I left the classroom after deciding I simply couldn’t be the teacher I wanted to be.
In front of 32 Year 2 students (5 and 6 year olds) in a school in South Auckland I became more and more frustrated at the lack of time I had to connect with my students on an individual basis. Despite the enormous hours I was putting in, I was not satisfied in any way with the quality of my instruction I was able to deliver.
Hekia and her gang will argue that it is quality of teacher instruction not quantity of students in the room that lifts student achievement. As a quality teacher (or so I’ve been told) I am incredibly offended by this moot.
My last classroom consisted of 32 Year 2 students from some of the most challenging socio-economic backgrounds. Over 3/4 of my class arrived in front of me operating at a pre-emergent literacy and numeracy level (operating below 5 years of age).
As a quality teacher, my programme adapted swiftly and often to meet the needs of my students. I taught to their level and at the time (fortunately) I did not have today’s pressure of meeting a national standard of achievement. I used my data gathered to address learning gaps and to respond to student interest all the while meeting the national curriculum objectives.
I worked on weekends, holidays and late nights in order to be very prepared, thus freeing me up to spend time building relationships with my students.
I had children with significant learning and behaviour needs, supported by RTLB.
I had children regularly involved with counselling services. I had children reintegrating from withdrawn programmes and residential schools.
I made sandwiches for my kids who regularly didn’t have lunch. (This became more covert when the Principal banned staff from doing this).
I also worked as an associate teacher, guiding a provisionally registered teacher in her first year of service.
I ran before-school alphabet groups and basic word revision.
In summary, I worked my butt off.
And yet I felt a sense of dissatisfaction at my ability to reach those children in my class that needed even just a little more of my time. I found there were days in my classroom where it felt like I was directing traffic. I had to work hard consciously to connect with every child every day. If I didn’t, I could easily have passed over an ‘invisible’ child in the day.
There could have been children in my class, who, apart from roll call, could have not had a single individual conversation with their teacher that day.
And yet Hekia says the amount of students in a classroom has no bearing on lifting achievement.
Clearly I was misguided and misinformed. I was obviously not of the quality Hekia wants in her classrooms, as I couldn’t ‘fix’ all the issues before me.
While I chipped away at learning levels, lifting my students from pre-emergent through to 6 months below, I settled for providing my students with a fun and safe environment from 9am to 3pm. For many of these students that took precedent.
My level of dissatisfaction grew to the point where I decided I couldn’t work in these classrooms any longer. For me to work in a smaller classroom setting, I would need to look up the decile rankings and even into the private providers to achieve this.
But this was not attractive in the sense that I enjoyed working with children in the lower decile schools. So I left the classroom altogether.
For me to be the quality teacher I wanted to be I needed the quantity of students in front of me to be less. It really was that simple. Fewer students gave me the ability to do my job even better.
So I left the classroom.
Every year I feel the pull back. I long to have ‘my kids’ again. To enjoy being in front of children, exploring, investigating and imparting knowledge as a year-long journey.
And every year I decide I simply could not teach the way I would enjoy in the current education environment. I would rage against a system instead of working happily within it.
Perhaps next year?
~ by Sarah Aiono, first published on her blog, Cheeky Kids.
Sarah Aiono holds a B.Ed (Dip Tchg), PGd.Dip.Ed (Dist) and a Master of Education and has worked for over ten years with children exhibiting challenging behaviour. She is an Accredited Incredible Years Facilitator and Peer Coach. She is currently employed as a Resource Teacher of Learning and Behaviour and is a Company Director for Little Ninjas Ltd, a service for parents and teachers in understanding children who work outside the ‘square’.
There was an air of excitement, tension and hope at last night’s Tick For Kids education forum in Wellington. The room was packed, and people were very keen to hear what the parties’ representatives have to say about education policy.
Kiwis are no fools, though, with people well aware of what Chris McKenzie called the pre-election lolly scramble to present popular policy, only 10% of which we might see post-election.
Given what we have heard so far and what was presented at this forum, we can only hope that far more than 10% of the promises come to fruition should there be a change in government.
So, to the night.
The panel comprised Hekia Parata (National), Chris Hipkins (Labour), Tracey Martin (NZ First), Peter Dunne (United Future), Chris McKenzie (Maori Party), Suzanne Ruthven (Greens), and Miriam Pierard (Internet-Mana) and was MCed very well by Dave Armstrong.
The candidates’ names were drawn from a bowl to determine the order in which they spoke – all very fair and orderly – and Armstrong made clear that people were welcome to mention each other, refer to other parties’ policies, and so on – unlike the shambles at Helensville the previous night. That got a big giggle.
(Clearly the Helensville event wasn’t run by Tick For Kids, otherwise it would have been far more interesting and informative.)
First up was Chris McKenzie (Maori Party)
McKenzie outlined a credible background in education and then won a significant ripple of applause when he said the Maori Party will reinstate ACE (Adult and Community Education) funding.
McKenzie also said they would make Te Reo compulsory and would look into the teaching of civics so that students understand the democratic process.
