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Positive Alternatives to Policing Students’ Lunchboxes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s my kind of model.

~ Dianne

Read more about The Common Unity Project here.

Read more about the issues around food in schools here.

Why high-flying Singapore wants more than grades

characterThis is an excellent article about Singapore, published on the BBC site.

Dr Lim Lai Cheng, former head of the prestigious Raffles Institution school in Singapore and director at the Singapore Management University, explains the push for character as well as qualifications.

“Schools have become highly stratified and competitive. More advantaged families are better able to support their children with extra lessons outside of school, such as enrichment classes in mathematics, English, dance and music.

Those who can’t afford this have to depend on their children’s own motivation and the resources of the school to catch up.

This social divide continues to widen because the policies that had won the system its accolades – based on the principle of meritocracy – no longer support the social mobility they were meant to bring about.

So work is in progress to tackle anything in the system that seems to be working against social cohesion.

Government policies are moving away from parents and students’ unhealthy obsession with grades and entry to top schools and want to put more emphasis on the importance of values.

Schools have been encouraged, especially for the early elementary years, to scrap standardised examinations and focus on the development of the whole child.

To enhance equity, the education ministry has also attempted to spread resources more evenly across schools by rotating experienced principals to schools that need more attention and paying more attention to academically weaker students by strengthening vocational and skills training.

All round, government leaders have expounded a wider definition of success beyond academic grades.

The media and elite schools have been discouraged from showcasing top students and their academic achievements.”

Contrast what you have read above with the New Zealand system, focusing so relentlessly on National Standards.  Add the New Zealand Initiative push towards greater measurement and the publication of the results and you cannot get further from the position Singapore has adopted.

Special educational need support changes – mixed reaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mum waiting over a month (so far) for response from Hekia Parata

hekia-mana-newsletter-1Andrea Matheson writes:

Today, as a Mana [Porirua] resident, I had the ‘pleasure’ (amusement) of receiving the Minister’s MANA MATTERS newsletter. It has a feedback section, in which I particularly like the comment:

“I’m always interested in hearing your feedback and learning more about which issues matter to you. I’d appreciate it if you could spare a few minutes to complete the survey below.”

Well Minister, I would appreciate it if you could take a few minutes to read and respond to the TWO letters I have sent you where I outlined very clearly what issues matter to me! So I really don’t think you ARE interested in hearing about what issues matter to me or anyone else for that matter!

And I’m intrigued by your statement in the letter:

“We are expanding the ORS and the Intensive Wraparound Service to ensure that every child is catered for, no matter their circumstances”

How, pray tell, are you planning to achieve that, when you have made it quite clear there will be no increase to the special education budget!?

Andrea’s full letter to Hekia Parata follows:

Dear Ms Parata,

I am very disappointed that it has now been a month or so since I sent you my letter regarding the proposed overhaul to Special Education funding and I have not yet had a reply from you. I had very high hopes that my words would make a difference – I guess I am a glass half-full kind of girl.

You state in your opinion piece on Stuff, dated September 25th that “I will work with any groups or individuals that are seriously committed to improving children’s learning and raising achievement.” Well, Ms Parata, we have been trying to get your attention for WEEKS now – parents as individuals and as part of wider groups, have written letters, organised education rallies across the country, commented on news articles, commented on your Facebook page (and been blocked for their efforts), spoken to the media, left messages on the Ministry’s phone line and signed petitions. These efforts have been plastered all over social media – you surely cannot have missed these actions by passionate, proud, exhausted, anxious parents who are praying that the dire situation of inadequate funding in special needs is rectified, and fast.

The lack of response has given me additional time to think of more important questions I need to ask you as well as provide you with some further thoughts that have arisen during this long wait.

In several articles I have read in recent weeks, you have stated that no child currently receiving funding will lose that funding. This implies that individuals such as myself only care about their own child/children and will be satisfied with this reassurance. BUT – I wrote to you expressing my concern about the education system as a whole – I am NOT an individual parent who likes to whinge, who only cares about the impact for her own child – I care deeply about what will happen to children who desperately need funding who do not have any to begin with. So whilst your statement on this point seems to imply that my son will not lose the ORS funding he currently has, he was NOT my only concern. I am not that selfish. Therefore your ‘reassurance’ is of no comfort to parents of children about to enter the school system without ORS funding or teacher aide support, or to parents like myself who care about the bigger picture in education.

