Ideal Ideologues? Not Likely

Here’s a link to a blog about the ideologues who have taken over the education debate in the United States. It has no names but you if you know anything about the debate over there you can probably replace the X’s with the correct name. You might even want to try to replace them with a local, New Zealand ideologue and see if the meaning remains. I did and it’s scary.

Mr. B

What’s In Your Job Description?


How does your job description read? There are probably many, many things you do that aren’t necessarily written on the job description you signed, but you still do them. They either make your job easier, or more enjoyable, or both.

The same can be said for teaching. The main part of our job is in the classroom with the kids. But before 9am and after 3pm there are plenty of other things we do that are part of our job, but not necessarily part of our job description.

In the past I’ve done drama group, ukulele group, guitar group, and kapa haka group – all of these were either before school or during my break times. Those are just a few of the things I’ve done in the past. Next year I’m at a different school so I’m sure there will be other things that need to be done.

I’m just going to wonder out loud (if that is possible with typed blog-words) – how many politicians use up their lunch breaks to improve the lives of others?

All teachers in public education systems all around the world have a vast range of skills they use to help the kids around them.

It’s not about the money, it’s about the kids. Keeping kids engaged with their learning. Keeping kids excited about their future. And keeping kids safe.

That’s why six teachers died in Connecticut this weekend. They were trying to make sure the kids in their school were protected from a man who wanted to cause as much harm as he possibly could. The teachers tried to stop him. They weren’t armed, yet they still ran towards him trying to beat the bullets in their desperate attempts to remove the danger he was bearing down on the kids in their care.

Was “protecting my students from gunman” in their job descriptions?

Your heart just breaks watching the pictures scroll up the side of the screen while President Obama reads their names. Kids with everything ahead of them.

I never thought I would be saying something like this: thank you to those US teachers who gave their lives to protect the children they teach. I am really struggling for words, but thank you.

So it’s not about neo-liberal reforms or spending formulas. It’s not about mergers or closures. It’s not about national standards or ranking schools based on test results. And it’s definitely not about remuneration. Being a teacher is about the kids.

It will always be about the kids.

So What’s in a Ranking?

Hello all!

I’ve had the spreadsheet out and I’ve been nerding it up over the past couple of days. I’ve been thinking to myself about the hallowed PISA rankings. As I’ve said in a previous posting, it seems a bit onerous for someone supporting their arguments against National Standards-based ranking of schools by politicians and the media with PISA – a rankings based testing system.

In saying all that, I’ve been using a little spreadsheet programme to create a little graph of comparable countries.

The featured graph compares the literacy rankings of several countries. I’ve included New Zealand & Australia because they are currently dipping their toes in the sea of GERM. Finland is there because they are consistently the top ranked non-Asian nation. Canada is in there because they have a long history of quality public education. I’ve also included our good mates from the United Kingdom and the United States because their education systems have been undergoing GERM warfare for many years now.

Before we get into that there’s a few things you should know… firstly, there was no official data for the US in 2006 or the UK in 2003 so I’ve inserted an average between the two years either side. Although this meant I was making up data, it also means you can see the trend.

PISA Literacy Rankings 2000-2009
PISA Literacy Rankings 2000-2009

As well as this, there has been an increase in OECD member countries – from 28 in 2000 to 34 in 2009. I suspect this was why Australia has dipped a couple of places.

So – what is the data saying? Well, I’m no statistician but there are some quite striking results from this little graph. Firstly – the United Kingdom has had a ranking nose-dive. They’ve gone from 7th to 20th in a little less than a decade. This fall is much greater than would be expected with the increased membership of the OECD over that time. In the UK, Education Secretary Michael Gove is continuing the reforms over there. Some fairly crazy things are happening, but we will have to wait and see whether Labour undoes all the wrongs when the Tory/LibDem coalition is thrashed at the next election. The role the British newspapers play in shaping education policy in that country by scaring politicians and school communities through rankings and high stakes league tables has this teacher thinking they won’t.

Secondly, the United States have had a steady ranking over the decade. This would suggest that rather than “no child left behind,” all of the children are being left behind. Reformers there have been arguing for change based on allegedly low teaching standards. Thanks to the LA Times you can get a ranking for your teacher based on the test scores of their pupils. Never mind that the kids in question might have all sorts of other issues impacting on their lives and their ability to pass a test on any given school day. Kiwi kids may not turn up with lunch, but for some US kids gun violence is part of life. I can’t imagine the impact that would have in the classroom. How can you seriously expect a teacher to have any control over that part of a child’s life?

Thirdly, Finland, New Zealand, Canada and Australia have remained steady as well. New Zealand and Australia politicians have recently bought into the GERM model of edu-reform. It will be interesting to see how their rankings shape up when the next PISA survey is released. I’m thinking that Finland will remain where it is at the top and the Kiwis and Ockers will slip a couple of places. Guesstimates are always much better with the benefit of hindsight, so I shall wait for their release before saying too much more.

Coming up: Maths and Science rankings…. where do we stand? How are we being set up for the 21st century knowledge economy?

Mr B

We Have the Official Information Act – in America They Sue

Morning everyone.

This Labour Day morning I’d like to share something I read on the Huffington Post education website the other day.

In summary the Los Angeles Times is suing the local school district to release information that would allow it to update its on-line teacher rating database. Here is a link to the Times’ value-added (sic) service. It lets you can type in any teacher or school name and instantly be taken to a page that shows their ratings on an ‘effectiveness’ continuum. Here is the link to the FAQs on how they do their analysis. In a nutshell they use a student’s past scores to predict future results and then their actual results to show whether the teacher is good or not. If their actual results are above the predicted, then the teacher is effective. If actual results are below…

If you don’t think this is going to happen in little old New Zealand, then think again. Fairfax already have their School Report website. I guarantee that this will morph into a teacher rating page since it is already a quasi-rating page for schools anyway.

Here’s what the LA Times say about their value-added measures:

Although value-added measures do not capture everything about a teacher or school’s performance, The Times decided to make the ratings available because they bear on the work of public employees who provide an important service, and in the belief that parents and the public have a right to the information.

Here is the what Fairfax say about their School Report website:

Anyone who read the National Standards results as a proxy for quality would be quite foolish. We wouldn’t do that and we don’t suggest you do, either.

Previously I have talked about how completely unfair this rating or ranking process is to teaching. However the mainstream media and the politicians like to spin it, there are so many other factors influencing test scores other than ‘teacher performance.’ Of course, they will argue that I’m making excuses. I’m not. It’s actually statistical. It’s bad maths to take into account just one measure when talking about student achievement.

Although it is nice and easy for them to use test results (or in our case national standards) to rate schools or teachers, the media and politicians need to be aware of one thing: New Zealand is currently 7th on the 2009 PISA reading list and we WILL drop down this scale if the neo-liberal ideology of charter schools, national standards, and teacher rankings becomes the norm. In turn this WILL result in poorer educational outcomes for New Zealand students.

Remember parents, this ideology is modelled on the education systems in the United States (17th for reading) and the United Kingdom (26th). It is a falsehood to believe the politicians when they say these changes will give you choice. This is not about choice. This is about opening up the education sector to the profit-takers. Education run for profit is not going to get the best from our teachers. We will end up being in the top 30 rather than the top 10. Guaranteed.

Sorry for the rant. Enjoy the rest of your long weekend.

Mr. B.

NOTE: I realise it might be foolish of me to use a rankings system to back up an argument against rankings systems. It’s just that Treasury, National and the media really love measuring and ranking things to justify their positions. The PISA results shows how wrong and uninformed their positions are. You will also need to note that not one single person arguing for these changes (media & politicians) HAS EVER BEEN A TEACHER EVER.



Hello and welcome…

It would be remiss of me not to do what everyone else in the world is doing over the course of this week so here goes…

A lot of people must be looking back at 2009 and thinking, like I am, where the hell did that go. This year seems to have flown by much quicker than usual. Or is it the fact that I’m getting old? Does time pass quicker the older you get? If I think back to my childhood the years seemed to go on forever, weeks and months melding into each other like one long hot summer. Anyway, that’s enough of the Stand by Me crap. On with what I was going to say.

