Some things I’ve been reading:
This article reports on a two-year evaluation of the Gauteng Primary Language and Mathematics Strategy (GPLMS), an innovative system-wide reform intervention designed to improve learning outcomes in Gauteng Province, South Africa. Using data from universal testing of all learners in 2008 on a provincial systemic evaluation, as well as data from the 2011, 2012 and 2013 Annual National Assessment tests, this article investigates whether or not the GPLMS improves the numeracy skills of learners in early-grade mathematics in underperforming schools. Using as identification strategy, the natural experiment that resulted from a miscalculation of the provincial systemic evaluation test scores in 2008, which had been used to assign schools to the GPLMS intervention, the study shows that the GPLMS intervention is positively associated with improvements in early-grade mathematics performance of schools in the neighbourhood around the assignment threshold. The findings of the study contribute to the growing body of knowledge that shows the effectiveness of combining lesson plans, learner resources, and quality teacher capacity building.
- “Civilising in Earnest: Schools and Schooling” – Chapter 18 of Weber’s “Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernisation of Rural France.” An incredibly insightful read about the role that education plays in unifying a country, standardising a language and promoting the dominant culture. A must read.
- Currently I’m very interested in Catherine Snow‘s research on reading – the way she writes about reading and reading research is both accessible and sophisticated but also totally unpretentious. Start with this article: “Reading Comprehension: Reading for Learning.” I also found an online version of Adger, Snow & Christian’s (2003) “What teachers need to know about language” which looks great.
- I recently gave a workshop/seminar at Herzlia High School in Cape Town on the topic “Assessment: Helping or Hurting the Academic Project?” where we spoke about new thinking in the assessment space, as well as expanding what we consider the academic project to be; including socio-emotional skills, grit, and 21st century skills (Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Communication). On this note, NPR published a nice post titled “Non-academic skills are key to success. But what should we call them.”
- Evaluation of Washington DC’s IMPACT policy (controversial teacher-rating system and concomitant replacement of ineffective teachers) had a positive impact on student outcomes
- Pasi Sahlberg writes that Harvard grad students (and all others) should be able to write op-eds and not just academic papers. Obviously I agree. Future students consider yourselves notified.
- BrainPickings covers Krista Tippett’s new book “Becoming Wise: An inquiry into the mystery and art of living.” I thoroughly enjoyed Krista’s interview on Design Matters.
- Cool TED Talk by Paulo Blikstein from Stanford on his idea of the FabLab@School at Stanford.
- “The End of the Lecture?” by Peter Struck – “In contrast a good lecture should be designed to make a student work harder to prepare for the following one. It will motivate students to carry on the really hard, self-driven work of teaching themselves. It needs to transform data into knowledge by providing a synthesis and modelling for the students how to do it. It tailors the mass of information on a subject into a comprehensible narrative that picks and chooses, making judgments and subordinating some ideas to others. It animates the raw power of the fresh ideas it conveys. In other words, what makes a good lecture in these new formats is pretty much what makes a good lecture at all. Lectures have always been hard to do well, and we would benefit from more time spent working to improve them, something that will happen only by first resisting anti-lectureism, which, as a side effect, absolves us from the task.
- Q&A with Angela Duckworth (of ‘grit’ fame) “One thing we’re doing to learn more about what teachers are doing, what works, and how we can scale it, is we are giving grants to teachers. Teachers probably have better ideas than we do about children and how to help them. What they don’t always have is training in the scientific method, measurement, study design, and statistics. What we’re hoping to do is help those teachers test those ideas in ways that might be more systematic than they might be able to do on their own.”
Minding the gap?’ A national foundation phase teacher supply and demand analysis: 2012-2020 – Green, Adendorf & Mathebula (2015)
Abstract: This paper explores the extent to which foundation phase teacher supply meets demand in South Africa, against a backdrop of considerable change in an education system endeavouring to fulfil the needs of a 21st century society while still battling with significant inequalities in the distribution of skills. The primary purpose of the paper is to use recently sourced teacher education data from a range of national databases to determine to what extent state-led interventions are assisting to meet the foundation phase teacher supply and demand challenge. The data, as well as the more qualitative aspects of their context, are analysed at the macro (national) level to present a more nuanced picture of foundation phase teacher supply and demand. The study attempts to move beyond simply basing an analysis of supply and demand on teacher attrition, and takes into account multiple variables that should be considered in supply and demand planning. It also goes beyond simply matching supply to demand in the most recent year for which data is available, to forecasting a future scenario which will need to be planned for. The paper concludes by suggesting steps that should be taken to ensure a better match between supply and demand.
