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Save Our Schools NZ

"One needs to be slow to form convictions, but once formed they must be defended against the heaviest odds." Gandhi
Save Our Schools NZ has written 901 posts for Save Our Schools NZ

Where is the Charter School data?

wanted 2For a Minister so obsessed with data and, in particular, the sharing of data, it is interesting how little we know about charter schools.  

Bill Courtney writes:

The game of delaying the release of a vast range of information on the charter schools continues.

The Ministry has promised to release a lot of material, including the formal evaluation of 2015 student achievement, in “April” but has refused to state exactly when. They also need to release all of the 2016 quarterly reports, the 2016 contract variations and the second “annual” installment of the Martin Jenkins evaluation of the charter school initative.

In short, lots of information is being withheld for no apparent reason.
When it is finally released, we will go through it and post our thoughts on what it reveals.

In the meantime, propaganda and marketing material fills the void.

Positive Alternatives to Policing Students’ Lunchboxes

Children sometimes bring unhealthy lunches to school – that’s a sad fact.  When you see a lunch box with no fresh fruit or veg, or that’s wall to wall sugar, or just a packet of noodles, or … well, you  get the idea – when you see those lunch boxes, you sigh. But trying to change what lead to that lunch box being in front of that student by policing said lunch box would be wrongheaded.

No educator wants to be in the position of telling kids they should or shouldn’t bring this or that, when in fact they usually have no part in the decision-making around what goes in their lunch box. 

Similarly, it’s not at all helpful to create tension with parents by sending home notes about the food they provide. Of course I want students to eat healthily (and eat enough), but making parents feel judged does harm to the home-school relationship, and that is a bad move. The solution has to be focused on education, not policing.

Education for students around what good food looks like, clever buying, balanced diets etc is much more helpful. In my experience, the more clued-up the students are, the more they influence the purchases of the grown ups around then. We all know how insistent small people can be when they want something at the supermarket!

When I was trying to eat more healthily, I charged my year 5-6 students with checking my lunch box each day, and giving me feedback, and by crikey they took to that challenge like ducks to water: “Have you SEEN how much sugar is in that low fat yoghurt, Mrs Khan! Don’t be fooled by that ‘low fat’ thing!” They also wrote me a list of healthy snack foods for 3pm, knowing my tendency to stop at the local garage and make poor choices when driving home around 5 or 6 pm.  Given good information and a real life problem to solve, kids will almost always blow your socks off with just how clever they are.

So focusing on educating kids and letting them educate the adults seems like a good strategic move. But it must be collaborative, done with the community, not at them. Which leads me to the  brilliant work done by Julia Milne and her team at The Common Unity Project Aotearoa.

The Common Unity Project is a school-based project with a collaborative community model. It started small and got little to no Ministry or official support, but through sheer tenacity and will power and the support of the school in which she is based, Julia has built a magnificent living model right here in Lower Hutt, NZ.  

In their own words, the Project “works collaboratively with Epuni Primary School, a little school with a big heart, in Lower Hutt. We grow food on a disused soccer field – enough to feed our children of Epuni School three times each week. We invite our parents and wider community to come to school each day and learn, share and educate one another. In turn, this has become a collective response to meeting the needs of our children and developing our own resilient solution within our community.”

The Project has brought a community together to learn and grow – literally and figuratively – together.  Learning about food is linked with curriculum work – maths, literacy, science, art – you name it, they’ve linked it, and done so meaningfully.  Identify the problem, find solutions, get helpers with the skills needed, helpers pass on skills to the kids, helpers learn new skills themselves, and BINGO! we have real life learning. This is what The Community Unity Project does.

The kids are cold? Put a call out for wool and some knitters with a bit of time on their hands, and BINGO! the adults are passing on key skills to kids to make something they all need.

The kids are hungry? Put a call out for helpers to come make a meal using food grown by the kids in the school gardens. The helpers teach the kids, the helpers learn new skills, and they all have enough to eat.

Gardening, cooking, knitting,  bike maintenance, building, sewing bee keeping, food budgeting – you name it, they’re onto it.

Real life problems, real life solutions, real life learning. And community.

That’s my kind of model.

~ Dianne

Read more about The Common Unity Project here.

Read more about the issues around food in schools here.

It’s National Standards Opt Out time again

This is my annual reminder that whilst schools are bound by law to provide National Standards information to the Education Ministry, we as parents are not obliged to receive that information ourselves.

Here’s my 2017 letter to my child’s school (edited to remove identifying information)…

Dear [principal],

We are incredibly pleased with the education our child is getting at your School. We’re thrilled with his teacher’s work to settle him and others into their new classroom, and honestly could not speak more highly of his experiences there so far.

The School has always supported us in our wish to not receive National Standards information for our child, and I very much hope this will continue in 2017.

As in previous years, we ask that our child’s National Standards levels are not conveyed to us or to him in any way whatsoever, in writing, orally or on display in school. We accept that his National Standards data must be provided to  Ministry – we are aware that schools are legally obliged to do so as outlined in NAG2a – we simply do not wish to know those levels ourselves.

We do not wish to add to the workload of our child’s teacher or any other member of staff, and are happy for any National Standards portions of his reports to be simply left blank as they have in all previous reports.

We’re happy to discuss this with you if you wish,

Ngā mihi,

If you do not want to receive unreliable and unhelpful National Standards data, I suggest you join the growing resistance and opt out.

~ Dianne

#optout

Dear Santa

dear_santa2

What would you wish for?

~ Dianne 

Drop National Standards following damning survey – NZEI

Research showing less than 16 percent of teachers think National Standards have had a positive impact on student achievement is the latest evidence that the standards are not working and should be dropped, NZEI Te Riu Roa says.

A New Zealand Council for Educational Research survey of principals and teachers showed their opinions of National Standards had dropped further over the past three years. Less than a quarter said the standards provided a good picture of studenational standardsnt learning – down from 37% in 2013 – and only 20% said the standards helped motivate students to take on new challenges.

