Tuesday, May 31, 2016

New Zealand education - a world class system? Bryan Bruce documentary tells us as it is!

Bryan Bruce's recent  documentary proves an insightful  look at the last  ( 'lost') decades of New Zealand education and provides inspiration for future changes if New Zealand is to be seen as a world class education system.

Link to view Documentary
Is NZ education world class?

Along with Bryan Bruce I also am deeply concerned with what has happened since the introduction of the 'so called' self managing schools reforms. The programme was an enlightening lesson of educational history since the 1980s and the power of  the neo liberal ideology ( individualism, choice and privatization) underlying this development.  

Bryan Bruce's findings are sure to challenge many people's ideas about the 'success' our current education system and asks what do we need to do to ensure all students leave with their talents and skills  realized to thrive in the future?

David Lange, Prime Minister and Minister of Education, introduced self managing schools in 1986 . I was a principal at the time and thought that  the concept of neighbourhood schools able to develop an education best suited to their students exciting but, as it turned out, things changed fast.  Not only the school closings but later with  the introduction of an unwieldy New Zealand Curriculum ( a watered down version of the English National Curriculum) with its 'top down' assessment requirements. As a result  of the compliance required the teaching environment changed for the worse. It seemed we had 'thrown the baby out with the bathwater'. Looking back self management now seems  a myth.

Now our system in 2016 , according to Bruce , is in a mess and it all goes back to  1987 with David Lange's introduction of  the introduction of   his 'Tomorrows Schools' (  the Picot Report).
Lange introduces 'Tomorrows Schools'.
Education as, indicated in a Treasury brief to the incoming government, was no longer to be a right but a commodity

Layer of administration were removed to make schools more responsive and efficient  including the regional Education Boards and their school advisers. Day to day decisions were to be devolved to individual schools and parents given a voice through the elected Board of Trustees.

These changes , according to Bryan Bruce , were a colossal mistake and resulted in two unhealthy dimensions that got in the way
Influenced by Treasury
of improving educational provision:

Firstly he changes resulted in an unhealthy competition between schools.

And, secondly it created a worse bureaucracy that had previously existed.

The principal of Aotea College  summed  the current situation well:

Community involvement, she said, was a good idea but the risk was that some schools were not able to manage themselves well without support. To avoid problems the Ministry introduced layers of regulations and compliance requirements. This  has resulted in schools no longer having the best of self management or central directions but the worst of both, resulting in shambles of requirements to comply with.

So much for self managing.

Not mentioned in Bruce's programme was the establishment of the Education Review Office ( ERO) whose responsibility was to ensure schools were complying. As a result  a corrosive surveillance and accountability culture was created.

The current government  blames schools for the 'one in five children failing' that the reforms were supposed to remedy  when in truth is that the poverty/inequality created by the
 market forces 'winner/loser' ideology has widened the ;achievement gap'. In an OECD report stated NZ teachers .most highly trained and best qualified' but teachers cannot  combat problems that lie outside the school gate. Too many students due to growing inequality suffer from an 'opportunity gap'.
Achievement gap reflects ts socio economic status.

OECD recognizes NZ teachers as world class
Competition and parent choice ( determined by  results in National Standards and NCEA levels)  has resulted in parents seeking out  'better schools' for their children.  To alleviate  this 'flight' away from low income schools the National government introduced a decile system - giving greater funding to lower socio-economic schools. Zoning, that had previously been abolished to give parent choice  was restored to halt the flight.

It is now possible  Bruce stated to determine two opposing educational philosophies; one based on choice the other on fairness.  Choice relates to the neo liberal politics of individualism. Fairness would need to ensure all schools were seen as excellent  as is in the case in high achieving Finland.

By 1990 neo liberal ideas  were well established in New Zealand and students no longer had free tertiary education and a loan system had been introduced.

In contrast, in Scotland,  students are still given free tertiary education on the grounds that education is not only an individual
Scottish Secretary of Education
good but a society one as well.. Other countries that still provide free tertiary education include ; Austria,Argentina, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Poland . and Sweden - just as we once did in New Zealand.

