Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fasten Your Seatbelts!

Guest Post by Allan Alach

Well, as I’ve been predicting, along with many others, it seems, from this article by Kelvin Smythe, that national testing is on the way. I don’t know Kelvin’s source for this, but seeing as he was spot on with his story about the Ministry of Education seeking people to train for limited statutory manager roles in schools, we can expect that his source is accurate this time as well.

It was only a matter of time, as many commentators have been saying, for testing to appear on the radar. National’s standards were never going to work, for many reasons, all of which have been well expressed in many different forums. My suspicion is that the protests and non-compliance from schools is exactly what was expected and that we may have played very nicely into their hands.

As I have written previously in a number of other guest postings on this blog, this now opens the way for a probable attack on the lack of professionalism of principals, the New Zealand Principals Federation (NZPF), and even more importantly in the eyes of the National government, an attack on the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI). For overseas readers, the NZEI is the primary teachers union, representing principals and teachers, while the NZPF is a professional body for principals and is not their union.

These attacks would be used to justify the introduction of the national testing regime because 'of the unprofessionalism and vested interests' of these groups, and especially the NZEI for ‘protecting incompetent teachers.’ The only remaining question is whether this will appear as part of the coming election campaign, or be kept secret until after the election. My personal opinion is that while union bashing will be a feature of the campaign, the testing agenda won’t be revealed until after the election, should the National Party be returned to power. This would be consistent with other policies of the present government.

This approach is completely consistent with the models used in the USA, which is to be expected, seeing as the whole standards agenda, including rhetoric, seems to be a carbon copy of the process there. This link has been made time and time again, by many people, including Kelvin Smythe and Bruce Hammonds here in New Zealand and by Phil Cullen in Australia, and many others, and I’ve also drawn the dots together in my articles. Everything is tracking according to the predictions we’ve all made, and if you care to check out ALEC in the USA (especially their education policies) you’ll see where much of this originates.

The latest edition of the Education Today magazine will be out shortly. This includes an article that Bruce Hammonds asked me to write about the book “A Measure of Failure: The Political Origins of Standardized Testing” and especially looking at this in the New Zealand context. One thing that is very clear, from this, and many other books (for example “The Case Against Standardized Testing” by Alfie Kohn) is that standardized tests are imposed for political reasons, to enable the ‘school reform’ agenda to be set in place. Read this article when Education Today arrives and you’ll see what I getting at, and why.

Why ‘school reform?’ That is easy to answer, and the path is well laid out - to open the way for privatisation of schools. Phil Cullen has illustrated this very well in his Treehorn Express newsletters, as have many people in the USA. The most well known of these is Diane Ravitch and there are many, many others, such as Alfie Kohn and Susan Ohanian. How much more evidence do you need?

How about this article then?

“What Does Rupert Murdoch Want With America's Schools?

Murdoch has made it very clear that he views America's public schools as a potential gold mine.”

That’s Murdoch. What about the Pearson Group? McGraw Hill? Both are heavily involved in US education. Pearson Group have a nice little deal running - one of their subsidiaries helped develop the USA Common Core Standards (like national’s standards, but worse). Another subsidiary is developing curriculum resources to ‘assist schools in raising achievement” against these standards. And so the stories keep on coming - they’re all out there in plain view, if you care to look. Here’s an example: Erect Wall Between Test Companies and School Officials

There are many USA websites and Facebook pages that provide all the information you could ever want. I’ve listed these several times in previous articles.

Think we are immune from this corporatisation? Why would you think that? Is there an opportunity for the private sector to make profits running schools? Seeing as a private company is making a profit out of running a prison in Auckland, why would schools be exempt? Is there an opportunity for private companies to prepare and sell curriculum resources that will supposedly help children pass tests? Common overseas; are we any different?


The future is very clear.

National testing, and all that follows from this, is on its way unless the people of New Zealand take action to stop it.

Unless there has been much preparation behind the scenes, which has been kept secret, I can’t see systems being ready for this to arrive in 2012.

With the three year term of a New Zealand government, 2014 is the next election year. Introducing tests then seems to be politically risky. What does that leave?


Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Ministry of Mindcontrol is also the Ministry of Truth.

Guest Blog by Allan Alach

I had hoped to be able to write an education focussed article for once, but in today’s political climate, education is way off the agenda.

So we are now are in the next phase of the battle against national’s standards (which is what they really are), following the imposition of charters on to non-compliant schools by MiniMind, a.k.a Ministry of Mindcontrol a.k.a Ministry of Education.

It seems, from the reports of MiniMind threats to schools up north, that Orwell’s label “Ministry of Truth” (Minitrue) also be applied to MiniMind, to give us MiniMind & Minitrue.

For those who don’t know the story, on Friday September 10, two principals of small schools received a telephone call from a regional Ministry of Education official over the ‘disclaimers’ each school’s Board of Trustees (elected groups of parents to govern schools) had added as a protest against the forced inclusion of Ministry of Education defined targets in their school charters.

This Ministry official apparently told both principals that the disclaimer had to be removed by Monday or else a limited statutory manager would sent in to each school. The stories recounted by both principals are very similar. The Ministry, on the other hand, deny such phone conversations took place, or that the threat of limited statutory managers was made.

Two very different stories here. Someone is telling ‘porkies’ (a big lie - from the English rhyming slang 'porky pies', which rhymes with lies.)

Who do you think it is? The two principals who separately related their recollections of the phone calls, or the Ministry of Education, wearing their Minitrue hats?

