimum voting age to 18 years
  • Fair electoral boundaries and Senate representation for the territories
Apart from all this, what did this Roman ever do for us?

Friday, November 22, 2013

challenging Sir Ken Robinson

Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson challenges the way we're educating our children. He champions a radical rethink of our school systems, to cultivate creativity and acknowledge multiple types of intelligence.
- Speakers Ken Robinson: Author/educator
There is not just one but many Sir Ken Robinson TED talks about how the industrial model of schooling is killing creativity in our youth. Everyone loves to hear a story of a maverick but creative individual, such as Albert Einstein, who hated school and went on to demonstrate their genius. "Imagination is more important than knowledge", etc. As TED says there is "deep resonance" with this message.

Sir Ken's passionate polemic has now been challenged. Sir Ken is very popular, much loved but wrong. It's also important to drill down into the details of this argument. This corresponds to meme 5 Creativity of my current research (DI_indigenous_memes) Here are some links, with extracts:
Robinson pegs the current system as a product of the Enlightenment, but curiously the word “Romanticism” never comes up. Romanticism was an intellectual movement of the second half of the 18th century that arose in response to the rationalism of the Enlightenment. It elevated emotion and feeling, and also emphasized the sublimity of Nature and all things natural.

Indeed, Romanticism gained strength in reaction to the Industrial revolution, the very movement that Robinson criticizes as an inspiration of our erroneous education paradigm.

Romantic views of education, typified by Pestalozzi and Rousseau, emphasize personal experience as crucial, and decry the sublimation of the individual to conformity. More generally, progressive educators from the early 20th century to the present have emphasized instruction that follows the child’s interests, includes more real-world tasks, and more group work.

So Robinson is not suggesting a revolutionary, entirely new approach. In fact he’s tapping a very rich, very old vein of thought.

It’s not important to me that he fails to acknowledge his intellectual forbears. It’s important to me that he fails to acknowledge that many many people have tried to create schools inspired by these ideals before. A few were spectacular, inspiring successes. Most crashed and burned. And, as is so common, what made the successes work well seemed difficult to pin down, and dashed attempts to replicate the success elsewhere.

I want Robinson to tell me what’s going to make things different this time around.
Willingham: Is a paradigm shift really needed?
On reflection, creativity appears to me a grittier, tougher process than such talks imply. Thousands of hours of ‘deliberate practice’ enable creativity. It is not all ‘flow’ or organic personalisation. For example, repeating the rules of grammar with sometimes deadening repetition can actually create the mastery required for playful creativity and rule breaking. Sir Ken likely scripted and practised his apparently spontaneously witty talk over and over to create his seeming carefree confidence and fluency. The pleasure of finding ‘flow’ is replaced by the dull but reassuring knowledge that perseverance could help make a difference, in a ‘factory model’ school or not.
Why we should mistrust Sir Ken Robinson
People like Robinson seem to believe that our jobs as educators is to uncover the talents and aptitudes personal to each child, and then to elevate them. This assumes that such aptitudes exist, uncovered, undiscovered, like statues of David buried in cold lava, and our jobs are to be archaeologists of character. Who buries these statues? What fairy hand blesses each child with gifts, and then challenges its guardians with discovering them? What immortal hand or eye?
- The Second Coming of Ken Robinson- but he's not the messiah
1. Talent is not innate

A growing body of research shows that talent isn’t innate, waiting passively like a tooth ready to be extracted. Research collated in books from Malcolm Gladwell, Carol Dweck, Matthew Syed, Daniel Coyle, Geoff Colvin, Daniel Willingham, Doug Lemov and Paul Tough show that natural talent is a myth; it’s only dedicated, determined and disciplined practice that leads to great achievement.

2. Multiple intelligences don’t exist

Dan Willingham has summarised the research and shown that learning styles do not exist; on multiple intelligences, ‘for scientists, this theory of the mind is almost certainly incorrect’: ‘The fact that the theory is an inaccurate description of the mind makes it likely that the more closely an application draws on the theory, the less likely the application is to be effective. All in all, educators would likely do well to turn their time and attention elsewhere.’