Could you please outline any school visits you SPECIFICALLY made as a part of the ‘consultation’ process to help you create your cabinet paper on inclusion? For example, did you:

Visit and personally meet with a wide range of children who have additional learning and physical needs?

Spend time with them in their school environment to understand how crucial additional funding is to ensure their success?

Observe a wide range of learning and physical difficulties, eg: neuro-developmental disorders such as autism, GDD and ADHD, physical disabilities, genetic disorders and learning difficulties such as dyslexia, dyspraxia etc?

Ensure that you saw the VAST differences between what a teacher, teacher aide, child and parents can achieve with adequate funding, versus a teacher and child who have no additional funding or teacher aide support?

Or was consultation done without the real-life context of what it is like to be struggling to meet the demands in the classroom without support?

How do you propose to support children in primary school who do not meet the criteria for ORS funding? There is currently not enough funding to support children with learning difficulties or disorders, such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, ADHD, and autism. If a school cannot meet their needs through their operational or SEG grants, what becomes of these children? Are they supposed to struggle through their school years with little or no support? What will the outcome be for them when they have to enter society as an adult? It is a frightening prospect. We are meant to be a forward thinking and innovative country but at the heart of it, we are not supporting the children who are struggling through every day and having their confidence eaten away bit by bit. I am sure I am not the only person in New Zealand who strongly feels schools need targeted funding to meet the needs of children with these disorders if they do not achieve ORS funding (and we all know the vast majority of children with these disorders do not). We all know these disorders are on the rise Minister – what does your government plan to do about this issue?

We have repeatedly asked you how you plan to improve services to ECE without increasing the overall budget for special education. No satisfactory answer has come from you as yet. Instead we have to listen to radio interviews and read articles where the majority of journalists have not dug deeper to properly dissect the information that is being fed to them. But we as parents have a vested interest in the changes to funding and we know how to read between the lines. We will not be satisfied by the usual vague statements such as “The proposed changes that we’re making in education are all about putting our kids at the centre of the education system, lifting the educational success of every young New Zealander” and “Everything I’m working towards is about putting children and their achievement at the centre of the education system.” Are these statements intended to keep us quiet? I’m afraid they won’t. I guess the giant governmental PR machine may have underestimated our fortitude and determination.

Whilst we can appreciate the sentiment behind your statements, which I’m sure is genuine, you have not given us the answers we are seeking. How will you achieve better funding to students through ‘streamlining’ and what will streamlining look like? Until we get those answers we will continue to be noisy (deafening in fact).

We as parents are striving 24/7 to raise children who can become happy, appreciated, well-understood and productive members of society. All we ask for is that you work with us to better understand their needs, and the successes they can achieve with better funding and more support. Please LISTEN to what we are trying to tell you.

We want to be listened to, we want to be heard. You say that you want to work with us – why are you not responding to our questions? Why are you deleting perfectly reasonable questions and comments from your Facebook page? As a passionate parent and advocate recently suggested, we see plenty of pictures of you planting trees and other lovely photo opportunities, but where are the photos of you working alongside children with additional, high or very high needs, trying to understand how teachers meet their needs with no funding? Where are the photos of you talking to parents whose children have been turned away from schools or stood down because there are no teacher aides to help the teacher support their learning and behavioural needs? Where are those photos Ms Parata?

I respectfully ask (again) that you respond to these thoughts and concerns with REAL answers. We WANT to be involved in the direction that these changes will go, nobody knows the needs of children with ‘special’ needs better than their parents. We want to give you the benefit of our guidance. I am not setting out to be a trouble maker. I have spent an hour and a half on this letter, an hour and a half I could have spent playing with my son. But I am forced into this situation because I need to fight to be heard. Please respect our combined knowledge and experience, there is so much that we could add to help you lead an education system that we can ALL be proud of.

