Saturday morning, while all sensible people were eating second breakfast and procrastinating about the weekend chores, Nikki Kaye snuck out a little education policy announcement about National Standards.
That it came out in such an understated way was made even more odd when, on Sunday, National gave us a second three-pronged education policy announcement – and this one was an all-singing, all-dancing affair with hundreds of waving, cheering National supporters in tow.
Leaving Sunday’s announcement to one side for now, I want you to ask yourself why was one single policy put out separately? Why the day before the bigger announcement? Why not include it in the main announcement? is it that bad that it has to be hidden away? Ponder that as you read on.
The policy announced on Saturday is that National will implement ‘National Standards Plus’. This will require teachers to input National Standards data into the ‘Progress and Consistency Tool’ (PaCT), a computer programme that ostensibly exists to take test results and use them to spit out a child’s attainment level against National Standards. PaCT will then, we are told, use students’ data to calculate their progress so that we can see the ‘value added’ to any student over a given time. It sounds quite sensible on the face of it. Who wouldn’t want to know how a child is progressing?
Input the data and voila!
And it might be good if it weren’t for a couple of pesky details.
First of all, if the data going in is not reliable then the data coming out isn’t either. Or as computer folk like to call it, GIGO – Garbage In, Garbage Out.
Problems with the unreliability of National Standards are well known. Professor Martin Thrupp outlined these issues and how they relate to PaCT in his second Research, Analysis and Insight into National Standards (RAINS) Project report, saying:
“If the Progress and Consistency Tool [PaCT] to be made mandatory by the Government is mainly intended as a form of national moderation for [Overall Teacher Judgement] -making, then it can be expected to be an expensive failure. This is because it will not be able to address many of the various influences and pressures schools and teachers face, illustrated by this report, that will lead schools to take different ‘readings’ of the National Standards and of OTJs. “
So, issues with the reliability of National Standards data relating to students are the first key problem: GIGO.
The other elephant in the room, glaring over from the sidelines, is PaCT’s role in teacher evaluation.
The announced change in how PaCT is used will see students’ data being recorded against their teachers. Again, this seems useful at first glance. Surely, people say, that would help evaluate which teachers are doing the best job? But it’s not that simple.
One issue is that students often have a burst of learning after work by many teachers over a number of years, and to attribute that only to the teacher they are currently with would be incorrect. For example, for year 0-2 teachers, it can be quite some time before the fruits of their labours come to fruition, and to attribute all gains made, say, in Year 3 to just the Year 3 teacher would be erroneous.
So GIGO problems apply as much to PaCT data relating to teachers as to students, rendering it far too unreliable to accurately judge a teacher’s impact on a student’s learning.
Nikki Kaye assured me today via Twitter that PaCT will not be used to implement performance pay, but as one of the software engineers that built PaCT warned me almost a decade ago that the capacity for this has been built into the system, this remains a concern.
All in all, this new policy seems to be a poorly thought out move. While National Standards continue to be anything but standard, PaCT will only ever be the lipstick on the National Standards pig. In other words, you can pretty National Standards up any way you want, they are still just plain shonky.
So the question remains, what’s the real reason for National implementing progress tracking via PaCT?
Kia ora koutou, thank you for being here this morning.
Today we celebrate and thank teachers, and we thank those who provide leadership and those who provide support at every level of our education system.
And we also thank all of you who help and support our educators here in Aotearoa as spouses and partners, family and friends, parents and children.
I think it can be a good job being a teacher or working in education, it can be satisfying and you can often make a difference. But working in education is rarely straightforward and it is very busy and sometimes exhausting.
Teachers and schools get blamed for a lot, and most of it is unfair. I have written quite a few books and articles about this problem, it’s what I call the ‘politics of blame’.
I heard Mike Hosking say on TV during the week that the regions including the Waikato are surging ahead, we are ‘on fire at the moment…doing brillantly’ he said. Well that’s one view of it.
But actually this is also a region where many people are struggling. I’ve become involved in Poverty Action Waikato, they put out a report recently and it’s such a shocking read.
And I know that if it wasn’t for the very good caring and teaching work being done in the sector then many children and young people and their whanau would struggle even more.
Did you know that the latest round of PISA test results organised by the OECD will come out on 6th December? That’s the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) run by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). It’s when the education systems of 72 countries and regional economies within large countries get ranked against each other.
