Below is the Networkonnet Manifesto, the only comprehensive education manifesto I have seen. Please read it and see if it meets your own vision for what our education system should be. If it does, please either sign it here (below in the comments) and I will forward those comments to Kelvin, or click through HERE and sign it directly on the Networkonnet site.
Likewise, if you have suggestions for changes, please share them in as much detail as you can. The aim is to craft a manifesto that speaks to what the majority of teachers, academics, parents and students would like our education system to look like.
The networkonnet manifesto: sign up to have your ideas heard
by Kelvin Smythe with Allan Alach
The manifesto is intended to gather signatures then, with media release attached, distributed to media, teacher organisations, and a range of interest groups.
At the moment, it could be widely understood that teachers have no specific budgetary or system demands beyond opposition to substantial parts of government policy.
For the sake of our children, our own ideas need to be heard.
The networkonnet manifesto is intended to jog the teacher organisations to set out such specific budgetary and system demands and to publicise them intensively and imaginatively.
Readers will note that the networkonnet manifesto is based on a philosophy expressed as governing ideas. The government is working to a philosophy, brought in from outside and economics: we need to work to ours developed from our education heritage and social democracy. The hammering of public primary schools – the scapegoating, the disenfranchising, and the financial and spiritual impoverishment, is not government whim but engrained ideological policy as part of global capitalism and a shift of civilisation. That policy needs to be confronted with our own set of cohesive ideas.
We urge readers to sign up and encourage others in your school and beyond to do so as well.
The manifesto is open to change and addition, but if you support the general direction, then we suggest you take the positive step of signing up in support.
Readers might be interested to know that one significant political party has called the manifesto a ‘great read’ and remarkably close to theirs.
Kelvin Smythe and Allan Alach
The key idea in the policy recommendations that follow is that the education system should be based on valuing variety – and fundamental to this, the idea of collaboration and shared knowledge development. It is not just accepting variety or tolerating it, it is valuing it – valuing it as part of living in a democracy and as the best means to help children’s learning.
Valuing variety would mean changes to regulations, allowing a wide interpretation of the curriculum – within broad guidelines – in school charters and evaluation practices. Eventually the curriculum would need to be revised to concentrate on principles and aims, leaving schools to decide how to interpret those – at the moment National Administrative Guidelines (NAGS) and the demands of the education review office (using national standards) exert a stultifying control of classrooms.
The Lange government, through Tomorrow’s Schools, introduced into education a philosophy antithetical to Labour Party philosophy. (Most Labour mps of the time find this hard to accept holding on to the idea that Tomorrow’s Schools was, in fact, about giving more power to schools.) While this neoliberal philosophy was diluted in the Clark years, it still remained and remains dominant.
In education that philosophy is expressed as managerialism.
As it pans out, the basic tenet of managerialism is that any issue in education, including the education effects of poverty – indeed, especially the education effects of poverty – can largely be resolved by management changes to do with the organisation and direction teachers. This always involves overstating the role of the teacher in learning so that when schools fail to overcome sufficiently the education effects of poverty, schools are blamed, providing an excuse for shaping schools into the political right’s own ideological image.
An implication in this top-down philosophy is that there is someone knows and that person who knows is a political leader informed by a certain category of academic.
The present education system is substantially a command one – a command one based on excluding teachers and parents from genuine participation in policy making, also on fear, control, propaganda, and corrupted statistics.
The education system needs to be democratised.
One very important effect of bringing in parents and teachers into policy making would be to broaden the curriculum to counteract the trend of an ever narrowing one.
A managerialist-based education system requires a curriculum that is amenable to command and control, also one that can be understood by politicians and bureaucrats – that curriculum is a fragmented one organised for measurement.
New Zealand primary education has a culture of being holistic, in other words, not fragmented for ease of measurement and control. (Many of the most important things in learning are immeasurable; in a measurement-based education system those things are neglected.)
A measurement-based classroom is possible in a holistic-based education system but a holistic-based classroom isn’t possible in a measurement-based system (an important point in considering an education system based on valuing variety).
The present primary school education system is governed by fear and bureaucratic command, and protected by propaganda and corrupted statistics.
The contract system is important to the government control of universities: a key way to restrict academic freedom of speech.
Within schools, the major source of fear and control comes from the education review office – it is unaccountable and used in a variety of ways to generate fear and ultimately obedience; it is really the review office that determines the nature of the curriculum.
The heavy use of statutory managers is another source of fear, control, and indirect propaganda.
People outside the education system have little appreciation of the extent and depth of the fear, control, and use of propaganda that exists within it.
Perhaps the key idea to be developed should be that just as a healthy economic system needs a free exchange of ideas so does a healthy education system.
And central to that is the idea of a shared view of the way knowledge is developed.
All parts of the education system need to be freed up so that all parts can share in the generation of knowledge: teachers, curriculum advisers, academics, parents, and government education agencies.
Teachers should be freed to colonise the curriculum (that is, make curricula work) and to establish their knowledge in the form of successful established practice.
Teachers and schools should function within fairly wide curriculum guidelines.
Academics sought for advice should come from groupings much wider than the current headlining quantitative academics; in particular, that means advice should also be sought from qualitative academics and curriculum academics with significant classroom experience.
More specific policies as an outcome of governing ideas
A call should be made for a grouping of countries to join together to develop an international testing system that functions transparently and concentrates on a broader view of the curriculum. (However, the government should stay in the present international system until that is achieved.)
The 359 million dollars intended for the government cluster policy should be spent directly on helping children in classrooms, not on giving large pay increases to a few teachers and principals.
In a whole series of ways, policies and increased funding to meet children’s special needs should be a priority.