“This survey deals a huge blow to the credibility of National Standards and shows how dangerous it would be to use them as the basis of any future school funding system,” NZEI president Louise Green said.

“National Standards have failed to achieve the two purposes they were set up for –  lifting achievement, and giving parents better information about the progress of their children.

“Its bad enough that the standards are not useful for lifting achievement, or measuring progress, they also offer little to students with additional learning needs – the very group we were told they were supposed to help.

“Teachers have tried hard to make the standards work since they were introduced seven years ago and if they were helping children learn better we’d embrace them, but they’re not.

The survey follows recent international assessment findings that New Zealand children’s scores in maths and reading had dropped since the standards had been introduced.

“If National Standards have failed to lift achievement, don’t provide good information for teachers or parents, and are demotivating for students, the obvious solution is to drop them.

“Parents deserve good quality information about their children’s progress, children deserve a modern, broad curriculum that motivates them to learn, and teachers deserve the best teaching tools. National Standards fails on all fronts,” Ms Green said.

On the Saga of Misinterpreting Student Achievement Performance Standards at NZ Charter Schools

Bill Courtney

Bill Courtney

The purpose of this report, prepared by Bill Courtney of Save Our Schools NZ, is to document several matters relating to the various quantitative measures that have been used to report student achievement in the charter secondary schools, across both 2014 and 2015.

The main observation is that, in respect of 2014 achievement, the performance standard originally set out in the charter school Agreement, the Ministry’s interpretation of this, the achievement reported by the schools and the reported achievement in the Ministry’s publicly available database, Education Counts, are all different! (See Reporting Summary table on p. 2 of full report)

One of the most significant implications of these differences in interpretation is that, on the recommendation of the Ministry, the Minister approved the release of the 1% operational funding retention amount, relating to the 2014 year, for both Vanguard and Paraoa. However, Vanguard did not meet its NCEA L2 Target and Paraoa did not meet either its Level 1 or Level 2 Target.

In July 2016, the Ministry finally acknowledged that there were “issues” related to the current NCEA performance standards as being applied to charter schools. This admission raises serious concerns about the mantra underpinning the charter school approach, which is described as: “Rigorous accountability against clearly agreed objectives.

In a paper to the Minister, it recommended a new set of performance standards be utilised in the Third Round contracts that were signed in August 2016. These will use two new roll-based NCEA pass rate measures along with a clearly stated “School Leaver” measure, calculated in the normal manner.

However, the same paper redacted the sections referring to “Next Steps” that might suggest how the Ministry is going to evaluate the performance of the existing First and Second Round schools on an on-going basis.

At time of writing, the Ministry has published its initial analysis of the schools relating to the 2015 year using what it has described as the “current” interpretation of the performance measures. But it had not yet made any recommendations regarding the 1% retention amounts for 2015.

In order to provide a more comprehensive overview of performance, I have included in the full report data from the Education Counts system-wide data spreadsheets, based on the “School Leavers” metric. These show charter school achievement compared to decile 3 schools and for Maori students.

I have also included an initial analysis of information relating to the “quality” of the NCEA credits being earned by students enrolled at charter schools, based on data provided by NZQA.

Finally, I conclude with some thoughts on the implications of this bizarre outcome in what is supposedly being sold to the country as a “Contracting for Outcomes” arrangement.

You can view the full report here.

~ Save Our Schools NZ

David Seymour and another misleading statement about charter schools

David Seymour has made a clearly incorrect statement to the media about his beloved charter schools and contradicted his Minister in the process.

The question at issue is the incorrect interpretation and measurement of the student achievement targets used in the original charter school contracts for the first and second round charter schools.

Save Our Schools NZ has been involved for over a year in the battle to get the Ministry of Education to acknowledge that both the reporting by the schools and the performance evaluation by the Ministry have been incorrect.

Radio NZ reported on Thursday that Seymour defended the incorrect interpretation by making the following statement:

“The reason that there is a difference, just remember, is that we have been pioneering holding schools to account through a contract, and it was necessary if you wanted to do that to have a different system of measurement.”

This statement is rubbish!

The original contracts did not have a different system of measurement at all.

The performance standards used in the original contracts were stated as “School Leavers with NCEA Level 1” and “School Leavers with NCEA Level 2”.

But both of these performance standards have been interpreted incorrectly and not calculated in the normal way that the Ministry does so for all other schools in the system.

These School Leaver statistics are published in the Ministry’s Education Counts database for every school: state, state-integrated, private and now the charter schools.

The error was obvious once the Education Counts “School Leavers” figures for the first round charter schools were released and it was clear that these were different from both the schools’ own reporting and the Ministry’s evaluation.

But it was also clear that they were not what the Minister had intended when the contracts had been put together in 2013.

Under the Official Information Act, Save Our Schools NZ obtained Ministry reports to the Minister in 2013 that set out the basis for the contract performance standards and the metrics that would be used to measure performance.

These documents included one where the Minister, Hekia Parata, made a hand-written comment on one of the papers in May 2013, discussing the principles behind the contract standards:

“There is to be no compromise on the system-level benchmarks.”

This makes a mockery of David Seymour’s claim that it was necessary to have a different system of measurement.

The  Minister then signed off the contract metrics in September 2013.  These included the following:

“n.          Agree that performance standards for 2014 NCEA Level 1 and 2 should be based on 2012 system-level results for decile 3 state schools.”

So the Minister had clearly intended that the normal system-level benchmarks should be used and the charter school targets for 2014 should be the same as the results of decile 3 state schools in 2012.

It is the incorrect interpretation and measurement of those performance standards that has been revealed and is now being corrected.

Seymour is simply wrong to argue that a “different system of measurement” had always been intended.

