Thursday, March 28, 2013

Charter Schools yeah right!

By Allan Alach

To no-one’s surprise the Ombudsman has found that John Banks, the ‘official’ champion of charter schools (yeah, right - another story), had withheld information without valid reason, including:

Groucho understands John Banks!
‘Charter schools would get money for set up costs and property funding that their private-sector backers would be able to keep if a school folded.’

Excuse me?  Overseas corporates will get paid to set up regimes to enable them to take profits from New Zealand children?  Risk free and taxpayer funded? Warner Bros deal, with added extras? Heard of the Robertson Foundation?

The Robertson Foundation is one of the new breed of so-called ‘philanthrocapitalists’, private sector investment funds and trusts that view charity not as altruistic giving, but as just another  business investment opportunity to influence government policy and the delivery of public education. And, to do so by lobbying behind closed doors, completely outside the democratic process.’ (John Minto)

Ring any bells for you?

However the underlying issue isn’t so much as charter schools and shady deals, but the government’s overall education agenda.

There is no problem with New Zealand education, other than those imposed by politicians and the unseen influences behind them.

One rule for the rich!!!
There wasn’t any problem with New Zealand education in 1987 either, but then, as now, problems were created - a standard disaster capitalism technique, through using or creating a ‘crisis’ to justify privatisation.

National standards have been, and still are, the government’s trump card in justifying ‘reform.

It is vital to their agenda that these standards are manipulated to show two things: New Zealand schools have been failing to lift ‘achievement’ and that National’s policies since 2009 have started to address this.

Over the last few months a disturbing trend has become apparent. In order to explain this, it is first necessary to review the national standards processes that are in presently in place - apologies if the next section gets technical.

Readers may not be aware that back in 1999, the then Minister of Education, Nick Smith, had signalled, in a never-to-be forgotten and truly mind boggling rant at the NZEI Annual Meeting, that national testing would be developed should National win the 1999 election. Seems a mother he met at the local market had complained about not knowing how her kids were doing at school…

Since National lost the election, we were spared the testing regime, only for a variation to reappear in 2009. Same agenda, different delivery.

This variation chose to establish ‘national standards’ of achievement in literacy and numeracy for all public school children commencing from the end of the first three years of schooling, and for each level from year 4 onwards. It is has never been explained why these have been deemed as not necessary for private schools and now charter schools.

The very short time frame for the development of national standards, combined with their dubious educational value, resulted in considerable fall out in the Ministry of Education. This led to the departures of many of the key people behind the development of the New Zealand Curriculum, and, presumably, their replacement by more compliant staff.

Agree or I let you go!
Recent news about problems within the Ministry is not surprising. Guess there’s a price to pay for demanding adherence to politically imposed and educationally suspect policies.

Given the decision not to test children, the government chose to require all classroom teachers to ‘assess’ each child’s achievement against relevant standards using their ‘overall teacher judgement,’ (OTJ) based on evidence collected over the year, and comparing this with published exemplars - a very time consuming process.  This process was not based on research evidence and has resulted in ‘square peg in round hole’ syndrome that has left New Zealand and international assessment experts rather bemused.

This syndrome has resulted in two predictable problems:

Problem number one: teachers are required to use their judgement (a necessarily subjective process) to rate each child’s achievement for reporting purposes.

This leaves us to the conundrum that teachers have to use a subjective judgement to get an objective outcome.

Problem number two: Since teacher judgements are subjective, then it is necessary for there to be a moderation process, so teachers of similarly aged children in the same school establish some level of consistency with their judgements. Several meetings needed.

So far, so good, and in fact these kind of moderation processes have been used in schools for many years, although not overburdened by sheer volume of national standards.

But….. while teachers of similar class levels can relatively easily moderate judgements, there also has to be moderation with teachers of older and younger classes, so that there is internal consistency throughout the school. More meetings.

Whew, after many meetings, reviewing judgements in reading, writing and mathematics, each school should now be satisfied that the national standards rankings for all children are ‘accurate.’

