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Fact Checker: David Seymour and “School Choice”

The ACT Party’s ideological bent for privatisation is clear when David Seymour talks about the government’s decision to “take school choice away” from kids if his charter school model is abolished.

But the New Zealand system already has a remarkable variety of options available without the need to privatise the provision of public education.

US commentator, Marc Tucker, had this to say on “school choice” in an article that appeared in the Washington Post, in October 2012:

“The country with the most aggressive school choice system in the world is probably New Zealand”

And that was before we introduced the charter school ideology!

Mr Seymour might also want to check the views of parents a bit more widely than asking the National Party pollster, David Farrar, to run a poll for him.

Regular surveys of New Zealand parents carried out by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER), have consistently found that around 90% of both primary school and secondary school parents state that their child is attending the school of their choice.

And these numbers have hardly changed over the 25 years or so that NZCER has run these surveys.

Most New Zealanders understand that the phrase “School Choice” was used by Milton Friedman to advocate for the privatised, market model of education provision that he believed should replace the institution of public education.

Fortunately, the vast majority of New Zealand families do not support either the ACT Party or its ideology.

~ Bill Courtney, SOSNZ

Further reading:

Parent and whānau perspectives on their child’s schooling: Findings from the NZCER national survey of primary and intermediate schools 2016, by Linda Bonne and Eliza Stevens

 

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

 

Does poverty impact student achievement? The research says yes.

Hekia Parata today wheeled out her favourite trope “decile is not destiny” in a bid to convince us that poverty has little to no impact on a student’s educational and life success.  She quoted (or misquotes or misrepresents, take your pick) OECD research, saying poverty only has an 18% impact on students. Source

Whether the Minister truly believes her own rhetoric, one can only guess, but it is safe to say that for most students the socio-economic background in which they grow up has a life-long impact on their chances of success.

And whilst we disagree on many things, I believe Ms Parata and I agree on this: the current situation isn’t good enough and needs to change.  So here’s some further research for her to consider:

  • Because of the socio-economic gap, there is an “enormous disparity in children’s home backgrounds and the social and cultural capital they bring to the educational table” (Benn & Millar, 2006 p. 23).
  • The “gap” is not restricted to one society (e.g. USA or NZ) or to one type of society (e.g. English-speaking); it occurs in every developed society. Students with good family resources out-perform those without (Biddulph, et al, 2003).
  • Most significantly, the OECD having studied 25 school systems (not including New Zealand) to determine the determinants of school achievement, found that, “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” (OECD, 2005, p. 2).
  • “The evidence from empirical research is that education and social disadvantage are closely connected and that people from less advantaged family backgrounds acquire significantly less education than their more advantaged counterparts.  This translates into significantly reduced life chances as individuals’ economic and social outcomes as adults are significantly hampered by lower education levels owing to social disadvantage.” (Machin, OECD Social, Employment and migration Working Papers No. 32 – Social Disadvantage and Education Experiences, p. 26 – Source).
  • Even the US Office of Education, despite its support for “accountability based programmes”, having reviewed the international evidence, admitted that it was clear that “most participating countries do not differ significantly from the United States in terms of the strength of relationship between socioeconomic status and literacy in any subject”  (Lemke, et al, 2002, p. 35).
  • When children attend schools which are widely different in social class composition, the gaps between the aggregate achievement of schools mirrors closely the gaps between the social classes which predominate in them.  Based on his research in New Zealand (and consistent with many overseas studies) Richard Harker has claimed that “anywhere between 70-80% of the between schools variance is due to the student ‘mix’ which means that only between 20% and 30% is attributable to the schools themselves” (Harker, 1995, p.74).

And a final sage word from David Berliner:

“People with strong faith in public schools are to be cherished and the same is true of each example of schools that have overcome enormous odds. The methods of those schools need to be studied, promoted and replicated so that more educators will be influenced by their success.

But these successes should not be used as a cudgel to attack other educators and schools. And they should certainly never be used to excuse societal neglect of the very causes of the obstacles that extraordinary educators must overcome.

It is poor policy indeed that erects huge barriers to the success of millions of students, cherrypicks and praises a few schools that appear to clear these barriers, and then blames the other schools for their failure to do so.”

If we truly want to improve the chances for those with lower socio-economic backgrounds, we must stop the soundbites, blaming and ideology and turn our minds to the wealth of quality research, which must then be read without agenda and applied honestly. Our students deserve nothing less.

Dianne Khan

SOSNZ

Sources and Further Reading

The Gap – EXCUSES, EXCUSES: SOCIAL CLASS AND EDUCATIONAL ACHIEVEMENT, by Massey University Emeritus Professor Ivan Snook

Berliner, David C. (2009). Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit.    http://epicpolicy.org/publication/poverty-and-potential.

