archives

OECD Research – Education

This category contains 12 posts

PISA circus time again

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

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

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

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

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

~ Dianne

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

When PISA meets politics – a lesson from New Zealand

by Martin Thrupp,first published in The Conversation

conversation

“PISA shock” is the term that has been coined for the sense of political crisis and knee-jerk policy reaction that typically occurs when a country drops in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s international education rankings.

Almost 100 education experts, including several of us from New Zealand, recently sent an open letter to the OECD’s chief education spokesperson, Andreas Schleicher, pointing out that the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings have become more of a problem than a solution.

In many ways the concern of New Zealand educators is also around the wider influence of the OECD education programme on New Zealand educational politics and policy – perhaps as much “OECD hangover” as “PISA shock”.

New Zealand’s government led by prime minister John Key often draws on the authority of the OECD to endorse its policy direction, using both PISA findings and the related arguments of Schleicher. New Zealand’s minister of education Hekia Parata regularly quotes Schleicher, saying, “Without data, you are just another person with an opinion.”

Data problems

But Schleicher is not close enough to the New Zealand context to correct any misuse of the OECD’s results by the Key government, and this causes problems. One example has involved the impact of poverty on student achievement.

Shortly after the latest PISA results came out in 2013, Parata started to say that New Zealand’s PISA results showed that socio-economic status accounted for only 18% of student achievement. This was surprising, to say the least, when a powerful relationship between social class and student achievement has been a theme of international research in the sociology of education for more than 50 years.

Further investigation revealed that the 18% claim was based only on PISA’s narrow definition of family socio-economic influence. Using PISA’s wider criteria that include neighbourhood and school socio-economic factors, about 78% of New Zealand’s latest results became explained by socio-economic conditions. But it is worth noting that some academics, such as Harvey Goldstein at Bristol, point out that PISA is not a long-term study, and so can’t estimate factors like this.

But downplaying the impact of poverty in order to emphasise the responsibility of teachers to raise achievement has been a regular strategy of the Key government. And when faced with the corrected figure by opposition parties in parliament in January, the prime minister still fell back on the authority of Schleicher to argue for the greater importance of teachers and schools.

Adding insult to injury, Schleicher himself started arguing that “poverty isn’t destiny” and arrived in New Zealand for the International Summit on the Teaching Profession in March stressing the power of high expectations in the face of social contexts.

Some of the points Schleicher has been making might be useful if the arguments were employed carefully. Unfortunately, in the national politics of New Zealand – and probably in many other countries – any such subtleties are quickly lost. Instead the OECD/Schleicher arguments become fertile ground for the politics of blaming teachers for the underperformance of students from poor backgrounds.

Political positioning

The OECD hangover in New Zealand goes far beyond PISA. In January, the Key government’s latest school policy proposal called “Investing in Educational Success” was announced. This is intended to introduce a number of new teaching and leadership roles into New Zealand’s schools, providing extra payments for carrying out the required roles as part of a NZ$359m (£184.4m) investment plan.

By February, a four-minute video of Schleicher endorsing the policy had appeared on Parata’s National Party website. This was concerning as although the OECD tries to be non-partisan, here was Schleicher, featuring on a party-political website and endorsing the governing coalition’s announcement of new education spending in an election year.

Watching the highly scripted video clip it also becomes apparent that Schleicher was willing to endorse the new policy without entering into the controversies it would cause in New Zealand.

He leaves out how the policy was announced by the Key government after a cabinet decision, without prior consultation and only subsequent input into the detail rather than the thrust of the policy. Not mentioned are worrying shifts in the power relations between the New Zealand government and teachers and between New Zealand teachers themselves that are likely to be caused by the policy.

Also not mentioned is the involvement and reinforcement of other New Zealand education policies that have been causing concern such as the new National Standards for primary schools, as well as many practical considerations. Instead, Schleicher discusses the policy only in an abstract, non-contextualised way. As the Quality Public Education Coalition pressure group said, his endorsement evokes the “best of all worlds”.

With Schleicher’s endorsement of the policy there can be no claim of misinterpretation by the Key government. It is more that Schleicher is not being careful enough about how the OECD’s support would be used in a local setting.

