Monday, August 29, 2011

'Another shot against the prevailing wind' - by Allan Alach

So now we read that the MOE have issued an ultimatum to Island Bay School - submit a compliant charter by Friday 2nd September or else. The MOE have obviously studied their history. Armies of occupation, and dictators who have seized power, work to cement this by eliminating the "ring leaders" of the opposing forces, making an example of them as a warning to others.

Targeting Island Bay School has this intent, with the underlying message to other schools being, "This is what will happen to you!" Can we also expect to see every tenth BOT "taken out and shot," when there are too many to eliminate all at once? 

This strategy of taking out the perceived leaders is a risky ploy, as this serpent has many heads and new ones will grow. Also as history shows, making a martyr out of a leader is not wise move!

Two recent postings by Kelvin Smythe about the approach the MOE has taken with schools also speak volumes.

In his article “Forced Documentation  Kelvin relates an incident where MOE personnel started actively developing an acceptable charter;
“...she proceeded to cover with highlighter, section by section, to give the principal the exact wording she would like to see in ‘their’ new charter.”

 Excuse me, whose charter is it? Isn’t a charter intended to reflect wishes of the community?

Kelvin’s second article, “Jackboots in the classroom” relates to a story from a ‘non-compliant’ school and the events of a meeting with the MOE.  During this meeting the MOE offered to send a compliant charter that could be used as the basis for the school's reworked version!

As Kelvin's correspondent said, doesn't this just make a huge farce of the whole process?

Both these cases reveal the full shallowness and ridiculousness of the charter compliance agenda. It is now very transparent that the pressure is on to ensure rapid compliance regardless of whether the documents have any actual value.

Does the imminent commencement of the Rugby World Cup have anything to do with this? Get it done before the world media arrives and realises what is happening?

Given that BOTs have an obligation to consult with the community over charters, would someone please explain to me how a MOE written or supplied charter will be able to meet this requirement?

Or will that legal obligation be set aside, in spite of the MOE using other legal levers on schools? There is a huge inconsistency here, and it's not hard to foresee legal action against the MOE on this basis alone.

While on the legal theme, the Education Act (63A(4)) states this about charter issues:
"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."

The key word here is 'negotiate." It is implicit that this will take time to work through a due process. Therefore deadline demands by the MOE would seem to run counter to the intent of this section. One law for some, another law for others?

We can speculate as to why those at the top are either failing to see, or ignoring, the concerns over standards that are held by an extensive and rapidly growing nationwide movement. The media continues to play its role, typified by Jane Clifton’s column in the latest NZ Listener which excels even that DomPost editorial in its ignorance or complicity. To counter this, though, there are some signs, articles such as this Otago Daily Times editorial which suggests the message may be starting to get through.

Setting aside all the rhetoric about achievement and standards, and whether they are good or bad, let's step back a little to reflect on the whole situation. 

Going by this article, “NZ high on global prosperity list” New Zealand has the best education system in the world. The obvious question then begs to be asked; “If this is the case, why is this government hell-bent on changing it?”

(To head off the obvious retort, no one has ever said that core literacy and numeracy skills aren't important. Don't let anyone get away with that "red herring").

As far as I am aware (and I'm happy to be corrected here) the legislation that was rammed through parliament under urgency to establish the standards framework is the first time a New Zealand government has driven home a controversial education policy in this way. No consultation, no taking regard of research and evidence based findings, just an ideological and politically driven action.

Why was this done this way? Let's not be distracted by the usual political claim that the government received a mandate during the election. It is the method how this was implemented that needs close examination.

       Why was this legislation passed through parliament under urgency, without going through the normal select committee process?
       Why was there no opportunity for public submissions?
       Why was there no opportunity for expert input?

And so on....

Your guess is as good as mine.  Let's reflect on possible answers, again avoiding the mandate argument. One thing we do know for sure - this was not based on solid and reputable evidence and research.

       Arrogance?                       "We can so we will and you can't stop us."
       Ignorance?                       “We didn’t realise people would have concerns.”
       Fear?                                 "We can't make this public or else people may realise this won't work"
       Messianic belief?             "We know this is right so we don't need to consult"

I'm struggling to add more to this list, before falling back to my default position, that there's a bigger agenda and so things needed to be moved very fast. NZ political history suggests that any government may get re-elected once, but getting back in for the third time can't be guaranteed.  That gives six years to get as much done as possible.

I am in total agreement with Kelvin Smythe’s views:

In New Zealand, after the election, I predict a dramatic ramping up of the bureaucratisation of education, this will have the effect of entrenching political control of what happens in classrooms to the most minor of details. As we know, all the ‘services’ presently available to schools are already bureaucratised, from academic and professional development services right down to RTLBs, or in the process of being so.  

I anticipate that after the election, Public-Private-Partnerships will have quite an impact on how schools are viewed, but this will be small beer compared with what I believe will be a major reorganisation of the administration of schools to remove the last vestiges of Tomorrow’s Schools. It will be done, of course, in the name of efficiency but the real purpose will be control for revenge, ideological, and financial purposes.

I anticipate the closing of many smaller schools and the ones remaining being clustered under a larger school with a supra-board of control, sometimes with a non-education person in control, leaving individual schools with only nominal powers. Similar structures will be put in place in cities and provincial towns.

What needs to be realised is that we have a prime minister who has little feeling for school education and who finds it difficult to take teachers seriously; and a minister of education whose condescension towards teachers has turned to something nearer hate.

The forced imposition of standards based education seems to me, as a legal layperson, as an infringement on personal rights. Children of New Zealand will have their educational opportunities changed under this standards /achievement/ reporting regime.

Do parents get any say as to whether they want this for their children? What about all the parents in non- compliant schools who are saying very loudly,

"No. We want our children to have a full and rich education that isn't constrained by standards." 

New Zealand parents are finding their voice however, such as through the PROTECT movement (Parents' Rights On Their Educational Choices Today). You can find them here on Facebook or on their main website here. Encourage all parents to visit either of these two websites. Parent power will turn the tide.

Any government (regardless of which political party is in power) that imposes such potentially wide reaching educational changes, without full, thorough and in-depth consultation with all who have interests and knowledge, sends a very clear statement of authoritarianism.

We used to hear about the ‘Nanny State.” That seems to be rather pale in light of the forced changes in education in spite of the sound evidence to the contrary.

This "we know best" attitude has very alarming indications for the future of New Zealand schooling. This will affect not only the children of today and tomorrow, but have ramifications for the whole country that will last decades.

Education of children is a moral issue:

When we limit educational opportunities for children, we are stealing their future.

In a very perceptive blog article entitled “Dumbstruck”, Chris Trotter wrote:

“WELCOME to “The Age of Stupid”; to the great “dumbing down” of New Zealand. The place where educational standards are being reduced to readin’, ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmetic.”

What else is there to say?


Mac Stevenson said...

Another very well reasoned blog Allan. Good on you for keeping up the fight against the racist style approach from the MOE minions clearly given direction by their Minister. Shame there are not more standing publicly alongside you.

Colinjt said...

I wonder how many here in Australia are aware of what is coming as we head off down the same path. All the signs are there. While some parents are active in this issue, sadly many will not particpate.
It is easy to forget the power of education and the vested interests that seek to gain control. As a teacher, I have a healthy respect for the potential of those in power to exercise an unhealthy influence over our pratice.

Allan Alach said...

Thanks for the positive comments. It all helps!
Colin: Phil Cullen in Queensland is fighting the same battle for Australian children. His Treehorn Express newsletters are excellent