Monday, 5 September 2016

My little rant about what is wrong with the current direction of education policy and what needs to be done.

I've been privileged in the last few months to be a Twitter commentator for Waatea 5th Estate, a current events talk show on Face TV (Sky Channel 83) also live broadcast over the web via The Daily Blog.  The show is hosted by either Martin Bradbury, Willie Jackson or Claudia Hauiti and covers the big issues of the day with a variety of guests from the various political parties, unions or relevant interest groups (e.g. Auckland City Council, Te Puea Marae, Salvation Army, etc.)

Friday night was the last show for 2016, but the discussion continued long after in response to some of the comments and then tweets by Marama Fox, co-leader of the Máori Party.  This was my response to Marama which sparked another conversation and then this post:

It was then that @mokai77 asked me to tell them more about what I am studying... and this wee rant happened...

I have to tell you that once I get started it's hard to stop me.

Essentially I am doing my Masters of Education this year.  It isn't easy.  Study is hard.  Most other people with my level of teaching experience tend to go the Leadership route of Masters, but I decided to study Global Education Policy as I am very dissatisfied with where New Zealand education policy has been heading since 2008's election night.  I greatly fear for the viability of our quality public education system and I honestly believe that there will be very little left of the quality and public part of our education system by the 2017 election and even less if National gets a fourth term in government. 

Anyhow, I figure if I dislike the direction so much I need to attempt to make myself more desirable as a person to help fix the education system once we enact our 2017 election plan to #ChangeTheGovt.

I was at high school as a student when Tomorrow's Schools came into being (showing my age here), and fees to go to University were put in place in either the second to last or last year of me being at high school, so I ended up with a lovely big student loan, or though possibly not as big as others due to not needing it in my first year or to finish my last two papers (I took two years to finish my fourth year of my Bachelor of Education because I was working in schools teaching).

My first year of teaching as a newly qualified teacher was in 1996, so I lived the 'excitement' of bulk funding and a new Curriculum document every year.  I lived Labour coming into power in 1999 and sweeping away bulk funding and a few other undesirable aspects of education policy under National.

The 2000s to me were wonderful years to be a teacher.  Lots of professional development and the use of ICT in education was really taking off.  I had the freedom to teach pretty much what I wanted as long as I could fit it in with the achievement objectives of the curriculum and I met the needs of my learners.  I knew my learners well.  I assessed them, I talked to them, we worked side by side, and many of my classes were well oiled machines in the sense that they loved learning and took every opportunity offered.  We had bright colourful rooms full of art and projects and charts they had made.

I cried for New Zealand, education and my career on election night 2008.  I had spent two years getting a Graduate Diploma in Information Technology in Education (GDITE) with the goal of becoming an ICT Cluster facilitator.  I knew that dream was dead in the water as soon as National got in; it didn't take them long to say that 2009 was the last year for all the programmes Labour had put into action to develop teacher confidence in ICT as well as literacy and numeracy to run, because they wanted to put all that professional development money into National Standards.

In the nearly eight years since that night every prediction Paul Gaulter, National Secretary for NZEI, made has come to pass for education in some form or another, leading me to do what I am doing this year.

One of my papers focuses on the New Zealand education reform experience since 1984 under the neo-liberal theory of policy.  Every lecture and reading has been reading my history of life.  Most of it I remembered with reasonable clarity; some bits were clarifying; and a few bits were shedding light on something I hadn't realised.

For example, I didn't know that the international tests that rank countries on education performance started in the mid 1990s; that National had been planning a form of national testing for primary students in the 1990s (thank goodness Labour won in 1999); and how even the Clark government was unintentionally edging us even closer to National Standards than what we thought during the 2000s.