I don’t know where New Zealand will come in the rankings this time. But I do know that if we do well the Government will happily take the credit! If we don’t do well then you teachers will get the blame!
Last time we did badly and Hekia Parata was asked if she would resign. And now she is going to resign. Maybe she knows something about the PISA results coming out in December that the rest of us don’t yet.
The Minister, Hurricane Hekia, that was what the Herald called her, she does have a forceful manner and she can also be very charming. But mostly I think she is on a hiding to nothing because this Government doesn’t want to put more money into public education than it absolutely has to.
The budget this year had overall education spending forecast to stay about the same through to 2020, that means it is falling as a share of GDP and on a per student basis.
Actually, this Government doesn’t want to put more spending into any social or public spending than it really has to which is mainly to meet its promises around superannuation. It’s why poor people in this country are no longer falling through the cracks, they are falling through gaping holes.
A lot of us are here because of concerns about education funding. The problems are complicated because it’s a mixture of under-funding and of spending good money on policies and interventions that are not helping.
But I think the NZEI and PPTA are right to think that the global budget idea is a case of ‘secret plans and clever tricks’. Because once you move away from national scales for pay and the operations grant, the Government can put an even stronger cap on educational spending.
It can wash its hands of class sizes, the casualisation of the workforce and the real needs within the system in terms of operational funding.
Then there is the social investment approach to funding. It is very much about trying an intervention, measuring it, and discarding it quite quickly if it doesn’t work in order to try something else.
Unfortunately education interventions rarely make so much difference or so quickly and there is a great likelihood of useful programmes being thrown away before they have really had a chance to work.
The social investment approach also puts great weight on the significance of specific indicators like having a parent in prison, it’s less about the general context of deprivation or poverty.
But while Hekia Parata says that socio-economic factors are often overstated in education I think they are more usually understated. It’s that politics of blame again.
What I’m most worried about in education is that we will look back on these Key Government years as the period where privatisation of our public education system really took off.
The period when public education was run down.
The period when public education got dismantled.
The period when we let down not just our generation but generations to come.
I can see a hollowing out of educational processes happening all over the sector whether we talk about professional learning and development, professional resources, educational research, teacher education, curriculum coverage, special education or support for leadership.
In fact where New Zealand education is not in decline it is often because educators are working against the grain of policy rather than being supported by it.
But I also believe that when people look back on this period in our nation’s history, teachers will come out of it quite well. This week I was looking again at the campaign against National Standards, it would have to be one of the most impressive campaigns against any education policy to be found internationally in recent years.
And you might say it didn’t work but it many ways it did work, it raised questions about the National Standards and stopped them from being used to do some of the political work that was hoped for.
But it’s still a challenge we all have, recognising the neo-liberal framing up of our outlook and not losing our capacity to think and to care. If you get a chance go to Finland, I’ve just been there and it’s a real eye-opener about how things could be different – and better.
But even Finland has some global neo-liberal pressures coming on it through that OECD. Last year Helsinki, the capital of Finland, hosted the OECD’s first Global Education Industry Summit.
The aim was to establish a dialogue between ministers of education and the global education industry. And really it is about privatisation, about public education being opened up to the private sector more and more.
Hekia Parata went to that conference last year and she went to the second summit in Israel this year. And when Hekia did her speech in Israel she talked about building a coalition of the willing back here in New Zealand.
You can see where I am going with this.
When it comes to the privatisation of education, I want New Zealand educators to form a coalition of the unwilling. I want you to be unenthusiastic, hesitant, dragging of your feet and generally difficult. I want you to show only token interest and to be the last cab off the rank and not the first one.
Because it was Helen Kelly’s big farewell ceremony in Wellington yesterday and we are not all going to be as brave and as strong and as outspoken as Helen was. But what we can do is join together, PPTA, NZEI and our many friends and supporters who care about public education and form a coalition of the unwilling.
by Martin Thrupp
This week I went with my son to his parent-teacher interviews. As a Year 13 student, one of the oldest at the school now, he didn’t really want me there anymore. But I insisted because it wasn’t all about him.
I was mainly there to thank the teachers at his state secondary school and I sought out the principal and thanked that person too. This school has taught two of my children, very different sorts of kids, and done it well. Sincerely thanking the teachers was the least I could do.
