Children sometimes bring unhealthy lunches to school – that’s a sad fact. When you see a lunch box with no fresh fruit or veg, or that’s wall to wall sugar, or just a packet of noodles, or … well, you get the idea – when you see those lunch boxes, you sigh. But trying to change what lead to that lunch box being in front of that student by policing said lunch box would be wrongheaded.
No educator wants to be in the position of telling kids they should or shouldn’t bring this or that, when in fact they usually have no part in the decision-making around what goes in their lunch box.
Similarly, it’s not at all helpful to create tension with parents by sending home notes about the food they provide. Of course I want students to eat healthily (and eat enough), but making parents feel judged does harm to the home-school relationship, and that is a bad move. The solution has to be focused on education, not policing.
Education for students around what good food looks like, clever buying, balanced diets etc is much more helpful. In my experience, the more clued-up the students are, the more they influence the purchases of the grown ups around then. We all know how insistent small people can be when they want something at the supermarket!
When I was trying to eat more healthily, I charged my year 5-6 students with checking my lunch box each day, and giving me feedback, and by crikey they took to that challenge like ducks to water: “Have you SEEN how much sugar is in that low fat yoghurt, Mrs Khan! Don’t be fooled by that ‘low fat’ thing!” They also wrote me a list of healthy snack foods for 3pm, knowing my tendency to stop at the local garage and make poor choices when driving home around 5 or 6 pm. Given good information and a real life problem to solve, kids will almost always blow your socks off with just how clever they are.
So focusing on educating kids and letting them educate the adults seems like a good strategic move. But it must be collaborative, done with the community, not at them. Which leads me to the brilliant work done by Julia Milne and her team at The Common Unity Project Aotearoa.
The Common Unity Project is a school-based project with a collaborative community model. It started small and got little to no Ministry or official support, but through sheer tenacity and will power and the support of the school in which she is based, Julia has built a magnificent living model right here in Lower Hutt, NZ.
In their own words, the Project “works collaboratively with Epuni Primary School, a little school with a big heart, in Lower Hutt. We grow food on a disused soccer field – enough to feed our children of Epuni School three times each week. We invite our parents and wider community to come to school each day and learn, share and educate one another. In turn, this has become a collective response to meeting the needs of our children and developing our own resilient solution within our community.”
The Project has brought a community together to learn and grow – literally and figuratively – together. Learning about food is linked with curriculum work – maths, literacy, science, art – you name it, they’ve linked it, and done so meaningfully. Identify the problem, find solutions, get helpers with the skills needed, helpers pass on skills to the kids, helpers learn new skills themselves, and BINGO! we have real life learning. This is what The Community Unity Project does.
The kids are cold? Put a call out for wool and some knitters with a bit of time on their hands, and BINGO! the adults are passing on key skills to kids to make something they all need.
The kids are hungry? Put a call out for helpers to come make a meal using food grown by the kids in the school gardens. The helpers teach the kids, the helpers learn new skills, and they all have enough to eat.
Gardening, cooking, knitting, bike maintenance, building, sewing bee keeping, food budgeting – you name it, they’re onto it.
Real life problems, real life solutions, real life learning. And community.
That’s my kind of model.
The Government introduced National Standards for one purpose – to appease those parents who wanted to know that their child was achieving. There is nothing wrong about knowing if your child is achieving, but you actually need to think about a much bigger picture!
As a parent you will fit into one of the following two categories:
But don’t worry, if your child is attending a good school then despite having to complete copious amounts of paperwork to comply with National Standards your school will be keeping the other records they have always kept (and god forbid they are ever forced to stop), which informs them about the PROGRESS of your child.
Firstly let’s look at a school where the children come from homes where they have been read to since they were babies and where literacy and verbal communication has played a large part of their lives, plus they’ve been to kindergarten and/or other socialising environments before coming to school.
A graph of National Standards for 100 of these children could probably look like this:
After 2 years at school (7 years old) the odd few have caught up and all 100 children have reached and continue to show their achievement to the National Standard.
But what about if the reporting included by how much children were progressing above National Standards? ie how much the children were being extended?
Parents could be informed like this:
Even better information and if your school is giving you this type of data then they should be commended. But National Standards do not require them to do this. They do it because they are excellent educationalists and want every child to progress and do their best at all times.
Using the above diagram, it would be quite natural for parents to want their children to be in the red block and raises the question whether National Standards needs to be higher for them!
Let’s now look at 100 of the children who aren’t so fortunate.
They probably don’t have many books at home, or parents who can read to them and English is not necessarily a first language for their parents. These children might even have moved around to live with various different people in the first five years of their life.
A graph of National Standards for these children could look like this:
Notice that it takes years to bring the 100 children up to achieving the National Standard and some may sadly never make it, especially if they continue a pattern of continuing to move and change schools.
The schools working with these children have an enormous challenge to meet National Standards. Testing and measuring against the National Standard, particularly in the early years is something they certainly do not need to do. They know only too well that their children would not achieve the arbitrary target.
National Standards has done nothing to help them, in fact quite the opposite. They now have huge additional workloads which detract from what they want to do, which is to progress these children much faster than those in other schools. How can the time required to report against National Standards possibly be justified to these schools?
In my mind these schools need the highest level of commendation. Not only have they been forced to take on the extra workload created by National Standards, they are still committed educational professionals who use their integrity and focus everything on the children’s
Sadly though the Government does not commend them, because they do not believe in PROGRESS they are only interested in achieving National Standards.
There was an example of the Education Review Office (ERO) criticising a school for saying their students have met expectations (a positive statement which is encouraging and reflects an achieving progress level). The school was instructed to change the wording to say that the students have failed to meet National Standards.
What a very sad and demoralising state of affairs.
But let’s not blame poor ERO, they are driven by Government policies so National Standards really do say more about the Government’s understanding of education. Do we really not understand why the committed professionals working in our schools were totally against the initiative?
Yes we need some form of school reporting but it should be based on PROGRESS. So long as a child is progressing to the best they can possibly be that is all that can be expected of them and what must be expected of ALL schools!
Written by a parent, BOT member (1989-1999), school advisor (1989-2007) and concerned future grandparent and member of the public (2014)
“Not all teachers and students deserve prizes but they do deserve self-esteem, opportunity and fulfilment and moreover fair treatment.
A prerequisite of this is a properly funded education system which genuinely seeks to meet need and does not penalise and denigrate students simply for starting the educational process with very little, and denigrating and punishing staff for having to work harder and more effectively in these contexts than in any other.”
A recent UK report, Supporting Outstanding Pupil Progress In Schools In An Area Of Social and Economic Deprivation, looked at a schools in disadvantaged areas to analyse what behaviours make an “outstanding” teacher, contributing to outstanding student progress. The report speaks to questions asked by and of educators worldwide, and is as pertinent to our own situation in New Zealand as it is in England.
The report’s findings will not surprise most teachers, citing social and economic deprivation as a major factors in students’ chances of success. Neither will it surprise many (any?) teachers that they are often expected to act as surrogate parents for those without support and stability in their home lives.
Professor Bridget Cooper, Director of the Centre for Pedagogy at the University of Sunderland, UK, who led the report, says: “It is obvious from this report that schools in socially and economically deprived areas need more generous and more appropriate funding. Those in power need to understand and take into account the effort teachers in those schools have to make to counteract the multiplicity of needs of their students for their entire school lives.”
“It is completely unfair and irrelevant to compare these schools, teachers and children throughout their academic life unfavourably with schools which do not have to meet such great need as the teachers have work even harder.”