Chenoweth,Karin. (2007). It’s Being Done: Academic Success in Unexpected Schools. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Ministry of Education (2009). National Standards and Reporting to Parents. Wellington: NZ Government.

Lemke,M et al (2002). Outcomes of Learning:Results from the 2000 Program for International Student Assessment of 15-year-olds in Reading, Mathematics and Science Literacy. Washington: US Office of Education

OECD (2005). Teachers matter: Attracting, developing and retaining effective teachers. Overview. Paris: OECD.  http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/39/47/34990905.pd

Rothstein, Richard (2004). Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic, and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap. Economic Policy Institute, Teachers’College, Columbia University.

Tunmer, W. and J. Prochnow (in press). Cultural Relativism and Literacy Education: Explicit Teaching based on Specific Learning Needs is not Deficit Theory.

Wilkinson,R. and K.Pickett (2009). The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always do Better. Allen Lane, an Imprint of Penguin Books, London.

SOCIAL CLASS AND EDUCATIONAL ACHIEVEMENT: BEYOND IDEOLOGY. Ivan Snook Massey University, October 2009

Do NZ teachers work 44 hours a week?

timesheetI saw in a One News report that the teachers in New Zealand work an average of just 44 hours, and I have to say it came as something of a surprise.

  • That’s roughly 8-4 each day plus 4 more hours…
  • or 8-5 Monday to Thursday and 8-4 Friday…
  • or 8-3.30 Monday to Friday and 2.5 hours on a Sunday arvo…

You get the picture.

I concluded that 44 hours doesn’t match with my own experiences, but I am only one, so I asked other teachers what hours they worked. I only got a few replies, but each one was over 44 hours, and it got me thinking – where did that 44 hour figure come from?

So I went in search of the original report…*

Thanks to the Twitterverse and some hearty teamwork (thanks Tom), I found Insights for Teachers: A profile of teachers who teach Year 7-10 students and their principals, and it didn’t take long at all to see where the problem was:

The report notes that the average working hours number “includes both full and part-time teachers”

Well there you go then!

Throwing around the ’44 hours a week’ statement without mentioning that teensy details renders the information somewhat useless.

Consider this:

  • if one is employed full time and works an average 44 hour week, it could well be considered a win.
  • however, if one is employed to work 16 hours and yet work 44 hours, one would be less impressed. **

Lazy journalism means this finer detail didn’t get an airing.

The report itself notes that:

“There are some limitations with this measure [of hours worked]. In particular, the average includes both full and part-time teachers. It also includes hours for teachers with little or no management responsibility through to those whose time is mostly spent on management. There is a wide variation in the total hours worked reported by teachers…

We are currently doing further analysis to better understand the variation in total hours worked, teaching hours and the factors contributing to this variation.

So for the mainstream media to trumpet that teachers work an average of 44 hours a week and not offer any context is at best shonkey and at worst misrepresentation.

The researchers involved in the original report are looking into the data more closely. Whether the media will report it any more accurately is another thing.

~ Dianne

Sources and footnotes:

* Note to journalists, you really ought to link to the original research you are reporting, especially when you just copy and paste the bullet points without analysing the data in any shape, way, or form. Because, you know, that’s good practice. Thank you.

** I speak from experience

https://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/publications/schooling/insights-for-teachers

Representations of the teacher in mainstream versus alternative media, by Leon Salter

My research is looking into how the media discursively constructs ‘the teacher’ in Aotearoa New Zealand; specifically in mainstream media such as newspaper editorials or right-wing blogs, as against alternative media such as teacher-blogs and social media, which confer some degree of control to those represented. At the heart of this is a highly political discursive struggle to define the role of the teacher, and so more broadly, the purposes of education.

The signifier ‘quality teacher’ has become a political tool within Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) policy frameworks. The highly controversial Treasury’s Advice on Lifting Student Achievement in New Zealand: Evidence Brief (2012), stated that class sizes were less important than the quality of teaching, therefore rationalizing that the legal limit on class-sizes could be raised. The government, fortunately, was forced to back down on this. However, what has remained is the reasoned argument within the text:

  • A significant proportion of New Zealand students are achieving poorly (Maori, Pasifika and low socio-economic background students)
  • Within schools, teachers have the greatest influence on student learning
  • The key to improving student outcomes is to ensure consistently high quality teaching for all students, in all schools

mediaThe holes in this nice simple argument have been pulled apart by Massey University’s Education Policy Response Group; namely that the evidence simply isn’t there that New Zealand’s minorities are performing badly in comparison to other OECD nations, especially considering New Zealand’s high-levels of inequality, and that “socio-economic background and prior experience of students are the main influences on learning”.

Nevertheless, the rationale has now taken a life of its own; New Zealand teachers are currently of poor-quality, and that this is impacting both the futures of minority students, and the country’s hopes of being economically prosperous down the line.