Our open letter concluded by suggesting the OECD had become the “global arbiter of the means and ends of education around the world”. In New Zealand, the OECD risks becoming known as a stick to beat educators with. Its reputation is unlikely to improve until it starts genuinely listening and acting on local concerns.

by Martin Thrupp, first published in The Conversation

Boonman’s education pop quiz 2013

quizI do love a good quiz, and Mr Boon has some excellent questions for us:

“As the curtain comes down on 2013 I have just a few questions:

  1. If it took a new school in Wellington a year to set up (principal and teachers working behind the scenes for 12 months before a student set foot in the place – heard them speak at a conference), how can the 5 new charter schools the government issued licences to just a few months back be ready for the 2014 school year with a school that will successfully deliver education to kiwi learners?
  2. Why won’t the government accept that the under-achieving 20% tail they keep talking about is actually the same 20% of kiwi kids living in poverty (according to the report by the Children’s Commissioner that figure is now 25%)?
  3. How can the government reconcile its continued calls for improved teacher quality with the regulation allowing charter schools to hire unregistered, unqualified staff to teach in their classrooms?
  4. Will the New Zealand public drop their love-affair with the bafoonering of John Key and vote in a Labour/Green government this time next year?”

What are your answers?  Boonman’s are pretttty good… Here are Boonman’s answers.

Diane Ravitch’s View of PISA Scores

Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch notes:

In my recent book, Reign of Error, I quote extensively from a brilliant article by Keith Baker, called “Are International Tests Worth Anything?,” which was published by Phi Delta Kappan in October 2007. Baker, who worked for many years as a researcher at the U.S. Department of Education, had the ingenious idea to investigate what happened to the 12 nations that took the First International Mathematics test in 1964.

He looked at the per capita gross domestic product of those nations and found that “the higher a nation’s test score 40 years ago, the worse its economic performance on this measure of national wealth–the opposite of what the Chicken Littles raising the alarm over the poor test scores of U.S. children claimed would happen.”

He found no relationship between a nation’s economic productivity and its test scores.

Nor did the test scores bear any relationship to quality of life or democratic institutions.

Read the rest here: My View of the PISA Scores.

via My View of the PISA Scores.

.

 

PISA 2012 – Ministry’s main observations

OECD PISA logoSo, the PISA results are in, and everyone is jumping in to claim they prove their point somehow.

Fair enough, I understand that – I am passionate too, and immediately want to know what the results do or do not tell us about how NZ is doing, educationally.

But surely it’s a time to read, reflect, research, and discuss the findings and the study itself, and try to eke out something meaningful form it, rather than just jump in and score Brownie points?

The goal is to see where we can improve things for our learners, after all.

Below are the Ministry’s main take away points from the study, copied verbatim from their web site.

I am going to refrain from commenting or adding my own observations or thoughts for now, as I would rather people read them with an open mind and ask questions of them.

Here goes – get your thinking caps on:

In New Zealand, over 5,000 students (4,291 for core PISA subjects, 958 for financial literacy) from 177 schools took part in the study, in July 2012.

  • New Zealand students scored above the OECD average in mathematics, reading and science.
  • Australia had similar scores in mathematics and reading but had a higher science score.
  • New Zealand student performance remained relatively stable up to 2009. Between 2009 and 2012 performance in mathematics, reading and science declined.
  • The proportion of New Zealand students (below Level 2) increased between 2009 and 2012 in mathematics and science (eg, up from 15% in mathematics in 2009 to 23% in 2012). These are students who struggle to do mathematics or science and whose lack of skills is a barrier to learning.
  • Students who achieve Level 5 or 6 have advanced skills in mathematics, reading or science. In particular, New Zealand has a high proportion of students who are top performers in reading (14%).
  • New Zealand has a relatively high proportion of all-rounder students who are top performers across mathematics, reading and science even compared to the top performing countries (21% are top performers in at least one subject area and 8% are “all rounders”).
  • New Zealand has a relatively large proportion of both top performers (Level 5 and 6) and low performers (below level 2) in mathematics. In addition, New Zealand is counted among the 10 PISA countries and economies with the widest spread of achievement in mathematical literacy.
  • New Zealand students demonstrated relative strength in the mathematical area of uncertainty and data (statistics) and weaker achievement in space and shape (geometry and measurement). Their performance on change and relationships(aspects of algebra) and quantity (number and measurement) was close to the overall New Zealand average for mathematics.
  • Overall boys did much better than girls in mathematics, girls continued to do better than boys in reading and there was very little difference in science.
  • Overall New Zealand European/Pākehā and Asian students scored above the OECD average in mathematics and Māori and Pasifika students scored below the OECD average. However, students from all ethnic backgrounds attained scores right across the achievement spectrum.
  • The average scores in mathematics for boys and girls and for New Zealand Pākehā/European, Māori and Pasifika students all declined between 2009 and 2012, but there was no change for Asian students.
  • Overall, New Zealand is a country characterised by relatively high achievement (when compared to the OECD average) but the distribution of student performance shows that we have relatively low equality (equity) in learning outcomes.
  • New Zealand is a country where the variability of student PISA mathematics scores within a school is high while the variability in scores across schools is relatively low. However, the variability in scores across schools is increasing.

