Undervalued Public Education?

This article, written by Ross Henderson appeared in the Taranaki Daily News- 9/2/2013

“We are told that Novopay aside, teachers and the government are set on a collision course and that it’s a union versus management approach.

Let’s cut to the chase. Apart from the fact that most teachers belong to a union, exercising their freedom of choice and association in doing so, there is no union dimension to the political scraps on education policy. The claim that teacher unions run or ruin the education sector is a National Party mantra, consistent with that party’s life-long hatred of unions and dissenting voices.

Let’s face it, decisions made by politicians on education are by definition political, and usually reflect the bias of the political party in charge. When it comes to Labour and National, their decisions on education typically reflect their historical origins.

Labour sees education as the way to lift intellectual and practical knowledge and understanding, and as enhancing the individual for life, work and citizenship. On this basis Labour has usually tried to make sure that education is accessible to all, so that the influence of wealth or poverty on a person’s life chances is minimised.

National has typically seen education as the means to entrench advantage and privilege. They have always favoured private schooling, affordable to only a few. Last week I wrote about how this government bailed out Wanganui Collegiate, even though the school has been failing.

There was also the decision shortly after it came into government in 2008, to immediately grant an extra $38 million for private schools. State, or publicly- owned, schools got nothing extra. Two years ago they took $55 million out of trade training and are crowing about the fact they are about to put $12 million back in.

And did you notice how the hastily- abandoned policy on larger class sizes last year was for state schools, not private schools?

It’s not popular to say it at the moment, but the truth is that the present government is one of the most politically driven we’ve had in a long time; political in the sense of pursuing the interests of its political constituency above all else. So when National is challenged in its thinking on education, especially by teachers, it resorts to its time-honoured habit of attacking the messenger. Let’s remember that the idea of mass education – compulsory education of all children up to a specified age according to a standard curriculum – is a comparatively recent phenomenon. It only properly started last century.

New Zealand embraced the mass education system with enthusiasm. It fitted our traditionally egalitarian ambitions. But in a world where access to information is gained by a few mouse clicks, and the amount of information available is vast, the rote learning of our forebears is no longer fit for purpose. The most important skill today is critical thinking. This requires young people to be curious, to distinguish facts from assertions and to be able to draw conclusions based on facts. Young people need to be prepared for a world that is changing rapidly. Today we live in a world where learning will never stop.

One of the big realisations of modern education is that people learn in different ways and at different speeds. The challenge for mass education systems is to be responsive to each learner.

But that’s not all. We also know that coming to school hungry or unwell or worried about what is happening at home or feeling vulnerable amidst your peers, are obstacles to learning.

So teachers have to be alert to these factors. These are all factors beyond a teacher’s control, but we have a Government that wants to introduce performance pay as if teachers do control these things. My assessment is that being a teacher today is way more complex than it was when I was growing up. We expect a lot of our teachers. We entrust our children to them. We are right to expect they are properly trained and meet a good character test. Teaching is a profession that deserves respect and support. When it comes to changes in education and the running of the system, we should expect to hear from the profession doing the front-line work. If they speak with one voice through their union, so what?

In the world of work where I come from, the old style of management is top down, command and control. But good managers now accept they don’t know everything and there is a wealth of knowledge held by those in the front line. Good managers have no hesitation in engaging with those doing the work. It’s about making the best decision. National governments come from the old order – they are top down. They don’t respect the front line, never think of consulting with them and are intolerant of dissent.

If there is a clash of ideas in education between the government and teachers, let’s look at the ideas rather than who is saying them. And let’s show a bit of respect for teachers and the amazing work most do.”

I completely endorse Ross’ words.

RULES FOR TEACHERS

One could be slightly bemused by reading this and indeed many would quite probably bemoan the passage of time that has changed the lot of the lowly teacher!! These are actual “Rules” for teachers, circa 1879.

1.  Teachers each day will fill lamps, clean chimneys before beginning work. (That’s not ‘work’?)

2.  Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s session. (Oh- so THIS is work?)

3.  Make your pens carefully. You may whittle nibs to the individual taste of the children. (May? You have a choice?)

4.  Men teachers may take one evening a week for vourting purposes or two evenings to attend church regularly. (Again with the ‘may’. Should you choose not to court what are the options?)

5.  After ten hours in school, you may spend the remaining time reading the BIBLE or other good books. (I always thoughts “Ulysses” was a good page-turner!)

6.  Woman teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed. (I’m glad they didn’t say ‘other’ unseemly conduct!!)

7.  Every teacher should lay aside, from each pay, a goodly sum for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden on society. (A woman can just get married to avoid being burdensome to society?)

8.  Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls, or gets shaved in a barbers shop will give good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity and honesty. (Those always wondered about barbers!!!)