Let’s take, at face value, the Ministry denial, that limited statutory managers are not being sent in to schools who are fighting national’s standards, and the forcibly imposed charter targets.

Why then is the Ministry approaching people to train them for a statutory manager’s role, with November 21 being mentioned as a possible date? What’s the significance of November 21, apart from being the Monday in the last week of the election campaign? I see that Kelvin Smythe has also picked up on this. Please note his advice over the use of the phrase ‘disclaimer.’

Looking at developments over time, connected with this planned strike against schools in the last week of the election campaign, we can discern a degree of increasing anxiety at higher levels that all is not running to plan. Have you noticed that the Ministry’s statements and actions keep changing? That what is acceptable one week, is not acceptable the following week? This makes it even more vital that we all hold fast until the election, at the very least.

Tragically, the Ministry of Education has been diverted from the role of supporting and developing education to becoming the policing arm of government. The aggressive attitude of the Ministry towards schools, regardless of their positions over national’s standards, is very disturbing. Note also that the government (and Minister of Education) is being very quiet on these moves against schools, leaving the Ministry to take the ‘bully boy’ role. Anything to do with the coming elections by any chance?

I am sure that many Boards of Trustees will have noticed that their national organisation, the New Zealand School Trustees Association (NZSTA), is extremely quiet over all this. Given that a significant proportion of their member school boards are under extreme pressure, one would think that this association would be providing support and guidance. Not a sound, it seems. What does this tell us about the political allegiances of the movers and shakers in key NZSTA positions? All we need to know, actually.

This year has seen many key people leaving the head office of the Ministry of Education, for unspecified reasons. It is very easy to speculate that these departures are linked, and that many people, those with principles, have walked out. We can also speculate that there are Ministry employees, both in the head office, and in regional offices, who are very uncomfortable with the position that they now find themselves in, but who cannot afford to quit. Horrible situation, and we need to have empathy for these people.

There is a third group however; those who are actively and enthusiastically implementing any aspect of the Ministry’s agenda, and especially those who have been appointed as Student Achievement Practitioners (SAPs.) What an appropriate acronym!

These ‘quislings’ have come from an extensive background of experience in education. Many are former principals who have now joined the Ministry’s version of East Germany’s Stasi secret police, tasked with ensuring that schools comply.

Kelvin Smythe, in his typical ‘take no prisoners’ manner, has addressed the role of SAPs in this posting SAPs being turned into goon squads.If you’ve not read this article, now would be a very good time.

Recently the Labour Party released their education policy for the coming election campaign. This policy has taken note of the concerns raised about national’s standards, and, if elected, Labour will make these standards voluntary, do away with the requirement to send data to the Ministry of Education ( no league tables) and switch the focus back to the achievement bands detailed in the New Zealand Curriculum.

This is essentially a move back to the pre-national’s standards situation, although Labour have covered their bases by maintaining a focus on ‘raising achievement’, as Labour education spokesperson Sue Moroney writes in this Waikato Times article,

Labour will set high expectations for each student according to his or her individual ability – we call it "Reaching for the Stars." We'll also make sure parents get clear and regular feedback on their child's progress against the New Zealand curriculum. We know that children achieve more when their parents are actively involved in their education. That's why Labour will require schools to report in plain language to parents about how their child is achieving, what progress they have made and agree on what the next learning steps are.
Schools will be required to use nationally recognised assessment tools and teacher judgment to inform parents, so they can be actively involved in their children's education.

Any move away from national’s standards, the rhetoric such as “raising the bar and aspirational achievement”, league tables, and the underlying school effectiveness agendas, is extremely welcome. While it needs to be acknowledged that there were political considerations involved on the drafting of this policy, it is also very clear that the battle for education has a long way to go, in order to excise every little piece of the ‘raising achievement’ cancer, so that a child’s true educational development becomes the focus, not just better “reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic.”

Recent correspondence with many people overseas, such as Phil Cullen in Australia, and those behind the United Opt Out website in the USA, has proven beyond doubt that national’s standards, and all that lie behind these, are part of an international agenda. This has come as rather a big shock to our USA colleagues, who were stunned to find out that both Australia, and New Zealand, two countries held in very high regard in US education circles, were being taken down the standards road.

To illustrate this, here is a comment from Yetta Goodman, internationally recognised authority on reading:

How sorry to hear that the country that has been a model for curriculum that is constructivist and supported teachers to negotiate curriculum with their students since at least the 1930's is being influenced by the U.S. And your model produces better results (international tests) then most other countries. You are often listed in the the attack on schools in the U.S.

re: test scores as one of the highest scoring countries in the world. I remember when we were in New Zealand years ago, the curriculum being presented at that time was being circulated for a two year period so parents could respond to it as well as educational professionals. Please resist the imposition of high stakes tests. New Zealanders have all kinds of ways to evaluation/assess their students in their classrooms. Your pedagogy has been influential in establishing holistic teaching experiences for students in the U.S.?

Your post should help us all realize that the testing impositions used to make high stakes decisions are not simple issue just plaguing the U.S. The issues are global and we need to understand the underlying causes for such international responses to the education of our populations. We heard so many similar issues as are being raised in this blog being stated at the European Reading Association in Belgium this summer.”

The next two months will be crucial for the school experiences of today’s school children, for children still to start school, and those yet to be born.

National’s standards are a side road on the journey to a much worse destination!

What can you do?
Share these links with others

Write to:
  • The Prime Minister
  • The Leaders of Labour, Green, Maori, and Mana political parties
  • Your local member of Parliament
  • Your local newspaper
  • The New Zealand School Trustees Association.
Talk to as many people as possible:
  • Two hundred thousand concerned voters will stop this.
Are you prepared to take up the battle? Are you able to debate from a very informed position?

