ENJOY THE BREAK! IEN will be on hiatus until September when we will return with more news and views of schooling and education around the world
This week’s post features a Lead the Change interview with Brahm Fleisch, Professor of Education Policy in the Division of Education Leadership, Policy and Skills at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Fleisch has been a District Director in the Guateng Department of Education and advisor for the national Department of Basic Education in South Africa. His books include: Managing educational change: The state and school reform in South Africa, and The Education Triple Cocktail: System-wide Instructional Reform in South Africa. His recent work focuses on impact evaluation of large-scale instructional improvement models.
This is the fourth in a series of interviews inviting some of the authors of earlier Lead the Change interviews to review their previous responses and consider how they might modify/ adjust/add to what they wrote based on their experiences and insights since publication. The fully formatted interview will be posted on the LtC website of the Educational Change Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association.
Lead the Change: How, and in what ways, has your work evolved since the first publication of this piece? What ideas/points still hold true? Which might you revise?
Brahm Fleisch: Since the publication of our first piece in Lead the Change, our collective knowledge of educational change in the context of the large-scale instructional improvement in the Global South (and South Africa in particular) has been bolstered by seven years of experimental research. This research programme is a response to the challenge currently faced by many resource constrained systems (World Bank, 2019), in which children are enrolled in and attending school, but are, in the majority of cases, also failing to learn to read or to do basic mathematics. The focus of our research is to identify scalable rigorous and robust change knowledge to address this challenge. The core of what we have learnt is the efficiency of a particular change model, what we have come to call, the “education triple cocktail” (Fleisch, 2018) (a reference to the successful drug treatment for HIV/AIDS). Drawing on international experience, the model combines (a) prescriptive lesson plans, (b) the provision of quality learning materials and (c) on-site instructional coaching. Our experimental studies show consistent, positive, and compelling evidence of the model’s effectiveness 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 demonstrated the value of mix-method impact evaluations (MMIE) that include qualitative case studies nested in representative sample cluster randomised control trials. It is our view that MMIE has the potential to contribute to building a more rigorous educational change knowledge base. Examples of the qualitative research include our study (Fleisch & Dixon,2019) that explores lesson plan mechanisms and how they link to the reconstruction of micro and macro teaching time. Alsofrom’s (2019) case studies also show the central role instructional coaches play in addressing teachers’ emotions of change.
At the centre of our contribution is not only findings of ‘what works’ (measured as effect sizes), but an opportunity to understand ‘why’ they work. For example, case studies show teachers both adopt and adapt lesson plans they are given, and that, contrary to assumptions about de-skilling, most teachers find scripted lesson plans to add to their professional authority and instructional repertoire. The coherence embedded in the education triple cocktail approach helps teachers to shift their thinking about instructional time and space in the classroom. Other case studies point to emotional labour of instructional coaching and thus show the central role coaches play in addressing teachers’ feelings of failure and anxieties about change as well as in building professional accountability.
LtC: What do these shifts suggest to you about the field of educational change more broadly?
BF: There is a growing recognition that the change problems that have animated much of the field of educational change in the past three decades were primarily learning, school, and system problems of the Global North, particularly North America, Europe, and Australia/New Zealand. Both the change problems and potential productive approaches to addressing these problems look very different from the perspective of poorer parts of Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia. Successful systems in East Asia again have a unique set of challenges. Scholars are increasingly recognizing that to speak of a single and coherent field of educational change is difficult. That is not to say that productive dialogues across geopolitical contexts are not possible. Quite the contrary.
There is a growing recognition that the change problems that have animated much of the field of educational change in the past three decades were primarily learning, school, and system problems of the Global North
That said, I think we need to speak of change knowledge that addresses common contextual realities. In much of the Global South, for example, the challenge is defined by the fact that many of their educational systems have only recently succeeded in achieving near-universal school enrollment. The problem they are currently managing is that the vast majority of those enrolled in the early grades are failing to reach minimum proficiency in literacy and numeracy – what the World Bank has termed “learning poverty”.
LtC: What most excites you about the direction of the field of educational change is going?
BF: I’m excited to see new scholars working in the field. Very powerful ideas are emerging out of 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 pedagogic models in Kenya and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, and Rakmini Banerjee et al. (2010) and their work on teaching at the right level in India.
LtC: What advice might you have for those interested in affecting change and improvement?
BF: For me, the most exciting frontier of research on educational change is in the so-called Global South, and particularly in resource-constrained systems. Not only are the change challenges huge and pressing, but I find many policymakers are eager to dialogue around research. It is also a space that allows us to really challenge many taken-for-granted assumptions about system-wide change. Building change knowledge anywhere is difficult and is made that much more challenging in settings with very little financial resources or established capacity to implement effectively.
The Global South is a space that allows us to really 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 government ministries and departments, district staff, school leaders and ordinary teachers lack essential education infrastructure and capacity, should be a future research thrust for scholars working in the field of educational change. It is critical that, as we move forward, we see this knowledge building as a cumulative process with scholars working together adding empirical findings, engaging with case study insights, and taking on substantive critiques. If we work in silos, if we neglect large-scale quantitative research on effects, if we fail to engage 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 the EGRS2? An examination of causal mechanisms. Paper Presented at the UKFIET meeting, Oxford University.
Banerjee, A. V., Banerji, R., Duflo, E., Glennerster, R., & Khemani, S. (2010). Pitfalls of participatory programs: Evidence from a randomized evaluation in education in India. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 2(1), 1-30.
Cilliers, J., Fleisch, B., Prinsloo, C., & Taylor, S. (2019). How to improve teaching practice? An experimental comparison of centralized training and in-classroom coaching. Journal of Human Resources, 0618-9538R1.
Fleisch, B. (2018). The education triple cocktail: System-wide instructional reform in South Africa. UCT Press/Juta and Company (Pty) Ltd.
Fleisch, B., & Dixon, K. (2019). Identifying mechanisms of change in the Early Grade Reading Study in South Africa. South African Journal of Education, 39(3).
Fleisch, B., & Schöer, V. (2014). Large-scale instructional reform in the Global South: insights from the mid-point evaluation of the Gauteng Primary Language and Mathematics Strategy. South African Journal of Education, 34(3).
Fleisch, B., Schöer, V., Roberts, G., & Thornton, A. (2016). System-wide improvement of early-grade mathematics: New evidence from the Gauteng Primary Language and Mathematics Strategy. International Journal of Educational Development, 49, 157-174.
Fleisch, B., Taylor, S., Schöer, V., & Mabogoane, T. (2017). Failing to catch up in reading in the middle years: The findings of the impact evaluation of the Reading Catch-Up Programme in South Africa. International Journal of Educational Development, 53, 36-47.
Kotze, J., Fleisch, B., & Taylor, S. (2019). Alternative forms of early grade instructional coaching: Emerging evidence from field experiments in South Africa. International Journal of Educational Development, 66, 203-213.
Piper, B., & Zuilkowski, S. S. (2015). Teacher coaching in Kenya: Examining instructional support in public and nonformal schools. Teaching and Teacher Education, 47, 173-183.
Rincón-Gallardo, S. (2016). Large scale pedagogical transformation as widespread cultural change in Mexican public schools. Journal of Educational Change, 17(4), 411-436.
World Bank (2019) Ending Learning Poverty https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/immersive-story/2019/11/06/a-learning-target-for-a-learning-revolution