~ Bill Courtney, SOSNZ

See also: https://saveourschoolsnz.com/2016/08/16/david-seymours-bizarre-claims-about-charter-school-performance/

Academics Worldwide call for the end to PISA tests

Your triennial reminder that those in the know want an end to PISA…

Save Our Schools NZ

We are deeply concerned that measuring a great diversity of educational traditions and cultures using a single, narrow, biased yardstick could, in the end, do irreparable harm to our schools and our students.

Dear Dr Schleicher,

We write to you in your capacity as OECD’s (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) director of the Programme of International Student Assessment (Pisa). Now in its 13th year, Pisa is known around the world as an instrument to rank OECD and non-OECD countries (60-plus at last count) according to a measure of academic achievement of 15-year-old students in mathematics, science, and reading. Administered every three years, Pisa results are anxiously awaited by governments, education ministers, and the editorial boards of newspapers, and are cited authoritatively in countless policy reports. They have begun to deeply influence educational practices in many countries. As a result of Pisa, countries are overhauling their education systems…

View original post 2,053 more words

PISA circus time again

graphYes, it’s that time again, when the OECD releases the PISA test results and Education Ministers everywhere frantically start to spin the information to justify whatever plans they already had. Statisticians in government departments everywhere lurch across desks in darkened rooms, poring over the data, eagerly cherry picking the bits that serve their Minister’s purpose. Such fun!

Then there are those dedicated researchers who put out articles quick-smart explaining why PISA is flawed and unreliable. They explain in great detail the ins and outs of data collection and test setting and statistical analysis and, despite our best efforts, maybe one in a thousand of us can follow what they are saying. But we read anyway and nod sagely. Because there are graphs and there is data, so it must be good stuff.

The media, of course, enter into some kind of Nirvana, gleefully whipping up a hoohah about countries “slipping down” or “surging up” the tables. Heaven forbid a country has the temerity to stay in the same place – how’s a journo meant to get a headline out of that kind of carry on?

Of course, in all of this madness, we could take the Yong Zhao route and denounce PISA altogether – say no to the sausage factory. But that doesn’t sell papers or make for rousing Ministerial pronouncements, or even attract blog readers, so, yeah nah.

Instead, yet again, we will be treated to the PISA circus, like it or not, so please remember to engage your critical thinking skills.

~ Dianne

Teacher Stress & Anxiety in New Zealand Schools


This is a further summary of findings from the SOSNZ survey undertaken by Dianne Khan and Ursula Edgington. We ran the survey for 3 months from March – June 2016 when it was closed with a total of 684 participants.

Previous analyses of the survey data can be found herehere and here.

Summary of the survey respondents

Most of the respondents to our survey worked in the Primary sector (79%), with relatively equal numbers from intermediate and secondary (5% and 6.5% respectively).

A small number of respondents (2.6%) were from Early Childhood and 3% worked in ‘Other’ schools which were mainly connected to provision of Special Educational Need, with some defined as ‘Area’ provision.

The survey did not separate private school from public provision, although this would be an interesting area for further research on the subject.

Stress and Anxiety in NZ schools

Probably the most significant question of our survey was Question 5, which asked ‘Whether medically diagnosed or not, have you ever taken time off due to stress and anxiety?’

The results clearly illustrate the extent of the problem of stress and anxiety in NZ schools today: the majority, 54% of respondents (365) answered Yes.  44% (296) answered No, and understandably, due to the sensitivity of the subject, a small number 1% (11 respondents) declined to answer. These results are extremely concerning because no matter how subjective, for a majority of teachers to feel it is necessary to take time off in order to recover from workplace stress and anxiety, there will inevitably be consequences for the health and well-being of staff and potentially for the quality of teaching and learning in NZ.

In line with existing research in this area, those respondents who confirmed they had received a formal medical diagnosis of stress and anxiety (Question 4), numbered roughly equal to those who had not (300 respondents, compared to 355), with 22 (3%) declining to answer.

What do NZ teachers do when suffering with stress and anxiety?

Responding to Question 3, which asked for examples of coping strategies, 87% of respondents said that when they suffered from stress or anxiety from the workplace, that they tried to ‘carry on regardless’. question-3-responses

This was reflected in the responses to Question 6, which asked how many days have you taken off work, as a result of stress and anxiety? Most respondents (519 or 77%) had only taken 0-3 days off over the past year. 15% had taken 4 – 7 days, with 3% taken 8-12 days and a small minority (5%) 34 respondents having taken more 13 days or more.

The finding that most respondents to the survey ‘tried to carry on regardless’ despite suffering stress and anxiety, is very concerning because knowing where to find and being able to seek out help in times of distress is crucial in order to prevent the situation from escalating. Worryingly (and confirming our findings from the preliminary data of the first 100 respondents) the main resource for public sector staff seeking help – the EAP – was largely unknown: Over 85% of respondents denied knowing anything about EAP. Of the 11% of respondents who DID know that their school subscribed to EAP, they had not used it (although reasons for this are unclear). Only 3% (25 respondents) had made use of the EAP service, either at their past or current school.

Further concerns about the health and well-being of NZ teachers can be seen in respondents’ descriptions of what they DID do when feeling stressed and anxious. In line with other studies on the coping strategies of individuals coping with stress, 39% find solace in comfort eating, 37% try to extend their sleep, 26% turn to drinking alcohol,  7% self-medicate and 6% find that smoking helps them cope. Only 8.5% book a GP appointment which hopefully in turn would help them find different resources of suitable support. Perhaps most worryingly, nearly 2% (11 respondents) admitted to taking drugs to help them cope.

Looking deeper at some of the qualitative data, for some staff, it seemed a culture of fear existed at their workplace, as additional comments included the following theme:

“Everyone is too afraid to take action, as they fear it can affect their future job prospects.”