3. Literacy and numeracy are the basis of creativity

In the UK, 17% of school leavers leave school functionally illiterate, and 22% leave school functionally innumerate. Ask any parent what they would prefer: that their child left school unable to read, write or add up but able to dance and draw creatively, or unable to dance or draw creatively but able to read, write or add up. The reason why there’s a hierarchy of subjects is because some are more empowering than others. If you can’t read, you can’t learn much else. If you can’t do arithmetic, you can’t become a teacher, doctor, engineer, scientist, plumber or electrician. Numeracy and literacy are complex evolutionary applications of civilisation; they take a great deal of time, practice and expert guidance to master, so we dedicate a lot of time to them in school, and rightly so. Sir Ken is wrong when he says children do not need to be helped to learn, for the most part: children do need to be helped to learn – every teacher knows that. We don’t dedicate so much time to dancing and drawing because they don’t disempower you so much if you can’t do them.

4. Misbehaviour is more damaging than conformity

In any classroom, without compliance with instructions, no one learns anything. Disruptive behaviour is chronic, particularly in the most challenging schools. The problem for many teachers is not so much conformity, but rather pervasive disruption to teaching. Self-discipline is not an evil weed to be uprooted, but the foundation for effective learning. But then again, Sir Ken has not been teacher in a tough school – nor any primary or secondary school at all.

5. Academic achievement is important, but unequal

Strong academic achievement in private schools allow 96% to go to University, and in the UK commandeer 70% of the jobs as high court judges, 54% of the jobs as doctors and 51% of the jobs as journalists, despite only educating 7% of children. Yet only 16% of the poorest pupils go to University, due to persistent academic underachievement. It’s no good Sir Ken disparaging the education system’s focus on academic ability; closing the gap in academic attainment is vital for social mobility, social equity and social justice in this country.

6. Subject knowledge is vital for critical and creative skills

Decades of scientific research shows the importance of broad and domain-specific knowledge for reading, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. So it’s no good Sir Ken disparaging subject-based curricula. All over the world, mastering subject disciplines is the route to success. It’s no coincidence, no middle-class industrial Victorian conspiracy that China, South Korea, Canada and Scandanavia all organise their systems like this, as global expert Tim Oates explains: ‘In all high-performing systems, the fundamentals of subjects are strongly emphasised, have substantial time allocation, and are the focus of considerable attention’. It’s the most effective way of organising teaching and learning, because, as Daisy Christodoulou explains: ‘thinking skills are subject-specific; our working memories are limited and easily overloaded by distractions; and pupils are novices,’ not experts, and so require expert guidance.
What Sir Ken Got Wrong
I don’t completely agree with all of Pragmatic Education’s arguments (referring to the link above)
  • Intelligence may not be malleable. You can learn more knowledge, and that can come from practice. It’s not clear that fluid intelligence is improved with practice.
  • Learning styles don’t seem to exist. Multiple intelligences? I don’t think that the answer is as clear there.
  • Creativity comes from knowing things. Literacy and numeracy are great ways of coming to know things. It’s a bit strong to say that creativity comes from literacy and numeracy.
  • There are lots of reasons why rich kids are unequal to poor kids (see the issue about poverty and cognitive function.) Cultural knowledge is just part of it.
But 90% — I think he gets what’s wrong with Sir Ken’s arguments. What Sir Ken Got Wrong, and what the blogger got wrong too
Note: I haven't replicated the links in quotes from the above blogs. Many of these links are valuable. You will need to visit the original blogs if you want to research this further.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Chris Sarra's Stronger Smarter Schools: an Independent Evaluation

A Summative Evaluation of the Stronger Smarter Learning Communities Project
They [teachers] say you’re not going to be successful - that you can’t do this.

And just because you’re Indigenous or something, they expect nothing from you. That’s what they basically say. That’s what they want you doing; they want you to stay what they think you are.
—Indigenous Secondary School Student, 2012
Follow the link for the full report. Hopefully listing the findings and policy implications below will provide an initial incentive to some robust discussion of the full report.

Stronger Smarter Institute (SSI)
Stronger Smarter Leadership Program (SSLP)
Stronger Smarter Learning Communities Project (SSLC)
Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA)


This is a summative evaluation of the Stronger Smarter Learning Communities (SSLC) project that examines whether and how the SSLC project had an impact on Australian state schools which adopted its models and approaches. Drawing from qualitative and quantitative data sets, it also presents the largest scale and most comprehensive analysis of Indigenous education practices and outcomes to date.