I hear the frustrations of Anela Pritchard, the Year 10 student who wrote a hard-hitting speech about teachers and then posted it on Facebook. But many of her points can be related back to the policy environment that teachers are having to grapple with.
Teachers are certainly ‘paid to teach’ and like many professionals they have mortgages to pay. But this doesn’t really capture their motives or commitments. In fact getting an education is not at all like buying groceries. There’s a relationship that has to be invested in by all concerned. Nor are the gains made always immediately obvious.
Many recent criticisms of teachers and schools seem intended to undermine the education system. They are often related to the privatisation agenda that has become obvious under this Government.
Look at the way Minister of Education Hekia Parata chose to launch a recent report criticising the teaching of school mathematics. It was published by the right-wing think-tank ‘The New Zealand Initiative’. On the other hand she quickly dismissed my research on the National Standards on the grounds it had been funded by the NZEI. Any contradiction here Minister?
There have also been complaints that the NZEI and PPTA have hijacked the Government’s ‘Investing in Educational Success’ reform. This implies that teachers are being misled by their unions. But the distinction doesn’t hold up. Most teachers are union members and those I meet at union events tend to be much like the people I meet in schools wherever I go.
Although it would be nice to think that the public would defend their teachers, many don’t have the time or inclination to dig deeper than the rhetoric of policy. It can be easy to criticise teachers – we have all had some – but teachers can’t be expected to address all of society’s problems.
There is a very real risk that too much public criticism will end up killing off the goodwill and commitment within the system and of those thinking of going teaching. If teacher supply becomes a problem we will soon see the sting go out of the comments!
Without the mainly good work being done daily in our public education system, many more New Zealand children and families would face educational and social difficulties. There are always improvements that can be made but we will achieve much more with honey than with vinegar.
I thought the teachers at my son’s school looked tired. This winter term has been a long one. I hope all teachers and their students have a good holiday.
~ Martin Thrupp is Professor of Education at the University of Waikato
It is disappointing to see Fairfax has published a new round of National Standards data and advocacy on the Stuff website. Last year I wrote urging Fairfax not to continue with publishing the data but it seems they could not resist.
The Fairfax approach encourages comparison but National Standards are not nationally moderated. They are affected by far too many sources of variation to use for comparing the performance of schools. Children rated ‘at’ at one school will often be rated ‘below’ or ‘above’ at other schools.
The Ministry of Education is aware of this problem so it has been trialling a national online tool to bring more consistency to the National Standards judgements – the Progress and Consistency Tool (PaCT).
But PaCT is only due to be introduced next year. So why would Fairfax publish the existing flawed data for all schools in a way that encourages comparison? The rows of figures may be tidy but the emperor has no clothes.
My concern about PaCT is that as it attempts to solve the moderation issue it will bring its own problems in schools and classrooms. It will be a bit like how stoats and ferrets were introduced into New Zealand to control the rabbit population.
Back to National Standards, there are many other good reasons for not giving the results any publicity. The language of the National Standards, especially the ‘below’ and ‘well below’ labels, is crude and stigmatising rather than developmental.
The National Standards approach is not a ‘value-added’ one and it tends to fail children with disadvantages. These include children with various special needs, children with English as a second language, and children from deprived backgrounds.
There are also some toxic effects of the National Standards on the culture of primary schools including curriculum narrowing and a wasteful use of precious teacher time. Ironically, it is often where teachers and schools are doing their best to take the National Standards seriously that they will be most harmful.
All in all the National Standards policy has little to recommend it. There are better alternatives to getting national information about student achievement such as an approach that samples across schools. But at the moment the public is being encouraged by Fairfax to take the National Standards seriously.
Of course some will insist that ‘at the end of the day’ we must have standards in schools. My response is that in education the cry of ‘standards’ is the last refuge of the scoundrel. I want standards, you want standards, the monkeys in the zoo surely want standards!
The point is that the Key Government’s National Standards are not just standards, they are a particular and idiosyncratic assessment system. They are also complete nonsense, at least for the comparative purposes that Fairfax is promoting.