This rationale works to legitimize the policies of National Standards and Investing in Educational Success, and also future policy directions such as teacher pay and professional development to be linked more directly to National Standards data (see the New Zealand Initiative’s World Class Education?: Why New Zealand must strengthen its teaching profession).

National Standards as a policy was introduced to the public with a populist rhetoric, which was all about holding the school system and teachers to account to the taxpayer and to empower parents by facilitating their “‘voice’ and ‘choice’ in discussions about their children’s educational progress” (O’Neill, 2014). The neoliberal logic is that teachers could not possibly be motivated by professional ethics or an altruistic concern for students. In today’s ‘audit society’, in order to raise the quality of teaching, teachers must be held accountable through the audit systems of New Public Management; the three E’s of ; ‘economy’, ‘efficiency’ and ‘effectiveness’ (Power, 1999).

This logic is prevalent within mainstream media discourse. Mike Hosking’s 2012 editorial piece National Standards hold schools to account presents a common-sense ‘we the people’ rhetorical position: we are all already held to account by data and work in high-competition environments, so why not teachers? Anyone that refuses to be held to account by numbers (equated with truth), are implicitly lazy, incompetent, and over unionized:

They also don’t like it of course because numbers tell the truth. Numbers are the facts and the facts are that in some schools, in some subjects, in some regions, things aren’t what they should be. Where once you could fill the room with enough hot air to bluster your way through it, numbers bust the myths.

One of the great lessons of life is we need to be held to account. Held to account in all areas and aspects of our lives by all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons. These figures start to hold our schools and the systems in which we teach our kids to account. That can be no bad thing.

(Hosking, 2012)

The teacher in mainstream policy and media discourse, therefore, tends to be represented by two extremes (often simultaneously): potential saviour of the economy and/or lazy, incompetent and unaccountable (Taubman, 2009).

The purpose of this research therefore is to explore the potential of alternative media for teachers to take some control over their own representation, which gives them a voice often denied in neoliberalized mainstream media (Couldry, 2010). As Nick Couldry said, in these times of increasing privatization of public spaces, education and broadcasting, voice matters.

Alternative media is therefore defined as oppositional media; a voice which challenges the representations, logics and definitions of the status quo.

As well as blogs such as this one and Kelvin Smythe’s, I want to conceptualize the NZEI’s various media practices such as their website, their magazine Education Aotearoa, and their Stand Up For Kids Facebook group page as alternative media. Such spaces offer vitally important sites for alternative conceptions of what it means to be a teacher and the purposes of education itself going forward.

by Leon Salter, School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing, Massey University Wellington

l.a.salter@massey.ac.nz

References

Couldry, N. (2010). Why voice matters : Culture and politics after neoliberalism. London: SAGE.

Education Policy Response Group. (2013). The assessment of teacher quality: An investigation into current issues in evaluating and rewarding teachers. Institute of Education, Massey University

Hosking, M. (2012, September 24). Mike’s Editorial: National Standards hold schools to account. Retrieved from http://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/auckland/opinion/mikes-editorial-24sep2012

Morris, J., & Patterson, R. (2014). World Class Education?: Why New Zealand must strengthen its teaching profession The New Zealand Initiative.

O’Neill, J. (2014). Rationalising national assessment in New Zealand. International Education Journal: Comparative Perspectives, 12(2).

Power, M. (1999). The audit society: Rituals of verification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Taubman, P. M. (2009). Teaching by numbers : deconstructing the discourse of standards and accountability in education. New York; London: Routledge.

The Treasury. (2012). Treasury’s Advice on Lifting Student Achievement in New Zealand: Evidence Brief.

Education and Poverty in New Zealand – research, publications and groups

 

twelve thousand hours bookTwelve Thousand Hours: Education and Poverty in Aotearoa New Zealand

by Vicki Carpenter

“There is well-documented concern regarding the links between poverty and education; statistics demonstrate, over many decades, that the economically poorer the New Zealand child’s family, the more likely it is the child will not reach her/his potential.

“The blame for such inequitable outcomes is variously placed on children’s families and communities, on teachers and schools, and on wider structural and system injustices.

“The contributors to this book are key NZ writers and thinkers in the field of education and poverty.

“Reasons for our contemporary schooling’s inequitable outcomes are examined and critiqued.”

The book can be purchased here.

 

 

Child Poverty in New Zealand

Child Poverty in New Zealand

by Jonathan Boston and Simon Chapple

“Child poverty could be addressed with help from money freed up by lifting the age of eligibility for NZ Super, a new book, Child Poverty In New Zealand, out this weekend has claimed.

‘The book’s authors, academics Jonathan Boston and Simon Chapple, said progressively deferring NZ Super until age 67 would be a reasonable step to free up money to reduce the blight of child poverty.

“They canvassed various ways to raise the money needed to make inroads into child poverty and therefore lift the trajectory of our economy.”