If not, why?
  • Too busy?
  • Different priorities?
  • Head in the sand?
What’s the worst that could happen?
Tragically, many of us will be able to say “I told you so.”

Let’s not go there.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Schools - so last Century

The Minister of Education's 'experts' figuring how to improve standardisation of education not able to comprehend they are facing the wrong century!

At the end of the nineteenth century schools were developed to meet the needs of an industrial age to transfer knowledge to often reluctant students and, in many ways, they have changed little since those beginnings. In contrast almost every other aspect of our lives has been changed through technological advances. Roland Barth, from the Harvard Leadership Centre has written, ‘many of our schools seem en-route to becoming a hybrid of a nineteenth century factory, a twentieth century minimum security penal colony and a twenty-first century Education Testing Service’.

Unfortunately, for our collective futures, current school reforms are still grounded on ideas based on this industrial model of learning. The New Zealand Certificate of Educational Achievement (NZCEA) and the primary school National Standards are excellent examples of such standardisation.

Even though there are genuine worries about a lack of engagement of an increasing number of students there is no great urgency about restructuring education for the twenty first century. Sadly the current conservative government’s ‘bold plan’ is to return to the standardisation of the past by placing a greater emphasis on measuring literacy and numeracy standards. The result of these ‘reforms’ will result in many young people’s natural excitement, passions and curiosity about the world becoming more thwarted than nurtured.

Mass education was a powerful dream of liberal governments of the nineteenth century.
They were designed to reflect the ideals and methods of industrial workplaces and train students for working on assembly lines or for manual labour. Students were sorted by age and ability, sat in rows, moved from room to room at the ring of a bell several times a day, to receive compartmentalised learning. Progress on this educational assembly line was tested regularly with these tests determining the students’ futures. Such schools were run with factory-like routine and efficiency and, as with factories, run in a hierarchical way instilling lessons of unquestioned obedience and authority.

For schools the past is the present

The trouble is the world has changed dramatically and schools are no longer able to educate all those who now must attend until their late teens.
Until the 1950’s only a few selected academic students entered secondary schools, the remainder leaving earlier to take up manual labour. Even now schools are still not providing adequately for their non-academic, highly creative, or culturally different students. For many students mass education has become a nightmare. It is important to appreciate that it is not the teachers who are failing but rather it is that secondary schools were never designed to cater for such a diverse range of students. Words like imagination, personalisation and invention do not apply to schools while standardisation, conformity, and obedience fit so well. Indeed when imagination and invention are now seen as prerequisites for the future survival of innovative organisations schools remain out of step.

A new future for schools is required

The world of work has been transformed with the advent of modern communication media.
In the future students will leave school to enter jobs that, as yet, do not exist and will change their jobs several times during their lifetime. Just as the assembly line changed the workplace at the beginning of the twentieth century the power of the Internet is having an enormous effect on how we work, interact, communicate and live today. All the world’s diversions now exist at our fingertips, one mouse click away. Standardisation and vertical hierarchies are virtually outmoded in innovative companies. It is the intellectual knowledge of individuals that now provides the new capital for the future success of any organisation.

All these changes are not going away
. Futurists write that the speed of change will escalate beyond our imaginations. The challenge for schools is how to prepare students for this escalating ever evolving future. What will be needed are schools based on tapping into students’ gifts and talents based on new understandings about how students learn.

New literacies are required for the future.

New skills, competencies, or literacies, will be required by students when they enter the future work force. The more creative will invent their own vocations. These literacies embrace personal skills (including an appreciation of other cultures) communication skills (involving information technology), networking skills, collaborative skills and analytical skills. Most of all they will need the ability and confidence to pull together ideas from a range of sources to make intuitive instant judgments. To succeed, students must learn about the world in wholes, rather than fragmented bits and pieces, through engagement in authentic learning interdisciplinary contexts. Teachers must spend more time finding out what students have in their minds instead of instructing them in ‘what they need to know’. Students’ interests, attitudes, and prior knowledge will influence what they wish to learn. Business philosopher Peter Drucker has written that the first country to develop a truly twenty first education system will win the future. Singapore, Finland, Korea and China are well on the way.

Ambiguity distracts progress in New Zealand

New Zealand teachers are in an ambiguous situation. The 2007 New Zealand Curriculum, signed off by the previous government, offered a clear creative direction for schools with its vision of developing all students as ‘confident connected active life-long learners’, with its focus on developing the future competencies students require. One phrase, in particular, that captures the essence of a future education, is that all students need to become, ‘seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge’. But ambiguity has emerged because the current government intends turning the clock back by imposing (against virtually all educators’ advice) National Standards in Literacy and numeracy. Overseas experience clearly demonstrates that this direction leads to an unfortunate narrowing of the curriculum at the very time we need to be exposing our students to a wide range of interdisciplinary possibilities. And, to make matters worse, this emphasis directs attention away from the far more important task of implementing the 2007 Curriculum. Other than political rhetoric there is minimal focus on the increasing lack of engagement and alienation of students at the lower secondary school – the students who in earlier times left to take up manual jobs as soon as they could. I believe these students are the equivalent of canaries in old fashioned coal mines.

Students equipped with life long passions.

What is required of schools is to ensure all students leave with their curriculum vitae full of skills and accomplishments that will assist them in their search for vocations; equipped to pursue their true life passions. Only an educational transformation can provide such future proofing. Today such an education is nearly impossible in secondary schools with their antiquated fragmented timetables. Only a personalised system based on developing the gifts, talents and passions of all students can fully equip them.

