Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The need to celebrate NZ's educational success.

School ought to be a place to amplify the  innate learning dispositions  of their students and to develop their gifts and talents  - not a place to be sorted and standardized by political ideology.

Biased politicians have done a good job in convincing the public that our school system is failing  our students but isn't it is time teachers began to fight back? The trouble is confronting a populist   government, Ministry minions, and paid " best practice" contract deliverers of the official message, is not an easy task. Most schools seem to be content to getting on doing what others expect of them. This is a shame.

Rather than negative politicians endless repeating that one in five students are failing in our primary schools, without recourse to linking this with poverty and difficult home backgrounds, teachers need to celebrate the positive aspects of our school system

In last weeks Sunday Times Gordon Dryden did just this writing that the answer is not relying on standardized  measurable approaches and performance pay - failed concepts from the business world -   but in 'celebrating the incredible achievements of New Zealand's best primary schools'. In his experience , 'they lead the world in interactive technology as the catalyst to reinvent chalk and talk teaching.'

The government's approach , recently expressed by the new Treasury Secretary,  Dryden writes,  'is completely the opposite to how Finland the world's best performing school and early childhood system - is achieving its results'.

Let's get one thing straight New Zealand performs impressively in OECD PISA testing. PISA's four year achievements show country by country comparisons.In  the four surveys since 2000  the four leaders are Finland with  543; South Korea ( 532); Canada ( 531); New Zealand (526); and Australia ( 523). And Dryden writes, 'Finland  became the global leader  doing the opposite to what Treasury now recommends'. In Finland teaching is valued and teachers highly qualified and paid, and nearly all classrooms have three teachers, one charged with personalizing tuition.

As an aside the United States and the UK are well back in the PISA listings - and the UK is where our highly paid Secretary of Treasury and Secretary of Education come from! The blind following the blind!

The government, following biased ideological research, believe in the myth that standardized measurable approaches are the sole key to economic growth. 'Try telling that to Silicon Valley leaders,' Dryden continues. '  where  non-standardized innovation has become Americas finest gift'.....'Or Peter Jackson and his multi - talented team '. 'Everyone', Dryden says, 'has the  potential talent to succeed - but in different ways'.

An opinion piece in a recent Auckland Herald  wrote, 'Education is  is where politics rule and facts come second.But it is , notoriously, where instant solutions always fail.

The dirty secret of education is, as an academic once put it, is middle class advantage and working class failure. Exceptional kids will always break the pattern.but the pattern remains.

Why that is, and how we fix it are the central unsolved mysterious'.

Act's solution, backed by National, is more choice and competition. In its devotion to these strikingly middle class values, Act looks nothing so much as the comfortable Victorian ladies who visited slums in an attested to teach the poor manners and a work ethic and how to become bourgeois. It would be laughable if it wasn't so offensive.'

'What is being contested', according to Massey University's John Clark ( NZ Principal Magazine March 2012), '  is the claim that the National Standards in reading, writing and mathematics will close the gap to any significant extent. Despite the Minister's deeply held political convictions they will, there are a number of compelling reasons that they will not.'

' The causes of the achievement gap, in large part lie well beyond the four walls of the classroom and the gates of the school. Even if there are some school based causes they pale into insignificance compared to the far more powerful out-of-school forces which have such an overwhelming effect on children's lives'.

Schools face a stark choice writes David Stewart in the latest Education Aotearoa, saying 'Principals, along with their boards and staff, have the broad choice of basing their plans .. between a focus which gives absolute priority to currently mandated practices, such as National Standards - or basing their school development initiatives around proven whole-of-child philosophies incorporating aspects such as empathy, fairness, acceptance of competing viewpoints, trust and social responsibility alongside the 3Rs'

He continues, 'This second view would emphasize teaching over testing, collaboration over competition, and give high value to a continuing  whole- of- school development of teacher judgment. Compliance of mandated structures would , of course, be woven into such a model.'

Delivering on both agendas will not be an easy task but at all costs schools must not sell out on the educationl philosophies that earned them such a high place on PISA testing - a position gained well before the technocratic reforms of  Tomorrow's Schools

It is time for some real leadership in our schools to combat imposed ideological approach of our current private enterprise government.


Allan Alach said...

Yes, indeed Bruce. You know this, as do many other open minded people. Sadly our esteemed leaders, obsessed with ideology, are blind and deaf. They don't want to know, as all this is purely political, for deeper purposes than we are told. One thing for sure - any talk about current education policy being for the benefit of children is hot air. That's a polite description. I could be more explicit but 2011 events have taught me to be moderate with my comments!

Your observations about the imports who now run the Treasury and Education sectors are spot on. What's wrong with 'home grown' experts?

However I feel that maybe we are at the bottom of the trough - recent news about the anti-testing movement in the USA shows that the momentum is picking up. Phil Cullen's campaign against Naplan in Australia also seems to be getting more traction. Those of us who are able must keep fighting on, to support those who are being hammered for their anti-standards stance - Moerewa being the present example, but I'm sure that there are other schools also being lined up.

As is the case with bullies, the system has started with a small school first. The coming months will be 'interesting' as the MOE start processing the 'achievement data' in the 2011 annual reports and as the media start producing the league tables. I'm aware of stories about a regional newspaper that has apparently already requested, under the OIA, 'achievement data' from district schools.

Bruce said...

Lets hope that you are right ( I have just read Phill Cullen's posting with all the relevant articles). Actually I know you are right but will New Zealand teachers wake up in time - and will the Labour Party realize that a liberal education for creativity is the real key to democracy and in turn econominc success.

Allan Alach said...

I have my doubts about Labour, going by David Shearer's comments in his speech. However I do hear that people with influence are whispering in his advisers' ears so maybe common sense will prevail. As for teachers, I don't think they have the spare head space to do much other than comply. Principals are another matter - where is the activism this year? Deathly quiet at the moment.

Bruce said...

You are right about teachers - except for those brave few creative teachers but it is time principals stood up and were counted. So far Labour not quite on the ball.

Joe Beckmann said...

How much of this change could be attributes to Visible Learning, John Hattie's role in NewZealand's system, and his case that "self assessment" insures lasting, low cost change, with the greatest impact at the lowest income and most frequent victims of discrimination?

Bruce said...

I am not sure I follow you Joe. To be honest I am not an enthusiast for John Hattie.

Charmaine said...

It's true that teachers should fight back but I think teachers are just frustrated by the lack of support from some parents and the powers that be. I can tell you as a teacher I keep asking myself why am I in a carrer that gets so little support from the general public ? Yet this profession forms the backbone of society.What comes next? It keeps getting worse.


Bruce said...

Things are tough but they have always been for creative teachers. All you can do is work with your parents ( your students's parents I mean).

Tony said...

That first comment is so crucial. Schools try too hard to standardise everyone when they should be putting an emphasis on individuals and creativity. Thanks for sharing.

Bruce said...

Thanks Tony.