For a Minister so obsessed with data and, in particular, the sharing of data, it is interesting how little we know about charter schools.
Bill Courtney writes:
The game of delaying the release of a vast range of information on the charter schools continues.
The Ministry has promised to release a lot of material, including the formal evaluation of 2015 student achievement, in “April” but has refused to state exactly when. They also need to release all of the 2016 quarterly reports, the 2016 contract variations and the second “annual” installment of the Martin Jenkins evaluation of the charter school initative.
In short, lots of information is being withheld for no apparent reason.
When it is finally released, we will go through it and post our thoughts on what it reveals.
In the meantime, propaganda and marketing material fills the void.
The purpose of this report, prepared by Bill Courtney of Save Our Schools NZ, is to document several matters relating to the various quantitative measures that have been used to report student achievement in the charter secondary schools, across both 2014 and 2015.
The main observation is that, in respect of 2014 achievement, the performance standard originally set out in the charter school Agreement, the Ministry’s interpretation of this, the achievement reported by the schools and the reported achievement in the Ministry’s publicly available database, Education Counts, are all different! (See Reporting Summary table on p. 2 of full report)
One of the most significant implications of these differences in interpretation is that, on the recommendation of the Ministry, the Minister approved the release of the 1% operational funding retention amount, relating to the 2014 year, for both Vanguard and Paraoa. However, Vanguard did not meet its NCEA L2 Target and Paraoa did not meet either its Level 1 or Level 2 Target.
In July 2016, the Ministry finally acknowledged that there were “issues” related to the current NCEA performance standards as being applied to charter schools. This admission raises serious concerns about the mantra underpinning the charter school approach, which is described as: “Rigorous accountability against clearly agreed objectives.”
In a paper to the Minister, it recommended a new set of performance standards be utilised in the Third Round contracts that were signed in August 2016. These will use two new roll-based NCEA pass rate measures along with a clearly stated “School Leaver” measure, calculated in the normal manner.
However, the same paper redacted the sections referring to “Next Steps” that might suggest how the Ministry is going to evaluate the performance of the existing First and Second Round schools on an on-going basis.
At time of writing, the Ministry has published its initial analysis of the schools relating to the 2015 year using what it has described as the “current” interpretation of the performance measures. But it had not yet made any recommendations regarding the 1% retention amounts for 2015.
In order to provide a more comprehensive overview of performance, I have included in the full report data from the Education Counts system-wide data spreadsheets, based on the “School Leavers” metric. These show charter school achievement compared to decile 3 schools and for Maori students.
I have also included an initial analysis of information relating to the “quality” of the NCEA credits being earned by students enrolled at charter schools, based on data provided by NZQA.
Finally, I conclude with some thoughts on the implications of this bizarre outcome in what is supposedly being sold to the country as a “Contracting for Outcomes” arrangement.
You can view the full report here.
~ Save Our Schools NZ
As we look into the evidence on this one, let’s be clear on one point right from the start: let’s understand the difference between “destiny” and “probability”. And, if we don’t want decile to be destiny, then what are we doing about it!
QPEC firmly holds the view that every student should get the greatest opportunity possible to succeed to the fullest extent of their abilities and their willingness to work hard and achieve.
Neither does QPEC accept that students from disadvantaged backgrounds cannot succeed.
But, the evidence on this one is clear.
A major study of the teaching profession, carried out by the OECD in 2005, made this statement in their summary paper:
“Student learning is influenced by many factors, including: students’ skills, expectations, motivation and behaviour; family resources, attitudes and support; peer group skills, attitudes and behaviour; school organisation, resources and climate; curriculum structure and content; and teacher skills, knowledge, attitudes and practices. Schools and classrooms are complex, dynamic environments, and identifying the effects of these varied factors, and how they influence and relate with each other – for different types of students and different types of learning — has been, and continues to be, a major focus of educational research.