It includes empirical findings on: success in changing school ethos and community engagement; challenges in progress at closure of the 'gap' in conventionally measured achievement and performance; schools' and principals' choices in curriculum and instruction; profiles of teachers' and principals' training and views on teacher education; and a strong emphasis on community and school Indigenoous voices and views on Indigenous education.

Key Findings


Key Finding 1:
The transfer/mobility issue does not appear to be a major problem for continuity of school leadership: the average principal tenure in their current position is 5.74 years, but principals averaged 2.36 schools over the past 5 years.

Key Finding 2:
Remote/very remote schools are more likely to have less experienced staff with higher levels of transfer and turnover: respondents in remote/very remote schools were more likely to report having had 5 or less years of teaching experience compared to their colleagues in metropolitan or provincial schools; respondents in remote/very remote schools were more likely to report having spent 5 years or less in their current school compared to their colleagues in metropolitan or provincial schools.

Key Finding 3:
The teaching workforce is highly experienced with an average experience level of 14.63 years, but the large standard deviation (11.109) suggests that there is a wide variation in the age of teachers, with a significant proportion of highly experienced teachers and a significant proportion of beginning teachers.

Key Finding 4:
Overall credential levels of the administrative and teaching workforce are high, with over 80% of teachers and principals having at least a 4 year bachelor’s degree, and 9.7% of teachers and 19.6% of principals with masters or doctoral degrees.

Key Finding 5:
Overall levels of previous coursework on Indigenous education are low, with less than one third of the combined principal and teacher sample reporting any prior specialised pre- or in-service courses.

SSLC Operations and Processes

Key Finding 6:
SSLC encountered difficulties in staff retention and continuity.

Key Finding 7:
There were content and program transition issues in linking the SSLP leadership training model with SSLC’s focus on school reform.

Key Finding 8:
SSLC and SSI were not able to identify, document and circulate models and exemplars of successful practice for use by Hub and Affiliate schools.

Key Finding 9:
SSLC and SSI did not systematically provide advice on specific classroom- level reforms or innovations to schools.

Community Study

Key Finding 10:
The Indigenous community experience is that schools continue to work from a deficit perspective on Indigenous students, parents, communities and community members, and school staff.

Key Finding 11:
A significant proportion of teachers surveyed expressed deficit views of Indigenous students, families, communities and cultures.

Key Finding 12:
Many Indigenous education workers and teachers report the experience of marginalisation and disenfranchisement in schools, with reactive job roles and insecure working conditions.

Key Finding 13:
Community members interviewed consider many attempts at school consultation as token and superficial, with little real participation in school decision-making and governance.

Key Finding 14:
Indigenous students and staff interviewed report everyday experiences of labeling and mis-recognition of their actions, learning and social relations.

Key Finding 15:
Community members and parents interviewed acknowledge the importance of test score improvement, but are also concerned with other pathways, aspirations and goals, including cultural knowledge, awareness and relations, community participation, student safety and health.

Key Finding 16:
There is broad community support for the embedding of Indigenous knowledges in the curriculum, but Indigenous students and staff report significant problems with non-Indigenous teacher knowledge and intercultural sensitivity.

Teacher Knowledge and Community Engagement

Key Finding 17:
Teacher self-reported knowledge of Indigenous cultures, histories and communities is low.

Key Finding 18:
Teacher self-reported everyday engagement with Indigenous peoples and communities outside of the school is low.

Key Finding 19:
Teachers with higher self-reported levels of knowledge about and engagement with Indigenous communities and cultures are more likely to report that they are teaching Indigenous topics and knowledges in the classroom.

Key Finding 20:
Teachers reported that they were not satisfied that their pre-service teacher education adequately prepared them to support Indigenous learners.

Key Finding 21:
Teachers in SSLC schools report higher levels of engagement with Indigenous communities and cultures than teachers in non-SSLC schools.

School Cultural and Structural Reform

Key Finding 22:
There are no significant differences in SSLC and non-SSLC leaders’ reported foci on high expectations and Indigenous school climate.

