Friday, September 30, 2011
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Guest Post by Allan Alach
Well, as I’ve been predicting, along with many others, it seems, from this article by Kelvin Smythe, that national testing is on the way. I don’t know Kelvin’s source for this, but seeing as he was spot on with his story about the Ministry of Education seeking people to train for limited statutory manager roles in schools, we can expect that his source is accurate this time as well.
It was only a matter of time, as many commentators have been saying, for testing to appear on the radar. National’s standards were never going to work, for many reasons, all of which have been well expressed in many different forums. My suspicion is that the protests and non-compliance from schools is exactly what was expected and that we may have played very nicely into their hands.
As I have written previously in a number of other guest postings on this blog, this now opens the way for a probable attack on the lack of professionalism of principals, the New Zealand Principals Federation (NZPF), and even more importantly in the eyes of the National government, an attack on the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI). For overseas readers, the NZEI is the primary teachers union, representing principals and teachers, while the NZPF is a professional body for principals and is not their union.
These attacks would be used to justify the introduction of the national testing regime because 'of the unprofessionalism and vested interests' of these groups, and especially the NZEI for ‘protecting incompetent teachers.’ The only remaining question is whether this will appear as part of the coming election campaign, or be kept secret until after the election. My personal opinion is that while union bashing will be a feature of the campaign, the testing agenda won’t be revealed until after the election, should the National Party be returned to power. This would be consistent with other policies of the present government.
This approach is completely consistent with the models used in the USA, which is to be expected, seeing as the whole standards agenda, including rhetoric, seems to be a carbon copy of the process there. This link has been made time and time again, by many people, including Kelvin Smythe and Bruce Hammonds here in New Zealand and by Phil Cullen in Australia, and many others, and I’ve also drawn the dots together in my articles. Everything is tracking according to the predictions we’ve all made, and if you care to check out ALEC in the USA (especially their education policies) you’ll see where much of this originates.
The latest edition of the Education Today magazine will be out shortly. This includes an article that Bruce Hammonds asked me to write about the book “A Measure of Failure: The Political Origins of Standardized Testing” and especially looking at this in the New Zealand context. One thing that is very clear, from this, and many other books (for example “The Case Against Standardized Testing” by Alfie Kohn) is that standardized tests are imposed for political reasons, to enable the ‘school reform’ agenda to be set in place. Read this article when Education Today arrives and you’ll see what I getting at, and why.
Why ‘school reform?’ That is easy to answer, and the path is well laid out - to open the way for privatisation of schools. Phil Cullen has illustrated this very well in his Treehorn Express newsletters, as have many people in the USA. The most well known of these is Diane Ravitch and there are many, many others, such as Alfie Kohn and Susan Ohanian. How much more evidence do you need?
How about this article then?
“What Does Rupert Murdoch Want With America's Schools?
Murdoch has made it very clear that he views America's public schools as a potential gold mine.”
That’s Murdoch. What about the Pearson Group? McGraw Hill? Both are heavily involved in US education. Pearson Group have a nice little deal running - one of their subsidiaries helped develop the USA Common Core Standards (like national’s standards, but worse). Another subsidiary is developing curriculum resources to ‘assist schools in raising achievement” against these standards. And so the stories keep on coming - they’re all out there in plain view, if you care to look. Here’s an example: Erect Wall Between Test Companies and School Officials
There are many USA websites and Facebook pages that provide all the information you could ever want. I’ve listed these several times in previous articles.
Think we are immune from this corporatisation? Why would you think that? Is there an opportunity for the private sector to make profits running schools? Seeing as a private company is making a profit out of running a prison in Auckland, why would schools be exempt? Is there an opportunity for private companies to prepare and sell curriculum resources that will supposedly help children pass tests? Common overseas; are we any different?
The future is very clear.
National testing, and all that follows from this, is on its way unless the people of New Zealand take action to stop it.