Source: NZ Herald

 

Inequality - a New Zealand Crisis - bookInequality: A New Zealand Crisis

This book “examines the explosion in the rich-poor divide during the last 30 years, its effects on our society, and how it might be reversed.

“The book has generated widespread discussion and numerous reviews, articles and comments, many of which can be found at www.bwb.co.nz/books/inequality. Since its publication, the rise of interest in inequality has continued, and the issue is becoming one of the defining subjects of the 2014 election campaign.

“In March this year, we published ‘The Inequality Debate: An Introduction‘, a short guide to inequality in New Zealand based on the opening chapters of the 2013 work.”

Source: http://www.maxrashbrooke.org.nz/inequality/

 

 

Reports from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner

 

Children's Commissioner logoSUMMARY REPORT: PARENTS’, FAMILIES AND WHĀNAU CONTRIBUTIONS TO EDUCATION SUCCESS

Office of the Children’s Commissioner, July 2013

A summary of the working paper ‘Parents’, Families’ and Whānau Contributions to Educational Success’.

http://www.occ.org.nz/publications/reports/?category=6

 

 

Children's Commissioner logoPOSITION ON PARTNERSHIP SCHOOLS KURA HOURUA

Office of the Children’s Commissioner, May 2012

This paper outlines the Children’s Commissioner’s position on partnership schools kura hourua and his views on the key elements that could be implemented to support the education success of all New Zealanders.

http://www.occ.org.nz/assets/Uploads/Reports/Education/Position-on-partnership-schools.pdf

 

Children's Commissioner logoTHROUGH THEIR LENS – An inquiry into non parental education and care of infants and toddlers

Dr Janis Carroll-Lind and Dr John Angus, Office of the Children’s Commissioner, February 2011

This paper reports on an inquiry into the impact being enrolled in formal non-parental early childhood services has on children’s wellbeing and makes recommendations on service delivery.

http://www.occ.org.nz/publications/reports/?category=6

 

Other sources of information on poverty, children’s rights, and education

Inequality – a New Zealand Conversation – http://www.inequality.org.nz/

Office of the Children’s Commissioner – http://www.occ.org.nz/

Child Poverty Action Group – http://www.cpag.org.nz/

Tick For Kids – http://tick4kids.org.nz/

https://www.facebook.com/InsideChildPoverty

https://www.facebook.com/cpagNZ

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Childrens-Commissioner-NZ/186408948108425

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Otago Uni Survey – Financial costs associated with compulsory education in New Zealand

take the surveyResearchers at Otago University are conducting an online survey to find out about the costs associated with compulsory schooling in New Zealand, and what effect families think costs have on students’ participation in school-based activities.

If you are a parent or caregiver of a child in a state or state-integrated school in New Zealand, they would very much like you to take part.

To read more about the survey and, if you choose, to take part, CLICK HERE.  This does not commit you to taking part.

If you do fill in the survey, your information will not be kept unless you click the button at the end of the survey that asks you to agree to your survey being kept. 

The survey itself will take around 15 minutes to complete.

To read more and maybe take part, CLICK HERE.

 

Here is more information:

What is the Aim of the Project?

This research is designed to explore:

  • the kinds of school-related activities and experiences that incur a financial cost to parents and caregivers of students in state and state-integrated schools
  • the costs that parents and caregivers feel obliged to pay, and those that they believe they need to pay in order for their child to receive normal school experiences
  • whether parents and caregivers believe financial cost influences their child’s ability to take part in curricular and extra-curricular activities offered by their school.

What Types of Participants are being sought?

We are seeking participation from parents and caregivers of students in state and state-integrated schools throughout New Zealand.

What Data or Information will be collected and what use will be made of it?

The questionnaire asks what school your children attend, how many children attend this school, what school-related costs you have paid, what payments you felt obliged to make, and other related questions. If you wish to receive a copy of the results of the research, you will be asked to provide your e-mail address, but this will not be stored with the questionnaire. The data will be hosted on a University web server, and protected by passwords held only by the researchers. Data obtained as a result of the research will be retained for at least 5 years, and possibly indefinitely. In the final research, schools will be identified by decile (no school names will be included, but school regions might be, where the researchers believe this will not compromise school anonymity).

The results of the project may be published and will be available in the University of Otago Library (Dunedin, New Zealand).

Participants who provide their e-mail addresses and indicate they would like a copy of the results will be e-mailed one at the conclusion of the research.

Can Participants change their mind and withdraw from the project?

On the last page of the questionnaire, there is a tick box to indicate you agree to your answers being kept. If you decide not to tick this, we will delete your answers from the database. If you do tick this box, you won’t be able to remove your answers from the database, because we won’t keep any identifying information, such as your name, that would allow us to distinguish your questionnaire from others.

