Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Moving from frustration to disgust

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  • Richard Aston,

    I agree that league tables are as useful as reading tea leaves when it comes to selecting a school for yourself or your kids.

    Gauging the real world quality of education is difficult enough for teachers let alone ministries and by the time it’s shuffled up to cabinet, well, it’s not education they are really talking about, it’s not even policy, its politics.

    My question is how do parents – and students - make informed choices about schools? What should we be doing, what would be meaningful rather than narrow?

    League tables and national standards are in my view a desperate – and clumsy- rear guard attempt to address educational quality. Today its National Standards, before it was the 3 Rs .

    As Sir Ken Robinson has so passionately pointed out these old school measurements come out of the industrial model of education, schools as producers of products. In my view education is way more than outputs (qualifications or skills even) it’s about outcomes, human beings able to think, to create, to communicate, to remember, to contribute. How do you measure all that?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 507 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Richard Aston,

    My question is how do parents – and students – make informed choices about schools? What should we be doing, what would be meaningful rather than narrow?

    Wrong question.

    And I think this gets to the heart of the whole National Party ideology.

    In the past we (the people) worked really really hard to make sure that every single damn school was great. Now I know that some schools started with disadvantages compared to those in rich areas since they couldn't hit up the parents to provide extra servers and free trips to Spain. But that's why the decile system exists, so that schools in poor communities get more government funding.

    From National's perspective this sucks. It means that a kid from a poor family has every chance that we can possibly provide to succeed. Let me just pause to say that is one of things that made me proud of our country.

    Or to convert it into National idealogy - that there is no advantage to being filthy stinking obscenely disgustingly rich. And everyone (in the National Party) knows that being rich should, as of right, give you advantages.

    You shouldn't have to make a choice about the school you send you children to, they should ALL be good.

    That is what National is trying to destroy - the idea that ALL kids get to go to a really good school.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3434 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    You shouldn’t have to make a choice about the school you send you children to, they should ALL be good.

    They should -- but that doesn't mean parents shouldn't choose the school they think is best for their child. Different schools have different cultures and strengths.

    That is, of course, the kind of thing you'll never find out by looking at a league table based on the dumbed-down measure of national standards.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 19019 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed, in reply to Russell Brown,

    That is, of course, the kind of thing you’ll never find out by looking at a league table based on the dumbed-down measure of national standards.

    If it's anything to go by, US education writer Diane Ravitch started out as one of the most ardent supporters of charter schools and No Child Left Behind (America's National Standards) - and later turned against them. And I've mentioned it before, but the teachers need to invoke the spectre of Creationism and the Texas State Board of Ed in the charter school debate.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 4403 posts Report Reply

  • Richard Aston, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    You shouldn’t have to make a choice about the school you send you children to, they should ALL be good.

    Yeah sure they should all be good, but they are also different and I think for many parents - and students - its the difference that matters.
    Asking all schools to be good implies there is one good - , good for me is around creativity and thinking but for someone else its about languages, displine, networks, arts, science the list goes on.
    To argue for one level of good for all schools - and tertiary - is the industrial model , one size fits all. It simply doesn't. Kura Kaupapa schools may all be , good, but crucially different.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 507 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Russell Brown,

    but that doesn’t mean parents shouldn’t choose the school they think is best for their child.

    Except most parents won't be able to afford to do that. Sure if you can make that choice great, but it can't be such a big difference that those that can't afford the choice are penalized.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3434 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Except most parents won’t be able to afford to do that. Sure if you can make that choice great, but it can’t be such a big difference that those that can’t afford the choice are penalized.

    Not sure what you mean by "afford". For our oldest's primary school, we had the choice of at least three nearby schools. The nearest was Grey Lynn primary, which we didn't choose because it was still in flux after a governance crisis, but probably would have done two or three years later. But Westmere, where we had personal connections -- and most importantly, which didn't freak out about our newly-diagnosed ASD kid -- was only an additional couple of kilometres away.

    On the other hand, had we been a bit posher and living in Herne Bay, we'd still have steered clear of Bayfield primary -- which had a rep for not being welcoming to special needs kids -- in favour of Westmere. These choices are really important for some of us.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 19019 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    Not quite sure what you mean by "afford".

    Time to get children to a school that's further away. Even more time if one child would be better off at one school, and another child would be better off at a different school.