New Zealand must encourage the entrepreneurial talents of all its future citizens. Every effort should be made to ensure students find out what they are passionate about, to be supported in realising this passion, and to be provided with experiences to connect them to new possibilities. Most of all schools need to encourage them to spend their lives pursuing the dreams and goals that excite them the most. ‘Every person’, writes Tom Friedman in his book The World is Flat, ‘should figure out how to make himself or herself untouchable…to acquire new skills, knowledge, and expertise that enables them to create know how to learn… and to be skillfully adaptable and socially adaptable.’ Thomas Pink, in his book, A Whole New Mind, writes that ‘the future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind – creators and empathisers, pattern recognisers and meaning makers. These people – artists, inventors, designers, story tellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers – will reap societies’ rewards and share its greatest joys’.

Imagine a world with all students’ passions intact.

Imagine a world where students leave school with their passions intact; curious about the world and retaining the innate desire, that they were born with, to learn. So many students, including so-called successful achievers, have lost this intrinsic desire to utilise their creativity. Sir Ken Robinson, an expert on creativity, has spent years speaking around the world (including New Zealand) about how society has beaten the joy of learning out of our children so that by the time they leave secondary school they are standardised in their thinking. This is particularly ironic as it is creative and innovative ‘out of the box’ thinking that those cutting-edge companies now pursue. How paradoxical that as a culture we value highly those who are creative and who pursue their passions as vocations but won’t provide an education structure to nurture them. The industrial aged standardised education system has a lot to answer for.

The need for a passion based system

There is a real need for a passion – based education system’, writes American educator Sheryl Nussbaum–Beach, ‘where teachers and students create their own learning by engaging in authentic problem solving leading them to where their passions lie’. She, however, is the first to admit that, ‘it can’t be done in the current test crazy climate we live in’. Teachers must introduce far more enriching experiences for students than they currently receive.

If schools aren’t teaching our students to pursue their talents then even the successful students will increasingly find schools irrelevant. Nussbaum-Beach talks about transforming the way most teachers who teach today using outmoded approaches, either because they were taught to teach this way, or because the accountability system makes them believe they have to teach this way. ‘We need’, she says, ‘to create classrooms that celebrate students thinking and helps them access and interrogate the information they need to learn. Engagement and empowerment need to be taken as seriously in school as innovative businesses enterprises’. She goes on to say that it is all about protecting the sense of wonderment that young children enter schools with. She is envisioning a personalisation of learning where teachers have a vital role to play by: working in interdisciplinary teams; developing respectful relationships; and by having the depth of content knowledge to ensure their students dig deeply into whatever they are learning. Such teachers, she believes, need to work from their student’s strengths to discover what their interests are. They need to practice what Jerome Bruner called, ‘the canny art of intellectual temptation’ to attract student’s curiosity. As for assessment, she writes, ‘this needs to be performance and competency based to show mastery and completed artifacts contributing to their graduation portfolios and would apply at any level of the school system.’

Questions to be asked.

For schools who wish to begin this transformational process several questions should be asked. First there is a need to examine the ideas and those often hidden assumptions that currently guide schooling. Then reflect on why they are no longer sufficient and indeed contribute to school failure? Second to ask if lasting school change can be realised through models developed away from schools? The final question is to then consider how the school can develop an internal self-renewing model able to realise the talents of all its students?

Currently the Ministry uses a hierarchical model of school change through delivering formulaic ‘best practices’ without first questioning the validity of the traditional model of schooling. There appears a distinct lack of understanding that successful reform in one school cannot be simply replicated in others. And compliance with imposed school reform is counterproductive.

Just imagine a transformed education system premised on developing the passions, talents and gifts of all students. Such a system would have the potential to contribute to ensuring New Zealand is a truly innovative and creative country.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Placing in depth inquiry learning first!

Exploring the animal life in local stream, studying adaptation of the animals, investigating pollution, working out speed, depth and capacity of the water and, in one case in our province, exploring the river from its source on the mountain to the sea. This is the stuff of real learning.

Creative teachers have always placed developing authentic realistic and first hand experiences followed by creative expression through the arts central to their programmes .Important to such teachers was the need to provide opportunities to develop all the innate gifts and talents of their students. Today the emphasis being imposed by the government is on literacy and numeracy and, along with the conservative nature of most teachers, this has lead to less real in depth inquiry. And it needs to be made clear that creative teachers did not ignore literacy and numeracy but rather did their best to integrate it into their studies or at least to make it personally relevant to the learners so as to develop a positive attitude for such areas.

Even with inquiry being popular in schools as encouraged by outside experts it seems the emphasis is more on showing the process and not the in-depth understanding of the students of the content chosen. As someone has said , 'it is all recipe and no cake'. In earlier days pioneer creative teacher Elwyn Richardson warned that 'a study with no content is a study at risk.'

Today it is vital that teachers 're frame' their literacy and numeracy programmes so that , as much as is possible, they contribute the skills and knowledge required for students to be able to dig deeply into any content they are studying. It is all matter of emphasis. In depth content will call upon all the isolated skills often being taught out of context (and thus easily forgotten).

Jerome Bruner wrote wisely that teaching was 'the canny art of intellectual temptation' and teachers who appreciate this , and the innate curiosity of students, keep their eyes out for ideas to tempt their students with. They also tap into their students interests and concern and seasonal environmental experiences.

