Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What does the future hold for schools in New Zealand?

Guest blogger Allan Alach

Bruce has very generously allowed me to write another guest blog, for which I am very grateful. I’ll start off by reiterating the obvious:

Of course children need to develop high levels of competence in literacy and mathematics. No argument.  Equally valid is the need to develop each child’s full potential, a case that Bruce articulates so well. The issue is the conflict between these.

As we move into the second half of this year, we are now waiting to see what the Ministry of Education will do about schools who have stuck to their principles of putting children first, refusing to submit a ‘compliant’ charter.  We can expect MOE officials at local offices to increase pressures on BOTs, to try to create a rift between BOTs and principals, or by stressing ‘this is the law’.

That will undoubtedly do the trick with some wavering BOTs, who are caught in the dilemma between doing the right thing for children, and being law abiding citizens.

What will follow? My crystal ball indicates two possible paths.

The National Party will be very mindful of the coming election. Confronting non-compliant schools head on runs the big risk of wide media coverage of all the issues revolving around the standards, and this comes with a big electoral risk attached.

Therefore one outcome could be that the posturing, arm twisting and threats of doom and retribution will continue, but not go any further until after the election. Should National be returned to office, fasten your seat belts.

Another possibility is that the government will use the distraction of the Rugby World Cup as the time to ‘lean’ on schools. 

Are we winning this fight? Will the government admit it has got this all wrong? Is this a good Tui ad?

Sorry, people, this battle has a long way to go and logic, research, educational principles, and the large numbers of experts against standards count for nothing.

Let’s unpick a few things here to illustrate this.

One of these is the recent announcement, published on July 19, of the appointment of the new Secretary for Education.  Our new ‘boss’ will be Lesley Longstone, from England, who “is experienced in developing and implementing policy and strategies and in introducing and implementing legislation.  She has successfully managed change in large service delivery organisations in challenging circumstances.”

Hmm... references to the New Zealand Curriculum? 21st century education? Inquiry learning? Knowledge of pedagogy? Teacher inquiry? 

Want to know more? Here’s the link to the State Services Commission. It seems pretty transparent to me what her job will be.  For more on this, read Derek Wenmoth’s blog.

As an attempt to prove she is ‘listening’, the Minister has established what Kelvin Smythe calls an “Orwellian-type advisory group” called  the “National Standards Sector Advisory Group” or NSSAG. The fact that this group doesn’t include the educators, academics, and education sector groups concerned about the impact of standards is apparently not important.

Orwellian’ is right - set up a group that will dutifully do what it is told and define the language accordingly. ‘Newspeak’ by any chance? A member of the NSSAG is one Brian Hincho, who apparently represents intermediates and middle schools. Heard of him before? Thought not. That, people, is the education sector’s voice on this group. Fills you with confidence?

As part of the latest NSSAG report, Hincho produced a paper “So Why Are Principals Opposed to National Standards?” From its title, and from a cursory reading, one may think that Hincho is actually reflecting principal voice, and I’ve heard senior colleagues refer to it in this way.

For a devastating critique of Hincho’s paper, read what Kelvin Smythe has written. For full impact, follow the sequence Kelvin suggests:
So why are French people opposed to Vichy France collaboration? (Kelvin’s satirical take of Hincho’s article).

Still think that Hincho is speaking on our behalf?

Continuing the theme I’ve developed in previous postings, we also need to lift our heads to see what is happening overseas, as it is clear that many of the government’s educational policies are being imported. Australia is the first place we should look.

The NAPLAN programme was introduced there in spite of the protests of the education sector, whose objections followed a similar line to those being expressed here. However the political ideology over ruled the educationalists.

For indepth analysis of the Australian education sector, I recommend you follow Phil Cullen. Phil is an ex-Director General of Education in Queensland, whose education focus is very child centred, and his website is extremely comprehensive.

Phil also writes a very powerful email newsletter/blog, called “The Treehorn Express” that comments on current issues in Australian and worldwide education. Add this to your PLN. It doesn’t take much reading to realise that he could very well be writing about current trends in New Zealand.  Aren’t coincidences amazing things? 

In Phil’s latest ‘Treehorn Express’, he refers to the ‘consultant’, Joel Klein, who advised then Education Minister Julia Gillard, about the best system to use for the NAPLAN test programme. Remember that, especially if you come across a video of a discussion between Klein and Sir Ken Robinson, which has been highlighted on Twitter.