Given I had spent 90 minutes the night before trying to explain that very thing to my babysitter, I could well understand the need for civics in the curriculum. Maybe my high school colleagues can fill me in on what they feel is needed?
Peter Dunne (United Future) was up next
Dunne spoke mostly in generalities, with lots of feel good stuff about great teaching and high expectations, saying he wouldn’t be more specific as United Future’s policy is not out until next week!
He did, however, go out on a high note by stating UF would work to repeal charter schools.
Cue more audience applause.
Hekia Parata (National; Education Minister) was the next to take centre stage
Parata started by saying that student achievement had risen during National’s time in government and that now students are staying in school longer, saying that there was still more to do, especially for the neediest groups.
There was a wee round of clapping from one corner of the room. I later spotted that group leaving with Ms Parata – whether anyone *not* in her entourage clapped, I cannot say for sure…
Parata then said that special education needs was a key area of focus, and this elicited mumbling from the audience, most of whom are no doubt well aware that SEN provision is diabolical and has only got worse under this government. For my own part, it was all I could do to stay quiet and not shout “Tell that to Salisbury School!”
Parata continued on to say that Investing in Education Success (IES) policy would see to it that those issues are all addressed. This did not go down well with the audience. There was muttering.
Parata ended with a flourish by pronouncing “decile is not destiny” and banging the lectern. It might have gone down well were it not for the fact that teachers KNOW THAT already and don’t take kindly to being patronised. If she was waiting for a round of applause for her showmanship, she was disappointed.
And if showmanship is what was called for, we were in luck, because the next person to speak was Tracey Martin (New Zealand First), who always gives a clear and excellent speech.
Tracey Martin (New Zealand First)
Martin pulled no punches, opening by saying that teachers and the education system have been under constant attack by this government and it’s been relentless. She listed what we have seen from National: increased class sizes, charter schools, national standards and more.
Martin said parents were tricked into supporting (or at least not fighting) National Standards by the promise that they would be helpful, but said that’s not turned out to be the case.
In other words, the sales pitch doesn’t match what’s delivered.
The audience seemed to agree, with a large clap and mutterings of “too right”.
There was no pause as Martin went straight into EDUCANZ and the assault on teachers’ democracy. More clapping.
Martin then made absolutely clear that NZF would repeal both National Standards and charter schools. Applause from the room.
She went on to say that the conversation about how to improve education needs to be given back to teachers, that the sector itself needs to be involved and listened to.
She said change should be driven by teachers and facilitated by politicians, not the other way around.
Barely pausing for breath, Martin said Boards of Trustees (BOTs) would get compulsory training under NZF plans, ORS funding would increase to 3%, and there would be more money for special needs across the board.
This was all very well received by the audience, and Martin ended by saying (in a wee dig at Dunne) that New Zealand First’s education policy is already online, in full, and had been there for three months. She urged us all to read it. You should.
Suzanne Ruthven (Green Party)
Tracey Martin was a hard act to follow, but Suzanne Ruthven from the Green Party (who was standing in for Catherine Delahunty due to a family emergency) spoke to the effect of poverty on a student’s chances of success, said that education needed to be seen in its wider context, and outlined briefly the Green Party’s School Hubs Policy.
Ruthven explained that School Hubs would be flexible, there was money there for a Hub coordinator so that teachers were not expected to run them on top of their workload, and that schools and communities to mould them in whatever ways best suited their own needs.
And now to Chris Hipkins (Labour)
Chris started by saying he got a top rate education in a state school, and thanked his maths teacher who he had spotted at the back of the room.
He won the crowd over further by quoting Beeby:
“…every person, whatever his level of academic ability, whether he be rich or poor, whether he live in town or country, has a right, as a citizen, to a free education of the kind for which he is best fitted, and to the fullest extent of his powers.” C E Beeby
Without a pause for breath, Hipkins said charter schools would be repealed under Labour. National Standards would be gone. IES would be gone. School donations would be addressed.
He then said the Advisory Service would be put back in place, and the audience erupted into applause and cheers.
He went on – ECE would be funded to 100% qualified staff – more clapping
– and EDUCANZ would be ditched – HUGE applause and cheers, again, from the audience.
Hipkins sat down with the clapping still going.
Miriam Pierard was next up
Pierard explainsed that until very recently she was a teacher, and she believes once a teacher always a teacher.
It is, she says, time to take the education system back.
Pierard was clear that poverty and education need to be addressed together and that any government must work alongside teachers to find solutions. She stressed that the Internet Party want to hear from teachers about what they believe needs to be done.
Pierard reminds the crowd that ACT Party describe teachers as “vile” and says not all politicians feel that way.
Pierard ends by asking how many teachers in the room have been stuffed over by Novopay? Over half the hands went up. There’s applause for the recognition of the scale of the problem. She nods, sagely.
We all nod.
And with that, the candidates’ speeches are over, and we are onto Question Time… which deserves a post all of its own….
Other articles about the event:
One of the most hotly debated issues in education policy is class size.
The issue caused major problems for the National Government in 2012 as they had to backtrack on a controversial proposal to change the teacher:student funding ratio, which would have increased class sizes for most students.