Martin Thrupp is Professor of Education at the University of Waikato firstname.lastname@example.org
Last week I gave a presentation to some Australian and English academics in Sydney (see slides below). I wanted to emphasise the dilemmas faced by the sector and how the opportunity to be ‘in the tent’ and negotiate had heightened rather than reduced those dilemmas. I tried to give a fair representation of the different points of view, along with some of my own framing of course. Here are some of the main responses from the audience (in no particular order):
Professor Martin Thrupp’s expertise is in: Social class and education; the impact of managerialism and performativity in schools; school choice and competition; international policy borrowing; contextualised approaches to educational leadership.
For more information on Professor Thrupp’s work and publications, see here.
Tonight I’m going to be talking about the National Standards, while also recognising that a variety of other developments cluster around or depend on the National Standards in various ways. They include:
We will all have our views on the pros and cons of the National Standards policy and there’s likely to be some truth in even highly divergent points of view because education is complex and contextualised and so much depends, doesn’t it – it depends on the school, the classroom, the teacher, even the individual child. But my argument will be that on balance the National Standards are taking us down a data-driven path that will be very damaging for the culture of our schools and classrooms and for the education of individual children.
I’m going to be basing my arguments tonight mainly on the RAINS Project, that’s the ‘Research, Analysis and Insight into National Standards’ project, a three-year study of the National Standards policy in six diverse schools. Multiple data sources were used including 486 interviews (with many being repeated interviews) with school leaders, teachers, parents, children and ERO reviewers. There was also classroom observation and analysis of documents. There are three RAINS reports, which I will call here RAINS 1, RAINS 2 and the final RAINS report1
As well as reporting the research findings from the schools, the reports give some background to the National Standards and to the shifting politics around the National Standards from year to year which I won’t have time to go through tonight so I would recommend them for that too. It’s best to start with the final RAINS report as it has a Q&A format and some of the questions cover the earlier reports as well.
Here are the six schools in the study (all names are pseudonyms of course):
I’m not going to go through them all but would say they were chosen for their diversity, and provide some good examples of the more than 2000 versions of the National Standards that will be going on across the country in primary, intermediate, area and composite schools as we speak.
Why so many differences? As I illustrate in RAINS 1 it’s of course partly about the different social context of the schools. Schools were also already on different curricula, pedagogical, assessment and leadership trajectories before the National Standards policy was introduced and their different responses to the National Standards represent incremental changes along those varying paths. And there are different enactments of the National Standards policy in the sense of different translations and interpretations. So much so that at times it seems like schools are barely reading the same book, let alone on the same page.
In RAINS 2 there are twenty pages that lay out the many sources of variation at national, regional, school and classroom level that were affecting the RAINS schools’ judgments against the National Standards. For instance the schools all claimed to use unconferenced (unassisted) writing samples but varying amounts and kinds of scaffolding was occurring.
Now as I say, not everyone would agree the National Standards are a problem and here’s two different kinds of reasons why you might be sceptical they are causing any damage….
To read the rest of the speech, click the link below:
The speech is also available as a link here.
Professor Martin Thrupp’s expertise is in: Social class and education; the impact of managerialism and performativity in schools; school choice and competition; international policy borrowing; contextualised approaches to educational leadership.
For more information on Professor Thrupp’s work and publications, see here.
As Health Minister Tony Ryall signed off on his long political career recently, he said about the health portfolio: “You work with quality people every day who are dedicated to the welfare of New Zealanders. I wake up most mornings, and I turn to my wife and I say ‘ugh. Imagine being Minister of Education’. That is a really tough job.”
The clear implication is that education sector workers are not ‘quality’ and it was an unfortunate comment for a government minister to make. It will have reminded people in the education sector that while the Key Government has been on a charm offensive this year, its longer-term pattern has been dismissal, denigration and blame.
Another reminder of how appalling the Key Government has been in relating to the education sector was Nigel Latta’s latest TV programme. The main thrust of the programme was that our schools and today’s education were good! It was a refreshing change from the Minister of Education’s usual crisis account and the sort of barb that Ryall has delivered.
One of the strengths of Latta’s programme was that he recognised some of the complexity of what teachers are dealing with. He started with how the education system is baffling to most people and illuminated it a little.
Perhaps the complexity of the education sector also partly underlies Ryall’s cheap shot. What constitutes quality is not straightforward here. Education is full of uncertainty and heavily influenced by context. It is sometimes informed by evidence but can rarely be evidence-based. Randomised controlled trial with your Year 10 class anyone?