Similarly, others described the challenge of feeling pressure to hide their emotions :

“Breaking down and having a good cry and then trying to pick myself up and carry on so that no one knows what is happening to me”.

Some of the comments were heart-breaking, for example those who described how they have taught for many years, but now did not have the strength to carry on in a profession who could not offer the support they needed:

“[I’m} Coming to the realisation that this is just how it is and if I didn’t like it then I should have chosen a different profession.”

“Gave up smoking [but] I did not realise how much of a strong coping mechanism it was. This term I pretty much broke down and am now being treated for severe depression. I am truly passionate about children’s wellbeing and education, but I now don’t know if I want to stay in the job.”

“I will be handing in my notice and will not be returning. I have decided to walk away from this career that I have loved for nearly 20 years and I will focus on helping small groups of children because I don’t think I can teach effectively in the current set up.”

Difficult and high levels of workload were common themes throughout the responses to our survey questions.  It followed then that sharing tips on how to best manage workload and what to prioritise formed a popular way of coping with stress.  

On a positive note, some teachers reported taking constructive steps to reduce levels of stress and anxiety and 40% reported taking exercise  – for instance in the gym, horse-riding or going tramping – as a strategic way to relieve their personal symptoms of stress.

Talking with colleagues, family and friends was the most common additional comment in this section of the survey, illustrating the importance of a community of practice and sharing experiences with those around us. This contrasts sharply with the responses from the first part of the survey, where teachers cited as some colleagues and managers as the source of stress and anxiety, rather than being supportive in trying to alleviate it. Similarly, engaging with trivia on social media platforms was also a popular way that many staff found relief from workplace stress. Reading – both academic and creative texts – were also a popular way that teachers coped with feelings of stress and anxiety.

Key learnings from this section of the survey

  1. Those schools subscribing to EAP need to raise awareness of the benefits of the service and to promote its use more widely. Any potential negative attitudes and stigma attached to using the service needs to be addressed to improve the health and well-being of all staff.
  2. Those schools NOT subscribing to EAP could consider joining, or providing another similar source of help and support.
  3. Teachers at ALL stages of their career need access to help and support that is appropriate for their needs. The complex causes of stress and anxiety (discussed in the previous post) need to be addressed and symptoms of reported stress should be taken seriously and not be subjected to stigma or further bullying.
  4. Provision of healthy ways to relieve stress and anxiety – exercise opportunities and reading groups for example – could be more widely promoted in schools.
  5. Talking with others – colleagues and whānau and others – is an under-developed, under-researched but highly valued coping strategy for teachers in every sector, all over the world. In view of the causes of stress reported in the previous post, school managers could provide more open opportunities for sharing experiences, advice for managing workloads and encouraging ongoing professional dialogue between and within groups of teachers, students, parents and governors.

~ Ursula Edgington & Dianne Khan

Further Reading

What is really stressing NZ teachers?

Stress, anxiety and depression in the teaching profession – part 1

SOSNZ Teacher Stress Survey – Part 2

Survey reveals crisis in beginning teacher workforce – NZEI

Special educational need support changes – mixed reaction

nzei logoToday’s release of a Cabinet paper outlining changes to support for children with special education learning needs has some positive developments but also raises a number of concerns, says NZEI Te Riu Roa.

As part of the Learning Support Update, the Ministry plans to implement a new service model that will include a single point of access for parents, whānau, schools and local communities, and Local Learning Support teams and a Lead Practitioner.

NZEI President Louise Green said such a move would be welcomed, and teachers and parents had long been asking for a single contact point.

“The concern is that there is still no more funding, even though the ministry acknowledges that the number of children needing learning support is growing, and principals are reporting that the significant needs of children in their schools are not being met,” she said.

“There is no detail around who will staff the learning support teams and lead practitioner roles. If they are existing specialist staff, this reduces the available expertise needed by individual children. If the role is to be taken by teachers or Special Education Needs Coordinators (SENCOs) in schools, a lack of resourcing for the extra responsibility will be an issue.”

Ms Green welcomed the acknowledgement that more speech language therapists were needed and that the eight-year cap on frontline staff could be lifted.

“However, they have also signalled a move to some private provision of services, even though it would be more cost-effective to use ministry-employed staff. Fewer children will be assisted if funding is going via private operators. We don’t want to see any privatisation of this essential public service for our children,” she said.

Ms Green was pleased that the new service model would be trialled in one area first, but said many questions remained around the details of the model and their implications on students.

NZ Speech Therapist asks Education Select Committee to create a truly inclusive education system

November 11, 2016

To the Education and Science Select Committee Submission on the Education (Update) Amendment Bill

From Shannon Hennig

As a speech-language therapist and inclusion education consultant, I have dedicated my career to ensuring that students with moderate to profound speech, language, and communication differences can access education and learning in an inclusive setting.

My areas of expertise are autism, AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication), and teaching literacy skills to children with limited speech. I am a PhD level researcher who collaborates internationally on disability issues, assistive technology, and communication disorders.

I also write as someone who grew up in a truly inclusive school system overseas. I was educated alongside children with mild to profound disabilities. As an academically gifted student, I never once felt held back by quality inclusive practice. Instead it made my teachers better, my principals more thoughtful, and my learning richer. I have family members with disabilities as well.

I wish to share my comments, which primarily address the following sections of the bill: 

  • Schedule 2, Part 2: Powers and Functions of Board of Trustees
  • S38: Part 3A Communities of Online Learning
  • S43: Teaching and Learning Programmes, Monitoring and Reporting Student Performance
  • S47: Off-site locations for school
  • S48: Establishment of Communities of Learning

I urge you to make sure that the Update be amended so that it ensures that all children have access to a publicly funded, meaningful, and appropriate education, as is their right.

In its current form, the urgent unmet needs of students with disabilities and their families are not addressed.