Making Good Use of New Assessments: Interpreting and Using Scores From the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (2015) by Linda Darling-Hammond Edward Haertel James Pellegrino. Important thinking about around new assessments.
Quasi-experimental evidence on the effects of mother tongue-based education on reading skills and early labour market outcomes (Bethlehem A. Argaw∗ Leibniz University of Hanover February 23, 2016)
Abstract: Prior to the introduction of mother tongue based education in 1994, the language of instruction for most subjects in Ethiopia’s primary schools was the official language (Amharic) – the mother tongue of only one third of the population. This paper uses the variation in individual’s exposure to the policy change across birth cohorts and mother tongues to estimate the effects of language of instruction on reading skills and early labour market outcomes. The results indicate that the reading skills of birth cohorts that gained access to mother tongue-based primary education after 1994 improved significantly by about 11 percentage points. The provision of primary education in mother tongue halved the reading skills gap between Amharic and non-Amharic mother tongue users. The improved reading skills seem to translate into gains in the labour market in terms of the skill contents of jobs held and the type of payment individuals receive for their work. An increase in school enrollment and enhanced parental educational investment at home are identified as potential channels linking mother tongue instruction and an improvement in reading skills.
“Double for Nothing? Experimental Evidence on the Impact of an Unconditional Teacher Salary Increase on Student Performance in Indonesia” (Dee et al, 2016)
Abstract: How does a large unconditional increase in salary affect employee performance in the public sector? We present the first experimental evidence on this question to date in the context of a unique policy change in Indonesia that led to a permanent doubling of base teacher salaries. Using a large-scale randomized experiment across a representative sample of Indonesian schools that affected more than 3,000 teachers and 80,000 students, we find that the doubling of pay significantly improved teacher satisfaction with their income, reduced the incidence of teachers holding outside jobs, and reduced self-reported financial stress. Nevertheless, after two and three years, the doubling in pay led to no improvements in measures of teacher effort or student learning outcomes, suggesting that the salary increase was a transfer to teachers with no discernible impact on student outcomes. Thus, contrary to the predictions of various efficiency wage models of employee behavior (including gift-exchange, reciprocity, and reduced shirking), as well as those of a model where effort on pro-social tasks is a normal good with a positive income elasticity, we find that unconditional increases in salaries of incumbent teachers had no meaningful positive impact on student learning
Links I liked:
As part of project we are doing for the EU/SA Presidency, two RESEP-affiliated researchers – Martin Gustafsson and Stephen Taylor – have published important papers extending our understanding of education in South Africa. The first looks at the spatial distribution of teachers in South Africa and pays special attention to post-provisioning, the recruitment and employment of teachers and how policy can be improved in these areas. The second looks at the impact of treating schools to a new provincial administration, exploiting a change in provincial boundaries that led to some schools ‘moving’ into different provinces.
“Teacher supply and the quality of schooling in South Africa. Patterns over space and time
” (Gustafsson 2016
Links I liked:
- The story of Judge Lex Mpati who went from being a petrol attendant after matric to the President of the Supreme Court of Appeal and Chancellor of Rhodes University where he studied (bartending on the side to pay for his studies). Such an inspiration that we have people like this who have gone from the very bottom to the very top.
- The World Economic Forum (WEF) has a new report out titled “New Vision for Education: Fostering Social and Emotional Learning Through Technology.” (picture above taken from here). Interesting. Would like to see more research on this. (Again I reiterate that there isn’t anyone looking at grit – ala Duckworth – in South Africa).
- The “What Works Clearinghouse” funded by the US Department of Education is an exceptional piece of scientific wisdom. Reviewing the evidence and coming up with recommendations on “what works” – what a brilliant (and obvious/logical) idea! Anyone in SA want to take this on? 🙂 (Thanks John Aitchison for reminding me of this).
- NATURE has published a “Twenty tips for interpreting scientific claims” – Great!
- Great Quartz article taking a behind-the-scenes look at the Hillary Campaign and how Google’s top dog (Eric Schmidt) is funding a startup that provides analytics support.
- “Labyrinth of Lies” (2015) – great German film about prosecuting those responsible for the atrocities at Auschwitz, and this at a time soon after WW2 when key Nazi officials remained in high office in Germany. I watched this on the plane to Vancouver and was particularly moved by the scene where Jewish survivors explain what happened to them at Auschwitz (at the time this wasn’t discussed in Germany). The dialogue goes silent and all you see is the faces of the secretary transcribing the accounts in disbelief.