Dr Kathy Wylie ( Senior Educational Researcher NZCER)  commented in the documentary that two thirds of primary schools now compete with other primary schools and, as a result, they no longer share knowledge or resources. For
Dr Kathy Wylie NZCER
Maori and Pacifica  children, said Dr Wylie, 'the system is a disaster'
. Such students are now worse off; their 'achievement flat lined in the 90s'; it was 'a wasted decade'. As a result of the 'reforms' schools  there  is now little  trust between the Ministry and schools.

This lack of trust between the Ministry and schools continues to  be an issue.
Education as a commodity 

Two conflicting values lie at the heart of the issue - the values underpinning the beginning of public education ( that it be free and fair ) and the values we have inherited from the recent neo liberal ideology ( education  to be seen as a commodity based on schools competing). 

The trouble is , says Bruce, you can't achieve equity and fairness through competition because  competition by definition means 'winners and losers'; and not all children can 'enter a winning schools'.
The results of a narrow test emphasis.
Result of three decades of neo liberal reform.

In Shanghai they aim to develop all schools as 'winning schools'  through their  centralized system with an emphasis  on the collaborative sharing of ideas between teachers by means of their test orientated system. This test focus has resulted in Shanghai dominating the OECD PISA achievement tests.

In Finland, another country that has topped the PISA results,
has an approach very different from the test orientated Chinese. All students go to neighbourhood schools and, according to a Finnish principal, there are 'no good or bad schools , all schools are more or less of the same quality'.

In Finland there is very 'light administration' with teachers being seen as professionals and there is trust between the government, teachers, principals and parents. It sounds a little like the lost promise of David Lange's 1986  'neighborhood schools'.

So, asks the documentary, what is the best way to prepare New Zealand children for an unpredictable future?

The answer, according to Dr Andreas Schleicher PISA Director , is to help all students to be
successful; to be able to get jobs that haven't yet been created ; to solve problems we can't yet imagine; to use technologies yet to be invented; it has to do with interpersonal skills; to be able to work in teams ; students who 'can join up the dots'; and, he concluded,  'content you can look up on Google'.

The barrier in New Zealand to  achieving the above is our increasingly test driven system based around targeted achievement in National Standards and NCEA results.

Such compliance requirements are also ironically driven by  the PISA international tests . As a result,  our system, is an increasingly compliant  rather than a creative one.

American Chinese born education Professor Yong Zhao believes a test oriented system is the last thing New Zealand should be involved in. And he believes we should get out of PISA testing which forces  competing countries to respond to a few test scores. He wonders why  New Zealand,an otherwise smart country should let three PISA test scores dictate our children's futures. Such tests, he continued, do not reflect other equally important aspects of education.
Professor Yong Zhao

Yong Zhao  believes that the authoritarian test approach of Chinese schools will not provide the innovative and creative people the future demands, If New Zealand wants to develop  a creative economy we should 'be more New Zealand' to win in the future. Copying China would be a step back to the past.

In today's global economy, says Bryan Bruce, continuing on Zong Zhoa's theme,  we  need to find new ways to diversify; we will need  'to think smarter' will require an education system that produces 'innovative and creative students'. 'We need to start valuing creative schools and teachers if are to be successful in the future'. 'We need flexible thinkers who can work on complex problems which have no known answers;problems with more than one solution'.

The need for such students was reinforced by tutor Mike Porter, of the Auckland  Media and Design School,  who observes that new students at first are upset because they have to find their own answers to problems. They are not used to solve their own problems by themselves, nor work in teams,  and do not appreciate the need to learn through their mistakes. 

So, asks Bruce once again, what are we to do to prepare our  students for an unpredictable future?

Manurewa Intermediate School , a  decile one school, Bryan Bruce believes  provides one answer to the problem.

