Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Developing all students' talents or imposing conformist standards

Our education system, with its genesis in industrial age thinking, was never designed to educate all students. At best it was a way of sorting out students who might progress. That they have succeeded with so many students is to their credit but today they are well past their use by date. New thinking is required. The age of standardisation is over but the government seems to be unaware of this.

We have a problem in our schools - it is one of disengagement which is at a worrying level at years 7 to 10.

The government with its popular mandate believes the answer is to do with poor teaching of literacy and numeracy in primary schools and intends to introduce the failed concept of standards against the wisdom of highly respected educationalists, the Primary Principal's Federation and the primary teacher union.

I had hoped that common sense would prevail and that at least a trial would be set up but it seems not. Yesterday the Prime Minister made it clear the standards are to be imposed this year and that school Boards that did not comply would be sacked.

And this from a political party that believes in initiative, freedom and individual responsibility. As I see it it is the the worst case of political interference ( social engineering) or a government imposing a centralized agenda on schools. State socialism of the worst kind - free market Stalinism.

Students are failing, there is no doubt about this; we do not need national standards to find out who that are and we know that the worrying problem of student disengagement increases between the ages of 12 and 15 or so. Imposing literacy and numeracy standards in primary schools will not solve this problem - it will make it even worse by distorting the learning experiences of students and distracting the time and energy of teachers.

What is really required is some rethinking of the school system which is just not possible to educate all the students in its present arrangement. The joy of learning, which all students are born with, is lost as students 'progress' through the system.

Standardisation might have worked in an industrial age but the world has changed dramatically and what is now required is the develop the creativity and initiative and individuality of all students. We need a school system that centres on helping each student develop their unique talents - naturally this has to include literacy and numeracy.

What is required is a personalised approach to learning from an earl;y age.Even primary schools the past decades have lost the creativity and have fallen into the trap of standardized or formulaic 'best practice' learning. The problem comes to a head in early secondary school when non academic students begin to lose interest.

Retaining all students interest in and joy of learning is the real challenge.

A recent survey in the UK slams schools

'Many British adults say they did not realise their true potential until years after they had left school. A survey of 2000 people found on that, on average, they cited 22 as the age they found their niche in life.Nearly half of those surveyed felt they were regarded as average or poor students while they were at school. Of those, 15 percent they never really got the chance to discover their talent in the classroom because their teacher had written them off as failures.'

How will imposing national standards fix this?

Standards will mean that all students will be assessed twice a year and recorded as below, average or above average. As is is not possible for everyone to be above average students will continue to disengage from their own learning. This will be made worse by the ignoring of their special talents in the process. This is what has happened in the two countries that have developed such an approach - the UK and the US - both performing far worse that NZ!

If schools accept the imposition of the conformist standards then I am out of helping such schools but will remain as an advocate for teacher creativity.

For educators there is a choice to be made that will require leadership and courage.

Already those in the Ministry have learnt to dance to the tune of the new masters selling their integrity in the process as have those who deliver contracts for the Ministry.

Are schools next to cave in in this brave new 'big brother knows best' standardized world?


Anonymous said...

Strong words Bruce but I appreciate your position. Focus on those few brave creative souls that always make the difference in the long term. The others will change nothing except hold up progress.

The current Minister is a self rightious false self appointed populist delusionist saviour!

bvmc said...

Have any of you seen the new school in Christchurch

Bruce said...

No but I do know there are lots of creative schools out there and it will be a shame if their efforts are distracted by the imposition of national standards.

Bruce said...

Hi anon. Sums up our pathetic Minister!

Sandy said...

The government seems to have a mantra to attract votes. " 50000 students failing" or something similar. Well the devil would be in the detail of this statement. Who are these students - where is the detail? Where is the family and community collective responsibility for these students -we only have the students 5 hours a day. I think that you are correct in saying that the issue is about disengagement and not test scores. Ask any teacher about disengaged students - who are they and where are they ? The teachers know these kids and they know that their issues are linked to poverty. The government needs to address these issues in a holistic way - like ensuring that all students get to school, access early childhood ed, are fed, housed and healthy. The Golly Miss Tolly mantra needs to be challenged. Its vote catching and not helpful in the debate. It lacks detail and is scaremongering the public.

Ofcourse in NZ our tests are not like the SATS. You dont go into a hall and sit a prescribed test from age 6 yrs. We have a range of formative assessment material that we choose from in our NZ schools. So we cant really compare the testing environments. The issue is that we dont want to go to that type of environment either. We want to continue support assessment for learning and promoting a love of learning and skills to learn for life.

The national standards legislation is imbedded in the following legislation:

Where a school has students enrolled in years 1-8, the board of trustees, with the principal and teaching staff, is required to use National Standards to:

(a) report to students and their parents on the student’s progress and achievement in relation to National Standards. Reporting to parents in plain language in writing must be at least twice a year;

(b) report school-level data in the board’s annual report on National Standards under three headings:

school strengths and identified areas for improvement;
the basis for identifying areas for improvement; and
planned actions for lifting achievement.
(c) report in the board’s annual report on

the numbers and proportions of students at, above, below or well below the standards, including by Māori, Pasifika and by gender (where this does not breach an individual’s privacy); and
how students are progressing against the standards as well as how they are achieving.

It is interesting that while in the Board annual report we are required to report numbers that are at, above and below the standards it is not necessary for teachers to report that to parents.

Teachers are required to report progress against the standards.

We need to be very wary of policy makers spin around this legislation. I have noticed with the Ministry of Ed that often their interpretation of legislation is more than what is in it.
We do not actually have to put our students in the - below, at, above boxes - we are required to report progress. This makes the report examples on the national standards website at odds with the legislation.

We have a great new curriculum, where each school can determine what are the priorities for their students. We dont want National Standards to send us back to the prescriptive curriculum we have just put in the shredder!

All I can say is New Zealand - be careful what you wish for - we voted them in! Two years to go!

Bruce said...

Thank you Sandy. I love the 'Good golly Mrs Tolley' phrase. Simplistic populist vote catching politics of the worst kind. Failure there is but the answer is not the distraction and straight jacketing of National's standards. Too much collateral damange with its focus on symptoms. As you say it needs a total systems approach to children in society to solve. Far too difficult for politicians with Mrs Tolley's lack of imagination.

Sandy said...

I think she is on the way out

Bruce said...

I'd like to think so Sandy but it is becoming too black and white with the great unwashed ( led by the Herald) coming at us in full ignorance. Fingers crossed.

Sandy said...

Well I think that now that John Key has said that National Standards is about identifying poor performing teachers - he is getting more honest about the intent of National Standards. Not that we want poor performing teachers in the system. But once again its political clap trap - because testing kids and saying they are failures because they don't achieve on that day to reach an arbitary line in the sand will not support the employment relations act process of job termination. If that needs to happen upskill the boards on employment legislation and leave the kids to get on with their learning, with their great teachers in their innovative New Zealand Schools.

Anonymous said...

Talents or conformity? - no real choice with our government: conformity through imposed standards.