The Danger of an Overbearing Review Office
The report also looks at the role of OFSTED, which is the UK equivalent of ERO, and raises concerns that reviews are often barriers to good teaching practice, being so very prescriptive that teachers find it hard to harness their own creativity and create engaging learning for students.
Whilst in Aotearoa differentiation and personalised teaching is still, quite rightly, seen as good pedagogy even by the review office, the report found in England OFSTED insisted on “having objectives at the start of the lesson which does not always work with each student”. It went on to say that “[s]everal staff said that always having the objectives at the start of the lesson goes against ideas of discovery and student-centred learning (both secondary and primary) and can make lessons dull and mechanical.”
Far from allowing teachers to do what they know works or to experiment with new resources and pedagogy in order to engage students and inspire them, “teachers are constrained by the structure of the school day and the push for conformity is hindering progress in “deprived” schools.”
Of course, things are made even worse when you consider that in England teachers are subject to performance pay. This means that there is pressure to jump through whatever hoops OFSTED deems important, as your wages depend on it. It doesn’t mean teaching better or responding to students’ needs more appropriately, though.
And there’s the rub.
Your choice – actively work to change the direction of these reforms or accept that you are as much to blame as the reformers.
This from HuffingtonPost:
As I watch the education “debate” … I wonder if we have simply lost our minds.
In the cacophony of reform chatter — online programs, charter schools … testing, more testing, accountability … value-added assessments, blaming teachers … blaming unions, blaming parents — one can barely hear the children crying out: “Pay attention to us!”
None of the things on the partial list above will have the slightest effect on the so-called achievement gap or the supposed decline in [our] international education rankings. Every bit of education reform — every think tank remedy proposed by wet-behind-the-ears MBAs, every piece of legislation, every one of these things — is an excuse to continue the unconscionable neglect of our children.
As Pogo wisely noted, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” We did this to our children and our schools.
We did this by choosing to see schools as instructional factories, beginning in the early 20th century.
We did this by swallowing the obscene notion that schools and colleges are businesses and children are consumers.
We did this by believing in the infallibility of free enterprise, by pretending [our country] is a meritocracy, and by ignoring the pernicious effects of unrelenting racism.
We did this by believing that children are widgets and economy of scale is both possible and desirable.
We did this by acting as though reality and the digital representation of reality are the same thing.
We did this by demeaning the teaching profession.
We did this by allowing poverty and despair to shatter families.
We did this by blaming these families for the poverty and despair we inflicted on them.
We did this by allowing school buildings to deteriorate, by removing the most enlivening parts of the school day, by feeding our children junk food.
We did this by failing to properly fund schools…
We did this by handcuffing teachers with idiotic policies, constant test preparation and professional insecurity.
[The] children need our attention, not Pearson’s lousy tests or charter schools’ colorful banners and cute little uniforms that make kids look like management trainees.
[Our] teachers need our support, our admiration, and the freedom to teach and love children.
The truth is that our children need our attention, not political platitudes and more TED talks.
Read the rest of the article here.
Every week the list grows longer as great teachers resign and leave the profession forever due to the crazy path that education is being pushed down by politicians.
In England and the USA there have been many highly public resignations outlining just exactly why the reforms have pushed teachers to say “No more.”
It’s sad not just because these good teachers are lost to the profession, and not just for them personally, but because these teachers are leaving because what they are being forced to do in the name of education is not beneficial to students.
It makes me both incredibly cross and very sad to know that unless something drastic changes, it’s only a matter of time before New Zealand starts to see a flurry of the same.
Here is Lucy Fey’s resignation letter:
” Dear Mr Gove,
I am writing to thank you for teaching me so much about education. I have been a primary school teacher for 14 years and have always worked in challenging, inner city schools with many children who have complex behavioural and emotional needs. According to my performance management, I am an ‘outstanding’ teacher. I feel that over the last few years my skills have diversified considerably.
I am proud to be able to say that each year my pupils’ achievement and attainment have improved. I have become skilled at pinpointing what they need to learn and prioritising their experiences to ensure they succeed in the core subjects. Sacrifices have had to be made but, despite what they would like you to believe, there is not a single pupil who has not wanted to achieve and be successful.
The last few years in particular, my job has become even more varied. As we no longer have any external support and advice to help us, we have learned ‘on the job’ how to be counsellors, behaviour specialists, social workers and mental health workers.
We use our instincts when dealing with children with complex emotional and behavioural needs. We do everything we can, but you never can tell without the training. Hopefully those children experiencing extreme difficulties will pick up how to become good citizens and be able to live within, and contribute to, the community.
I can only hope that they will know how to create a supportive and nurturing environment for their own children to succeed in the future. Maybe they will feel confident and proud of their achievements despite the lack of professional, quality specialists available to support their own complex needs in their formative years.
Until recently, I was not adept at data analysis. I now know that the pupils we are teaching are not simply children, they are numbers, percentages. The hours I have spent analysing data to decide which children need intensive afternoon intervention groups, those who need that extra ‘boost.’ Those children do not take part in the afternoon history, geography, art, science, music, PE or RE lessons as they are struggling with maths, reading and writing.
They understand that they must miss out on subjects they are more likely to engage with, feel confident in, so they have the opportunity to achieve the required level in writing, reading and maths. They spend all day, every day struggling. Slowly feeling more and more like a failure, becoming more and more disengaged.
It is amazing that every one of my pupils knows what level they are working at and what level they need to be at the end of the year. Children are so desperate to achieve and to please others that they naturally put themselves under a huge amount of pressure. If they are not working at age related expectations they believe they are not doing well despite the amazing progress they have made.
They are in tears. They feel the pressure. They know they are not where they ‘should’ be. They know already, at primary school, that they may not be ‘successful’ in the future. They know that the only subjects worth anything are reading, writing and maths. They know that their options are limited.
A big part of teaching is, and always has been, acting. You draw your audience in; encourage them to take part and to be inspired, challenged and enthusiastic about what they are discovering.
There is nothing better than a class full of buzzing pupils, excited about what they are learning, taking ownership of the lesson. This is becoming increasingly hard to achieve when we expect so much from them. There is little time to have fun, to enquire, to be intrigued, to be children. They have too much pressure. They must, “compete with the world’s best.”
Why are we not letting them grow as individuals? Why are we damaging their self-esteem and confidence by trying to make them all fit into the same box? To ensure a successful future for our country we need to give children a broad, balanced curriculum which enables everyone to excel at what they are good at. They need to feel empowered and valued for their individual skills to be able to take risks and push the boundaries to be successful.
How is that possible if they have had a restricted education? How will all those talented people who are not necessarily ‘academic’ excel in their different industries if they were not given the opportunity to hone their skills throughout their education? How will this improve our country? What sort of adults will they turn in to? I know I never had those pressures when I was a child.
I handed my notice in last week. I can’t do this to them anymore.
How sad that New Zealand is following on with reforms that are wreaking this kind of havoc.
We need to be asking who is driving this push and why, before there are no more Lucy Feys left.
Below is the Networkonnet Manifesto, the only comprehensive education manifesto I have seen. Please read it and see if it meets your own vision for what our education system should be. If it does, please either sign it here (below in the comments) and I will forward those comments to Kelvin, or click through HERE and sign it directly on the Networkonnet site.
Likewise, if you have suggestions for changes, please share them in as much detail as you can. The aim is to craft a manifesto that speaks to what the majority of teachers, academics, parents and students would like our education system to look like.
by Kelvin Smythe with Allan Alach
The manifesto is intended to gather signatures then, with media release attached, distributed to media, teacher organisations, and a range of interest groups.