Unless there has been much preparation behind the scenes, which has been kept secret, I can’t see systems being ready for this to arrive in 2012.
With the three year term of a New Zealand government, 2014 is the next election year. Introducing tests then seems to be politically risky. What does that leave?
Saturday, September 24, 2011
- Join this Facebook group: National Standards Must Go.
- Follow this parent run website:Welcome to PROTECT (Parents' Rights On Their Educational Choices Today)
- Join the PROTECT Facebook page.
- The Prime Minister
- The Leaders of Labour, Green, Maori, and Mana political parties
- Your local member of Parliament
- Your local newspaper
- The New Zealand School Trustees Association.
- Two hundred thousand concerned voters will stop this.
- Too busy?
- Different priorities?
- Head in the sand?
Thursday, September 22, 2011
The Minister of Education's 'experts' figuring how to improve standardisation of education not able to comprehend they are facing the wrong century!
At the end of the nineteenth century schools were developed to meet the needs of an industrial age to transfer knowledge to often reluctant students and, in many ways, they have changed little since those beginnings. In contrast almost every other aspect of our lives has been changed through technological advances. Roland Barth, from the Harvard Leadership Centre has written, ‘many of our schools seem en-route to becoming a hybrid of a nineteenth century factory, a twentieth century minimum security penal colony and a twenty-first century Education Testing Service’.
Unfortunately, for our collective futures, current school reforms are still grounded on ideas based on this industrial model of learning. The New Zealand Certificate of Educational Achievement (NZCEA) and the primary school National Standards are excellent examples of such standardisation.
Even though there are genuine worries about a lack of engagement of an increasing number of students there is no great urgency about restructuring education for the twenty first century. Sadly the current conservative government’s ‘bold plan’ is to return to the standardisation of the past by placing a greater emphasis on measuring literacy and numeracy standards. The result of these ‘reforms’ will result in many young people’s natural excitement, passions and curiosity about the world becoming more thwarted than nurtured.
Mass education was a powerful dream of liberal governments of the nineteenth century. They were designed to reflect the ideals and methods of industrial workplaces and train students for working on assembly lines or for manual labour. Students were sorted by age and ability, sat in rows, moved from room to room at the ring of a bell several times a day, to receive compartmentalised learning. Progress on this educational assembly line was tested regularly with these tests determining the students’ futures. Such schools were run with factory-like routine and efficiency and, as with factories, run in a hierarchical way instilling lessons of unquestioned obedience and authority.
For schools the past is the present
The trouble is the world has changed dramatically and schools are no longer able to educate all those who now must attend until their late teens. Until the 1950’s only a few selected academic students entered secondary schools, the remainder leaving earlier to take up manual labour. Even now schools are still not providing adequately for their non-academic, highly creative, or culturally different students. For many students mass education has become a nightmare. It is important to appreciate that it is not the teachers who are failing but rather it is that secondary schools were never designed to cater for such a diverse range of students. Words like imagination, personalisation and invention do not apply to schools while standardisation, conformity, and obedience fit so well. Indeed when imagination and invention are now seen as prerequisites for the future survival of innovative organisations schools remain out of step.
A new future for schools is required
The world of work has been transformed with the advent of modern communication media. In the future students will leave school to enter jobs that, as yet, do not exist and will change their jobs several times during their lifetime. Just as the assembly line changed the workplace at the beginning of the twentieth century the power of the Internet is having an enormous effect on how we work, interact, communicate and live today. All the world’s diversions now exist at our fingertips, one mouse click away. Standardisation and vertical hierarchies are virtually outmoded in innovative companies. It is the intellectual knowledge of individuals that now provides the new capital for the future success of any organisation.
All these changes are not going away. Futurists write that the speed of change will escalate beyond our imaginations. The challenge for schools is how to prepare students for this escalating ever evolving future. What will be needed are schools based on tapping into students’ gifts and talents based on new understandings about how students learn.
New literacies are required for the future.