Three broad conclusions emerge from research on student learning. The first and most solidly based finding is that the largest source of variation in student learning is attributable to differences in what students bring to school – their abilities and attitudes, and family and community background. Such factors are difficult for policy makers to influence, at least in the short-run. The second broad conclusion is that of those variables which are potentially open to policy influence, factors to do with teachers and teaching are the most important influences on student learning. In particular, the broad consensus is that “teacher quality” is the single most important school variable influencing student achievement.” [Emphasis added]
Source: OECD, “Teachers Matter: Attracting, Developing and Retaining Effective Teachers
The problem with the OECD approach – we can’t change the kids, so let’s focus on the teachers – is that it does not deal head on with what the OECD itself calls, the first and most solidly based finding:
Factors associated with the student are the largest source of variation in student achievement.
It is important to go beyond ideology and examine the hard evidence of the strong links between student background and student achievement. Failure to diagnose this correctly leads to two major problems.
– First, we miss the main goal, which is how do we improve children’s lives;
– and second, education policy initiatives are misdirected.
Teachers and schools are part of the solution; they are not the cause of the problem.
Table 1: Percentage of school leavers with NCEA Level 2 or above, by ethnic group and school quintile (2012 data)
KEY to Ethic Groups: M=Maori, P = Pasifika, A=Asian, M = MELAA, O=Other, E=European
Quintile 1 = deciles 1 & 2, etc; MELAA = Middle Eastern, Latin American & African.
The table above reports NCEA Level 2 school leaver achievement levels by school quintile, gender and ethnicity. Of students from quintile 5 (deciles 9 & 10) schools, 89.6% of them left school with at least NCEA Level 2, compared with only 58.1% for those in quintile 1 (deciles 1 & 2) schools.
Socio-economic advantage is clearly a major predictor of educational achievement.
Table 2: PISA Reading Literacy, ranked by the student’s socio-economic status, across the 10 highest performing school systems (PISA 2009 Reading Literacy):
In this table, the 5th percentile means the lowest 5% and the 95th percentile is the highest 95% of students, measured on the OECD’s own index of economic, cultural and social indicators.
So, this table is slightly different from our NCEA L2 table, because it shows the student’s own status, rather than where they go to school.
But the pattern is indisputable:
Student achievement rises lockstep with socio-economic status in every school system.
QPES Press Release
It is clear from reading the report that Taskforce members were far from agreed regarding what changes might be needed to the Education Act.
The report acknowledges that “[t]here was widespread nervousness among respondents about the possibility of any desired goals and outcomes being framed too narrowly,” and stresses that there was “strong agreement that if goals and outcomes were to be developed for the education system, this must take place through wide consultation.”
The taskforce seems to have dealt with the issue of disagreement by concluding that it is essential there is widespread consultation before any changes are made.
Sounds great in principle.
It should be heartening that Ms Parata also acknowledges that “[a]ny review of the Act would require an extensive consultation process with the education sector and with parents,” shouldn’t it?
… are we not now all too familiar with what she means by consultation? Namely, go through the motions, don’t listen to much if anything at all, and then do what she planned to all along. (Indeed, I am expecting Websters to update their dictionary entry for “consultation” accordingly this year, since it is now so widely understood that this is what it means.)
So promising consultation doesn’t give any comfort that sector views will be heard and acted upon or allay any concerns, sadly.
I took a moment to consider what is meant by Murray Jack, Taskforce Chair, when he comments in the report’s foreword that:
“… the Taskforce has concluded that there is a strong case to review the Act to provide a greater focus on student outcomes and more explicit roles and objectives“
“A greater focus on student outcomes…” Hmmm.
What, do teachers not currently aim to advance students? Focus on it more how? And what outcomes? Are we perchance only talking about things that can be measured in a test? That seems to fly in the face of other comments in the report which made clear that “[r]espondents did not want a focus on just literacy and numeracy, but felt that these needed to be set within a holistic concept of student achievement.”
Holistic or focusing on test scores – which is it to be?
Also, I cannot help but wonder whether this “greater focus on student outcomes” and “explicit roles and objectives” might be somehow heralding performance pay, perchance?