So, notice any changes after 135-odd years? smiley face

Open Letter from Auckland Primary and Intermediate School Principals

(Reprinted)

As educational professionals we fully endorse concerns recently expressed by many New Zealand academics relating to the proposed publication of league tables of NZ primary and intermediate school students’ performance based on this government’s national standards.
The vast majority of NZ principals have expressed serious concerns about the validity of the national standards data since the inception of the policy. The experience of other countries is that the publication of league tables is damaging and misleading, and does not lead to improved learning outcomes.
As educational professionals we condemn any published league tables and urge the NZ public to do likewise.

Signatories
Jill Corkin Snells Beach School
Kevin Bush Te Hihi School
Jeff Bruce Jean Batten School
Sue Dawson Clendon Park School
Lynda Stuart May Road School
Frances Nelson Fairburn School
Jane Cavanagh-Eyre Epsom Normal School
Rex Maddren Leabank Primary School
Liz Horgan St Joseph’s School, Otahuhu
Diana Tregoweth Owairaka District School
Brian Gower Beachlands School
Wim Boxen Ponsonby Intermediate School
Jennie Stewart Sunnybrae Normal School
Allan Watts Stella Maris School
Graeme Rix Pukekohe Hill School
Cameron Lockie Kaipara Flats School
Nicola Girling Hillsborough Primary School
Ken Pemberton Murrays Bay Primary School
Linda Mayow Glen Eden Primary School
Thomas Robertson Kelvin Road School
Graeme Lomas Cockle Bay School
Brenda Mauger St Therese School
John Faire Mt Eden Normal School
Annie Doherty Sherwood Primary School
Cherie Taylor-Patel Flanshaw Road School
Linda Harvie Farm Cove Intermediate School
Brent Woods Otahuhu Intermediate School
Neil Robinson Blockhouse Bay Primary School
Malcolm Milner Balmoral School
Fiona Cavanagh Sutton Park School
Sandra Jenkins Freemans Bay School
Roger Harnett Browns Bay School
Christine Wargent Marlborough Primary School
Liz Wood Waikowhai Intermediate School
John McAleese Howick Intermediate School
Roy Lilley Bruce McLaren Intermediate School
Kevin Hornby Puhinui School
Wayne Bainbridge Matipo Primary School
Maree Bathurst Albany Primary School
Nigel Davis Wesley Intermediate School
Wayne MacGillvray Mayfield School
Stephanie Anich Richmond Road School
Colleen Margison Panama Road School
Anne Malcolm Ponsonby Primary School
Juliet Small Sunnyhills School
Margaret Aikman Hay Park School
Bruce Laws Orewa North School
Hoana Pearson Newton Central School
Lois Kirkbride Favona School
Mavis Moodie Onehunga Primary School 50
Bill Barker Grey Lynn Primary
Brent Jenkin Wakaaranga School
Brenda White Redoubt North School
John McGowan Campbells Bay School
Tony Horan Tamaki Intermediate School
Shirley Maihi Finlayson Park School
Iain Taylor Manurewa Intermediate School
Kevin Choromanski Pomaria Primary School
Marilyn Gwilliam Papatoetoe Central School
Jill Farquharson Auckland Normal Intermediate School
Heath McNeil Ramarama School
Peter Mulcahy Sunnynook Primary School
Colin Dale Murrays Bay Intermediate School
Mary Wilson Baverstock Oaks School
Jeanette Dunning Verran Primary School
Heather Atkinson Waitakere Primary School
Martyn Weatherill Laingholm Primary School
Diane Parkinson Bucklands Beach Intermediate School
Brian Rolfe Shelly Park School
Shirley Hardcastle Devonport Primary School
Diana Peri Oranga Primary School
Rex Buckley Kingsford School
Mike O’Reilly Mt Roskill Intermediate School
Donal McLean Fruitvale School
Susannah Fowler The Gardens School
Stephen Lethbridge Taupaki School
Greg Roebuck New Lynn School
Jan Robertson Conifer Grove School
Rose Neal Oteha Valley School
Gary Lawrence Vauxhall School
Diane Lambert Orewa Primary School
Barrie Duckworth Bombay School
Ian Travers Te Huruhi School
Catherine Rivers St Mark’s School, Pakuranga
Phil Palfrey Manurewa East School
Ginty Bigwood Pigeon Mountain School
Diane Wiechern Green Bay Primary School
Pam King Kauri Park School
Warren Spanhake Whenuapai School
Leyette Callister Howick Primary School
Carolyn Marino Westmere School
Stephanie Thompson Beach Haven School
John Carrodus Edmonton Primary School
Cindy Walsh Takapuna Primary School
Linda Munkowitz Manuka Primary School
Wendy Koeford Newmarket Primary School
Sonia Johnston Rosscommon School
Melinda Bennett Ahuroa School
Gary Cain Parnell District School
David Ellery Somerville Intermediate School 100
Deidre Alderson Willowbank School
Eric Taylor Awhitu District School
Lindsay Child Bayswater School
Julien Le Sueur Pinehill School
Terry Hewetson Glen Eden Intermediate School
Margaret Palmer Waterlea School
Ron Gordon Patumahoe School
Jon Johnson Karaka School
Peter Marshall Greenhithe School
Germaine Peterson Waikowhai Primary School
Lee Hopkirk Milford School
Maria Heron Mangere Central School
Suzamme Mariassouce Paerata School
Luke Sumich Summerland Primary School
Dave Bradley Wellsford School
Delanee Dale Marshall Laing School
Cheryl Davies-Crook Halsey Drive School
Rosemary Vivien Edendale School
Graeme Newall Sandspit School
Bruce McLauchlan Swanson School
Stephen King Remuera Primary School
Owen Alexander Takapuna Normal Intermediate School
Jeff Johnstone Willow Park School
Mark Barrett Papatoetoe South School
Robyn Dunseath Glendene School
Lyn Gordon Brookby School
Laurie Thew Manurewa Central School
Susan Dunlop Yendarra School
Charmaine Munro Sunnyvale School
Gillian Bray Wainui School
Diane Manners Kohimarama School