New skills, competencies, or literacies, will be required by students when they enter the future work force. The more creative will invent their own vocations. These literacies embrace personal skills (including an appreciation of other cultures) communication skills (involving information technology), networking skills, collaborative skills and analytical skills. Most of all they will need the ability and confidence to pull together ideas from a range of sources to make intuitive instant judgments. To succeed, students must learn about the world in wholes, rather than fragmented bits and pieces, through engagement in authentic learning interdisciplinary contexts. Teachers must spend more time finding out what students have in their minds instead of instructing them in ‘what they need to know’. Students’ interests, attitudes, and prior knowledge will influence what they wish to learn. Business philosopher Peter Drucker has written that the first country to develop a truly twenty first education system will win the future. Singapore, Finland, Korea and China are well on the way.
Ambiguity distracts progress in New Zealand
New Zealand teachers are in an ambiguous situation. The 2007 New Zealand Curriculum, signed off by the previous government, offered a clear creative direction for schools with its vision of developing all students as ‘confident connected active life-long learners’, with its focus on developing the future competencies students require. One phrase, in particular, that captures the essence of a future education, is that all students need to become, ‘seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge’. But ambiguity has emerged because the current government intends turning the clock back by imposing (against virtually all educators’ advice) National Standards in Literacy and numeracy. Overseas experience clearly demonstrates that this direction leads to an unfortunate narrowing of the curriculum at the very time we need to be exposing our students to a wide range of interdisciplinary possibilities. And, to make matters worse, this emphasis directs attention away from the far more important task of implementing the 2007 Curriculum. Other than political rhetoric there is minimal focus on the increasing lack of engagement and alienation of students at the lower secondary school – the students who in earlier times left to take up manual jobs as soon as they could. I believe these students are the equivalent of canaries in old fashioned coal mines.
Students equipped with life long passions.
What is required of schools is to ensure all students leave with their curriculum vitae full of skills and accomplishments that will assist them in their search for vocations; equipped to pursue their true life passions. Only an educational transformation can provide such future proofing. Today such an education is nearly impossible in secondary schools with their antiquated fragmented timetables. Only a personalised system based on developing the gifts, talents and passions of all students can fully equip them.
New Zealand must encourage the entrepreneurial talents of all its future citizens. Every effort should be made to ensure students find out what they are passionate about, to be supported in realising this passion, and to be provided with experiences to connect them to new possibilities. Most of all schools need to encourage them to spend their lives pursuing the dreams and goals that excite them the most. ‘Every person’, writes Tom Friedman in his book The World is Flat, ‘should figure out how to make himself or herself untouchable…to acquire new skills, knowledge, and expertise that enables them to create value...to know how to learn… and to be skillfully adaptable and socially adaptable.’ Thomas Pink, in his book, A Whole New Mind, writes that ‘the future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind – creators and empathisers, pattern recognisers and meaning makers. These people – artists, inventors, designers, story tellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers – will reap societies’ rewards and share its greatest joys’.
Imagine a world with all students’ passions intact.
Imagine a world where students leave school with their passions intact; curious about the world and retaining the innate desire, that they were born with, to learn. So many students, including so-called successful achievers, have lost this intrinsic desire to utilise their creativity. Sir Ken Robinson, an expert on creativity, has spent years speaking around the world (including New Zealand) about how society has beaten the joy of learning out of our children so that by the time they leave secondary school they are standardised in their thinking. This is particularly ironic as it is creative and innovative ‘out of the box’ thinking that those cutting-edge companies now pursue. How paradoxical that as a culture we value highly those who are creative and who pursue their passions as vocations but won’t provide an education structure to nurture them. The industrial aged standardised education system has a lot to answer for.
The need for a passion based system
‘There is a real need for a passion – based education system’, writes American educator Sheryl Nussbaum–Beach, ‘where teachers and students create their own learning by engaging in authentic problem solving leading them to where their passions lie’. She, however, is the first to admit that, ‘it can’t be done in the current test crazy climate we live in’. Teachers must introduce far more enriching experiences for students than they currently receive.