And they know the value of doing fewer things well.

With this in mind the following is a list of possible themes, topics, challenges that might be useful to tempt students with - topics that naturally involve a number of learning areas. Interested teachers can add greater depth to any of them. Many would fit under Learning Area Strands.

1 Animal companions - our relationship with certain animals, their welfare and habits....
2 Barriers -all about edges, frames, borders, boundaries - and things that stop us.....
3 Camouflage - how things merge into their surroundings in nature and man made.....
4 Changes - chemical, changes, life cycles, seasonal, cooking , fashion, art eras.....
5 Colour - colour mixing, meanings in colour, rainbows, how we use colour....
6 Dirt - what is it? .Different kinds of soils and rocks. Dirt and germs....
7 Faces - family resemblances, portraits, face maths, emotions, , face protection, masks..
8 Feet - types of feet, bones, what we put on them, specialised coverings, shoe fashions...
9 Flags and trademarks - countries, companies, logos, designing, history of....
10Food - where it comes from , how sold, preserving, healthy food, when it goes off...
11 Funny things - importance of humour, jokes, why we laugh ...
12 Inside/Outside -bodies, x-rays, openings, windows , doors...
13 Layers and cross sections - x-rays, fruit, cakes, buildings, skeletons, maths...
14 Life and death -life spans, wars, birth, seeds and fruits, extinctions, life after death...
15 Light - light sources, the sun, importance for plant growth, neon, electricity, shadows...
16 Looking - optical illusions, telescopes, perspective, memory and observational art..
17 Me - my appearance, dreams, things I own, habits, family tree, signature, interests...
18 Miniatures - replicas, scale models,working small, modern technology.
19 Money - history of, designs,counterfeiting, alternatives....
20 Pairs - things that come in twos, fingerprints, twins, shoes, binary numbers,symmetry..
21 Noises - sound effects, silence, scary noises, deafness, drawing sounds...
22 Reflections - mirrors,,distorting mirrors, refraction, mirror writing, history of mirrors..
23 Reproductions - of art work, printers, copiers, cloning, animal/plant reproduction...
24 Shadows - making shadows , sun dials, shadow puppets...
25 Surprises - surprise titles, surprise endings, birthdays, puzzles, jigsaws....
26 the Bush - plant life, animals, ecology, planing natives...
27 Time - old things, clock science, time lines, geological, memories, museums...
28 Wear and Decay - preservation of things, food and people, rust.....
29 Wet and Dry - keeping dry, melting ice, puddle evaporation, fountains....

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Mind Control from the Ministry of (Mis) Education

Mind control compliance 'helpers' are on the way!

Guest Blogger Allan Alach

A few days back two staff members from the Ministry of Mind Control, or in Newspeak, MiniMind (aka Ministry of Education) attended a BOT meeting to inform the BOT about all the good reasons for implementing national’s standards.
Ostensibly this was supposed to be part of the negotiation process over the non-compliant charter, except that MiniMind preempted this through their ‘use these targets’ or else letter, deemed to take effect on the long scheduled day of the meeting.

One MiniMind employee had been given the ‘salesperson’ role. He ran through a Powerpoint presentation, supposedly developed for the school, except that after a few slides it was obvious that this was THE standard Minimind slideshow prepared to sell national’s standards to BOTs. As I’d resolved to restrain myself, I kept busy typing notes of the presentation and discussion, and have now objectively analysed these.

The presentation starting with listing the reasons given for national standards.

1. Information for parents.
2. Aimed at NCEA level 2.
3. Assisting in classrooms
4. Information to MOE about how NZ school system is working
5. Self review data


1. Existing tools, from the levels defined in the NZ curriculum, to the exemplars and matrices for all curriculum areas, provide all the information schools need to report to parents. The NZ Curriculum provides for expected levels of achievement in each year group. The difference is that the levels are in age and developmentally appropriate bands, while standards are set at about the 60 to 65% above average range.

2. The standards are targeted at NCEA level 2 and distributed down in equal sized steps from there. Two points have been raised by informed educators about this. The first is that no national debate or research has been carried out to substantiate (or not) the decision to use NCEA level 2 in this way. The second point is that equal distribution of every step down does not take into account that human development, whether physically, intellectually, or in maturation, is not linear nor regular and predictable, varying in every single child,

3. Existing tools provide for all the information needed to assist teachers in their classrooms. The summative (end point) aspect of standards is far less use than the formative (diagnostic) assessment tools used by teachers.

4. It is true that there are no systems to provide numerical data to the MOE on how the school system is working. However it can be argued that the 3 yearly ERO review process is able to identify schools where there are concerns, and the MOE already have intervention and support procedures in place to help these schools.

Extending this, it can be argued that schools who receive positive ERO reports are providing quality education for their pupils.If this is not true, then the role, function and effectiveness of ERO immediately comes into question. Watch this space?

The National Education and Monitoring Project (NEMP) funded by the government, and operated by Otago University, carried out systematic sampling of children's learning at Year and Year 8, in all areas of the curriculum, on a repeating cycle. Their reports, publicly available, were very effective at recording and analysing trends, up or down. NEMP has now been renamed and has a new function, focussing on literacy and numeracy. This will now mean that research based information, previously provided by NEMP, will no longer be available to support the wider curriculum. There are significant implications here for New Zealand education.

5. Existing tools are more than capable of providing all the information schools need to carry out effective self review.

On the basis of the list of points made at the start of the presentation, there is no compelling reason for national standards that would significantly enhance a school's education and assessment programmes.