With kind regards,
Andrea Matheson
Mum to a super special, endearing, pride-inducing and heart-warming wee lad.

Letter reproduced with Andrea’s kind permission.

 

The Power of One: a small, silent and very strong protest against Hekia Parata’s Global Funding plans

Hekia Parata made a somewhat surprising appearance today at Core Education’s uLearn Conference in Rotorua, prompting again comparisons of her ability to make herself available for certain types of education gatherings and not others:

  • Education industry events – tick
  • Education union events – cross

Still, this is not news, and her appearance this morning was not a total surprise, despite not being on the programme.

At least one person left the room in silent protest.

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Some asked questions…

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And one, SOSNZ’s very own Melanie Dorrian, made a one-person, silent and very powerful protest.

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This prompted a flurry of photos on social media

The protest invoked a lot of positive support from within and without the room.

Melanie, I have never been prouder to call you a colleague. You embody exactly what we want of our teachers and our students – deep critical thinking, a commitment to facts, a determination to hold people to account for their actions, and a social advocacy that puts others’ needs sometimes before one’s own.

To those who praised Melanie, took pics, shared your thoughts, sent her your support – thank you. I hope Melanie’s stance has illustrated clearly that one person can make a difference and your voice – every voice – matters.

Next time maybe you’ll bring your banner, too?

After all, you voted overwhelmingly to stand up to this nonsense.

betterfunding-1

You can follow Melanie’s own blog here.

 

Online Charter Schools – the research


Research
conducted by three independent research institutions looked into online charter schools, and their findings were released in October 2015.

The press release, with links to the full report, is here.

Report findings conclude that:

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

Referring specifically to the question of whether the schools had helped students from low socio-economic backgrounds and/or those from minority groups, the report states that:

“This pattern of weaker growth remained consistent across racial-ethnic subpopulations and students in poverty.”

Mathematica’s analysis found:

• Student–driven, independent study is the dominant mode of learning in online charter schools, with 33 percent of online charter schools offering only self-paced instruction

• Online charter schools typically provide students with less live teacher contact time in a week than students in conventional schools have in a day

• Maintaining student engagement in this environment of limited student-teacher interaction is considered the greatest challenge by far, identified by online charter school principals nearly three times as often as any other challenge

• Online charter schools place significant expectations on parents, perhaps to compensate for limited student-teacher interaction, with 43, 56, and 78 percent of online charters at the high school, middle, and elementary grade levels, respectively, expecting parents to actively participate in student instruction

The Mathematica report concludes:

“Challenges in maintaining student engagement are inherent in online instruction, and they are exacerbated by high student teacher ratios and minimal student-teacher contact time, which the data reveal are typical of online charter schools nationwide. These findings suggest reason for concern about whether the sector is likely to be effective in promoting student achievement.”

CREDO (Stanford University)’s report concluded that:

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

In other words, most students lost the equivalent of just under half a year’s learning in reading and made absolutely no progress in maths at all during an entire school year.

id-10055380The research was funded by The Walton Foundation, which has funded a huge drive for reform.  Even so, they couldn’t find much of a positive spin to put on the findings, concluding only that the research is valuable as:

“[k]nowing the facts helps parents, educators, policymakers, and funders make smarter, more informed decisions that benefit children.”

I do hope policymakers proposing the Communities of Online Learning (COOLs) in New Zealand have read the reports thoroughly and are indeed using this information to make better and more informed decisions. Sadly, at this stage, we have no evidence that this is the case.

You will find the press release and linked full reports here.

~ Dianne Khan, SOSNZ

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

What National Has Done To Education in 2016 (so far)

id-100435177It’s been a year of non-stop changes and proposals. Some call it a war on free public schooling in NZ – indeed it feels like a continuous battery of skirmishes with little to no break between attacks.

If the Minister is purposefully undertaking psychological warfare to break teachers down, then she’s doing it well, because we’re worn out; We just want to teach.