And Labour has proposed a change in the funding ratio, as part of its 2014 Education policy, which would see the creation of approx. 2,000 additional teaching positions.
But much of the debate on class size misses the point.
The discussion invariably descends too readily into the “Quantity v Quality” trade-off without recognising the common sense view that most parents would prefer smaller class sizes for their children.
Indeed, today’s Dominion Post (12 August 2014) features an article quoting the Principal of Scots College Prep School, Mr John Western:
Western says the small class sizes, about half to two thirds the size of those in a state school, make a big difference in teaching:
“The individual needs of each child are catered for and that’s because the teachers have time to work with every child…they can improve their weaknesses and celebrate their strengths, and as a teacher that’s a real privilege.”
Two recent and significant pieces of research on class size, published this year, are a new review of major research undertaken by Northwestern University Associate Professor Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach and published by the National Education Policy Center (February 2014 ); and a review of 112 research papers (written between 1979 and 2014) by Australian Dr David Zyngier of Monash University (published May 2014).
These two items are cited by Labour in its Education Policy document.
But QPEC also notes the highly regarded series of projects by Peter Blatchford and colleagues at the University of London. They studied several hundred real classrooms and schools which varied considerably in actual size.
They found that larger classes affected:
The research programme as a whole reported benefits of smaller classes for some students both at the beginning of primary and the beginning of secondary schooling. These effects were most pronounced for students who might be at risk of disengaging from learning.
In terms of policy recommendations, Diane Schanzenbach believes the following policy recommendations emerge from her studies:
So, in summary:
QPEC’s wish-list therefore includes much smaller classes for low-decile schools, where students need the greatest attention and support from their teachers.
1. Diane Schanzenbach / NEPC:
2. David Zyngier / AARE blog:
3. Peter Blatchford Projects:
Blatchford, P. (2003). The class size debate: Is small better? Maidenhead, UK:
Open University Press.
Blatchford, P., Bassett, P. & Brown, P (2011). Examining the effect of class size on
classroom engagement and teacher-pupil interaction: Differences in relation to
pupil prior attainment and primary vs. secondary schools. Learning and
Instruction, 21, 715-730.
Blatchford, P., Russell, A. & Brown, P. (2009). Teaching in large and small classes.
In L.J. Saha & A.J. Dworkin (Eds.). International handbook of research on
teachers & teaching (pp. 779-790). New York: Springer.
NZEI National President Judith Nowotarski says this will go a long way to ensuring that teaching remains highly professional and that the best and brightest enter the profession.
“In recent years there has been virtually no oversight of teacher training and this has led to too many courses, too many students and not enough emphasis on quality.”
“There needs to be a very high standard of entry into such an important profession. Our children deserve only the best.”
Ms Nowotarski says Labour’s policy is a welcome shift from the current government’s policy of “dumbing down” the teaching profession by allowing unqualified and unregistered people into charter schools and early childhood education.
“It is ironic that the government constantly talks of improving teaching quality while at the same time allowing untrained and unregistered people to act as teachers in charter schools and early childhood education centres.”
Quality of education in early childhood would also get a big boost under Labour.
“We welcome Labour’s plans to require early childhood education centres to employ at least 80 percent qualified staff at early childhood centres.
“Once again, this is a big point of difference between the current government’s quantity over quality approach to early childhood education.
“Labour’s policies, including smaller class sizes, will go a long way towards improving education for New Zealand children, especially those who are vulnerable and struggling.”
In the lead-up to the 2014 Budget, less than 6% of people think the government’s plan to establish new leadership roles for some principals and teachers is a good use of increased education funding, according to a new poll.
The poll, commissioned by NZEI Te Riu Roa, surveyed a cross-section of New Zealanders last month and found little support for prioritising the $359 million Investing in Educational Success policy, which has also been widely panned by teachers.
Respondents were somewhat supportive of the package (56%), but when asked what were the most important areas of education in which to spend extra money, the components of the policy were bottom of the list by a wide margin (paying $40,000 to executive principals to oversee a group of schools – 1%; paying $50,000 to experienced principals to turn around struggling schools – 6%; paying $10,000 to experienced teachers to work with teachers in other schools two days a week – 3%).
The poll showed that the public was more interested in
NZEI President Judith Nowotarski said the poll showed that teachers were not alone in believing putting the money into frontline teachers and support would be a far more effective way to lift student success.
“The government dreamed up this policy with the idea that it would somehow benefit students. It’s a great pity they didn’t bother to consult anyone who knows anything about what students need for educational success,” she said.
Parents are starting to ask questions about the lack of consultation in the spending of this significant amount of money.
An Auckland mother has set up an online petition asking the government to consult teachers, principals, boards of trustees and parents before implementing the policy.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
NZEI National President Judith Nowotarski: ph 027 475 4140
Communications Officers: Debra Harrington ph 027 268 3291,
Melissa Schwalger 027 276 7131
Teachers don’t often switch off. A good friend refers to holidays as “non-contact” time. And given our government’s habit of pushing through major education legislation during the holidays, you start to feel like those kids in Jurassic Park, sheltering and hyper-aware of every movement as the velociraptors keep testing for gaps in the perimeter.