Initially, I welcomed the introduction of this bill as a long overdue update to an Education Bill that does not currently meet the needs of all students. However, many students – particularly those with mild to moderate learning differences, children with autism, and students with mental health conditions – have significant challenges in accessing a free and appropriate education in New Zealand.

Before we introduce experimental ideas, such as CoOLs, I urge parliament to delay passing this bill until the funding, equity, and quality of our inclusive education system is brought up to international standards for developed nations. Funding and training are the biggest barriers for achieving this – but not insurmountably so.

Legal provisions need to be created that allow speedy, affordable, and transparent recourse when exclusionary practices occur. Such exclusionary practices are surprisingly common and include encouraging students to attend other schools, stand-downs and exclusions without appropriately providing a functional learning environment for the student, or the more insidious (and often inadvertent) practice of schools that do not include (or cannot afford to provide) universal design. Over time this can foster a state of such anxiety and needless academic failure that a student refuses to attend school. I personally know of at least 6 families in which a student is not in school because their learning environments were unable to accommodate their learning needs.

Without providing adequate resources, policy, and legal provisions to address historic and systematic gaps in inclusive education provision, NZ will be in violation of our international commitments and create future financial liabilities.

For example, there are tangible societal costs to not getting inclusion right:

  • increased underemployment for students in the future
  • increased underemployment for parents of current students
  • reduced educational staff moral and job satisfaction (leading to attrition of trained teachers)
  • mental health conditions from school bullying, academic anxiety/failure, and/or social isolation
  • increased incarceration rates

Of course, the real reason for making positive change should be the children. And their families. And all of us in the teaching professions who are working so hard under such difficult conditions.

The Ministry of Education urgently needs to conduct a consultation that properly considers the concerns of students, professionals (confidentially, without fear of employment repercussions), and families.

Having attended some of the consultation sessions last year, a significant number of parents (a) did not know about the meetings and/or (b) felt that the format firmly steered the conversation away from the issues they felt were most pertinent to their child’s learning. The term “rubber stamping” was frequently used to describe these sessions by parents. There were tears at many of the meetings and angry conversations in the parking lots. The issues they raised do not appear to be well addressed (if at all in some cases) in this bill.

Having previously practiced as a school-based speech therapist in the USA, I believe it would be prudent to get inclusive education policy right as well-crafted policy and legislation, rather than allow it to be created piece-meal through litigation for rights violations. As I am sure many have written, there are concerns that current practice is not aligned with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Equally, the Ministry of Education urgently needs to collect meaningful data that accurately reflects the reality on the ground. Before we focus on student outcomes, we need to understand what is actually happening (or not) to ensure that students are in school, being taught effectively, and feel safe.

Before holding students accountable to standards that may or may not be appropriate for their goals, we need to ensure that we collect meaningful, concise data on what the system is and isn’t doing to create environments conducive to learning. Do all teachers have training in autism? Are there discriminatory patterns in enrolment and expulsion? Do all children with learning and/or communication disabilities have access to appropriate accommodation, assistive technology, and interventions? This is the type of information that must inform policy going forward. I believe it is more relevant and of greater interest than national standards data at this time. Before we can improve student outcomes, we need to measure and address practices that may be setting students up for failure (or success, as the case might be) without being punitive to teachers.

We need to get this update right.

It needs to build on what we are already doing well, and effectively remedy what is not, in a futureoriented manner using NZ centric solutions.

It needs to directly address the issues I frequently observe that I believe conflict with (what I hope is) the spirit of NZ Education policy is. Specifically,

  • I observe families paying privately for teaching assistants in order for their child to attend school
  • I observe families offering to pay for teacher and teaching aid training and being denied this (and no training being offered)
  • I see children with disabilities being denied literacy and communication instruction who have the skills to learn from such methods
  • I see children with mild-moderate learning disabilities being placed in mainstream classrooms without specialised instructed to address their skills gaps, nor resources and training for the teaching staff regarding how to support their learning
  • In some cases, I observe what appears to be well-meaning practice that is outdated, ineffective, and closer to childminding than educational instruction
  • I see bullying being allowed to persist and inappropriate comments from teaching staff reflecting outdating thinking about children with communication impairments. Sometimes these are even said in front of the student (e.g., “they’re just being naughty,” “remember how lovely and quite it was before he learned to talk,” “She doesn’t need this communication device” etc.)
  • Most worrying, I see teachers aching, pleading, and begging for resources, release time, teaching assistants, and training to help them better teach children who learn, think, and understand differently. They are too often being denied such requests, or don’t know how to tap into the limited resources out there.

Specifically, we need an update to our Educational Law that ensures that (and provides provisions for) all of the following:

  • Removal of the introduction of CoOLs until the education system first addresses the systemwide, unmet needs of students with learning needs – including students with mild to moderate learning needs. These students are completely underfunded at this time and CoOLs will not provide the small group and 1:1 face-to-face, personal instruction they need. Many of these students struggle with executive functioning disorders, which by their nature make online learning, self-discipline, and non-differentiate instruction a poor fit for their learning needs.
  • Seclusion should have no place in our education system.
  • Appropriate training, staffing, school culture, and access to specialist knowledge (including parent expertise) is needed so that inhumane practices, like seclusion, do not occur.
  • Transparent and enforceable mechanisms are needed to address any and all violations to students’ right to a free and appropriate education.
  • Inclusive practices need to be reported to the MOE and effectively audited. These should not be cumbersome.
  • Schools with exclusionary practices need to be held accountable. Parents need to have clear pathways for dispute resolution, and all results need to be communicated to families in writing.
  • There need to be clear, enforceable timelines for when concerns are raised about a child’s learning and when appropriate support and interventions are expected to be put into place.
  • Teachers need access to effective training in how to support language development, teach children with learning differences, and have the resources to teach in smaller groups when that is what is what is needed.
  • Teachers-in-training need to have sufficient training in how to understand and teach children with autism, children with limited speech, and those who struggle to use and understand spoken language.
  • Schools and ECEs currently are financially penalised for including students. The reverse needs to be true. All children should be able to attend their local schools with appropriate funding and support. The system should not have policies that make a child with learning needs a “financial burden” for school. This only encourages exclusionary practices.
  • Students’ emotional and mental health needs to be supported at school – funding and support for guidance counsellors needs to be increased.
  • Students’ speech, language, and communication skills are fundamental to school learning and participation. All schools should have access to a speech-language therapist who is available on a weekly basis to provide just-in-time support, demonstrations, and specialised intervention. They should be as valuable and integrated within the school community as music and physical education teachers.