So far this year, NZ public education has faced:

  • COOLs – out of nowhere and with no consultation at all, Hekia Parata announces plans for online charter schools for 5-18 year olds.
  • Global Funding – a raft of proposals to bulk fund schools, including giving schools a set payment to fund teachers with the provision for schools to spend that money any way they want (including not spending it on teachers).  This means government would cease to guarantee to maintain teacher/students ratios at current levels.
  • Special Educational Needs – the Minister has proposed significant changes, but appears to have largely ignored the information collected at select committee. It was confirmed that there will be no additional money for SEN, despite a real issue with under-funding. There are proposals to divert current funding towards early childhood education and reduce funding for 5-18 year olds. Proposal to stop ORS funding at age 18 rather than 21. (And Hekia lied in the house saying the proposals have support where none exists.)
  • Operations budget frozen – schools’ operations funding is frozen despite a hike in power and water bills, meaning a net loss of funds to schools. This means less money for things such as libraries, equipment, specialist classes, and teacher aides.
  • Teacher Education Refresher course – ill-thought-out and inappropriate targeting of teachers for retraining costing $4k (and no student loans available for the course) causes huge amounts of stress for teachers and put pressure on schools as it gets harder to find relievers.
  • Charter Schools – two more, despite the current ones missing targets set by Ministry of Education
  • National Standards – the ‘National Standards: School Sample Monitoring & Evaluation Project 2010-2014‘ report was published and reported that “evidence strongly suggests that [Overall Teacher judgements (OTJs)] lack dependability, which is problematic as OTJs are a central element of the National Standards system”.  Despite this, National Standards are still being pushed and continue to be used by government as if they are reliable.
  • Pushing PaCT – schools being pressured to adopt the Progress and Consistency Tool for National Standards. This includes workshops that give school staff very biased  and one-sided information. There are still concerns PaCT is being pushed in order to later use the data for performance pay, despite research and experiences showing  that teacher performance pay does not improve student outcomes and in some cases lowers it.
  • Education funding diverted to private sector – proposal to give a larger portion of the education budget to charter schools and private schools, leaving less for public schools
  • Untrained Staff unsupervised in classes – Minister proposed a law change to allow untrained ‘teachers’ to work unsupervised in public school classrooms (this while at the same time forcing trained teachers to spend $4k to upskill if they are deemed to have not done enough classroom teaching over the past few years).

I’m sure I’ve forgotten some things – there have been so many – so please comment below if there’s anything that needs to be added.

Meanwhile, look after yourselves – there’s still one whole term to go and, as we know, a lot can happen in a few short weeks.

~ Dianne

PS, more added below!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

QPEC: What’s going on in education policy?

QPEC logo no borderDr Liz Gordon, QPEC convenor,  says that QPEC supports the concerns of many other groups about two recently announced policy proposals.

“The first is that additional special education support be given to the early childhood sector.  We strongly support the policy of providing early intervention.  

“However it is also proposed that this be a zero-cost policy, with funding taken from later stages of education to fund the early interventions.  The government is well aware that there is already inadequate funding for special needs in school, and taking from Peter to pay Paul will leave ‘Peter’ with inadequate support.

“QPEC  supports additional funding for special needs in education, to give all children the best chance at a full life in the community”.

Dr Gordon notes that the second issue is the introduction of “yet another category of school” into the Education Act.

“The notion of an online school needs much further investigation before it is placed into our Education Act.  There are some extremely difficult problems to be overcome before a ‘school’ of this kind can be developed.  

“The New Zealand curriculum, which is compulsory in most schools, is not yet available in an online format and this would need to happen (unless the school is to be a private school, which would be a missed opportunity).

“We know that only certain children learn well in an online environment.  These are usually high-achieving young people who have the support of well-educated families and communities.  This group is not the target of the government’s policy goals, which are to lift the achievement of under resourced children.

“It therefore seems extraordinary that the Minister would champion this policy at this time”.

QPEC is concerned that once again, as with the partnership schools, the Minister is pursuing models that will lead to further privatisation and fewer opportunities in practice.