First, there should be a substantial lift in support teacher numbers as well as moves to make support teacher staff better paid and to provide them with a greater sense of permanency.
Following that, there should be improved staffing ratios (gradually introduced) to give flexibility to schools enabling them to provide more individual attention to children’s learning needs, including some appointments for specialist learning (for instance, science, or maths, or Maori language, or drama) as set out as an emphasis in schools’ charters.
Also for improving home school relations (a priority).
An important idea to understand is that the government in implementing national standards ostensibly to lift learning in lower decile schools has used the opportunity to achieve its long-held objective of a narrow 3Rs curriculum for all children.
Improvements in staffing and support teachers and in other areas should be described as being there to help the learning of all children, not just the ones who are struggling (children of all abilities are being badly served by the present system).
A non-contestable fund to promote Maori language should be established to which schools can apply to fund part-time teachers, support teachers, and Maori language labs.
There should be improvement to special needs services including making RTLBs (Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour) more accessible and less bureaucratic. Their role should be extended to work more closely with families – an improved version of the former visiting teacher positions.
The SAF (Student Achievement Function) should be removed with money saved being allocated to other and wider forms of advisory support.
Reading Recovery should be increasingly well funded.
The best home-school reading programme for lower decile schools, one already in operation in miniscule way, is Jeanne Biddulph’s Reading Together programme which binds home and school together in a harmonious and joyful way.
A Committee of Inquiry into making education more collaborative for successful learning should be established – though this should not mean changes to education won’t begin immediately (Committee of Inquiry for Collaboration for Better Learning).
School charters at the moment are a major source of control and bureaucratisation – school charters should be freed to allow schools to develop programmes, within broad guidelines, that suit them. (As discussed above.)
The education review office needs to be staffed by teachers and principals of the highest quality; deliver its work in schools in a different way; and be made accountable (it should also be made fully compliant with the Official Information Act).
There should be a Review Office Appeal authority appointed to hear appeals from schools (a priority).
A cross-sector review office advisory board should be established.
The review office should concentrate on work in schools, not producing reports – those reports should be done by universities on the basis of proper research design.
The School Trustees Association should be restricted in its work to providing direct services to members (a priority).
The statutory management system should be restructured: a more comprehensive conciliation system before statutory management should be established and perverse incentives removed. In particular, the cost of statutory management should fall on the ministry not the school.
Schools and colleges of education should develop a better balance between general education courses and ones directly related to classrooms (though both should be considered equally important) – this might mean rehiring some academics who possess both academic and classroom knowledge.
As one part of the advisory function, a permanent advisory service should be re-established attached to universities to function within broad guidelines (a reasonably free advisory service is an important source of practicable knowledge).
The Teachers Council or its equivalent should be reorganised to reflect the policy of collaboration. As well, it should concentrate on the safety of children. (All teacher organisations are doing well on this one, so I am not elaborating.)
Teacher organisations should be represented as of right on policy, curriculum, and administrative groupings.
Charter schools should be funded and administered on the same basis as other privately-run schools and the money saved allocated to meeting the education needs of low decile schools.
National standards should be removed and with the money saved used to re-establish NEMP (National Education Monitoring Project) formerly based at the University of Otago – more money than before should be allocated and the previous directors asked to advise on its establishment, functioning, and staffing (NEMP was a collaborative institution much admired and appreciated by schools).
NMSSA (National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement) based at the University of Otago should be removed, with the money saved used in the re-establishment of NEMP (see above).
Clusters established on a voluntary basis should receive some government funding.
How to bring parents into education on a national basis is a difficult one: my suggestion is, on a regular basis, NZCER to undertake a survey and some research as the focus for parent discussion (within schools) – the outcomes of this discussion to be reported to a body to consider and sometimes develop matters further.
A broad curriculum should be encouraged in anticipation of the outcomes of the results of the Committee of Inquiry (see above).
An important part of that broad curriculum is an understanding that attention to the 3Rs is mutually supportive with attention to flexible thinking – a mutual supportiveness that should be acted on from children’s first days at school.
The greater freedom for schools to shape their curriculum within broad guidelines will have major implications for the work Colleges of Education, advisory services, and education review office.
The use and resourcing of computers should be approached carefully: there needs to be a broad-based permanent grouping set up to provide schools with guidance on computer use in schools (at the moment it is growing helter-skelter with the curriculum quality being given insufficient attention); also government money would seem to be better allocated for professional development and computer maintenance rather than for directly purchasing computers and other digital devices. (Free technical support is crucial, along with extensive ICT support through advisers.)
The curriculum area of mathematics should be given special attention: a curriculum committee to report in three months, meanwhile, conferences should be organised around the country and extra finance made available to schools working on innovative ideas. (Bobbie Hunter from Massey and University and Jodie Hunter her daughter are doing some excellent work in junior maths with implications for older children.)
The Novapay system, from computer programming to data gathering and Novapay reception, has inherent faults within it – a new system should be introduced (either that or funding for office staff both schools and Novapay reception, be substantially increased).
The Beeby statement I like is the one he made in 1942 following a meeting with the South Canterbury NZEI management committee: ‘There seems to be a common desire on the part of teachers to ask the Department for detailed instructions regarding such things as the changes that are taking place in infant education, rather than to embrace the freedom the Department has given and to participate co-operatively in the working out of up-to-date practice in the infant room.’
Some excerpts from comments made by readers on the initial posting of what is now the networkonnet manifesto
Bruce Hammonds said:
The 2007 New Zealand Curriculum introduced by the last Labour government needs to be emphasised – it is highly regarded by teachers. National is about standardisation and competition while Labour needs to focus on personalisation and collaboration.