At the moment, it could be widely understood that teachers have no specific budgetary or system demands beyond opposition to substantial parts of government policy.
For the sake of our children, our own ideas need to be heard.
The networkonnet manifesto is intended to jog the teacher organisations to set out such specific budgetary and system demands and to publicise them intensively and imaginatively.
Readers will note that the networkonnet manifesto is based on a philosophy expressed as governing ideas. The government is working to a philosophy, brought in from outside and economics: we need to work to ours developed from our education heritage and social democracy. The hammering of public primary schools – the scapegoating, the disenfranchising, and the financial and spiritual impoverishment, is not government whim but engrained ideological policy as part of global capitalism and a shift of civilisation. That policy needs to be confronted with our own set of cohesive ideas.
We urge readers to sign up and encourage others in your school and beyond to do so as well.
The manifesto is open to change and addition, but if you support the general direction, then we suggest you take the positive step of signing up in support.
Readers might be interested to know that one significant political party has called the manifesto a ‘great read’ and remarkably close to theirs.
Kelvin Smythe and Allan Alach
The key idea in the policy recommendations that follow is that the education system should be based on valuing variety – and fundamental to this, the idea of collaboration and shared knowledge development. It is not just accepting variety or tolerating it, it is valuing it – valuing it as part of living in a democracy and as the best means to help children’s learning.
Valuing variety would mean changes to regulations, allowing a wide interpretation of the curriculum – within broad guidelines – in school charters and evaluation practices. Eventually the curriculum would need to be revised to concentrate on principles and aims, leaving schools to decide how to interpret those – at the moment National Administrative Guidelines (NAGS) and the demands of the education review office (using national standards) exert a stultifying control of classrooms.
The Lange government, through Tomorrow’s Schools, introduced into education a philosophy antithetical to Labour Party philosophy. (Most Labour mps of the time find this hard to accept holding on to the idea that Tomorrow’s Schools was, in fact, about giving more power to schools.) While this neoliberal philosophy was diluted in the Clark years, it still remained and remains dominant.
In education that philosophy is expressed as managerialism.
As it pans out, the basic tenet of managerialism is that any issue in education, including the education effects of poverty – indeed, especially the education effects of poverty – can largely be resolved by management changes to do with the organisation and direction teachers. This always involves overstating the role of the teacher in learning so that when schools fail to overcome sufficiently the education effects of poverty, schools are blamed, providing an excuse for shaping schools into the political right’s own ideological image.
An implication in this top-down philosophy is that there is someone knows and that person who knows is a political leader informed by a certain category of academic.
The present education system is substantially a command one – a command one based on excluding teachers and parents from genuine participation in policy making, also on fear, control, propaganda, and corrupted statistics.
The education system needs to be democratised.
One very important effect of bringing in parents and teachers into policy making would be to broaden the curriculum to counteract the trend of an ever narrowing one.
A managerialist-based education system requires a curriculum that is amenable to command and control, also one that can be understood by politicians and bureaucrats – that curriculum is a fragmented one organised for measurement.
New Zealand primary education has a culture of being holistic, in other words, not fragmented for ease of measurement and control. (Many of the most important things in learning are immeasurable; in a measurement-based education system those things are neglected.)
A measurement-based classroom is possible in a holistic-based education system but a holistic-based classroom isn’t possible in a measurement-based system (an important point in considering an education system based on valuing variety).
The present primary school education system is governed by fear and bureaucratic command, and protected by propaganda and corrupted statistics.
The contract system is important to the government control of universities: a key way to restrict academic freedom of speech.
Within schools, the major source of fear and control comes from the education review office – it is unaccountable and used in a variety of ways to generate fear and ultimately obedience; it is really the review office that determines the nature of the curriculum.
The heavy use of statutory managers is another source of fear, control, and indirect propaganda.
People outside the education system have little appreciation of the extent and depth of the fear, control, and use of propaganda that exists within it.
Perhaps the key idea to be developed should be that just as a healthy economic system needs a free exchange of ideas so does a healthy education system.
And central to that is the idea of a shared view of the way knowledge is developed.
All parts of the education system need to be freed up so that all parts can share in the generation of knowledge: teachers, curriculum advisers, academics, parents, and government education agencies.
Teachers should be freed to colonise the curriculum (that is, make curricula work) and to establish their knowledge in the form of successful established practice.
Teachers and schools should function within fairly wide curriculum guidelines.
Academics sought for advice should come from groupings much wider than the current headlining quantitative academics; in particular, that means advice should also be sought from qualitative academics and curriculum academics with significant classroom experience.
More specific policies as an outcome of governing ideas
A call should be made for a grouping of countries to join together to develop an international testing system that functions transparently and concentrates on a broader view of the curriculum. (However, the government should stay in the present international system until that is achieved.)
The 359 million dollars intended for the government cluster policy should be spent directly on helping children in classrooms, not on giving large pay increases to a few teachers and principals.
In a whole series of ways, policies and increased funding to meet children’s special needs should be a priority.
First, there should be a substantial lift in support teacher numbers as well as moves to make support teacher staff better paid and to provide them with a greater sense of permanency.
Following that, there should be improved staffing ratios (gradually introduced) to give flexibility to schools enabling them to provide more individual attention to children’s learning needs, including some appointments for specialist learning (for instance, science, or maths, or Maori language, or drama) as set out as an emphasis in schools’ charters.
Also for improving home school relations (a priority).
An important idea to understand is that the government in implementing national standards ostensibly to lift learning in lower decile schools has used the opportunity to achieve its long-held objective of a narrow 3Rs curriculum for all children.
Improvements in staffing and support teachers and in other areas should be described as being there to help the learning of all children, not just the ones who are struggling (children of all abilities are being badly served by the present system).
A non-contestable fund to promote Maori language should be established to which schools can apply to fund part-time teachers, support teachers, and Maori language labs.
There should be improvement to special needs services including making RTLBs (Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour) more accessible and less bureaucratic. Their role should be extended to work more closely with families – an improved version of the former visiting teacher positions.
The SAF (Student Achievement Function) should be removed with money saved being allocated to other and wider forms of advisory support.
Reading Recovery should be increasingly well funded.
The best home-school reading programme for lower decile schools, one already in operation in miniscule way, is Jeanne Biddulph’s Reading Together programme which binds home and school together in a harmonious and joyful way.
A Committee of Inquiry into making education more collaborative for successful learning should be established – though this should not mean changes to education won’t begin immediately (Committee of Inquiry for Collaboration for Better Learning).
School charters at the moment are a major source of control and bureaucratisation – school charters should be freed to allow schools to develop programmes, within broad guidelines, that suit them. (As discussed above.)
The education review office needs to be staffed by teachers and principals of the highest quality; deliver its work in schools in a different way; and be made accountable (it should also be made fully compliant with the Official Information Act).
There should be a Review Office Appeal authority appointed to hear appeals from schools (a priority).
A cross-sector review office advisory board should be established.
The review office should concentrate on work in schools, not producing reports – those reports should be done by universities on the basis of proper research design.
The School Trustees Association should be restricted in its work to providing direct services to members (a priority).
The statutory management system should be restructured: a more comprehensive conciliation system before statutory management should be established and perverse incentives removed. In particular, the cost of statutory management should fall on the ministry not the school.
Schools and colleges of education should develop a better balance between general education courses and ones directly related to classrooms (though both should be considered equally important) – this might mean rehiring some academics who possess both academic and classroom knowledge.
As one part of the advisory function, a permanent advisory service should be re-established attached to universities to function within broad guidelines (a reasonably free advisory service is an important source of practicable knowledge).
The Teachers Council or its equivalent should be reorganised to reflect the policy of collaboration. As well, it should concentrate on the safety of children. (All teacher organisations are doing well on this one, so I am not elaborating.)
Teacher organisations should be represented as of right on policy, curriculum, and administrative groupings.
Charter schools should be funded and administered on the same basis as other privately-run schools and the money saved allocated to meeting the education needs of low decile schools.
National standards should be removed and with the money saved used to re-establish NEMP (National Education Monitoring Project) formerly based at the University of Otago – more money than before should be allocated and the previous directors asked to advise on its establishment, functioning, and staffing (NEMP was a collaborative institution much admired and appreciated by schools).
NMSSA (National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement) based at the University of Otago should be removed, with the money saved used in the re-establishment of NEMP (see above).
Clusters established on a voluntary basis should receive some government funding.
How to bring parents into education on a national basis is a difficult one: my suggestion is, on a regular basis, NZCER to undertake a survey and some research as the focus for parent discussion (within schools) – the outcomes of this discussion to be reported to a body to consider and sometimes develop matters further.
A broad curriculum should be encouraged in anticipation of the outcomes of the results of the Committee of Inquiry (see above).
An important part of that broad curriculum is an understanding that attention to the 3Rs is mutually supportive with attention to flexible thinking – a mutual supportiveness that should be acted on from children’s first days at school.
The greater freedom for schools to shape their curriculum within broad guidelines will have major implications for the work Colleges of Education, advisory services, and education review office.
The use and resourcing of computers should be approached carefully: there needs to be a broad-based permanent grouping set up to provide schools with guidance on computer use in schools (at the moment it is growing helter-skelter with the curriculum quality being given insufficient attention); also government money would seem to be better allocated for professional development and computer maintenance rather than for directly purchasing computers and other digital devices. (Free technical support is crucial, along with extensive ICT support through advisers.)
The curriculum area of mathematics should be given special attention: a curriculum committee to report in three months, meanwhile, conferences should be organised around the country and extra finance made available to schools working on innovative ideas. (Bobbie Hunter from Massey and University and Jodie Hunter her daughter are doing some excellent work in junior maths with implications for older children.)
The Novapay system, from computer programming to data gathering and Novapay reception, has inherent faults within it – a new system should be introduced (either that or funding for office staff both schools and Novapay reception, be substantially increased).
The Beeby statement I like is the one he made in 1942 following a meeting with the South Canterbury NZEI management committee: ‘There seems to be a common desire on the part of teachers to ask the Department for detailed instructions regarding such things as the changes that are taking place in infant education, rather than to embrace the freedom the Department has given and to participate co-operatively in the working out of up-to-date practice in the infant room.’
Some excerpts from comments made by readers on the initial posting of what is now the networkonnet manifesto
Bruce Hammonds said:
The 2007 New Zealand Curriculum introduced by the last Labour government needs to be emphasised – it is highly regarded by teachers. National is about standardisation and competition while Labour needs to focus on personalisation and collaboration.
“PISA shock” is the term that has been coined for the sense of political crisis and knee-jerk policy reaction that typically occurs when a country drops in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s international education rankings.
Almost 100 education experts, including several of us from New Zealand, recently sent an open letter to the OECD’s chief education spokesperson, Andreas Schleicher, pointing out that the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings have become more of a problem than a solution.
In many ways the concern of New Zealand educators is also around the wider influence of the OECD education programme on New Zealand educational politics and policy – perhaps as much “OECD hangover” as “PISA shock”.
New Zealand’s government led by prime minister John Key often draws on the authority of the OECD to endorse its policy direction, using both PISA findings and the related arguments of Schleicher. New Zealand’s minister of education Hekia Parata regularly quotes Schleicher, saying, “Without data, you are just another person with an opinion.”
But Schleicher is not close enough to the New Zealand context to correct any misuse of the OECD’s results by the Key government, and this causes problems. One example has involved the impact of poverty on student achievement.
Shortly after the latest PISA results came out in 2013, Parata started to say that New Zealand’s PISA results showed that socio-economic status accounted for only 18% of student achievement. This was surprising, to say the least, when a powerful relationship between social class and student achievement has been a theme of international research in the sociology of education for more than 50 years.
Further investigation revealed that the 18% claim was based only on PISA’s narrow definition of family socio-economic influence. Using PISA’s wider criteria that include neighbourhood and school socio-economic factors, about 78% of New Zealand’s latest results became explained by socio-economic conditions. But it is worth noting that some academics, such as Harvey Goldstein at Bristol, point out that PISA is not a long-term study, and so can’t estimate factors like this.
But downplaying the impact of poverty in order to emphasise the responsibility of teachers to raise achievement has been a regular strategy of the Key government. And when faced with the corrected figure by opposition parties in parliament in January, the prime minister still fell back on the authority of Schleicher to argue for the greater importance of teachers and schools.
Adding insult to injury, Schleicher himself started arguing that “poverty isn’t destiny” and arrived in New Zealand for the International Summit on the Teaching Profession in March stressing the power of high expectations in the face of social contexts.
Some of the points Schleicher has been making might be useful if the arguments were employed carefully. Unfortunately, in the national politics of New Zealand – and probably in many other countries – any such subtleties are quickly lost. Instead the OECD/Schleicher arguments become fertile ground for the politics of blaming teachers for the underperformance of students from poor backgrounds.
The OECD hangover in New Zealand goes far beyond PISA. In January, the Key government’s latest school policy proposal called “Investing in Educational Success” was announced. This is intended to introduce a number of new teaching and leadership roles into New Zealand’s schools, providing extra payments for carrying out the required roles as part of a NZ$359m (£184.4m) investment plan.
By February, a four-minute video of Schleicher endorsing the policy had appeared on Parata’s National Party website. This was concerning as although the OECD tries to be non-partisan, here was Schleicher, featuring on a party-political website and endorsing the governing coalition’s announcement of new education spending in an election year.
Watching the highly scripted video clip it also becomes apparent that Schleicher was willing to endorse the new policy without entering into the controversies it would cause in New Zealand.
He leaves out how the policy was announced by the Key government after a cabinet decision, without prior consultation and only subsequent input into the detail rather than the thrust of the policy. Not mentioned are worrying shifts in the power relations between the New Zealand government and teachers and between New Zealand teachers themselves that are likely to be caused by the policy.
Also not mentioned is the involvement and reinforcement of other New Zealand education policies that have been causing concern such as the new National Standards for primary schools, as well as many practical considerations. Instead, Schleicher discusses the policy only in an abstract, non-contextualised way. As the Quality Public Education Coalition pressure group said, his endorsement evokes the “best of all worlds”.
With Schleicher’s endorsement of the policy there can be no claim of misinterpretation by the Key government. It is more that Schleicher is not being careful enough about how the OECD’s support would be used in a local setting.
Our open letter concluded by suggesting the OECD had become the “global arbiter of the means and ends of education around the world”. In New Zealand, the OECD risks becoming known as a stick to beat educators with. Its reputation is unlikely to improve until it starts genuinely listening and acting on local concerns.
I just had to share this wonderful article which speaks to a very important quality of the best teaching that is often overlooked – compassion and care.