Education is even more complex than Tony Ryall’s dress sense. It’s an area where there’s a little bit of truth in many point of views. It’s also an area where a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Educational problems often demand a cultural rather than a technical response from teachers.
As Professor Richard Pring of Oxford University has put it, ‘teaching as part of an educational practice must include deliberation about the end or values of teaching, as much as it does deliberation about the means or techniques’.
A New Zealand academic who understood much about the complexities of education is honoured with an annual lecture. Professor Emeritus Graham Nuthall (1935-2004) was famous for a series of studies in the subtle classroom interactions that influence learning.
My address for the Annual Graham Nuthall Lecture next month will be on National Standards, an area where this Government is allowing its enthusiasm for data and targets to damage teaching and learning in primary and intermediate schools.
Most educators remain concerned about central elements of the National Standards policy. This leads to what I suspect is Ryall’s main problem with the education sector, that it has continued to dispute much of the Key Government’s approach to education.
One response is to ask why there isn’t more outspokenness in the health sector also.
Many of Ryall’s ‘quality people’ have just announced they are going on strike for better pay. And anecdotally there are plenty of problems with health practice being distorted by targets and funding arrangements.
Actually it’s important that teachers and other education sector workers see themselves as playing a genuine part in making education policy. Education policy cannot just be implemented in linear fashion, it gets translated and reinterpreted at every level. Teachers don’t simply comply with policy and neither should they if we want a good education system.
Contestation of education policy serves valuable purposes. It circumvents and undermines bad policy. Tony Ryall might look down his nose at those in the education sector but like those in health, they are very dedicated to the welfare of New Zealanders.
And if they can stop a Government imposing bad policy – legend!
About the Author: Martin Thrupp is Professor of Education at the University of Waikato.
What did the RAINs project find about National Standards?
“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.”
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.
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.
It will be a great chance to hear the latest experts such as John O’Neill, Martin Thrupp, Warwick Elley, and the chance to discuss your own concerns at the Teacher Forum – and all for FREE.
The Teacher Forum is focusing on Investing in Success (IES) and, to my mind, is not to be missed. Many well informed people are attending, including Liz Horgan of St Joseph’s, Otahuhu, who will discuss how a group of principals have joined forces to form the CONCERNED NZ PRINCIPALS GROUP because of serious concerns around IES plans.
You can attend any or all of the forum, so do feel free to drop in even if you have only one speaker you really want to hear. (But truly, you should stay for more than one session – it’s not often you get to hear from all of these people first hand and for free.)
WHEN: Saturday 26 April 2014, from 10am.
WHERE: St Columba Centre, 40 Vermont Street, Ponsonby, Auckland
COST: FREE to all
The major research paper, “The Assessment of Teacher Quality” was released late last year by the Massey Education Policy Response Group, led by Ivan Snook. EPRG member, John O’Neill, will give an overview of this major paper, containing a wealth of information on many topics relevant to current discussions: the Treasury Business Process policy agenda; assessing teacher effectiveness; Value Added Measurement; and High Stakes Assessment of teachers.
What are the potential positives and what are the concerns around the NZ Government proposal to create a new set of positions for principals and teachers? QPEC’s initial position was set out in a release issued in January. Martin Thrupp has also released a personal statement and Warwick Elley has had an op-ed published in the NZ Herald.
Liz Horgan of St Joseph’s, Otahuhu, will discuss the CONCERNED NZ PRINCIPALS GROUP’s views.
Representatives from PPTA and NZEI present different perspectives on how these new positions could impact on schools and teachers.
Martin’s 3-year case study of six individual schools has now concluded. He presents an overview of his findings and gives an update on other developments, including further publication of NS achievement data last year.
Warwick has been a concerned critic of standards-based assessment for many years. He has analysed the recent PISA 2012 results and he has a stark warning: “As professionals, teachers are charged to give highest priority to the needs of their students. If we persist with these ill-starred standards-based schemes, we will surely be neglecting those needs. As a nation, too, we are now heavily involved in a race to the bottom.”
The first five charter schools have now opened. Bill gives a quick update on current issues that have arisen so far, including details of the funding given to each school, which has received a great deal of media attention. Applications for the next round of allocations closed on 11 March.
LUNCH BREAK 1.15-2.00
Dianne has joined QPEC during the past year. Dianne publishes her own website, Save Our Schools NZ, and she is also one of the regular contributors to The Daily Blog. Dianne will talk about her website and using social media to stimulate interest in the site.