I’d love to hear others’ observations, in the comments below or on the Facebook page.

Regards, Dianne

____________________________________________________________

Sources:

http://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/publications/series/2543/pisa-2012/pisa-2012-top-line-results-for-new-zealand

http://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/publications/series/2543/pisa-2012/what-is-pisa

Other reading:

https://saveourschoolsnz.wordpress.com/2013/12/04/latest-oecd-findings-point-to-major-failure-of-government-education-policies/

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

https://saveourschoolsnz.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/a-strangely-schizophrenic-stance-on-nz-education/

.

Latest OECD findings point to major failure of government education policies

Picture 1The big drop in New Zealand’s student achievement in recent years is a direct result of a failure of this government’s education, economic and social policies, says NZEI Te Riu Roa National President Judith Nowotarski.

Mrs  Nowotarski says the results  are a clear wake up call to the government.

She says the Minister of Education has overseen one of the biggest drops in our student ranking in recent years.

The OECD PISA results, measuring 15 year old student achievement in science, maths and reading, shows that since 2008 New Zealand has had one of the fastest-growing rates of inequity as well as a corresponding decrease in student performance.

“Across the board New Zealand’s performance has dropped on all the scores and this is something that the government should be ashamed of.  It shows its policies are nothing short of disastrous.”

“For five years the government has been obsessed with collecting unnecessary and irrelevant data when it should have been focussed on making a difference for students.

“The Minister is being misleading when she claims that this decline is a long-running trend.  By far the biggest drop in achievement has occurred since 2009.

“This government’s obsession with data combined with no solutions for failing education policies has been a disaster for many New Zealand children. Instead of working with teachers and schools to improve education, the government has been hell-bent on dismantling our public education system.

“Countries that have a higher level of equity also have better achievement outcomes for all students.   Eighteen percent of New Zealand children now live in poverty and the student achievement gap reflects the impact that poverty has on students’ learning.

“All the findings are saying the same thing.  It’s now time for the government to start to look at what really works in education.

“We need the government to work with teachers and schools to restore our education system to its previous top performing level instead of having one of the fastest levels of decline in the OECD.”

Hekia Parata, Painted-on Ears, Testing and Learning

la-la-la-not-listeningI sometimes wonder whether Hekia Parata and co walk around with their fingers in their ears saying “lalalalalala” or whether they have mastered the art of switching their ears off at will?

Because truly they just don’t seem to want to listen to or learn a thing.

Take this week’s news…

Political Bagging

The University of Waikato’s Professor of Education, Martin Thrupp, and his team release a calm, well-reasoned report into the effects of National Standards on teaching and learning and offers recommendations on what can be done to improve the situation.

This is not the wild raving spouting of a politician, not even the ranting of an infuriated blogger.  This is a Professor.  Of Education.  He kinda knows what he’s talking about.

Lalalalalala Not Listening

I'm not listening earplugsBut what does Hekia sayabout the report?  She proudly boasts that she hasn’t had time to read it.

Wait, isn’t she the Education Minister?  Isn’t it part of her job to read research and know what’s what? Hey I’m just a mother, and I’ve found the time to read it.  Wouldn’t you think it’d be prudent for an Education Minister to use facts and information, and to critique research properly rather than dismiss things out of hand?

Well your answer there would be in how she chose to describe the research in a Radio New Zealand interview.  She called it “the Thrupp NZEI research”.  That’s no accident.

By brushing aside the University of Waikato and leaving out the title Professor, Parata leads the lay person to believe Thrupp is part of the NZEI and talking from a union point of view rather than that of an expert in education.

Why? Because she is not interested in discussing the points made in the report, rather she wants people to dismiss it out of hand and not face the questions it raises about negative impacts of National Standards.  She has an agenda and no research on earth is going to move her.

How can we improve our education system when this petty game-playing is the focus of the Minister and others?

PISA Rankings

It’s been the same story with the up-coming release of the latest PISA data, in which New Zealand is predicted to slip back in the rankings.  Hekia Parata is immediately out there in cahoots with the Herald using this as a reason to promote PaCT.  I won’t get into the ins and outs of PaCT here, more important is to consider why Parata chose not to address the more pertinent issue of whether NZ’s PISA scores are holding firm.

