Monday, September 10, 2012

Linda-Darling Hammond: Lessons for New Zealand from America

Equity and Creativity


‘The Flat World and Education’,  a book by Linda Darling-Hammond is a must read for educationalists and politicians who want to develop an alternative to the technocratic style of education that has been slowly destroying the creativity of students and teachers  in New Zealand and, in turn, the social fabric of our increasingly troubled society.
Although written with the USA in mind the problems and solutions outlined in detail are similar.
Linda Darling-Hammond is well respected in the US and was a possibility to be appointed Secretary of Education in the Obama administration – unfortunately a politician not an educator won the position.
It is not possible to give such a comprehensive book justice. Linda Darling-Hammond is a powerful voice for equity, social justice and the transformation of education.
Her book presents the chilling statistics pointing out how America is falling behind other countries. Ironically our current government is introducing the failing policies of the US when, in contrast, NZ is amongst the leading countries based on educational surveys!
Darling-Hammond is particularly concerned with the most vulnerable and neglected students of her country - equally relevant for NZ with 1 in 4 students living in poverty (270000 young people) .An ‘achievement gap’ is widening in both countries.
These ‘failing’ students can be seen as ‘canaries in the mine’ – a harbinger of the future; a growing ‘underclass’. This issue of equity is of the greatest concern in both countries. That many young people end up in prisons is another sign of failure – the US and NZ lead prison statistics. In the US the achievement gap’ grew with the introduction of ‘market forces’ politics and the same is true in New Zealand – so it is wrong for politicians to blame schools for the consequences of their policies own misguided policies.
Darling-Hammond’s book is hopeful one and should motivate policy makers to act decisively and thoughtfully. Let’s hope it being read by opposition politicians in NZ.
New Zealand needs all the creativity and innovation it can get and to achieve this education is central – patching up an education system, with its genesis in an industrial age a factory model, will not do. We must ensure all students leave as enthusiastic as they enter. They all need to have their gifts identified, to learn how to learn, to create, able to contribute to the new world they are entering.
Darling –Hammond is critical aboutthe use of ability grouping, tracking and streaming that, which with all the bestof intentions, has had unfortunate consequences for students from lowsocio-economic groups. Such practices lead to what she calls ‘apartheid schools’ or groups within schools. Countries like Finland and Japan score well internationally without recourse to such antiquated practices. Successful countries are more concerned with developing a ‘spirit of inquiry’ in all students not success judged by narrow achievement data creating, in the process, a winner and losers mentality.
The destructive result of ability grouping/streaming seems unquestioned in New Zealand schools – the ‘elephant in the room’.  As mentioned there is very little curriculum differentiation in high achieving European and Asian nations. In such counties students often stay with the same teachers for more than a year, all ‘abilities’ working collaboratively to solve realistic curriculum challenges
As in the US our future will be increasingly determined by our capacity to educate all students well – it is painfully obvious that our current system does not suit many of our current school leavers as the 1 in 5 failing students indicate.
Darling-Hammonds writes that the impositionof standards with all their unintended consequences – narrowing of the curriculum, teaching to the tests, ‘league tables’, will not help failing students. Darling-Hammond believes strongly that we need to apply greater attention to the ‘opportunity gap’- the differences of opportunity provided to students from less fortunate circumstances- instead of blaming poverty,  children, their homes , their culture, for their lack of success. ‘All young children have to believe they can succeed in order to put forth the effort to do so’, she writes. Research on motivation by Prof. Carol Dweck shows this is possible. The issue is if teachers believe this is possible.  It is all about expectations.
All students need to be exposed more challenging curriculum challenges – to do fewer things well – to see connections between subject disciplines – all but impossible in our current secondary system. Such rich high level learning is required for all students not just those school judges capable by testing. This Darling-Hammond believes is about equity; ‘we must all learn to work and live together’. Equity and democracy go hand in hand as John Dewey wrote a century ago.
The case for standards (our current NZ’s government’s approach)  Darling-Hammond writes is a faulty one, distorting learning, and  is an approach  she believes that is having dire effects for children of colour or living in poverty;  an approach that also punishes, or stigmatizes, schools and individual’ teachers that cater for such students. She believes the ‘achievement gap is widening due to such misguided policies. Improving the quality of teaching in all schools is the real answer. Governments, she writes, should be held accountable to ensure all students have the conditions and resources to support their right to learn.
