Thursday, June 23, 2011

How long can principals ignore the dire warnings about the consequences of National Standards?

Are principals turning into sheep?

'Set yourselves free' Peter Simpson President NZPPF

A principal, in a recent blog comment, said he we was tired of ex principals, and 'outsiders;, giving principals advice about how to lead their schools.

Two things come to mind such  'outsider' advice is true advice - readers are free to completely ignore the views of people like myself  unlike the 'advice' they get from the education Review Office,  the Ministry, and worst of all the SAPS  (Student Achievement Practitioners) .

The second thing is that the same warnings are coming from educationalists both within New Zealand and overseas including the Teacher Union ( the NZEI) and the Principal Federation.

The fact is that it is hard to find any educationalists in support of National Standards - the future  asks of schools to  personalise not standardize education.

So why at local levels aren't schools working together to put up a joint front particularly in an election year?

 Two things may provide an answer: One is the  difficulty of admitting  one's schools is becoming stressed ( a sign of weakness) and  the other an unwillingness to work with others. Maybe there is third some principals actually believe in the idea of  imposed National Standards - I know of one principal in  Whakatane who has said as much - at least he is showing leadership! Thankfully there are some principals and schools working together against National Standards but not enough.

The  March and June editions of the New Zealand Principal magazine  surely must convince all New Zealand Schools of the seriousness of the situation?

 An article from a parent Bill Courtney  gets straight to the point. The big question school and parents need to consider, he comments, is 'what is the point of education in the 21stC'? He writes that, 'while literacy and numeracy are important skills they are not all that matters'. He continues, 'education today is much more about ways of thinking which involve creative and critical approaches to problem solving and decision making.'

Bill quotes Albert Einstein saying, 'Not everything that can be counted counts. and not everything that counts can be counted' , and he also notes that Einstein's parents were told by his school that he was borderline retarded.

The editor ,writing  as a feisty journalist, says that, 'National Standards are ' flawed fuzzy and inaccurate measures which will produce at best unreliable data and at worst harm our children' they are 'unwelcome boiled tripe - soft wobbly and gutless at the banquet of educational celebration'. The March issue she writes has, 'contributions  from prominent academics.Terry Crooks, Lester Flockton and Cedric Croft outline succinctly and with blinding clarity the reasons that National Standards will not enhance the educational health of the nation.'

The editor writes 'there is hardly a single principal who thinks National's  standards can assist children's achievement and many consider they will harm them'. They are being introduced for one reason -  'political purposes'.

If this is so where is the concerted action by such principals?

The President of the Principal's Federation Peter Simpson calls for action .What we don't want is to allow uniformed politicians to rule and find ourselves implementing a national standards system which brings high risk of harming children.' And he reminds readers of the failures of such approaches in the UK and the US  and that schools will have to consider the future our children will live in and the skills and capabilities they will need.

Terry Crook, Emeritus Professor of Education Otago University has expressed ongoing concerns about the details of National Standards.and writes, I have sincere and grave doubts that they will make any significant for the stated goals for which they have been introduced.' And he is worried about the side effects and believes teachers should instead be developing 'deep insight into the capabilities, interests and needs of each of these students.He also worries that the 'more teachers focus on trying to get all students in their class to a prescribed standards....the less appropriate their efforts will be for the most capable and least capable studnts'.  He also is concerned tat educational changes to be effective need to be embraced by teacher rather than have them imposed and that the proposed standards  have been developed with minimal input of teachers.

Cedric Croft, another respected New Zealand assessment expert and independent consultant continues the argument writing, 'A point of confusion with "Standards" is that politicians and officials who promote them are not clear what they are talking about.' In most cases the Standards cover too much to ensure that all teachers are assessing their students on the same outcomes.'