It’s good to see that the capitalists of this world still think the sun shines out of their arses despite the complete and abject failure of their way of doing things.

Oooo, ooo, Mr. Obama… Mr. Obama… I’ve got a good idea!! Me, me! Look I know that in the last couple of years that things haven’t been going quite right. In fact, technically speaking, when you crunch the numbers, they’ve been going quite wrong by quite a lot – mainly because I’ve been trying to make ridiculous amounts of money by effectively gambling on things I didn’t really understand but pretended I did.. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that if you give me MORE money, and when I say give I mean lend, if you lend me more money I can do some more guessing and gambling and I can make it all better. And once it’s all better, then I can pay you back. Good ay?

6 months later….

Oh, yeah, hi Mr. Obama… look I know that we made some number of billions profit this year despite having to ask you for some readies to tide us over but we really can’t afford to pay you back just yet. But I am good for it, I really am. It’s just that we need that money to do a bit more guessing and gambling. See, we’ve made $60 billion in the last six months, but if you let us keep going with the loan, if we can keep doing what we are doing – and remember we are the experts in the field, we know what we are doing – if we can keep going then that $60 billion could turn into $63 billion or maybe even $65 billion. That would be like an extra $5 billion that you didn’t have before man. Where did it come from? Well… um… I don’t really know. I just checked the balance at the end of the day and it had gone up a bit. No, it’s not like actual money you can hold in your hand, like a $2 note or anything. No no, this is an on-line bank balance. Well, yes, I suppose it could go back down just like it’s been going up, but I doubt that very much. After all, we play the markets like this all the time so we have experience and know how that allow us to be extremely confident in ourselves and what we are doing. No, I don’t have any qualifications other than a diploma I got from a technical college in Halifax. No, that diploma isn’t in finance – it’s in something called book labelling… it’s like book-keeping but instead of accounting for the ebb and flow of cash through the books, I’m am qualified for making sure all the books are correctly named. How did I get into the finance industry? I knew a guy in college who told me I was quite good on computers and adding up and he suggested I become a day trader. The rest is history.

Of course, that’s not to say that ALL of those people still involved in the financial institution that nearly bought the world to its knees (but thanks to some quick cash from those people who actually pay taxes, they can continue on their merry way) have no idea what they are doing. Indeed, I’m sure that most people who take huge daily risks with money that doesn’t belong to them in situations they can barely understand, know completely what they are doing.

I am being incredibly sarcastic here. I doubt whether anyone on Wall Street really fully understands anything about the institution they’ve created. All they really care about is making money – and lots of it. And before you go all funny and start suggesting I’m a communist, or, God forbid, ‘against us’, think of it this way… where does the money come from? If I’ve clicked my mouse to complete a trade, then later that day I sell making money, the only thing changing is a number on a computer screen. Where is the cold, hard cash – the tangible thing that I can hold in my hand that shows I’ve actually done something useful.

If I go out to a market and buy a carrot for 9 cents and later that day sell it for 10 cents, I’ve made a penny. I also have a 10 cent piece in my hand that I can show people and say – look at me, I’m worth 10 cents. Yesterday I was worth only 9.

The thing that really sticks in my mind from this year is the amount of profit these US companies made in the months following their bailout by Obama. For example, AIG made $1.82 billion in the second quarter of 09. This after getting nearly $200 billion in loans. I suppose, technically speaking, these loans have to be paid back by AIG, but all they’re doing is shuffling things around and selling them off to do this. They’re not really changing the root cause of all the financial market malarkey that has occurred in the last couple of years (oh, and in the late 90s, and in the late 80s, and in the 1970s, and so on and so on and so on).

People are driven by wanting to make as much money as they possibly can with little regard to whose money it is that’s actually helping them do this. When human nature is involved, you can’t have a totally unregulated situation in the marketplace, no matter how many times they tell you to let the market provide. Look what it provided last year (oh, and in the late 90s, and in the late 80s, and in the 1970s, and so on and so on and so on) – complete meltdown because those in charge of the money-go-round all got off at the same time. Dicks.

Oh well… I’m sure they’ll do better next time (I’m picking it to be around 2018).

Happy new year!!

Boon x