Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Whose agenda ought we be following in education?



While  schools are increasingly being constrained by the imposition of National Standards right wing politicians introduce another failing idea from the USA (and the UK) -  Charter Schools' -  which are to be given considerable freedom.

I made use of 'The Most Important Speech' posting - based on Diane Ravitch's for my blog below. The linked blog is well worth a read by all principals and BOTs - as is the PDF file it refers to.


When politicians interfere with educational provision without democratic consultation we are in trouble. All too often such ideas have popular appeal until they are given more thought. Without time to consider implications the ideas develop a life of their own.

These politicians are undermining education for their own political ends. The idea that our schools are failing is a cynically crafted myth by those who want to privatise 'our' schools.

American educational philosopher Horace Mann wisely said, many years ago,  that when partisan politicians introduce their ideas the result is that public education is demeaned as is respect for professional judgement.  Educational consultant Michael Fullan  has written more recently that politicians always get it wrong; he should know because he has wrongly advised politicians in the UK and Canada!

Educational critics start off by stating that schools have let too many children fail -in New Zealand Ruth Richardson, Bill English, John Key, and now, New Zealand's answer to the American Tea party, - John Banks.

Three things are ignored in the lack of debate.

Firstly the troublesome home circumstances created by poverty is ignored. This poverty has been escalated by failing market forces policies which had at their premise the belief that wealth would 'trickle down'. New Zealand is now one of the countries with the widest 'rich/ poor gap' in the Western World. Conservative politicians fail to acknowledge that the so called 'achievement tail' correlates to the 'one in five students' living in poverty and prefer to spread the more simplistic 'schools are failing 'one in five students.' What is ignored is that even before the first day at school there is an achievement gap.

There is a story of two doctors waiting by a river who see a somebody drowning and the rescue the person.Then another drowning body appears and they pull him out, then another , and another. finally one of the doctors runs up stream and the other calls out, 'where are you going?' The running doctor calls back, 'I am going to see why they are falling in!'

Are we looking upstream to see the causes of school failure?

Politicians like John Key and John Banks say that teachers are using poverty as an excuse yet lack of equality and opportunity can't be that simply ignored.

Secondly while choice is trumpeted as the reason for charter schools the public school system is increasingly being constrained by the politicians imposition of standards- another simplistic political idea with appeal until the consequences are thought through. The ideas of standards come to us from the USA and UK where they result in narrowing of the curriculum, league tables and teaching to the tests. Ironically the most successful American Charter schools are those that have the tightest accountability requirements - so much for choice and diversity.

Thirdly New Zealand schools score highly ( in the first four or so) in the International Tests in Literacy , Numeracy  and other curriculum areas. Both the UK and the USA are seen as failing systems in this respect yet they are the countries our politicians want to follow! Politicians are blind to the more liberal approaches of such countries as Finland. Top achieving countries, like Finland, do not test every child every year. And those that do ignore creativity, innovation and imagination.

Both National Standards and Charter Schools, no matter their superficial appeal, are not silver bullets - raising children achievement is not as simple as their proponents think. Such ideas contribute to a poisonous narrative that colours the minds of the public and destabilizes  the reputation of public education and will add to the gap between so called 'winners and loser' schools.

The sad thing in all this is that the enlightened New Zealand Curriculum, the vital role schools play in creating a democracy, and innovative ideas that creative schools are implementing will be ignored .

Already most primary schools have , for their survival and reputation, have already distorted their programmes to focus on literacy and numeracy - and an obsession with testing -  resulting in students with talents and passion  in other areas  being ignored.

National Standards and Charter Schools ( if they are to be  tied to tight accountability requirements) are no answer. If Charter Schools are to be given given greater flexibility and choice then this also ought to be given to all schools.

There is no argument about the importance of literacy and numeracy but if New Zealand is to become a creative and innovative country then developing every students gifts and talents ought to be the driver for all school change. What is missing by current reformers is the neglect of imagination, creativity and imagination.

For this we need to re-imagine schools completely. We need to move out of  a standardised  'one size fits all'  schooling and move towards personalising education.

Educators understand that children develop in different ways and at different paces and respond differently to different experiences - they cannot be seen as a easily defined product or measured outcome.

What we need is a new narrative for a 21stC education system  one that promotes critical thinking and innovative ideas required for the future.

Creative teachers have always known this.

This ought to be the focus for anyone involved in education.  History will not look kindly on politicians ( and schools) that support such retrogressive ideas. Until this happens how many students will learn to see themselves as failures. How many good teachers will lose hope and leave? Who will want to be a principal in such a managerial, uncreative and technocratic environment?

We have to fight for a different narrative - one that makes sense to parents and the wider community once they have been give the time to consider the faults of the current bunch of self serving conservative politicians.





5 comments:

Mac Stevenson said...

Agreed Bruce. Well said as usual. This is the narrative that needs to be out there especially for the pollies to read.
Problem as I see it is they know all this and the agenda really has nothing to do with education - as is stated in The Standard today.

Bruce said...

Thanks Mac - education is in for difficult times. The biased leading the confused.

Anonymous said...

The future couldn't be made clearer or more depressing - will schools finally wake up and see what is ahead of them?

Anonymous said...

Great post Bruce. I take heart that you, Kelvin Smythe, Danny Nicholls and others are making your voices heard about what is happening to education in NZ.

Bruce said...

It is important that everyone concerned about the direction education is taking has their voice heard - and one day, maybe, people will listen as well - because , one thing is sure, 'you aint seen nothing yet!'