Wendy Sandifer Torbay School
Gina Bernade Sancta Maria Catholic Primary School
Gavin Beere Hillpark School
Trish Plowright Elm Park School
Darrel Goosen Matakana School
Linda Barton-Redgrave Long Bay School
Irene Ogden Henderson North School
Lesley Elia Glenbrae School
Paul Engles St Mary’s School, Northcote
Judd McLauchlan Rowandale School
Robyn Curry Te Papapa School
Jo Augustine Kaurilands School
Michelle McCarty Alfriston School
Jane Danielson Hingaia Peninsula School
Carmel Bullot St Patrick’s School, Remuera
Paul Douglas Kowhai Intermediate School
Philomena O’Connell-Cooper St Joseph’s Catholic School, Takapuna
Chris Magner Ellerslie School
Enid Watson Forrest Hill School 150
Glen Vinton Stanley Bay School
Viv Collins Silverdale School
Craig McCarthny St Heliers School
Te Rangi Allen Nga Kakano Christian Reo e Rua Kura
Jocelyn Uasike St Joseph’s Catholics School, Pukekohe
Ross McGowan Aka Aka School
Sarah Martin Stonefields School
Raewyn Matthys-Morris Glenfield Intermediate School
Robert Minihan Kadimah School
Barbara Duckworth Papakura Central School
Linda Low Birkdale North School
Jason Swann Otahuhu Primary School
Kathryn Hira St Joseph’s School, Orakei
Cathy Chalmers Greenmeadows Intermediate School
Mike Gardner West Harbour School
Debbie Marshall Dairy Flat School
Blair Johnston Pokeno School
Darren Smith St Leonard’s School
Pat Chamley Flat Bush School
Judy Hanna Mangere Bridge School
Dave Latimer Rangeview Intermediate School
Graeme Gilbert Papatoetoe East School
Colin Andrews Blockhouse Bay Intermediate School
Clive Morris Drury School
Fintan Kelly Pakuranga Heights School
Diane Raynes Bayview School
Vaughan van Rensberg Chapel Downs School
Peter Ayson Meadowbank School
Andy Thompson St Joseph’s Catholic School, Onehunga
Jan Tasker Sunnyvale School
Michael Malins Konini School
Anne-Marie Biggs Glendowie Primary School
Paul Coackley St Pius X Catholic School
Julie Schumacher Clevedon School
Bruce Dale Henderson Intermediate School
Stuart Myers Pakuranga Intermediate School
Judy Parr Point View School
Linley Bruce Royal Oak Primary School
Anthony Noble-Campbell Mangere East Primary School
Maurice Young Marina View School
Brenda McPherson Windy Ridge School
Kent Wilson Westminster Christian School
Evan Robson Orere Point School
Bruce Warren Mairangi Bay School
Debbie Waikato Lincoln Heights School
Nigel Bioletti Birkenhead Primary School
Ken McKay Star of the Sea School
David Tennent St Mary’s Catholic School, Papakura
Richard Coote Birkdale Intermediate School
Jeanette Craig Upper Harbour Primary School 200
Rae Parkin Wesley Primary School
Kathy Irvine Red Hill Primary School
Mary Kedzlie St Leo’s Catholic School
Brigid Peterson Good Shepherd School
Bruce Cunningham Belmont Primary School
Bernard Fitzgibbon St John’s School, Mairangi Bay
Helen Varney Target Road School
Janet Pinchen Glamorgan School
Jane Hahn Christ the King Catholic School
Kathy Dooley Mt Richmond Special School
Cris Hull View Road School
Wiki Whittaker St John the Evangelist School
Pauline Cornwell Avondale Intermediate School
Trevor Canute Papatoetoe West School
Gary Passfield Waimauku School
Bruce Young Holy Cross School, Papatoetoe 216
Sandra Aitken Pt Chevalier School
Grant Hope-Ede Peninsular Primary School
Lesley Pether Maraetai Beach School
Simon Akroyd Glenbrook School
Jane Wallis Te Matauranga (co-principal)
Debbie Wooliams Te Matauranga (co-principal)
Peter Kaiser Tirimoana Primary School
Pat Conrad Mansell Senior School
Anne Milne Kia Aroha College
Alan Lyth Bairds Mainfreight Primary School
Kris Hughes Riverhead School
Sheryl Fletcher Bayfield School
Bruce Trezise Botany Downs School
John Nicholls Robertson Road School
Anne Saunokonoko Marist Primary School, Mt Albert
Linda Kelly Takanini School
Heather Frost Hunua School
Keith Gayford Viscount School
Lynne Keohane Anchorage Park School
Sue Mulcahy Chelsea Primary School
Vicki Joplin Waiuku Primary School
David Wallace Manurewa West School
Maxine Tau South Auckland Seventh-Day Adventist School
Justine Somerville Belmont Intermediate School
Robyn Pivac Marist Catholic School, Herne Bay
Tony Walsh Pasadena Intermediate School
Louise Doyle Oaklynn Special School
Vanessa Sofele Paparimu School
Jenny Bernard Principal, St Joseph’s Catholic School, Grey Lynn
Deborah Heaseman Northcote Primary School
Craig Holt Northcote Intermediate School
Murray Wratt Opaheke School
Tony Kolose Manurewa South School
Murray Burton Elim Christian College
Kathy Moy-Low Holy Cross School, Henderson
Clarinda Franklin Hauraki School
Karen McMurray Randwick Park School
Cherie Galloway Balmoral SDA School
Judy Brown Mellons Bay School
Adrienne Mawer Birkdale Primary School
Marianne Booth St Francis School, Pt Chevalier
Jennice Murray Don Buck Primary School
Annette Donnelly Mt Carmel School
Maree Stavert Henderson Valley School
Other signatories of support
Alister McCosh Picton School, Picton
Barrie Wickens Kaka Street Special School, Tauranga
Alan Jermaine Education Consultant, Auckland
Neil Fraser Ngatea Primary School, Ngatea
Gary Punler West End School, Palmerston North
Tony Hamilton Retired principal, Auckland
Tony Westrupp Kaukapakapa School, Helensville area
Barbara Bronlund Kaiwaka School, Wellsford area
Darren Kerr Whareama School, Masterton area
Kay Hawk Education consultant, Education Group Ltd, Auckland
Barry Hambleton Retired principal, Auckland
Frank Dodd Retired principal, Auckland
Nola Hambleton Retired principal, Auckland
Leanne Otene Manaia View School, Whagarei area