Darling-Hammond devotes chapters about states in the US that provide inspirational approaches but more valuable are her chapters outlining how other countries have built strong teaching and learning systems. The Finnish success story, beginning in the 70s, covers how one poorly rated system now ranks first by giving schools greater autonomy and less interference from central government. The Finnish system invests in the capacity of local teachers and schools to meet the needs of all students – unleashing local creativity all in the cause of common equitable outcomes. There are no external tests; inquiry learning is the major focus of learning in Finland. Many NZ primary teachers would relate to such an approach – the Finnish approach resonates with the side-lined 2007 New Zealand Curriculum.
Korea has moved from ‘examination hell’ to introduce ideas in the 1950s/60s based on the thinking of John Dewey and Jerome Bruner also based on inquiry and discovery – the opposite to recent developments in the USA (and NZ). Koreas aim is to develop the unique talents of every student.
Singapore, another example, has moved over thirty years from the rote learning of a colonial era toa system with the goal of developing the talents of every individual. Singapore vision is ‘thinking school learning nation; ‘teach less; learn more’ is a slogan in Singapore.
Other Asian counties are also covered in Darling-Hammond’s book but the message is clear – there is an alternative to the standardized system that our current government is implementing.
All the countries Darling-Hammond reports on have focused their student’s achievement success on focussed investments in teacher preparation, development and sharing ideas between teachers - not by a ‘carrots and sticks’ Around the world there is a growing recognition that expert teachers and leaders are the key resource for improving student learning.  approach.
 Most of the personalised teaching strategies described by Darling-Hammond will be well known to creative New Zealand primary teachers and implicit in the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum Teacher creativity and wisdom is a powerful resource to tap.– all centred on the provision of intellectually challenging in depth and relevant learning experiences.
It would seem that the solutions to failing children are already in place in New Zealand schools –waiting to be valued by rather than being demeaned by politicians.
A future orientated government would be wise to see the need to move from a failing industrial aged egg crate factory model – based on assembly line thinking – to a truly personalised model based on developing the gifts and talents of all students. A system based on equity of opportunity and a proper appreciation of the various aspects, both within and outside the school gates, that impinge on the students’ ability to learn.
‘What the best of and wisest of parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon destroys our democracy.’ John Dewey.
‘These are our children, and we will benefit by or pay for what they become.’ James Baldwin.
Darling –Hammond is calling for a system that works for all students.
New Zealand could well develop such a system – but not under the reactionary leadership of the current government.
Darling-Hammond quotes Diane Ravitch: ‘We believe in the importance of preparing students to live and succeed in a global economy. We don’t think that the mastery of basic skills is sufficient for this goal. What we need is an education system that teaches deep knowledge that values creativity and originality, and that values thinking skills. This, unfortunately, is not the path we are now embarked.’
 ‘As the fate of individuals and nations is increasingly interdependent, the quest for access to an equitable, empowering education for all people has become a critical issue for the American nation as a whole. As a country, we can, and we must enter a new era. No society can thrive in a technological, knowledge-based economy by depriving large segments of its populace of learning. The path to our mutual well-being is but on educational opportunity, Central to our collective future is the recognition that our capacity to survive and thrive ultimately depends on ensuring, to all our people what should be an unquestioned entitlement – a rich and inalienable right to learn.’
I am not sure if this can be achieved in America but it is certainly well within the grasp of our own country – if we had the collective will and imagination - and led by politicians facing the right century.
In education, Darling-Hammond writes, plans that have lasted for more than a few years have been those that allow teachers to gain greater responsibility and compensation as they gain and share expertise, which fit better with the communitarian culture of teaching. 
This is a foreign concept to the present government.
 Darling –Hammond concludes: ‘Creating schools that enable all children to learn requires the development of a system that enables all educators and schools to learn. At heart this is a capacity building enterprise.’

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the time you take to share your readings - and your point of view. This is timely blog.

Bruce said...

Great to here your view. I never know who reads my blogs although there are plenty of page visits. Visits are one thing reading another and applying ideas something else again.

Linda Darling-Hammond is an impressive educator. The book I have written about is one educational policy makers or 'big picture' thinkers ought to read as an antidote to the reactionary standards nonsense of our current government.

The consequences of ability grouping/streaming/setting is a major contributer to students seeing themselves as failures.

Why is it so unquestioned?

Bruce said...

Oops - should have written 'hear' your views but you get the meaning!

Anonymous said...

You must be pleased that the NZ Labour Party leader expressed similar views to J D-H in his recent speech on educatio.

Bruce said...

The Labour announcement was a good start - more to come I hope.