What if Participants have any Questions?

If you have any questions about the project, either now or in the future, please feel free to contact:
Dr. Ruth Gasson
University of Otago College of Education
University Telephone Number 0-3-4794940
e-Mail: <ruth.gasson@otago.ac.nz>

This study has been approved by the University of Otago College of Education. However, if you have any concerns about the ethical conduct of the research you may contact the University of Otago Human Ethics Committee through the Human Ethics Committee Administrator (ph 0-3-4798256). Any issues you raise will be treated in confidence and investigated and you will be informed of the outcome.

Confusion over role of NZ’s first Chief Education Scientific Advisor

Professor Stuart McNaughton has been appointed New Zealand’s first Chief Education Scientific Advisor.  His job is to promote the use of sound scientific research in the forming of education policy, and to help ensure that changes are based on this rigorous research.

It’s a positive move, assuming he is listened to and does indeed consider all the research out there.  For example, if research were the basis for whether or not performance pay was put in place, it would be a no go as there is a strong body of research out there showing that it does not improve student outcomes and in fact causes harm.

So I welcome him to the role with hope.

What’s not so hopeful is John Key’s endorsement:

“We think it’s a great idea to be focussing on science for our youngsters,” he said.
“I think we can always do better, the main thing is to encourage more youngsters to be actively interested in science – it’s very important for our economy, and it’s very important for how we can perform as a country.”

not a mad scientistBut here’s the thing, Mr Key … the role is not about teaching science.  Not at all.  Prof. McNaughton is charged with USING sound scientific principles and research to ASSESS possible education POLICY and make recommendations.

He is not teaching science, teaching science teachers, doing anything with the science curriculum.  Okay?

It doesn’t give much faith the role is being taken seriously when the PM is confused about what it’s for.

Good luck, Professor McNaughton.

 

Charter school misinformation

bad researchThe University of Arkansas (UARK) recently produced a report that concluded US charter schools, despite being terribly underfunded, were performing favourably compared to US state schools, being only slightly behind state schools in test scores.

The report has, of course, been trumpeted by our own lovely right wing blogs here in NZ as proof that charter schools are the way forward.  Predictably, Kiwiblog and the like were not so fast to look at criticisms of the University of Arkansas’s research.

In School Finance 101: UARK Study Shamelessly (& Knowingly) Uses Bogus Measures to Make Charter Productivity Claims, Bruce D. Baker picks the claims apart in great detail.

Note: Baker’s analysis is not a swift overview or cherry picking from a blogger, pundit or journalist playing to the crowd.   He is well placed to critique the research – he is a Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, where he teaches courses in school finance policy and district business management.  The report was produced by the National Education Policy Centre at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

What did the UARK Research find?

The report found that student performance at charter schools is roughly on par with public school performance.

The research relied primarily on one standardized test, the NAEP. Researchers took NAEP scores in reading and math from 28 states, then broke them down by schools’ funding per student.  It concluded that, as charter schools tend to have lower budgets than public schools, they can be deemed to perform better dollar for dollar,

Criticism of the UARK Research

Baker’s critique pointed out that “among other things … making comparisons of charters schools to district schools statewide is misguided – deceitful in fact” as the schools being compared are not in the same settings.  Therefore, to take just one factor in isolation is not rigorous or reliable.

Of the methodology used by the researchers, Baker concludes they either show”an egregious display of complete ignorance and methodological ineptitude, or this new report is a blatant and intentional misrepresentation of data” as the analysis is so faulty.

Baker states that the report ‘constructs entirely inappropriate comparisons of student population characteristics’

He goes on to say that” the report displays complete lack of understanding of intergovernmental fiscal relationships, which results in the blatantly erroneous assignment of “revenues” between charters and district schools.”

He concludes:

“Simply put, the findings and conclusions of the study are not valid or useful.”

Baker’s full report and analysis is here.

Other Criticism

Ted Kolderie is a senior associate with Education Evolving, an education policy nonprofit, and has worked on charter school research for years. Kolderie says  “This is the kind of quote-unquote ‘study’ we’ve been seeing for years that falls into the category of ‘advocacy research,’ and to take it with a grain of salt.

Impartial Research?

There are other serious concerns.  We have to question the impartiality of research that comes from the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, which was established and is funded in part by The Walton Foundation, a huge proponent of charter schools and where one of the researchers in the team was recruited directly from a conservative think tank.

The Walton Foundation has its fingers well and truly in the charter school pie and is incredibly vested in their success:

  • Since 2002, the charter network in Washington DC alone has received close to $1.2 million from The Walton Foundation in direct grants.
  • Walton has given grants to one in four charter start-ups in the country, for a total of $335 million.
  • The foundation has awarded more than $1 billion in grants nationally to educational efforts since 2000, making it one of the largest private contributors to education in the country.  Source

Do Your Research

So, when reading the railings of our rather interesting right wing bloggers, extolling the virtues of charter schools as proven by research like this, it pays to look into things in more detail.