    Or ability to afford a house in the relevant school zone, if you happen to live in a town or city where zoning is strictly enforced, for whatever reason.

    Manawatu City • Since Nov 2006 • 1326 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed,

    Bryce Edwards looks into the latest education debate, in particular the educational ‘white flight’ issue.

    Which reminds me of the American experience, where compulsory bussing was enacted after the Brown vs Topeka Board of Ed case. But such a well-intentioned policy had a fatal weakness: it applied only to America’s public schools, which led to affluent kids being enrolled in the private school system instead.

    So what’s the best way to re-integrate the education system? Hopefully it won’t have to involve armed troops as was the case with the Little Rock Nine in 1957.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 4403 posts Report Reply

  • lynne walker,

    Well yes I work in Decile 1 schools in a great area. I work in schools that are leading the way in e- learning, yes decile 1 schools. I also work with great kids and families. And some families are struggling. While John Hattie statistics about class size are interesting, even he states that socio/economic status has a huge impact on childrens' learning. It is huge and that seems to be forgotten about by the government.
    What makes me feel less great about NZ is the 'white flight' and the assumptions made about some others by the majority. There is a huge equity issue here. Ors funding, assistive tech funding etc- all stated to be way less in decile 1 schools. Why? I think it's because the schools are trying so hard to help the children and families meet their basic needs they don't have time for those extra.
    I hate to think we are have become a country of looking only after our immediate own and not seeing what we can learn and gain from diversity.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2011 • 15 posts Report Reply

  • Sean Handley,

    National Standards always appeared to be a way of getting League tables in by stealth, but now with a shonky mandate, who needs stealth? How about privatisation of our schools- let's call them "Charter schools". Why would NZ adopt these policies, when we rank higher in OECD statistics than the countries (UK, US...) where these policies failed? How are league tables or Nat. Stds. going to reduce the tail of under-achievers- which is where our problem is? Repeatedly measuring the pig isn't going to make it any fatter, we need to devote the resources to shortening the pigs tail.

    Nelson • Since Nov 2010 • 2 posts Report Reply

  • Graham Dunster,

    On the subject of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing there is a great article reviewing two rather interesting books - What Money Can’t Buy by Michael Sandel and ow Much is Enough? by Robert Skidelsky & Edward Skidelsky - http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/economics/rowan-williams-archbishop-canterbury-markets-sandel-skidelsky-marx-morality-aristotle-good-life/

    Auckland • Since Nov 2009 • 143 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Deborah,

    What she said :)

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3434 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    We are very lucky to have a centralised education system and a strongly unionised teacher workforce. Our education system survived Education Minister Merv Wellington and his insistence on schools flying the flag; we survived the worst of the neoliberal excesses of the 1990s when schools spent a lot of time and effort fighting each other in a battle for the survival of the fittest (Charmaine Poutney's book of the era describes some of the casualties); we survived (just) Lockwood Smith's Special Education 2000 (where the Daniels case originated from), and we survived bulk funding. National Standards, charter schools and league tables will die with this government, and then there will be a new set of issues to battle, once there is an education friendly government again - probably demands for more money for the sector, more pay for teachers and smaller class sizes. Hopefully, somewhere the status of teachers and teaching will improve, although I expect sections of the media and the public will keep attacking them, precisely because they are a strong and effective profession.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 2122 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark, in reply to Deborah,

    I agree. A number of parents in the particular part of Mangere I work in choose to send their children to primary and secondary schools in Onehunga, Mt Roskill, and Royal Oak. Conversely, we have two children attending our kindergarten who actually live out west. Both parents make the trek to Mangere because family live there, and that's where their older kids go to school. One of our dads lived in Panmure but because his older chn went to the school next door to us, and had made it very clear to him that that's where they wanted to go, he made a trip of 2 hours on public transport to get here. Happily, he's now living down the road (well, technically he's homeless but at least he has a roof over his head). And I know quite a number of the kids who go to the school next door come from Otahuhu and surrounds. Most people in the part of Mangere where I work make a conscious decision about where their children go to kindergarten or school based on a number of differing factors. .For some it's about how close, and therefore convenient it is - to their home, or to relatives' homes (who will look after the kids till someone can come and pick them up.) For others, it's a faith based decision - where is the closest Catholic school? Why, in Onehunga. For many of our families', it's about what their child wants. And for others, it's based on sending their child to a school that's not too brown. League tables, and decile status, have little or nothing to do with the choices that our families make. And I wonder if most of NZ understands that this is not an unusual community.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3123 posts Report Reply

  • Yamis,

    My 5 year olds reading level is orange. We have 10 weeks before she is supposed to be at green. My wife and I are doubling our evening reading sessions and lifting the intensity.