Dr Gordon concludes: “There is nothing wrong with extra resources in special education or pursuing models of online learning, but the approaches signaled appears out of step with the realities of schooling in Aotearoa.”
Dr Liz Gordon, Quality Public Education Coalition (QPEC)

Bad acronym, worse idea: online publicly funded private schools a disaster in the making – PPTA

PPTA logoThe Minister of Education’s announcement today that Communities of online learning (Cools) will be created to allow corporate entities to enter the education “market” is nothing but blatant privatisation, says the PPTA.

“Learning online is already here, ask any parent with children at school.” says PPTA President Angela Roberts, ‘What this does is open up a market for any provider to get public funding to offer online education, in competition with public schools.”

“Schools already have many ways of blending face-to-face with online learning. There will be no new opportunities created for our rangatahi with this change. The only benefit will be for business.”

“Coming at the same time that the funding review is proposing a standardised per-child amount being provided in a cash sum to schools, the proposal for ‘Cools’ sets up the possibility of student vouchers being used to fund private online schools.”

“There are two wildly incorrect assumptions that underpin this idea,” says Angela Roberts. “One is that online learning can substitute for face-to-face, and the other is that a more competitive market in education is going to lead to better results. Both of these fly in the face of all the evidence.”

“This policy would put New Zealand in the bracket of countries with the most free-market education systems in the world and similar to some US states. I don’t think this is what New Zealand parents want for their children.”

ENDS

Online learning with private companies will harm children’s learning – NZEI

nzei logoGovernment plans to legislate for children from 5 years old to choose to do their schooling online using private companies who do not have to have qualified teachers, will horrify both parents and educators, NZEI Te Riu Roa says.

NZEI President Louise Green said the plan undermined the very worthy goals for education proposed in the same legislation – the Bill for the new Education Act.

“We welcome the high level goals and the reassertion of the right to free quality public education in the Bill, Louise Green says. But New Zealand schools already offer online learning integrated with face-to-face teaching, although support and resourcing is needed to improve equity of access.

“However, in no way does the online learning framework the Bill proposes match what we know works best for student success. Experience of online schooling in the United States is woeful and all the evidence is clear that high-quality teaching is the  single biggest influence in-school on children’s achievement, particularly for our most vulnerable learners.

“Particularly for our youngest learners in ECE and primary school, education is also about learning to work and play with other children and to experience both growing independence and a range of activities outside the home. Online learning cannot replicate important social and experiential learning schools offer.

“This proposal was not subject to any consultation prior to appearing in the Bill. We are concerned it will open the door to a new market in private provision subsidised by the taxpayer that will take resourcing away from public schools.

“There is also a serious threat that children with learning difficulties or other challenges will be pressured into online learning as the cheapest option, rather than the Government taking full responsibility for specialist, personalised support to enable every child to reach their potential.”

The Online Charter School Study 2015  by the Centre for Research on Educational Outcomes showed that the academic benefits of online charter schools are currently the exception rather than the rule. See other implications  here or  full report. 

– NZEI

Fraud, mismanagement, lies, failure: John Oliver takes on Charter Schools

Charter schools are privately run, publicly funded, and irregularly regulated.

John Oliver explores why they aren’t at all like pizzerias.

NZ, don’t say you haven’t been warned. We’re already seeing some of this here, and we only have NINE!

~ Dianne

Education: Are we counting what counts?

Yong ZhaoYong Zhao spoke to a packed house full of educators (in the holidays, no less) about how the purpose of education has changed and what educators have to do prepare students for the future.

Zhao asked some challenging questions, inviting us to think why we do what we do and how it might be different. He questioned the growth in testing and measuring learning, asking why it happens and what value it has.

Some of the thought-provoking things that Zhao asked us to consider included:

  • What must we teach and what is optional?
    • Why?
  • What is success?
    • Failure?
  • Is the focus on a ‘growth mindset’ a good thing?
    • What are the alternatives?
  • What do we need to do to equip students to meet future employment needs?
    • Is it the same for everyone?
  • If someone is missing skills in ‘the basics’, at what cost do we ‘fill the gap’?
    • What could we do instead?
Giving us much to think about, the talk is an excellent prompt for further discussion, perhaps at staff meetings, or even in class.
Zhao isn’t just knowledgeable and informative – he’s very entertaining, too. He’s a great speaker and a would-be stand-up comedian, which makes this an enjoyable talk.
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It’s definitely worth any educator’s time to watch.
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About Yong Zhao: Zhao is an expert on educational models, and has published 30 books and over 100 articles on education. His full bio is here. You can read more about his thinking here.