So let me be blunt about what I do not like about our education policy and where it is going:
  • I oppose Charter Schools - overseas they have been shown to often have financial mismanagement, had money sucked out in profits, often hire unqualified 'teachers', use Teach First, their 'teachers' tend to teach to a script, high level of students expelled, unrealistic discipline, some have shut unexpectedly leaving students without a school to go to, achievement is no better than local public schools, some schools have 'fiddled the books' on their achievement statistics... just not good at all.
  • National Standards have to go!!  They do not lift achievement.  They label children.  Every
    country which has introduced a form of national testing has gone down the international rankings.  The US and UK have had their system for years before we did and were so far below us you really had to wonder why our politicians insisted on chasing them downwards.  In the ten years or so Australia has had Naplan, their rankings have plummeted and their students are becoming more and more disengaged in education.
  • League tables sprang up in our newspapers as a result of National Standards.  Make them illegal.
  • Global funding is just bulk funding in drag.  It will, just like it did in the 1990s, result in Boards of Trustees being pitted against principals and principals pitted against staff.  Experienced teachers, like myself, will be deemed to expensive to hire, and to save money less experienced teachers will be hired instead of teachers like me.  Under this scheme there will be no minimum staffing ratio, so class sizes will rise, and that is not good for students or teachers and will make parents most unhappy.
  • Communities of Learning aka Communities of Schools is just the IES pig with lip stick and blusher.  Any changes to it this year merely add eye shadow and mascara to the pig.  I don't agree with how they have been set up because the whole manner of the set up makes it ripe to fail.  The government has cherry picked the ideas of Michael Fullan and then come up with an idea ignoring two key ingredients: relationships and trust.  To get these going requires time which this format does not have.  The idea of executive principals and expert teachers leaves me cold.  Personally, I believe, any person who takes on these roles is doubling their workload for not much money at all.
  • Initial teacher training programmes like the 8 week intensive Teach First NZ (University of Auckland) before being given your very own class and the one year Masters of Teaching and Learning (University of Waikato) displease me as much as allowing an untrained unregistered 'teacher' to teach.  This devalues the profession, my BEd and the Masters I am currently doing.  It is the complete opposite of Finland which sees teacher trainees in at least five years of study before they become teachers - that is how much the teaching profession is valued in Finland.
  • The fact that so many 'teachers' in ECE are not actually teachers because they are not trained with a teaching qualification or are registered.  This is just a way of making sure that they cut costs on ECE by putting untrained staff in looking after children while charging the parents heaps as well.  We have the most amazing early childhood curriculum that untrained people are at a disadvantage because they have not had the training in that curriculum.
  • Our tertiary institutions are starved of funding.  They are cutting courses left, right and centre, and staff are running around trying to keep their own jobs intact.  The voice of the academic is cut down and discredited by members of our government whenever they do their job and speak out about bad policy or dirty water or how earthquakes work.  Research commissioned by various Ministries is shelved and embargoed if it doesn't meet the brief the Minister has laid down.  This isn't the hallmark of an open democracy.
  • There are concepts in the Education Act that have a lot of implications such as when children will start their primary schooling; allowing a principal to be a principal of more than one school; one BOT covering several schools; how PaCT will be used; performance pay taking a step closer...
  • There is a lack of quality professional development in everything for all schools, especially in the arts, science, technology, social sciences...  And now with the advent of COLs, if you are not in a COL then your opportunity for PLD is even more limited.  ECE teachers are even more disadvantaged when it comes to PLD.
  • Workload has made the job as a teacher too big.  Teachers are now feeling like they are data collectors.  Teachers are trying to cling onto the joy of working with students, developing the relationships and fostering a love of learning.  But the grind of too much assessment, paperwork that doesn't directly relate to learning and onerous planning to justify their classroom programmes on top of far too many meetings takes its toll on a teacher's mental and physical health as well as their relationships with their family and friends.  The rate of mental distress in the teaching sector is rising every year as a result and many are looking for a way out.  Currently, being on study, I am the healthiest I have been in years, only just getting my first cold for the year towards the end of August, when I would have normally been on my fourth or fifth cold and probably on a second lot of antibiotics by now if I was full time teaching.
  • Support staff are the backbone of every school, and they are the forgotten education workers when it comes to the government.  They are not paid in the holidays as they are only paid for the hours they do each week.  For most, their maximum hours will be 25-30 hours, so it isn't really a full time job.  Many only work three hours a day... so 15 hours a week.... not much when the hourly rate is so poor and the majority are on a rate below the living wage.  There is often no PLD for support staff, no career track, and little job security because when the school budget gets tight often it is support staff losing hours or their position all together to make up the difference.
  • Special Education funding needs to be upped.  Too many kids are missing out and a report released today shows (again) that students are being denied the right to their education due to a lack of funding, support staff, teacher education and opportunity to attend their school of choice.
So what needs to be done?
  • First and foremost a change of government with a new policy direction is needed urgently.
  • Get rid of National Standards and stop the obsessive testing regimes - let teachers teach.  They will still assess, but it will be to inform them, not to keep some bean counter at the MOE ticking a box.
  • Get rid of Charter Schools and redirect the money to our schools.  Instead, start up some kura kaupapa and resource them properly and give the founding staff the ability to be innovative, just like the new state schools like Rototuna Junior High School and Hobsonville Secondary School have been allowed to do.
  • Let's work towards that goal of having 100% of ECE teachers trained and registered.
  • Let's not make PLD for teachers a contestable service - let's have knowledgeable and experienced advisors of curriculum available to be in schools and run courses that teachers need to be the best they can be.
  • Let's up the wages of Support Staff to the living wage as the starting rate, provide job security and a career pathway for them.  These people are often working with our most vulnerable students who need the security Support Staff provide.  Our office staff are the welcoming committee of our school, so they should be valued as such.
  • Improve the Special Education funding pool and make accessing it easier and more transparent for the children who need it.
  • Give education back to teachers.  You want innovation, flexibility and inclusion... well politicians won't deliver that.  The other week I went to the #edchatNZ Conference at Rototuna Junior High School in Hamilton and I came away convinced that if you put education in the hands of those people who attended it would be a revolution.  Finland doesn't have politicians messing with their education system.  They trust their principals and teachers to get on with the job, and they are top of the pops when it comes to education rankings.
  • For a more in depth look at how I think we can make the education system better, go to this post I did in 2013 that still stacks up today.
While we continue down the current track we are failing our students.  Our politicians are failing us as educators and parents by following this current policy.  Our education policy really just fails to meet the standard it really should be.

1 comment:

  1. Hear Hear as long as we have a government who consider education a commodity that adds to your value as a person then this will continue. From 1983 or so when they first mooted parents having to pay for departmental buses to transport children I predicted a serious run down of our education system. User pays alright. If you want anything but "common core aka Reading, Writing and maths" then you will have to pay for it. For most children the local school and its teachers provided they were trained properly would be fine.Yes we will all test for student need informing our practice all good teachers always did and made use of their findings to help individuals by using different ways to teach a topic or a concept. PLD needs to fit the school and its teachers probably as much as the results you see in NS. CoLs are likely to result in school closures as local boards dare I call them local "Education Boards" struggle to fund the costs of running schools.Some of the ideas in the Global funding discussions do not make sense. My school is in a rural location but is Decile 2E because the parents incomes are so low - they work on farms or in low wage jobs, live on benefits and are not the farm owners. These are just people for whom the current economic system does not work. You don't have to be serial unemployed or have parents habitually in goal in NZ to be living below the poverty line. Schools need to be funded more realistically. As a sole charge rural principal with an administration load which includes every thing a fully released principal from a larger school has to complete gets officially 7.5 hours a week for those tasks compared with my colleagues in bigger schools who work on the administration full time. My numbers may be small to collect but the number of forms and compliance is exactly the same. Insufficient funding of smaller schools is an issue and closing them is not the answer. Rural schools are needed as are small schools we give a option of a more family orientated atmosphere which some students are more suited to.Our goal in education as well as excellence should be equity as opposed to equal opportunity it would change things for all children not just the ones from the have families.