Not so fast - how can each school be certain that their internal rankings are consistent with neighbouring schools? Or with schools across the country, in city or rural areas?  The impossibility of nationally moderated should be obvious to all but the ideologically blind.

Or is this the case? Are these ideologues really blind to the problems?

How have schools tended to cope with the challenges, both with workload, and with moderation?

Many/most have fallen back to pre-existing tests, developed for diagnostic, not ranking purposes, but which do provide a basis for national comparisons.

STAR (Supplementary Test of Achievement in Reading) was developed by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) over a decade ago, and has recently been upgraded.

Another test, e-asTTle (electronic - assessment Tools for Teaching and Learning - an acronym that helps explain dazed looks in teachers’ eyes) is more recent, and provides for online assessment of reading, writing and mathematics.

Future articles will explore the implications of online assessment and link this to some very worrying developments in USA.

The third test, still widely used, is one familiar to many who have long left primary schooling - the Progressive Achievement Tests (P.A.T.). 

This now means that a national test programme is developing by default as schools strive to be as accurate and fair as possible with the assessments of all children’s achievement, and as an inevitable response to workload issues. Teachers don’t have time to spend hours on OTJs and moderation meetings, preferring to put their efforts into planning and teaching. Fair enough.

There’s a very big BUT here. Towards the end of 2012 schools found that their students’ nationally benchmarked scores on these tests had mysteriously jumped, so that the bulk of children were now achieving relevant national standards. A principal of a lower decile school has suddenly found that the majority of his school’s pupils were now at the national standards in reading according to STAR results.

Two possible reasons for this: the first being that all schools had now become extremely effective due to the benefits of national standards, while the second, for the more cynical ones amongst us, is that something untoward had happened to the tests.

And this has turned out to be the case. The way test scores are normed has been changed for both STAR and e-assTTle, so that children are now shown as achieving at a higher level. Instant fix.

This then will reflect on school’s national standards results that are submitted to the Ministry of Education, and then published in league tables by the media.

This year’s results will be submitted to the ministry in early 2014, will be available to the media some months before the election and will inevitably be compared to previous years’ results.  Surprise, surprise, national standards results will show that New Zealand schools are now much more effective at raising achievement, just time for the election campaign.
Trust me !

Is that rat starting to smell yet? There’s an even bigger and nastier rat in the cupboard - the subject of the next article.

Naturally, the Ministry of Education are ‘now aware’ of the issue (even though their fingerprints are all over the test revisions) and will investigate, following on from an article in the Listener, which in itself was based on inside information from educational commentator Kelvin Smythe: Article on e-asTTle and STAR coming up in Listener

To conclude, a couple of quotes from Kelvin:

‘The politicians want to free up the tests so certain actions by the review office or by the Wellington bureaucrats can move the results up or down for advantage in the election cycle.’


Who would take advice from a failing minister?
This is the Novopay of testing: old reliables (for instance, PAT) have been distorted by the high stakes' national standards environment; and now we have this colossal mess up with two widely used literacy markers, and Parata calls this 'quality data'. We had quality data, now we have the rubbish.”


Friday, March 22, 2013

Educational Readings- Labour heading in right direction

By Allan Alach

Another week, ho hum. Easter break coming up so I hope all teachers are planning for a ‘no school’ weekend!  I will help out by not compiling a readings list for next week!
Chris Hipkin

The bright spot on the New Zealand education horizon has been the speeches by Labour spokesperson for education, Chris Hipkins. As you’ll see by this  and this he is very much heading in the right direction.

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

This week’s homework!

Bill Gates' classroom of the future

One of life’s great mysteries is why a man who made his fortune by through buying another company’s software (e.g. MS-DOS) or ‘borrowing’ ideas from Apple (Windows) is now seen as an educational expert.

"Being there physically doesn't add much value..."