It’s an important difference.  Are we doing worse or not?

Assuming for now that PISA rankings are a reliable indicator of the state of a nation’s education system, then what would matter is whether our scores on the test are holding steady, improving or declining.  If New Zealand’s scores are holding steady or improving, then dropping down in the ranking means other countries have improved ahead of us in the tests, it does not mean we are getting worse.

At this point it is important to note which countries are thought to have moved ahead of us:  Singapore and Hong Kong.

Both of these countries push a narrow curriculum and have a strong societal push for children to do well in tests.  But  just because you produce a nation of good test takers doesn’t mean you produce students who will contribute to the economy, nor does it mean they will have the ability to adapt should the economic climate or industry focuses change.  It’s a very narrow view of success and not one I’m sure sits comfortably with the Kiwi ethos for life and living.

There’s another thing to consider with pushing children to be great test takers, and that is the effect on their health.  

Hong Kong has reported “heavy study loads and pressure from parents to succeed contribute factors to youth suicide, particularly in the run-up to spring and summer exams.”  Singapore has also reported rising suicide rates amongst the young, with one ten year old killing herself because she felt her grades were not good enough.  A visiting academic reported that “Due to rigorous study schedules and pressure to succeed academically, the suicide rate is lofty for high school and college students.”

So is getting the highest test scores all that matters?

What truly matters  is whether New Zealand children are getting a good education that meets their needs for life.  Tests only tell us so much – they are not the be-all and end-all.  And education should not be a political football, it’s not something to use as a way to make money, it’s not there to gain points in an election.  Or it shouldn’t be.

listen to understandListen, Read, Think, Discuss, Learn

We must get over this obsession with merely measuring and reporting test scores.

We have to meaningfully consider and discus expert finding.

We should visit more schools doing brilliantly and research what is happening there that works.

We need  time and resources and good mechanisms to share and promote the best working practices far more widely.

We must adapt teacher training to keep up with best practice and latest pedagogy.

We should work together to further improve the public education system for the benefit of all students.

Shouldn’t we?

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)

How true is the mythical “20% tail of underachievment”?

NZ“One in five students is failing” is a catch cry used so often that PPTA commissioned research to get to the bottom of it. 

The results, presented by researchers Liz Gordon and Brian Easton today, reveal the simplistic nature of the claim and the complex issues being ignored every time it is made.

PPTA president Angela Roberts said the overlapping issues of ethnicity, gender and socio-economic status were ignored when simplistic figures such ‘1 in 5’ or ‘20% of students are failing’ were bandied about.

“The message of there being a crisis in schooling is being used to drive through radical policies, but there is not a crisis. There are challenges and we need to deal with these by recognising the complexity of the issues,” she said.

The government’s practice of separating out a single factor – such as ethnicity – and comparing one sub-group to other whole populations was “statistically grossly misleading” and failed to recognise many of the factors contributing to underachievement, Roberts said.

The closest to the politically popular 20% figure the researchers were able to find was that 14.3% of students failed to achieve proficiency level 2 on PISA reading – and a closer examination of this group showed that 74% were male and that socio-economic factors such as parental income and the number of books in the home were clearly contributing issues.

“Constantly focussing on ethnicity as a single factor fails to recognise these overlapping issues,” Roberts said.

A companion report by Easton also contains data that suggests the constant labelling of ‘underachiever’ has had an impact on how students identify themselves ethnically.

Roberts hoped the research would enable the government to take a more sophisticated and nuanced approach to educational achievement and recognise the dangers of over-simplification.

“We hope that politicians and editorial writers will stop throwing around figures like ‘1 in 5’ and ‘national disgrace’ when in reality the issues are much more complicated.”

For links to the full reports and summaries, go here.

Unpacking the sound bite “quality teaching eliminates socioeconomic disadvantage”

Picture 1Hekia Parata this weekend said that experts had found that four consecutive years of quality teaching eliminated any trace of socio-economic disadvantage.

In her now typical teacher-bashing way, she went on to say “In New Zealand we provide 13 years. You’d think it would not be too much to expect that four of those are good quality.”

Ignoring the snarkiness, just think about what she said:  Four consecutive years of quality teaching eliminates any trace of socio-economic disadvantage.  Override poverty.

That’s a mighty big claim.

Where did it come from and does it stand up to scrutiny?

Where did they find their catchy soundbite?

Neither The Southland Times nor Hekia Parata provide a reference for their claim.  You’d think someone making bold statements like that would be more than happy to cite their source, wouldn’t you?

