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The single most reliable measure of a student’s or schools’ performance…?

A little light anecdote…

About 25 years ago, back in the UK, I attended a fairly high level training course on embryonic ideas of value-added, measuring performance of students and schools.

The keynote speaker was from National Foundation for Educational Research and was the guru at the time.

In the Q+A session afterwards he was asked a simple question:

success“What do you think is the single most reliable measure of a student’s or schools’ performance?”

To which he replied “Postcode”.

Has anything changed in 25 years?

~ Roy Barton

The Gulf in New Zealand Education Today, by Bevan Morgan

Make no mistake about it – education is absolutely one of the most important tools for rescuing lifestyles that are drowning in the oceans of poverty crashing over the country.

French economist Thomas Pikketty, whose book Capital in the Twenty-First Century has been praised as the most important economics book of the decade, writes that ‘historically the main mechanism to reduce inequality has been the diffusion of knowledge, skills and education. This is the most powerful force to reduce inequality between countries…this can also work within countries if we have sufficiently inclusive educational and social institutions which allow large segments of the population to access the right skills and the right jobs’. Simply put, education and upskilling works.

“In 2015 New Zealand the relevant questions that need to be asked are not about whether or not education is inherently unequal based on socioeconomic background but rather; how severe this inequality is, and how badly this trend is accelerating?”

However there is of course a proviso to this. Education can only be this catalyst for change if there is equality of accessibility and quality. Without this accessibility the education system is just a tool in cementing class social structures and systems (think of education in Victorian England for example). In New Zealand the notion that educational access should be equal across the financial spectrum has traditionally been an idea that has been put in the ‘well fucking duh’ basket, and has been about as controversial an idea as separating the drinking water from the sewerage system. Astonishingly though this has changed. In 2015 New Zealand the relevant questions that need to be asked are not about whether or not education is inherently unequal based on socioeconomic background but rather; how severe this inequality is, and how badly this trend is accelerating?

There are reams of data that demonstrate how dramatically economic inequality has taken a sledgehammer to education here. A working paper released by the Children’s Commissioner in July 2013 found that 89% of school leavers from schools rated decile 9 and 10 (10 is the wealthiest, 1 is the least wealthy category) achieved NCEA Level 2 or above. Comparatively the figure was an astonishing 32% lower in decile 1 and 2 schools. There was also the absurd example of 2169 students in decile 8, 9, and 10 schools receiving additional assistance with NCEA exams while there was only an inexplicable 73 students receiving equal assistance in decile 1 and 2 schools.

The OECD readings are particularly grim to look at. A 2009 OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study examining reading, mathematics, and science stated ‘countries exhibiting the widest distribution of performance in reading are the OECD countries Israel, Belgium, Austria, and New Zealand – all of which have a gap of at least 15 points between their top quarter and bottom quarter of students wider than the average gap. The difference in performance between the top and bottom quarters in these countries is in the order of, or more than, two full proficiency levels’.

When PISA brought out a new report in 2012 examining the educational ability of 15 year-olds internationally, the slide had continued for New Zealand. This examination of the mathematics performance of 15 year-olds as inequality increases makes for some particularly depressing viewing:

Bevan

It is easy for people to see how well New Zealand does educationally as a whole and ignore the growing problem of inequality within the sector. But as well as New Zealand does, just taking that fact in isolation ignores the remarkable tumble the sector has taken. It is well known for example that in the 1970s New Zealand was ranked first in the world for reading, whereas today we are down somewhere in the 20s. Taking the fact that we have reasonable education in isolation also ignores just how much effect inequality is having on this performance and in education’s ability to allow those at the bottom of our socio-economic well to successfully climb out.

HOW LIFE INSIDE THE CLASSROOM IS EFFECTED BY INEQUALITY

In New Zealand, schools are funded according to their decile – a crude system that divides the schools of the country into tenth percentiles based around samples of income in the surrounding community. In theory the lower the decile the school is, the more funding it should get. The decile system though is tainted by its association to neo-liberal policy, and the accompanying neo-liberal perspective that sees no social ill that can’t be fixed by tweaking a formula in Excel. Therefore, while this system is admirable in intentions, it is depressingly predictable in its lack of efficacy when it comes to the more complex nuances of funding. If every school had the same number of students from the same percentage of different socio-economic backgrounds, with the exact same learning requirements then using the decile as the sole funding yardstick might actually work. But this isn’t reality sadly. Schools vary wildly, but the decile system implies that the socioeconomic situation of the community surrounding the school has no further impact on the financial operations of the school, other than as a classification tool. Thus the funding is well off where it needs to be and schools are becoming ever more reliant on donations and contributions that are understandably harder to accrue in lower socio-economic regions.