Saturday’s the one morning I do try to disengage the teacher brain and enjoy a meander round our local farmers’ market with my mum. But this weekend, the Act party were on the “community group” stall – including the Epsom candidate, David Seymour, who assisted John Banks with the drafting of Act’s charter schools policy.
I’ve read and archived more than 500 articles and op-eds on the decimation of American public schooling in favour of charter schools; that virtual pinboard records the same cynical treatment of state schools in the UK – and now here. It fills me with a cold anger that this is being done to students, teachers and schools. Community as a concept is avidly being unpicked. And schools are some of the nicest communities I’ve ever experienced, held together by a lot of personal sacrifice. Targeting them seems like the educational equivalent of harp-seal clubbing.
So this was a chance to talk to the people who are doing things to education – and fair play, Seymour was fronting up in public. Some other politicians who are neck-deep in this aren’t very good at that.
The charter schools pilot makes me want to grab a paper bag and breathe into it vigorously. Part of my job is to promote scientific thinking in children. It’s the simplest of bottom lines: you keep all variables but the one you’re examining the same for it to be a fair test. Charter school students were receiving more funding per head than public school students, and class sizes were 12-15 compared to 28+ in public schools. So that was one of the questions I put to Mr Seymour – how can this test be called “fair”?
The information on funding is “untrue” and class sizes “will grow,” he said. But, I said, that’s not what some charter schools are advertising on radio.
I was then informed that it was a “natural experiment”, and results would be “corrected”, controlling for covariates after the trial. I did a bit more reading later on – yes, they are an option when testing in science. The following gave me slight pause:
“Natural experiments are employed as study designs when controlled experimentation is extremely difficult to implement or unethical, such as in several research areas addressed by epidemiology (e.g., evaluating the health impact of varying degrees of exposure to ionizing radiation in people living near Hiroshima at the time of the atomic blast) and economics (e.g., estimating the economic return on amount of schooling in US adults.”
Apparently I’m a ‘conspiracy theorist’ for believing that charter schools are the beginning of privatisation by stealth, no matter how much evidence there is for it in America and the United Kingdom. But you heard it here first, and I asked if I could quote him on it: schools will not be forcibly privatised against the wishes of their communities, as is happening in Britain. I look forward to following that up.
I asked him about the effect of competition on the thing that makes good education: sharing of knowledge and resources. He hadn’t heard of the charter school in New York visited by a New Zealand teacher, where all doors, windows and cupboards are locked – not because it’s a dangerous neighbourhood, but because teachers are worried about others “stealing” their ideas.
Seymour challenged me on what I would do with a middle school like the one he attended, where children were apparently allowed to run around and do whatever they liked. (Aren’t there mechanisms in place already? Commissioners?) He also asked if I had visited any of the charter schools myself – the people behind them were all good people, doing good things. I asked him if he’d visited any of the schools in the area where I work to see the good things they were doing, too.
Seymour was lukewarm on the idea of National Standards – shock! common ground? – but it’s because they run counter to Act’s ideas of “freedom” from government control. It was my first real-life encounter with someone who believes so fervently in decentralisation, and it was a strange feeling. Like standing on opposite sides of a Wile E Coyote canyon and trying to make ourselves understood.
It was also fairly heartbreaking to hear an older supporter on the stand, someone kind enough to volunteer to read with children at a school in an area of very high need, ask “Why can’t we just give it a go? Why can’t we have a choice?”
If it really was just about choice, and getting the best deal for our kids, and the public system wasn’t steadily being undermined at the same time, maybe I wouldn’t be so angry.
So I left, feeling like I’d engaged in some harp-seal clubbing of my own in directing that beam of fury at the two ACT supporter ladies. (And embarrassed that I’d lost track of time and stood Dianne up for breakfast.)
Funny how a day can pan out, however. Later at the Quality Public Education Coalition forum, chairman Bill Courtney caused heads to swivel when he greeted Alwyn Poole in the audience before giving an update on charter schools. Poole is the principal of Mt Hobson Middle School. He’s also a member of the Villa Education Trust, whose South Auckland Middle School is one of the first in the charter schools pilot.
What a magnificent thing it was to be able to ask questions openly of someone involved in this, and to receive frank answers. (At last!) And to know that this person has extensive experience in education (and multiple teaching qualifications).
Courtney’s talk used South Auckland Middle School’s figures to explain how funding has been allocated. He also made the point that the charter school model has been hijacked by the privatisation movement. One of the first proponents of the idea, Albert Shanker, saw it as a way to allow teachers greater autonomy, to engage the students who weren’t being served by normal schools.
This sounds like what Poole’s schools have been able to do: Poole said he works with children with needs like dyslexia or Asperger’s, or kids who need a “boost” at middle school level. He was asked why couldn’t he achieve it within the system as a special character school. In 2002, that option was “blocked”. They were looking for “ways of expanding what we do”, so applied for the partnership school option.
The school doesn’t carry the same infrastructure as state schools, principals do admin and teach, and they have “a nice lease agreement”. They also have qualified teachers and teach to the New Zealand Curriculum.
Poole was also asked if some of the biggest barriers to learning faced by many schools in Manukau, such as transience, were problems for his school. Transience, less so, but they have had a small degree of truancy (10 hours), and two students had a conflict and left during the school day.
Class size, and the basic mathematics of time for giving one-to-one support, seems to me to be the elephant in the educational tent. It’s splitting it at the seams as most politicians studiously try to avoid treading in its dung.
Unlike many politicians, Poole openly acknowledges that their 1:15 ratio is part of their success in helping students. Why not campaign for the same ratio for state schools? an audience member asked.
Poole: “We love our 1:15 ratio and we would advocate for it very strongly.”
Poole said that they’ve also applied to the Ministry for funding to evaluate their model with the help of the University of Florida.
I went up to him afterwards to say thank you, and realised he must have seen some of my trail of articles on charters on the SOSNZ Facebook page (eek).
We touched on something that came up when he spoke to us: dyslexia. When I was a BT, I had a fantastic student who was also dyslexic. I also had a fairly big class and very basic training in how best to support him, but fortunately, he had a proactive mum who could share her knowledge. I still collect resources now based on what I wish I could have done for him.
Poole started to talk about the things they do, and there was that moment, that neat spark you get when you meet another teacher who might have the solution for the child that you want to help, who will no doubt share it with you, because that’s what we’re both here for, after all.
And that’s what I find hardest to accept: we have educators being pitted against educators in this. Experience, training and knowledge is being dissed.
When stuff like this is happening, the problem is now having faith that the current Ministry of Education is “getting out of bed every morning”, as Courtney put it, with their main aim being to guarantee every child a quality education.
But as Courtney notes, there is no official, publicly available ‘Isaac Report’ to enlighten us on the findings of Catherine Isaac’s working party. There is no attempt to be scientific and explain how the government intends to evaluate the pilot schools, and the concept. Instead there’s a second round of schools funded before any meaningful data has been generated by the first.
There’s not a recognition that public schools overseas are still managing to deliver results, even though they’re being treated like the Black Knight in Monty Python, battling on and squirting blood as another limb gets lopped off.
I got a lot of answers on Saturday. Now I have a new question. Will all educators – partnership school and state – be willing to dare to do what annoyed Tau Henare so much about the Problem Gambling Foundation: stand together to “bag the hand that feeds them” and oppose the secretive development of policy that serves ideology – not kids?
Every now and then someone will confront me with the accusation that I am against change, innovation and new ideas in education. They have the impression that anyone fighting some changes must be against them all.
Innovation in the classroom is one of the most exciting things about education. There’s nothing better than the freedom to teach to children’s interests and teachers’ strengths, and make learning engaging and exciting as well as relevant. Plenty of public schools are doing this.
Oddly, it didn’t seem innovation and quality learning was much of a consideration for government when they wanted to cut technology classes and had to back down. Maybe ask them what their problem is?
Roll Over, Rover?
People also ask, why don’t I just get on with supporting charter schools now they are here anyway?
Well, to say that once something is in place, one should support it whether it is right or wrong is an odd argument to say the least. Look to history at the many wrongs that have been overturned.
Rolling over is the easier path, I grant you that. I have given well over a year of my life to researching, reading and learning about charters and other reform measures. It’s taken a significant amount of my time. Ignoring it all would have been easier – and at times I have been sorely tempted.
But our education system needs people fighting its corner. And nothing I have found makes me believe charters are anything more than a cover story for privatising the public system.
The very existence of charter schools in NZ is part of a slippery slope of creeping change that is for the worse.
And it’s the same problem with National Standards.
The Tail Wagging the Dog
A child’s reading level or numeracy level, and how they are doing at writing, should certainly be tested and checked, yes. It should all be done regularly and in the classroom by the teacher, shared with others in the school and considered for where to guide the child next and how, so that feedback is fast and to the point, and the child is moved on in a positive way.
Testing in the classroom with timely feedback to students so they know where they are and what goals are next – that is what is needed and what happens. Not league tables. Isn’t the aim for students to learn?
Well, if you are a child, a parent or a teacher that’s the goal – Maybe not so much if you are a politician.
The truth is, National Standards are there to be used as a political bullying stick to ‘prove’ other measures are needed. This has been the pattern repeatedly overseas; Imply there is a big problem so that changes can be justified.
The Teachers Council is being reviewed and changed. PaCT assessment tool with its many underlying worries, is being brought in. Teacher training can now be done in just a few weeks over the summer holidays.
And all of this leads to creeping changes throughout the system, slowly morphing it into a different beast, until one day you look back and think “How the hell did it get to this?”
Watch Out For The Quiet Ones – They Bite The Hardest
Anyone doubting the sneaky and underhand way changes are being pushed through need only look at treasury’s own advice to Education Minister, Hekia Parata in Quiet change – a Treasury guide:
“Overseas experience in education reform suggests focusing on communicating a positively framed ‘crucial few’ at any one time … while making smaller incremental changes in a less high profile manner across a range of fronts”.