Following on, the presenter discussed a wide range of issues throughout the presentation, and I shall now comment, again objectively, on some of the statements that he made.

There is a wide range of school assessment capability across the country.

Obviously true, but to what extent? No data was provided to inform the audience as to the level of this, or the proportion of schools at various levels of effectiveness. This statement could be valid if there was one school doing extremely well and the bulk poorly, or vice versa. It was not possible to determine this one way or the other, so the statement has very low value.

The second issue that arises is that we can speculate that there will schools going very well, and schools doing poorly. Through ERO reports, schools with issues should be clearly identified and it would be reasonable to query why all schools are being required to comply with national standards on the basis of the claimed range of assessment capability.

I am a big fan of standardised tests.

The relevance of linking personal views to support national standards can not be justified, in the same way as an opinion against standardised tests could not be used as an argument against national standards.

Targets are used to drive a school's operation.

Under present and past school management philosophies, this is a correct statement. Targets have been required since about 2002 and schools have been required to report on these in a variance report as part of the annual financial reports.

This statement however does not of itself provide a reason why national standards are needed. It is clearly obvious that schools have set, and reported against, targets for many years.

It would be a special kind of stupid to have national testing regimes (in answer to a question from a BOT member about this possibility).

Personal opinion. He is not qualified to comment on the possibility of tests being introduced in the future, as this is not the role of anyone in a Ministry regional office.

Tests may or may not be introduced in coming years. This will be a decision by the Minister of Education of the time, not the Ministry of Education.

Your school is in a good position/doing well (repeated a number of times in different ways.)

This then raises the question of why do schools doing well need standards?What are the benefits to these schools? No information to inform these questions was provided.

Aim to get 'below children' to make more than a year's progress in one year.

The aim is admirable.

This, however, then implies strongly that without national standards, these children would not make progress, and that before national standards, nothing was done for 'below' children.

No data was provided to support this nor to show how national standards would make a difference. There is a strong inference here, criticising schools and teachers for failing to identify and address the needs of these children in the time before national standards were introduced. This is not a situation that can be supported by data.

Standards can be used to assist self review.

True. However, quality and informed school reviews has been successfully carried out by BOTs ever since their formation in 1989, without the need for standards.

The regional manager wrote a letter instructing the BOT to insert defined targets.

The regional manager signed the letter. However the letter was virtually identical in format with those received by other BOTs. The deemed date that charters were to take effect has varied between schools and there is a pattern where this date has fallen before scheduled meetings with regional MOE officers.

The MOE have a task force looking at the issue of league tables (in answer to a question from a BOT member about this possibility).

The task force was established by the Minister of Education. There is no representation from teacher and principal organisations. The one middle school principal on the task force has no (recent?) history of involvement with primary school organisations and certainly is not qualified to speak on their behalf. The members of the task force, by and large, have been proponents of national standards from the outset.

The speaker was not in a position to comment with any authority on the league table issue, one way or another.

The issue of concern is the Official Information Act. Unless a government is prepared to change this, then political observers/commentators believe that it will not be possible to stop media using the Act to access data. I understand that the same would apply today if media applied to any school, under the Act, for their national standards data.

On the basis of this presentation, the case to support the implementation of national standards to significantly enhance school operations or children's learning, in ways that were not achievable before standards were introduced, was not well made.

One is then left with the inevitable question:

If this is the best that MiniMind can produce to justify the introduction of national’s standards, what is the point of the whole exercise?

You tell me.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A new Vision for Schooling

Every teacher should read Guy Claxton's book, 'What's the Point of School?' and ask themselves the same question. This will be change from wrestling with how to accommodate the current government's backward looking National Standards.

Claxton writes that the 'purpose of education is to prepare young people for the future. Schools should help young people to develop the capabilities they will need to thrive. What they need and want , is the confidence to talk to strangers, to try things out, to handle tricky situations, to stand up for themselves, to ask for help, to think new thoughts.'

Simple enough but, according to Claxton , 'they are not getting has lost the plot'.

The questions teachers need to ask are, he Says, 'are what capabilities and attitudes towards knowing and learning do we want to help today's young people cultivate?' Certainly they need to be stimulated to ask their own questions and be skilled to explore them .

Claxton makes it clear, in his early chapters, that current provisions are just not working for enough students. Teachers (and politicians) need 'imagination , and a modicum of courage.. to rediscover.. ( educations) .. heart and soul.'

In our current schools to many students are losing their 'learning power' - it is developing this 'learning power' which is Claxton's main push ); the key comptencies in our NZ Curriculum.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Forget the Nanny State - we now have Big Brother

Guest blog by Allan Alach

Several years back we were bombarded with ‘nanny state’ rhetoric. Well, that has gone now,  and has been replaced by ‘Big Brother” from George Orwell’s book “Nineteen Eighty Four”. 

Orwell’s prediction of 1984 was rather accurate it seems, except for being 27 years too early.  From Orwell’s genius, we can see that the agency we know as the “Ministry of Education” (Education being the word used in the official language of Oceania, Newspeak) is actually a euphemism for “Ministry of Mind Control’, employing “Thought Police” to ensure compliance.

Poor Winston Smith. We can start to sympathise with his predicament.

So now ‘non-compliant’ schools have received what appears to be a pro-forma letter from their local office of the Ministry of Education. This states that as agreement has not been reached, the board is now required to amend its charter, to include provided target goals against the standards. These letters then specify the date that the amended charter will take effect. End of story.

Several issues spring out of these letters immediately. The most obvious one is the question of whether the MOE has obeyed the Education Act. This will require clarification through a legal process; however on the face of it, one wonders.

