Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Views of New Zealand Educationalists: Warwick Elley, Lester Flockton , Kelvin Smythe, and Bali Haque

I was sent a short article written by Warwick Elley a well respected New Educator and thought it worth sharing because his view on recent imposed directives from the Government are critically commented on.

The Minister ignores local expertise preferring to import ideas from counties that do not nave much in common with New Zealand.

Warwick Elley

'Why Are We Squandering $359 Million on Misguided Education Policies?

Now that the Ministry of Education is reconsidering, with primary teachers, the shape of its keynote plan “Investment in Education Success” (IES), we should examine the evidence for the original proposal. The scheme was rejected by 93% of primary teachers, not just because it was another surprise package, imposed without consultation, but because teachers see more drawbacks than benefits. I share their skepticism.

First, the Minister exaggerates the potential of schools to reduce gaps between high and low achievers. She quotes poverty as accounting for only 18% of the differences between students. That figure ignores the influence of many non-school indicators not measured in PISA. Visiting expert David Berliner puts our figure at 78% of student achievement differences due to home circumstances, neighbourhood influences and school social status. That leaves little room for changes due to differences in the quality of teaching. We cannot generalise from the dissenting Tennessee study quoted by the Ministry. It is dated, confined to one subject and one cohort, and assumes that NZ teachers vary in quality as much as US teachers. Furthermore, common sense suggests that there are many ways of being a good teacher. Raising literacy and numeracy test scores are only two.

The objective of IES is to raise the achievement of all students, high-achievers and selected priority groups – Maori, Pasifika, Low SES and Special Needs students. As we have consistently out-performed other nations in the percentages of students achieving at the highest levels, but have failed to reduce our “under-achieving tail”, it is surely better to focus those millions on reducing the gaps between the priority groups and the rest. Spending up in the top schools will only increase the size of our gaps, as the research consistently shows that un-targetted interventions help top students the most.

Much of the Ministry evidence justifying IES comes from two British sources - the McKinsey Reports. These purport to reveal the secrets of systems described as “sustained improvers” in international surveys. No mention is made of the critiques of these reports. For instance, claims about the success of England’s literacy and numeracy strategies are surely false, as the gains quoted predated the relevant surveys. Likewise the successes attributed to  Michael Fullan, popular adviser in Canada, Australia, England and New Zealand, must also be questioned. All these education systems have been in steady decline in PISA in recent years. Bias or shoddy scholarship?

There may be merit in forming “Communities of Schools” to share “best practice” but the case is not well made. As this Government has done so much to provoke strong competition between schools – through National Standards and league tables – the  hoped-for cooperation between schools would be half-hearted at best. We should follow the example of most European countries and
dispense with competitive rankings of schools, which are clearly shown to polarise achievement levels. Moreover, the idea of absenting top teachers and leaders from their stations – with big bonuses - to help others, is unpopular with teachers and parents. Research shows that many teachers are effective when they spend long hours, going the extra mile for their own students. Low-achieving schools need the best principals and teachers fulltime, not as periodic visitors. We need more incentives to secure this outcome.

Importing the teacher-sharing models from Asia is highly debatable as their systems are much more authoritarian, their educational goals narrower, and their after-hours coaching schools often contribute more than their regular schools. Even the quoted example of principals spending time supervising a range of municipal schools in Finland ignores the fact that we are unique in having no structure between schools and central authority, which lumbers our principals with far more duties to perform. Few could spend days away from their desk.
Perhaps “best practices” of successful teachers should be identified and disseminated if possible, but many already exist. For instance, students who struggle in reading need early, individualised, intensive, expert help. Such effective tutoring has been given to thousands of 6-year-olds, here and overseas, in the form of Reading Recovery. Yet only half of our low-decile schools, where most strugglers are found, can afford it.  Jeanne Biddulph’s “Reading Together” Programme where parents are taught effective tutoring practices is another proven strategy. There is research to support numerous other targetted interventions. The millions should be invested here, not on teacher bonuses.

Of course, IES would have minimal impact if the root causes of achievement gaps – poverty and inequality - are not addressed more vigorously, in the early years. More resources for pre-natal care, more support for young mothers, more “at risk” children given easier access to quality ECE, earlier screening for disabilities – such measures would generate “sustained improvements”. The research is clear – dollars invested in quality child care will save thousands later!'

Kelvin Smythe is a must read to get a critical view of educational developments. If you have visit his site and sign up for his  regular postings.Kelvin is a fighter for the best of holistic primary education which is at risk.

Lester Flockton .

How do we make judgments about how well our schooling system is performing? Domestically, the most common methods use NCEA and National Standards results. In addition, the Education Review Office(ERO) reports on school performance. For international benchmarking the current favourite method is the Programme for International Testing (PISA).

All of these methods are problematic and have significant negative and unintended consequences. Together they also represent a largely quantitative paradigm of thinking about, and measuring school performance which needs to be challenged

Current performance measures of schools and the schooling system are not useful, and dangerous, particularly because politicians and many school leaders are basing their decision making on the data they produce.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Bruce for sharing this information. I think, however, you ought to place yourself in the list of respected critics because your opinions are also well respected. All the educators mentioned have had many years of educational experience and all see creative teachers and schools central to real innovation not experts with little or no experience of the reality of classroom teaching..

Unfortunately too many principals have 'sold their sou'l to go along with Ministry requirements and this is of great concern. The points made of 'honky' measuring re National Standards and NCEA are close to cheating all in name of school reputation and self interest. The trouble with such simplistic target setting ( other than narrowing the curriculum and teaching to the tests) is that it is not what you achieve that counts but what you miss because you weren't looking.

That principals and teachers are lining up to be in clusters is also a worry. The wrong people will be chosen - those who comply to requirements rather than those who are innovative and creative.

The wisdom you all share is of extreme importance if we are to develop the creative talents pf all our student and just those that current schooling suits.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Couldn't agree more. Just because the Minister and the Ministry ignore such important factors as poverty and continue to impose political solutions such as National Standards doesn't mean teachers should ignore the wise words of senior educationalists. Be great though if they stood up together and fought back rather than join up with artificial clusters and paid educational mercenaries.

Creativity is being squeezed out by compliance, control and conformity.

Thankfully there are still creative teachers and even principals who haven't given up but it cant be easy.