Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Standards Matter

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  • Ross Mason,

    Arts and Letters had a link to an The Atlantic article on "Teachers". Here

    It seems it has been picked up Here and Here

    I thought I had read another article that referenced the Atlantic article as well over the weekend in the Dom or Sunday Times but I can't find it .

    The Sunday Times has a column asking suitably "in the news" people about their life and who was the teacher that influenced their education, what would they change etc. It is fascinating that rarely does one see more than one or two teachers mentioned.

    Maybe it does appear these teachers are hard to come by.

    We have all been through the Ed ringer and some have seen their kids...er..children come through. In both cases we no doubt have seen the best and worst of the teachers let loose on our children. I suspect those whose parents took an interest seemed to come out better though.

    But one suspects we might be doing the education thing all wrong. The only place in history where civilisations gathered their young in such multitudes in one place was usually on the battlefield. Entrenched with their masters belief in what is right, hiding behind and dying to protect their flag and indoctrinated with comformality.

    That sounds so familiar.......

    Make teaching worthwhile.
    Make it worthwhile to teach.
    Make it a respectable profession again.
    Shrink the school/class size. Please!

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1588 posts Report Reply

  • NBH,

    There's another rather good post on the standards issue today at the new Education Directions blog:
    http://www.ed.co.nz/2010/02/08/national-standards-not-a-bad-idea/

    Wellington • Since Oct 2008 • 97 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Okay, but only as long as any time Tolley or Key says "Parents want" (parents tell us, parents think, etc) a pixie comes and kicks them in the bottom.

    I like this system.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22749 posts Report Reply

  • Luke Williamson,

    As an "involved" parent - i.e. I go to the parent-teacher evenings, go on school trips, check the homework, monitor the results, help set goals for the children, etc. - I honestly couldn't want for much more information than the schools give us here in Warkworth. There are reports home, parent-teacher interviews, website information, meetings to set out what NCEA means and how children can get the most out of it, and on and on. I can e-mail any of the teachers any time and they get back to me. They are even pro-active about identifying how our children are going at school. All the information is there if you want it from well-trained professionals. There will always be teachers who are better than other teachers but that is reality. The days of the truly awful teachers who I can remember from my secondary school days, I think, are over. They don't survive the new system.
    The Herald headline should have been "88% of parents don't even understand this new system!" That colours every other question they ask.

    Warkworth • Since Oct 2007 • 296 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    ... because it's not true.

    Huh? Care to explain Gio? There is a lot of scientific research on education and some quite lengthy degree courses in education. So I'm guessing you have a problem with defining education as a science?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Semmens,

    I am not sure what it is about that Atlantic article that has got the right wing teacher haters so excited. It's message is that the most important learning aid is the teacher and that failing teachers need to be identified and nurtured. That is hardly rocket science, and hardly controversial. If anything, it shows how far behind the USA compared to NZ. Here, a lot of what the Atlantic article treats as revelatory is pretty much mainstream received wisdom.

    The sewer seems to think the article provides a fatwa to conduct a jihad against the teaching profession, which it does not.

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2212 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart,

    Maybe it does appear these teachers are hard to come by.

    Or it could be a mix of things, e.g. school was a long time ago (it's not much over a decade since I was at primary school, and I only have vivid memories of a couple of the teachers), different teachers will have influence on different students, that sort of thing. I would probably only pick two or three teachers who had a strong influence on me, but I know that other teachers who I didn't know well/connect with well had strong positive influences on other people.

    It's a bit like asking people who they were friends with at school and declaring that because they only name one or two close friends all the other kids must have been unlikeable little snots.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    From the Education Directions blog noted above:

    National standards are good at providing a bench mark for assessing. They don’t teach, deal with home life problems, don’t train teachers, don’t make parents give a stuff about their children, don’t make parents read to their children or provide the money needed for the kids that can benefit from extra teaching. They don’t even ensure a good assessment and moderation system.

    So after a few more discussions the reason why I was so annoyed slapped me in the face like a spring-loaded mackerel. What is really annoying me is the attempt to encase a moderately useful idea in metaphoric silver and treat it like a high powered projectile.

    The sizzle of the sell won’t match the taste of the policy substance. Parents and the wider public will become more frustrated and cynical about politicians, education officials and education policy. Trust in institutions and those leading them will erode another little bit more. And it is needless.

    What that guy said. Really, please, everyone read it

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22749 posts Report Reply

  • Robert Urquhart,

    a spring-loaded mackerel

    Where do I get one of these? I'd like to buy in bulk, please.