If schools aren’t teaching our students to pursue their talents then even the successful students will increasingly find schools irrelevant. Nussbaum-Beach talks about transforming the way most teachers who teach today using outmoded approaches, either because they were taught to teach this way, or because the accountability system makes them believe they have to teach this way. ‘We need’, she says, ‘to create classrooms that celebrate students thinking and helps them access and interrogate the information they need to learn. Engagement and empowerment need to be taken as seriously in school as innovative businesses enterprises’. She goes on to say that it is all about protecting the sense of wonderment that young children enter schools with. She is envisioning a personalisation of learning where teachers have a vital role to play by: working in interdisciplinary teams; developing respectful relationships; and by having the depth of content knowledge to ensure their students dig deeply into whatever they are learning. Such teachers, she believes, need to work from their student’s strengths to discover what their interests are. They need to practice what Jerome Bruner called, ‘the canny art of intellectual temptation’ to attract student’s curiosity. As for assessment, she writes, ‘this needs to be performance and competency based to show mastery and completed artifacts contributing to their graduation portfolios and would apply at any level of the school system.’
Questions to be asked.
For schools who wish to begin this transformational process several questions should be asked. First there is a need to examine the ideas and those often hidden assumptions that currently guide schooling. Then reflect on why they are no longer sufficient and indeed contribute to school failure? Second to ask if lasting school change can be realised through models developed away from schools? The final question is to then consider how the school can develop an internal self-renewing model able to realise the talents of all its students?
Currently the Ministry uses a hierarchical model of school change through delivering formulaic ‘best practices’ without first questioning the validity of the traditional model of schooling. There appears a distinct lack of understanding that successful reform in one school cannot be simply replicated in others. And compliance with imposed school reform is counterproductive.
Just imagine a transformed education system premised on developing the passions, talents and gifts of all students. Such a system would have the potential to contribute to ensuring New Zealand is a truly innovative and creative country.
Sunday, September 18, 2011
Exploring the animal life in local stream, studying adaptation of the animals, investigating pollution, working out speed, depth and capacity of the water and, in one case in our province, exploring the river from its source on the mountain to the sea. This is the stuff of real learning.
Creative teachers have always placed developing authentic realistic and first hand experiences followed by creative expression through the arts central to their programmes .Important to such teachers was the need to provide opportunities to develop all the innate gifts and talents of their students. Today the emphasis being imposed by the government is on literacy and numeracy and, along with the conservative nature of most teachers, this has lead to less real in depth inquiry. And it needs to be made clear that creative teachers did not ignore literacy and numeracy but rather did their best to integrate it into their studies or at least to make it personally relevant to the learners so as to develop a positive attitude for such areas.
Even with inquiry being popular in schools as encouraged by outside experts it seems the emphasis is more on showing the process and not the in-depth understanding of the students of the content chosen. As someone has said , 'it is all recipe and no cake'. In earlier days pioneer creative teacher Elwyn Richardson warned that 'a study with no content is a study at risk.'
Today it is vital that teachers 're frame' their literacy and numeracy programmes so that , as much as is possible, they contribute the skills and knowledge required for students to be able to dig deeply into any content they are studying. It is all matter of emphasis. In depth content will call upon all the isolated skills often being taught out of context (and thus easily forgotten).
Jerome Bruner wrote wisely that teaching was 'the canny art of intellectual temptation' and teachers who appreciate this , and the innate curiosity of students, keep their eyes out for ideas to tempt their students with. They also tap into their students interests and concern and seasonal environmental experiences.
And they know the value of doing fewer things well.
With this in mind the following is a list of possible themes, topics, challenges that might be useful to tempt students with - topics that naturally involve a number of learning areas. Interested teachers can add greater depth to any of them. Many would fit under Learning Area Strands.
