Wednesday, September 23, 2015

New Zealand Education is at risk - it is time to make a stand!!

Please share posting this with other teachers!

September 2015

The September New Zealand Principal’s Magazine reporting on the 2015 NZPF Conference couldn’t have made the disastrous issues facing New Zealand education any clearer.

But who is listening to the ‘frightening messages’ – or more importantly taking action?

My interactions with local principals seem to indicate that, even though they may be aware of the situation, it is all too hard; so much to do just to keep up with compliance requirements.

Elwyn Richardson
Reminds me of a favourite saying of my old friend Elwyn Richardson who said, ‘When you are up to your backside in alligators it is hard to remember you came to drain the swamp’.

Sadly Elwyn is no longer with us but he still remains as the ultimate example of what  creative education is all about – his book, ‘In The Early World,’ recently republishedby the NZCER  is testament to the kind ofeducation that we were once heading towards.  His classroom was a community of young artists and scientists exploring and expressing their ideas about issues that concerned them.

And it is not that the ‘frightening messages’ are new as anyone who  reads the posting of ex senior inspector of schools Kelvin Smythe will know. Kelvin warned us in the 1980s of the consequences of  ‘Tomorrows Schools’ reforms of  self-managing, competitive schools, but no one listened ,including myself, at the time! A man before his time but at least he hasn’t given up the fight. He is now more relevant than ever.
Visit Kelvin's site

A recent comment to one of his posting, said in respect to the NZEI succumbing to the Government’s wishes over Community of Schools (a good idea abused by the Governments’ standardisation ideology):

‘Don’t comply. Stand firm…..resolution from our leaders will not happen while teachers remain apathetic and only think in the short term about their back pocket rather than the long term about the NZ education system, their profession and what is truly best for our students’.

Our ‘so-called’ self-managing schools are suffering from what one writer calls ‘a corrosion of character’.  They were promised the opportunity to develop flexible schools but find that their success depends on the approval of the Education Review Office.  This dilemma, to gain approval by ERO and to stay true to their educational beliefs, is made worse because ERO approval is a shifting target. Only those with real character (and courage) can stay true. And then there is the problem of their school’s reputation and destructive interschool competition; far easier to comply – to go along to get along.

Denise Torrey
Back to the NZPPF Magazine’s warnings.

From the ‘President’s pen page’ it couldn’t be clearer. Denise Torrey summed up the messages from the internationally respected keynote speakers.

‘Professor Meg Maguire (UK) demonstrated the harsh reality of the global education reforms (GERM) which in a nutshell, she said,’ can be summed up as the decimation of the public education system in the UK’.

Meg Maquire spoke about how assessment and so called ‘performance’ are the all-consuming focuses in the UK.  ‘Children’ she said, ‘face more of the same, year after year: assessment preparations, then assessment, then repeat’.  School leadership is a statistical exercise in crunching data and preparing children for the next test. And, she said, ‘if schools are underperforming they are closed down by the equivalence of ERO (OFSTED) and replaced by private academies’ (charter schools).
No wonder such principals suffer from ‘a corrosion of character!’

This brings up what Denise calls ‘the sinister topic ofprivatising of education.
Diane Ravitch

Keynote speaker  American educator Diane Ravitch outlined the steps politicians use to introduce their agenda- ones that will be recognised by New Zealand educators.

 First they manufacture the ‘crisis’ ‘in New Zealand the ‘one in five failing’ and  ...’students are leaving school and can’t read, write or do maths’. Once the crisis gets public support then in comes the political solution.
1 in 5 failing = 1 in 5 in poverty! Any connection?

 The ‘crisis’  is framed as teachers not doing their job properly, teachers unions protecting them, not being accountable and not having proper standards. Then in come the standards in literacy and numeracy and suddenly we have a standardised measure of a schools ‘performance’.

Next in line, warns Denise, are privatised charter schools to solve the problem – and to make a profit. Denise brought up the issue of the TTPA (Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement) which she says would allow foreign corporations to establish charter schools and, if so, to override the decisions of democratically elected Governments.

In this scenario schools are to blame – no mention of poverty being an issue.

Totally compliant
And to make things worse schools have not expressed a creative teaching alternative to such developments. Too busy complying to fight for educationally inspired Communities of Schools and   the NZEI, it seems, has lost an opportunity toshare the creative ideas of teachers and instead has opened the way for greater compliance and standardisation; a sell out with dire consequences.

Denise asked those attending, ‘What is the purpose of education?’ 

Seems like a good question and too important to leave to
ideologically driven politicians. She continued, ‘there seems to be an absence of a shared vision for education in New Zealand.’ A vision’, she said, ‘that might include the ‘empowerment of children to manage their own learning’ and todevelop ‘creativity, problem solving and critical thinking’.  She asked,  ‘where would policies like NationalStandards  in reading , writing and mathsand the Progress and Consistency Tool fit into today’s personalised education?’

 Denise informed the meeting that a business world survey found that the top five skills required for job hunters are: problem solving, team work, communication, critical thinking and creativity.
And Denise reminded attendees there are the views of theimportance of a creative education by such educational experts as Sir KenRobinson. ‘Unless we reach an agreed sense of the purpose of education’, Denise concluded, ‘we will continue to be overwhelmed and bewildered by myriad policy initiatives none of which emanate from a common purpose.

 A good start would be to put the focus back on the vision of the all
but side-lined 2007 New ZealandCurriculum; a curriculum one speaker, Cathy Wylie,   said ‘is the jewel in the crown’ of a positive future oriented education.