    Christchurch • Since Mar 2009 • 161 posts Report Reply

  • Cecelia,

    no assistance from the MoE at all, despite being promised both a facilitator and an itinerant

    My sympathy. I was a secondary school teacher until recently and was appalled at the way RTLBs and others had to fight for funding for certain students and programmes.

    This is where money should be invested ...

    If a child is given a teacher aide, there is a second adult in the classroom. I noticed when I was relieving last year in year 8 that the teacher aide had become a trusted adult by all the children and the classroom was a friendly place to be in.

    Primary school classrooms are probably not so isolated but the current model of one adult in the classroom and perhaps 30 manipulative teenagers is surely not set in stone.

    Hibiscus Coast • Since Apr 2008 • 559 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Okay, but only as long as any time Tolley or Key says "Parents want" (parents tell us, parents think, etc) a pixie comes and kicks them in the bottom.

    Emma, I suspect you're entirely capable of applying the fuck-me boot of loving electoral correction without any help from the Faerie realm. Primary school children being used as set decoration, not so much.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • buzzy,

    "League tables based only on student achievement tell virtually nothing about how well schools are doing. The schools that come out top are those with the best intake, not those providing the best education."

    For many parents a league table will tell them *everything* about how well schools are doing. If you had two schools nearby and one was 20 places further up a league table, wouldn't you want your child going there? Better average grades mean smarter kids. Your child will spend time with other children who achieve higher marks; he'll be more likely to adopt their work ethic, have more useful discussions with them, be in classes with more effective teachers, and so on.

    It doesn't matter whether the school had a better intake. All that matters is the results. The prospective University isn't going to adjust your kid's marks because he went to some under-achieving hicksville school. He either makes the grade, or not.

    Wellington • Since Apr 2009 • 20 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    Nothing to say about this, then, Craig?

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • HORansome,

    It doesn't matter whether the school had a better intake. All that matters is the results. The prospective University isn't going to adjust your kid's marks because he went to some under-achieving hicksville school. He either makes the grade, or not.

    Don't assume that about universities at all. We often recognise that students from underachieving schools do just as well at Stage I as their privileged peers. Indeed, in some cases (I'm now arguing from anecdotal evidence), the students from the 'better schools' often perform worse at Stage I than their rivals because they think that, having been to a better school, they can coast at uni.

    Tāmaki Makaurau • Since Sep 2008 • 441 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    It doesn't matter whether the school had a better intake; all that matters is the results.

    And of course, those results are all obtained honestly:

    A more disturbing incident was related to me by a member of the First Fifteen. He'd intended to leave school after fifth form, but was persuaded to stay by assurances that he'd be "looked after". At the end of sixth form, he was accredited his university entrance qualifications without having to sit the exams. This was quite astonishing, he claimed, as he'd barely submitted any academic work during the whole year.

    ...

    If you had two schools nearby and one was 20 places further up a league table, wouldn't you want your child going there? Better average grades mean smarter kids.

    For many parents, there's a lot more to a school than grades. What if the higher-ranked school has an endemic bullying problem? Or the lower-ranked school has a better involvement with their community, a broader range of cultures, a sensational kapa haka group, is more open to dealing with the needs of disabled children?

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4650 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    The prospective University isn't going to adjust your kid's marks because he went to some under-achieving hicksville school.

    Depends. In America they do; admissions officers at US schools will look at an A from a Chicago inner city school a lot more favorably than an A from New Trier. That's because American schools are funky, of course, but if NZ schools go down that path the same sort of thing could happen.

    More importantly, here's my poor kid, let's stick him in with the rich kids, is a real zero sum game. It's not good public policy to encourage that sort of thing.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1452 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    Huh? Care to explain Gio? There is a lot of scientific research on education and some quite lengthy degree courses in education. So I'm guessing you have a problem with defining education as a science?

    The fact that you can study education doesn't make education a science. The results of those observations aren't easily repeatable and there is nothing like a laboratory setting, for starters. Secondly, what you measure and how you measure it is going to tell you some things about certain educational outcomes, but not about education itself. By which I mean that you can measure numeracy and literacy, and do so with some (not a lot) of consistency, but that is not what education is about. Being at school also means learning to be a social being and the skills you need to adjust in a number of different contexts and situations. You simply cannot measure any of that. But if you adopt the view that education is a science, you'll also invariably focus on the things you can measure and those things only, to the expense of all those other less tangible things (which, incidentally, are so valued by the new NZ curriculum).

    There is a lot more to a school than the average testing results of its students. There are values, exposure to different cultures and social groups, a sense of community and cooperation, learning extracurricular skills, acquiring a better sense of oneself. Very little of this can be measured, but as a parent you get a pretty good sense of it without too much difficulty really.

    (And yes, we could have sent our child to the school up the road which has better academic results at no trouble and zero extra cost. We chose to stay local because we believe that it's a better school and it would serve our child better. Besides the obvious point that those higher averages don't mean that our child would have better academic results there than he does here - that really shouldn't even need to be said.)

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Martin,

    is more open to dealing with the needs of disabled children?

    I have noticed that special needs children do tend to gather at schools where there is a sympathetic principal .
    I wonder if such groupings would have an effect on league... er, the schools performance.

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 187 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    I wonder if such groupings would have an effect on league... er, the schools performance.

    Stop wondering.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    Emma: I'm really really sorry to hear about the lack of support for your daughter. There are a few of us here that can relate to that experience. So unfair. But your situation was probably not helped by the government cutting funding for sign language teachers in schools at the end of last year. It seems that those left in Christchurch will now have to cover the whole country.

    The two topics of Russell's post today make my head hurt. The have been some good posts about standards on Red Alert lately. As Kelvin Davis, MP and former teacher, says, that keeping on measuring the pig does not make the pig fatter. And an experienced and usually good natured teacher explained to me recently just what it will mean for her :
    - that it measures a very narrow piece of knowledge that suits a very limited type of learning style
    -some of her children's parents will be very distressed to learn that their well-nurtured children are below or well below average at that particular task
    -the software for assessing and reporting has not yet developed and won't be available for several months
    -she and her colleagues are very angry at the patronising way this has been forced on them

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3196 posts Report Reply

  • B Jones,

    Indeed, in some cases (I'm now arguing from anecdotal evidence), the students from the 'better schools' often perform worse at Stage I than their rivals because they think that, having been to a better school, they can coast at uni.

    That's what I saw when I was at varsity. If I had a dollar for every kid I knew who started off doing law with a 400+ bursary grade from a top ranked hothouse school and ended up taking five years to get a BA in Classics, I'd have three or four dollars at least.

    Not so much the coasting, I think. Just adjusting to having the freedom to screw up after having been coached by their league-table conscious school. Also greater access to excessive drugs and alcohol but that's a whole other story.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 976 posts Report Reply

  • recordari,

    What that guy said. Really, please, everyone read it

    Read it. Was duly impressed.

    Our school in Sandringham has a reputation for handling 'special needs' better than other schools. The principal seems to know what is required, and gives teachers the support and resources to deliver it. It may be because being a lower decile school it gets more funding, but all the will and money in the world cannot substitute for poor teaching and bad governance.

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • Luke Williamson,

    Logically, you'd do better to put your "smart' child in the school that was achieving at a lower standard so that they topped everything, got the best grades, gained confidence, etc. etc. Friend of mine from school deliberately avoided being accredited for UE so that he would be in with "all the dummies" in the external exams at the end of the year and come out on top. Ah, the good old days of scaling . . .

    Warkworth • Since Oct 2007 • 296 posts Report Reply

  • Gordon Dryden,

    Good discussion. Thanks Russell, for ther summary.

    For those interested in Finland's system and results:

    1. Finland's Minister of Education has been visiting Namibia recently, and has an excellent summary in Namibia's New Era online magazine: http://www.newera.com.na/article.php?articleid=9411

    2. On average four-fifths of students' waking hours around the world are spent outside school classrooms. Finland provides some of the world's best before-school and after-school programs for all students, to cater for all learning styles, passions, talents and tastes (all, like their school system, free—including school meals).

    3. Finnish students have come out number one in the three international assessment tests published since 2000: in reading-literacy, science and maths. New Zealand rates number 3 in reading-literacy, fourth in science and ninth in maths.

    4. Finland, as with its neighbouring countries—Sweden, Norway and Denmark— also provides excellent free early-childhood development programs for a much higher percentage of pre-schoolers than New Zealand. (Videotaping at such Swedish centres for children from refugee families in 1990, I can still recall every four-year-old able to speak and read fluently in three languages: Swedish, English and the language of their parents . . . well before starting school.)

    4. I think everyone agrees that 80 to 85 per cent of New Zealand students achieve results near the top of the world in primary and secondary schooling. Our problem area has always been among the lower 15 to 20 per cent. Those occupying the lower rung are easily identifiable inside school, at home and in New Zealand horrifying prison statistics.

    5. So the challenge remains: how to solve the problems we have identified for years. And not fool ourselves that finding a new assessment system is, in fact, a solution to those problems.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2009 • 30 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic,

    What if the higher-ranked school has an endemic bullying problem?

    Like the one I went to in the mid-1990s. From my experience high-decile schools aren't always what they're cracked up to be.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5416 posts Report Reply

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