Given the choice between the analysis of Baker, Kolderie and the New York Times or that of Whale Oil and Kiwiblog, I know which I find more reliable.

________________________________________________

Sources and further reading:

National Education Policy Centre – REVIEW OF CHARTER FUNDING: INEQUITY EXPANDS, Reviewed By Bruce D. Baker, Rutgers University, May 2014

http://nepc.colorado.edu/blog/uark-study-shamelessly

http://www.npr.org/blogs/ed/2014/07/22/334049393/charters-money-and-test-scores

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/26/us/a-walmart-fortune-spreading-charter-schools.html?_r=0

 

Hoping for some honest answers on charter schools

 

bagbreatheTeachers don’t often switch off.  A good friend refers to holidays as “non-contact” time. And given our government’s habit of pushing through major education legislation during the holidays, you start to feel like those kids in Jurassic Park, sheltering and hyper-aware of every movement as the velociraptors keep testing for gaps in the perimeter.

Saturday’s the one morning I do try to disengage the teacher brain and enjoy a meander round our local farmers’ market with my mum. But this weekend, the Act party were on the “community group” stall – including the Epsom candidate, David Seymour, who assisted John Banks with the drafting of Act’s charter schools policy.

I’ve read and archived more than 500 articles and op-eds on the decimation of American public schooling in favour of charter schools; that virtual pinboard records the same cynical treatment of state schools in the UK – and now here. It fills me with a cold anger that this is being done to students, teachers and schools. Community as a concept is avidly being unpicked. And schools are some of the nicest communities I’ve ever experienced, held together by a lot of personal sacrifice. Targeting them seems like the educational equivalent of harp-seal clubbing.

So this was a chance to talk to the people who are doing things to education – and fair play, Seymour was fronting up in public. Some other politicians who are neck-deep in this aren’t very good at that.

The charter schools pilot makes me want to grab a paper bag and breathe into it vigorously. Part of my job is to promote scientific thinking in children. It’s the simplest of bottom lines: you keep all variables but the one you’re examining the same for it to be a fair test. Charter school students were receiving more funding per head than public school students, and class sizes were 12-15 compared to 28+ in public schools. So that was one of the questions I put to Mr Seymour – how can this test be called “fair”?

The information on funding is “untrue”  and class sizes “will grow,” he said. But, I said, that’s not what some charter schools are advertising on radio.
I was then informed that it was a “natural experiment”, and results would be “corrected”, controlling for covariates after the trial.  I did a bit more reading later on – yes, they are an option when testing in science. The following gave me slight pause:
“Natural experiments are employed as study designs when controlled experimentation is extremely difficult to implement or unethical, such as in several research areas addressed by epidemiology (e.g., evaluating the health impact of varying degrees of exposure to ionizing radiation in people living near Hiroshima at the time of the atomic blast) and economics (e.g., estimating the economic return on amount of schooling in US adults.”

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

Apparently I’m a ‘conspiracy theorist’ for believing that charter schools are the beginning of privatisation by stealth, no matter how much evidence there is for it in America and the United Kingdom. But you heard it here first, and I asked if I could quote him on it: schools will not be forcibly privatised against the wishes of their communities, as is happening in Britain. I look forward to following that up.

I asked him about the effect of competition on the thing that makes good education: sharing of knowledge and resources. He hadn’t heard of the charter school in New York visited by a New Zealand teacher, where all doors, windows and cupboards are locked – not because it’s a dangerous neighbourhood, but because teachers are worried about others “stealing” their ideas.

Seymour challenged me on what I would do with a middle school like the one he attended, where children were apparently allowed to run around and do whatever they liked. (Aren’t there mechanisms in place already? Commissioners?) He also asked if I had visited any of the charter schools myself – the people behind them were all good people, doing good things. I asked him if he’d visited any of the schools in the area where I work to see the good things they were doing, too.

Seymour was lukewarm on the idea of National Standards – shock! common ground? – but it’s because they run counter to Act’s ideas of “freedom” from government control. It was my first real-life encounter with someone who believes so fervently in decentralisation, and it was a strange feeling. Like standing on opposite sides of a Wile E Coyote canyon and trying to make ourselves understood.

It was also fairly heartbreaking to hear an older supporter on the stand, someone kind enough to volunteer to read with children at a school in an area of very high need, ask “Why can’t we just give it a go? Why can’t we have a choice?”

If it really was just about choice, and getting the best deal for our kids, and the public system wasn’t steadily being undermined at the same time, maybe I wouldn’t be so angry.
So I left, feeling like I’d engaged in some harp-seal clubbing of my own in directing that beam of fury at the two ACT supporter ladies. (And embarrassed that I’d lost track of time and stood Dianne up for breakfast.)