In order to get a grasp of what is most likely behind the educational developments in Australia and New Zealand, we need to head off to the USA.

One fall out of the disintegration of the Murdoch regime has been the evidence that the Murdoch business empire has/had big plans to add education to their portfolio, as detailed here, and here, and here.

Klein’s role is outlined in this article in The New York Times;
“Though Mr. Klein did not see eye to eye with Mr. Murdoch on many political issues, they agreed on a core set of education principles: that charter schools needed to expand; poor instructors should be weeded out; and the power of the teachers union must be curtailed.

Blogger Joe Bower (always worth following) also comments on Joel Klein in this post, where he starts with this quote from Klein:
"The more we have multiple measures the risk is we dilute the power of accountability."

Think about what that really says.

 Phil Cullen is also on Murdoch’s case: “Digital Giants About to Take Over Schools” which includes this section:
“Education is, as Rupert Murdoch described it in a speech to the G8 in May 2011, ‘the last frontier’ – a vast market waiting to be invaded, conquered and financially exploited by News of the World and other companies.”

Get the message?

While Murdoch’s troubles in England may bring an end to this, there are other big sharks in the US water.

Collectively they are known as ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) whose members include the big players in the USA business world, such as the Koch Companies Public Sector, AT&T, Wal-Mart Stores, Pfizer Inc., Coca-Cola Co., ExxonMobil Corp., State Farm Insurance Co., PhRMA, Altria Group (formerly Philip Morris), Kraft Foods, Reynolds American and others. Many of these players, by the way, are also behind the Kahn Academy (as is Bill Gates) and TED talks. Now there’s food for thought.

So what is the relevance to New Zealand education? Here is a page discussing ALEC’s policy on education. 

As an illustration, here are two sections.
“Certifying individuals with no education background as teachers, a move that would weaken the quality of education, that fails to recognize there is more to teaching than knowledge of a subject, and that would undermine the role and competitiveness of professional teachers.”

Links to NZ? Yep. The idea of six week training for graduates has already been proposed by the Minister.

What about this one?
“Creating a scheme to deem public schools "educationally bankrupt" to rationalize giving taxpayer dollars to almost completely unregulated private schools, rather than addressing any problems.”

See where standards and league tables fit in?

How much power does ALEC have in influencing US policy? Are you aware that recently Barack Obama organised a major meeting to discuss US education ‘reform’? Are you aware that this meeting was attended by many of the significant business leaders in the USA? How many educational experts were invited? (Answers to be written on a postage stamp using a 5 cm paint brush.) What does that tell you?

As an aside, you may find it enlightening to read ALEC’s other policies. I’ll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.

Does New Zealand have its own version of ALEC? I suggest, yes, we do, and they call themselves the Business Roundtable. Over the years we know that they’ve brought their carefully selected education ‘experts’ here to promote their view of schooling. We also know that Milton Friedman, the patron “saint” of Roger Douglas, Ruth Richardson, Don Brash,  Roger Kerr (Business Roundtable), and the New Zealand Treasury,  promoted privatisation of the public school system. Is there an agenda? What do you think?

As Paulo Freire has pointed out in Pedagogy of the Oppressed,
“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” 

Which of these options applies to present government policy?

The battle line must be drawn now.

 Here’s US educator Will Richardson’s frustration about the situation there, which equally applies to New Zealand:
“If you’re a public school educator in the U.S. right now, how can you not be angry? How can you not be doing something, even if it is just a profanity laced Tweet? The profession is being trampled. Politicians and businessmen with no background in education are driving reform. And our students are stuck in a system that still thinks it’s the 19th Century. By any standard, including the tests, our kids are not being well served, especially those who live in poverty. As a community, we’re in a fight, whether we like it or not, yet we seem more inclined to figure out Google+ than to make our voices heard to the policy makers who seem to have no desire to figure out what’s best for our children and care more about their re-election campaigns.  I mean really…what’s it going to take?”


I’ll leave the final word to Phil Cullen:

Please help our school children to regain the freedom to learn.
Things will get worse.

Thanks to Bruce for allowing me to use this forum. Thanks also to Michael Fawcett (Twitter @teachernz or here on Google Plus) for flicking interesting websites my way.

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