Manurewa Intermediate   focuses on  'teaching the joy of learning through an inquiry approach'; an approach where students form their own questions working with the guidance of their teachers to solve their own problems. Teachers motivate  learning by  'igniting children's interests'. As a result  students  'want to read more, to find out more' and  to use literacy and  maths in real contexts.  The school's inquiry approach
A stimulating environment
is 'a process of exploration' that  results in quality work and students who want to learn.and students who are prepared 'to put in the had yards' and to 'take responsibility for their own learning'

Exciting school cultures, says Bruce, need  inspirational leadership. Manurewa's principal Iain Taylor's

vision 'is to give the kids the best deal possible ; one that allows them to think ; to be creative; to learn through their mistakes ; and to take responsibility or their own learning and actions'

Bryan Bruce comments ,'it is similar to the Finnish system'; and, I would add, followed by many creative teachers, past and present, in New Zealand.

Finland has interesting history. Twenty years ago Finland dropped   the tyranny of an authoritarian and test orientated system for a more creative approach  and as a result they are  now the most successful European education system

New Zealand teachers, in contrast, are constrained by the imposition of National Standards based on reading , writing and maths  which encourage conformity .National Standards requires teachers to select from a range of  approved tests and then
Doubtful National Standrards
add their 'teacher objective judgement'  to place their students at the appropriate standard, All this data collection is time consuming and of dubious value. And far too easy for school to 'cook the books'.

Finnish educator Pasi Salberg says that the future requires
countries to develop 'fearless' environments that allow teachers and students to take risks and learn through their efforts. 'Without the confidence to try things and take risks there can be little creativity and without creativity no innovation'.

In contrast New Zealand schools are increasingly becoming risk averse as a result of the accountability and surveillance culture that has been in place since the 80s. 

Finnish teachers, according to Salberg, have been integral in 

.transforming Finland once conservative culture. Teachers now 'expect creativity'. Finland's original test based system has been replaced by one that aims at 'developing the curiosity' of its students. Finland, as a result of such cultural changes, has transformed itself from a country dependent on primary products to one that trades in knowledge and  technology.

A lesson for New Zealand?

 If we also want to diversify our economy, continues Bruce,  we need to face up to the fact that while teaching for conformity may produce test results that are easy to measure and compare such a compliance culture stifles the creative thinking that we need to foster in our country if we want to be a creative
Team work a future skill
country. Schools need to recognize that, in  the real world, complex problems are solved by teamwork rather than individuals and greater weight needs to be placed on  social skills such as cooperation and communication skills

This would mean , he continues, we need to develop new ways to assess our students. We need  to be able to assess group tasks and students ability to work with each other as well as each individual's contribution if we want a system that produces more cooperative and creative thinkers.

From Finland we could place more emphasis on creative play in the early years ( Finnish children do not start formal schooling until 7 and still achieve highly in literacy). 

Research has shown 80% of the brains growth develops by the age
Dame Lesley Maz
of 3 and we need to spend more money at this earlier level.
  Dame Lesley Max   ( CEO Great Potentials Foundation) says that too many students arrive at school substantially behind their more affluent peers in cognitive development.

The 'one in five' failing  cannot be simplicity blamed on poor teaching ( as suggested by the Prime Minister and Minister of Education) . According to Dame Lesley children of affluent parent hear 12 million words a year while  children in welfare  only 3 million.

This would indicate where we need to place our efforts  assisting less affluent parents with appropriate assistance and resources. The parent's role is vital and many stressed parents, living in poverty, need help to relate positively to their children. 

Take the time to watch Andrew Wilkinson ( of 'Spirit Level' fame) TED Talk to see where the government's neo liberal policies have placed New Zealand - shameful!
Money spent at the wrong end.
Bruce states that is impossible to overstate the importance of the early years and their link with later life.

Sir Peter Gluckman , the government's scientific adviser,  says that this is not about early literacy and numeracy  but that the most important thing is to 'help young people interact positively, to learn how to respond appropriate; to complete tasks, to understand other peoples feelings; and to develop empathy for others'.

He continues, success in life depends on these skills and that it is these skills that 'determine resiliency in people in later years'. All life chances depend on such skills and without them young people are more likely to get into trouble with the police and end up in prison.

Bryan Bruce comments that educational spending  sadly does not reflect this research.

Bruce concludes his documentary saying that no one knows what the future holds for our students but it  would seem that developing  a 'love of learning  needs to be at the heart of our education system'.
Manurewa  Intermediate School

Education or more than reading and writing.  Equally important is for students to gain success  and self discipline through  a range of activities and experiences. This will require a 'rich and diverse curriculum' that  intrinsically engages all students.

