This week’s post includes a Lead the Change interview with Brahm meat, Professor of Education Policy in the Department of Education Leadership, Policy and Skills at the Witwatersrand University, Johannesburg. Fleisch was District Director in the Guateng Ministry of Education and advisor to the National Ministry of Basic Education in South Africa. His books include: Coping with Educational Change: The State and School Reform in South Africa, and The Education Triple Cocktail: System-wide educational reform in South Africa. His most recent work focuses on the impact assessment of large-scale models for improving teaching.
This is the fourth in a series of interviews in which some of the authors of previous Lead the Change interviews have been asked to review their previous responses and how they think about what they have written based on their experiences and insights since Change / adapt / add to publication. The fully formatted interview will be published on the LtC website of Educational change interest group of American Educational Research Association.
Make the change: How and in what way has your work developed since this piece was first published? Which ideas / points still apply? Which one could you revise?
Brahm flesh: Since the release of our first piece in Lead the changeOur collective knowledge of educational change in the context of the comprehensive improvement of teaching in the global South (and particularly in South Africa) has been strengthened through seven years of experimental research. This research program is a response to the challenge currently faced by many resource constrained systems (World Bank, 2019) where children are enrolled and attending school but in most cases also fail to learn to read or learn basic math. The focus of our research is on identifying scalable, rigorous and robust change knowledge to meet this challenge. The core of what we have learned is the effectiveness of what we call a particular model of change, the Education Triple Cocktail (Fleisch, 2018) (an indication of the successful drug treatment of HIV / AIDS). Based on international experience, the model combines (a) prescribed lesson plans, (b) the provision of high-quality learning materials and (c) on-site classroom coaching. Our experimental studies show consistent, positive and convincing evidence for the effectiveness of the model in multiple settings (Fleisch & Schoer, 2014; Fleisch et al., 2016; Fleisch et al., 2017; Cilliers et al., 2019; Kotze et al. , 2019; Fleisch & Dixon, 2019).
We have shown the value of mixed-method impact assessments (MMIE), which include qualitative case studies nested in representative randomized control studies with sample clusters. We believe that MMIE has the potential to help build a stronger knowledge base on educational change. Examples of qualitative research are our study (Fleisch & Dixon, 2019), which examines lesson plan mechanisms and how they are linked to the reconstruction of micro and macro class time. Alsofroms (2019) case studies also reveal the central role instruction coaches play in managing teachers’ feelings of change.
The focus of our contribution is not only on finding out what works (measured as effect sizes), but also on the possibility of understanding why they work. For example, case studies show that teachers both adopt and adapt the lesson plans given to them, and that contrary to the assumptions about dequalification, most teachers find scripted lesson plans to expand their professional authority and teaching repertoire. The coherence embedded in the triple cocktail approach to education helps teachers change the way they think about class time and space in the classroom. Other case studies point to the emotional work of classroom coaching, thus demonstrating the central role coaches play in overcoming teachers’ feelings of failure and fear of change and in building professional accountability.
LtC: What do these shifts in educational change in the broader sense tell you?
BF: It is increasingly recognized that the problems of change that have stimulated much of educational change over the past three decades were primarily learning, school and system problems of the global north, particularly in North America, Europe and Australia / New Zealand. Both the problems of change and possible productive approaches to solving these problems differ considerably from the point of view of the poorer parts of Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Successful systems in East Asia are again facing unique challenges. Scientists are increasingly realizing that it is difficult to speak of a single and coherent area of educational change. This does not mean that productive dialogues across geopolitical contexts are not possible. But on the contrary.
It is increasingly recognized that the problems of change that have stimulated a large part of educational change in the last three decades were mainly learning, school and system problems of the global north
However, I think we need to speak of change knowledge that deals with common contextual realities. In much of the global south, for example, the challenge is defined by the fact that many of their education systems have only recently managed to achieve near universal schooling. The problem they are currently facing is that the vast majority of those enrolled in the first grades are below the minimum proficiency in reading, writing and arithmetic – what the World Bank has called “learning poverty”.