“More harder-edged changes could be pursued in parallel, incrementally and without significant profile.”
Treasury asking Bill English to ask Hekia Parata to scale things back and do things less publicly does not mean she is being asked to do them better, oh no.
Rather, she is being asked to do them more sneakily.
Ask yourself: If these and other changes are for the better, if they are honest, if they are based on sound research and best practice, then why the sneaky dog attack?
No animals were hurt in the making of this post.
Fairfax-owned stuff.co.nz launched its expanded School Report this morning – more than a little sad to see Auckland’s Faculty of Education uncritically advertising the tool as helpful on its Facebook page.
Stuff say they’ve matched National Standards and NCEA data with “key demographic details to provide users with a quick, easy-to-understand snapshot of every secondary, intermediate and primary school in the country”. No mention of how many children have English as their second language, so, nope, I didn’t see a picture of my school with all its challenges and charm. No attempt to go deeper and give readers reasons why.
And there was some attempt to report on/acknowledge the widening gap between students from rich and poor backgrounds.
Hekia Parata, however, apparently said that “decile funding had not been an effective way of directing resources at where they could do the most good”.
“The decile system has a good intention in that it takes into account the different backgrounds students come from but has increasingly become the explanation for everything. It is not. Quality teaching and school leadership make the biggest difference so that is where we think our resources are best directed.”
Quality Public Education Coalition national chairperson Bill Courtney, however, hits the nail squarely on the head: “You’ve got to change as much as you can about the quality of these children’s lives outside the school system. Why don’t those kids right down the bottom with top level needs have much smaller classes, more resources and a much stronger focus on helping them to accelerate? The parents are doing the best they can, but some of them are out at 7am cleaning your office. These kids don’t necessarily have people to help them study.
”What happens to your learning when every night you go home and sleep in a garage? Think about that compared to a decile 10 kid.
”The education our rich kids get is literally the best in the world. Why is that? Didn’t our teachers all go to the same university? Don’t we have the same curriculum? What’s the difference?”
This simple, honest blog post could have been written by almost any teacher in the UK or New Zealand, and most likely the USA or Australia or many other countries, too.
Teachers are NOT to blame for a country’s problems. But they ARE the answer to many problems, if only those in power would actually listen to them, support them, and stop making them the scapegoat.
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Just how utterly incompetent (not to mention offensively rude) (oh and dodgy) does someone have to be to be ousted into the netherworld by John Key?
Oh wait, they have kept Banksy around, so that answers that question.
Seriously though, Hekia Parata has presided over a disastrous year in education. I’m not talking about policies here – I mean, any Education Minister will hit resistance not matter what, and despite me and millions of others thinking she is on the wrong track with Charter Schools and what not, I am thinking now of the way in which she has managed things.
The technology teachers/class sized debacle in May was just the start. I mean, really, how can such a huge and serious change be proposed without the facts and figures being checked? That we a total embarrassment and made the Ministry of Education looks ridiculous.
Then there was the impending closure of Salisbury School, which caters for girls with serious learning and emotional difficulties – a closure which courts ruled illegal and halted. Illegal. Get that – Hekia Parata, the Education MINISTER, is either not aware of the laws regarding school closures or is wilfully ignoring them and hoping to get away with it. Either way, it’s not a good look.
Beaten and demoralised by 2 years of quakes, apparently this was a fabulous time to propose closures and mergers of Canterbury schools. The facts are well known, but for anyone who has been on the moon or meditating for the whole of last year, just know that schools were listed as having buildings they did not have, had long jump pits listed as liquefaction, were refused requests under the Official Information Act because of advice from Hekia Parata and the Ministry urging Christchurch Council to, well, obfuscate, fudge and fib their way into NOT giving any information out. Again the courts ruled that the behaviour was … you guessed it … illegal.
STRIKE THREE FOR HEKIA.
Next bit of dodgy dealing – the way Charter Schools are being foisted on NZ. How utterly underhand to have the consultation period in the school holidays. Oh wait, didn’t they do that in Christchurch, too… it’s almost as if it was done on purpose… go figure. The panel supposedly considering whether we should have Charters, and if so, what form they they should take, is being overseen by John Banks’ bedfellow Catherine Isaacs and the panel has not one teacher, principal, or any other education expert on it. Yeah, that sounds mighty impartial to me.
So there you go… a terrible year.
Oh wait… what’s that you say…?
Did someone whisper Novapay? What? It was rolled out despite advice that it should not be? What? Errors are still in the thousands after months of being live? But Hekia fronted up and tried to sort it out, eh, so that’s something…. WHAT! She got an underling to take the flack? AND she beggared off on holiday without a by your leave? But she’s back now, eh, and sorting it ou….EH!!!! She’s still away? After a month.
Says it all, doesn’t it.
Really, just what do you have to do in the National Party to be given the boot?
Cock-up after cock-up, mess after mess, disgrace after disgrace. Yes, it’s National’s Education policies.