Kelvin Davis on Improving Education

When the government says that national standards, charter schools, league tables, performance pay, quality vs quantity of teachers will all raise achievement, they might be right. That’s because there are very few strategies that teachers (or governments) can implement that actually make students dumber. Teachers can rightly put their hands on their hearts and swear that what they do in class lifts achievement. Just about everything has some positive effect, but some have a large positive effect while others barely register. It would make sense to develop policy based on those strategies that have the greatest positive effect.

The much quoted Professor John Hattie‘s research lists, from most effective to least effective, 138 different ‘things’ that may be implemented in education, and all but five have a positive effect on learning. The five strategies with a negative effect are: Summer vacation (-0.09), Welfare Policies (-0.12) Retention (Holding kids back a year, -0.16), Television (-0.18) and Mobility (-0.34). So unless we prescribe longer Christmas holidays, keep kids back a year or two, or force students to watch an extra 8 hours of TV a day, almost everything else will have SOME positive effect on learning.

The same goes for government policy – practically any educational policy will have some positive effect for some students. In order to get the best achievement outcomes from any policy, the policy itself needs to be supported by research.

What does Hattie’s research say?
Any ‘strategy’ with an effect size of 0.40 or less is practically pointless. Which makes sense. In Hattie’s list the strategy with an effect size of 0.40 (Reducing Anxiety) is exactly halfway through the list of possible strategies. Hattie is saying if any particular strategy is to be used it should at least be in the top 50% of strategies.

What does the research say about Charter Schools?
Charter Schools have an effect size of 0.20, or the 107th out of the 133 strategies that have some positive effect. Charter Schools are therefore an extremely pointless and expensive strategy. There are still 40 strategies that are deemed pointless but are still more effective than Charter Schools.

What does the research say about League Tables and Performance Pay?
Nothing. They don’t rate or feature in any way in Hattie’s research. What then is the basis for League Tables and Performance Pay if there is no research evidence to show these two ‘things’ will make a difference? How does the government know these two ‘strategies’ won’t have to be included alongside the five already proven to make students dumber?

There are 106 ‘things’ more effective than Charter Schools at improving learning, of which 66 are deemed to be very effective.

It would make sense for the government to stick to what is proven by their guru’s research to make a difference and really create the conditions where quality teachers can weave their magic. Only when the proven strategies are all implemented, should they pull out their ideological ideas. However, I suspect by then there would be no need.