Key Finding 23:
SSLC school leaders report stronger foci on Indigenous staffing and leadership, and community engagement and governance than non-SSLC school leaders.

Key Finding 24:
Teachers report 3 identifiable paths of reform in their schools: (1) from Indigenous school climate to high expectations promotion and enactment; (2) from Indigenous school climate to Indigenous community governance and Indigenous school leadership; (3) from Indigenous school climate to Indigenous community engagement and knowledge.


Key Finding 25:
SSLC teachers report significantly more instructional time allocated to embedding of Indigenous content, knowledges and topics in the curriculum than teachers in non-SSLC schools.

Key Finding 26:
There are no significant differences in SSLC and non-SSLC teachers’ reports of their practices in other areas of pedagogy.

Key Finding 27:
The dominant approaches to pedagogy reported by SSLC and non-SSLC teachers are emphases on basic skills instruction and Vocational Education.

Key Finding 28:
Overall reported time allocated to the embedding of Indigenous content, topics, and knowledges is low.

Key Finding 29:
Reported time allocations for canonical pedagogy, progressive pedagogy and critical literacy pedagogy are low.

Key Finding 30:
Many teachers do not have the requisite background knowledge and cultural experience to teach topics and content on Indigenous knowledge and culture.

Key Finding 31:
When the overall school percentage of Indigenous students reaches key thresholds, it increases the likelihood of an emphasis on basic skills (>15%), Vocational Education (>11.5%) and embedding of Indigenous knowledge (>15.5%).

Key Finding 32:
Teachers in lower ICSEA value schools are more likely to report stronger emphasis on behaviour management (<933.5), basic skills (<922), Vocational Education (<952.5) and embedding of Indigenous knowledge (952.5).

Key Finding 33:
More experienced teachers (>10 years) report less time allocated to behaviour management and basic skills.

Key Finding 34:
SSLC Hub schools’ choices of curriculum programs, approaches and in- service programs are eclectic, with no discernible patterns of state, regional or school-type consistency.


Key Finding 35:
Overall, teachers and school leaders reported low emphases on Indigenous languages and dialects in the classroom.

Key Finding 36: Overall levels of teacher awareness of Indigenous languages is low.

Key Finding 37:
Schools with higher percentage of Indigenous students are more likely to focus on Indigenous languages and dialects in the curriculum.

Key Finding 38:
The focus of current activity is in the teaching of Indigenous languages as part of LOTE and language revitalisation efforts, concentrated in a small number of schools surveyed.

Key Finding 39:
Schools working with LOTE programs are faced with complex local issues of language selection and the availability of linguistic corpus documentation, and with problems in securing qualified local speakers/teachers and curriculum resources.

Key Finding 40:
Teachers’ and school leaders’ understanding of, and engagement with, English as a Second Language and English as a Second Dialect issues facing Indigenous students is low.

Assessment and Certification

Key Finding 41:
Principals and teachers have limited expertise and training in the analysis and the use of test score and other performance data.

Key Finding 42:
The emphasis on improvement of NAPLAN test results is a dominant influence on school planning, policy and pedagogy.

Key Finding 43:
There is little evidence of innovation or the building of teacher expertise in classroom assessment (e.g., task-based assessment, high quality assessment, authentic assessment).

Key Finding 44:
Personal Learning Plans are a viable approach to authentic and negotiated assessment and planning, but these require training and systematic implementation.

Key Finding 45:
Streaming and ability grouping are common at all levels of primary and secondary education.

Systemic Data on Student Performance

Key Finding 46:
There are no statistically significant SSLC effects on improved school level attendance.

Key Finding 47:
There are no statistically significant SSLC effects on improved school level achievement on NAPLAN tests.

Key Finding 48:
In SSLC and non-SSLC schools, there are numerous individual instances of ‘closing the gap’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students in specific age/grade cohorts in specific curriculum areas – but there is no coherent pattern of school level, school type, jurisdiction or curriculum- area effects.


Key Finding 49:
SSLC has not reached sustainable levels of Hub-to-Hub communication and continues to rely on communication mediated by SSLC central administration.

Key Finding 50:
SSLC is not scalable and has not shown signs of increased or autonomous Hub-to-Hub communication as it has developed over time.

