Monthly Archives: December, 2013

The Three R’s

Just quickly…

Two things popped up on my twitter feed this morning that served to remind me of the nature of our reformery puppet-masters seeking to destroy enhance our education system.

First was this article on the Mind Shift blog. In brief, it talks about the enquiring minds of students and how science is able to develop this aspect. Here’s a quote from parent Elizabeth Hall midway through the article:

Hall says her state has created a culture of testing that has resulted in high rates of teacher burnout and low expectations.

A few paragraphs later comes:

There’s no enthusiasm from the teachers. There’s no love of science. There’s no showing these young people that science is important in their lives. It’s just another class.

And finally:

State and federal statistics show that at least one-third of all students entering higher education programs today need some kind of remedial or developmental course work.

Five minutes after reading this another twittering popped up on my BBC tweets where former keyboardist for prog-rock pioneers Yes, Rick Wakeman, laments on the fact music no longer exists in UK schools.

The former Yes keyboardist told BBC Radio 5 live’s Richard Bacon: “I do find it disappointing when I go into schools and it doesn’t exist anymore.”

He added, “It’s such a great shame because music and drama are a way for children and pupils to express themselves… who perhaps can’t express themselves well in academic ways.”

These two articles nicely highlight the narrowing of the curriculum that has occurred in the United States and the United Kingdom over the last two decades of “reform” and privatisation.

Teachers are facing burnout from high levels of stress brought on by the pressures of high stakes testing. Burnout is literally that – that initial spark ignited in the teacher as they left school, wondered about their place in the world and decided to mentor the younger people of the world has been totally extinguished.

The teacher has been redefined as the test administrator (I am reminded of those retired knitters who would hobble up and down the isles while I sat my university exams).

If you are burnt-out, there is little motivation to either remain in your job or, if you decide to stay, to be the most productive you can be. Students in the US are now having to undertake remedial courses to begin their university careers because they aren’t getting the necessary education from the primary and secondary sectors in that country.

Finally Rick Wakeman expresses his concern that music no longer exists in British schools. Again this is linked to the forced narrowing of the curriculum by continued reforms and the sense of constant crisis that has been created by the media and politicians. If there is no outlet for creativity, kids will turn off school – particularly if said kids are not as good as the constant written work reading, writing and mathematics offer.

At some point soon as the United Kingdom and the United States, united in the educatory destruction, continue failing in spite of all the years of reform, you’d think some bright spark in politics would just put an end to it.

Or not. Since this neoliberal education policy is run by corporates for corporates. It has absolutely nothing to do with children or their learning.

I’ll maybe try to squeeze out something a bit more positive before Christmas.

Mr B.

Sources:

Kids want to know: How is science relevant – Mind Shift (KQED blogs), December 17, 2013.

Rick Wakeman: Music ‘doesn’t exist’ in schools – BBC News, December 17, 2013.

2013

As the curtain comes down on 2013 I have just a few questions:

  1. If it took a new school in Wellington a year to set up (principal and teachers working behind the scenes for 12 months before a student set foot in the place – heard them speak at a conference), how can the 5 new charter schools the government issued licences to just a few months back be ready for the 2014 school year with a school that will successfully deliver education to kiwi learners?
  2. Why won’t the government accept that the under-achieving 20% tail they keep talking about is actually the same 20% of kiwi kids living in poverty (according to the report by the Children’s Commissioner that figure is now 25%)?
  3. How can the government reconcile its continued calls for improved teacher quality with the regulation allowing charter schools to hire unregistered, unqualified staff to teach in their classrooms?
  4. Will the New Zealand public drop their love-affair with the bafoonering of John Key and vote in a Labour/Green government this time next year?

Here are the (my) answers:

  1. The current crop of charter schools will probably struggle in their first year. With only six months to set up all the systems required to run a school I doubt they will be able to deliver. Of course, the government will not allow them to fail as the UK government has just down with a free school in Crawley. They will either, a) throw money at them, or b) increase funding, or c) increase deliveries of brown paper bags filled with non-sequential $5 notes.
  2. It’s a lot easier for the government to vilify teachers and teacher unions for under-achievement. It’s far harder for them accept the socio-economic factors that even the OECD accept play a huge part in any under-achievement. If they accepted socio-economic influences on educational performance then they’d have do something like transferring the money they spend on universal superannuation for people who have saved for their retirement (and have extra houses, baches and cars and/or motorbikes and other houses) to making all rental homes healthy and dry. Or what about providing school meals or putting social workers and health nurses into every school under a certain decile to deal with the multitude of problems associated with (sometimes very extreme) poverty?
  3. The government can’t reconcile its call for improved teacher quality when it will allow any old Thomas, Richard and Harold to turn up off the street to teach in one of its flagship “partnership” schools. It is one of the many nonsense contradictions that permeates the hypocrisy of modern politics.
  4. You would hope that the 800,000 people who have been marginalised by said modern politics will turn out to vote next November. If David Cunliffe and the Labour machine can get out there and door knock and enthuse people about their vision for New Zealand, then people will be motivated to get off their chuffs and vote. I don’t know a single person who endorses John Key and his brand of uncoordinated triple-handshakes to disguise his government’s far right agenda using the decomposing carcass of ACT to sell the policies too unpalatable for the electorate.