1 Animal companions - our relationship with certain animals, their welfare and habits....
2 Barriers -all about edges, frames, borders, boundaries - and things that stop us.....
3 Camouflage - how things merge into their surroundings in nature and man made.....
4 Changes - chemical, changes, life cycles, seasonal, cooking , fashion, art eras.....
5 Colour - colour mixing, meanings in colour, rainbows, how we use colour....
6 Dirt - what is it? .Different kinds of soils and rocks. Dirt and germs....
7 Faces - family resemblances, portraits, face maths, emotions, , face protection, masks..
8 Feet - types of feet, bones, what we put on them, specialised coverings, shoe fashions...
9 Flags and trademarks - countries, companies, logos, designing, history of....
10Food - where it comes from , how sold, preserving, healthy food, when it goes off...
11 Funny things - importance of humour, jokes, why we laugh ...
12 Inside/Outside -bodies, x-rays, openings, windows , doors...
13 Layers and cross sections - x-rays, fruit, cakes, buildings, skeletons, maths...
14 Life and death -life spans, wars, birth, seeds and fruits, extinctions, life after death...
15 Light - light sources, the sun, importance for plant growth, neon, electricity, shadows...
16 Looking - optical illusions, telescopes, perspective, memory and observational art..
17 Me - my appearance, dreams, things I own, habits, family tree, signature, interests...
18 Miniatures - replicas, scale models,working small, modern technology.
19 Money - history of, designs,counterfeiting, alternatives....
20 Pairs - things that come in twos, fingerprints, twins, shoes, binary numbers,symmetry..
21 Noises - sound effects, silence, scary noises, deafness, drawing sounds...
22 Reflections - mirrors,,distorting mirrors, refraction, mirror writing, history of mirrors..
23 Reproductions - of art work, printers, copiers, cloning, animal/plant reproduction...
24 Shadows - making shadows , sun dials, shadow puppets...
25 Surprises - surprise titles, surprise endings, birthdays, puzzles, jigsaws....
26 the Bush - plant life, animals, ecology, planing natives...
27 Time - old things, clock science, time lines, geological, memories, museums...
28 Wear and Decay - preservation of things, food and people, rust.....
29 Wet and Dry - keeping dry, melting ice, puddle evaporation, fountains....
Friday, September 16, 2011
Mind control compliance 'helpers' are on the way!
Guest Blogger Allan Alach
A few days back two staff members from the Ministry of Mind Control, or in Newspeak, MiniMind (aka Ministry of Education) attended a BOT meeting to inform the BOT about all the good reasons for implementing national’s standards. Ostensibly this was supposed to be part of the negotiation process over the non-compliant charter, except that MiniMind preempted this through their ‘use these targets’ or else letter, deemed to take effect on the long scheduled day of the meeting.
One MiniMind employee had been given the ‘salesperson’ role. He ran through a Powerpoint presentation, supposedly developed for the school, except that after a few slides it was obvious that this was THE standard Minimind slideshow prepared to sell national’s standards to BOTs. As I’d resolved to restrain myself, I kept busy typing notes of the presentation and discussion, and have now objectively analysed these.
The presentation starting with listing the reasons given for national standards.
1. Information for parents.
2. Aimed at NCEA level 2.
3. Assisting in classrooms
4. Information to MOE about how NZ school system is working
5. Self review data
1. Existing tools, from the levels defined in the NZ curriculum, to the exemplars and matrices for all curriculum areas, provide all the information schools need to report to parents. The NZ Curriculum provides for expected levels of achievement in each year group. The difference is that the levels are in age and developmentally appropriate bands, while standards are set at about the 60 to 65% above average range.
2. The standards are targeted at NCEA level 2 and distributed down in equal sized steps from there. Two points have been raised by informed educators about this. The first is that no national debate or research has been carried out to substantiate (or not) the decision to use NCEA level 2 in this way. The second point is that equal distribution of every step down does not take into account that human development, whether physically, intellectually, or in maturation, is not linear nor regular and predictable, varying in every single child,
3. Existing tools provide for all the information needed to assist teachers in their classrooms. The summative (end point) aspect of standards is far less use than the formative (diagnostic) assessment tools used by teachers.