Give The Kid A Pencil, by Chad Donohue, published at Teaching Tolerance
I recently taught a university course in Seattle for graduate students seeking master’s degrees in teaching. In one lesson, our focus was on creating a psychologically safe learning environment for students. It was an issue of managing students and supplies. I posed a question:
If a student shows up to class without a pencil, how should the teacher respond?
Small groups collaborated for a few minutes. Ultimately, they came up with plans involving taking something (a shoe?) from the student as collateral to remind the student about the importance of having supplies, notifying parents and even assigning classroom cleanup duty or lunch detention.
“I would give the kid a pencil,” I said.
“You mean the first time?” someone asked.
“Every time,” I said.
This evidently had not occurred to them. There must be some punishment, subtle humiliation or a response that makes the kid pay for the error, right? They were concerned that my action would reinforce and reward poor behavior, possibly even help develop bad habits.
What they failed to see is that the teacher is not the cause of the problem. Likely, the student has been doing this for years. The teacher can respond by criticizing the child in front of the class, reminding him that pencils are required at school, making her give up something as collateral or inflicting some punishment as a power move.
Or the instructor can simply provide the pencil and say, “There will always be a pencil here for you. Don’t ever worry about asking me for a pencil. I have hundreds of them.”
By eliminating the anxiety that comes when students worry about being called out or humiliated in front of their peers, teachers reduce the chance that students will skip class, give up, become defiant or develop mysterious “illnesses” that cause them to stay home….
Read more here: Give The Kid A Pencil
I have a 5 year old, and a lucky one at that. If he’s had a bad night and is tired, I can keep him home from school or collect him early. Either way, he is warm and well fed. Some days, even with all that, he’s not on top form.
Still, even with bad days, research shows that children like him stand a good chance of doing well in life. He has access to a warm, dry home, to medical care, to good and plentiful food, to books and computers, and he has shoes, a coat and a bed. Not everyone is so fortunate.
Over 285, 000 Kiwi kids live in poverty, with 17% of our tamariki going without the day to day things they need. Three fifths of those children live like that for years on end.
Many children don’t eat well and don’t have access to proper medical care. They live in houses that are not healthy. They might be cold. They may not sleep well.
But whatever their circumstances, five days a week, 40 weeks a year, off they go to school
A student’s job is to learn.
For six hours, five days a week, students come face to face with new challenges, new information, old problems they haven’t yet mastered, social interactions that need to be manoeuvred, and physical challenges big and small. It’s no mean feat to be a student.
Even when it’s fun and you’re motivated, it’s hard yakka.
Even when you are healthy, happy and safe, it’s hard yakka.
Yes, student’s job is to learn – and that’s not easy when the odds are stacked against you. That’s bloody hard yakka indeed.
Put yourself in the shoes of a less fortunate child for one moment. Imagine sleeping in a damp bed, maybe top to toe with someone else, that’s assuming you have a bed. You’re cold all night and not getting a good rest. Then waking up to an inadequate breakfast – or no breakfast at all. Off you go for the day in bare feet or worn shoes that let water in. No, you don’t have a coat – and you are walking – so if it rains you get wet.
Now imagine working all day in those damp clothes, with cold feet and a rumbling tummy.
You have to think, listen, cooperate, learn, exercise, share, write, read, calculate…. You might just have thought about lunch, but no, you don’t have lunch either – or nothing worth mentioning, nothing that will sustain you. And you still have a couple more hours to go. No-one can collect you early because they’re at work. And even if they could, it would be the same tomorrow.
Now imagine doing that day after day after day after day…
If it were you in those circumstances, how well would you do your job?
It’s a simplistic and insulting argument to put forward – arrogant, in fact. People’s lives vary so widely – no one person lives through the same circumstances as another.
As Bryan Bruce recently put it:
“I also find it interesting how some people who have ‘made it’ out of poor circumstances have the attitude “if I can do it anyone can”. Not true. Not everyone’s life experiences are the same and we have working poor now – people who work all week and still can’t make ends meet- which is a relatively recent phenomenon.”
It is well documented that poverty leads to poorer mental health and cognitive development. Put simply, if you grow up in poverty, your chances to learn well and do well later in life are reduced.
Conversely, giving children the tools so they have a far better chance of moving onwards and upwards is good for all of us, as it lessens many potential future burdens, not least of all in the health sector, unemployment, and crime.
So, when someone says, “See, poverty doesn’t matter. High expectations are all it takes to overcome poverty,” tell them to read the work of Shonkoff and the Harvard Center on the Developing Child. Some children survive the most extreme adversity, but far more do not
Isn’t it, then, a better plan to reduce poverty and make it easier for more people to be able to ‘pull their socks up’?
Children who are fed, warm, healthy and safe learn better, not just as children but also as adults. They are less likely to put financial burdens on society. They are more likely to do well.
The least a decent society can do is give them the basics to keep them fed and healthy, so they can learn and have a good chance. It’s not charity. It’s not a hand out. It’s a hand UP.
If we want people to be able to pull their socks up as adults and we want our tamariki to succeed at school, we must prevent the metaphorical socks being so far down to begin with.
Let’s give our tamariki superman socks and watch them fly.
“We are deeply concerned that measuring a great diversity of educational traditions and cultures using a single, narrow, biased yardstick could, in the end, do irreparable harm to our schools and our students.“
Dear Dr Schleicher,
We write to you in your capacity as OECD’s (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) director of the Programme of International Student Assessment (Pisa). Now in its 13th year, Pisa is known around the world as an instrument to rank OECD and non-OECD countries (60-plus at last count) according to a measure of academic achievement of 15-year-old students in mathematics, science, and reading. Administered every three years, Pisa results are anxiously awaited by governments, education ministers, and the editorial boards of newspapers, and are cited authoritatively in countless policy reports. They have begun to deeply influence educational practices in many countries. As a result of Pisa, countries are overhauling their education systems in the hopes of improving their rankings. Lack of progress on Pisa has led to declarations of crisis and “Pisa shock” in many countries, followed by calls for resignations, and far-reaching reforms according to Pisa precepts.
We are frankly concerned about the negative consequences of the Pisa rankings. These are some of our concerns:
While standardised testing has been used in many nations for decades (despite serious reservations about its validity and reliability), Pisa has contributed to an escalation in such testing and a dramatically increased reliance on quantitative measures. For example, in the US, Pisa has been invoked as a major justification for the recent “Race to the Top” programme, which has increased the use of standardised testing for student-, teacher-, and administrator evaluations, which rank and label students, as well as teachers and administrators according to the results of tests widely known to be imperfect (see, for example, Finland’s unexplained decline from the top of the Pisa table).
In education policy, Pisa, with its three-year assessment cycle, has caused a shift of attention to short-term fixes designed to help a country quickly climb the rankings, despite research showing that enduring changes in education practice take decades, not a few years, to come to fruition. For example, we know that the status of teachers and the prestige of teaching as a profession have a strong influence on the quality of instruction, but that status varies strongly across cultures and is not easily influenced by short-term policy.
By emphasising a narrow range of measurable aspects of education, Pisa takes attention away from the less measurable or immeasurable educational objectives like physical, moral, civic and artistic development, thereby dangerously narrowing our collective imagination regarding what education is and ought to be about.
As an organisation of economic development, OECD is naturally biased in favour of the economic role of public [state] schools. But preparing young men and women for gainful employment is not the only, and not even the main goal of public education, which has to prepare students for participation in democratic self-government, moral action and a life of personal development, growth and wellbeing.