Funny how a day can pan out, however. Later at the Quality Public Education Coalition forum, chairman Bill Courtney caused heads to swivel when he greeted Alwyn Poole in the audience before giving an update on charter schools. Poole is the principal of Mt Hobson Middle School. He’s also a member of the Villa Education Trust, whose South Auckland Middle School is one of the first in the charter schools pilot.

What a magnificent thing it was to be able to ask questions openly of someone involved in this, and to receive frank answers. (At last!) And to know that this person has extensive experience in education (and multiple teaching qualifications).

Courtney’s talk used South Auckland Middle School’s figures to explain how funding has been allocated. He also made the point that the charter school model has been hijacked by the privatisation movement. One of the first proponents of the idea, Albert Shanker, saw it as a way to allow teachers greater autonomy, to engage the students who weren’t being served by normal schools.

This sounds like what Poole’s schools have been able to do: Poole said he works with children with needs like dyslexia or Asperger’s, or kids who need a “boost” at middle school level. He was asked why couldn’t he achieve it within the system as a special character school. In 2002, that option was “blocked”. They were looking for “ways of expanding what we do”, so applied for the partnership school option.

The school doesn’t carry the same infrastructure as state schools, principals do admin and teach, and they have “a nice lease agreement”. They also have qualified teachers and teach to the New Zealand Curriculum.

Poole was also asked if some of the biggest barriers to learning faced by many schools in Manukau, such as transience, were problems for his school. Transience, less so, but they have had a small degree of truancy (10 hours), and two students had a conflict and left during the school day.

 

Chest

Class size, and the basic mathematics of time for giving one-to-one support, seems to me to be the elephant in the educational tent. It’s splitting it at the seams as most politicians studiously try to avoid treading in its dung.

Unlike many politicians, Poole openly acknowledges that their 1:15 ratio is part of their success in helping students. Why not campaign for the same ratio for state schools? an audience member asked.
Poole:  “We love our 1:15 ratio and we would advocate for it very strongly.”

Poole said that they’ve also applied to the Ministry for funding to evaluate their model with the help of the University of Florida.

I went up to him afterwards to say thank you, and realised he must have seen some of my trail of articles on charters on the SOSNZ Facebook page (eek).

We touched on something that came up when he spoke to us: dyslexia. When I was a BT, I had a fantastic student who was also dyslexic.  I also had a fairly big class and very basic training in how best to support him, but fortunately, he had a proactive mum who could share her knowledge. I still collect resources now based on what I wish I could have done for him.
Poole started to talk about the things they do, and there was that moment, that neat spark you get when you meet another teacher who might have the solution for the child that you want to help, who will no doubt share it with you, because that’s what we’re both here for, after all.

And that’s what I find hardest to accept: we have educators being pitted against educators in this. Experience, training and knowledge is being dissed.

When stuff like this is happening, the problem is now having faith that the current Ministry of Education is “getting out of bed every morning”, as Courtney put it, with their main aim being to guarantee every child a quality education.
But as Courtney notes, there is no official, publicly available ‘Isaac Report’ to enlighten us on the findings of Catherine Isaac’s working party.  There is no attempt to be scientific and explain how the government intends to evaluate the pilot schools, and the concept. Instead there’s a second round of schools funded before any meaningful data has been generated by the first.

There’s not a recognition that public schools overseas are still managing to deliver results, even though they’re being treated like the Black Knight in Monty Python, battling on and squirting blood as another limb gets lopped off.

I got a lot of answers on Saturday. Now I have a new question. Will all educators – partnership school and state – be willing to dare to do what annoyed Tau Henare so much about the Problem Gambling Foundation: stand together to “bag the hand that feeds them” and oppose the secretive development of policy that serves ideology – not kids?

Screen-Shot-2014-03-21-at-7.47.40-pm

Background Research on Performance Pay

researchToday someone queried my assertion that there is a lot of research confirming the detrimental effects of performance pay.  The challenge seemed to be that volume of research does not equate to good research.  That’s a good point, and I think the person that made it is in a position to know it is true.

So, for anyone wanting to check out some of the research for themselves (which is always a good plan – you shouldn’t take my word or anyone else’s word for anything) here are some links to research and reports to start you off, along with some quotes to give you food for thought.

Eight brief points about “merit pay” for teachers, by Daniel Pinks

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Government proposal for education needs to be based on evidence, says The New Zealand Psychological Society (NZPsS)

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Credentials Versus Performance: Review of the Teacher Performance Pay Research, by Michael Podgursky, Department of Economics, University of Missouri–Columbia, and Matthew G. Springer, Department of Leadership Policy, and Organizations, Peabody College of Vanderbilt University (2007)

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We find that financial incentives may indeed reduce intrinsic motivation and diminish ethical or other reasons for complying with workplace social norms such as fairness. As a consequence, the provision of incentives can result in a negative impact on overall performance.”