4. It is true that there are no systems to provide numerical data to the MOE on how the school system is working. However it can be argued that the 3 yearly ERO review process is able to identify schools where there are concerns, and the MOE already have intervention and support procedures in place to help these schools.
Extending this, it can be argued that schools who receive positive ERO reports are providing quality education for their pupils.If this is not true, then the role, function and effectiveness of ERO immediately comes into question. Watch this space?
The National Education and Monitoring Project (NEMP) funded by the government, and operated by Otago University, carried out systematic sampling of children's learning at Year and Year 8, in all areas of the curriculum, on a repeating cycle. Their reports, publicly available, were very effective at recording and analysing trends, up or down. NEMP has now been renamed and has a new function, focussing on literacy and numeracy. This will now mean that research based information, previously provided by NEMP, will no longer be available to support the wider curriculum. There are significant implications here for New Zealand education.
5. Existing tools are more than capable of providing all the information schools need to carry out effective self review.
On the basis of the list of points made at the start of the presentation, there is no compelling reason for national standards that would significantly enhance a school's education and assessment programmes.
Following on, the presenter discussed a wide range of issues throughout the presentation, and I shall now comment, again objectively, on some of the statements that he made.
✴ There is a wide range of school assessment capability across the country.
Obviously true, but to what extent? No data was provided to inform the audience as to the level of this, or the proportion of schools at various levels of effectiveness. This statement could be valid if there was one school doing extremely well and the bulk poorly, or vice versa. It was not possible to determine this one way or the other, so the statement has very low value.
The second issue that arises is that we can speculate that there will schools going very well, and schools doing poorly. Through ERO reports, schools with issues should be clearly identified and it would be reasonable to query why all schools are being required to comply with national standards on the basis of the claimed range of assessment capability.
✴ I am a big fan of standardised tests.
The relevance of linking personal views to support national standards can not be justified, in the same way as an opinion against standardised tests could not be used as an argument against national standards.
✴ Targets are used to drive a school's operation.
Under present and past school management philosophies, this is a correct statement. Targets have been required since about 2002 and schools have been required to report on these in a variance report as part of the annual financial reports.
This statement however does not of itself provide a reason why national standards are needed. It is clearly obvious that schools have set, and reported against, targets for many years.
✴ It would be a special kind of stupid to have national testing regimes (in answer to a question from a BOT member about this possibility).
Personal opinion. He is not qualified to comment on the possibility of tests being introduced in the future, as this is not the role of anyone in a Ministry regional office.
Tests may or may not be introduced in coming years. This will be a decision by the Minister of Education of the time, not the Ministry of Education.
✴ Your school is in a good position/doing well (repeated a number of times in different ways.)
This then raises the question of why do schools doing well need standards?What are the benefits to these schools? No information to inform these questions was provided.
✴ Aim to get 'below children' to make more than a year's progress in one year.
The aim is admirable.
This, however, then implies strongly that without national standards, these children would not make progress, and that before national standards, nothing was done for 'below' children.
No data was provided to support this nor to show how national standards would make a difference. There is a strong inference here, criticising schools and teachers for failing to identify and address the needs of these children in the time before national standards were introduced. This is not a situation that can be supported by data.
✴ Standards can be used to assist self review.
True. However, quality and informed school reviews has been successfully carried out by BOTs ever since their formation in 1989, without the need for standards.
✴ The regional manager wrote a letter instructing the BOT to insert defined targets.
The regional manager signed the letter. However the letter was virtually identical in format with those received by other BOTs. The deemed date that charters were to take effect has varied between schools and there is a pattern where this date has fallen before scheduled meetings with regional MOE officers.
✴ The MOE have a task force looking at the issue of league tables (in answer to a question from a BOT member about this possibility).