Please note that the QPEC AGM 2.30-3.00 is members only.
Today the Dyslexia Foundation New Zealand (DFNZ), who I have a huge amount of respect for, sent out an email celebrating positive changes for dyslexic students in the education sector. But the email has me concerned. It tells me:
“There is … a tidal wave of change driven by ultra fast internet access and the “bring your own device to school” model, and a significant financial commitment by government aimed to improve leadership and retain great teachers. This might well signal a “perfect storm” that will further advance changes that will benefit our dyslexic students.”
Fast internet – great. But, of course, the key is still that there must be a teacher there who understands dyslexia and knows what apps would be best for the student. The internet without the expertise is of limited use.
BYOD – great. So long as all students have access to a device…..
… and I agree dyslexic students need better support and changes need to happen.
But I’m not sure how DFNZ sees the new roles as supporting this.
Perfect Storm? Really?
Does the Dyslexia Foundation really believe current government initiatives will “improve leadership and retain great teachers”?Because that’s not the feedback I am hearing.
In fact, teachers are saying in their droves they have had it up to the back teeth with the constant reforms hitting the wrong areas and that special needs students are being let down badly by the system.
When the “super roles” were first announced, DFNZ put out a press release in which it said:
“it is critical that the external panel filling these new school roles has recognised expertise in addressing a range of learning differences and preferences. It has welcomed the Government’s intention to work with key sector groups to further develop and finalise details of the new approach.”
DFNZ seems to be unaware that key sector groups are being given incredibly limited say in the roles and that the bones of them have been set by government and are not up for negotiation. Maybe they could watch and think about this video, which shows that the principals will be chosen by government not by the education sector. And the roles themselves are to be driven by “achievement”, by which the government mean more National Standards and NCEA results.
DFNZ responded to my querying their stance by saying “The DFNZ hasn’t entered the debate around National Standards, and doesn’t plan on doing so.”
But they have. Unwittingly, maybe, but it doesn’t change the fact that their email essentially shows they are in support of proposals and roles that are to be underpinned by test results, which for primary schools is National Standards.
That would be all well and good if NS helped students. But having ‘Standards’ for reading and writing does not help teachers do any better job of teaching anyone let alone special needs students. Nor does it help students learn better.
Teachers already had, before National Standards, plenty of benchmarks and rubrics to refer to. They already undertook regular testing to check where students were and what to teach next. Sadly, all National Standards has added is more admin (oh the teacher hours inputting the data), a stick with which to beat schools via league tables, and another damaging label for those most in need.
“Teachers in most of the schools were clear that labelling children ‘below’ or ‘well below’ was unhelpful or damaging. This was considered especially problematic when there were lots of children with ESOL backgrounds or children with special needs…”
Entrenching National Standards further is counter-productive to the goal of ” personalised teaching, multi-sensory and experiential learning, and the opportunity to present alternative evidence of achievement instead of standard written material” that DFNZ wants.
When grades are given such a huge focus, especially at primary school level, the focus inevitably drifts to getting those just on the cusp of ‘passing’, up and over that threshold. Those deemed to have no hope of getting above or well above often end up faring worst of all. That shift is not always done intentionally, but it happens.
Is that really a perfect storm? Or just a storm?
What teachers want is time, resources and support to improve their own understanding of dyslexic and other special needs students.
When I was teaching dyslexic students I had none of that and was left to do what I could by reading up online and learning on the fly. Other teachers told me they were in the same boat. And since I have been out of teaching, I am told things are far worse, with parents and teachers constantly upset by having to fight to get support and help for students, end even then they nearly always end up with nothing.
Hey, look, The Dyslexia Foundation know all of that already, they know that more support and training is needed, and they do a brilliant job advocating for that. They are great, and I applaud their advocacy for dyslexic students and families.
Why they seem so supportive of the super roles, however, remains a mystery.
Installation by Martin Thrupp, Donn Ratana and Viv Aitken
Faculty of Education, University of Waikato, March 2014
This year the Key Government has become unusually upbeat about schools. Festivals of Education are celebrating innovations, collaborations and achievements within the sector. An ‘InspiredbyU’ campaign has been encouraging New Zealanders to write in praise of teachers who have influenced their lives. In January, $359 million of new funding for principals and teacher ‘super roles’ was announced, the so-called ‘Investing in Educational Success’ policy.
