How to measure stuff – actual

Early yesterday morning I sat at this very computer with ideas of writing a thought-provoking piece about modern education. After 10 or so seconds it turned into yet another satirical diatribe aimed in the direction of our beloved and most respected Minister.

This morning I thought I would again attempt to start what I intended yesterday.

This week I was lucky to attend the Learning@Schools roadshow in Ashburton. This was a one-day mini-conference run by Core Education and attended by many wonderful educators all with the same mindset: How do we educate children in the 21st century? Probably better to turn that question into a statement: Look how we’re educating children in the 21st century.

Regular readers will be well aware of my feelings towards the national standard and what a backwards, regressive and downright dangerous policy it is. What it relies on is a series of measurements, at present taken by teachers, but in the very near Tom Cruise Minority Report future this government is dragging us towards, will be completed by a centralised computer server-based at the Ministry of Education in Wellington.

This government’s education policy is simple: declare it a failure, measure it, report it, cut funding to it (this, of course, does not apply to chartnership schools – their funding increases no matter how much they fail).

These bureaucratic measurements are designed not to improve educational outcomes but to justify neoliberal policy. After all, you cannot call someone a failure unless you draw a line in the sand and say, “if you are behind this line you are a failure” after which you gear more of your policy to “dealing” with this failure and PRESTO! You have an education system that is just teaching English and Mathematics and none of the good, character building stuff like the Arts, P.E., Social Sciences etc, etc, etc.

The other aspects of education that National Standards don’t measure are the key competencies – relationships with others, managing yourself, participating and contributing, thinking, and using languages, symbols and texts (this last one could possibly be measured. Possibly?).

Think about it… how would you measure a child thinking? Take the question posed in yesterday’s blog by my fictional Hekia: 6 x 8. That has a measurable answer, 42, but how do you measure the way a child gets to this answer? Hook their head up to a brain-reading machine to find which parts of the brain are active during answering? Get them to write down or discuss how they solved the problem? Time how long it takes them to solve – the longer it takes, the more thinking is happening?

Key competencies are notoriously hard to measure using a test in the National Standards sense of the word. There is no one observable event or result; there is just an overall, for want of a better word, feeling. When I’m writing my reports (which will be very, very soon (possibly should be now!)), I do my own thinking to decide how Child A has progressed on the key competencies. I ask myself questions: have they improved? Are they doing better than last year? Have they been working hard in any particular area?

There is absolutely no way that I can measure these things with a standardised test supplied by Pearson or another multinational education resources company who, undoubtedly, is donating money to the National Party in sums lighter than the notifiable amount of $15,000.

The problem comes with the current government policy colliding with the needs of a modern, 21st century working environment. Children currently negotiating their way through school need to be able to learn new jobs that don’t even exist yet. Solid key competencies, as etherial and hippy-ish as they must sound to people who actually believe that knowing 6 x 7 = 42 is the measure of educational achievement, are actually more important in the workforce than 6 x 7. As a 10 year old in my class pointed out one day, “why do I have to learn my times-tables when I can work them out on this calculator?” This was a fine point. Essentially he was saying why do I have to learn this knowledge when I know exactly where I can find it? This was 21st century learning in action.

I mean, when was the last time you used any of the maths you learnt in 6th form? For me, mathematics was a compulsory subject up to the 6th form /Year 12 level. Thankfully it was very easy for me to achieve well in because I was good at it. Unfortunately, or rather, more typically (as I’m a boy), English was also compulsory but because I wasn’t as good I didn’t get into it because it was harder for me to achieve.

Imagine if your entire schooling was spent stuck in English and Mathematics, neither of which you enjoyed because you weren’t good at. How motivated would you be to achieve? How motivated would you be to actually attend a school totally focussed on these two core curriculum areas and not much else.

I think I’ll leave school thanks. You suck!

And we have yet another marginalised learner who leaves school believing it to be the single worst experience of their lives.

New Zealand children have to be at school from the age of 5 through to 16. That’s a very long time to be doing something that doesn’t mesh with you. Yet the policy this government wants to embed will cause exactly this – a narrowing of the curriculum to the “core” subjects, more students who “fail” according to the standards and a vicious circle of under achievement and implementation of harsher measurements and more failing students, stricter testing regimes and a carbon copy of the system American students currently find themselves trapped within.

You only have to read this blog from the Huffington Post to know where National will take our education system through their (or more accurately, their donors) wish to impose upon us. We will end up with jaded teachers, unmotivated students who believe themselves as failures, and school leavers who will be ill-suited to work in a 21st century learning environment (I’m including school and the workplace in this environment).

Would you ever take a risk if all you’ve ever known is failure? Why bother trying when I know I’m going to fail anyway.

We will lose our sense of kiwi number-8-wire inventiveness that has made our school leavers first up the highest mountain, invent jetboats and superbikes, split the atom… I could go on, but you get the idea.

National’s standards will fail our children.

I’ll tell you this for nothing. The many teachers I met and talked with at the Learning@School roadshow the other day are doing all this amazing teaching despite National’s standards.

I work within your system. I’ll tick your boxes, I’ll fill out your forms, I’ll do your paperwork, but I won’t dumb-down my programme.

That is not in the best interests of my children.

Mr B.

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