LtC: What excites you most about the direction of educational change?
BF: I look forward to seeing new scientists in the field. Very powerful ideas emerge from the work of Santiago Rincon Gallardo (2016) and his research on bottom-up tutor networks in Mexico, Benjamin Piper and Stephanie Zuilkowski (2015) and their experimental research on structured pedagogical models in Kenya and other parts of India Sub-Saharan Africa and Rakmini Banerjee et al. (2010) and their work on teaching at the right level in India.
LtC: What advice could you have for those interested in making change and improvement?
BF: For me, the most exciting frontier in research on educational change lies in the so-called global south, and especially in resource-constrained systems. The challenges of change are not only huge and urgent, I also think that many policy makers seek dialogue about research. It’s also an area that allows us to truly challenge many taken for granted assumptions about system-wide change. Building change knowledge everywhere is difficult and becomes all the more difficult in environments with very little financial resources or established capacity to implement it effectively.
The global south is an area where we can challenge many taken for granted assumptions about system-wide change
LtC: What are the future research directions that should be addressed in the field of educational change?
BF: Understanding the levers of change and how they work in resource constrained contexts in places where ministries and departments, district staff, school principals, and ordinary teachers do not have the necessary educational infrastructure and capacity should be a future research push for scholars working in the field Educational change. It is important that we continue to view this knowledge building as a cumulative process in which scientists work together to add empirical results, engage with findings from case studies, and accept substantive criticism. If we work in silos, if we neglect large-scale quantitative research into effects, if we don’t deal with internal and external critics, progress is likely to be slow.
Alsofrom, K (2019) How and why does coaching work to improve teaching practices in EGRS2? An examination of the causal mechanisms. Paper presented at the UKFIET meeting, Oxford University.
Banerjee, AV, Banerji, R., Duflo, E., Glennerster, R. & Khemani, S. (2010). Pitfalls of Participatory Programs: Evidence from a Randomized Assessment of Education in India. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 2(1), 1-30.
J. Cilliers, B. Fleisch, C. Prinsloo & S. Taylor (2019). How can teaching practice be improved? An experimental comparison of central training and coaching in the classroom. Journal of Human Resources0618-9538R1.
Fleisch, B. (2018). The threefold educational cocktail: System-wide teaching reform in South Africa. UCT Press / Juta and Company (Pty) Ltd.
Fleisch, B. & Dixon, K. (2019). Identification of change mechanisms in the Early Grade Reading Study in South Africa. South African Journal of Education, 39(3).
Fleisch, B. & Schöer, V. (2014). Comprehensive Teaching Reform in the Global South: Findings from the Mid-Term Review of the Gauteng Strategy for Primary Language and Mathematics. South African Journal of Education, 34(3).
Fleisch, B., Schöer, V., Roberts, G. & Thornton, A. (2016). System-wide improvement in early math: New insights from the Gauteng strategy for primary language and math. International journal for educational development, 49157-174.
Fleisch, B., Taylor, S., Schöer, V. & Mabogoane, T. (2017). Not catching up on reading in middle years: The results of the Impact Assessment of the Reading Catch-Up program in South Africa. International journal for educational development, 5336-47.
J. Kotze, B. Fleisch & S. Taylor (2019). Alternative forms of early class coaching: New findings from field trials in South Africa. International journal for educational development, 66203-213.
Piper, B. & Zuilkowski, SS (2015). Teacher Coaching in Kenya: Examination of Classroom Support in Public and Non-Formal Schools. Teaching and teacher training, 47173-183.
Rincón-Gallardo, S. (2016). Large-scale educational transformation as widespread cultural change in Mexican public schools. Journal for Educational Change, 17th(4), 411-436.
World Bank (2019) Ending learning poverty https://www.worldbank.org/de/news/immersive-story/2019/11/06/a-learning-target-for-a-learning-revolution
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