The Education Act states (63A(4) that if a school is in default regarding changing  its charter, ‘The Secretary must then negotiate with the board to resolve the matters concerned and, if the board and the Secretary are unable to reach agreement about the content of the school charter, the Secretary may require the board to amend the charter or updated charter.’

Negotiation is defined in the Oxford online dictionary as “discussion aimed at reaching an agreement.”

It would then seem plausible that a very good case could be made that the MOE process over charters does not meet this definition of negotiation. For one thing, it is rather apparent that there was only ever one outcome that would be acceptable to the MOE, and therefore ‘negotiation’ was impossible. Following on, it is implicit that negotiation takes time. The MOE’s processes also seem to have not provided for this.

The second issues relates to the date the amended charter is deemed to take effect. There are a number of cases, possibly many, where the specified date falls before scheduled meetings with the MOE to discuss charter issues. In which case, what is the purpose of these scheduled meetings? It can no longer be claimed that these meetings are part of any negotiations and that also would seem the question the legality of this process.

It is therefore plausible to wonder if the Ministry of Education has disregarded one section of the Education Act, in order to enforce charters on schools who are deemed to be in breach of another section of the Act. Challenging this in the courts would, I suspect, be an expensive process that would be beyond the finances of the affected schools. However the old saying "Not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done” would seem to be appropriate in this situation.  I hear that Island Bay School has laid a complaint with the Ombudsman over this and this will give a guideline for future action.

There is a third issue, potentially the most significant, hiding in the wings of this process. Every New Zealand state primary school, whether they voluntarily incorporated targets against standards, or did so reluctantly because of compliance requirements, and those who have been issued a charter against their wills, has now been required to follow nationally imposed charter objectives.

This effectively means that the concept of the self governing school, that has underpinned school operations since 1990, has now been set aside. The self governing school model was intended to allow local communities to have some input into the visions, policies and goals of their schools.

While this has always been restricted by various government policies, the current requirement to set targets against national standards, through degrees of compulsion, brings back centralised control of education that we’ve not seen for a very long time. Far more so, in fact, than the situation before Tomorrow’s Schools, when the Department of Education operated at arm’s length from the governments of the day. This is in contrast to the role of the MOE, which is to implement the policy of the government in power at any particular time.

This centralising of control over schools sends a very clear, and frightening signal, of what we may expect in coming years.

Have we seen the first shot in the dismantling of the Tomorrow’s Schools framework?  Have we seen the first shot in the dismantling of the New Zealand public school system that has existed since the 19th century?

Given the likely agenda of ‘school reform’ that will target ‘underachieving schools’ (this is the clear model being followed in the United States and England), the answer to these questions is yes, this is the first step in dismantling Tomorrow’s Schools and the public school system as we know it.

Again following the overseas patterns, we can expect attacks on the NZEI, blaming them for teacher ‘underperformance’ and protecting ‘poor teachers”, leading to strenuous efforts to break the collective agreement  and institute site based bargaining. This isn’t new - those with longer memories will remember the vicious employment negotiations of the 1990s.

England and USA have both used the ‘underachieving schools’ argument to justify the closure of these schools and their replacement by ‘Charter Schools’ in the USA and “Free Schools” in England. These are nominally meant to be community schools but before too long the corporates have stepped in. This results in corporate run schools, using government funding, as part of their business programmes. Standards and league tables are a key component in this process, and we can expect tests to replace OTJs in a couple of years.

To repeat: the influences from overseas are very clear. The rhetoric from the government here is near identical to that used in the USA (“raising the bar” for example) and so there is little doubt of the agenda. If the words like ‘school reform’ (or similar slogans) appear in the coming election campaign, then that will confirm this beyond doubt.

There are numerous sources of information on Charter and Free schools available online, but to get you started, here is a website about charter schools in the USA, and here is one about free schools in England. For comprehensive information about US education, the most followed person is Diane Ravitch.

Read these, and other similar sites carefully, as this model is very likely to be in our not too distant future. I’ve heard principals and teachers say that they are too busy to read this kind of ‘stuff’ or that some articles are ‘too long.’ Really? Are we professionals or just workers employed to do a job?

At the very least, everyone should read Kelvin Smythe’s Networkonnet, Phil Cullen’s Treehorn Express, and this Leading and Learning blog that Bruce Hammonds runs so well.

A USA group, with similar concerns for the future of public schooling, has established a website called United Opt Out National:The movement to end punitive public school testing. This is a new venture which is growing very fast, supported by key educators in the USA. Their associated Facebook page, “Opt out of the State test, is listed below.

After an approach from Phil Cullen,  a South Pacific Outreach page has now been set up on this site, to foster sharing and support between USA, Australia and New Zealand, in our joint battle to protect public schooling in all three countries. We hope that this will grow over time to include like minded groups facing the same battles in their own countries.

Over recent weeks, a variety of Facebook pages about standards based education have sprung up in New Zealand and the USA, and probably elsewhere. The hope is that concerned educators and parents will link together through this medium, to develop a world wide campaign to protect public education. Join in! If we all link arms we form a powerful movement! If we don’t work hard at this, then we know what the result will probably be.

Winston Smith fought back against ‘Big Brother”. What are you going to do?

New Zealand Facebook pages:
USA Anti-Standardised Testing Facebook pages:

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Teachers have been led down the wrong path these past decades - time to control their own journey.