Bruce's overall assessment it that while there are many good things happening in NZ schools  such creativity 'is happening in spite of the system not because of it'.

One the underlying principles of a good public system, he says, is that it should be fair.
A rich curriculum

We need to face up to the consequences of the introduction of 'Tomorrows Schools' 30 years ago. 'Tomorrows Schools' ushered a period of unhealthy competition  between schools  creating a growinggap between the educational outcomes of students from richer and poorer areas.

He believes we need to  develop a more cooperative system ; one in which 'teachers feel trusted to look after our children and who are able then  to bring out the best in them'; a system   where children feel safe to develop their talents and gifts; a system where they aren't being constantly tested.

'That', he says, 'will be hard to achieve'. 'But if we don't start a national conversation today to bring such things about then we are not going to have a vital creative economy tomorrow'.

I think we should all be thankful that Bryan Bruce has brought this challenge to our attention.

 Achieving such a creative education system capable of developing the talents and gifts of all our students,  able to contribute to the development of New Zealand as a creative country is a worthy goal.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Personalized learning/ 21stC learning/ National testing/ maths, reading and tips for writing.

Creativity not compliance and conformity
Education Readings

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at allanalach@inspire.net.nz

Against Personalized Learning”
Annie Murphy Paul
Interesting article by Annie Murphy Paul:
…is that it runs afoul of our current understanding of cognition. Put simply, knowledge is cumulative. What a child is capable of learning depends upon what she already knows. When a child encounters new information, if she lacks the preexisting knowledge to put the information in context, she will quickly become frustrated. She won’t learn. So to the extent personalization seeks to devolve a greater degree of the responsibility of acquiring new knowledge to students, it relies on the mistaken assumption that many or most students are properly equipped to make sense of new information.”

Why 21st Century Learning” is No More Than Status Quo
‘So here’s something to consider. 21st century reformers are NOT new. They are NOT cutting-edge. They are nothing they propose to be. In a world dominated by digital services and programs, and in a time in which Silicon Valley is home to the new robber barons, how can selling our education system out to their corporate interests really be cutting edge”? It’s what we have always done.’

5 Reasons Why Origami Improves Students' Skills
‘While some of the oldest pieces of origami have been found in ancient China and its deepest roots are in ancient Japan, origami can make an impact in today's education too. This art form engages students and sneakily enhances their skills -- including improved spatial perception and logical and sequential thinking.’

The idea that strong teacher unions impede education quality is ludicrous
We need strong unions
Throughout history teacher organisations have been the main driver of improving education quality and educational opportunities. Is it a coincidence that the 23 best performing nations on the Programme for International Student Assessment scale have strong education unions? Of course not. Many successful education reforms in the industrial economies were initiated by teacher unions, while the most effective professional development programmes are organised by teacher unions.’

Rigor spagis
An article from the Cambridge Primary Review Trust in the UK that discusses the deadening effects of national tests on children’s writing.
‘Only one of the eight relates to the point of putting pen to paper in the first place. Aside from ‘the pupil can create atmosphere, and integrate dialogue to convey character and advance the action’, the writing criteria spring entirely from the Government’s obsession with grammar, punctuation and spelling. I fear it is only too easy to meet the ‘expected standard’ with writing that is as lifeless, uninspiring and rigorous as the criteria themselves.’

The power of reading aloud: not just for babies and little children
Not just for little people
‘There is something special about reading books together at school. A clever teacher can turn the reading experience into an almost theatrical event, and transform ‘the class’ into a keen and interactive audience. A shared story is communal; it is protective to those who are most struggling, who are learning about words, how they sound and what they do; they are helped by hearing others say them. It helps to bring about a shared class-consciousness, a shared memory that enriches and motivates. Reading a shared story every day is one of the most rewarding teaching experiences and one with highly productive outcomes.’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

One to Grow On / Beyond Grades and “Gotchas"
‘My perspectives on looking at student work have been honed over many years of teaching. I don't pretend to have it all right yet, but I think I'm wiser about that aspect of teaching than I was in my early years. Over time, I've arrived at four conclusions. Although a part of me wishes someone had told me these things as a beginning teacher, I know there's a difference between being handed a list of do's and don'ts and developing an understanding of how learning works. As Linus once told Charlie Brown, "There's a difference between a philosophy and a bumper sticker." Here are four elements of my evolving philosophy about looking at student work.’