Unlike United Nations (UN) organisations such as UNESCO or UNICEF that have clear and legitimate mandates to improve education and the lives of children around the world, OECD has no such mandate. Nor are there, at present, mechanisms of effective democratic participation in its education decision-making process.
To carry out Pisa and a host of follow-up services, OECD has embraced “public-private partnerships” and entered into alliances with multi-national for-profit companies, which stand to gain financially from any deficits—real or perceived—unearthed by Pisa. Some of these companies provide educational services to American schools and school districts on a massive, for-profit basis, while also pursuing plans to develop for-profit elementary education in Africa, where OECD is now planning to introduce the Pisa programme.
Finally, and most importantly: the new Pisa regime, with its continuous cycle of global testing, harms our children and impoverishes our classrooms, as it inevitably involves more and longer batteries of multiple-choice testing, more scripted “vendor”-made lessons, and less autonomy for teachers. In this way Pisa has further increased the already high stress level in schools, which endangers the wellbeing of students and teachers.
These developments are in overt conflict with widely accepted principles of good educational and democratic practice:
No reform of any consequence should be based on a single narrow measure of quality.
No reform of any consequence should ignore the important role of non-educational factors, among which a nation’s socio-economic inequality is paramount. In many countries, including the US, inequality has dramatically increased over the past 15 years, explaining the widening educational gap between rich and poor which education reforms, no matter how sophisticated, are unlikely to redress.
An organisation like OECD, as any organisation that deeply affects the life of our communities, should be open to democratic accountability by members of those communities.
We are writing not only to point out deficits and problems. We would also like to offer constructive ideas and suggestions that may help to alleviate the above mentioned concerns. While in no way complete, they illustrate how learning could be improved without the above mentioned negative effects:
1 Develop alternatives to league tables: explore more meaningful and less easily sensationalised ways of reporting assessment outcomes. For example, comparing developing countries, where 15-year-olds are regularly drafted into child labour, with first-world countries makes neither educational nor political sense and opens OECD up for charges of educational colonialism.
2 Make room for participation by the full range of relevant constituents and scholarship: to date, the groups with greatest influence on what and how international learning is assessed are psychometricians, statisticians, and economists. They certainly deserve a seat at the table, but so do many other groups: parents, educators, administrators, community leaders, students, as well as scholars from disciplines like anthropology, sociology, history, philosophy, linguistics, as well as the arts and humanities. What and how we assess the education of 15-year-old students should be subject to discussions involving all these groups at local, national, and international levels.
3 Include national and international organisations in the formulation of assessment methods and standards whose mission goes beyond the economic aspect of public education and which are concerned with the health, human development, wellbeing and happiness of students and teachers. This would include the above mentioned United Nations organisations, as well as teacher, parent, and administrator associations, to name a few.
4 Publish the direct and indirect costs of administering Pisa so that taxpayers in member countries can gauge alternative uses of the millions of dollars spent on these tests and determine if they want to continue their participation in it.
5 Welcome oversight by independent international monitoring teams which can observe the administration of Pisa from the conception to the execution, so that questions about test format and statistical and scoring procedures can be weighed fairly against charges of bias or unfair comparisons.
6 Provide detailed accounts regarding the role of private, for-profit companies in the preparation, execution, and follow-up to the tri-annual Pisa assessments to avoid the appearance or reality of conflicts of interest.
7 Slow down the testing juggernaut. To gain time to discuss the issues mentioned here at local, national, and international levels, consider skipping the next Pisa cycle. This would give time to incorporate the collective learning that will result from the suggested deliberations in a new and improved assessment model.
We assume that OECD’s Pisa experts are motivated by a sincere desire to improve education. But we fail to understand how your organisation has become the global arbiter of the means and ends of education around the world. OECD’s narrow focus on standardised testing risks turning learning into drudgery and killing the joy of learning. As Pisa has led many governments into an international competition for higher test scores, OECD has assumed the power to shape education policy around the world, with no debate about the necessity or limitations of OECD’s goals. We are deeply concerned that measuring a great diversity of educational traditions and cultures using a single, narrow, biased yardstick could, in the end, do irreparable harm to our schools and our students.
Andrews, Paul Professor of Mathematics Education, Stockholm University
Atkinson, Lori New York State Allies for Public Education
Ball, Stephen J Karl Mannheim Professor of Sociology of Education, Institute of Education, University of London
Barber, Melissa Parents Against High Stakes Testing
Beckett, Lori Winifred Mercier Professor of Teacher Education, Leeds Metropolitan University
Berardi, Jillaine Linden Avenue Middle School, Assistant Principal
Berliner, David Regents Professor of Education at Arizona State University
Bloom, Elizabeth EdD Associate Professor of Education, Hartwick College
Boudet, Danielle Oneonta Area for Public Education
Boland, Neil Senior lecturer, AUT University, Auckland, New Zealand
Burris, Carol Principal and former Teacher of the Year
Cauthen, Nancy PhD Change the Stakes, NYS Allies for Public Education
Cerrone, Chris Testing Hurts Kids; NYS Allies for Public Education
Ciaran, Sugrue Professor, Head of School, School of Education, University College Dublin
Deutermann, Jeanette Founder Long Island Opt Out, Co-founder NYS Allies for Public Education
Devine, Nesta Associate Professor, Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand
Dodge, Arnie Chair, Department of Educational Leadership, Long Island University
Dodge, Judith Author, Educational Consultant
Farley, Tim Principal, Ichabod Crane School; New York State Allies for Public Education
Fellicello, Stacia Principal, Chambers Elementary School
Fleming, Mary Lecturer, School of Education, National University of Ireland, Galway
Fransson, Göran Associate Professor of Education, University of Gävle, Sweden
Giroux, Henry Professor of English and Cultural Studies, McMaster University
Glass, Gene Senior Researcher, National Education Policy Center, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Glynn, Kevin Educator, co-founder of Lace to the Top
Goldstein, Harvey Professor of Social Statistics, University of Bristol
Gorlewski, David Director, Educational Leadership Doctoral Program, D’Youville College
Gorlewski, Julie PhD, Assistant Professor, State University of New York at New Paltz
Gowie, Cheryl Professor of Education, Siena College
Greene, Kiersten Assistant Professor of Literacy, State University of New York at New Paltz
Haimson, Leonie Parent Advocate and Director of “Class Size Matters”
Heinz, Manuela Director of Teaching Practice, School of Education, National University of Ireland Galway
Hughes, Michelle Principal, High Meadows Independent School
Jury, Mark Chair, Education Department, Siena College
Kahn, Hudson Valley Against Common Core
Kayden, Michelle Linden Avenue Middle School Red Hook, New York
Kempf, Arlo Program Coordinator of School and Society, OISE, University of Toronto
Kilfoyle, Marla NBCT, General Manager of BATs
Labaree, David Professor of Education, Stanford University
Leonardatos, Harry Principal, high school, Clarkstown, New York
MacBeath, John Professor Emeritus, Director of Leadership for Learning, University of Cambridge
McLaren, Peter Distinguished Professor, Chapman University
McNair, Jessica Co-founder Opt-Out CNY, parent member NYS Allies for Public Education
Meyer, Heinz-Dieter Associate Professor, Education Governance & Policy, State University of New York (Albany)
Meyer, Tom Associate Professor of Secondary Education, State University of New York at New Paltz
Millham, Rosemary PhD Science Coordinator, Master Teacher Campus Director, SUNY New Paltz
Millham, Rosemary Science Coordinator/Assistant Professor, Master Teacher Campus Director, State University of New York, New Paltz