Anyway you look at it, this government is a dog that needs to be euthanased.

On a brighter note, I only have one day left at school until my Christmas break. We are doing IVF (again) in the holidays so my time will be taken up preparing for that, preparing for the 2014 school year and, very hopefully, doting on a newly pregnant wife.

Of course, I’ll be attacked for having a thousand weeks holiday a year and only working 2 hours a day (see comments section of this post).

Mr B.

Sources: 

Amesbury School Website

Child poverty report applauded: NZ Herald, Monday December 9 2013.

Speech to the Iwi Leaders forum: Hekia Parata, 28 November 2013.

Free school with ‘no workable plan to improve’ is first to be closed by DfE: The Guardian, 13 December 2013.

PISA 2012 Results: Excellence Through Equity: Giving Every Student the Chance to Succeed (Volume II)[Preliminary Version]: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, December 2013.

Utter nonsense spouted by idiots who know nothing about education: Whale Oil, 2 July, 2013.

Gifted and Talented: MOE Don’t Care

Morning all!

My reports have finally gone home so there is just a few things to finish up at school – our Newton’s Laws of Motion projects, tidying up the garden, getting things down off the wall etc.

We are also in the process of preparing our classes for next year. I will have a year 5/6 with a large number of children achieving at Level 4 of the curriculum for reading and writing (about 20% of the whole class). There has been discussion about how I as a teacher, and we as a school are going to cater for these gifted learners.

A few feelers were put out to someone who has worked with us in the past. She emailed back yesterday.

…I am afraid G & T does not have a very big contract for PLD currently. Unless you are on a MOE contract the only way that you can access help is by paying for it.

Disappointing but typical.

The ministry and Hekia Parata are often on about “priority learners.” What they actually mean is “underachieving learners” Their definition; since we are measuring them against a “standard” and they are not achieving – thus they are “underachieving.”

Unfortunately we live in a world where most of the money spent by political parties is on phonetic massaging of the texts of their press releases. Priority learners sounds like an action plan; it sounds like you are doing something positive and quickly (also see partnership schools and mixed ownership model).

Because of the vast millions spent on implementing National Standards our current government have had to syphon those monies away from other parts of the education system – professional development in literacy, numeracy and gifted and talented programmes (I assume there are many more, but this posting is a bit of a rant rather than a well thought-out and researched piece!).

There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth this week following our PISA freefall / plummet / disaster (depending on who you read). Although I don’t believe in league tables of any kind, we live in an unfortunate age where people sometimes get their information from infographics and journalists tend to print press releases written by spin doctors without questioning their contents or motivations. PISA makes for good infographics.

People are now asking how we stop the freefall. The New Zealand Herald wants us to be China – after all, it’s important that all our young people coming out of school are able to sit multi-choice tests and remember vast screes of information. That’s where the real money is. In all the jobs I’ve ever had all I’ve ever done is sit down at a desk and answer multi-choice questions. It’s what the workforce is all about.

Sarcasm aside, New Zealand needs many more creative thinkers. We need entrepreneurs. We need people who will turn our little South Pacific dairy-farming paradise into the new Silicon Hobbiton. That’s where the actual money is.

We are not going to achieve any of this by narrowing the curriculum to focus on maths, reading and writing and teaching kids how to sit tests (or memorise kings of England as Michael Gove appears to want).

We are going to achieve this fostering our gifted and talented children – because if we don’t they will turn off school because it will not be meeting their needs as “priority learners.” Of course, some won’t be turned off and will succeed in spite of the education system that holds them back.

Creativity and excellence will be properly fostered by excellent and creative policies.

Although… politicians and their mouthpieces in the mainstream media have never been known for their creativity.

Mr B

The Day of PISA

The embargo has been removed and the politico-media landscape is awash with talk of how New Zealand has dropped fallen plummeted down an international education league table.

Now if you take out the fact that the number of countries being tested has risen from 40-odd in 2000 to 64 in 2012 increasing the chances of New Zealand falling or stagnating, or the fact that it must be almost impossible to test the literacy abilities of so many nations who speak so many languages, or that fact that some countries may fudge their data by not releasing test results from poor performing areas, or that the hard-working statisticians collating the test results have to calculate some test answers from “plausible values” because, for whatever reason, the questions were unanswered and needed to be for statistical purposes, or the fact that a test is in no way representative of the creative nature of the real world workplace so what is the point of even participating in PISA in the first place, these results are very, very startling and we should all be incredibly worried that our teachers are terrible, our children are stupid and nobody knows how to solve the problem. Except, maybe, with another test.

Mr B.

Sources: 

PISA 2000 results: OECD, 2001.

PISA 2012 results: OECD, 2003.

Don’t let PISA league tables dictate schooling: Observer (Guardian), Sunday December 1, 2013.