By Kelvin Davis

My thanks to Kelvin for permission to re-post this article.

The ‘Land Of The Free’???

…’Free’ is arguable, but clearly not the Land Of The Well-Educated!

The New York City Department of Education recently compiled a list of terms that they considered were unacceptable as terms (or words) to be included in public school exams because they believed they “could evoke unpleasant emotions in the students.” Examples of banned words and why they were so included are- “Dinosaurs, because they call to mind evolution, which might upset fundamentalists” or “birthdays, because they aren’t celebrated by Jehovah’s Witnesses” and even “Halloween, because it hints at Paganism”!!! I would love to see the explanations for all of the exclusions- here is the complete list.

Abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological)
Alcohol (beer and liquor), tobacco, or drugs
Birthdays
Bodily functions
Cancer (and other diseases)
Catastrophes/disasters (tsunamis and hurricanes)
Celebrities
Children dealing with serious issues
Cigarettes (and other smoking paraphernalia)
Computers in the home (acceptable in a school or public library setting)
Crime
Creatures from outer space
Dancing (ballet is acceptable)
Death and disease
Dinosaurs and prehistoric times
Divorce
Evolution
Expensive gifts, vacations, and prizes
Gambling involving money
Geological history
Halloween
Homelessness
Holidays
Homes with swimming pools
Hunting
In-depth discussions of sports that require prior knowledge
Junk food
Loss of employment
Movies
Nuclear weapons
Occult topics (i.e. fortune-telling)
Parapsychology
Politics
Pornography
Poverty
Rap music
Religion
Religious holidays and festivals (including but not limited to Christmas, Yom Kippur, and Ramadan)
Rock-and-Roll music
Running away
Sex
Slavery
Terrorism
Television and video games (excessive use)
Traumatic material (including material that may be particularly upsetting such as animal shelters)
Vermin (rats and roaches)
Violence
War and bloodshed
Weapons (guns, knives, etc.)
Witchcraft, sorcery, etc.
(Note: While the much vaunted “Constitution” preserves one’s right to do pretty much anything on this list, it apparently also preserves the right of ‘government’ to say you mustn’t talk about it!!!)

There was, thankfully outrage expressed by various educationalists and (I suppose) to their credit the NY Dept of Ed issued this statement.
“After reconsidering our message to test publishers and the reaction from parents, we will revise our guidance and eliminate the list of words to avoid on tests. We will continue to advise companies to be sensitive to student backgrounds and avoid unnecessary distractions that could invalidate test scores and give an inaccurate assessment of how students are doing.” Despite this turn-around it is obvious that such thinking exists in the United States and there are similar examples of similar quasi-bigotry in the management of schools’ curricula and resourcing.

What a load of garbage!!! This is the world we have created for our children and these administrators want to pretend it doesn’t exist??? For goodness’ sake! If we continue to try to insulate our children from the worst there is, that is one thing but to be pathetically and misguidedly PC about things and avoid them because we think it might upset someone is outrageous.

I have long considered the United States of America to be one of the bastions of government and business sponsored propaganda and this does little to alter that view. God Help America!

School Trustees on National Standards 2 Years On.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011, 12:41 pm
Press Release: Wellington Wairarapa School Trustees Association

National Party Education Policy and the Accountability Question:
The School Trustees’ Perspective

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
Albert Einstein

The National Party’s education policy for the 2011 general election sets down another marker in the on-going battle between those who focus on data and what is “counted” versus those who focus more on what really “counts” in delivering quality modern education.

The difference is becoming clearer as the roll-out of National’s highly controversial National Standards policy passes the second anniversary this month of the publication of the open letter to the Minister of Education by four leading academics. The academics stated that the new system was so seriously flawed that its implementation would not be successful, it would not achieve intended goals and it could lead to “dangerous side effects”.

The dangerous side effects are best described in the concluding paragraph of the paper written by Professor John Hattie, an adviser to John Key in the early days of the policy’s development:

“National standards offers the most wonderful opportunities for refreshing and reinvigorating an already top of the world system, but it could be the most disastrous policy formulated if it turns our attention to narrowing, testing, league tables and diverting attention to between-school rather than within-school differences.”

School trustees, the elected representatives of parents, have voiced concerns for the past two years about the National Standards system. The School Sample Monitoring & Evaluation Project, the official Ministry of Education commissioned report that monitors the implementation of National Standards, asked school trustees about their level of concern over the unintended consequences of National Standards.

The issues of most concern to trustees are league tables and the demotivation of students who are consistently below the standards, with 71% of school trustees being moderately to very concerned about league tables.

Narrowing the curriculum and the possibility of national testing are the other key concerns shared by trustees and educators alike.

An attempt to determine parent views on the system could not proceed, as the response rate to the parent survey was just over 1%, illustrating how little interest many parents now have in the new system.

