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I’ve taken a long reprieve from blogging. Since my last post my wife and I had our second baby girl (Ruthie), I’ve started a new initiative at Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) for blended learning and whole school improvement, and our outreach work in Haiti continues to be incredibly successful and growing (more on that soon).  Things have been busy.

My last post was arguing for the merits of blended learning.  But the proof is in the pudding.  Last year I worked along side of an ACE graduate in Seattle, Kelly Surapaneni, to lead ACE’s first foray into blended learning.  We worked with St. Paul School in Seattle, WA, and conceptualized the project as a whole-school strengthening effort, including things like leadership development, instructional coaching, PLCs, data driven instruction, and efforts to strengthen school culture.  We thought that these best practices, combined with the personalized attention and differentiation allowed by blended learning, could result in significant gains in student learning and help renew a struggling school.

The early results are in… and it was an impressive success.  We are now working in six Catholic schools in three cities, Seattle, the Twin Cities, and Toledo, and continuing plans to expand the model for next academic year.

See below for a summary from the ACE news release.

Seattle students achieved 147% of growth targets in math and 122% in reading during the first year of the program

Students at St. Paul School in Seattle, a school that serves lower income Asian Pacific Islander and African-American students, are achieving impressive academic gains using an innovative blended learning and school improvement model developed by the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) at the University of Notre Dame.

As measured by the Northwest Evaluation Association Measurement of Academic Progress (NWEA MAP), students achieved 147% of growth targets in math and 122% in reading during the first year of the program, similar to a school wide average of a year and a half of growth in math and a year and a quarter in reading. The average eighth grade student achieved 233% of growth targets in math—akin to two and one-third years of growth—over the past academic year.

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“The initial results are particularly promising,” Rev. Timothy Scully, C.S.C, the founder of the Alliance for Catholic Education, said. “St. Paul students are performing remarkably well—we are thrilled by the promise this model shows, and believe it can be a powerful tool that more schools like St. Paul can deploy to continue the Catholic school legacy of providing students with an excellent education.”

TJ D’Agostino, who directs the project at Notre Dame, said the success St. Paul students are experiencing is due to teachers more effectively meeting the needs of each child with the benefit of powerful blended learning software, and school leaders continuously strengthening teachers with targeted professional growth in high yield areas like the use of data and deepening a culture of high expectations, key areas of focus for the training and support that ACE provides.

“Blended learning can be a powerful driver for schools to provide a customized education for every child,” D’Agostino said, “though it is most impactful when paired with other best-practices, like data driven instruction, professional learning communities for teachers, and ongoing instructional coaching.  We work closely with the principal and a team of lead teachers to implement these comprehensive strategies.  The results have been transformative.”

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I have been reading some great books in the past few months that are shaping the way I think about education reform and renewal. I’d like to share the hit list and offer some brief comments for each.  Some of you may have already read many, but if you haven’t read all, I’d jump on it.  They are worth your time.

Topping the list is the much acclaimed Paul Tough book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. A wonderful read in the tradition of the Malcolm Gladwell books – integrating research in a lively nonfiction narrative – Tough weaves together stories and examples that depict the importance of non-cognitive skills on student outcomes. Drawing heavily upon work in psychology, neuroscience and innovative school leadership, Tough makes a compelling case for the importance of cultivating character strengths to allow students to flourish. I found the idea of the KIPP Character Report Card to be particularly fascinating. The concept involves providing students and parents with regular feedback on students’ character strengths and areas requiring improvement, focusing on observable indicators, to facilitate student improvement.

The next at the top of my list is Leverage Leadership by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo, a leader of Uncommon Schools, a charter school network on the East Coast. This book is a treasure trove and detailed guidebook for what high-performing schools do and what school leaders must do to achieve superior results. The videos, sample documents, and planning tools make the book an outstanding resource for creating professional development and enacting school change. The chapter on data-driven instruction was awesome, peaking my interest in Bambrick’s other book, Driven by Data, which goes further into this area.