    What's interesting is we got her report last week and the things that she apparently couldn't do in terms of maths I quizzed her on. They were specific like count to 100 in 5's ie, 5, 10, 15, 20 etc and a few other similar sort of basic maths tasks. Of the 4 that she needed to work on according to the report she could do 2 of them straight away when I asked her and we practiced the other couple over about 10 minutes and she could do them by the time we finished (ONE ON ONE TEACHING AYE, SMALLER CLASS SIZES ALL THE WAY!!!).

    Obviously from the time a report is written to when it is printed and handed out a kid might learn to do something but are teachers really having to test this much?? I suppose it's roughly informative but they'd almost be better off sending us a worksheet once every month or two saying these are the types of things we are learning about in class, like counting backwards, adding double digit numbers, learning about Africa, painting animal pictures and discussing the theory of relativity and the portrayal of female characters in violent computer games, feel free to discuss them with your child, practice them or whatever...

    Since Nov 2006 • 879 posts Report Reply

  • Glenn Pearce, in reply to Russell Brown,

    These choices are really important for some of us.

    Your experience is somewhat out of date now though, those schools you mention with the addition of Pt Chev to the list have enrolment zones with very, very few out of zone enrolments.

    The net effect is you have no choice, except to move home and that's I guess where the "afford" comment comes from.

    Auckland • Since Feb 2007 • 352 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    The teachers at my 6 year old boy's school feel obliged to talk to his conformity to National Standards, but breath a big sigh of relief when I appear disinterested in that, and want to hear their own opinions on what his educational needs are. These are far more nuanced, and also much more interactive with me and my wife. I feel it's important to make teachers feel that you trust them as professionals, praise their achievements, come to agreement on goals moving forward, and ask them what you can do to assist.

    I had a little chat with the principal before home-time last week, and it was the first time I've heard him genuinely embittered, being a character that just oozes positivity at all times normally. But he looked on the bright side, that the human beings who are responsible for education in the schools have managed to make every stupid initiative work out in the long run, that education works despite the politics. It was almost like a twist on Life finds a way in Jurassic Park to Teachers and parents find a way. The bitterness was that it was working that way again, when it would be nice if for once for once the government of the day actually took the advice of the professionals doing the job.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8659 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Barker,

    Can I tell my story and that of my school. I became a teacher in 2001. Three years training. $15 debt. Started on $38k. Worked 50 hours a week usually, weekends, nights, so called holidays. Got into Environmental Education. Worked harder and longer to help my school, my kids, my community. Won an award for it (well third prize actually) from the ARC. Can honestly say I was a much loved and well respected teacher. Wanted to do more. Applied to be a Principal in a far North School, decile 1, maori, rural. I wanted to make a difference to those kids, that school, that community, NZ. I felt that I could improve things. I have, mostly. Our school is wonderful. We are loved and supported by our community. We win stuff, problem solving, rugby, speech contests, netball. We have marvelous school productions and the local hall is sold out and it is the community's biggest night of the year, Our art exhibitions are amazing. Pet day is a blast from the past, but a great family and community day. Achievement grows. We get very good ERO reports. National Standards/League tables - how do you measure this?

    New Zealand • Since Jun 2012 • 4 posts Report Reply

  • Kracklite,

    And meanwhile a tumbleweed blows through David Shearer’s office.

    I once thought that a sack of potatoes would be better than Phil Goff, but then the Labour caucus actually elected a sack of potatoes as his replacement and it turned out to be no better at all.

    The Library of Babel • Since Nov 2007 • 980 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah, in reply to Paul Barker,

    Great to hear about your school and your teaching career, Paul. And welcome!

    Manawatu City • Since Nov 2006 • 1326 posts Report Reply

  • tim kong,

    Much to consider on this issue, not least the over-arching question that is: "What problem is it exactly that all of this government's education policies are trying to fix?"