As far back as 2003 this was painfully obvious. In that year an annual conference paper from the Post Primary Teacher’s Association (PPTA) found that secondary schools were becoming increasingly dependent on locally raised funds to meet their funding shortfalls which had the following consequences:

A trend of rising parental expenditure on education and considerable differences between schools based on the communities they serve;

• “User pays” reinforcing institutionalised inequity between well-off schools and those which were struggling;

School leaders assuming financial/managerial roles rather than educational leadership;

Some schools simply accepting the inevitability of a budget deficit, regarding it as one way of letting the government know there is insufficient money.

To give you an idea of just how different community contributions are you just need to examine the numbers. In 2012 decile 1 schools were able to get an average donation of $53.00 from anywhere between 30 and 100 students. For decile 2 students the figures were better – $92.00 on average from between 50 and 120 students. But these pale in comparison to what the higher decile schools could collect. Decile 9 schools were able to get an average of $379.00 from between 125 and 740 students while decile 10 schools were able to harvest $423.00 from between 250 and an astonishing 900 pupils. In essence the schools that have the pupils that probably need the least financial help from the community get well and truly the most, while the students that could benefit hugely from this extra generosity tend to be located in the poorest regions of the country, where social conditions are so bad at present, that just looking after your own family is troubling enough.

Additionally today’s educational costs have risen dramatically as we understand more about how to utilise non-teaching staff within the environment, particularly in administration, compliance, social work, and medical assistance. And that is not even bringing up the fact that technology, while no doubt being an invaluable tool for the sector, has brought up the cost of operating a classroom significantly.

But funding is only one issue when it comes to inequality. Cathy Wylie, a chief researcher at the New Zealand Centre for Educational Research has incredible insight about how the inequality of status in schools is crippling the ability of those in the lower deciles to improve. In the 2013 book Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis, Wylie points out that because New Zealand has a policy emphasis on parental choice, coupled with stand-alone, self-managing schools that compete for students ‘many low decile schools are smaller than they were and less able to attract their community’s higher performing students who migrate to higher decile schools’.

And inequality is not just erecting hurdles that block retention of students – because of inequality lower decile schools also face enormous obstacles to recruit and retain an experienced faculty. Wylie demonstrates that even in 2012, during the economic downturn 20% of decile 1-2 secondary school principals had difficulty finding suitable teachers, while comparatively only 3% of the decile 9-10 secondary schools did. Compounding this issue further though is the fact that teaching in lower decile schools has become brutally hard due to the nature of the schools being under resourced, and the litany of issues caused by poverty. Inevitably this leads to a higher burnout rate amongst these already over-burdened teachers who often have to implement social development programmes (that are admittedly well-meaning and often effective), without any administrative support– to the point where lower decile teachers rank 31.8 on a scale measuring indicators of work related burnout compared to 24.2 for their upper decile colleagues.

HOW OUTSIDE INEQUALITY COMPOUNDS THE ISSUE IN THE CLASSROOM

Hekia Parata, the current National Party hack that has been awarded the poisoned chalice that is the education portfolio, goes to great lengths to actively alienate school faculty by placing the blame for New Zealand’s slide in education quality squarely at their feet. By misusing OECD data, Parata has repeatedly made the idiotic claim that socio-economic background accounts for only 18% of student achievement. Martin Thrupp, a professor of Education at the University of Waikato (and one of the most respected and influential voices on education in New Zealand) has slammed this notion, pointing out that if you take into consideration neighbourhood and school socio-economic factors the figure skyrockets to 78%. In other words, Hekia only considers what is literally inside a family’s four walls as being an indicator of their socio-economic standing. Which for want of a better term, is fucking stupid.