They merely use it to end their article with a flourish.  After all, it sounds good, doesn’t it?  Very catchy. And they’re not alone – many newspapers and online publications including The Boston Globe used the same quote, also with no reference,

Whatever.  I searched on.

A Bit of Digging

diggingA flicker of something I read on Twitter came to mind, and a quick search led me to an article called The economic case for sacking bad teachers.  Nice title.  I felt sure this would be a clear, research-based, unbiased article…

The article largely ignores the actual report it is supposedly based on and, indeed, misrepresents its conclusions. But wait!  They manage to get a nice soundbite out of their expert, Eric Hanushek.  I sense he is going to prove interesting.

In the article, Hanushek is quoted as saying:

‘A good teacher can get 1.5 years of learning growth; a bad teacher gets half a year of learning growth.’

The article goes on to say:

Having four consecutive years of high-quality teaching, [Hanushek] says, can eliminate any trace of economic disadvantage. (5)

That issue  is not discussed at all in the OECD paper the article is meant to be about.  Why throw it in?  Did the journalist just find Hanushek’s most famous tidbit and throw it in for good measure?  Who knows.

And again, no reference.

Just an acceptance that this bold statement is fact.

And why would the journalist question it?  It sounds good doesn’t it?  And look at the great headline it gave them.

large_digger

Further Digging

Still no clearer as to where this assertion had come from, I enlisted the combined research abilities of the experts I  know. With their help, I found some very interesting stuff.

Take this quote from Diane Ravitch:

[Eric] Hanushek and Rivkin projected that “having five years of good teachers in a row” (that is, teachers at the 85th percentile) “could overcome the average seventh-grade mathematics achievement gap between lower-income kids (those on the free or reduced-price lunch program) and those from higher-income families. (7)

Ravitch goes on to say that, at the conference where they claims were presented, they were fervently disputed. Richard Rothstein  said they were “misleading and dangerous.” (7)  Criticism continued after the conference, and the debate of the statement’s validity raged.  

New reports came out, suggesting that 3, 4 or 5 years in a row with a good teacher could override the socioeconomic status (SES) of a student.

And despite being incredibly contentious and there being many experts arguing against the claims and plenty of research to say otherwise, it is too good a headline grabber and too utterly irresistible  for journalists.

Ravitch tells us that:

Over a short period of time, this assertion became an urban myth among journalists and policy wonks in Washington, something that “everyone knew.” 

This is the danger.

The sound bite wins the day.

reading-newspaperYour Average Newspaper Reader

Do you think the readers of The Southland Times will stop to wonder how rigorous was the research that lead to that soundbite?

Do you think they will ponder whether it has been challenged?

Do you think they will have eight solid hours and a goodly handful of experts to help them look into it, like I did?

No, me neither.

Luckily, I had the time.  And even more fortuitously, some anti-GERMers with a larger platform that I did, too.

A Fallacy and a Rebuttal

Renowned education expert, Pasi Sahlberg tackled the “four consecutive years of quality teaching” fallacy:

“This assumption presents a view that education reform alone could overcome the powerful influence of family and social environment mentioned earlier. It insists that schools should get rid of low-performing teachers and then only hire great ones. This fallacy has the most practical difficulties.

The first one is about what it means to be a great teacher. Even if this were clear, it would be difficult to know exactly who is a great teacher at the time of recruitment.

The second one is, that becoming a great teacher normally takes five to ten years of systematic practice. And determining the reliably of ‘effectiveness’ of any teacher would require at least five years of reliable data. This would be practically impossible.

Everybody agrees that the quality of teaching in contributing to learning outcomes is beyond question.  It is therefore understandable that teacher quality is often cited as the most important in-school variable influencing student achievement.

But just having better teachers in schools will not automatically improve students’ learning outcomes.” (8)

As Sahlberg says, there are many other factors that lead to students. success, and global reforms tend to ignore those that the most successful countries have implemented, namely

“… freedom to teach without the constraints of standardized curricula and the pressure of standardized testing; strong leadership from principals who know the classroom from years of experience as teachers; a professional culture of collaboration; and support from homes unchallenged by poverty.” (8)

Controversial Expert

Eric Hanushek

Eric Hanushek

But back to the original statement.  Who is Eric Hanushek, that made the claim?