This talk was part of a Wellington forum that took place on 20th July 2016, sponsored by NZEI Te Riu Roa.

A week in the charter school universe…

If you don’t follow charter school goings on worldwide (and for your sanity, I kind of want to suggest you don’t), you’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s just the odd blip here and there. But, to be honest, it’s more like a volley of blips coming thick and fast. In fact, if blips were locusts, we’d have a plague on our hands.

Take just this week’s revelations, for example…

Nga Parirau Matauranga Trust (NZ)

  • David Seymour confirms that as yet not a cent of the $5.2 Million the failed Northland charter school received has been recovered. The school was open for just one year.

Waipareira Trust (NZ)

  • Waipareira Trust pulled out of charter school negotiations in part because Government refuse to include the Treaty of Waitangi in the contract. (What’s that again, how ACT say this is all for the benefit of Maori students…)

The E Tipu E Rea Trust (NZ)

  • This new body is set up by government to promote and support charter schools and given half a million dollars without even going to tender. (Very expensive cheer leading.)
  • Apparently it’s a charity, so it’ll have charity tax exemptions.

Academy Transformation Trust (England)

  • Ian Cleland, chief executive,”…spent £3,000 of taxpayers’ money on first-class rail travel, while dining expenses racked up on his taxpayer-funded credit card include a meal with other staff at Marco Pierre White totalling £471, and the Bank restaurant in Birmingham, at a cost £703.45″ Yes, teachers eat this way all the time in the staff room. More Moët anyone?
  • He also leased a XJ Premium Luxury V6 Jaguar car and put his wife on the insurance, clocking up £3,000 in service bills alone. Because what head teacher doesn’t need a Jag?

NET Academies Trust (England)

  • Maxine Evans spent over £9,000 on executive taxis to travel between schools (and they have been sometimes made to wait outside, meter running, for the duration of her visit!)

Paradigm Trust (England)

  • An OIA shows that the Trust pays for broadband at CEO Amanda Phillips’ holiday home in France. (Clearly it’s hard to afford when one only earns £195,354 (NZ$400k) a year.)

Gulen/Harmony Charter Schools (USA)

  • Charges filed against them alleging  US$18M fraud (One of a raft of scandals related to the Gulen charter school chain over the years)

Michigan study (USA)

Ohio Department of Education invoiced (USA)

  • Diane Ravitch reports that Geneva Area City Board of Education invoiced the Ohio Department of Education, stating that “[o]ver the past 16 fiscal years, $4,265,924.70 has been taken away from Geneva Area City Schools via State Foundation Settlement deductions and sent to under-performing charter schools.”

Cabot Learning Federation (England)

  • Bath-based school is closed due to insufficient students, leaving current students without a school. Parents were not consulted.
  • The school was inspected in May and judged to be inadequate.

Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust (England)

  • The Trust decides it doesn’t want to run the schools any more and looks to find someone new to take over. (Like passing on a franchise…)
  • The BBC reports: “In November, the Regional Schools Commissioner’s Office issued a pre-termination warning notice to the trust over “unacceptably low” standards at Marshlands Academy in Hailsham.”
  • The BBC also reports: “The commissioner said the number of pupils reaching level four or above in reading, writing and maths had fallen by 20% and was “significantly below the floor standard”

Oh I could go on… this is but a drop in the ocean… but you get the idea.

The charter schools movement is not about education – it’s about privatisation and diversion of funds. As always, I ask you to follow the evidence and follow the money.

~ Dianne

Featured Image courtesy of pixtawan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sources:

Taxpayers fund large wages and lavish perks of academy school chiefs , The Guardian, Published online Sunday 24 July 2016

Trust given $500,000 charter school contract without going to tender, NZ Herald, published online 

Are charter schools making the grade? – The Nation, TV3, Saturday 23 Jul 2016 10:34 am, retrieved 9.38pm 25/7/16

Charter school a waste of public money – PPTA, Radio NZ, published 7:19 pm on 28 January 2016, retrieved 9.31pm 25/7/16

Gulen-led schools in Texas accused of $18M fraud, World Bulletin, published 15:14, 12 July 2016 Tuesday, retrieved 9.46pm 25/7/16

Parents at Bath Community Academy say school has failed their children and failed them, Bath Chronicle, published July 23, 2016, retrieved 9.59pm 25/7/16

“I love teaching, but…” Asking are the unions doing enough to fight poor reforms?

A teacher writes:

I love teaching, I love the spark in the eyes of the learners, I love to challenge myself and the kids to achieve the best they can.

I try supporting my colleagues as best as I can, I try hard to be the Teacher I wanted my kids to have. I am not perfect, but I extend myself, I learn, I try to take on board new ideas and new ways forward. I try hard to have an open mind.

I work in a supportive environment, with kind and wonderful people. I am not unhappy in my job.

I am saying that before I write the following because I want to make it clear I am not negative about education. I think there are amazing people out there, I think there is some, new and amazing stuff going on and I want to be a part of it, but…

This week I was at a union meeting again, and again I left angry and disappointed.

Not for myself, but for our students.

The real issues, are being swept under the mat.

The agreement we were presented with was toothless, there were some small steps, actually tiny steps.

The Rep was keen to point out the gains-the small victories, I feel the negotiating team no doubt had a hard job getting any sort of agreement in the current climate. The issue though is increasingly that we are presented with information and told to accept it, that there is no alternative.

ID-10067205.jpgBeing told that we would be ‘hauled back’ (words of the rep) to more meetings if we didn’t agree to the settlement – sounded like a threat. As did ‘we will lose the back pay if it is not passed immediately’.

To be honest, if their was an alternative-such as fighting for the rights of students, I would gladly give up the pay.

Being told the one day in 2017, was a bargaining chip for further improvements in terms of release time, will be no good to the increasing number of teachers suffering from physical symptoms of stress now. There is not another day in 2018. This is a stepping stone we were told to help further negotiation in the next round. I have a feeling, many of my colleagues in the room may have left the profession by then.

Where is the union’s responsibility to protect its members from undue stress and workload?

So when do we fight the real issues, the reduction of the Teachers in Early Childhood, measuring kids in core subjects before they have truly settled into school, setting unrealistic targets, manipulating funding to make it look like an increase, when in real terms it is a reduction.

Increasing the paper workload due to the nature of the changes and expectations, but not giving teachers time to do this.

Teachers who are so exhausted and stressed they are breaking down. How many high quality teachers will we lose as they burn out? How many have lost the passion they had?

I would gladly forgo pay increases to secure release time benefits for our Teachers and Senior Staff to protect their health.

I would again give back pay increases, to see clear provision of professional development that schools can afford in areas that they need, or that enhance expertise in areas beyond the ‘core’.
I would give back the small ‘gains’ we secured to see my colleagues able to cope again.

Sorry for the rant.

We need the Union to stand up for us and our students and be prepared to help us get the parents on side. It looks as if our union has lost its teeth.

Unions are so important; they need to represent and present, galvanise support and be prepared to go the distance.

The whole point of paid union meetings being in school time was to acknowledge that Teachers needed time to discuss issues in an open forum.

We now have these in our non contact time as a norm. We do not want to disrupt our pupils and their families, but our time is very precious too and it is time we use to support the learning of the students.

A meeting should be about discussion and a level presentation of the alternative to accepting the agreement, and a chance to validate how we are feeling.

I resent being stood over as I consider my vote and being asked for it before I was ready; there was an assumption that there was nothing to consider.

Teachers are too tired to fight, they can barely meet the demands of their jobs. In 10 years of teaching in New Zealand and after 27 years in the profession I love, I am seeing more newly qualified Teachers become disillusioned after a few years, and excellent high quality teachers considering their future in the profession.