I also want to specifically highlight the concerning proposal to focus funding of specialist support and intervention on the youngest students. To be clear, early intervention is essential. It makes a difference and saves money. That said, many impairments only become an issue when academic and social demands increase in the older years.

Specifically, clinically the following are well known “service request bumps” to any school-based speech therapist from America (where we serve all children with a documented speech-language communication impairment that significantly interferes with their ability to access the curriculum):

  • Around 8-9 years of age, children transition from learning to read to the act of reading to learn. This is a stage where many subtle language differences start being significant challenges. But this marks one of the cut-off ages when speech-language input tends to be reduced in New Zealand.
  • Around 12-14, students need to learn to apply language skills in more abstract ways and process more complex language. This is another period where more kids start to struggle because of subtle underlying language differences. They often didn’t need support before, but now do.
  • In year 10, behaviour support options drop off in our system, however this is when our young people are thrown into a pressure cooker of high stakes tests that are linguistically demanding (even in maths) while attempting to navigate the social pressures of high school. Those with weaker language skills and/or social communication challenges need support and intervention at this stage – often for the first time in their lives. It is a shame to throw away a 10 year investment in a child just as they are about to finish education – for us and for the student.

My impression is that the Update, by design, does not address the concerns listed above. Given this, the following should be omitted from the Update:

  • Global funding – without an appropriate increase in funding levels and school attitudes, global funding is expected to increase exclusionary practices if students with disabilities are perceived to increase budgetary pressures on local schools.
  • CoOLs– children who have difficulty learning without specialised and individualised instruction are unlike to benefit from this model. Furthermore, it goes against the basic principles of inclusion.
  • Giving too much power to school boards without proper checks and balances puts many students at risk. We need an independent organisation to investigate complaints and enforce child rights regarding education.

In summary: while the Education Law in our country needs an update, it must be done correctly and in a matter that targets the known, pressing issues our schools face. This bill does not appear to address these matters adequately.

The Ministry of Education needs to be given the resources, power, and direction to ensure that all children in New Zealand, regardless of any sensory, cognitive, or physical impairment, have access to a publicly funded and appropriate education. Exclusionary practices should be prevented through appropriate funding systems, staff development, and promotion of inclusive attitudes. If exclusionary practices continue, principals and boards of trustees must be held accountable.

The NZ education is positioned to become a world leader in Inclusive Education, but only if this update is amended in such a way that ensures all of our young people will experience school as a place of security, learning, exciting challenge, and community. Families should not be expected to foot the bill for this essential public service.

ALL children are our collective responsibility as a society and we all benefit from inclusive education policy and practice. We are watching closely, and wish you well on this important piece of legislation.

– Shannon Hennig

Parata backs down on bulk funding plans

Demise of bulk funding a big win for teachers, learners and school communities

NZEI Te Riu Roa and PPTA congratulate the Minister of Education and Cabinet for making the right decision to reject bulk funding of schools.

NZEI President Louise Green and PPTA President Angela Roberts say taking bulk funding off the table is a big win for public education and for the thousands of teachers and school support staff who united in unprecedented numbers at more than 50 union meetings around the country in September.

PPTA President Angela Roberts says parents and educators had rejected bulk funding because they realised it was a cost cutting tool that would force schools to make trade-offs between hiring teachers and other costs.  Thousands of parents signed postcards to the Minister calling for better funding, not bulk funding during a national roadshow organised by the two unions earlier this term.

Angela Roberts says the win is good news for learners, as bulk funding led to fewer teachers, larger class sizes and narrower subject choices for students.

She says the two unions welcomed the opportunity to now focus on how funding could be used to improve equity.

“Now that the distraction of bulk funding has been removed we can begin the real work of developing an equitable funding model that works for every child,” she said.

However, Louise Green warned that ditching the decile system and replacing it with more targeted funding would not  help schools unless the chronic underfunding of education was also addressed.

“We call on the Government to take the next step — to increase school funding and restore funding to early childhood services, which has been frozen for six years,” she says.

Both unions’ National Executives are meeting this morning and the Presidents will make a joint statement at lunchtime.

What:               Joint media stand up by NZEI and PPTA Presidents

Where:             Thorndon Hotel, 24 Hawkestone St, Wellington

When:               12:30pm, Friday 18 November

My select committee submission on Communities of Online Learning (COOLs)

online-educationSubmission from Dianne Khan, Save Our Schools NZ (SOSNZ)  to the Education Select Committee regarding the Education (Update) Amendment Bill Part 3, Communities of Online Learning

 

OVERVIEW

The Education Minister must fully consider the COOLs proposal before proceeding, must have clear evidence to support her assertion that COOLs would be a positive addition to the NZ education system, and have a comprehensive outline of how COOLs will run before the proposal is adopted.

In particular, the Minister must ensure that:

  • there is clear evidence that COOLs are likely to be effective in promoting student achievement.
  • all relevant stakeholders are properly consulted.
  • COOLS will be mentally and physically safe for students.
  • the full financial analysis of the COOLs proposal is understood, including an evaluation of the impact they are likely to have on other areas of the education system.
  • there is clarity around expectations upon students’ whanau.
  • the blurred line between COOLs and homeschooling (in particular around funding) is addressed.
  • the criteria by which COOLs are evaluated is honest, fair for all parties and transparent.
  • a comprehensive plan is outlined before the proposal is signed into law.