Key Finding 51:
Longstanding and durable regional clusters are the organisational units with the demonstrated capacity to sustain networked communications.

Key Finding 52:
School leaders do not report staff turnover as a major impediment to sustainable reform.

Key Finding 53:
School leaders report that the difficulty in hiring Indigenous staff and engaging with key community leaders is an impediment to sustainable reform.

Major Findings

Major Finding 1:
That the Stronger Smarter model’s recognition of the prevalence of ‘deficit thinking’ in schools is accurate – but the approach lacks an institutional analysis of how to reform and alter the effects of this phenomenon.

Major Finding 2:
That SSLC was successful at changing school foci on the need for Indigenous hiring, staffing and leadership in the school, on the need for improved community engagement and moves towards Indigenous participation in school decision-making and governance.

Major Finding 3:
That SSLC was successful at increasing teachers’ and leaders’ attention on the importance of knowledge of Indigenous cultures and communities, and on the need to embed these in teaching and learning.

Major Finding 4:
That despite these efforts, the general Indigenous community view and experience is that schools continue to work from deficit assumptions that preclude student enfranchisement, academic improvement and genuine community involvement and governance.

Major Finding 5:
That SSLC was not successful at generating the improvement of conventionally measured attendance and achievement.

Major Finding 6:
That the predominant, default modes of pedagogy for Indigenous students are basic skills instruction leading to vocational education pathways, part of a deficit model of testing/remediation/streaming and tracking.

Major Finding 7:
That there is an overall lack of school level curriculum program coherence in teaching/learning in SSLC and non-SSLC schools, with many principals and schools making eclectic and apparently idiosyncratic decisions about programs, curriculum materials and in- service approaches.

Major Finding 8:
That overall school leader and teacher knowledge of and engagement with Indigenous communities, cultures, languages and histories are a major impediment to community engagement, school reform and improved outcomes.

Policy Implications

Policy Implication 1:
That the current emphasis on NAPLAN without systematic state and regional-level curriculum assistance and advice has the effect of increasing principals’ tendencies to pursue ‘quick fix’ programs in a way that generates less coherent school programs and skewed test results.

Policy Implication 2:
That the push for increased principal autonomy without improved training in instructional/curricular leadership and data analysis risks exaggerating the skewed and idiosyncratic patterns of achievement described here.

Policy Implication 3:
That the Australian Curriculum mandate for the embedding of Indigenous knowledges raises major issues in terms of the requisite depth of teacher knowledge of Indigenous cultures, histories, issues and languages.

Policy Implication 4:
That - given the diversity of schools, communities and cohort demographics - the assumption that there is a single, ‘one size fits all’ curriculum or pedagogy solution for all Indigenous learners is not the solution to the problem of program incoherence, but risks exacerbating the problems identified here.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

the AEU and ACER evaluations of Direct Instruction

According to Mike Williss, an Australian Education Union (AEU) Research Officer, Direct Instruction threatens teacher autonomy, student engagement, creativity, curiosity and a socially critical curriculum.("Will you be directly instructed how to teach?", AEU Journal, November 2013, p. 16).

This correlates with the memes currently listed 4 ("real learning" claims), 5 (creativity) and 6 (philosophy) in my analysis (DI_indigenous_memes) of the factors that strongly influence the perception of the opponents of Direct Instruction.

Here are some quotes from the Williss article, which is accompanied by a Simon Kneebone cartoon of a teacher being zapped in a Skinner box for deviating from a Direct Instruction script.
There are considerable "highs" in our job as teachers and they are mainly associated with those occasions when we experience autonomy, when we are in control of what we do and are doing it because we want to, not because we have to.

Pretty much the same thing serves as the basis for student engagement with their learning.

So how would we feel if we were given a prepared lesson script, were told only to say those things on the running sheet, to only engage in the activities that it stipulated and in the required sequence?

At its worst, that is just what the US-inspired Direct Instruction approach to teaching means...