The monitoring report was published on the Ministry’s Education Counts website back in August but the Minister of Education has not released a press release discussing its contents.

The New Zealand media has generally played a poor role in covering the National Standards debate. All too often they have mistakenly asserted that teachers are opposing National Standards merely because they are afraid of accountability. In the view of many school trustees, this is incorrect.

The National Party policy statement says that schools and education agencies should be accountable to parents and taxpayers for student achievement. WWSTA agrees. All participants in the state and state-integrated schools sector play an important part in delivering both the desired social policy objectives of education and doing so at a cost that represents “value for money’ for the taxpayer.

But the crunch question is how we all work to achieve the desirable objective of further enhancing an already world class system while avoiding the “dangerous side effects” that Professor Hattie warns us about.

Parents do want to know how their children are progressing and achieving at school and how they can support their learning. Effective assessment plays a vital role in both informing teaching and learning in the classroom and in providing valuable information back to parents.

But the real issue is not whether children should be assessed (they should), or whether schools should be accountable (they should) but how and in relation to what?

The fascination with performance data and the tendency to want to copy education policy from the USA and England has been a feature of the debate around standards-based education reform for some time. The late Roger Kerr wrote as such, as far back as February 1998, in the National Business Review:

“The UK is light years ahead of New Zealand on this…How refreshing and how sensible. What a contrast to New Zealand where education officials try to play down the importance of such performance data. Parents deserve such information so they can choose schools that are best for their children. Not only that. Knowing that their performance will be measured and published creates good incentives for schools.”

These sentiments have been repeated in the aftermath of the release of National’s education policy but there has been no reference to the poor level of student achievement performance in countries such as England and the USA that use high stakes assessment and reporting.

In contrast, why has Finland, which bans league tables under legislation, consistently scored so highly? And, why has the New Zealand media not learnt from their English counterparts that school league tables do not lead to genuine improvements in the quality of education?

The bigger issue overshadowing the sideshow of National Standards for many parents is that, while literacy and numeracy are important skills, they are not all that matters in a good primary education.

So, WWSTA would argue that the accountability issue must first address the more important question: what is it that schools must deliver to their customers – the parents – as their main purpose for existing? In essence, it is time to reconsider the most basic question: What is the purpose of education?

This much more important question, of what we expect from our schools and teachers, has descended into a game of political football with our children’s futures at stake. Can we really determine the effectiveness of the education system unless we have discussed and agreed on the real purpose of education?

This government’s failure to develop sound policy is the cause of the problems behind the poor implementation of National Standards. We should take time out and refocus our efforts on developing meaningful solutions to our challenges in our circumstances.

It’s time for a rethink about the role of education and what New Zealanders want our public education system to deliver. Only then can we hold our educators truly accountable.

$1 Billion On Schools

It seems pretty clear that, although education doesn’t rank as high on the budget list as it should (in my view), the government believes the New Zealand voter values education very highly, and every four years they bring out a tantalising election promise that can’t fail to appeal to parents across the land. This year, under the National ‘goal’ they “will invest $1bn from the Future Investment Fund to make our schools ready for  21st century”. They claim that to “Build A Brighter Future” we need flexible teaching spaces, and so we- sorry, they are going to sell huge chunks of our state-owned assets to raise the money to do this. I seem to recall a government a number of years ago who sold one of our most successful SOEs, Telecom with an undertaking that $800m from this sale was going to be invested in schools. Didn’t happen. Should we believe the promise this time around?

And anyway, is this a sensible use of $1bn for New Zealand education? I think we are “ready for the 21st century” already- we have the teachers. Successful schools aren’t pretty buildings, successful schools are committed and passionate teachers in partnership with committed and passionate parents. I am certain that if the government actually consulted with parents and education sector interest groups on how that amount of money should be invested in education they would get a broad range of suggestions, and I am equally sure that modernising existing schools (knocking down walls to make ‘flexible teaching spaces’?) would not be considered the most important.

But, of course, listening to public opinion isn’t actually a strong suit for this lot, is it?

…and while National promise these millions and millions of dollars to renovate school class-rooms, Education Minister Tolley closes successful special needs units and sends  children with extreme learning needs into mainstream classes.

TEACHERS LOVE TEACHING

…and successful teachers love teaching successfully!

I am so impressed with the young teachers who celebrated a few of their successes in the staff-room at morning interval yesterday.