I will now look at those points in more detail.

CONSULTATION

I am concerned is the lack of consultation regarding communities of online learning (COOLs). Although Ministry has discussed the proposals with Te Kura, there has been little or no wider consultation. I recognise that Te Kura has a level of expertise about online learning, and it is encouraging that they were consulted, however – given the huge shift this proposal puts forward – it is essential that far wider consultation is engaged in. It is critical proposals are discussed with current heavy users of online learning such as Regional Health Schools and the homeschooling community as an absolute bare minimum, and prudent to involve educators, mental health workers, and overseas experts, too.

DUE DILIGENCE

If COOLs are to continue in any form, it is imperative proper due diligence is first undertaken. It is unclear to what degree this has taken place already, but key stakeholders report that they have not been consulted and have had no input into the COOLs proposal. Therefore, I ask the Select Committee to request that the Ministry of Education release its research and findings regarding online school systems so that it can be scrutinised. Before embarking on a policy that has had such incredibly poor results elsewhere, we must be confident full consideration has been given to all aspects of the proposal.  

EFFECTIVENESS OF ONLINE SCHOOLS

The plan for COOLs is at a very early stage and not yet outlined in nearly enough detail or consulted widely enough on for anyone to be sure they would provide good quality education in New Zealand.

In 2015 findings into the USA’s online schools were released by three renowned independent research institutions, Stanford University’s Centre for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO), the Centre on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), and Mathematica Policy Research. These reports concluded that online schools were largely failing students and that the issues surrounding online learning are very serious.

Referring to numeracy and literacy, the CREDO report noted that

“students of online charter schools had significantly weaker academic performance in math and reading, compared with their counterparts in conventional schools,”  

concluding:

“While findings vary for each student, the results in CREDO’s report show that the majority of online charter students had far weaker academic growth in both math and reading compared to their traditional public school peers. To conceptualize this shortfall, it would equate to a student losing 72 days of learning in reading and 180 days of learning in math, based on a 180-day school year.”

Before offering New Zealand students this model, it is essential that the reasons for those huge shortfalls are investigated thoroughly, in all their complexity, so that safeguards are put in to prevent similar poor quality outcomes for our students.

ACCREDITING COOLs

The Education (Update) Amendment Bill states that “The Minister may set conditions on the provisional accreditation of communities of online learning, including conditions that… specify the outcomes for student achievement that must be met”. However, words are cheap, and it is of little assurance to see this clause given the Minister’s failure to act when charter schools have failed to meet similar outlined conditions. Therefore, I urge the Committee to investigate in detail what such conditions would be (for all age groups and  cohorts), how exactly they would be monitored and how failure to meet the conditions would be addressed.

STUDENTS ALREADY AT RISK OF UNDERACHIEVEMENT

A particular concern is the relationship in NZ between education outcomes and ethnicity/socioeconomic status/mental health. It is worth noting, then, that CREDO’s research deems online schools to have failed to address these issues for US students, stating that the “pattern of weaker [student learning] growth remained consistent across racial-ethnic subpopulations and students in poverty.” This should raise huge red flags for NZ. Therefore, the must be an impact analysis addressing COOLs and vulnerable groups such as those mentioned above. It would be unforgivable to risk undermining further the education of those already deemed to be at risk of underachievement.

EVALUATING STUDENT OUTCOMES

Making ‘Overall Teacher Judgements’ (OTJs) on a student’s skills, knowledge and abilities is a complex task that involves frequent observations, discussions with the student, in-class tests (both formal and informal), and analysis of work undertaken. How will COOLs ensure they get a true picture of a student’s abilities? I fear that OTJs might be pushed to the side in favour of using online test results. It would be a grave error to move towards trusting tests alone to give a fair picture of what a student knows/can do. No test is extensive enough to provide a true evaluation.

I also urge the Committee to seriously question any move to use National Standards as a valid measure of any student’s progress, given their unreliability and the fact that the Standards have not yet been benchmarked in any meaningful way.

PASTORAL CARE

Regarding “the capacity to meet its pastoral care and student well-being responsibilities” (Education (Update) Amendment Bill, 35T Provisional accreditation of communities of online learning (3) (c)), I am concerned that there is no specific detail on how a COOLs shall properly identify and meet students’ pastoral needs remotely.

There are two main issues. The first is that those students who can identify their own issues will nevertheless not feel able to bring them to the attention of their teacher/s, as students are less likely to share concerns with someone they do not have a bond with. The second issue is with those students who cannot identify when they have a need that should be addressed. In these circumstances, virtual teacher will be less likely than a physically present teacher to notice the problem and address it with a student. Both situations are problematic.

If the student has a very supportive home environment, the impact is likely to be smaller, but those without a whanau safety net will suffer a double blow regarding the lack of adult support – absent teacher support and absent family support. This is likely to impact our neediest students the most and could be disastrous for them.

STUDENT SAFETY

I am concerned that students’ safety needs may not be met adequately by COOLs.

The proposal states at 35T Provisional accreditation of communities of online learning (3) (a) that

“For a body to be provisionally accredited as a community of online learning, it must have or be likely to have … a learning environment and processes that are safe and secure for its students”

but there is no detail regarding what this would look like. Student safety covers many very important things in any educational environment, including online, mental health and physical safety and can be difficult to monitor even when teachers and support staff are physically present.

Before launching any online school, there must be explicit investigation into the potential safety pitfalls of the model and stringent safety criteria must be drawn up, especially regarding mental health.

MENTAL & PHYSICAL HEALTH

I am concerned that 100% online learning could lead to unhealthy habits such as disrupted work hours, poor posture, sedentary behaviour, increased solitariness, skipping meals and increased screen time, all of which are health warning triggers.