So in comes learning for rats, classrooms as Skinner boxes, and out goes creativity, curiosity and - God forbid! - a socially critical curriculum.
This poorly argued case for teacher freedom and student engagement fails to address the dialectic between freedom and necessity, or, rights and responsibilities. This argument would appeal more to an irresponsible teacher ("I do what I want to do" is not the same thing as socially responsible autonomy) than a teacher who is prepared to explore suggestions as to what might improve the learning of disadvantaged students. You can't be meaningfully creative or socially critical unless you have a strong knowledge base and are prepared to actually look and examine deeply the alternatives that go against your keenly felt ("ideological") world view. Like it or not behaviourist principles (that desirable behaviour when rewarded is often repeated) are used extensively by every successful teacher and parent.

Speaking personally, I have experimented with a wide variety of teaching methods and have found that Direct Instruction is the most effective for engaging students from severely disadvantaged, remote indigenous backgrounds. The simple reason for this is that students can be successful with it, they learn, and success is essential for engagement. My autonomy, creativity, curiosity and ability to be socially critical of commentators such as Williss remains intact.

The most important thing is whether Direct Instruction actually works to improve the learning outcomes of disadvantaged students. The history is that it did work in Project Follow Through, a decade long study in the USA in the 1970s. See Engelmann's For Readers Not Familiar With Project Follow Through. But what is the current state of the evidence in the Cape York trial?

This aspect is falsely addressed in one paragraph of the Williss article:
...the percentage of students in Pearson's schools at or above NAPLAN national benchmarks in all areas tested was substantially below not only the national percentage, but also the percentage for "indigenous Queensland students from remote and very remote areas"
Note the meaningless quotation marks which I have faithfully reproduced from the original article, the source of which is not referenced by this socially critical research officer.

Are the students in the schools in Noel Pearson's led Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy (CYAAA), Coen, Hopevale and Aurukun, performing substantially below other indigenous Queensland students in remote and very remote locations? No, they are not. Williss does not even reveal the source for his incorrect allegation.

The Australian Council for Educational Research has prepared an independent analysis at the request of the Department of Education Training and Employment Queensland titled Evaluation of the Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy Initiative, June 2013 (pdf, 93pp).

The findings of that report are disappointing from my perspective but they certainly don't support Williss's assertion. The ACER report has a quantitative and a qualitative assessment. The quantitative data informed assessment finds neither in favour nor against the CYAAA initiative. This is because irregular attendance rates by students often exceed 20% and hence the collected data (NAPLAN and other copious data much of it native to the DI programme itself) is ruled out for a high stakes programme such as this. But it is also fair to say that the data that was collected for attending students does not show a remarkable improvement of the type reported by Zig Engelmann and his supporters in other situations. This is disappointing.

On the other hand, the more anecdotal qualitative data does show strong support for the programme particularly from the teachers delivering it. Here is a quote from one of the longer term teachers:
Personally, having seen what it was like before and to see it now with the new structure, it blows me away. To see the kids reading, they start younger, and to see the Year 1s and 2s reading, it is wonderful. The older kids could not do that. To get them this far is amazing. (p. 29)
What can we conclude at this point? One of the core principles of the Direct Instruction philosophy is that anecdotal evaluations on their own are not good enough. Every good teacher can report a warm and fuzzy feeling emanating from some of their classes. But more than this is required to justify the implementation of a particular programme across a wider scale.

The teachers union article is ideologically driven from a stereotypical "left" position. The teacher's union is more interested in a fuzzy autonomy for its members than conducting real research into what works best for disadvantaged students. Nevertheless, the far more objective ACER report shows us that more research needs to be done to find the best answer to assisting the most disadvantaged students. The ACER report should be studied in more detail as part of an ongoing evaluation by those genuinely interested in helping the most disadvantaged students in Australia.

Friday, November 15, 2013

high class soft thinking (Twiggy Forrest)

Awaken, hosted by Stan Grant (Friday 15th November)

After some discussion about Twiggy Forrest's considerable efforts to create 65,000 indigenous jobs, Stan Grant ventured to ask about the importance of indigenous culture. Twiggy's phrase in response "high class soft thinking" was new to me but it was refreshing to hear him tackle this question head on and sharply.
Stan Grant: Is this just about having a job? What about preserving culture and being strong in your culture?

Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest: Ok Stan, I call that high class soft thinking.

The difference between a job is not having a job. The difference between a job is welfare.

If you want to see the rapid degradation of aboriginal, customs and law then put it into welfare. It happens real fast.

You maintain traditions by having pride in yourself and your work. When you go to China they are very Chinese but also able to go toe to toe with you in any professional environment. They haven't lost any of their culture or history. They love it.

It's soft thinking to say that indigenous people aren't capable of having employment and keeping their culture. That's just soft thinking white fella' rubbish. People who are on the grog on welfare lose their culture fast.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Noel Pearson delivers the 2013 Whitlam oration

Noel Pearson delivers the 2013 Whitlam oration. Video, 50 minutes.

You should watch this. Pearson at his best. History, humour, sincere tribute and policy prescription rolled into one speech.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Direct Instruction may spread throughout disadvantaged Australian schools

It's happening. The Direct Instruction educational methodology initiated by Noel Pearson in some Cape York indigenous schools will be spread to other disadvantaged schools throughout Australia by the Abbott government.

Some extracts from the article in today's Australian, (the link is behind a pay wall), Noel Pearson's Cape plan can help all disadvantaged kids by Patricia Karvelas, with some questioning footnotes by me.
THE radical direct instruction teaching model has transformed education in Cape York communities and could benefit disadvantaged children across the country, says the parliamentary secretary charged with helping Tony Abbott deliver his indigenous affairs agenda.

Victorian MP Alan Tudge, who has just completed a trip to the Cape York community of Aurukun, where direct instruction is operating, says although formal data is inconclusive (1), he was overwhelmed by the difference he saw at the schools.

The Prime Minister has approached Cape York indigenous leader Noel Pearson to review the education of all disadvantaged and impoverished children and explore rolling out the direct instruction teaching model in schools across the nation...

"School attendance has improved markedly and kids are clearly engaged and learning," Mr Tudge said. "While the formal evaluation, released two months ago, was inconclusive due to lack of data (1), there is certainly great optimism by many about the direct instruction method coupled with strong attendance measures." ...

Mr Tudge said the government would commit $22 million to support "proven explicit teaching methods" into other schools. "We are also absolutely determined to ensure that school attendance is improved," he said. "We need to do things differently because there are systemic breakdowns in many places where kids are years behind or functionally illiterate when finishing primary school.

"It starts with attendance; no child will keep up if they are only attending half the time. In the Northern Territory, only 13 per cent of remote indigenous kids are attending 80 per cent of the time (2)"

Mr Tudge said research suggested explicit, phonics-based teaching methods were necessary for children who were behind or struggling. "The strength of the direct instruction model is that it appears to be a system that can be replicated and is not reliant on a single brilliant individual or team to make it work (3)," he said.

Mr Pearson said that when the Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy was set up in 2010, the three schools involved were among Queensland's most disadvantaged "but one of them, Aurukun, was undoubtedly the worst school in Queensland".

"Our goal was to turn these poor schools into fair schools," Mr Pearson said. "And then we want to turn fair schools into good schools. And after than we want good schools to become great schools (4). I am very confident after three years that Aurukun is now a fair school. That means if you send your child to that school, your child will receive the education he or she deserves.
(1) If formal data is inconclusive then that is a big worry. Alan Tudge's feeling about being overwhelmed at the differences he has seen is unfortunately not good enough. The history of educational reform is that new methods have been used, sometimes for decades without clear evidence that they work. The research base for effective teaching does need to be clear.

(2) Getting kids to attend remote indigenous schools is a major problem. As well as having good schools that are worth attending (the pull factor) the problem of having parents being committed to send their kids to school is just as important (the push factor). The way this is being tackled in Cape York is through the Family Responsibility Commission. See Catherine Ford's brilliant Great Expectations essay for more details about how problematic this issue is.

(3) I agree strongly with this point. Other methods might work but they don't scale to mass delivery because of their complexity and / or reliance on a brilliant or inspirational teacher.

(4) While agreeing that Direct Instruction (and MULTILIT) is great teaching the basics I'm wondering if Noel Pearson is thinking that other methodologies may be also required to make the transition from fair to good to great. This would be consistent with the dialectical "radical centre" thinking articulated in some of his essays.

Update (13th November): Evaluation of the Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy Initiative for Department of Education Training and Employment Queensland. Prepared by Australian Council for Educational Research, June 2013 (pdf, 93pp)