The task force was established by the Minister of Education. There is no representation from teacher and principal organisations. The one middle school principal on the task force has no (recent?) history of involvement with primary school organisations and certainly is not qualified to speak on their behalf. The members of the task force, by and large, have been proponents of national standards from the outset.
The speaker was not in a position to comment with any authority on the league table issue, one way or another.
The issue of concern is the Official Information Act. Unless a government is prepared to change this, then political observers/commentators believe that it will not be possible to stop media using the Act to access data. I understand that the same would apply today if media applied to any school, under the Act, for their national standards data.
On the basis of this presentation, the case to support the implementation of national standards to significantly enhance school operations or children's learning, in ways that were not achievable before standards were introduced, was not well made.
One is then left with the inevitable question:
If this is the best that MiniMind can produce to justify the introduction of national’s standards, what is the point of the whole exercise?
You tell me.
Monday, September 12, 2011
Every teacher should read Guy Claxton's book, 'What's the Point of School?' and ask themselves the same question. This will be change from wrestling with how to accommodate the current government's backward looking National Standards.
Claxton writes that the 'purpose of education is to prepare young people for the future. Schools should help young people to develop the capabilities they will need to thrive. What they need and want , is the confidence to talk to strangers, to try things out, to handle tricky situations, to stand up for themselves, to ask for help, to think new thoughts.'
Simple enough but, according to Claxton , 'they are not getting it...education has lost the plot'.
The questions teachers need to ask are, he Says, 'are what capabilities and attitudes towards knowing and learning do we want to help today's young people cultivate?' Certainly they need to be stimulated to ask their own questions and be skilled to explore them .
Claxton makes it clear, in his early chapters, that current provisions are just not working for enough students. Teachers (and politicians) need 'imagination , and a modicum of courage.. to rediscover.. ( educations) .. heart and soul.'
In our current schools to many students are losing their 'learning power' - it is developing this 'learning power' which is Claxton's main push ); the key comptencies in our NZ Curriculum.
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Guest blog by Allan Alach
Several years back we were bombarded with ‘nanny state’ rhetoric. Well, that has gone now, and has been replaced by ‘Big Brother” from George Orwell’s book “Nineteen Eighty Four”.
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Teachers have been led down the wrong path ( assembly line) of a modern economic technocratic business model of teaching - all about measurement, comparison and standardisation.Nothing to do with the true purpose of education of developing the diverse talents of all students. Like workers in Henry Ford's factories teachers seem unaware of the effects of this standardisation approach.
Since the mid eighties education,along with every other aspect of our life, has been under the influence of a 'market forces' approach to life - an approach based on placing economic needs above equally important wider issues of the common good. Only things that can be measured are felt worthwhile. Competition and individual enterprise were to be the driving force of this brave new world. Life was seen as a form of 'economic Darwinism'.
To justify this approach politicians spread the myth that education is in crisis and that new ideas were needed to ensure students are 'produced' that can contribute to the needs of the economy -an economy based on the philosophy of 'market forces' - a society based on competition - all to do with winners and losers.
The answer was to blame the teachers for failing students and, at the same time, seeing teachers as the solution to the problem. Unfortunately the issues on disparity of opportunities between students were ignored. The answer is to impose on teachers ways to improve student achievement -and more importantly in ways that technocrats could measure - reading, writing and mathematics. Hence National Standards. That New Zealand has been one of the top performing countries for these area since the 70s is happily ignored as is the fact that the countries that were these ideas are being implemented ( the UK and the US) are well behind New Zealand in international 'league tables'.
The imposed accountability model being imposed on schools have their roots in the discipline of economics rather than education. Education has been reduced to metrics, standardised teaching through 'best practices', endless testing and aggregated data to assess 'added value'.
Unfortunately this approach fails to capture the complex factors that go into teaching and learning and misses encouraging creativity, innovation and the tapping of the diverse talents of students. One measurement fits all it seems - students being sorted out into degrees of doubtful standards. An educational 'Procrustean bed'.