Thrupp has made repeated calls for policy makers to acknowledge the role of ‘middle class advantage’ in perverting the equality of accessibility in education. Thrupp is so aware of this ‘middle class advantage’ that he has been happy to highlight the gains his own family have made thanks to it. In a New Zealand Herald column Thrupp asked himself the question of what worked for his daughter (who had just graduated University) and answered ‘I think it has mostly been general middle class advantage. Two professional parents and the language environment that goes with that. Being read to frequently as a small child and access to good early childhood education. Living and holidaying overseas for several years. Attending schools with mainly advantaged peers and whose teachers were able to capitalise on all the advantages those children and young people were bringing to school’. Thrupp is adamant that the question of middle class advantage is crucial to understanding why we have such massive disparities in our education sector, and he argues in another paper entitled Some Inconvenient Truths About Education in Aotearoa/New Zealand that ‘it appears education policy is shaped and bounded by electoral pressures and doing anything to assist children from low-income families and neighbourhoods is regarded as politically risky’.

Extrapolating on the long term effects of this political viewpoint Thrupp then points out that ‘failing to raise middle class advantage in education as an issue, politicians and policymakers imply that it is a natural part of the world order over which they have no control. And so we have a society where most people see putting their child into a high socio-economic school as value free’. What this simply means is that due to a cynical political strategy of avoidance, we have a situation in New Zealand where certain people cannot actually even conceptualise the reality of poverty, and thus simply assume that the inequality we have must be natural. By extension then, there are many middle New Zealanders who simply can’t conceive of the fact that those whose schooling life is conducted in lower decile schools are punished right from the start of their lives.

“Amanda illuminated the idiocy of claiming to want more kids in school, while then shooting down the most cost effective and beneficial method of guaranteeing that children would actually show up”

I recently spoke to a former Primary School teacher named Amanda who worked in decile 1A School and some of what she told me was sickening. The reality of the poverty she dealt with would seem implausible to those that have never conceptualised poverty in New Zealand and the brutality of it is neutered by trying to compress it into a few sentences. Amanda told me about the never ending cycles of violence, hunger, and sickness that she encountered while working. She told me about how she spent at least half of her salary buying things like equipment and food for the classroom, because often the only time the children ate was when they were at school. The homes of many of her students didn’t have luxuries like pens and balls that could be found at school. When I asked her about the recent decision to not fund ‘breakfast in schools’ she brought a perspective to the issue that is sorely lacking from the ministerial hacks that currently occupy our debating chamber. She pointed out that for some of the parents in her school it was too embarrassing to send the kids to school without food, so they wouldn’t send the children at all. Amanda illuminated the idiocy of claiming to want more kids in school, while then shooting down the most cost effective and beneficial method of guaranteeing that children would actually show up.

The government seemed blissfully oblivious to the plight of the ‘wonderful’ children that Amanda adored, and one of the breaking points for her came when the charity KidsCan came into her school, but couldn’t provide enough shoes for everyone. She was forced to choose amongst a whole classroom of children that needed shoes, who would actually get them. The next day as the lucky few who couldn’t believe how fortunate they were to have a pair of shoes came to school excited, the other children were broken-hearted and couldn’t understand why their shoes that were falling apart were considered adequate footwear in the eyes of the staff. Amanda loved these children and spent at least 80 hours a week doing everything she could to protect them and help them. Understandably, recapping this anecdote to me was emotional and tough going for her.

Educationally, the issues only added to the toll. It was not uncommon to encounter students from different cultural backgrounds who not only had no concept of reading, but had no concept of a book or what words were. Rather than being able to simply launch into the basic elements of how to read and write, she found herself in the unenviable task of having to help five year olds conceptualise the very notion of reading. When Thrupp points out that the value of reading in the home is one of those things that middle class families often forget about when they ignore their advantage, it is exactly these kinds of fundamentally abstract issues that he was referring to. Again – this is how schooling in the lower decile communities starts. The schools have the most challenges to face, the most work to do, and the most disadvantaged members of the electorate are underfunded, ignored, and blamed for the very problems that they are trying to fix. These issues don’t simply stop once the students get to High School – they carry on, morphing into further issues that of course occur when you add hormonal changes and puberty into the mix.