    I'm still not convinced we've got enough of an education issue in our educational system to warrant the absolute overhaul of core parts that Key and co seem to believe is necessary.

    Yes - we have bad schools. And yes we have poor teachers. But we do have existing processes to identify/support/assist/remove them from the system.

    Does this reform mean these processes are broken?


    I also struggle not to grind my teeth, when they tag on to any conversation about education policy that comes out of the govt/the Ministry that the policies are all about "raising achievement for all learners through quality teaching"

    It's said as if those in the education sector are actively working to lower achievement and to degrade the quality of teaching.

    We know the issues, we sit and work with them every day... just let us do our jobs, instead of making us justify our jobs and roles with increasingly inane and nonsensical amounts of paperwork.

    To wit - these league tables that are to be generated by some poor bugger inside the MoE who's sitting through 2500 paper-based charters, trying to align a big pile of words with some sort of quantifiably valid measure - and then turn it into an Excel table.

    These tables are we presume based on National Standards data. I'm assuming they are also having to match up with the other set of standards that were developed for Maori-medium schools.

    One might almost think the cunning MoE folk, planned this cockup of papershuffling, so they could build and present an online database for collecting data, that all schools must use to input their data - that could be hosted as schools are getting UFB, as part of a benevolent government initiative, that will "raise teaching and learning outcomes" and oh look, here's $400million dollars to build a Network for Learning - that can deliver that database easily to all schools, and we can combine that with e-Asttle to assess all students...

    and voila - instant on- always-on-Nationalised Testing.

    And we can save money on teacher quality coz any muggins can punch a keypad, and we can save money on teacher quantity, coz we've got a great deal with Microsoft to give everyone a Surface tablet.

    cue Pink Floyd.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 146 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    Paul, Yamis, Jackie, Deborah, Ben- and others: thanks so much for your comments, wisdom, and insights. I’m feeling a little humbled- and learning a lot! :-)
    (Not feeling any better about this educational thuggery- but better about humankind.)

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 1582 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Mason,

    I started the PC up as I was thinking about what makes a good school. Read the latest posts and Ben has hit what I was thinking spot on. His comment about the teachers and wifey and him throwing the NS out the door and - shock horror- concentrating on the child.
    And:

    But he looked on the bright side, that the human beings who are responsible for education in the schools have managed to make every stupid initiative work out in the long run, that education works despite the politics.

    Paul then telling us about what makes a school a community and the community part of the school.

    Those two posts tell me that there is quality out there in the classes. Please Mr Key, help us keep the best, attract the best and importantly, trust the community to help our kids achieve. They will.

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1502 posts Report Reply

  • Yamis,

    Nice post tim.

    Our teenagers rank VERY highly in the OECD and also our NCEA pass rates nationally have been creeping up year on year since they were brought in and yet there's this idea that things are broken.

    What follows is a bit of a rant about sample sizes (in my secondary school because that's what I know, although this league tables thing is more aimed at primary schools right?) and the risk of the data being used to 'track' schools by parents, media, ministry ...

    At my school our pass rates vary each year because of the smaller sample size (and we are a BIG secondary school) depending on that particular cohort so it could vary ENORMOUSLY at smaller schools. We might have a year where the Level 2 pass rate is 55% and the next year it's 62% or whatever and the following year it is 56%. I would hate to think that people look at that and say "the school is no good", or "that school is going backwards" or whatever and take their kids out, or don't enrol their kids there based on something as stupid as a (downward) fluctuating number.

    If you have a weaker year level, people see those stats, over-react or don't understand them then you could well end up screwing schools where their roll drops, a nearby schools rises and this continues year after year so one school can start cherry picking its kids...

    Even my classes can vary a lot each year. One year I might get a class with 15 seriously on to it students where they will do real well regardless of how competent I am, and the next year in the equivalent class I have 4 smarties. I know that my results might be somewhat lower despite the fact that you like to think you're a more on to it, better resourced teacher each year... You get some classes where you think "if I can get those 8 kids out of 25 to pass this assessment I'll have done bloody well", then other years where you know that getting 8 to pass would be a diabolical result.

    On primary schools though, I'd hate for people to be looking at any stats from small sample groups (relatively speaking) and drawing immediate assumptions.

    They should almost come with a "margin of error +/- 1,000,000%".

    Since Nov 2006 • 879 posts Report Reply

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