Education plan ‘outstanding’ but overly ambitious

A plan of action to improve Cayman’s schools in the aftermath of a series of critical inspection reports has been described as “outstanding” but “much too ambitious” in its expected time frame, in a consultant’s review.

Avis Glaze makes the warning in an otherwise glowing review of the 2016/17 action plan for school improvement, which she describes as “cogent and comprehensive.”

Despite that endorsement, she warns that the improvement plan may be taking on too much at once and recommends narrowing the focus to target key problem areas, such as literacy, numeracy and school behavior.

“I have one major concern with this plan. It is much too ambitious when measured against the stated time frame for implementation,” Ms. Glaze writes in her 13-page analysis of the one-year action plan, dated July 13, 2016.

Ms. Glaze, a former Ontario, Canada, schools commissioner and the founder of Edu-quest International Inc., suggests the goals outlined are more akin to a five-year plan and warns that there is a risk of people becoming unmotivated and demoralized by unrealistic targets.

She wrote, “I also understand that politically we always want the public to know that we are pressing ahead – we are not wasting time. But the content of this plan is unmanageable within the short time frame that you have included. I recommend we strike a better balance between being ambitious and realistic, knowing what we know about the need for deep implementation of a few goals rather than tinkering superficially with many goals.”

According to education officials, Ms. Glaze revised that assessment and became “more comfortable” with the proposed timelines once the distribution of responsibility was explained to her in greater detail.

Education Minister Tara Rivers said the consultant provided a second “summary report” after discussions with the ministry about the areas of concern highlighted in her initial review.

The summary report, dated Oct. 6 and released publicly this week alongside the more detailed July report, still contains concerns that the timeline may be too ambitious. However, it strikes a more optimistic tone, commending the plan for having “high expectations.”

In her initial review, Ms. Glaze recommends spreading the targets outlined in the plan over five years and increasing the emphasis on a few key priorities, or even solely prioritizing literacy in the first year.

Describing literacy as the “gateway to future learning and springboard to all other subjects,” she recommends giving individual schools the flexibility to open up more room in the timetable for reading or mathematics.

“In some schools, you may need to double the number of minutes in the timetable for reading, for example, while in others they may need additional time for math,” she said. “One rule of thumb should be that one size does not fit all.”

She also encourages Cayman’s education officials to focus on professional development, highlighting “teacher quality” as one of the most important factors in improving standards.

The Education Plan of Action for 2016-2017 is an operational plan for all government schools in the Cayman Islands. It was developed by representatives from the Ministry of Education, the Department of Education Services, the Education Quality Assurance Unit and government school principals following a series of workshops this year.

Customized versions have been produced for each school, incorporating specific feedback from the baseline inspection reports.

The national plan includes specific targets at each age group level in seven key areas: numeracy; literacy; data systems; positive learning environments; science; special educational needs and disabilities; and technical and vocational education and training.

Incorporated in the plan are programs that are already being rolled out across schools in Cayman, including the Responses to Intervention literacy program, which provides targeted assistance to children falling behind expected reading levels for their age group. The plan also includes targets associated with the Positive Behavior Intervention System, which is being introduced in schools across the Cayman Islands to help improve behavior in classrooms.

In the conclusion of her summary report, Ms. Glaze writes, “It is my opinion that the Plan of Action is internationally competitive and of the highest caliber. The challenge you now face is to engage in deeper implementation, careful monitoring and providing consistent feedback in order to get the results you deserve.”

Education officials say the plan is a working document that is flexible enough to adapt based on trends as the year develops.

Ms. Rivers said feedback from Ms. Glaze would be factored in as the plan develops.

“Having this feedback was crucial in helping us to determine whether we were on the right track for success and whether our plan embodied the principles, goals and strategies that reflect international best practice,” she said.

Highlighting Ms. Glaze’s praise of the plan and the collaborative process in putting it together, she added, “I would like to thank the team and all who were involved in developing this plan as it has set the tone and outlined the requirements to ensure that public education in the Cayman Islands will improve. I would also like to thank all educators who are working hard to diligently carry out the plan to the benefit of our children.”

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