Due to a variety of historical systemic factors Maori and Pacific students are well and truly over represented in the lower socio-economic areas of New Zealand and face the consequences of being in this group. Education is one of the most notable of these areas, and one of the most distressing as education should be the main force to counteract this inequality. According to statistics from Victoria University there is only a 50.6% retention rate for Maori students in High School (to age 17) compared to 75.4% for non-Maori, and only half the number of Maori students will achieve NCEA level 2 in comparison to their non-Maori counterparts. This has inevitably helped create a situation where youth unemployment for Maori in New Zealand is at a woeful 22.4%, compared to just over 9% for non-Maori. The cycle of poverty in inequality only gets entrenched and strengthened by these figures.

“We are currently at a crossroads in New Zealand.

Everything that was good about our education system is being rapidly pissed away by ideologues who received the gift of a free world class education when they were younger but don’t think today’s young people deserve the same opportunity.”

We are currently at a crossroads in New Zealand. Everything that was good about our education system is being rapidly pissed away by ideologues who received the gift of a free world class education when they were younger but don’t think today’s young people deserve the same opportunity. We still have a better education than a lot of countries, but it is quickly deteriorating because of the rampant inequality that has been sewn into it through thirty plus years of devotion to an economic religion that is starting to collapse. We can either choose to acknowledge that there is something very wrong with our system, and stop blaming the overworked, overburdened, underpaid, and under-resourced staff that do this work because they love the children they teach – or alternatively we can let the whole thing get to the point where only the rich can get a decent education, and the poor will simply go to school to have their spirits crushed, and to learn how to do menial labour. You might not think that’s your problem right now – but unless you’re currently sitting in the top 10% of earners in this country, it will become your problem very, very soon.

By Bevan Morgan.

Read more from Bevan here.

Decile review causing blunt force trauma

When Hekia called the decile system a blunt instrument, she wasn’t joking, was she?  The new decile ratings have left some schools feeling as though they’ve been bashed.

Take Wanganui City College, told it will lose $40k due to the review, while just up the road Wanganui Collegiate is getting an additional $11k its headmaster says it doesn’t need.  Ouch.

(Double ouch when you bear in mind Wanganui Collegiate is an integrated day and boarding school that received a $3.8 Million bail out from the government and charges substantial fees.)

hammer smashMeanwhile, Hastings Intermediate has gone from being a decile 2 school to decile 3 and will have its budget slashed by over $100,000, a 12% reduction in income.

Green Island School in Dunedin jumped two decile levels, to 6, and loses around $10k per year.

And Kaka Street Special School loses $4,500 – which the principal explains is over 200 much needed teacher aide hours.

Ouch, ouch, ouch.

One of the problems with decile ratings is that the schools are divided into 10 percentiles, from poorest students to wealthiest, no matter what the actual socioeconomic level of those families:

– Decile 1 schools are the 10 per cent of schools with the highest proportion of students from low socio-economic homes.

– Decile 10 schools are the 10 per cent with the lowest proportion of students from low socio-economic homes.

So, for example, if families are getting poorer over the whole country, a school could find itself with a new decile rating despite its students having no change in financial circumstance. In other words, the children in the school may be just as needy as they ever were, but the school’s decile rating moves up because another school’s children are now even poorer.

Ouch.

And the rejigged decile ratings have another critical impact, which is that schools can lose the ability to access help from charities such as KidsCan, Duffy Books, food in schools programmes and access to social workers. Suddenly, with little or no change to the students’ circumstances, that extra support is gone.

Thwack!

Blunt instrument indeed.

 

Sources:

https://saveourschoolsnz.com/2012/06/06/nz-school-decile-ratings-explained/

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/63571991/Where-school-deciles-are-on-the-move

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/63519630/Cash-for-schools-hit-by-decile-funding-cuts

http://www.sunlive.co.nz/news/88028-schools-ponder-decile-appeal.html

http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/63576788/Wanganui-Collegiate-gets-more-funds

http://www.stuff.co.nz/timaru-herald/news/63327852/Schools-to-challenge-decile-ratings

http://www.odt.co.nz/news/dunedin/324186/decile-change-dents-budget

 

Further reading:

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA1411/S00380/decile-review-reveals-rocketing-rate-of-poverty.htm

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/rotorua-daily-post/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503438&objectid=11364976

 

Fact Checker: Decile is not Destiny – QPEC

As we look into the evidence on this one, let’s be clear on one point right from the start: let’s understand the difference between “destiny” and “probability”.  And, if we QPEC logo no borderdon’t want decile to be destiny, then what are we doing about it!

QPEC firmly holds the view that every student should get the greatest opportunity possible to succeed to the fullest extent of their abilities and their willingness to work hard and achieve.

Neither does QPEC accept that students from disadvantaged backgrounds cannot succeed.

But, the evidence on this one is clear.

 

Fact 1: OECD Study of Teaching Policies (2005)

A major study of the teaching profession, carried out by the OECD in 2005, made this statement in their summary paper:

“Student learning is influenced by many factors, including: students’ skills, expectations, motivation and behaviour; family resources, attitudes and support; peer group skills, attitudes and behaviour; school organisation, resources and climate; curriculum structure and content; and teacher skills, knowledge, attitudes and practices. Schools and classrooms are complex, dynamic environments, and identifying the effects of these varied factors, and how they influence and relate with each other – for different types of students and different types of learning — has been, and continues to be, a major focus of educational research.

Three broad conclusions emerge from research on student learning. The first and most solidly based finding is that the largest source of variation in student learning is attributable to differences in what students bring to school – their abilities and attitudes, and family and community background. Such factors are difficult for policy makers to influence, at least in the short-run. The second broad conclusion is that of those variables which are potentially open to policy influence, factors to do with teachers and teaching are the most important influences on student learning. In particular, the broad consensus is that “teacher quality” is the single most important school variable influencing student achievement.” [Emphasis added]

Source: OECD, “Teachers Matter: Attracting, Developing and Retaining Effective Teachers

 

The problem with the OECD approach – we can’t change the kids, so let’s focus on the teachers – is that it does not deal head on with what the OECD itself calls, the first and most solidly based finding:

Factors associated with the student are the largest source of variation in student achievement.

It is important to go beyond ideology and examine the hard evidence of the strong links between student background and student achievement. Failure to diagnose this correctly leads to two major problems.

– First, we miss the main goal, which is how do we improve children’s lives;

– and second, education policy initiatives are misdirected.

Teachers and schools are part of the solution; they are not the cause of the problem.

 

Fact 2: New Zealand NCEA achievement

Table 1: Percentage of school leavers with NCEA Level 2 or above, by ethnic group and school quintile (2012 data)

Sex Eth

-nic

Grp
Quin

-tile

Total F M M P A M O E
1 58.1 61.8 54.3 49.5 62.6 78.6 72.3 63.2 62.3
2 66.8 70.7 63.4 54.2 63.0 82.2 65.9 67.2 72.0
3 72.7 77.6 67.9 59.2 66.4 82.7 80.7 68.1 76.0
4 82.0 85.6 78.8 67.5 76.7 89.3 82.8 82.9 83.4
5 89.6 92.1 87.0 78.6 80.0 91.6 83.2 85.7 90.4

 

KEY to Ethic Groups: M=Maori, P = Pasifika, A=Asian, M = MELAA, O=Other, E=European

Quintile 1 = deciles 1 & 2, etc; MELAA = Middle Eastern, Latin American & African.

The table above reports NCEA Level 2 school leaver achievement levels by school quintile, gender and ethnicity. Of students from quintile 5 (deciles 9 & 10) schools, 89.6% of them left school with at least NCEA Level 2, compared with only 58.1% for those in quintile 1 (deciles 1 & 2) schools.

Socio-economic advantage is clearly a major predictor of educational achievement.

 

Fact 3: International Reading Assessments

Table 2: PISA Reading Literacy, ranked by the student’s socio-economic status, across the 10 highest performing school systems (PISA 2009 Reading Literacy):

System 5

th

10

th

25

th

50

th

75

th

90

th

95

th

Mean

Score

Australia 343 384 450 521 584 638 668 515
Canada 368 406 464 529 588 637 664 524
Finland 382 419 481 542 597 642 666 536
Hong Kong 380 418 482 541 592 634 659 533
Japan 339 386 459 530 590 639 667 520
Korea 400 435 490 545 595 635 658 539
Netherlands 365 390 442 510 575 625 650 508
NZ 344 383 452 528 595 649 678 521
Shanghai 417 450 504 562 613 654 679 556
Singapore 357 394 460 532 597 648 676 526

In this table, the 5th percentile means the lowest 5% and the 95th percentile is the highest 95% of students, measured on the OECD’s own index of economic, cultural and social indicators.

So, this table is slightly different from our NCEA L2 table, because it shows the student’s own status, rather than where they go to school.

But the pattern is indisputable:

Student achievement rises lockstep with socio-economic status in every school system.

 

END

QPES Press Release

Hoping for some honest answers on charter schools

 

bagbreatheTeachers 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.”

(Also see this paper  and this paper for a deeper discussion of this type of test.)

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.

 

Chest

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?

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What I demand from the next government, by Miriam Pierard

“A strong, progressive education system that acknowledges the beauty of difference in our kids and supports its people on the front line is what I demand from the next government…”

I shared this meme on the SOSNZ Facebook page tonight, and it elicited the response below.  The author has given me kind permission to share (bold for emphasis has been added by myself, not by the author):

Pasi Sahlberg

 

“Thanks for posting, I was really moved by this tonight. I love my job so much. Every day for the last two months I’ve come home grinning, laughing or feeling really proud of my students. I am so happy to work with my colleagues and be teaching what I really care about. Sure, like any job it can be a pain and Sunday evenings lose their sparkle in the shadow of an impending Monday, but not a day goes by when I’m not laughing or smiling a lot about something in class with the kids or in the office with the staff. I love meeting other teachers, because they’re often interesting and nice people. I’m honoured to be able to proudly say I work in education, I’m a history and social studies teacher, I work here.

I believe education is the key to everything.

“And yet we lag behind countries like Finland because, for some reason I just can’t find logic in, our government has latched onto other countries as examples to follow, such as the United States (!!!)… countries whose education systems we can be quite critical about. Their policies are regressive and we are too happily taking them on, without much if any consultation with a range of the professionals (You’d think that would be a good idea right?).

“The result is that it is the most vulnerable in our society who get often left behind. This is NOT because the teachers in low decile schools are worse or their management is under par, but because the government does things like bring in National Standards and slash funding to integral and creative areas. They are not just perpetuating this system of inequality, they are worsening it.

“There isn’t enough room in here to explain all I would like to with this, but it’s possible to sum up this much quickly: kids that go to school hungry will not learn easily because they will not be able to concentrate. They are being set up for struggle and failure. They are the future, they are our future. This should not even be a political issue – Feed the Kids! 

“Our kids are leveled against all other children in standardised tests that only measure intelligence, competence, knowledge and development in one pretty narrow way. Their background, family life, artistic strengths, personality, challenges, ability to empathise etc. are not acknowledged. Kids develop at different levels at different ages in different ways. Now a lot of our kids are labeled as failures because they are below the expected or average, and they have to feel that. At age seven. What does that do to a generation? We’ve seen it in our older generations to realise that we don’t want that for our tamariki and mokopuna. Do we?

“From a number of things that Education Minister Hekia Parata has said, National looks like it would like to change the zoning system of funding school budgets (which granted isn’t perfect) to performance funding. For schools maybe at first, and then perhaps for teachers themselves.

“How insulting to pitch us against each other on a very unequal playing field, and worse, how rudely ignorant of what it is actually like to work in schools, to teach, to manage, to aid. There are far too many factors at play that make it almost impossible to make those funding decisions really fairly. 

“It wouldn’t be fair for me at a high decile school to get paid more than my mates teaching out west or down south, just because my kids are doing better in the exams. I know that I worked equally hard at a decile 4 whose students aren’t at the top of the tables like ours. I know that the kids there are just as deserving of a good education, and that they’re not necessarily less able or studious than mine. There are different parts about each, some that are harder and some that are easier, but it all levels out. My friends and colleagues at lower decile schools work hard and they have many difficult, often poverty-related external factors to deal with at the same time as the teaching. They are great and their students are great, but they would be punished with less money. Again it’s the poor who lose out. We cannot move ahead when we leave so many behind.

“The current government makes it harder for us to do our jobs really well and to live up to the potential of our profession.

“The next Minister for Education must talk to the professionals and experts, and make their decisions on that advice.

“A strong, progressive education system that acknowledges the beauty of difference in our kids and supports its people on the front line is what I demand from the next government, however it is made up.

by Miriam Pierard

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National Standards and ERO’s firm touch

This is reposted from Local Bodies, with the kind permission of the author, bsprout.

speech marksThe Ministry of Education is tightening the National Standards net. Until now it was largely the comprehensive ERO reports that determined the performance or success of a school, now it is mostly about achievement levels in literacy and numeracy.

firm touch - hit with a hammerIt was recently revealed that schools have been placed into three categories, those doing particularly well were to be called “no touch” schools, some were going to receive a “light touch” and the worst performing would need a “firm touch” from the Ministry. Principal Pat Newman caused some hilarity when he asked where the touching would happen and who would do it, and “what legal recourse will a touchee have if the touching doesn’t come up to expectations”.

In reality it is no joke, while the original titles for each group no longer exist, many Principals have discovered (around 800) that they meet the criteria for a firm touch. It became clear that practically all those notified were low decile schools. The key factor, despite all the other triggers listed (ERO reports and Charter compliance), it was the school’s National Standards achievement levels that were the main determining factor.

There is a high level of anger and outrage from the recipients of these damning notifications. One principal I know was particularly upset, her Decile 2 school is well regarded and recently received a good ERO report that places it in the normal 3 year cycle. The majority of the pupils in her school are Pasifika and the rest are Maori or recent migrants. For a large proportion English is their second language and some speak up to three languages. The school is a happy, vibrant place, the children are enthusiastic learners, the teachers highly dedicated, but it is unlikely that the literacy and the numeracy achievement targets set by the Minister will ever be reached.

The notifications in many cases have been delivered in an almost apologetic manner, but the message is clear, these narrow, ideological targets (based on ropey assessments) are determining what success looks like in our primary schools. According to this Government socio-economic factors have little bearing on teaching and learning and a child who speaks three languages (but none of them English) cannot be considered speech marks endcompetent in literacy. By bulldozing through this highly ideological system we are creating winners and losers and the collateral damage will include many wonderful children and schools.

Thank you to bsprout for giving me permission to share.  The original article is here.

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That new tool for school

hammer

Blunt instrument: the new tool

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.

Stuff’s reader forums are probably better value on the question of what makes a good school and the decile debate – and how much of a child’s success is down to parental involvement.

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?”

~ Lena

HEADDESK: The queen of misinformation is at it again

Like a dog with a bone, Hekia is at it again:

Ms Parata said socio-economic status or decile was “not destiny”. There were many examples of schools and students from low-decile areas achieving strong results. (1)

“Educationally, the evidence is that students can make good progress based on the quality of teaching they get, not on their socio-economic background.” (1)

Yes, Mrs Parata, some do achieve well despite their socio-economic background, but many more don’t.  Why are you not addressing that issue?

headdeskI get that some teachers are better than others, that some schools are better than others, but it is galling that this government keep making out like poverty has no part in student achievement and opportunity.

To refuse to consider that part of the problem is that schools are not funded equally.  To deny that students’ home lives have a huge influence on their education.

Nope, again Hekia trots out a platitude or two that shore up the belief that we need do nothing to rectify the poverty of our people and, for bonus points, blames any problem on teachers.

Funny how she’s never so quick to thank teachers for helping our students become amongst the best readers in the world, the best mathematicians in the world, and the best scientists in the world. (2)

It’s hogwash and gets us nowhere.

And it’s shameful for a Minister to act this way.

Sources and further reading:
(1)  Schools divided along wealth lines, By Nicholas Jones, The New Zealand Herald, retrieved 11.23AM Tuesday Jul 9, 2013

(2) https://saveourschoolsnz.wordpress.com/2012/10/18/oecd-pisa-scores-which-countries-are-beating-nz/

https://saveourschoolsnz.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/how-true-is-the-mythical-20-tail-of-underachievment/

Download pdf Who achieves what in secondary schooling? Executive summary (162.67KB, 7 pages)

Download pdf Who achieves what in secondary schooling? A conceptual and empirical analysis (1.17MB, 87 pages)

Download pdf Ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status and educational achievement. Executive summary ( 145KB, 3 pages)

Download pdf Ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status and educational achievement: An exploration (266.9KB, 19 pages)

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