Did DI do it? The impact of "Flexible literacy for remote primary schools" program for very remote First Nations schools in Australia.
Over the last 10 years of 'Closing the Gap' considerable public investment has been made into programs designed to improve outcomes for First Nations students, particularly those who live in 'remote' communities. Some programs have targeted teaching and learning, or academic performance and attendance, or transitioning students into boarding schools. Others have focused on professional learning. However, it is difficult to determine to what extent these programs achieve their stated objectives. Very few interventions have been independently evaluated, and where they have, the results are often inconclusive. In 2014 the Australian Government announced $23.8 million in funding for the 'Flexible literacy for remote primary schools programme' which was designed to improve the literacy outcomes of students in remote schools, most of which had high proportions of First Nations students. A further $4.1 million was allocated to the program in 2017. The program uses either Direct Instruction or Explicit Direct Instruction--at October 2017 there were 34 schools participating in the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia. An evaluation report covering the first two years of the program argued that there is 'little doubt that the program is having an impact on literacy levels' but with the confusing caveat that there was no significant difference between control and program schools. This paper takes a pragmatic methodological approach an analyses publicly available MySchool data for 'very remote' schools included in the program. It considers year 3 and 5 NAPLAN reading results and attendance averages for participating and nonparticipating schools in the three years before the program's rollout and compares them with results since. In framing the findings, consideration is given to outcomes of other programs that have an identifiable sample of schools (for example the Remote School Attendance Strategy and Connected Communities) and the array of strategies that have been used since Closing the Gap commenced in 2008, most of what have come and gone. The paper concludes by raising questions about the ethics of policy making and implementation and the role of evidence as a tool for accountability.