Let the Solutioning Begin!

Over the last few weeks I have been going on a bit. There’s been lots of talk about what’s wrong with education (here’s a little secret – there isn’t actually much wrong. It’s all about perception. They like us to think things are in a state of collapse, but they aren’t really).

Anyway, I woke up this morning at a ridiculous hour thanks to a combination of the change of clocks back to GMT+12 and a very loud 2.5yo son testing his vocal chords. I was on the internet early and I saw this: Michael Laws Speaks From Hole In His Ideology. Yet more right-wing vitriol directed at teachers. His concern surrounds the current union-led protests at education reform spilling over into the classroom (a teacher sent a note home during the week to inform parents of the issues). No good according to Laws. The major annoyance is that he repeats the ‘crisis’ lies of thousands leaving school without the basics, then goes on to slam teachers for having 12 weeks holiday a year and yearly increments in their salary.

I left appropriate comments that are now awaiting moderation. Hopefully they make it through the Fairfax censors.

So with all this talk of education in crisis, children failing, young people leaving school with massive levels of illiteracy etc and so on, I thought rather than just moaning about the reformers and how wrong they are, I thought I’d get stuck into a ‘head them off at the pass’ mentality.

We, as educators and experts in learning, need to offer solutions to this alleged crisis, whether we believe it exists or not (which it doesn’t).

The first thing we have to acknowledge is National Standards – and before you read this please set aside any hate or negativity you have towards this most ridiculous of systems. The standards now exist in New Zealand schools because parents, and by parents I mean voters, love them. The standards a very easy way for them to see how their kid is faring against the rest of the population. The National Party knew this when they developed them as a key plank their education policy.

Like the rest of the political parties going for that murky middle ground of the undecided flippery voter, National like to work their policy out based around the wonderful world of the focus group. Basically they talk to a group of representative people about what they think should be happening in the world. They obviously talked to them about education and what they liked and didn’t like. My pick is that parents found it hard to read and understand the reports that were being sent home.

This, I believe, is one of our great failings as a teaching profession. Too often I have sent reports home that feature this sort of phrasing:

Such-and-such is able to contribute intelligently during class discussions. They are learning to recognise when it is appropriate to contribute their ideas.

What I really mean by this is:

Such-and-such can’t sit on the mat during class discussions without calling out.

But I’ve never actually been able to write that.

I know what I really want to say, but I’ve been bound by the format of the report comment. It is much the same in every school I’ve worked at. In some way the system has developed where we write our comments and report to parents in a language parents have to translate and infer meaning from – they have to read between the lines to find our actual meaning. So now we have National Standards.

Whether or not these standards make educational sense to teachers and experts is a moot point. Parents like National Standards. They are easy to understand and they show information parents are seeking about their kids.

Parents like to see where their kids sit against other kids – another thing that doesn’t sit well with the teachers and experts.

That’s all well and good, but what’s the solution? For want of a better phrase, I’m going to call it: “Progression.”

There are so many things impacting on the measurement of National Standards – too many to go into here. They must be replaced with something that shows how a child is progressing. Not towards anything, but rather against themselves. This will be far more meaningful.

Let’s look at how far they have moved since last year. Or last term for that matter. What about those kids who arrive in school age 8 with no English because their parents have moved the family here to work on a farm? Wouldn’t it be a far fairer way of measuring the success of those children who turn up to school with no literacy or numeracy (yes there are some kids that NEVER attend any kind of organised education until the day they turn 5 – new entrant teachers rock!)?

These type of kids do very well when you compare their progression year on year. Yet, quite often they will never meet the National Standards for literacy or numeracy before they leave primary school.

As teachers we must also communicate this idea to parents. Parents need to know that all kids are different. They learn at different rates to everyone else in their class and everyone else in their year group. The mystical “average year 5” doesn’t actually exist because that’s a construct based on standardised test data (like PATs or asTTles), not anything based in reality – or the classroom.

Our message to parents needs to be: Kids must be measured against their previous performances.

Either that or we sabotage National Standards and mark everyone as “at” or “above” and see what happens. After all… it’s all about Overall Teacher Judgement and I think my kids are all doing great!

More solutioning next time.

Mr B.




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