Third on the list is Sal Khan’s book, The One World Schoolhouse. Sal Khan is the founder of the now ubiquitous Khan Academy, an online library of 10 minute instructional YouTube videos and practice programs, especially strong in Math and Science. A thoughtful and quick read, One World Schoolhouse is a clear and thoughtful articulation of a lot of new thinking at the front lines of re-envisioning k-12 education.  Though neither the first nor only person to express these ideas, Schoolhouse is a good and fun read that captures  a lot of the thinking within this explosive area in k-12 and higher education.  With a particular focus on the role of technology in allowing mastery learning, anytime learning, self-paced learning, and adaptive instruction, Schoolhouse also explores basic assumptions around the role of homework, summer vacation, and the role of internships.  I am convinced that certain approaches to technology, particularly blended learning, will become predominant within the next 5 to 10 years. This book is a pleasant way to enter into that dialogue, and begin thinking about how education will be transformed with the emergence of new technologies. Read this book and visit The Khan Academy website, it will be worth your while.

Next on the list is a wonderful book about change management called Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard, by brothers Chip and Dan Heath. Also in the Malcolm Gladwell style, Switch offers a simple, clear and compelling formula – with numerous examples and interweaving research – on how to effect change.  The book uses memorable metaphors and stories to explain certain principles and rules of effective change management, such as “scripting the critical moves,” a less is more mentality to change that recognizes that simple and clear direction is of paramount importance, complexity is the enemy of effective change, and confusion and being overwhelmed or exhausted by change is often the source of people’s resistance.   For any leader attempting to facilitate the change process or implement a new vision, this is a must read. Catholic schools in the U.S. are woefully in need of change. Therefore, this should be on all of our reading lists.  I’ll be bringing it as a gift to some leaders in the Haitian Ministry of Education on my next trip down there.  They’ve got a massive change agenda and could use some tricks from this play-book.

Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov, is next on my list.

If anyone else has recommendations, please share!

Basil.Moreau

Dear readers,

A note of apology for the radio silence from the Soul of a Nation blog.  I’ve been immersed in education reform and helping to renew the Catholic education system of Haiti for the past three years. This blog has not had an international focus, traditionally, and the work was been rather consuming.  Its time to get caught up.  First I’d like to share some highlights from what we’ve been up to in supporting Haitian Catholic schools.

Three years ago, one of the most devastating natural disasters in modern history, the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, brought an already beleaguered nation to its knees, killing over 200,000 and tearing Port-au-Prince and the surrounding cities asunder.  The destruction was of epic proportions in a country with no enforced building codes and poorly made concrete block structures.

In the years since, progress has been halting, too slow for many, but visible in a few bright spots.  While real improvements have been made in some areas, the story in the news is almost always one of wasted efforts and missed opportunities, and a poor nation still crippled by internal dysfunction and external meddling.

It is within this context that I’m blessed to report some hopeful signs and real progress from the efforts of the University of Notre Dame and the Alliance for Catholic Education.  We have focused on three things:

1. The first was to rebuild Basil Moreau School, a large school of the Congregation of Holy Cross in a particularly poor neighborhood of Port-au-Prince.  Basil Moreau is nearly completed and will be a beautiful, state-of-the-art facility located in the heart of the earthquake zone.  A monument of hope and dreams for the children and the community, Basil Moreau is a haven, a harbor, and a holy place of grace and liberation through education.  Almost entirely subsidized from international supporters, Basil Moreau is a high performing school serving some of the poorest of the poor.  The day its building is completed – in about 2 months – will be one of rejoicing.