 Steve Maharey,the Vice Chancellor of Massey University, continued the theme of the importanceof a personalised education system where, ‘students would become activeparticipants in constructing their own learning by making their own decisionsabout why, how and what they learn’.  And he commented the New Zealand Curriculum, introduced when he was Minister
Steve Maharey
ofEducation, was ‘a document to be proud of’.  He concluded by saying that in a rapidly changing world only the flexible, creative and innovative will succeed’. He could’ve also be referring to schools themselves!

 The message was loud and clear; creativity or compliance.

 Liz Hawes the editor of the NZPPF magazine (who summarised all
Liz Hawes
the various speakers) that 'resist1 resist! resist! was the clarion call from the lead keynote speakers’ all of who ‘described the reforms as having crushed the quality education systems in both countries (the UK and theUS, leaving barely mediocre private academies and charter schools in theirwake’.

Meg Maquire
Professor Meg Maquire (Kings College London) continued the message with frightening clarity 'mirroring the concerns], that Liz Hawes writes, ‘ that New Zealand teachers have expressed since the introduction of national standards, public achievement information and league tables; fears that these will lead to obsession with assessment data, threats of school closure for under performance and chains of charter schools’.

In England Meg said, ‘we haven’t got a system left. Teachers are the objects of policy, not the agents. These are deforms not reforms’, resulting in ‘intolerable stress levels’.

‘Don’t go down this path,’ she concluded.

Professor Alma Harris (Head of Educational Leadership, London) asked attendees to rethink what high performance means and to ‘press the pause on the Programme for International Student Achievement (PISA), which is distorting education’. Sir Ken Robinson calls then as reliable as the
The leaning tower of PISA
Eurovision Song contest is for defining singing quality! What is wrong is that PISA testing takes no account for context and that the real problem with PISA is when the measures become the target’. And they only measure what they measure! ‘The trouble with targets’, one business philosopher wrote,’ that it is not the ones you hit that count it is the ones you miss because you weren’t looking.

This was a message  further pushed home by Professor Diane Ravitch of New York University.  ‘You must avoid being infected by GERM (Global Education Reform Movement). It is not aboutreform it’s about privatisation and eliminating public education’. 

 ‘What drags down performance in the United States is poverty, more than any other factor. But politicians and power brokers don’t want to talk about poverty they want to talk about reform.’

  A further belief is that ‘if you standardise testing, and the curriculum and everyone has common testing them all children will be successful and all poverty will disappear And, with regard to charter schools, ‘you have no unions, no tenure and no security’. ‘This is education for profit based on ideas
that teachers are motivated by incentives such as performance pay’. Education in the US is becoming more corporatized  and computers are being seen as a replacement for teachers  which, says Ravitch, ‘is the ultimate in eliminating human relationships from education’  it  is all about schools calculating the ‘value add’ score based on literacy and numeracy tests scores. And those who resist such reforms are labelled resisters who just want to protect the status quo.  Sound familiar?

‘Resist! Resist! Resist!’ Ravich insisted,‘public schools are vital to a democracy

Liz Hawes concludes her summary by writing, ‘It is timely that we continue to take on board the strong warning from the speakers from both the UK and the USA that global reforms are dangerous and destructive and should be resisted’.

Time it seems for educators to remember ‘they came to drain the swamp’ and to set their sights on an educational vision that focuses
on thedevelopment of the talents and skills of all New Zealanders rather - a visionthat we can all get behind.


melulater said...

I completely agree Bruce.
I made the decision five weeks ago not to be a classroom teacher in 2016. I confirmed my decision not to reapply for my current position when I found the school had signed up for the IES Community of Schools ("It's only an expression of interest" - yeah right). And my decision became firmer on Thursday evening when I realised that 78% of people who attended the NZEI PUMs voted for the Joint Initiative, which really is the IES pig with lipstick.
I will no longer be party to an educational system that is infected by GERM. I want to be part of the antedote, which means stepping outside the system to advocate for change. I am ineffective within the system if I have to toe a line I don't agree with to keep my job.

Anonymous said...

I, too, have left teaching as I could see where things have been heading and did not want to be paid based on the achievement of my students. The push for compliance by schools has been frightening and working in environments where the desire to please and look good and be compliant, both up to the ministry and across to parent desires, was a HUGE motivator for my departure. When schools resisted National Standards they were told to join up or they wouldn't get their operational grants. And, yet, this government promotes anti bullying! Yeah, right. But, as stated in various places, we teachers are part of the problem. The level of apathy I witnessed shocked me as I recall the strength we had when primary teachers fought and marched for pay equity. That fervour has been squashed and people feel powerless or they fear losing their livelihoods if they kick up a fuss. Just what is wanted it would seem.

Bruce Hammonds said...

The two comments are the tip of an iceberg and reflect the feelings of many teachers I meet. Teachers responses may well be apathetic but can easily be seen as resignation - simply worn down by compliance requirements.

Everybody seems to know more about teaching than teachers and the further away from the classroom the 'louder' the advice - advice that bears no relationship to the reality of the classroom.

As a result it becomes easier to go along to get along. To make it worse there are principals who have bought into the top down management ethic reflecting their lack of pedagogical understanding and their desire to please.

Those who give up, who can no longer put up with the nonsense, are like the canaries in the coal mines of old. They are a warning to others. But with all the ideological pressure being placed on schools maybe people aren't able to hear the warnings?

The paradox is That IEs is trying to impose collaboration on competitive schools; it is the kind of collaboration seen in occupied France during WW2 The IES is, as mentioned, is 'a pig with lipstick'. Some call them 'communities of finance'.