Arne Duncan’s Mate is Here

The guy the call the “World’s School Master” has turned up to our country. Is he a teacher? No. He’s a – get this – scientist and statistician.

Arne Duncan loves him (for those not in the know – Arne is Obama’s Secretary of Education). Turns out Hekia does too.

This morning our “New Zealand” Herald contained an article profiling Andreas Schleicher this morning. I usually have a quick look at the Herald website over my morning regime of toast and strong coffee. I must have picked up the habit when I lived in Auckland and actually cared about what happened there. Like all morning habits, I find I need it otherwise the day never goes according to plan.

Back to the guru.

The German scientist and statistician is a pioneer of using hard data to analyse what was traditionally thought of as a “soft” subject, previously dominated by tradition, theories and ideology.

We teachers are in need of data. It informs our teaching. The more we know about our kids, the more we can do for them. The better we can teach them. In recent times data, big data, HUGE DATA has taken over as the key driver of education policy.

Nerds are deciding the future direction of our sector (not that I have anything against nerds. Some of my favourite movies from the 80s have nerds in them). The main issue I have with data and the nerds who analyse it is this: neither of them have ever been anywhere near a classroom. Yes the numbers they work with originate within our class walls, but the reality is, like a drone strike in Pakistan, these boffins could be thousands of miles away in a darkened room tapping away on their desktops with no real idea what actually goes on in the world they are boffining.

In saying all that, there were some very interesting points made in the article.

According to a PISA study:

…parents showing a consistent interest in a child’s education is the most important factor in raising his or her achievement.

That doesn’t really fit with the GERM-led idea that our teaching fraternity is in crisis and teaching is the single most important factor in a child’s education so something better get done. And quick. I’d like to hear the Education Minister have as much of a crack at voters and their parenting as she does at we teachers (that would be Paula Bennet’s job).

I also found this quite interesting:

New Zealand must deploy its best teachers to the most challenging classrooms, Mr Schleicher says. Data clearly show the highest performing countries prioritise and target the quality of teaching.

It’s very hard to entice your expert teachers to the South of Auckland or the Porirua of Wellington when you are sapping their morale with constant attacks on the very expertise you are trying to encourage.

The article talks about Finland turning around their education system by making teaching a highly valued profession. Again, if we keep getting slammed as unprofessional or immovable (because we express our professional opinions as experts in our field), how are we going to become valued?

A particular challenge for New Zealand is that many of the worst-performing students are at the same schools as the best, Mr Schleicher says. Making learning more personal – and moving away from one-size-fits-all teaching – should be the response (my bold).

A contradiction to the direction national standards will take us. Yet in the very next paragraph:

Mr Schleicher supports National Standards data as a way for educators to identify success and failure. “Unless you have some light to illuminate the differences, there is very little you can do about it.”

What success? What failures? Teacher failure? Student failure? I suppose he is arguing that we need to measure success. I don’t know. Too many contradictions.

On a positive note the article finishes thus:

“In fact, there is typically more variability in quality in charter schools … I really don’t think charter schools are a magic bullet … the bottom line is, there isn’t much measurable advantage.”

Since Schleicher was invited here by Hekia Parata, it will be interesting to hear which portions of his thinking she cherry picks and which she screws up and throws in her “ignore” bin.

Mr B.

Sources

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/education/news/article.cfm?c_id=35&objectid=10896522

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