This brings up further bureaucratic intervention by some sort of moderation! And of course the 'results for every school to be reported to the Ministry in 2012, the inevitable league tables may come next' All this Croft believes will do 'little more than demonstrate the status quo.They will show that  'schools with  socially and economically advantaged students, and better resources, achieve higher levels' and vice verse.  It all indicates moves toward 'the central control of schools by governmnts' and if implemented will 'show a restricted picture of what schools and students are achieving'....'There is no recognition of the arts, physical skills, education outside the classroom, or special programmes schools may develop for their particular communities.' And, he adds, that 'measures of "added value" have met with limited success in the US, UK, and Australia.'

Croft believes that 'no new assessment policy has been so poorly conceived or introduced in a manner that puts so much responsibility on teachers and principals to make it appear to be working'. The standards are Croft concludes 'no silver bullets..and not worthy of support.'

'Appear to be working' - that is a worrying phrase for apologists for the standards.

The final contributor in the  March issue is Lester Flockton another internationally respected assessment authority.

Lester repeats many of the warnings of earlier contributors saying , 'in England interpretations of the standards in the , USA, Australia, etc. - places that have proven their serious limitations, burdensome impositions, flawed procedures, misplaced faith in data, and corrosive curriculum distortions.'

Lester asks that , 'brighter leadership at the top is requited to shift thinking outside of an outmoded square and away from a discredited model.A paradigm shift is required.' 'The current National Standards policy rings nicely in the ears of a voting public'. He continues that , 'recuing the 20% of children who are "failing every day in our schools" is the robotic and almost daily repeated reason for National Standards given by the Government' and ignores the 'true reasons why some children struggle'...that the 'large percentage of children who struggle with school work are those who are seriously dis-advantaged by their living circumstances'....'It is silly to think that National Standards can get struggling children to succeed without first addressing the underlying causation'.

As for the 50 SAPS Lester writes should first work with struggling students before they are acceptable to work in other schools!

And he warns us of the 'whole new industry of data manufacturing and trafficking' that will come with this 'blind faith in data'.

And Lester has no time for a Minister of Education who ignores reasoned opposition , who dismisses criticism  as 'politics,  'nonsense', rubbish', 'we've heard it all before', 'unions' and the such like. The Minister is unwilling to engage in reasoned debate  and has 'proven incapable of doing so'.

And Lester is worried that , 'we are seeing many schools that are simply doing all the superficial stuff in order to get ticks in the required boxes' , but some school he writes,  have thought out their own systems and that  these schools 'should  be left alone to do and prove their own thing unfettered by the Ministry thing'.

In the June issue the debate continues.

The President writes about the difference between professionalism and prescription  and reflects that Finland, the top performing country, succeeds because teachers are professionals trusted to deliver a curriculum  similar to New Zealand,in a manner and style they think best to suit their students with very little measuring and testing.'Finlands  sweeping success is largely due to one big weapon; the teachers.' The punitive aspects implicit in National Standards is a worry along with the idea that the standards will only measure what they set out to measure!

The report on the keynote speakers echo New Zealand educators concerns and provided , ' compelling arguments to unshackle the claustrophobia of a currently imposed assessment culture and rebuild confidence in teaching to a broad and innovative curriculum'

Andy Hargreaves  has a special interest in turning around failing kids and said that research has shown 'that a culture of assessment and comparing kids and schools with each other in competitive way is counter productive and that we have become 'obssessed with the assessment culture, and this has negative effects on children's achievemnt'.  He talked about how 'we need to understand are the gaps in achievement levels between groups...We need to examine gaps in society such as income gaps' He reminded the audience  , 'that one in five children languish in poverty and that income gaps between the rich and the poor have reached intolerable levels'.. and that the blame for failure has been blamed on schools not social inequities. Standardisation shifts that arguments away from poverty to say there is no excuses for failure.

'Schools', Hargreaves said, ' are not just about achievement in literacy and numeracy.They are also about identity,culture, and language.We cannot have standardisation in a multicultural environment.' 'In New Zealand'  , he said, 'the time was right for educators to ask "what are your dreams". Do you want a globalised dream, an imported rented dream narrowly focused on testing, data gathering and monitoring? Are you colonial renters or self manged innovators?