The economists like to see it alas improving 'human capital' of the teachers. Outside experts set about to improving schools, their vision not clouded by the reality that teachers face. 'Selected' teachers are then employed on contract , after being hurriedly trained, to deliver schools imposed solutions. The idea of seeing principal as an 'instructional leader' has seen them turn from educators to monitors, evaluators, data collectors.This obsession on accountability focused on narrow literacy and numeracy targets is to the detriment of the wider curriculum. Such principals have become part of the problem.
What is being forgotten in all this is missing any understanding about how teachers gain their individual expertise. Technocrats work on the basis that it is a simple matter of transmission backed up by heavy handed compliance requirements ( as with the enforcing of approved targets in School Charters) . Finally school are brought into line by the power of the education Review Office who have their orders to ensure schools are complying.
All this has little to do with education. And it is worrying the number of school that go along with it all unaware of the consequences. It seems to be an example of 'creeping Eichmanism' - they feel they have no choice but to do what they are told. Some schools happily act as 'Judas Sheep' encouraging others to follow the wrong path - some don't even realize they are on the wrong path
This current ideology of imposed school reform may look efficient but it is dangerous to the development of teacher expertise and in turn to wider student creativity. Obviously it is important to improve the human capital of teachers but it ought not to be the focus for school reform as it places pressure on individual teachers.Equally obviously every effort needs to be made to improve principal capability but once again it is not the real answer.
In reality teachers build up their expertise through their relationships with other teachers - some call this 'social capital'. When one considers why some teachers are more effective than others it is not about training or qualifications it is more about where they go to get their knowledge? Where do they go when they have a problem? Where do they go to sound out their ideas? Who do they confide in? The answers to these questions are important. Where relationships in a school are characterised by high trust and frequent interactions this is when students are found to do their best.
In successful schools research is showing teachers seek advice of each other - not outside 'experts' or their principals. Often teachers feel vulnerable in expressing their worries to outside 'experts' and principals. 'Social capital' is is a significant factor in both teacher and, in turn, their students' success. If teachers are isolated then their knowledge base suffers. Teachers who collaborate share a wide range of views and strategies for each other to pick up on in a non threatening environment. It is all too easy to get stuck if a teacher works alone, or doesn't feel comfortable in asking for help. With strong 'social capital ' ( sharing and collaborating) even teachers who might once have struggled improve. This is the power of a positive learning culture and establishing this is possibly the key role of team leaders and principals. Buddying new teachers with trusted mentors is part of this approach as long as it is kept informal - this is the power of peer to peer learning.
It is worth considering how principals hinder or assist the developments of 'socil capital'. It seems that 'social capital' is improved when principals collaborate and share with other principals rather than trying to be instructional leaders. They are best when they are developing 'external social capital' and acting in their schools as facilitators Surveillance cultures and heavy handed compliance add little to teacher capability.
All this shows that the current emphasis on imposing training to improve individual teacher capability is counterproductive. It would be better of those outside of the school involved themselves in ways to encourage collaboration and sharing.
It also indicates the importance of the power of teachers sharing ideas with each other as a source of individual teacher growth. Talking other teachers is integral to teacher and , in turn, student success. A culture based on positive relationships is vital. Any effort by authority's to blame teachers for student failure is counterproductive.
And it shows that principals need to get out and share ideas with other principals, their parents and the wider community.
In my experience it has only been when teachers are sharing idea ( being their own experts) that real educational advances are made -and better still if this involves sharing expertise between schools.
Current top down and compliance approaches by the Ministry, including most of all the ideology of standardised teaching/testing, is counterproductive.
Creative teachers have aways known this.
Let's ditch the 'you can have any colour as long as it is black' Henry Ford and his modern day followers and get back to valuing diversity, creativity and the wise ideals of John Dewey.
Lets value the collective wisdom of creative teachers.