How A Strengths-Based Approach to Math Redefines Who Is ‘Smart’
‘The three main tenets of Complex Instruction are that learning should have multi-ability access points, norms and roles that support interdependency between students, and attention to status and accountability for learning. In most Complex Instruction classrooms the majority of class time is spent with students working in groups of four on a rich task that has multiple entry points and ways it could be solved. If one student can solve the problem in his or her head, it’s not a rich task.’

Reie Routman
10 Surefire Ideas to Remove Writing Roadblocks
An excellent article by Regie Routman
So you want to teach writing well. It’s not as hard as you think. Yes, it’s a challenge, but it can be exhilarating.I believe writing – more than anything we teach – has the power to change students’ lives, for them to see themselves, sometimes for the first time, as smart thinkers and writers across the curriculum.’

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Tapping into the student's world
‘Every student brings with them memories and ideas gained from the experiences they have had. All too often this personal form of motivation is overlooked by teachers who seem to think they have better ideas to use - their own. It is as if students come to school as blank slates ( tabula rosa) when instead they come with a wealth of ideas to share but to do their ideas need to be valued.’

Importance of School Values
‘A vision gives an organization a sense of direction, a purpose, but only if it is ‘owned’ and translated into action by all involved but vision is not enough in itself. The values that any organization has are just as important or even more so because they determine the behaviours that people agree to live within. Alignment of people behind values is vital but too often both vision and values are just words hidden in folders are rarely referred to. What you do must reflect what you believe if there is to be integrity. And any alignment needs to include students and parents as well.’
'Superkids'; the hurried generation!
‘The latest metaphor for education , and one with unhealthy consequences, is that of the ‘super kid’. This has resulted in what Elkind calls the ‘hurried child’. Arising out of an ideology of individualism and competition, this metaphor puts pressure on parents to hurry their children through childhood to give them an advantage in the future. It is an outcome of the ‘dog eat dog’, ‘me decades’, or the ‘yuppie me first’ culture!.

Friday, May 20, 2016

UK Education/ Literacy and computers/Philosophy teaching/ Michael Fullan and Pearson/ Seymour Papert and are the the three Rs' obsolete?

Education Readings by Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at allanalach@inspire.net.nz

Sorry, Nicky, I’m out.
An English teacher writes an open letter of resignation to UK Secretary of Education Nicky Morgan. If you think your version of GERM is bad, I’d suggest that England possibly tops the scale.
“Please accept this as written notice of my resignation from my role as Assistant Head and class teacher. It is with a heavy heart that I write you this letter. I know you’ve struggled to listen to and understand teachers in the past so I’m going to try and make this as clear as possible. In the six short years I have been teaching your party has destroyed the Education system. Obliterated it. Ruined it. It is broken.

Reading on a Screen Rather Than Paper May Affect What You Learn, Study Shows
Here’s another article suggesting that we may need to be more careful about believing the hype about technology.
‘A new study suggests that it’s not only what you read, but how you read it that matters.
Reading on paper versus on a digital screen may impact what you end up absorbing from the text, according to a study by Dartmouth researchers. This research is being presented at the Association for Computing Machinery conference in San Jose, California, this week, and has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal. In the study, people who used computer screens for learning did better when it came to understanding concrete details, but they had more difficulty understanding abstract concepts.

It’s the Environment, Stupid
Annie Murphy Paul
Read about Paul Toughs findings
Rather than consider noncognitive capacities as skills to be taught, I [have come] to conclude, it’s more accurate and useful to look at them as products of a child’s environment. There is certainly strong evidence that this is true in early childhood; we have in recent years learned a great deal about the effects that adverse environments have on children’s early development. And there is growing evidence that even in middle and high school, children’s noncognitive capacities are primarily a reflection of the environment in which they are embedded, including, centrally, their school environment.”