There are a couple of (disparate really) teachers who are part of a literacy initiative on The Coast which entails them co-mentoring, discussing, planning, implementing strategies and moderating progress of a small group targeted children identified with literacy needs. I am not entirely sure how long they have been involved in the practical aspects of the initiative, (just this year) but clearly they are getting to ‘the pointed end’. One of the teachers (apparently without the knowledge of the other) took the opportunity to share a wee success story. The names of the children are unimportant, but the substance of the story was that child X (Karl) had shown great progress over the preceding several months due to the interventions undertaken (not the least of which, of course was the buy-in of ‘Karl’!) to the extent of raising his writing literacy achievement from a ‘low 2’ to a ‘3B’. Now the story didn’t end here because this improvement seemed extraordinary to both teachers given the child and the time involved, so they decided to seek independent moderation of the child’s work, ‘just to be sure’. Long story short, the two independent teachers agreed that the ‘Karl’s writing achieved a ‘3B’, although they admitted to being very strict/hard in their moderation and admitted a higher score would not have been unreasonable given some of the quality of deeper features in evidence.  Of course the story was greeted with popular acclaim! And why not!!!

As the applause faded another young teacher undertook to share her own success story, this time nothing to do with anything more special than her own class maths programme working for her/her kids. She had for many months lamented young Y (Mark?)’s ability to come to grips with basic facts. Now she wasn’t putting blame anywhere, but was clearly getting to her wits end by the apparent inability of ‘Mark’ to come to grips with what the basic basic facts were or how to learn them. Now ‘Mark’ is an interesting wee tyke who probably has carried a perception of school and learning that is, to a certain extent inherited, but teachers generally carry an optimistic view that children don’t HAVE to suffer from inheritance! SO Amanda (teacher) stuck at her task and thus was happy to share her story with the staff. At the beginning of the year (well, Term 1) ‘Mark’ achieved the truly underwhelming score of 1 (out of a possible of 100). By T2, despite various tricks and inducements, ‘Mark’ showed NO improvement, OR inclination to become a basic facts master- 0/100 (lots of doodles on the test paper!)! Term three? It was a long term, but…? What happened? Amanda was hard-put to explain it herself but she was delighted that, for some yet to be indentified reason, ‘Mark’ switched on, discovered homework, in-class maths, and (obviously) something else, because he, out of nowhere achieved a possible 100/100 in the basic facts test! OUTSTANDING!! Why? How? I don’t care- IT HAPPENED and Amanda was almost in tears telling us about it!

The individual achievements of the children are wonderful, but it’s the pride of the teachers that impresses me. These young people who are dedicated to their jobs, committed to their children, and who do a wonderful job day after day for those children. It pisses me off somewhat when politicians step in and determine that this will happen or that will happen completely without reference to the people who actually do the job they have been trained to do, and who are passionate about the job they do.

Keep up the great work, you wonderful people, despite the political dross that is dumped upon you. Politicians are transitory- you are for good (in more ways than one!)

Kia kaha. Kia manawanui.

What Einstein, Twain, and Forty Eight Other Creative People Had to Say About Schooling

These entries are a collection of quotes by famous people speaking against compulsory education.

Albert Einstein

  • It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of education have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate  plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. 
  •  One had to cram all this stuff into one’s mind, whether one liked it or not. This coercion had such a deterring effect that, after I had passed the final examination, I found the consideration of any scientific problems distasteful to me for an entire year. 
  • Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the Gods.

Plato

  • Knowledge that is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.

Chuang Tzu-

  • Reward and punishment is the lowest form of education.

Mark Twain-

  • I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.  
  • Soap and education are not as sudden as a massacre, but they are more deadly in the long run.  
  • Education consists mainly in what we have unlearned.  
  • In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made school boards.

Oscar Wilde-

  • The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence. 
  • Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught. 
  • Everyone who is incapable of learning has taken to teaching.

Winston Churchill-

  • How I hated schools, and what a life of anxiety I lived there. I counted the hours to the end of every term, when I should return home. 
  • I always like to learn, but I don’t always like to be taught.

Woody Allen-

  • I loathed every day and regret every moment I spent in a school.

Dolly Parton-

  • I hated school. Even to this day, when I see a school bus it’s just depressing to me. The poor little kids.

George Bernard Shaw

  • There is nothing on earth intended for innocent people so horrible as a school. 
  • What we call education and culture is for the most part nothing but the substitution of reading for experience, of literature for life, of the obsolete fictitious for the contemporary real.

Finley Peter Dunne

  • It don’t make much difference what you study, so long as you don’t like it.

Thomas Edison-

  • I remember that I was never able to get along at school. I was at the foot of the class.

Henry David Thoreau

  • What does education often do? It makes a straight-cut ditch of a free, meandering brook. 
  • How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living?

Bertrand Russell

  • Men are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made stupid by education. 
  • Education is one of the chief obstacles to intelligence and freedom of thought.

Benjamin Franklin-

  • He was so learned that he could name a horse in nine languages; so ignorant that he bought a cow to ride on.

H. L. Mencken

  • The average schoolmaster is and always must be essentially an ass, for how can one imagine an intelligent man engaging in so puerile an avocation.

George Saville, Marquis of Hallifax-

  • The vanity of teaching doth oft tempt a man to forget that he is a blockhead.

Joseph Stalin (Hmmm, a supporter of compulsory schooling.)

  • Education is a weapon, whose effect depends on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed.