Oliveira Andreotti Vanessa Canada Research Chair in Race, Inequality, and Global Change, University of British Columbia
Sperry, Carol Emerita, Millersville University, Pennsylvania
Mitchell, Ken Lower Hudson Valley Superintendents Council
Mucher, Stephen Director, Bard Master of Arts in Teaching Program, Los Angeles
Tuck, Eve Assistant Professor, Coordinator of Native American Studies, State University of New York at New Paltz
Naison, Mark Professor of African American Studies and History, Fordham University; Co-Founder, Badass Teachers Association
Nielsen, Kris Author, Children of the Core
Noddings, Nel Professor (emerita) Philosophy of Education, Stanford University
Noguera, Pedro Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education, New York University
Nunez, Isabel Associate Professor, Concordia University, Chicago
Pallas, Aaron Arthur I Gates Professor of Sociology and Education, Columbia University
Peters, Michael Professor, University of Waikato, Honorary Fellow, Royal Society New Zealand
Pugh, Nigel Principal, Richard R Green High School of Teaching, New York City
Ravitch, Diane Research Professor, New York University
Rivera-Wilson Jerusalem Senior Faculty Associate and Director of Clinical Training and Field Experiences, University at Albany
Roberts, Peter Professor, School of Educational Studies and Leadership, University of Canterbury, New Zealand
Rougle, Eija Instructor, State University of New York, Albany
Rudley, Lisa Director: Education Policy-Autism Action Network
Saltzman, Janet Science Chair, Physics Teacher, Red Hook High School
Schniedewind, Nancy Professor of Education, State University of New York, New Paltz
Silverberg, Ruth Associate Professor, College of Staten Island, City University of New York
Sperry, Carol Professor of Education, Emerita, Millersville University
St. John, Edward Algo D. Henderson Collegiate Professor, University of Michigan
Suzuki, Daiyu Teachers College at Columbia University
Swaffield, Sue Senior Lecturer, Educational Leadership and School Improvement, University of Cambridge
Tanis, Bianca Parent Member: ReThinking Testing
Thomas, Paul Associate Professor of Education, Furman University
Thrupp, Martin Professor of Education, University of Waikato, New Zealand
Tobin, KT Founding member, ReThinking Testing
Tomlinson, Sally Emeritus Professor, Goldsmiths College, University of London; Senior Research Fellow, Department of Education, Oxford University
Tuck, Eve Coordinator of Native American Studies, State University of New York at New Paltz
VanSlyke-Briggs Kjersti Associate Professor, State University of New York, Oneonta
Wilson, Elaine Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge
Wrigley, Terry Honorary senior research fellow, University of Ballarat, Australia
Zahedi, Katie Principal, Linden Ave Middle School, Red Hook, New York
Zhao, Yong Professor of Education, Presidential Chair, University of Oregon
Teachers 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.”
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.
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?
I am a mother. My banshee is 5. He just started school. He was excited – I was excited – school is fabulous. We both knew he would have a ball, learning new things, meeting new friends, having super experiences – and indeed he is. He loves it.
Thankfully has no idea of the GERMy things infecting his happy world of learning:
He has been allocated a National Student Number to track him throughout his education. His results, standards, and lord knows what else is being stored against this number. I can’t opt him out of this – trust me I have asked. He and every child in or entering the system as of the 2014 school year has an NSN, and god only knows what they are recording about him.
The data can be passed on by government to anyone they deem suitable. See that little bit there on the Ministry page that says the “National Student Number (NSN) is a unique identifier that can be used by authorised users for .. research purposes.” Yes, about that..
Because given this government’s record with our private data, and given its record on favouring business over academics, I have to say I worry. In the USA, student data is given to private companies and the likes of The Gates Foundation without any permission sought from or given by parents. And Mr Gates has his own agenda.
But it’s okay, because “The Education Act 1989 includes an offence provision, with a penalty up to a maximum of $15,000, for a conviction of misuse of the National Student Number (NSN).” Oh that’s fine then – a hefty fine like that is sure to scare off your average education reformer billionaire.
So, should we worry? Well, hell yes.
Of student data collection, Diane Ravitch said “If anyone thinks for one New York minute that the purpose of creating this database is simply for the good of teachers and students then that person is credulous in the extreme.”
My child and yours are now a government commodity.
Soon, he will be deemed well above, above, at or below standard for numeracy, reading and writing. Those labels will be added to the above data set. They are not there for him or for his teacher (who is marvellous, I might add). They are there for politicians. Make no bones about that.
And what joy for those students in small communities where they are easily identifiable, who find themselves highlighted in the national press as failing. What a treat when a student’s results are displayed in the classroom for all to see.
That must be a real inspiration for them.
Because nothing motivates someone to improve more than telling them they are below standard and then sharing that information far and wide.
Sooner or later, there will be pressure for the banshee to get up to speed with anything he is “behind” with. I don’t mean encouragement – I mean pressure. The majority of teachers will resist political pressure and carry on teaching to his interests and strengths, moving him forward appropriately from where he is to the next level. But when the message teachers are getting is that all that matters is National Standards levels, eventually pressures come to bear:
“So a couple of weeks ago when his new teacher told me he had to stay in at lunchtime to complete his writing, I was shocked. I understand he is a dreamy and imaginative child, and that he needs supervision to complete tasks sometimes (which drives me mad), but I have no idea how any teacher EVER thinks it’s ok to keep a five year old in at lunchtime. Really, what kind of system thinks punishment is a motivator?” Source
These are children, not robots. They learn like they grow – in fits and bursts, not on an easily measured path. Of course their learning needs to be tracked – in fact teachers always have tested in-class and tracked growth, so that students and teachers know what the next goals will be. But to be pushed to learn at a certain speed, as if all kids should hit targets at the same time, is not sound practice.
Sadly, National Standards is encouraging just that, and this is the type of thing we will see more and more of: Whether his teacher or school tries to mitigate it or not, education establishments are under pressure to hit politically-motivated targets, and this will inevitably filter down. Most schools do a great job of not letting students see the pressures on the school to hoop jump, but if things carry on the way they are going, teachers may not find it so easy to keep that pressure out of the classroom, even for new entrants.
The USA is years down this data-obsessed, privatisation-motivated path of lunacy, and this is what successive reforms have reduced them to:
“My kindergarteners had their standardized computerized test today. There were over 100 questions. Answers were selected by drop and drag with a trackpad, no mouse is available. One class took five hours to finish. Kids crying in 4 of 5 classes.” Source
How long until this is the fate of Kiwi kids?
You might be thinking “Oh, well, it sounds dodgy, but you can always opt out of the National Student Number and/or National Standards if you dislike them so much.”
Well, you would think so, eh? The child being mine, and all.
But no, you cannot opt out.
Just let me say that again – you, the parent, or you the student cannot opt out of having a National Student Number and having your data collected and stored and shared around by the government with whoever they see fit without your permission.
You the parent or you the student cannot refuse to be part of National Standards.
So, next time government tell you all of these changes are about parental choice, ask them about your choice to opt out. Where did that go? **
Possibly the same place it went for these US children who were pulled out of classrooms by CPS investigators for individual interviews about this month’s test boycott — without teacher or parental permission.
Intimidating children? Ignoring parents? This is where 20 years of reforms has got the USA. New Zealand is only a few years down the line of the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM), but already we are seeing the same disregard for what parents want.
I ask again, where is my choice to opt out?
