Hi there tout la gang,

We don't have much to say about research in practice at the Café right now

but we are talking policy and practice over here now: Literacy Enquirers.

Monday, January 11, 2010

report cards

The news hit the pages of the Globe and Mail under this headline last Friday: Conservatives stop funding for learning organization.

The news is that the federal government will not provide further funding for the Canadian Council on Learning, an organization established in 2004 by a Liberal government with a five-year grant of $85-million to promote lifelong education.

The CCL was established because "In 2004, Canada saw that it had some catching up to do. Canadians were falling behind the rest of the world in some crucial areas. Innovation. Creativity. Skills development. Learning. There was no debate about what we had to do to stop the decline, and begin to improve. We had to figure out what works in education and learning, from early childhood to post-secondary schooling, from job training through adult literacy improvement, and we had to monitor our progress so that we were certain we were always on the right path."

I am not sure that I agree with the basic premise. I see little real world evidence that Canadians are less innovative, creative, skilled and/or learned than their counterparts around the world. In fact, the solutions to our recent economic woes seem to point to a past underuse of the innovation, creativity, skills and learning of many Canadians rather than any deficits in those areas. But the creation of the CCL intrigued me. It seemed to hold promise - perhaps we could create an education think tank that would shine a light on the innovation, creativity, skills and learning of educators in Canada and that this knowledge would inform policy.

The CCL divided its work into 5 knowledge centres: Aboriginal Learning (based in the Prairies, NWT and Nunavut); Adult Learning (based in Atlantic Canada); Early Childhood Learning (based in Quebec); Health and Learning (based in British Columbia and Yukon); and Work and Learning (based in Ontario).

I have had the most experience with the Adult Learning Knowledge Centre. In 2007 I worked on a research-in-practice project that was funded through the ALKC and, in June 2007, I went to an ALKC conference. At the conference I was impressed by the grassroots nature of some of the projects but became aware of a focus on measuring. As time went on, I realized that the CCL was less a "learning organization" and more a measuring organization.

The Globe and Mail article quotes Mr. Cappon about the loss of funding: “What Canada would lose without CCL would be like being a student without a report card of any kind. And we'd be prevented from knowing how far behind the competition we're slipping."

CCL brought us several report cards over the years.

The Composite Learning Index (CLI) measures Canada’s progress in lifelong learning based on statistical indicators that reflect the many ways Canadians learn, whether in school, in the home, at work or within the community. The CLI tells us things like this: "For the first time, Canada's overall score on the Composite Learning Index has declined, dropping two points to 75 in 2009, from 77 in 2008. The decrease is being driven by the Learning to Be pillar, even though there has been an increase on the Learning to Do pillar."

The Projections of Adult Literacy: Measuring Movement (PALMM) provides a statistical “snapshot” of Canada’s adult literacy future through 2031; calculates future adult literacy rates according to province/territory and specific population groups; and generates graphs for incorporating into planning for literacy policy and program interventions. The PALMM tells us things like this: "Although the proportion of immigrants with low literacy skills will decrease by 2031, the actual number of low-skilled immigrants will increase by 61%. However, there will also be an increase in the number of immigrants with higher literacy levels."

The July 2008 literacy educators got a CCL report card. Reading the Future: Planning to meet Canada’s future literacy uses the PALMM to assess the state of adult literacy in Canada and makes recommendations on how literacy programming should be structured and delivered. This report was well discussed on this blog (and here) and in our special bulletin. One of our concerns was that this report makes recommendations about professionalization, teaching methods and time limits that overlook "the rich and varied techniques Canadian practitioners use to teach adults successfully and share in practitioner-based research reports." Reading the Future was a signal to the literacy field that the CCL was not developing knowledge based on the innovation, creativity, skills and learning of educators but was taking a top down approach to develop policy recommendations based on survey data.

In March of last year, CCL presented the adult literacy community with their online literacy assessment tool, also well discussed on this blog. This tool allowed us to develop our own report card on our own IALSS level. CCL told us we could also use the tool to assess learner needs overlooking the fact that the IALSS is a survey tool and is not an appropriate assessment for learning

"In anticipation of renewed funding, CCL had proposed an exciting slate of projects for the coming years."

Many in the list of 10 proposed projects, not surprisingly, seem to be about collecting more data to create more measuring tools. The Literacy Self-Assessments looks to be an expansion of the above mentioned online assessment: "CCL plans to launch a series of free, online tests that will allow individual Canadians to measure their competencies in three areas: prose literacy, document literacy and numeracy. Based on the International Adult Literacy and Skills survey, these tests will also provide teachers and instructors with a convenient means of assessing strengths and weaknesses to ensure programs meet learner needs." Once again CCL is overlooking the folly of using a survey tool to assess for learning and using a standardized test for self-assessment.

That report card argument may resonate in some sectors but I am not sure what literacy workers will think about it. You can probably tell what I think :), but what about you? Do we need these report cards? How do they help us in our work? How do they help learners in their learning? How does the report card argument resonate with you?


Wendell Dryden said...

With $85 million, I could run a broad, effective adult learning program for about 800 years - not counting for inflation LOL.

The sheer size of the budget - $17 million a year - as compared to the paltery amounts we raise for programming makes me wonder about exactly who's being accountable to whom for what.

Makes me mean-spirited and miserly, too. :P

Wendell Dryden said...

And I hate that it's being treated like an either/or debate in the media: either you're for the CCL or you're against support for adult learning.

K. I'm stopping now.

risky mouse said...

The 800 year plan! Learn anything you want.

I did not want to focus on the money because I did not want to sound all anti-taxes and Fraser Institutey but it is disappointing that with so many $$$ and such a promising start, they chose the direction they did.

I hope we can honestly talk about how we think education $$$ can be spent to support our work and adult learning and that we can critique the report card approach without it being viewed as a critique of all the work of the CCL or a lack of support for publicly funded adult education programs and research. But maybe I am living in a dream world. It has been said before.

Wendell Dryden said...

"all anti-taxes and Fraser Instituty" LOL!!!!

I KNOW! I'm like, OMG... I'm a conservative!

Truth is, I think lots of literacy people are just really good stewards (and pro-accountability, and pro-measurement, and pro-improvement).

I also think we - us - the field - haven't been very good at questioning the claims and/or authority of groups like the CCL (or the CLL or MCL or ABC Canada). In fact, in being polite and "team players" and all that, we've very nearly been silenced.

Bad A** Literacy Bloggers Unite! You've nothing to lose but your funds, um... and board members and keys to the building....


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