Teacher Burnout is a huge issue. The union needs to study it, help us present evidence, and to assist the fight to stop it.

Sorry for the rant. Frustrated.”

What are your thoughts?

~ Dianne

Notes: Original post shared with the author’s permission; Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Collaboration, competition and pitchforks

Another NZ Herald Editorial on education misses the mark. In a bid to explain why most of the money in the Communities of Learners scheme is going to high decile schools, the writer leans on the tired and weary trope “it’s the unions’ fault”.

The writer doesn’t seem to know the history of the Communities of Learners scheme, from its initial incarnation as Investing in Educational Success (IES) to what’s currently in place Communities of Learners (CoLs). Nor that CoLs came about after a long and hard road of teachers’ unions pushing to improve the original IES scheme, which was, in its first incarnation, really quite dreadful. And the article certainly has no real analysis of the widespread concerns with the policy (by any name).

So here, I’ll fill you in.

Pitchforks

Despite the tone of the editorial, teachers (and by extension, their unions) didn’t see the IES announcement and think “Oh yippee, I’ll dust off my pitchfork!” Instead, they looked carefully at the announcement, talked about it in great detail, asked a lot of questions, and found it seriously wanting.

So they did what any co-operative group would – they asked their unions to ask Ministry to go back to the table to make the policy more workable. Not so much mobs with pitchforks, more a hope for the education equivalent of a community farming co-op.

The Concerns

One of the biggest concerns about IES was the plan to pay a select few ‘super staff’ whilst adding to many people’s workloads and giving no extra funds for the students. It takes a team to improve things, and not recognising that was the first mistake. Teachers argued that the money for these select few jobs was over the top and, whilst a bonus for those taking leadership roles may be acceptable, the majority of the IES funding should be directed at the students rather than the staff.

That’s the other big problem educators had: the idea that a few super staff could turn everything around without a cent more for the students. No money for professional development or specialist programmes or teacher aides or therapists or equipment. Really?

Collaboration or Competition?

And what about this notion that IES aims to encourage schools to work together to improve educational standards?

The IES scheme as government proposed it expected schools to work together whilst simultaneously competing against each other. It’s somewhat counter-intuitive, is it not? But since most targets for schools centre around National Standards and NCEA pass rates, the scheme does indeed pose a competitive model. Add to that the fact that both National Standards and NCEA have very well known issues around reliability and parity, and we are opening the system up to all manner of problems.

A Seamless Education System

Another claim was that IES aimed to make students’ transitions through the education system smoother. An immediate question this posed was, why was Early Childhood Education (ECE) completely left out of the equation?

One the one hand, Ministry are extolling the benefits of preschoolers taking part in ECE, and on the other hand they are setting up IES without ECE. The message is contradictory – does ECE matter or not? Is it part of a child’s learning journey or not? Teachers believe it is – in which case any scheme aiming for smooth transitions through the education system and greater collaboration between education providers should include ECE.

So no, unions didn’t dust off their pitch forks for the fun of it. They did what their members asked them to do, which is to go back to Ministry and work to improve this faulty policy. Which, to the best of their abilities and against significant opposition from Ministry and the Minister of Education, they did. And we now have Communities of Learners.

The new incarnation isn’t perfect. It still rests on data that isn’t reliable and still pits schools against each other by comparing pass rates without considering the very many variables at play. But it’s better than it was, and that’s a start.

Trust and Collaboration: Setting the Example

Improvement takes collaboration. Improvement takes a shared purpose. Improvement takes honesty and trust. And while the Minister of Education and her Ministry are asking schools to do those things, they could do far better at leading by example. Perhaps if they had trusted educators and collaborated with them to form the IES in the first place, it could have been better, sooner.

There’s a lesson in there, somewhere, and if it’s heeded perhaps we can make Communities of Learners better still.

~ Dianne, SOSNZ

______________

Further reading/information:

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/education/news/article.cfm?c_id=35&objectid=11652326

Pitchfork and farmer image: Image courtesy of Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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