Basil.Moreau.2

2. The second was to create a new institute for teacher training.  Under the leadership of the Congregation of Holy Cross and with intimate collaboration from the University of Notre Dame’s ACE Program, the Institute Superior Marcel Bedard launched its inaugural class this past August.  Serving 35 teachers in this first cohort, the Institute brings international best-practices in teacher education to Haiti, drawing upon lessons and innovative approaches of ACE’s own Master of Education program.  The Institute is off to a strong beginning.  Though a start-up, with all that this entails, the Institute is blessed with strong leaders and a  group of top Haitian faculty of education.  It is a firm foundation upon which to build.  Click here for a photo essay on the work of the institute.  Password “haiti”

3. Finally, Notre Dame joined with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the Haitian Catholic Church to conduct a national study and strategic planning effort for Haiti’s 2,315 Catholic schools spread throughout 10 (arch)dioceses.  Completed in just under a year, these partners have disseminated the data and are arming Catholic educational leaders with the skills to leverage the results for leadership and effective management.  The partners (ND, CRS and the Haitian Church) are now in the process of implementing the top priority projects that emerged from the plan, beginning with teacher training and the creation of local school boards and parent associations in 500 schools in the Dioceses of Hinche and Les Cayes.  See here for an inspired short film (7 min) on the work of Catholic schools in Haiti.

In short, we have had real successes where progress is scarce.  As I engage in meetings with leaders from government and the international donor community, I am constantly reminded of the importance and potential of the Catholic Church to serve as a catalyst and a leader for development.  As it is in so many countries throughout the world, so too in Haiti, Catholic education serves as the soul of a nation and a vital source of hope and promise.

A project that’s been occupying much of my time lately… The Institute for Educational Initiatives Supporting Recovery of Schooling in Haiti.

The University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Educational Initiatives (IEI) and Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) are making major contributions to support Haiti’s recovery from the earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010. One initiative to rebuild educational infrastructure is placing shovels in the ground this week.

That work is underway at the Basil Moreau School, a distinguished primary and secondary school complex in Port-au-Prince that was hit hard by the earthquake. At the school, administered by the Congregation of Holy Cross and serving an impoverished community, the secondary education section was destroyed and the primary school suffered major structural damage.

In another relief project in that country, a partnership including Notre Dame and ACE is establishing a Teacher Institute that will educate the next generation of Haitian schoolteachers. With help from Catholic Relief Services, the international humanitarian agency, a network of partners has been coming together to develop administrative structures and consider sites that would enable an innovative, ambitious approach to teacher education.

Many of the country’s primary and secondary schoolteachers today have little or no formal training. The priests and brothers of the Congregation of Holy Cross, the same order that founded Notre Dame in Indiana, have earned a reputation of educational excellence while serving in Haiti since 1944. They plan to lead the new program of teacher education with help from ACE, which is recognized as a major force in the United States forming tomorrow’s Catholic school leaders. Other partners in the project include Haiti’s Ministry of Education and universities in Quebec, Canada.

“Quality education is the sine qua non for rebuilding a better Haiti,” Father Scully said. “That is why ACE and the IEI are committed to supporting educational rebuilding and renewal in Haiti with our partners in the Congregation of Holy Cross. We believe that, together, through efforts like rebuilding Basil Moreau School and supporting the development of a new Teacher Institute, we can offer a brighter future for the children of Haiti.

It’s worth noting that Catholic schools represent over 40% of the schools in Haiti and most of the quality educational establishments.  With 80% private education, the vast majority of which is faith-based, Haiti must build upon the existing strengths of the private education system while reducing school fees to make schools more accessible for all children.  For this reason Haiti’s national education rebuilding plan is essentially a large voucher plan.  Perhaps the U.S. could learn a thing or two from Haiti no this one!!!

Given the size of the private school sector, this will be an incredible experiment for the power of choice in education.  Haiti has a lot of work to do to realize its plans… rebuilding thousands of schools, training tens of thousands of teachers, improving the curriculum, standards and assessment systems, raising the proportion of government spending for education, improving taxation, and effectively managing a complex financial system for school funding with appropriate accountability and performance incentives… all amidst political uncertainty, cholera, mountains of rubble and crippling poverty.

May God bless Haiti’s rebuilding efforts and give her children hope for a new day.

From Port-au-Prince, signing off…