Inverse Relationship Between GPA and Innovative Orientation
The more students focus on test scores, the less creative they become.
Another article by Peter Gray.
Testing out creativity!
‘Our educational system was designed for a different age, a time when jobs required rote performance and unquestioning obedience, where innovative thinking was considered to be unnecessary or even a liability for the majority of people.  Ironically and tragically, rather than adapt our educational system to the needs of our modern times we have doubled down on the old system, so it is harder today than ever before for young people to retain and build upon their natural curiosity and creativity.’

Study: Teaching Students Philosophy Will Improve Their Academic Performance
An interesting study from England.

Socrates and philosophy 

‘The kids who were taking philosophy classes improved their math and reading skills by about two months of additional progress compared to the students who didn't take the classes. The actual aim of the classes was to improve student confidence in asking questions and constructing arguments, but the additional academic gains were undeniable.’

The Disturbing Transformation of Kindergarten
One of the most distressing characteristics of education reformers is that they are hyper-focused on how students perform, but they ignore how students learn. Nowhere is this misplaced emphasis more apparent, and more damaging, than in kindergarten.’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

A chance to look around three classrooms 

Bruce’s comment: I found these three short u-tube videos and thought they were useful to give insights into English primary school classrooms. All to often we read or hear from experts well distanced from the reality of the classroom.  All classrooms reflect the ‘message system’ of the
teacher or school.  The small videos below do just this.  I believe strongly in the importance of classroom environments and found the viewing most interesting. The fact they are not professional presentations adds authenticity to the small videos. Note Literacy and Numeracy ‘learning walls’, the emphasis on current interdisciplinary  topic displays . What would a tour of your room show?

Michael Fullan believes in an educational transformation? Pearson's role in education: A Rich Seam: How Pedagogies Find Deep Learning.
Bruce’s latest article.
‘Pearson's version of 'personalized learning' relies on 'data driven analytics' and technology to ensure  learning. Some of the schools following a 'Pearson's approach' look more like
 Larry Rosenstock:Wise words from New Tech High
high powered 
traditional schools with students learning through digital technology. My preference is the New High Tech approach, which is also referenced in the 'Rich Seams' document - a real world activity based school making use of a wide range of technology from carpentry tools to computers.

Read about this great book.
With Educational Technology, We Don’t Know What We’re Doing
Another Annie Murphy Paul article.
‘A head-slappingly obvious (yet often overlooked) point: Why are we spending millions upon millions of dollars on unproven technologies, when there are so many empirically-proven techniques from cognitive science and psychology that are going virtually unused?

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Learning from bamboo
Resilience - the ability to bounce back!
Before there was ‘grit’ we had ‘resilience’.
Bamboos are a great symbol of resilience, bending in the wind and quickly growing if it comes to the worst. Going with the flow and knowing when to sidestep are important skills of learning. It is all about resilience.  Students at school need help develop to learn to stick at tasks and to persevere so as to gain the satisfaction of achieving something they didn’t know they could do. Naturally the task has to be meaningful and worthwhile to the individual.’

Seymour Papert : The obsolete 'Three Rs' - blocking real change in education
Bruce’s comment: The place of the ‘three Rs’ in an age of computers. Worth reading if you teach in a MLE.
‘All this  Victorian emphasis on the ‘three Rs’  according to people like Professor Seymour Papert, a highly respected MIT expert in learning and computers, ‘expresses the most obstinate block to change in education’.’ The role of the basics’, he writes, ‘is never discussed; it is considered obvious’. As a result other important educational developments are being ignored. Papert is not questioning the importance of ‘the Rs’- children cannot learn effectively in all curriculum areas without them but they need too be 'reframed' to be seen as foundation skills to allow students to learn rather than ends in themselves.’

The urge to collect- and display
How can you incorporate this in your classroom?
‘When you visit people’s homes what they collect and display indicates what is important to them. Nothing is displayed with out some thought behind the object – each object has its own story to tell to the collector and to a visitor. Collections reflect the personality and interests of the owners. The urge to collect starts young and for some people early interests become lifetime occupations often turning into careers.’