Not satisfied with the shambolic technology teachers/class sizes debacle, nor the way they have flouted due process and in some cases the law (Salisbury School and Christchurch), and trying to ignore the Official Information Act, or even National Standards and league tables and – oh wait – let’s not forget NovaPay… no, not happy with those bouts of complete ineptitude, now we have Gangnam Key refusing to front up to the country and answer questions about the recent resignation of Education Secretary Lesley Longstone.
This is shameful.
I’m not going to argue that Longstone should have stayed. But let’s face it, we all know she’s just the fall guy.
The resignation was given and accepted three weeks ago, and yet it was kept secret until after Parliament went into recess and both Longstone and Parata were on holiday. How convenient. And Parata, a Minister of the crown, refuses to pop her head above the parapet and say a word, like a kid found with her hand in the candy jar who decides keeping schtum is the best option despite being caught red handed.
Meanwhile Key is far too busy dancing on radio stations and having mock gay weddings to, well, do any actual Ministerial duties like, say, answering the millions of people of his country demanding to know what the hell is going on.
It really is too disgraceful for words.
Mr Key, Ms Parata, you cannot merely go into hiding and refuse to explain yourselves. You are employees of the state, voted into government by the people, and the New Zealand public want answers.
Now grow up, front up, and stop being ridiculous.
If you want to know more about National’s recent bunglings, see below:
Novapay debacle: Staff still not paid properly, and it’s getting worse and Paying $11Million/hour?!
Salisbury School: School closure deemed unlawful
It’s really wonderful for me to see an analysis that has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the (admittedly shonky) data. Well worth a read even if you have to skim read the mathsy bits 🙂
DISCLAIMER: I’m a student of statistics – I wrote a Masters thesis in geography which used many statistical methods which I literally picked up along the way, and I’m currently studying towards a Graduate Diploma in Applied Statistics at Massey University. I’m also learning to use R as a go. I like to use this blog to explore things that interest me and stuff that I learn, including statistics. Some of the methods used here are still very new to me and my methodology may be flawed, and I welcome any feedback you might have on my methodology or my R script – the R script is here, and the dataset is here.
A lot has been written in the political stratosphere regarding last week’s release of National Standards lecture. Those on the right of the political spectrum have defend National Standards as a meaningful release of information that…
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CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green):
I am delighted to take a call on this issue because the estimates debate is very is important on education and the last year of spending on education reflects some of the most contradictory policy and priority setting that I have seen since I have been a parliamentarian.
It starts right at the top, for example, when the Prime Minister came out and said that he would not be too worried if his children were taught by unqualified teachers. That is right from the very top — a message that is completely at odds with what the Minister of Education has been saying about the importance of professionalism and qualifications, and, in fact, reviewing the Teachers Council registration policy. So what is it that the Government is saying?
Sure, at King’s College where the Prime Minister’s son has been, there is a snowball in hell scenario that they are going to hire unregistered or untrained teachers. It is simply not going to happen. They are going to have small classes and highly qualified staff. Meanwhile we have the Minister constantly arguing for teachers to improve their qualifications and professionalism. So which one is it: untrained and unaccountable, and publicly funded for-profit charter schools, or professionalism; national standards for students aged 6 years old, but none-standards for teachers and selected experimental not-for-profit situations.
Let us talk about charter schools just for a minute, because they are addressed in the estimates. The Government put aside $230,000 for the charter school working party headed by Catherine Isaac — clearly not exactly a neutral figure in the eyes of anyone who has anything to do with education or politics. And what that working party has said is that they will develop options for schools where there will be public money put in, but people like those in Destiny can apply. All kinds of people can apply, they can be as fundamentalist, as ideologically driven as they like, and they will not necessarily have to meet the same standards that are expected in public schools, which, when you think it is public money, is pretty appalling.
The Green Party is not arguing that there should not be choice in education. If people want their children to be taught by fundamentalists of any stripe, or encouraged to believe that homosexuality is a sin, or that climate change is a myth, or that evolution is anti-Christian, for example, then do that, but pay for the privilege. Do not ask us to pay as a country for that privilege. That is what the private education system offers. We are talking about public money going into a weird experiment that has failed all over the world.
So we are very concerned that this Budget reinforces that idea. We are also appalled by the contradictions between statements the Prime Minister has made and the statements the Minister has made on this issue. Let us then move to the other disaster area in education: the class size one, as my colleague Nanaia Mahuta has touched on, was a back-down that reflected a long planned, but badly planned, vision that nobody except Treasury could give any credence to. It just shows you what happens when people do not have a vision in education: it is not about anything except money. Treasury wrote the book and said: “Let’s have a plan to actually make this affordable. Let’s cut back on education. Let’s pretend it’s an investment.” But Treasury could not convince the rest of the country.
It had the Government on its side but nobody else — nobody else. So we saw fantastic unity across a sector that is not always unified and does not always speak with one voice, and the Government was forced to do a back-down. Well, that is an indication not that it had learnt, and not that it believed that the parents were right, but that it had realised it could not sell the policy. This was a cynical and depressing scenario, because we asked the Minister of Education whether she had changed her view after hearing from parents, and she said she had not. She still thought it was a great idea, and it is very, very sad for the parents and children of New Zealand that that was the agenda.