After all. National Standards and the PaCT system are all set up and ready to rock and roll for just that purpose, despite the Minister assuring us that’s not what they’re for.
Something about that has left me uneasy.
There are a number of other statement in the announcement that ring alarm bells:
“[The Taskforce] recommended a number of regulatory changes to ensure enough flexibility in the education system to keep pace with the ever-changing environment.”
What exactly does that mean? How does the current legislation shackle schools? Does the legislation as it currently stands truly stop schools from keeping pace with “the ever-changing environment”?
Or are we to read this as “we need to make the legislation privatisation-friendly, so we can shoe in more charter schools and the like.
Again, three years of following this government’s carry-on in education means that any such ambiguous statements lead to fretting about what’s going on behind the scenes. I’d love to think it was just me and my paranoia, but so far my concerns have sadly been valid.
Boards of Trustees get a wee mention in the report, which comes to the conclusion that in order to determine whether BOTs are doing a good job, they too need to be subjected to “reliable and valid measures of [the identified] characteristics … to assess their contribution to student achievement.” (p.13)
Truly, it seems the taskforce believe if it can’t be measured, weighed or put in a pie chart is doesn’t count for a thing.
“The Taskforce noted that evidence from the OECD suggests governments can prevent school failure and reduce dropout using two parallel approaches: eliminating system level practices that hinder equity; and targeting low-performing, disadvantaged schools. From the evidence reviewed, the Taskforce concluded that good regulation and effective governance are elements of high-performing systems that support priority students. Ensuring that they are aligned with other schooling policies and practices can help New Zealand achieve its educational objectives.” (p. 13)
I totally agree we all need to ensure schools are run well and teachers should encourage all students to aim high. But to ignore the roles poverty and home environment have in the chances of a student succeeding is a failure to address the whole issue and an insult to both the students and staff living that reality day to day.
I wonder what exactly is meant by “targeting low-performing, disadvantaged schools”? Targeting for extra help? Or targeting for a change principal? Or being changed into a charter school?
Again, if a school is low performing, it may indeed need help and support, guidance and so on, but if all of that is done within a system that is blinkered to the realities of the students and the community that school is in, then it is not considering the whole picture and cannot be expected to adequately respond to the situation.
So, if improvement is really wanted, we do indeed have to mention the “P” word and get real about the big picture.
I await the unfolding of this next phase of the reform agenda with interest, apprehension and a large gin and tonic.
Considering Education Regulation in New Zealand: http://www.minedu.govt.nz/theMinistry/EducationInitiatives/~/media/MinEdu/Files/TheMinistry/EducationInitiatives/Taskforce/TaskforceReport.pdf
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.)
I am all for helping struggling schools. So the idea of Change Principals seems okay, even positive. What concerns me a little, however, is who decides what constitutes a failing school and what the Ministry says these principals will be recruited to do.
Is it to improve children’s love for learning?
Is it to foster lifelong learning?
Is it to engage the community in the children’s learning?
Well who knows – None of those things are mentioned.
Just how is student achievement to be defined, I wonder?
Wait, it says on the MoE web site that the principals “will be particularly focused on lifting student achievement”. Achievement … is that some sort of measured thing, some kind of score-based doohicker? It rings a bell… tip of my tongue … wait… almost there…
Okay. So they are going to improve schools by improving their National Standards scores.
Is now a good time to mention that the NS data from the first two years was so shonky that even the PM admitted they weren’t up to much?
Or to mention that this year results for whole subjects were moved down, en bloc, despite the levels returned by schools? No?
Maybe instead I could mention the RAINS report from the University of Waikato, that showed a narrowing of the curriculum in order to focus on the areas NS looks at…
Well look, let’s be positive – we all want schools to do the best they can for their students, and there are indeed always going to be some schools that need help and guidance. That much is not a bad idea.
But there is scope here for political bullying such as that we have already seen around National Standards, with principals and boards harangued by Ministry. It’s essential that any move to improve a school is done as a cooperative thing, not forced on a community or done by someone with a big stick to wave, but how can we be sure that’s not going to happen?