London School of Economics 

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New York City abandons merit pay for teachers

“…in light of a study that found the bonuses had no positive effect on either student performance or teachers’ attitudes toward their jobs.”

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“We tested the most basic and foundational question related to performance incentives — “Does bonus pay alone improve student outcomes?” – and we found that it does not,” 

Matthew Springer, executive director of the National Center on Performance Incentives.

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Teacher performance pay alone does not raise student test scores

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Final Report: Experimental Evidence from the Project on Incentives in Teaching (POINT)

Rewarding teachers with bonus pay, in the absence of any other support programs, does not raise student test scores

National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody

College of Education and Human Development in partnership with the RAND Corporation.

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Performance-Related Pay – Wikipedia:

Academic evidence has increasingly mounted indicating that performance related pay leads to the opposite of the desired outcomes when it is applied to any work involving cognitive rather than physical skill. Research[2] funded by the Federal Reserve Bank undertaken at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology  with input from professors from the University of Chicago and Carnegie Mellon University repeatedly demonstrated that as long as the tasks being undertaken are purely mechanical performance related pay works as expected. However once rudimentary cognitive skills are required it actually leads to poorer performance. These experiments have since been repeated by a range of economists…

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Pay-for-Performance (Federal Government) – Wikipedia

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Merit Pay – Wikipedia

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Dollars and Sense:

“…mixed findings underscore the challenge of designing a system of teachers’ compensation that rewards quality in a fair and equitable manner”

(Note this research deemed success to be raised test scores in maths and English, which raises the question of whether merit pay led to teaching to the test or whether things really improved for the students’ education as a whole)

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A Big Apple for Educators

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TEACHER INCENTIVES AND STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT: EVIDENCE FROM NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS

“Financial incentives for teachers to increase student performance is an increasingly popular education policy around the world. This paper describes a school-based randomized trial in over two-hundred New York City public schools designed to better understand the impact of teacher incentives on student achievement. I find no evidence that teacher incentives increase student performance, attendance, or graduation, nor do I find any evidence that the incentives change student or teacher behavior. If anything, teacher incentives may decrease student achievement, especially in larger schools. The paper concludes with a speculative discussion of theories that may explain these stark results.”

Source

~*~

Again, feel free to add links to other research in the comments below, so we can read, ponder and learn more.

Thanks, Dianne

Poverty of body, mind and soul

family heirloom - povertyI was having a lovely day today, reading Bridget Jones, drinking coffee, chatting with friends online, and generally swanning around enjoying myself.

Well, that is over with a bang.

How anyone could continue to be content with their lot when this is going on in our beautiful country is beyond me.  I certainly can’t.

Overall 265,000 children live in poverty – 25% of our kids.  One in four.

Not to be party political, because this is an issue for all parties and one they really must face together, but Mr Key’s assertion today that “the fastest way out of poverty was through work,”  was a total evasion of the whole problem. Two fifths of those in poverty live in homes where the parents do have jobs.  So how about maybe looking at a living wage?

And this woman is working – but that’s no help if there is nowhere for her to live other than a bloody tent!

Sorry, but I am just so incensed.

Anyway, that’s poverty and this site is about education, right?

Well, to me they are intrinsically linked.

Nourish the body, mind and soul

feed our kidsYes you can learn when you are poor, you can excel, too.  Students and teachers together do amazing things all the time and poverty is not necessarily the end of a person’s chances of success.

But – and it’s a big BUT … if you grow up in poverty, your chances of succeeding are far less than if you have food in your stomach, a warm and dry place to call home, and the money for medical care when you need it.

A child growing up in poverty suffers from stress that can impact their learning and indeed their whole lives.

A student that is cold cannot concentrate.

A student that is hungry cannot concentrate, either.

And, yes, a student that is ill and has no medication is hardly likely to be doing their best work.

Poverty and educational outcomes are linked.

Lalalala Not listening (again)

Paula Bennet on child povertySo I cannot for the life of me see why the government refuses to acknowledge AND DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS.

It comes to something when the Children’s Commissioner, Russell Wills,  has to find alternative funding because the government will not look into this.

Refuses to.

And Paula Bennet won’t even comment on it.

Despite plenty of research, such as that by Prof. Jonathan Boston, showing the link and the scale of the problem.

Despite Bryan Bruce’s Inside Child Poverty highlighting the issues plain and simple, and offering solutions.

Shame on this government.

Not good enough, New Zealand

Our children deserve better.

They all deserve to be fed, warm, in decent homes, have access to medical care that is free and comprehensive, and be able to learn with as few impediments as possible.

After all, this is New Zealand.  This the Godzone.  This is Aotearoa.

Our tamariki matter.

.

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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?

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

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