Safe computer use is a known concern, and ACC have a one hundred page booklet about that issue alone. How would safe use be monitored and good practices successfully promoted to ensure good physical health?

More worrying still is the potential for bad practice to lead to and/or exacerbate mental health problems. New Zealand has significant number of children with mental health issues, with high levels of self-harm and suicide. The Ministry of Health reported that “The highest rate of suicide in 2012 was in the youth age group (15–24 years)” and “the highest rate of intentional self-harm hospitalisations for both males and females was in the 15–19 years age group”. I would suggest Ministry work with experts such as those in Regional Health Schools, the Mental Health Foundation, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) in Wellington and Kapiti, Whirinaki Child, Family and Youth Mental Health in Manakau, The Werry Centre at the University of Auckland etc. in order to properly identify the possible pitfalls and set down for COOLs preventative and remedial measures.

It is imperative that student safety is paramount, and the goal must be comprehensive and stringent guidelines covering a COOL’s responsibilities regarding students’ physical and mental health.

ACADEMIC SELF-MANAGEMENT AND SUPPORT

Online school principals in the USA identify ‘maintaining student engagement’ in this environment of limited student-teacher interaction as their greatest challenge by far.

So we must ask, how will students be kept on-task? Will COOLs be open only to those deemed able to self-manage their learning? And if so, is this in keeping with requirements for inclusive school practices?

I have seen first hand students’ diverse needs regarding teacher input during my work Central Regional Health School (CRHS) and at a number of primary schools. Even at senior school, it is a minority of students that are independent enough to be capable of identifying and addressing their own learning needs. Most school students need significant teacher input as they still have a limited ability to recognise their needs and ask for help. In those cases, a high level of supervision is needed while independent learning skills are taught and the student learns to self-manage. How will this be managed well in an online setting?

I fear there is a very real danger that some students would slip under the radar, especially if teacher/Student time is limited. Mathematica reported that online schools typically provide students with less live teacher contact time in a week than students in conventional schools have in a day. What levels of teacher/student interaction would be needed to ensure adequate support, and how would that be mandated and checked?

PARENT/WHANAU COMMITMENT

Another important issue is that of parent support. The Update states that “a system for ensuring that information about a student’s performance is given to the student’s parents in a timely manner and in a form that is readily understandable” which implies parents will not be an active participant in their child’s learning. This raises huge issues. Mathematica reported that online schools place significant expectations on whanau as teacher “perhaps to compensate for limited student-teacher interaction”. The level of parent support in US online schools is significant: “43, 56, and 78 percent of online charters at the high school, middle, and elementary grade levels, respectively, [are] expecting parents to actively participate in student instruction”. This is a huge family commitment, yet it has not been addressed in the COOLs proposal.

HOMESCHOOLING OR COOL?

It is not yet clear what will technically differentiate between a student who is being homeschooled and one that is at an online school. Is it age? Levels of parent involvement? Or something else? And if it is linked to levels of parent involvement, how will it be evaluated and monitored? This is especially thorny given the high levels of parent support likely to be needed in a student’s daily ‘school’ life, as outlined above.

It is also unclear how funding for COOLs will impact payments to homeschoolers. Clarity is desperately needed.

SUMMARY

The research into the USA’s online schools gives significant cause for concern and serves as a warning to New Zealand, therefore the Education Minister must consider the plan for communities of online learning in greater detail and in consultation with relevant experts and stakeholders before passing the proposal into legislation.

Dianne Khan, SOSNZ

Further reading:

Education Amendment (Update) Bill – Communities of online learning (COOLs)

A CALL TO ACTION TO IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF FULL-TIME VIRTUAL CHARTER PUBLIC SCHOOLS , The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, 2016

Inside Online Charter Schools, Cambridge, MA: Mathematica Policy Research, Oct 27, 2015, by Brian Gill, Lucas Walsh, Claire Smither Wulsin, Holly Matulewicz, Veronica Severn, Eric Grau, Amanda Lee, and Tess Kerwin (Summary is here)

https://saveourschoolsnz.com/2016/09/18/online-charter-schools-the-research/

Little evidence that charter schools are delivering for Māori

Maori education tui

Save Our Schools finds little evidence to support the claim by the Māori Party that charter schools are “delivering for our people”.

Closer scrutiny of the schools’ performance against their contracts suggests that none of the three schools with predominantly Māori students is actually meeting their main targets.

The Ministry set targets for student achievement using National Standards as the metric for the primary schools and the “School Leavers with NCEA Level 2” metric as the main target for secondary schools.

But Ministry analysis released in May this year showed that both of the primary schools, Te Kapehu Whetu-Teina in Whangarei and Te Kura Māori o Waatea in Mangere, were evaluated as “Not Met” for student achievement.

Whetu-Teina achieved only 2 of its 18 targets and Waatea achieved none of its 12 targets in 2015 according to the Ministry analysis.

The secondary school based in Whangarei, Te Kura Hourua o Whangarei Terenga Paraoa, reported high NCEA participation-based pass rates but its School Leavers stats showed a different picture.

The Education Counts database showed Paraoa as having 84.6% of School Leavers in 2015 leaving with NCEA Level 1 or above against a target of 84.0%; but its School Leavers with NCEA Level 2 or above figure of 69.2% did not quite reach its contract target of 73.0%.

The Ministry has not released its revised evaluation of the school’s performance against target, as it has only recently acknowledged an inconsistency in how the secondary school contract performance measures have been interpreted.

But on the surface, Paraoa has not reached the key NCEA Level 2 School Leaver target that the Government focuses on.

Finally, we have to keep in mind that the fourth school with predominantly Māori students, based at Whangaruru in Northland, was closed earlier this year by the Minister.

So, on balance, there seems to be little evidence at this early stage to support the claims being made.

– Bill Courtney. Save Our Schools NZ

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