Why Students Learn Better in a Playful Environment
Learning through exploration

Learning, creativity, and problem solving are facilitated by anything that promotes a playful state of mind.

To help cleanse your mind of the rubbish from Gates, this article is written by someone who knows what he is talking about.

Contemporary Teaching Practice in the Era [Error] of NOPLAN

Australian Derek Hedgcock wrote this article for The Treehorn Express. While it’s focussed, on the first instance, on Australia, there is so much of value for all teachers, and is a very powerful rebutting of the Gates’ led nonsense about ‘teaching.’ If you only have time to read one article from this week’s listing, this is THE ONE.

The Exhaustion of the American Teacher

And the Australian teacher and the New Zealand teacher and the English teacher…. some home truths here that all teachers will relate to; however good luck in trying to get politicians to accept these!

The problem finders (via Bruce Hammonds)
Ewan McIntosh

‘ICOT 2013 keynote speaker Ewan McIntosh explains the thinking processes used by many creative professionals and how these can create dynamic and deeper thinking that will better equip students for their future.’

This is an excellent video to watch - set aside an hour or so, and enjoy.

There Are No Best Practices (via Bruce)

One particularly tiresome piece of jargon is ‘best practices.’  When you really ponder on this, you’ll realise it’s as empty as ‘raising achievement,’ ‘school effectiveness’ and so on. Suggestion - every time you catch yourself using these kind of phrases, consider them to see what they mean, if anything and ask yourself why you’re using them?

Heads Up, America! Your Schools Are in Danger (via Bruce)

Another chance to play ‘spot the similarities.’ As most of the GERM agenda comes from USA, we all need to pay close attention to events there, as we can be sure that variations will arrive in our backyard before too long.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Success for every student ; NZ Labour Party

The speech we have all been waiting for!
Speech to the Auckland Primary Principals Association
20 March 2013
Chris Hipkins - Labour Spokesperson for Education
Chris Hipkins
Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today.
This is the first opportunity I’ve had to address a larger audience of education professionals since I formally took up the role as Labour’s Education spokesperson.
Up until now I’ve been out and about, listening to your views and concerns, and discussing how we can do things better.
The feedback I’ve had can be divided into two groups of thinking. One group asks questions like “why aren’t you sticking it to the government more?”, while the other asks “why are the Labour Party always so negative?”
So today I hope to prove that it is indeed possible to walk and chew gum at the same time by setting out some initial thinking on an alternative positive approach to education by Labour,whilst simultaneously but very positively spelling out the things the present government are doing wrong.
In the 1930s, Labour’s first Minister of Education, and subsequent Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Peter Fraser set out a vision for education that is as relevant today as it was then:
“The [Labour] government’s objective, broadly expressed, is that all persons, whatever their level of ability, whether they live in town or country, have a right as citizens to a free education of the kind for which they are best fitted and to the fullest extent of their powers.”
I’ve often wondered what Peter Fraser would make of some of the current debates that dominate the education agenda.
Peter Fraser
Would he accept, as the current National government seems to, that the success of our education system can be boiled down to national standards and NCEA level 2?
When he spoke of providing every citizen with an education of the kind for which they are best fitted, did he envisage a system where every child had to meet an arbitrary and narrowly focused set of standards?
I suspect he wouldn’t, given he subsequently stated:
“Schools that are to cater for the whole population must offer courses that are as rich and varied as are the needs and abilities of the children who enter them.”
And that highlights at the most fundamental level the difference in approach towards education taken by Labour and National.
We recognise that everybody is different, that children learn different things at different times, and that  students are far more likely to be engaged in education if they are taught abroad and varied curriculum.
New Zealand has one of the best education systems in the world, and our curriculum is widely recognised for its competency-based approach and for the flexibility it provides.