Teachers have been led down the wrong  path ( assembly line)  of a modern economic technocratic business model of teaching - all about measurement, comparison and standardisation.Nothing to do with the true purpose of education of developing the diverse talents of all students. Like workers in Henry Ford's factories teachers seem unaware of the effects of this standardisation approach.

Since the mid eighties education,along with every other aspect of our life, has been under the influence of a 'market forces' approach to life - an approach based on placing economic needs above equally important wider issues of the common good. Only things that can be measured are felt worthwhile. Competition and individual enterprise were to be the driving force of this brave new world. Life was seen as a form of 'economic Darwinism'.

To justify this approach politicians spread the myth that education is in crisis and that new ideas were needed to ensure students are 'produced' that can  contribute to the needs of the economy -an economy based on the philosophy of 'market forces' - a society based on competition - all to do with winners and losers.

The answer was to blame the teachers for failing students and, at the same time, seeing teachers as the solution to the problem. Unfortunately the issues on disparity of opportunities between students were ignored. The answer is  to impose on teachers  ways to improve student achievement  -and more importantly  in ways that technocrats could measure - reading, writing and mathematics. Hence National Standards. That New Zealand has been one of the top performing countries for these area since the 70s is happily ignored  as is the fact that the countries that were these ideas  are being implemented ( the UK and the US) are well  behind New Zealand  in international 'league tables'.

The imposed accountability model being imposed on schools have their roots in the discipline of economics rather than education. Education has been reduced to metrics, standardised teaching through 'best practices', endless testing and aggregated data to assess 'added value'.

Unfortunately this approach fails to capture the complex factors that go into teaching and learning and misses encouraging creativity, innovation and the tapping of the diverse talents of students. One measurement fits all it seems - students being sorted out into degrees of doubtful standards. An educational 'Procrustean bed'.

The economists like to see it alas improving 'human capital' of the teachers. Outside experts set about to improving schools, their vision not clouded by the reality that teachers face. 'Selected' teachers are then employed on contract , after being hurriedly trained,  to deliver schools imposed solutions. The idea of seeing principal as an 'instructional leader' has seen them turn from educators to monitors, evaluators, data collectors.This  obsession on accountability focused on  narrow literacy and numeracy targets is to the detriment of the wider curriculum. Such principals have become part of the problem.

What is being forgotten in all this is missing  any understanding about how teachers gain their individual expertise. Technocrats  work on the basis that it is a simple matter of transmission backed up by heavy handed compliance requirements ( as with the enforcing of approved targets in School Charters) . Finally  school are brought into line by  the power of the education Review Office who have their orders to ensure schools are complying.

All this has little to do with education. And it is worrying the number of school that go along with it all unaware of the consequences. It seems to be an example of 'creeping Eichmanism' - they feel they have no choice but to do what they are told. Some schools happily act as 'Judas Sheep' encouraging others to follow the wrong path - some don't  even realize they are on the wrong path

This current ideology of imposed school reform may look efficient but it is  dangerous to the development of teacher expertise and in turn to wider student creativity. Obviously it is important to improve the human capital of teachers  but it ought not to be the focus for school reform as it places pressure on individual teachers.Equally obviously every effort needs to be made to improve principal capability but once again it is not the real answer.

In reality teachers build up their expertise  through their relationships with other teachers - some call this 'social capital'. When one considers why some teachers are more effective than others it is not about training or qualifications it is more about where they go to get their knowledge? Where do they go when they have a problem? Where do they go to sound out their ideas? Who do they confide in? The answers to these questions are important. Where relationships in a school are characterised by high trust and frequent interactions this is when students are found to do their best.

In successful schools research is showing  teachers seek advice of each other - not outside 'experts' or their principals. Often teachers feel vulnerable in expressing their worries to outside 'experts' and principals. 'Social capital' is is a significant factor in both teacher and, in turn, their students' success. If teachers are isolated then their knowledge base suffers. Teachers who collaborate share a wide range of views and strategies for each other to pick up on in a non threatening environment. It is all too easy to get stuck if a teacher works alone, or doesn't feel comfortable in asking for help. With strong 'social capital ' ( sharing and collaborating) even teachers who might once have struggled improve. This is the power of a positive learning culture  and establishing this is possibly the key role of team leaders and principals. Buddying new teachers with trusted mentors is part of this approach as long as it is kept informal - this is the power of peer to peer learning.

It is worth considering how principals hinder or assist the developments of 'socil capital'. It seems that 'social capital' is improved when principals collaborate and share with other principals rather than trying to be instructional leaders.  They are best when they are developing 'external social capital' and acting in their schools as facilitators Surveillance cultures and heavy handed compliance add little to teacher capability.

All this shows that the current emphasis on imposing training to improve individual teacher capability is counterproductive. It would be better of those outside of the school  involved themselves in ways to encourage collaboration and sharing.

It also indicates the importance of the power of teachers sharing ideas with each other as a source of individual teacher growth. Talking other teachers is integral to teacher and , in turn, student success. A culture based on positive relationships is vital. Any effort by authority's to blame teachers for student failure is counterproductive.

And it shows that principals need to get out and share ideas with other principals, their parents and the wider community.

In my experience it has only been when teachers are sharing idea ( being their own experts) that real educational advances are made -and better still if this involves sharing expertise between schools.

Current  top down and compliance approaches by the Ministry, including most of all the ideology of standardised teaching/testing, is counterproductive.

Creative teachers have aways known this.

Let's ditch the 'you can have any colour as long as it is black' Henry Ford and his modern day followers and get back to  valuing diversity, creativity and the wise ideals of John Dewey.

Lets value the collective wisdom of creative  teachers.