Norman Douglas-

  • Education is a state-controlled manufactory of echoes.

Paul Karl Feyerabend

  • The best education consists in immunizing people against systematic attempts at education.

Theodore Roosevelt-

  • A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad.

H. H. Munro-

  • But, good gracious, you’ve got to educate him first. You can’t expect a boy to be vicious till he’s been to a good school.

Robert Frost-

  • Education is hanging around until you’ve caught on.

Gilbert K. Chesterton

  • Education is the period during which you are being instructed by somebody you do not know, about something you do not want to know.

Ralph Waldo Emerson-

  • I pay the schoolmaster, but it is the schoolboys who educate my son.

Alice James-

  • I wonder whether if I had an education I should have been more or less a fool than I am.

Helen Beatrix Potter

  • Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality.

Margaret Mead-

  • My grandmother wanted me to have an education, so she kept me out of school.

William Hazlitt-

  • Anyone who has passed through the regular gradations of a classical education, and is not made a fool by it, may consider himself as having had a very narrow escape.

Laurence J. Peter

  • Education is a method whereby one acquires a higher grade of prejudices.

Anne Sullivan (I bow to her.)

  • I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built up on the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think.

Alice Duer Miller

  • It is among the commonplaces of education that we often first cut off the living root and then try to replace its natural functions by artificial means. Thus we suppress the child’s curiosity and then when he lacks a natural interest in learning he is offered special coaching for his scholastic difficulties.

Florence King-

  • Showing up at school already able to read is like showing up at the undertaker’s already embalmed: people start worrying about being put out of their jobs.

Emma Goldman-

  • Since every effort in our educational life seems to be directed toward making of the child a being foreign to itself, it must of necessity produce individuals foreign to one another, and in everlasting antagonism with each other.

Edward M. Forster-

  • Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.

William John Bennett-

  • If [our schools] are still bad maybe we should declare educational bankruptcy, give the people their money and let them educate themselves and start their own schools.

John Updike-

  • School is where you go between when your parents can’t take you, and industry can’t take you.

Robert Buzzell-

  • The mark of a true MBA is that he is often wrong but seldom in doubt.

Robert M. Hutchins-

  • The three major administrative problems on a campus are sex for the students, athletics for the alumni, and parking for the faculty. 
  • The college graduate is presented with a sheepskin to cover his intellectual nakedness.

Elbert Hubbard-

  • You can lead a boy to college, but you cannot make him think.

Max Leon Forman-

  • Education seems to be in America the only commodity of which the customer tries to get as little as he can for his money.

Phillip K. Dick-

  • The trouble with being educated is that it takes a long time; it uses up the better part of your life and when you are finished what you know is that you would have benefited more by going into banking.

David P. Gardner-

  • Much that passes for education is not education at all but ritual. The fact is that we are being educated when we know it least.

Ivan Illich-

  • The public school has become the established church of secular society. 
  • Together we have come to realize that the right to learn is curtailed by the obligation to attend school.

Marshall McLuhan-

  • The school system … is the homogenising hopper into which we toss our integral tots for processing.

Michel De Montaigne-

  • We only labour to stuff the memory, and leave the conscience and the understanding unfurnished and void.

Peter Drucker-

  • When a subject becomes totally obsolete we make it a required course.

C. C. Colton-

  • Examinations are formidable even to the best prepared, for the greatest fool may ask more than the wisest man can answer.

Paul Simon-

  • When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all.

John Dewey-

  • It is our American habit, if we find the foundations of our educational structure unsatisfactory, to add another story or a wing.

Anonymous (My favorite of all historical figures.)

  • If nobody dropped out of eighth grade, who would hire the college graduates?
  • Public school is a place of detention for children placed in the care of teachers who are afraid of the principal, principals who are afraid of the school board, school boards who are afraid of the parents, parents who are afraid of the children, and children who are afraid of nobody.
  • The creative person is usually rebellious. He or she is the survivor of a trauma called education.
  • You can always tell a Harvard man, but you can’t tell him much.

Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College, is a specialist in developmental and evolutionary psychology and author of an introductory textbook, Psychology.’ “Friends, yes, I know, this is a biased sampling of quotations! I have deliberately selected quotations that complain about the compulsory, standard system of schooling. But, I challenge you. Develop a list this long of quotations supporting compulsory schooling and see if the authors you quote rank close to these authors in creativity.”

PROTECT

There is an excellent website called “PROTECT” that parents, teachers, commentators and politicians should regularly visit. It would also provide food for thought for the legion of ‘spin doctors’ that political parties employ to try and influence public opinion.

The name of the site stands for-
Parents’ Rights On Their Educational Choices TodayThis acronym does credit to the content presented on the site. There is clearly a significant groundswell in the community of concerned and considerate people who feel that things are being done for political points-scoring rather than because they are motivated by sound needs-based research and feel a need to get their own messages of opposition out.

Subscribe and support them by letting others know about “Protect”.