Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The government and Christchurch, and Lesley Longstone

The government and Christchurch, and Lesley Longstone at the normal school conference
From Kelvin Smythe
As explained in my posting alert, I am having my web site renewed (‘rejuvenated’ is not employed having recently acquired a whole new meaning) and which will be out of action until late on Thursday. I have posting ready to send out on PaCT (that is, national standards, version 2), and my response (Heath Robinson meets education), but it is eight pages; too long for an attachment, so it will have to wait.

This posting is a belated comment on Christchurch (I’ve been in Whangarei checking out my northern grandchildren) which I link to a chilling speech by Lesley Longstone at the recent Normal School Conference in Wellington. It is a speech of unplumbed ignorance which she dissembles with sky high arrogance. This is a deeply insecure person, faking it. What she had to say, links with what has happened in Christchurch, and my predictions for government policy in postings last year.

To take a course at a local school (‘How to teach without objectives’ it went superbly) I happened to be in Wellington on the day of the Normal School Conference so I decided to slip myself into it (as regular networkonnet readers will know I have done such a slipping in on other occasions). I waited for her to arrive at the Novatel (accompanied by Frances Kelly), gave her a decent time to start her speech, then I snuck into the room (and snuck out just before she finished). Two or three principals noticed and recognised me but nothing untoward was to happen.

Dear readers, what a sight loomed before me.

Now any man commenting on the appearance of a woman is in dodgy territory, but I venture to do so because I had viewed her a number of times on YouTube and the difference was startling.

 What I’m suggesting is the appearance was the message.

Her dress was carefully unfashionable; her hair arranged to appear bedraggled; and her back festooned by a knapsack.

This was a very English way to express her view of the audience.

She began by referring to her notes, the usual claptrap about partnership. The insincerity was palpable.

Then she showed her teeth – literally it seemed to me, as she spoke away from notes.

Longstone said in applying for the job as secretary she did some reading about New Zealand, which she said was Ben Levin, and in reading Ben Levin, it seems to me, she read an article from Phi Delta Kappa.

Ben Levin, on education should not be dismissed, he has some useful things to say, but all those useful things are seriously undermined, making him harmful to education in a range of Western countries, as a result of one deeply serious fault, a fault he shares with Longstone and her ilk: they don’t understand, refuse to value the knowledge of, what happens between teacher and child in learning. Regular networkonnet readers will know I have written a posting on curriculum-driven leadership relating it to schools, but the same should pertain to system leadership. It surely is inarguable that the system should start from establishing regulatory environments that enhances learning; but for that to happen, those who lead the system need to understand the nature of those things that happen between teacher and child in the learning. 

And this leads to an associated fault. Teacher-developed knowledge needs to be valued as much as academic knowledge. Academic syntheses are not the visions of objectivity they are portrayed. John Hattie’s research, for instance, is utter rubbish.

In New Zealand, teacher knowledge was the basis for rejecting the deep phonic’s approach. New Zealand teachers will know that recent research comparing New Zealand readers with Scottish readers, showed New Zealand readers beating the Scottish readers and deep phonics hands down. (The whole language approach was also found to be the most successful in languages other than English.)

Levin is also horribly wrong in saying New Zealand public schools, even after taking into account matters of the poverty, are failing Maori and Pasifika children. The research shows exactly the opposite. I challenge Longstone to disprove this.

Levin is also wrong in his interpretation of Cathy Wylie’s comment about Tomorrow’s Schools and its ‘decentralisation’ not achieving ‘any great system-wide gains in student performance or learning’. Wylie was criticising the neo-liberal decentralisation, which is very different from the degree of independence New Zealand schools have traditionally had to develop teacher knowledge and display curriculum initiative. Wyllie is a great admirer and supporter of the learning benefits of that degree of independence.

Levin, because he doesn’t have a grasp of the curriculum, the beautiful nuances that are so crucial to learning, and because he is focused on official structures, doesn’t appreciate the huge and powerful informal unity established between New Zealand schools.
Reading Levin’s article you can sense he is vexed and a bit at a loss with New Zealand because it challenges his ideas of the need for centralisation as the basis for a successful system. (What does he make of Finland?)

How can any fair-minded, caring, academic of integrity justify that?se he is vexed and a bit at a loss with New Zealand because it challenges his ideas of the need for centralisation as the basis for a successful system. (What does he make of Finland?)

For a somewhat more balanced view on the New Zealand education system and a more sensitive appreciation of the role that central government should play, Longstone should read various OECD reports.

When it comes down to it, Levin is just another power hungry administrator who has no qualms about distorting children’s learning for his own ends. The true manner of the man can be judged by his central statement in his latest book that education systems should just concentrate on the learning results from one or two curriculum areas that are understandable to the public.

Is that education for the 21st century?

That’s not the education I want for my grandchildren. And it won’t be the one Lesley Longstone wants for her children.

And don’t you think, Lesley Longstone, that in the circumstances you should consult with the parents of New Zealand what they want for their children, rather that learning it from Ben Levin?

But that is the bible for our secretary of education, and our future: a truncated, non-aspirational, second-class education.

But back to her address at the Novatel. (You may have guessed that the Ben Levin foray just undertaken was not planned, it just happened. I think I will have to curtail commenting on the implications for Christchurch, you will have to draw those for yourselves.)

Yes – that’s right, away from her notes, and her teeth bared, I swear it, or was it my overactive imagination?

The New Zealand education system, she said, was not mature enough to handle the decentralisation of Tomorrow’s Schools and schools shot off in all directions.

The opportunity to weed out poorly performing schools should have been taken at the time, but the opportunity was lost. This meant, she said, there was a need to weed out such schools out now.

Longstone then made a considerable song and dance about in-school variability of children’s school performance. This was the fault she said of inefficient principals.

By coincidence and as a serendipitous response to this, in this morning’s Herald, Graham Stoop, for his own purposes – defending the review office’s dropping of decile references – pointed to a school that had a lot high income families and a significant number of children from low income families which meant the school ended up as a decile 5. It’s as simple as that Longstone; for goodness sake have you half an analytical brain? Or do you circumscribe its functioning when it suits you? Heard of demographics?

The point she kept driving home, or implying, was that the system needed more centralisation, more simplification, less resistance from the periphery, so that government policies could be implemented swiftly and without obstruction.

Get the message?

Christchurch is all about that: getting rid of small schools; increasing the size of schools; tacking intermediates onto secondary schools; and developing clusters headed by secondary schools and supra-boards.

All this was delivered in a take it or leave it style. The lady, she seemed to be communicating, couldn’t care a damn.

A few questions were asked. One was a moment of minor tragic-comedy.

How do you see normal schools?

I don’t. They are invisible.

With that I slipped out.

Have a happy day.


Anonymous said...

And 'we' are paying over $600000 for Longstone to destroy our education system as if the UK is a good example to follow. Democracy is dying in NZ!

Allan Alach said...

It is very clear that democracy is dying and being replaced by a corporate version of fascism where we are told what is good for us, and how schools should be structured. It is not too late for the people to fight back. As far as the Christchurch situation is concerned, this speech by Lianne Dalzeil in parliament is hard to beat.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more with what you say Allan. It is, as you write, corporate fascism - who knows where it will all lead to. I will listen to Lianne's speech.

Bruce said...

It is well worth resding the Ben Levin article - Kelvin providea a link.