- Knight Lab Timeline – Great resource to make Timelines for presentations. Thanks Shelanna Sturgess!
Some presentations I’ve given in the last month:
Some new research…
- “Schooling inequality, higher education and the labour market: evidence from a graduate tracer study in the Eastern Cape, South Africa” 2015 article by Michael Rogan and John Reynolds comparing graduates from Fort Hare and Rhodes ABSTRACT: An emerging body of research has shown that there are large inequalities in access to higher education in South Africa. There remains a gap, however, in identifying how factors such as schooling background, academic performance, race and gender are linked with key higher education outcomes. In particular, the significance of these factors for first-choice degree attainment at university and in the subsequent transition to the labour market are of interest. This paper addresses these questions by presenting a descriptive and multivariate analysis of data collected through a tracer study which interviewed graduates from two Eastern Cape universities. The results suggest that schooling history, race and gender are associated with career choice and unemployment. These findings have important implications both for equity and for the efficiency of higher education institutions. The article concludes with a discussion of potential policy responses and the implications for equity in higher education.
- “Learning from Failure: why large government policy initiatives have gone so badly wrong in the past and how the chances of success in the future can be improved” by Sheringold (2015)
- System-wide improvement of early-grade mathematics: New evidence from the Gauteng Primary Language and Mathematics StrategyB Fleisch, V Schöer, G Roberts, A Thornton – International Journal of Educational Development 2016 ABSTRACT This article reports on a two-year evaluation of the Gauteng Primary Language and Mathematics Strategy (GPLMS), an innovative system-wide reform intervention designed to improve learning outcomes in Gauteng Province, South Africa. Using data from universal testing of all learners in 2008 on a provincial systemic evaluation, as well as data from the 2011, 2012 and 2013 Annual National Assessment tests, this article investigates whether or not the GPLMS improves the numeracy skills of learners in early-grade mathematics in underperforming schools. Using as identification strategy, the natural experiment that resulted from a miscalculation of the provincial systemic evaluation test scores in 2008, which had been used to assign schools to the GPLMS intervention, the study shows that the GPLMS intervention is positively associated with improvements in early-grade mathematics performance of schools in the neighbourhood around the assignment threshold. The findings of the study contribute to the growing body of knowledge that shows the effectiveness of combining lesson plans, learner resources, and quality teacher capacity building.
- Treating schools to a new administration: Evidence from South Africa of the impact of better practices in the system-level administration of schools M Gustafsson, S Taylor – 2016 ABSTRACT: School examination results are far from ideal measures of progress in schooling systems, yet if analysed with sufficient care these data, which are common in education systems, can serve this purpose. The paper partly deals with how various student selection and year-on-year comparability issues in examinations data can be dealt with. This is demonstrated using South African student-level results, aggregated to the school level, for Grade 12 mathematics in the years 2005 to 2013. This was a period during which provincial boundaries changed, creating a quasi-experiment which is amenable to impact evaluation techniques. Value-added school production functions and fixed effects models are used to establish that movement into a better performing province was associated with large student performance improvements, equal in magnitude to around a year’s worth of progress in a fast improving country. Improvements were not always immediate, however, and the data seem to confirm that substantial gains are only achieved after several years, after students have been exposed to many grades of better teaching. The institutional factors which might explain the improvements are discussed. Spending per student was clearly not a significant explanatory variable. What did seem to matter was more efficient use of non-personnel funds by the authorities, with a special focus on educational materials, the brokering of pacts between stakeholders, including teacher unions, schools and communities, and better monitoring and support by the district office. Moreover, the education department in one province in question, Gauteng, has for many years pursued an approach which is unusual in the South African context, of hiring a substantial number of senior managers within the bureaucracy on fixed term contracts, as opposed to on a permanent basis, the aim being to improve accountability and flexibility at the senior management level.
- Also, this isn’t new (it’s 2012) but I’ll be buying/ordering this volume ASAP: “Handbook of International Large-Scale Assessment: Background, Technical Issues, and Methods of Data Analysis“
- Ursula Hoadley and Joe Muller have just published their important paper looking at assessment in South Africa “Visibility and differentiation: Systemic testing in a developing country context” (Curriculum Journal, 2016)- I prefer their earlier title “Testing testing: Investigating the epistemic potential of systemic testing” (Un-gated draft-version of that paper here).