Dr Clarence Beeby

( It is worth also remembering the input of the then Director General of Education Dr Clarence Beeby  - Bruce)
Listening to just about any member of the current government speaking about education, it’s sometimes easy to forget that.
Rather than starting from the presumption that there is something inherently wrong with our education system and it needs to be ‘fixed’, I prefer to adopt the attitude that our challenge is taking a very good education system and making it even better.
Our first focus has to be rebuilding trust and redefining what success looks like.
Success in education is about making sure every child achieves their full potential.
Success means every school is a great school.
Success means we value great teachers.
And success means we recognise and celebrate diversity and difference.
I mentioned every school being a great school. I totally reject the notion that increasing competition between schools will lead to better outcomes for everyone.
National’s charter schools agenda will take resources away from public schools and channel them into private profit-making businesses.
Charter schools won’t have to employ registered teachers, won’t have to teach to our world-leading curriculum,and won’t be subject to the same accountability measures as public schools.
It’s ironic at a time when central government is imposing ever greater compliance burdens on public schools, and striving for ever greater degrees of  ‘standardisation’, it is using those very constraints as reasons for adopting a new model of schooling provision.
Hekia Parata -failing
I’ve sat through hours of select committee hearings on charter schools and nothing has convinced me that the greater flexibility and focus on results the government seeks can’t be achieved if we resource and support our existing schools better.
So let me be very clear about Labour’s position on charter schools. We see no need for them. We see no place for them. And any charter schools established under the current National government will have no future under Labour.
Our focus will be on ensuring that every school is a great school.
I mentioned that success means we value great teachers.
Research here and around the world clearly shows that quality teaching has the greatest in-school influence on student achievement.
Quality teaching is more likely to happen in a collaborative educational environment than a competitive one.
Schools should collaborate,teachers should be part of collaborative professional networks, and the sink-or-swim mentality of Tomorrow’s Schools needs to change.
One of the most destructive things this government could do to quality education in New Zealand is introduce so-called ‘performance pay’ based on a narrow range of student achievement measures.
If the alarm bells aren’t already ringing, they should be.
When the Treasury talks about setting “clear performance expectations” and in the same breath talks about increasingly “flexibility for principals to incentivize and reward effective practice by teachers” I automatically become suspicious.
Because what will those‘performance expectations’ involve?
You can bet your bottom dollar that National Standards will be part of the equation.
National Standards results are no measure of effective teaching.
National Standards narrow the focus of teaching, encouraging teachers and students to focus time and attention on getting students over an arbitrary hurdle, rather than supporting that child to achieve their full potential.
National Standards are being used to stereotype schools through league tables that don’t measure student progress, only the number of students jumping the hurdle at a particular time.
We need a much broader and more encompassing view of educational success than National Standards results.
Under Labour, we will work collaboratively with the education community to replace National Standards with something that is meaningful, broad, and that will work.
We recognise that parents want to know how their kids are going, but they’re just as interested in how their kids are doing in Art and PE as they are in reading and writing.
Parents also want to know how their kid’s social interactions are developing.
National standards tell them nothing about any of those things.
Parents are entitled to quality information,and by and large schools work really hard to make sure they get that.
But we also need to make sure that parents understand that league tables that aggregate a bunch of inconsistent data don’t provide any reliable basis for comparing the performance of schools.
And without a doubt, we need to recognise many of the out-of-school factors that influence student achievement.
When I asked Patrick Walsh at a select committee hearing recently what he thought the biggest thing the government could to lift student achievement was he replied implement a living wage. I nearly jumped for joy.
To quote another former Labour Prime Minister, Walter Nash:

Walter Nash
Men and women are not free to develop their own souls, to express their own individual personalities, to contribute according to their individual capacities to the world’s cultural inheritance – they are not free to do any of these things so long as the fact and fear of economic insecurity confronts them
Eliminating child poverty has to be a central plank of any plan to improve educational outcomes.
These are challenging and exciting times to be working in education.
Thank you for the enormous contribution you’re making to the country’s future prosperity.
I’m looking forward to working with you in the coming months to develop, refine, and articulate a positive alternative approach to education in New Zealand.

Chris's comments since his speech - take a read.