Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ministry determined to subvert education

The voice of creative teachers being destroyed by Ministry requirements.

Allan Alach has given me permission to post his thoughts. I think they are worth a read. A good example of this 'self review' the Ministry is always talking about - but focused on them.

Hi all

Sitting here in a cold, dark house, there's been a power cut, I'm working on my laptop in candle light, and its snowing again. How exciting is that?

I'm needing to let off steam and this email will most likely turn into a blog at some time…

This morning I went to a Principals' workshop organised by two Massey University Mathematics advisers, or whatever their title is in these crazy days. The topic was assessment in strands other than numeracy. The part that really raised my hackles was listening to all the technocratic nonsense being spouted by my principal colleagues. Two of them, I know, are very anti-national standards and quite articulate about their reasons for this.

However listening to the 'assessment' regimes they have set up in their schools to "assess and moderate" mathematics achievement, it seemed to me that there wasn't a great deal of difference between their regimes and those of the standards - possibly differences in expectations (none of this 'aspiration' nonsense) and of course their 'data' wasn't being collated and sent to Wellington

However the instruct/assess/analyse cycle was very apparent, in all the jargon loaded ways espoused by our 'masters' in the MOE. Something was very false, for all their talk of authentic assessments. I'm not sure what it was that pressed my 'codswallop' button, but as Shakespeare wrote "something is rotten in the state of Denmark."

I'm left with this uneasy feeling that this pattern of instruction/assessment does not have its roots in established learning theories and that it reflects some other kind of approach that is akin to the standards movement and its origins in economic supply side education ideology. I'd value your comments here.  

It sure doesn't feel like anything I would consider examples of quality mathematics  programmes (carefully avoiding the jargon of 'best practice"). I guess that I've developed my own feel and vision for mathematics over the 35+ years of my teaching career, and the things I heard today are clashing with this mindset. 

For the life of me, as a teacher who really enjoyed teaching mathematics, I can not see why in depth 'assessment', and the like, is necessary for every area of mathematics. Exposing children to genuine real life (avoiding 'authentic" - ugh!) opportunities to explore and use mathematics is much better


I've had some further thoughts and have a better grasp on the source of my irritation. This relentless talk about assessment, leading to learning, doesn't sit with me. The phrase 'assessment to learn' is an good example of this. That is a very deficit focused model indeed, and the underlying philosophy is measuring 'achievement' (how I hate that word!) and then correcting 'deficiencies'

To me, that is the wrong end of the horse. We should be focusing on feeding the horse with the highest quality nutrition, in  the best possible living conditions, and not spending all our time 'assessing' what comes out. The tendency of principals to buy into this approach, regardless of their attitudes towards the national standards, suggests that they do not have an underlying knowledge of learning on to which to base their school's teaching and learning. 

Alternatively, or equally, their view of education is very didactic and dependent on tight control of school and class learning programmes. I can think of no other reason why they would ask their teachers to spend hours of their valuable 'non-contact' time processing 'data' and working in moderation activities with other teachers in the school in order to develop some kind of 'consistency of judgement.' 

Another thing that really got up my nose yesterday was looking at the results of some research by Massey University.

This research investigated teachers' abilities to form "OTJ" (overall teacher judgement against the standards) assessments of student 'achievement'.
Not surprisingly, teachers were found, in general, to not be very good at this, with the result that there was a high degree of invalidity and unreliablity.

Why would senior academics get involved in what, by any measure, is a process that will never work to the degree the government expect? I guess money may have been a factor, which to me comes under the 'prostitution' label. Integrity? I can't see how any reputable university academic would be a supporter of all this.
The relentless documentation and demands coming out of the ministry makes it very clear that this is a huge project that reinforces my belief about the overall agenda. The NZC seems to have been disregarded completely

The change in MOE terminology in the last couple of years is such that they may as well be speaking a different language and I felt ill listening to it.

There was talk about a meeting of 'providers' held at the Westpac Trust Stadium some weeks back, which apparently was rather heated, to the point where one of the Massey advisers admitted putting her fingers in her ears because of the loudness of the ranting from MOE staff member April Parata. I gather that MOE boss Karen Sewell was also rather aggressive. What gives here?

I've started reading a book I ordered from Amazon "A Measure of Failure: The Political Origins of Standardised Testing" by by Mark J Garrison. I've only got as far as chapter 3, but already it is crystal clear that standards serves a political purpose, and in Garrison's opinion, this is to prove schools are "failing" which in turn can be used to justify 'reform'. By passively going along with standards at any level, we are agreeing to this by default.

So that's my sound off for today…..

I couldn't agree more Allan - Bruce

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