Rough and Ready Reflection on PISA test results: The Daily Blog, Wednesday December 6, 2013.

Pretty Sub-standard

This week three things happened – four if you count the fact I finished and handed in my reports for marking.

Within a three-day period of media slam, a comprehensive range of reports from different quarters indicated that national standards are increasing teacher workload for not much gain, narrowing the curriculum, and New Zealand are underperforming in the international rankings.

Let’s take the first bit of research. In the olden days – back when Labour were in charge and National could blame them for everything (note: sentence to be read sarcastically since they still do blame them for everything), Otago University used to carry out research into how New Zealand children performed in certain curriculum areas. It was called the National Education Monitoring Programme which rotated – one year it would test technology and maths, the next it would look into writing and listening.

In their infinite wisdom as purveyors of fine education policy, the National-led government scrapped this project. Then, after realising they actually want hard data on educational achievement to back up their neoliberal gibbering, they reinstated it as the National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement. A differently formed and much harder to pronounce acronym with exactly the same university doing exactly the same type of research.

How much money was wasted with that stupid decision?

This week NMSSA released their report into the achievement of New Zealand children in science and writing. Here’s a quote from the Radio New Zealand report into the release:

The study by the University of Otago and the Council for Educational Research says Year 8 children should be writing at curriculum level 4, but it found only 35% at or above that level. The majority were below curriculum level 4, with most at levels 3 or 2.

In science, the results were even worse, with about 80% of those in Year 8 falling short of the expected level.

Now these sorts of results would be concerning for any government – especially one that has staked its entire educational policy direction on the misuse of data. What was their reaction?

On the morning this first featured on Radio New Zealand our esteemed minster said she wasn’t commenting because, “she hadn’t read the report yet.”

This is interesting – in the “OH MY GOD!” way rather than the “hmmmm (scratches chin)” way. You’d think an education minister could be bothered reading some research of this calibre?

On Thursday came the news that national standards have created much more work for teachers with little in the way of benefits. This study was from the Council for Educational Research and commissioned by the NZEI. The survey of found just 7% of principals and 15% of teachers saw the standards as “robust” and that:

…60 percent of teachers and 70 percent of principals say National Standards have meant more work for little gain.

On the positive side, the report suggests teachers are having more professional development based around assessment and moderating assessment more common and valued by teachers. Working in a small school myself moderating and working with the other teachers are a key aspect of getting to know the kids I will inherit next year. It’s also a great way of celebrating the achievements of the children. In saying that, to moderate properly is a massively time-consuming process that is incredibly hard to complete in the tired haze that follows the daily bus departure at 3pm.

How did our minister respond to this piece of research? Since it was paid for by the union, the research was bound to turn out the findings it did.

Excellent work again minister.

Then on Friday the New Zealand Herald reported the contents of a speech given by Hekia Parata where she indicated that New Zealand will slip down the PISA rankings when the latest numbers are released this week. That’s right – slip down.

According to the latest international PISA education league table – the ultimate education league table – from the OECD, New Zealand 15 year olds are falling down the rankings compared with other countries.

How has Hekia responded? She has put the New Zealand result down to better performing “Asian” countries who have improved faster  than we have. You can read the full text of her speech here. (I challenge you to read through the whole thing without being aggrieved in some way. It would be worth pulling it apart, but that will be for another blog).

There are a myriad of points to be made, but mostly it comes down to this: you cannot base your entire educational policy on collection and use of data and then reject the data when it comes back PROVING your policies are failing.

Yes the PISA data is rubbish because it tests different things in different countries and actually guesses approximates scores of items not tested in one country but testing in another (if you don’t believe me, read this from the Guardian). What the National government have done is trumpeted our “failings” using this data and implemented a range of policies they claim will “fix” the problem. Then when it doesn’t go your way, throw your polices out of the cot.

You can’t have it both ways.

But politicians have never been ones to shy away from hypocrisy or double standards.

As we are heading into an election year you will need to watch and listen closely to National. They will be ever so sneaky as they try to slip in things like the PaCT tool (yet more assessment tools!!) and performance pay based on the achievement of your students against national standards (they won’t be able to do that until the next contract negotiation in 2 years or so).

We must hold them to account. If we value a rich, authentic curriculum which prepares New Zealand children for the world that actually exists then any policy being issued by National will actually achieve the exact opposite.

Data is beginning to support this eventuality.

If, God forbid, National lead a third term government after the election next year, you can bet our quality public education system will be rapidly and ruthlessly dismantled.

Sources:

Bad report for Year 8s in writing and science: Radio NZ, 27 November, 2013.

National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement: Otago University, 2013.

Teachers find little gain in national standards: Radio NZ, 29 November, 2013.

Media Release: Insights into the Impact of National Standards in Schools: NZCER, 29 November, 2013.

NZ education facing a bad report: NZ Herald, 30 November, 2013

The OECD’s PISA Delivery Man: The Guardian, 26 November, 2013.

Speech to Iwi Leaders Forum: Hekia Parata, 28 November, 2013.