Another speaker, Professor James Spillane from Chicago told the audience that we had to 'get beyond a mindset that is caught up in standardizing and homogenising'. He warned of a culture of surveillance and  distrust and asked principals to understand their teacher's beliefs and knowledge and to develop a 'living culture' based on 'what teachers and others experience every day'. Spillane believes it is important  to take advantage of the abilities of others and to create an environment that supports teachers by sharing leadership which 'enables solutions to  real problems to found without seeking out "off the shelf"  remedies like standardisation.'

It seems that the hit of the conference was the address by Professor Yong Zhao from China. 'While  the USA was focusing on centralisation, standardisation and accountability, China was was reducing instructional hours for maths and increasing hours for electives and PE. 'Singapore, a world high flyer', Professor  Zhao said,'  has developed a deliberate strategy to teach critical and creative thinking skills, reduce subject content and emphasize process over outcomes when appraising schools'. Singapore's Ministry is 'calling for a more varied curriculum, a focus on learning rather than teaching and more autonomy for schools and teachers'. And similar developments are occurring in Korea.

'So what  then is the point  in pursuing a culture of testing and data colecting' According to Zhao  none. 'Chidren are like popcorn.Some pop early and some pop late.We need to respect individual differences, have faith in every child and provide second, third and fourth chances.' 'Issues children will have to face up to', Zhao said, will to  'recognise individual differences, understanding multiple intelligences and cultural diversity and having curiosity, passion,  and creativity'. These are what he describes as 'employable skills for the future'. 'What children in the future will be doing is inventing a job, not finding one and to do that they will have to be global entrepreneurs.They will need to have something that others want and be great at it.They will  need to have confidence and passion to innovate'.

Professor Zhao was taking about a world away   from the narrow focus on National Standards. and the narrow focus on reading, writing and maths that dominate the educational debate in New Zealand!

The president Peter Simpson reminded the audience of the conference's theme : 'Set yourself free' telling attendees  to free themselves from any doubt that the New Zealand education is in crisis, that we do not need National Standards to identify our underachieving  children..that principals  need not fear fear the consequences of doing the right and ethical thing by the children in our schools.  The assumptions underpinning the National Standards that all children progress at the same pace and labeling children as failures is unethical and could cause life-long harm.

Principals must not sit back and quietly and watch all that is good about our education system fall into decline because of flawed government policy.

He called on the audience to utterly reject the National Standards  policy in which the teaching profession has no confidence.

He was given a standing ovation.

This will  not be enough.

It is now time for principals in their local area to begin the fight back.

The time for talking is finished.

It is now time for action

Are school principals up to it? 


Allan Alach said...

Very pertinent blog, Bruce. I fear for the future of our schools. Why can't principals see the nature of the best they are playing with? Do they not know the agenda behind all this? Listen to the NZEI and NZPF. Everyone needs to listen to the voices of the experts that you mention. We ignore these people at our peril. Read what is happening in the eastern states of the USA - this is the agenda that the government is following. Once the cat is out of the bag, it will be very hard to put back. Now is the best time to fight. We need to be totally united.

Bruce said...

Thanks Alan This is one of my last posts about the standards - if principals don't sort themselves out before the election I can't be bothered. Creative teachers need courageous leaders. When the standards are in place,and the not so hidden agenda unfolds, you can kiss goodbye to creative education.

Anonymous said...

Short answer to your question, 'Are principals up to it ?' is no.

Anonymous said...

Bruce, I agree with you 100%. As a principal I've already been told by the MOE that they will be appointing a LSM to my school if we don't fall in line and support NS. My BOT will have the choice of either dismissing me or the LSM will dismiss the BOT. The end point is that the NS will be implemented irrespective of my dismissal.