Why has large-scale standardised testing attracted such a bad press? Why has pedagogic benefit to be derived from test results been downplayed? The paper investigates this question by first surveying the pros and cons of testing in the literature, and goes on to examine educators’ responses to standardised, large-scale tests in a sample of low socio-economic status (SES) schools in the Western Cape, South Africa. The paper shows that teachers and school managers have an ambivalent attitude to tests, wary of the reputational costs they can incur, but also curious about the differentiated picture test results can give them as they learn to ‘read’ the underlying codes embedded in the results. The paper concludes that a focus on what tests make visible and a recognition of the pedagogic agency of teachers points to potential pedagogic benefits of systemic tests.
- Craig Paxton has finally finished his PhD thesis “Possibilities and constraints for improvement in rural South African schools” (UCT, 2015). This is on my to skim/read list together with Eric Schollar’s PhD (see below)
Part of Craig’s PhD abstract:”Rural South African schools face a complex mix of challenges, which make improvement a daunting task. Not only do schools deal with the time, place and space issues that face rural schools worldwide, but in addition they contend with a legacy of severely deprived schooling under the apartheid system. Using the framework of the Five Essential Supports, developed by the Consortium on Chicago School Research, together with Bourdieu’s notions of habitus and doxa, this thesis examines what improvement might mean in this deeply disadvantaged context. The five supports – leadership, learning climate, school-community ties, ambitious instruction and professional capacity – are contextualised to account for both the rural setting and the peculiarities of education in South Africa’s former homeland communities. Alongside this largely quantitative framework, Bourdieu’s conceptual tools are brought to bear, offering an alternative perspective that makes sense of the complex forces produced by history and rurality
- Pritchett’s new (2015) RISE Working Paper “Creating Education Systems Coherent for Learning Outcomes.” This has been quite an influential paper for me. Although in the South African context I would almost always add “Capacitation” to his four criteria Delegation, Financing, Information, Motivation. Lant also has a great (and scathing) critique of meta-analyses of quantitative studies:
If one were to take this approach of “rigorous evidence” at face value then there is rigorous evidence that nothing in the conventional wisdom actually works. There is rigorous evidence that giving out textbooks doesn’t matter, there is rigorous evidence pay for performance doesn’t matter, there is rigorous evidence that class size doesn’t matter. Of course there is also rigorous evidence that all these elements of the conventional wisdom do matter. The usual approach of doing a “systematic review” of the literature that simply counts studies (in a quality weighted basis) is not at all helpful. Suppose that context A is a system coherent for learning—so that teachers know what students should learn, that learning is measured on a regular and reliable basis and teachers are motivated to achieve high student learning—and class size is reduced. Let’s assume that learning improves (as there is RCT evidence from the USA, for instance, that this is true). Context B is a system coherent for schooling only. Class size is reduced. Let’s assume learning doesn’t improve (as there is RCT evidence from Kenya, for instance, that this is true). Suppose the only two studies in the systematic review were USA and Kenya. Then the conclusion would be that “class size improves student learning in 50 percent of the studies.” Now suppose that 8 more rigorous studies were done in the USA so that a systematic review would conclude “class size improves student learning in 90 percent of studies.” Suppose, in contrast, 8 more studies were done in Kenya. Then a systematic review of the rigorous evidence would conclude “class size improves student learning in 10 percent of the studies.” All three statements are equally worthless. The (assumed) truth is that “class size improves performance in context A but not in context B” and hence unless one knows whether the relevant context is A or B the systematic review finding of impact in 50 percent, 90 percent or 10 percent of the studied cases is irrelevant.
- Glewwe & Muralidharan’s new (2015) RISE Working Paper “Improving School Education Outcomes in Developing Countries” they find that:
Interventions that focus on improved pedagogy (especially supplemental instruction to children lagging behind grade level competencies) are particularly effective, and so are interventions that improve school governance and teacher accountability
“When loneliness is haunting me with its possibility of being a threshold instead of a dead end, a new creation instead of a grave, a meeting place instead of an abyss, then time loses its desperate clutch on me. Then I no longer have to live in a frenzy of activity, overwhelmed and afraid of the missed opportunity” – Anonymous in Nouwen’s Reaching Out p35
“All models are wrong but some are useful.“
— George Box (via Farnam Street Brain Food)
I am really enjoying poetry for the first time in a long time…
“I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.” – T.S. Elliott
Also Pablo Neruda.
It was also my birthday last month which started in tears and ended in champagne with a view! Ad Astra Per Aspera!
Photo credit: Michael Chandler (@MrChandlerHouse)