Some information on national standards was put on the website last week, and, again, it is a real mess. It is a real cut-and-paste job. You cannot understand what you are reading, you do not know what it is that you are going to get — sorry, not you, Mr Chair — what the parents will get, and it does not make any sense. The moderation tool that is being developed at great expense — about $5 million has been spent so far on developing the work around national standards, but it is not finished — will not be ready until 2014.
So what are people going to make of that? The Government put up a policy that had no tool for creating any kind of moderation, and although it will not be on offer until 2014, somehow the parents are going to get the benefit of reading the data that are completely different from school to school. That is somehow supposed to be softening the parents up for the standards. Even if you believed that was a good idea, it is a bad way to have gone about it. The Green Party does not think that league tables are a good idea. We think that league tables are for sports teams. League tables are great in the Olympics, but they are not for children. Labels are useful on jam jars, but not on children.
Our fundamental problem with national standards is not the way that they are being delivered but the idea that a narrow mechanism that reduces the New Zealand curriculum — which is upheld around the world as a valuable and broad curriculum — to a narrow set of literacy and numeracy standards is narrowing teachers’ requirements to teach-to-test. No matter what the Government says, there is huge anxiety out there. It would be interesting if people listened to the evidence of people like Professor Martin Thrupp, who went to England and looked at the model over there. Some countries have gone around the track, and they have followed the track of increasingly narrowing and teaching-to-test—Britain is one of them—and others, for example, Finland and some of the Asian countries, have gone the opposite way and have invested in a broad curriculum. The results are very clear.
Britain and the United States are failing the children who are already struggling because of poverty and social context. Initiatives like national standards only create anxiety, and they are driving teachers out of the profession — because people become teachers from the sense of moral mission to give an input into children’s lives. Children need the best people in this country, but the best people will be driven out if we narrow what has been established as being an excellent curriculum and turn it into a bunch of mechanisms. It is lovely to read numbers; they make life really simple, but guess what? Numbers do not reflect the reality of what the complex matter of each child’s individual learning is actually about. I wonder whether the Government actually looks at what learning means instead of what numbers mean when it set up these standards, because the standards are absolutely incapable of delivering rich and contextual — which is what the Minister calls it — information for parents.
It is a sad sight when you see this being justified on a daily basis in this House. It is not what people voted for at all. They voted for the idea of our kids all doing well. What they got was this mechanistic, failed system, which is incoherent and has not even been properly moderated. Quite frankly, that, along with class sizes and charter schools, is an unmitigated disaster. What is also a disaster is the lack of coherence in the Government’s way of relating to the sector. You cannot improve children’s learning unless you have good relationships not only with child and teacher but also with teachers and politicians. I am not saying the teachers always get it right, but what I am saying is that declaring war on the education sector, the academics, and the professionals is not the way in which you make change happen. We all agree that there are kids who need more support in school. And some of us know that is because the goal of the school system should be equity.
The Finns are at the top of the Programme for International Student Assessment table, because the goal of their education system is not achievement; it is equity. Equity comes first, then participation, and then achievement. But why listen to the experts? After all, the Finns have many good models, which we would do better to look at than looking at Britain and the United States, where we have these bizarre failures. Look at New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina has turned into an educational disaster. What happened is that public schooling has collapsed. Because of the disaster they have brought in these experimental charter schools — these for-profits — and as a result you have children falling through the cracks in greater numbers than ever before. That is a tragedy.
We must make sure that we do not let what has been a good education system become a game for Treasury, an experiment for the Government, and a sacrifice of the good things, under the fake mythology that what we need is running schools like a business. What we need is to run education for liberation, for life, and for life-long learning. It is not a mechanistic business. It is a mission. We should take on the Finns’ ideal, which is that not everybody can be a teacher. They invest a huge amount in teacher training. They say that if you want to lift the quality of the education system, you must lift the quality of the people who are allowed to be teachers. So instead of saying the most fabulous job you can have is to be a corporate financial speculator, or some kind of merchant banker, or that being a lawyer or even an MP is the best job in the world — the best job in the world needs to be a teacher.
It seems she and her government think that the parents are all fools who don’t understand, well, anything, bless them…
…and the teachers just want to be paid heaps to do beggar all and have half the year off, all the while moaning moaning moaning, and all because they are mostly rubbish and don’t want to be found out.
Okay, good to know we’re all held in such high esteem.
Some people, those who knew a little about student:teacher ratios, instantly became concerned when the budget was announced, noting that the new ratios would mean larger class sizes and cuts in some subjects altogether.
They became further concerned when wee calculations on the back of envelopes showed that Ms Parata’s promises of minor losses were just not right.
So they started to ask questions.
More and more people asked whether the Government had indeed got their figures wrong – very wrong. They became concerned when they heard the questions and queries, and saw the avoidance tactics that took the place of clear answers.
– Did they actually check things like this carefully and understand outcomes before agreeing new policy?
– Or… was it that they knew the outcomes but had put such a huge level of spin on the facts that they’d become worthy of Walter Mitty.
In other words, people began to ask, was Government incompetent or lying?
Do I need to go on?