And to focus improvement only on higher scores in standards that are unreliable is very dicey.
I note that nowhere in John Key’s speech today nor on the MoE web site about the new roles is there any mention at all of the effects of home life, of poverty, or unemployment and despondency on student achievement, and consequently there is nothing to address those issues. It’s as if someone would like us to buy into the idea that somehow schools stand alone in a bubble and can magically erase all other social problems. This is of course, another farcical notion.
But the message is clear, no matter who sends them in, or why, we are to accept the caped crusaders – and as long as they push up scores, everything will be good in the world…
The big drop in New Zealand’s student achievement in recent years is a direct result of a failure of this government’s education, economic and social policies, says NZEI Te Riu Roa National President Judith Nowotarski.
Mrs Nowotarski says the results are a clear wake up call to the government.
She says the Minister of Education has overseen one of the biggest drops in our student ranking in recent years.
The OECD PISA results, measuring 15 year old student achievement in science, maths and reading, shows that since 2008 New Zealand has had one of the fastest-growing rates of inequity as well as a corresponding decrease in student performance.
“Across the board New Zealand’s performance has dropped on all the scores and this is something that the government should be ashamed of. It shows its policies are nothing short of disastrous.”
“For five years the government has been obsessed with collecting unnecessary and irrelevant data when it should have been focussed on making a difference for students.
“The Minister is being misleading when she claims that this decline is a long-running trend. By far the biggest drop in achievement has occurred since 2009.
“This government’s obsession with data combined with no solutions for failing education policies has been a disaster for many New Zealand children. Instead of working with teachers and schools to improve education, the government has been hell-bent on dismantling our public education system.
“Countries that have a higher level of equity also have better achievement outcomes for all students. Eighteen percent of New Zealand children now live in poverty and the student achievement gap reflects the impact that poverty has on students’ learning.
“All the findings are saying the same thing. It’s now time for the government to start to look at what really works in education.
“We need the government to work with teachers and schools to restore our education system to its previous top performing level instead of having one of the fastest levels of decline in the OECD.”
You clicked on here expecting a miracle one-liner, the answer to everyone’s problems?
What did you want me to say?
That the teacher has a very important job? The classroom must be engaging and interesting, warm and welcoming, and a good place to learn? It should be well resourced? That the teacher should be well-trained and supported in furthering their own learning? The school should be well engaged with its community and have a positive ethos that promotes real-life learning for the students? There, does that cover it?
Because as well as all that, a student’s achievement is affected by myriad other very complex factors.
When a students of any age walks into a classroom, you have also to ask yourself:
– are they fed?
– are they worrying?
– are they sick?
– are they tired?
Because all of those things will impact on his ability to concentrate. How easy is it to think about fractions when your tummy is aching and you know you are going home to a cold house? How much would you care about spelling tests if you had been up until the wee small hours playing games or watching TV?
And don’t fool yourself it is only in poorer families that these problems arise. Family arguments, staying up far too late, and so on happen across all parts of our community and affect many children. But when they happen as a rule rather than an exception, just imagine the stresses on that child.
It’s also important to think about how education is seen in that student’s circles:
– do they get help at home?
– do their peers believe that learning is valuable?
– does their wider community believe that a good education matters?
If not, then just imagine the mindset that child arrives at school with and imagine the job of the teacher to engage that student.
So how do we raise student achievement?
We give them good teachers, supportive schools, learning that relates to their world, we try to involve parents and grandparents, aunties and the wider community – things we already do very well in New Zealand.
We make sure special needs are properly catered for with trained specialists and adequate resources, we have links with specialist services for those children in really deep poverty or troubled home lives, we listen, we care, and we keep fighting for all of our kids to get the best chance possible.
We get good adult literacy provision for those who get the urge to learn in later years.
And we fight for the right of all children to have basic food, warmth, and access to medical care.
There is no easy answer.
But there are ways to move forward, if only people would grasp them.
An excellent article covering many good points: http://www.stuff.co.nz/manawatu-standard/features/7564142/Finnish-lesson-No-charter-schools
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net