This enthusiasm comes after five years of being critical of schools and teachers and often applying damaging policies. It also comes in election year, and just in advance of an ‘International Summit on the Teaching Profession’ where education ministers, heads of teacher unions and teacher leaders from the OECD are gathering in Wellington.
New Zealand’s Education Minister, Hekia Parata, has claimed it is credit to the quality of our education system that this event is being held in New Zealand.
In these circumstances (i.e. in case anyone should get a false impression!) our video highlights how the Key Government’s policies are creating a grave situation for the New Zealand School System.
Serious concerns are being voiced that government’s ever-increasing emphasis on National Standards is leading to a narrowing of the curriculum for students, with reading, writing and mathematics becoming the be-all and end-all, to the detriment of other subject areas.
This concern has grown with the news that ERO (the Education Review Office) will from this year explicitly use schools’ National Standards data and compare it with local and national averages in order to judge schools.
Principals argue that the move will lead to schools to “neglect science, the arts and other aspects of children’s development” as they become more concerned with how they fare on league tables than about quality, broad education.
There are concerns that it will lead to a focus on those students who are deemed to be just below the “at” level, with those who are “below”*, “well below”* or “above” standard losing out because they are either already over the “at” hurdle or are deemed to be too far away from it to reach in time for data collection.
There are also very valid concerns that the pressure of such a Big Brother system (especially if paired with performance pay as it has been elsewhere) could lead to either conscious or subconscious inflation of test results, as teachers and schools begin to work in fear.
The Research, Analysis and Insight into National Standards (RAINS) project found that National Standards:
“…are having some favourable impacts in areas that include teacher understanding of curriculum levels, motivation of some teachers and children and some improved targeting of interventions. Nevertheless such gains are overshadowed by damage being done through the intensification of staff workloads, curriculum narrowing and the reinforcement of a two-tier curriculum, the positioning and labelling of children and unproductive new tensions amongst school staff.”
Those concerns are clearly not being taken seriously, and instead a new level of pressure is being layered on.
Of course ERO say there is nothing to worry about, as does Hekia Parata. But given this government’s repeated bullying of schools, failures to properly consult, and dishonesty about matters pertaining to education, it’s safe to say most teachers and parents will take that assertion with a large pinch of salt.
* (Note, “below standard” and “well below standard” are government’s terms, not mine. I find them incredibly distasteful.)
We already have teachers, principals, academics, and the RAINS Project all warning us how National Standards are leading to a narrowing of the curriculum, but if you still doubt the effect of benchmarks on WHO teachers are pushed to focus on, then read no further than this warning from a colleague in the USA:
Today we had a grade level meeting about the NWEA scores for the fourth grade students at my school. We teachers were all given printouts of our students’ most recent scores: RIT bands, percentiles, the whole shebang.
Then we were instructed to highlight the students in our classes who had scored between the 37th and 50th percentile. These students, the admin informed us, are the most important students in the class; they are the ones most likely to reach the 51stpercentile when students take the NWEA again in May.
Making the 51st percentile is VERY important to CPS [Chicago Public Schools], and thus to principals, literacy coordinators, test specialists and teachers-who-don’t-want-to-lose-their-jobs.
It might not be important to individual students, their parents or anyone else, but it is life or death in Chicago Public Schools.
We nodded, wide-eyed. These students, our guide continued, should be your primary focus. Make sure they get whatever they need to bring them up to that percentile. Sign them up for any and all academic programs, meet with them daily in small groups, give them extra homework, have them work with available tutors…whatever it takes.
What about the kids at the very bottom, one teacher wondered, the kids under the 20th percentile…shouldn’t they be offered more support too? The admin squirmed a bit. Well, they don’t really have any chance of hitting the goal, so for right now, no. There was silence.
Left unsaid was what might, could, will happen to any school that does NOT have enough students meet that magic number. No one really needs to say it. We all saw the 50 schools that got closed down last year. We see the charters multiplying around us. We’ve also seen the steady stream of displaced teachers come through our school doors as substitutes. We know that we could be next.
This is what happens when politicians take over the education system and it become more about benchmarks, milestones and arbitrary standards rather than being about educating each and every child so that they can achieve their best.
It’s not education, it hoop jumping. And it stinks.