People – many for the first time – are joining the dots and seeing that it’s not a few little things here and there but a concerted plan to change the face of our education system to an increasingly privatised one.
A crisis is being manufactured that just does not exist.
You want to now who’s pulling the global strings behind the GERM? You could start by reading this to see Bill Gates’ part in it all.
Whanau and Educationalists want to improve our education system. It’s good but it could be better, and they recognise that. They do not want it to stand still.
Students and teachers have much in common: they do their best work when supported, encouraged and know that what they are doing is of value. And neither achieves their best when pressured, bullied and given unsound hoops to jump through, like monkeys at a tea party.
So, when next Hekia Parata tells you that what she is doing is in the interests of the children, ask yourself this:
Is it really for the children?
Who else stands to benefit?
** NOTE: “”Differences from state schools:
Private schools are not required to follow the Government’s National Education Guidelines. This means that they do not have to follow the New Zealand Curriculum or comply with the National Standards’ requirements.”” http://www.ero.govt.nz/Review-Process/For-Schools-and-Kura-Kaupapa-Maori/Reviews-of-Private-Independent-Schools – which rather begs the question of why not, if they are meant to be sooooo darned useful?
Here is the longer and more in depth story of the test the kindy kids had to take, blogged here.
The kids are five years old, and it’s a Californian kindy. Even aside from how wrong testing kids at this age is or how ridiculous it is to test them this way – where how they do the test is a barrier to showing what they know – and the fact that the tests were not administered the same for all classes, thereby undermining the argument that they are indeed standardised …. the big question is this: is administering any test in a way that stresses teachers, parents AND students really and truly necessary? Of course it isn’t.
This is not education, this is data collection. It does not serve learners – it serves the companies that make the tests and the administrators and politicians that promote them. They should all be totally and utterly ashamed of themselves.
“”Today my kindergarten took a test called the Common Core MAP.
We had been told to set up each child with their own account on their numbered Chromebook. The Teacher on Special Assignment came around and spent about an hour in each class doing this in the previous weeks.
We didn’t know exactly when the test would be given, just that some time on Thursday or Friday, the proctors would come and test. I set out morning work for my kids today but before the bell rang, the proctor arrived. I quickly swept off the tables and she said we’d begin right away. I went out to pick up my class.
While the proctor set up the computers (disregarding what we had done — that hour the TOSA spent in each class was unnecessary), I went through the usual morning routine. Parents who happened to be in the room scrambled to unpack the headphones, which had arrived in the office that morning, and distribute the computers. We started a half hour later. The kids were excited to be using the computers. That didn’t last for long.
The test is adaptive. When a child answers a question, the next batch of questions is slightly harder or easier depending on the correctness of their answer. The math and language arts sections each had 57 questions.
The kids didn’t understand that to hear the directions, you needed to click the speaker icon. We slipped around the room explaining.
Answers were selected by drop and drag with a trackpad, no mouse was available. A proctor in one room said that if a child indicated their answer, an adult could help. Other proctors didn’t allow this. I had trouble dragging and dropping myself on the little trackpads.
Kids in one class took five hours to finish. Kids were crying in 4 of 5 classes. There were multiple computer crashes (“okay, you just sit right there while we fix it! Don’t talk to anyone!”).
There were kids sitting for half hour with volume off on headsets but not saying anything.
Kids accidentally swapped tangled headsets and didn’t seem to notice that what they heard had nothing to do with what they saw on the screen.
Kids had to solve 8+6 when the answer choices were 0-9 and had to DRAG AND DROP first a 1 then a 4 to form a 14.
There were questions where it was only necessary to click an answer but the objects were movable (for no reason).
There were kids tapping on their neighbor’s computers in frustration.
To go to the next question, one clicks “next” in lower right-hand corner…..which is also where the pop-up menu comes up to take you to other programs or shut down, so there were many instances of shut-downs and kids winding up in a completely different program.
Is this what we want for our youngest children?””
So, New Zealand, this is where the madness will lead us if we let the reformers carry on their merry path of obsession with DATA DATA DATA collection at any cost.
Testing children to find out where they are at is necessary – teachers test all the time – we always have done. The teacher should do it routinely and without stress as a normal part of learning, so that both teacher and student can see what needs to be learned next. The abomination outlined above is something else entirely.
When you next hear about some supposedly essential reforms or changes to our education system, ask yourself who is pushing the changes, who stands to benefit financially before assuming they are for the good of the kids. Often, they are for the benefit of business. Just ask Pearson, or Gates, or Murdoch. Or Banks.
Don’t let your child become a data point in a business plan.
Teachers in the USA – join BATs in fighting these reforms.
Teachers in New Zealand – join the Kiwi BATs to raise your teacher voice.
It’s great to see so many people from all walks of life discussing education and how we can best make improvements. Even better that so much of the discussion is calm and reasoned.
Not everyone agrees with each other – that’s impossible – but it is brilliant that we are talking about it.
It is so important people share their ideas, thoughts and concerns, and be honest about them so that a true and honest dialogue begins with parents and teachers at the heart of it, alongside academics, politicians, iwi, and in fact everyone in the country.
Every voice matters.
I’m serious. Not one of us knows it all. I don’t have the answers – neither do you. But together we can share what we know, synthesise the ideas, and begin to unpick what might work best to further improve our schools.
It’s important, though, that we are clear on the goals we wish to achieve. My own would be to improve public education for all children and to keep education free and equitable. (Equitable doesn’t mean same for everyone, it just means fair for everyone).
I realise my goals may not be your goals. This is why any discussion must focus on our goals first, to gain clarity, consensus and direction.
Half the problems come when the parties involved either haven’t thought in any detail about what they truly are aiming for.
Some of the issues occur when they have thought about it choose not to be honest about what they want or why.
That’s not good enough.
To get anywhere, we all must be honest and then stand by what we believe, whilst listening to and considering fairly the other points of view.
It is totally fine to disagree. It is fine to debate and challenge and reconsider things – in fact, not much of any value happens without doing that. But we must be prepared to take on new evidence and reconsider our stance.
And we absolutely must be honest. Saying one thing while believing another will help no-one.
Worse still is saying one thing while doing another.
It all starts with openness and honesty and listening.
Only then can we get an truly inclusive, wide-ranging dialogue going.
Now why not do some thinking and sharing of your own, by joining in the discussions here:
Our education system ain’t broke, yet, by Brigid McCaffery (Stuff Nation)
Stop Playing Politics With Education, by Stephen McCartney (Stuff Nation)
Trust teachers to teach your children, by Mike Boon (Stuff Nation)
Education No Political Football, by Tracy Livingstone (Stuff Nation)
Get politics out of our schools, by Judy Johannessen (Stuff Nation)
The site allows you to input your letter and details, tick the newspaper you want, and hit send. Easy.
The page allows you to search for MPs by party and name, and is easy to use.
– type your letter in a word processor, spell checker it, proof read a final time and then paste the text of your letter back over to the web page ready to send. (The web page doesn’t spell check your letter.)
– if you want to write to more than one newspaper and stand a good chance of being published, bear in mind that newspapers usually want exclusive letters (i.e. not the same letter sent to multiple newspapers). It pays to rewrite/re-edit your letter for each newspaper, so that you have more chance of them being published.
– speak to the issues not about the people involved.
Also, you may wish to:
– Share this page and encourage others to do their bit. No matter where you are in the debate, all voices are essential for a healthy discussion.
– Share your letter with others to inspire them
Thank you for doing your bit. Every voice counts.
Oh, and one more thing, please be sure to…