Hanushek is an economist. He is not without controversy, and his research methods have been called into question in the past. (6)

However, disputes with his methods and conclusions have not stopped him from promoting his views widely in professional and public media, nor have they prevented the US administration and now our very own Education Minister, Hekia Parata, using his work and his words to justify further education reforms that education experts argue are not in the best interest of students. (3, page 40-42) and (4)

What does Hanushek say makes a Good Teacher?

His measurement of a good teacher is one whose students get high test scores.

One wonders what this means for a teacher of special needs students of lower cognitive ability, or students with English as a second language, or students who have a low educational ethic.  Are those teachers bad because their scores are lower than a teacher with more able students?

It’s a tad disconcerting, isn’t it?

You will have your own ideas on what makes a good teacher.  Anecdotal evidence tells me that for many Kiwi parents, it is more than test results.  I shall tackle this in detail some other time.  Meanwhile, you might want to read this and ponder the issue further.

rich kid poor kidFact or Snappy Sound Bite?

Back to the sound bite, then.

Quality teaching is, of course, of huge importance.  But the best that can be said for the assertion that four consecutive years’ quality teaching eliminates any trace of socio-economic disadvantage is that it is contentious.

Certainly there is evidence out there that supports the view that poverty has an impact on student achievement.  And great teachers are likely to do more than just improve test scores.

One thing I know for sure: Whether even the best teachers can completely override the impact of a student’s socioeconomic situation is not something that can or should be tackled by a sound bite.

~ Dianne

With sincere thanks to the many experts who were kind enough to help me today.

References and further reading:

(1) The high cost of low educational performance

(2) The Market for Teacher Quality  Eric A. Hanushek, John F. Kain, Daniel M. O’Brien and Steven G. Rivkin* December 2004

(3) School Reform Proposals: The Research Evidence (Research in Educational Productivity) by Alex Molnar (Mar 1, 2002)

(4) Minister: I don’t like deciles

(5) The economic case for sacking bad teachers – The Spectator

(6) Does Money Matter?  A meta-analysis of studies of the effects of differential school inputs on student outcomes, by Hedges, Laine, and Greenwald (1994)

(7) The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, by Diane Ravitch

(8) What if Finland’s great teachers taught in U.S. schools? by Pasi Sahlberg

(9) The Washington Post – The Answer Sheet – The “three great teachers in a row” myth

(10)  The Boston Globe Gets It Wrong on Teacher Evaluation

Why are so many Head Teachers Resigning Worldwide?

How many good educators are we losing all over the world each week due to the GERM (Global Education Reform Movement)?  This one in NZ?  This one in the USA?  Or this bunch in the UK? Or these twelve in Iberia?

  • How many are over the excessive testing that is about data collection not about student learning?
  • Or are fed up with the wonky teacher assessment methods that negate trust in senior staff and instead bow before the altar of data points?
  • How many are just plain fed up of being bullied?
  • How many are fearful for the future of education?

Because judging students just on their scores, or weighting the scores so heavily that the students feel they are judged as people by them, is not a way to educate and grow good people.  Students should be and are tested throughout schooling, but it should be done to personalise their learning, with fast turnout and feedback, and about growth not about a line in the sand that is called The Standard.

And what about all of the factors that impinge on student learning?  How come they get so little air time from the people demanding reforms left, right and centre and insisting they only care about the kids?  Forgive my cynicism, but could it just be that there is no money to be made in solving those problems but heaps to be made in selling educational materials to panicked parents?

It is a sick world we live in where we blame teachers for the ills in our societies and don’t look at the root causes of poverty, ill health, poor homes and hopelessness that factor large  for those not achieving all they otherwise might.

Poverty does not automatically mean poorer achievement, but usually it does.  The OECD reported that “education experiences remain strongly associated with social disadvantage. In many countries there are large numbers of people with very low education levels whose family origins were impoverished and characterised by disadvantage. Whilst education can break such intergenerational cycles of disadvantage, it can also act to reinforce them: for example, if education policy is not designed with egalitarian notions in mind.”  Source (page 7).

That is the disgrace and shame of all so-called first world countries, and that is the reality many countries are facing right now, including in New Zealand.

Is that truly the country you want?  If it is, then GERM is your friend- let it run rampant and do its business all over our education system.

But if you want better for our country as a whole, then you need to say “No more”.

No to rampant global reforms in education that are far more about $$$ than they ever were about learning or improving.

Let’s get back to research-based, well-thought-out improvements for all schools that truly are about raising achievement for all.

~Dianne

This is not an improvement, NZ.

This is not an improvement, NZ.

Follow Save Our Schools NZ on WordPress.com

Category list:

StatCounter

%d bloggers like this: