Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The destruction of public education - and for what? Time to make a stand!

Teachers and principals need to find their collective voice and fight back against the current destruction of the public education system - a system  once based on the centrality of the provision of the common good.

At the New Zealand Primary Principals Federation's Annual meeting the warnings about the negative future scenarios  couldn't have been made more clear.. 

One after the other  highly respected international educators made it very clear - do not follow the failed reforms that have been been imposed in their countries as part of a neo-liberal 'market forces' agenda/ideology.

Unfortunately since the introduction of Tomorrows Schools we are well on the way to making the
same mistakes. 

 Tomorrows Schools, introduced by the then Labour Government, held out a promise of  democratic neighborhood schools. Schools  were to be freed from the dead hand of central bureaucracy  and in the case of primary schools, local Education Boards. Schools were to become 'self managing'.

They were exciting times .  Unfortunately in the excitement voices  warning of the consequences of such devolution ,were sadly ignored .

Behind the changes were the neo- liberal beliefs  of the need for less state regulation, the need to privatize public services and belief in  private enterprise  to solve all problems.    Neo-liberalism is based on a belief that unrestricted competition, driven by self interest, leads to innovation and  that the wealth created in the process will 'trickle down' enhancing the welfare of all. Changes were premised on the need for
competition and choice.

 A quote from the NZPPF Conference from the president

First they manufacture the ‘crisis’ ‘in New Zealand the ‘one in five failing’ and  ...’students are leaving school and can’t read, write or do maths’. Once the crisis gets public support then in comes the political solution.
The government chooses to ignore this?

 The ‘crisis’  is framed as teachers not doing their job properly, teachers unions protecting them, not being accountable and not having proper standards. Then in come the standards in literacy and numeracy and suddenly we have a standardized measure of a schools ‘performance’.

Next in line are privatised charter schools to solve the problem – and to make a profit. '

It is now now the way things are, neo-liberalisn has been normalised, but increasingly it is being found wanting. 

While a few have got richer the gap between rich and poor has widened along with  the social problems that result from such inequality. New Zealand is becoming a divided society - private need (or greed) has replaced a concern for the common good. The one in five failing can be identified by their post codes!

Sooner or later people must see that things need to change if all citizen are to  feel part of ,and
The inequality gap
are able to contribute to, the the development of a more caring and creative society. Private enterprise values are destructive, not only for those who have difficulty  finding having enough to live on ( and a house to live in), but also the sustainability of our natural environment.

Schools have been caught up in these changes and need to be seen as fighting for a fairer and more equitable society.

As part of a neo-liberal competitive society based on choice schools needed to be able to be compared.  In other counties  the data available to parents  to assist them in making this choice is provided through national or state standardized testing and published league tables. In New Zealand the data for choice is provided by published school results on National Standards and NCEA level 2 achievement targets.  National Standard  and NCEA are both  open to 'gaming'.

National Standards have now become the default curriculum in our schools

 As schools focus on achieving results in National Standards other equally important  areas of
Education is more than data
the curriculum are neglected.. National testing , as destructive as it has been shown, at least does not require the time, energy and documentation required by National Standards.

Schools  are now infected with a audit and surveillance culture that ironically limits the very initiative, enterprise and creativity that the neo-liberal ideology promised.

Freed from earlier bureaucratic oversight by Tomorrows Schools  schools now find them in a restricting compliance environment. Out of the frying pan into the fire!! Visits by the Education Review Office ensure schools follow Ministry directives and targets.

The original devolution of schools to provide initiative and flexibility has evolved into situations whee schools do their best to implement the ever changing directives/targets of the Ministry and
Mrs Tolley or Paratas - all the same
the Minister.  This has created what one writer has called 'a corrosion of character' as schools try to interpret what it is the Minister wants. Such an environment is destructive to creativity and enterprise. 'The trouble with targets ( in any area ) is not the ones you achieve but the ones you don't see because you weren't looking'.

Talking to those in teaching and principal postilions there is a growing level of unhealthy stress in our schools.

As the competitive ideology is being found to be counter productive to  sharing of ideas between school ( once a feature before Tomorrows Schools) the Minister  has introduced her Communities of Schools (CoS)

As currently  structured they are more 'communities of compliance or control' 

It seems if schools don't  join such a community they with miss out on professional development and those that do join can only get professional development from Ministry 'approved' providers; 'Free
We have all the answers
market Stalinism' at best.

Now we have the Minister pushing the idea of on line learning . In America, the home of such ideas,the provision of private enterprise on line learning, along with charter schools, have not realized their potential. a

When Tomorrows Schools was introduced the phrase heard was 'good people poor system' - it seems little  has changed? 

Patronizing but supportive bureaucrats have been replaced by out of touch technocrats that few trust.

The Minister on a rent Q &A  TV programme is proud of the 'real achievement gains made' based on her limited achievement targets limited to literacy and numeracy standards.  This misplaced emphasis on her narrow standards mean that many students do not have the opportunity to develop their unique talents and gifts. Evidently there are now new standards for years 9 and 10 -
ERO on target hunt
the madness goes on.

 The Minister now has the data ( based on here limited National Standards)  to 'measure how much learning a students gets in a year' and  believes for those that are not achieving  to 'catch up' so as to 'stop their learning debt compounding'. The technocrats have developed a set of criteria to identify failing children - bur one wonders what about the students who are having learning problems that the criteria might exclude. This obvious targeting of  parents and their children could have negative consequences. The data she talks of  sounds impressive but in reality is limited  shallow and easily manipulated.

We have an 'opportunity gap' not an achievement gap'.

This targeting misses the point. Students from the lower socio- economic groups do not suffer from an'achievement gap' but more an 'opportunity gap' and to  for those students to archive  their unique talents they need a rich stimulating and personalized  curriculum the very curriculum the emphasis on standards and targeting makes difficult.

Schools kill imagination
A quote from Einstein comes to mind: 'If you judge a fish ability its ability to climb trees it will live its whole life believing it is stupid'

The Minister  seems to thing that here targeting with recognize that children are unique  but the results of her policies all lead to the very standardization that Tomorrows Schools was supposed to get rid of.There was more potential for creativity,diversity and collaboration in the decades before Tomorrows Schools.

Children's lack of achievement has a lot to do before the students enter the school gate.

The problems that beset our school have a lot to do with the difficult home circumstances of students and parents. The government , however, likes to ignore this situation , a situation created by their own neo-liberal polices and would rather place the blame of teachers and schools.
The NZ Curriclum

The only chance for creativity and diversity to be integral to education depend on a change of government and the  full implementation of the  creativity underpinning the New Zealand Curriculum.

MLEs, ILEs, and now FLEs.

The development of Modern Learning Environment ( MLEs) or  Innovative Learning Environment (ILEs) or now Flexible Learning Environment provide a challenging opportunity to develop rich learning environments. They, however, must be more than the provisions of buildings and  modern information technology.

 To be successful such environments need a creative rich curriculum - one that 're-frames literacy and numeracy in the service of authentic inquiry. If  this done they have the potential to become true learning communities of artists and scientists.

Escape the standards box
A real change of direction is needed.

The current government is undermining our schools ability to ensure all students leave school with positive learning identities and their unique talents and gifts identified.

 Schools cannot transform themselves to create the conditions for all students to thrive in the future when they are distracted by  culture of surveillance and compliance.

Are principals and teachers up to the challenge?

Time to escape standardized education

from leading and learning

No comments: