Category Archives: education in the news
In a fit of edugeekery I spent yesterday evening listening to Mike Feinburg, the founder of a prominent American charter school KIPP (Knowledge is Power Programme). Feinburg was bought all the way out to New Zealand by the Roberston foundation, a charitable foundation set up by American hedge fund manager Julian Robertson.
Despite being a strong supporter of public schooling and pretty much in opposition to just about everything that the Robertson foundation has to say about education I was intrigued. I first came across KIPP when I was reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers. The central thesis of Outliers is from a study by Ericsson that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practising a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours.
That idea of 10,000 hours to become proficient at a task is something that undoubtedly drives KIPPs pedagogy . Teachers know that kids do not come to school at age 5 as a blank slate. Early childhood experiences and out of school extra curricula activities can set children up for success in life and conversely failure too. KIPP seeks to redress this discrepancy by lengthening the school day and year to give kids from low-income backgrounds the trips, the orchestra practice that is common in middle class homes and helps unlock doors to success. It’s what sociologists call cultural capital.
Feinburg is obviously a fan of Malcom Gladwell’s work because I heard him reference the concept of a Tipping Point from Gladwell’s first book a couple of times during his speech. Gladwell argues that small decisions can actually have huge impact on society and enable new ideas to spread like a virus. Which is why Feinburg himself admits that actually charter schools aren’t the silver bullet or the demon that either side of the debate claims them to be.
Feinburg argues that by opening up even 10% of the schooling to charters the system will start to improve. It is through providing families, particularly low-income ones, with choice from that forces public schools to lift their game if they want to keep students and quality teachers. Which is interesting because that is what we have in the New Zealand educational system.
In another fit of educational geekery I went to the Education counts website and found out that 85% of New Zealand students attend public schools, a further 11% attend integrated schools (Catholic, Kura, Montessori etc.) that teach the New Zealand curriculum but have special character and the remainder are in private schools. However as Feinburg points out the ability to set the school year, hire unregistered teachers and teacher salaries are still decisions that are out of the control of each school which he argues is integral to KIPP’s ability to get results.
Which is really the crux of current educational policy reform in New Zealand, teacher pay and conditions. On one hand, you have those arguing that the current pay system is cumbersome and puts off young-go getters like Feinburg from getting into teaching and setting up new schools. While on the other, are the group that support traditional collective bargaining rights because so long as the money is good enough for money not to be an issue, then they are happy. I’m going to out on a limb and say most teachers in New Zealand probably fall into the second camp.
However from what I saw last night educational policy debate is becoming increasingly polarized and for the most part not being driven by the people who are charged with making changes work for kids, teachers. Because sitting at that room I was depressed how disinterested the audience seemed in what was going on in KIPPs classroom.
What makes good teaching and learning at KIPP schools?
I don’t think many in the audience really cared even if the speaker himself could clearly articulate those goals.
What’s more it seemed as if large section of the audience last night simply didn’t like teachers and in particular public school teachers. Perhaps they believe that New Zealand teachers don’t arrive at 7 school and leave at 5. Perhaps it is because most of the New Zealand teaching workforce opposes National Standards and performance-based pay because we want to protect our easy ride at the expense of our students’ future
Like most educators what I reject is this notion of imposing economic models into schooling is good for kids’ education. Having taught in a junior classroom during placement last year I know that our kids come to school with this joy for learning and natural enthusiasm yet even by the middle years kids are already hating school.
While failure is an obvious sign of disengagement from school so too is the question ’is that on the test?’ By boiling learning down to a series of skills to be passed on a test we run the risk of disengaging students. What use is it teaching kids to read if they hate reading due to spending hours on end filling out worksheets? I’m not sure that charter schools to the problems that are associated with industrial schooling. If anything, it seems to be literally more of the same.
But perhaps what made me feel most uncomfortable was that although it was never explicitly said, this meeting was talking about Maori and Pasifika kids education. Yet when I looked around there didn’t seem to be many Maori or Pasifika faces in the audience. If we were to learn anything from our recent history, you’d think it would be that we need to engage with our communities to find out what they need before we rush into fix problems but apparently we missed that particular NCEA credit.
Child poverty has been highly topical in New Zealand for the last few weeks. One of my reading groups watched a news report on the differences in school lunches and then this statement pops up. I still have another reading session to get through yet I know that there is some rich learning that will come up as a result of this conversation.
Right lesson plan out the window. It’s 20 minutes until lunch, let’s go.
The class packs up and then I tell them to put their lunch on the table. The student records the results of the experiment, we are doing real-world maths. There are conversations about our class versus the classes featured in the item. We then blog about our experiment and tweet the reporter. Already our conversation is spilling out beyond the confines of our classroom.
Yet there is a nagging feeling that these moments might be part of my problem. I haven’t covered nearly as much as I hoped to this term as the class and I often meander off the path laid down in my planning. I wonder if I am forever going to be a teacher that starts off with plans but never entirely keeps to them.
Yes the learning intention might have been to find two ways that an article relates to our topic (in this case sustainability) but the class wanted to explore and experiment. We wanted to communicate our findings, we wanted to know why a bottle of fizzy drink is so much cheaper than milk. We’ve managed to meander through maths, science, health and social science in the space of 20 minutes when we should have been concentrating on a reading strategy.
Technically we were all off-task but there was rich learning for all.
For my own part this experience started conversations with some students as a result of the survey. Conversations that just wouldn’t happened if the student hadn’t made the suggestion ‘lets do the experiment in our class.’
As classroom programmes become forever crowded with the must-dos we should always leave time for the can-dos that pop out of nowhere.
Imagine, if you will, a national rugby competition.
No one is exactly sure what the exact height and location of the goalpost is. Some coaches get their rulers out and make sure that the goal posts 5.6 meters apart with a crossbar set at 3 meters in height and ensure there are clear line markings. Others use yard rulers and a few more just pace out the distances.
A new rule is put in place that the competition must stop every 20 minutes so that each player in the team can kick the ball from the 10 metre line before play can resume. The winning team is judged on the percentage of players who can kick the ball over the cross-bar.
Some clubs in this competition are fielding teams full of professional players who have been playing for years who come with sponsorship to buy specialist kicking coaches and physio for players who are injured. There are other clubs which have entire teams that have never played rugby before joining the club as well as a number of players carrying injuries and a few more in wheelchairs.
Most coaches will keep the team practising all aspects of the game knowing that although ability to kick goals can win matches there is more to rugby than this one skill. Other coaches are already abandoning tackling, scrum and line out practice to ensure everyone on the team can kick the ball between the goalposts. Full games of rugby become few and far between as clubs devote more and more resources to ensuring each and every player on the team can kick the ball between the goalposts.
And that is the reason that teachers up and down the country are up throwing their hands up in despair at the publishing of league tables this weekend.
No teachers don’t detest league tables because we are trying to hide data that shows how lazy and incompetent we are from the general public. As I’ve shown in my rugby analogy the data that our national newspapers are using to construct these league tables is so poorly calibrated as to make the tables nonsensical.
To be clear, New Zealand primary teachers don’t have freedom to do whatever they please. As a classroom teacher I am required by my school to regularly assess students through observations, projects and formal tests. My students all have learning portfolios which are full of standardized and non standardized tests as well as work samples and the portfolios are sent home once a term. As a professional teacher I have regular performance appraisals and classroom observations while my school also has regular visits from the Education Review Office as an outside check on our school.
That’s all well and good but shouldn’t parents have a right to know how ‘well’ their local schools are doing so they can make the best choice for their kid?
I have totally revolutionary idea.
Rather than spend millions on giving grades to schools and inevitably, to individual teachers, so that parents can make the best choice of school the government should make it a goal to ensure that every child, no matter where they live and how wealthy their parents are, should be able to rock up to their nearest school and receive an excellent education.
In fact that was goal of our education system nearly 80 years ago. And according to educational research, an educational system which values equity, namely making every school a good school, is actually good policy too. National standards and the accompanying league tables are at best, a distraction, at worst, potentially highly destructive to that principle of equity.
I worry that as the standards are given more credence, teachers might be less willing to take a position in a high-poverty are if they know not only does their salary depend on the number of students in their class achieving ‘at standard,’ but also their professional reputation.
Because I’m ashamed to admit that when I an article about a school only a few kilometres from mine own that was being profiled due to the low number of kids ‘at standard’, my immediate gut reaction was ‘I’m so glad I don’t work there.’ And I’m sure I wasn’t the only teacher in New Zealand who had that thought enter their mind today.
The teachers at that school are facing immense professional challenges as unsurprisingly the school is in high-poverty area. Instead of judgement of their professional capabilities what they need is support from everyone.
I don’t understand the disconnect that our national media can have around poverty and educational under-achievement. New Zealand can argue to the cows come home about who is responsible for child poverty or we can get on and fix the problem.
Most developed countries have some form of properly free cooked school lunches available to low income students and nobody bats an eyelid because hungry kids don’t learn. Yet here it is a major political battle. We assume that school choice can magically make up for hunger, for the missed days of school due to preventable illnesses caused by bad housing and the disruptions to education caused by having to move houses. These are problems of poverty. To be sure, individual teachers can make a difference but teachers are human beings not superheroes.
I’m not naive to pretend that every school in the country is perfect. I worry that families who see this data are going to start exiting their local schools, in order to get a ‘better’ standard of education. This will leave schools most likely in high-poverty areas financially vulnerable as funding drops as the kids exit.
But surely if the school is so bad that no one wants to go there, then don’t we need to close it? But here’s the thing; when you create loser schools, you inevitably create a set of loser students. Our educational system simply shouldn’t tolerate things getting so bad that we let school failure happen to any child’s education let alone an entire community. Yet by publicly naming and shaming schools and students that aren’t doing so well we are actually encouraging this to happen.
Instead of investing time and money into putting ‘buyer beware’ signs out the front of schools, why don’t we bring expert teachers to help teachers and schools to improve their practice?
In fact we already have something like that operating in New Zealand. They are called Resource Teachers of Literacy and I wouldn’t mind an equivalent for maths. Right now I have a couple of students in my class who thanks to regular classroom assessment I identified early in the year as needing extra help. However there is only ONE of these teachers in our area who serves a large number of schools so there is a long waiting list.
The students in my class might get lucky and we might have some time with the literacy teacher before the end of the year. This simply isn’t good enough.
Up down the country you’ll find a similar problem as services that actually help students, particularly low achieving ones, are gradually being cut back and the problems foisted back on to classroom teachers (who at least don’t have to worry about increased class sizes for the foreseeable future).
Our national newspapers are missing the BIG story right in front of their noses. Rather than construct league tables using meaningless statistics, the actual story is that National Standards are a way for the government to look like it is doing *something* in education to improve student learning without actually doing anything about the barriers to achievement which successive governments have put in the too hard basket.
I almost missed the big announcement yesterday about the future of Christchurch schooling in the rush to make my plane to Auckland for a day of PRT release and #padcampakl.
But having seen the reports, I feel nothing but sympathy for my colleagues down south.
I remember how horrible it felt in May when my school, like most intermediate schools up and down the country, was looking down the barrel of a loss of 3-4 teaching positions. I can’t even begin to imagine the effect of closing entire schools would have on the communities of Christchurch. My heart goes out to the families and in particular the teachers looking at redundancy in what is a very tight job market.
But there is one thing I just don’t understand.
How can a city in which so many public schools be told that they either need to merge or shut down due to a lack of students and resources does the government then see fit to launch charter schools in the area?
If rationalisation is needed why then go ahead with a plan that would see funding diverted away from existing schools in order to build new ones?
That just doesn’t make sense.
New Zealand has a strong history of sending their children to public schools. At present something like 85% of students attend our state schools which are run by their local communities.
It is worth pointing out the public heard nearly nothing of charter schools until after the election. Now the large-scale closure and merger of schools in Christchurch should surely be getting people wondering.
Is Christchurch, like New Orleans post-Katrina, about to become the an unwilling subject in an unfortunate educational experiment?
A few months ago I floated the idea to my Year 7/8 class making a submission to the Inquiry into 21st century learning environments and digital literacy being run by the New Zealand parliament’s education and science select committee.*
The project seemed like a great way to give my students an insight into how laws and policies are developed in New Zealand with the added bonus that the children would be able to give the committee some expert advice on digital learning from a perspective often absent from educational policy-making; that of the student.
The class banded together to make a video submission on the topic which I posted to the class blog. As I was about to submit their project, I asked my class if they would be interested in making a verbal submission. They were excited about the idea so I let the committee know the students wanted to appear. The project then got put on the back burner for a few months while we waited to hear if and when the students would be able to speak to the committee.
At the start of this term I received an email inviting my class to speak at parliament in front of the committee. Like most submitters the class had 5 minutes in front of the committee to have their say and would be asked questions about their submission. Deep down mild panic set in. What on earth was I thinking to ask for a spot for my 11 and 12 year old students to present to Members of Parliament?
The simple answer is a deep belief in the power of participatory democracy. I didn’t want my students to just read about parliament and draw a flag of a fictional country, I wanted them to appreciate that each of us has not only a right but a duty to participate in our democracy. In short, I wanted them to learn how to make a difference.
In order to select their representatives, the students of my class drew up a series of selection criteria and invited interested candidates to give a speech on why they thought they would be a good representative. Nearly a third of the class made presentations. Their classmates gave grades on each candidate’s public speaking skills, the ability answer questions well, overall contribution to the video submission, manage their time effectively and cope under pressure.
As I watched the process unfold, I was amazed at how the students had decided to assess each other. While our education system frequently tests for content knowledge, my learners were more interested in the qualities of their representatives. Communicating, managing time, the students were assessing competencies rather than content. Yet why is it our educational system is more obsessed with content?
Once the class selected their representatives, work began in earnest. I began calling in people from my own learning network to help. Teachers at newly built schools generously gave up their time to talk learning spaces with the children while another classroom talked about their school’s 1:1 laptop programme. The student submitters were very fortunate to get a prominent Wellington lobbyist to sit with them for over half and hour giving them advice on appearing before a committee. The students then wrote their speeches, a media release and practised answering mock questions during our classroom literacy block.
A prominent Wellington blogger who connected the students and I with the lobbyist featured the project on his blog. What started as a small project in a suburban Wellington intermediate was starting to go mainstream. By Monday morning the project had been picked up by the Waikato Times and the students put together a media release to get broader coverage. The stakes were getting higher and the submitter’s first practice run of the presentation in front of the class did not go well.
Fortunately the group took on their classmates’ criticisms and by Wednesday morning were as ready as they were ever going to be. And so I took four 12 year old students and their camera person to parliament to make a submission in front of 10 members of the country’s elected representatives.
Talk about an authentic audience.
In a room of cameras, microphones and a large number of adults each child’s contribution was nothing short of spectacular. One of the family members who accompanied us to parliament remarked that the students were funny and articulate but they still acted like 12 year olds. Which is perhaps the best compliment they could give me as a teacher.
At times it is a fine line to be walked between authentic student inquiry and an adult taking over student learning. In short I wanted each student to bring their best selves to the committee and leave knowing that their perspectives were important. Because more than anything, the students’ submissions were quietly telling a story of how technology in education is changing our learners’ lives.
Whether it be managing a learning disability, coping with the tyranny of distance or even starting up business. The students wanted their representatives to know that schools should be fun places where kids want to go learn.
It is a testament to New Zealand democracy that a group of 12 year olds can rock up to their House of Representatives and be treated with respect and dignity. There are far too many places in the world where this isn’t the case. Our Members of Parliament sometimes get a bit of a bad reputation for mudslinging and bad behaviour but that day the committee members were attentive and asked perceptive questions of the students. The MPs showed my students democracy at its very best: inclusive, empathetic and empowering.
For me as an educator this experience has demonstrated the power of connections. It never ceases to amaze how generous New Zealanders both inside and outside the educational community are with their knowledge. A huge heartfelt thanks goes out to all the members of my Personal Learning Community who helped my class succeed in their project. It was fantastic to see family members at the committee supporting their children and the local Member of Parliament gave the students a tour of parliament to top off the day.
The project has been hard work yet the pay off in student learning have been immense.
What started out as a class project on cyber-citizenship has moved well beyond the confines of our classroom into other schools, national newspapers, radio and even onto national TV. The experience has made me wonder how can students use their education to benefit our society? Might there be other real-world problems that students can use their talents to help solve.
There are some downers from the experience.
Time limitations, both mine as a teacher and the committee’s, excluded the whole class from being involved in the final submission. As I mentioned week, last my class is waaaaaaaay behind on our must-dos. But that’s the thing with authentic learning, it’s messy, timelines often blur and I would be lying if I said it wasn’t unbelievably exhausting. However it was also one of the most of exciting experiences I’ve had in my life. I am sure the lessons from that day will leave an impact for many years to come and not just for the teacher.
As the students boarded the train out of the city one of them remarked, “That was fun. When can we make another submission?”
*For those readers overseas, a select committee is a committee made up of members of the New Zealand parliament who give advice on particular subjects of interest.
As an Intermediate teacher, the latest round of government cutbacks hit close to home. At one stage my school was looking to lose 3-4 teachers. The only thing worse than staffing higher classes was the very real prospect of not having a job next year. It was in no uncertain terms a kick in the guts.
So on one level yes it is good that the government has backed away from radically increasing class sizes. But I’m not entirely sure that teachers should be celebrating more of the same. Because there is still so much to do. I’m not talking about fights against national standards or performance based pay (although I have voiced my opinion on those issues previously) but I still don’t think we can go back to business as usual.
Now I might not know much about the game of politics, but I do that know that if you aren’t playing offence you end up playing defence. So my challenge to the leadership of the teaching profession is simple. Where is our alternative vision of what an educated student and how our system needs to change in order to achieve it?
If the lesson of the last few weeks is anything, it shows the awesome power that the New Zealand education community has when it is united behind a common purpose. What if we made our common purpose to ensure our kids got the best education in the world.
In the words of one of my colleagues from ignition, lets come together for something other than a strike.
Lets come together for learning.
When the government announced that it was going to increase class sizes, the spin was that most schools would only gain or lose a teacher or two. After all there was only going to be an increase of 1 or 2 students per class. What has been lost in the fine print was where the cuts in staffing allocations are being made.
Today we found out the answer.
I’m going to declare my bias right now and say I teach year 7 and 8 at an intermediate school. Most people think I’m insane to teach 11 and 12 year olds and there are days like today that I agree with them.
Yet those outside of teaching you can never really comprehend the chaos that is spending your day in a classroom with 28 adolescents. Today I had one good moment but that was it. The rest of the day was just keeping up. And this was a pretty light day.
To be sure I’m not I’m not complaining. That one good moment is great. It’s a lotto win. It’s what gets me up the morning. However maintaining that balance between chaos and brilliance is also what often stops me from eating my lunch much less going to the toilet between the hours of 7.30am and 4.00pm. Something inevitably comes up that requires my immediate attention just as it comes time to grab a 5 minute breather.
Just like any age in the schooling system intermediate kids come with their own challenges. The challenge of teaching intermediate kids is, to borrow a phrase from Brittany Spears, they aren’t children but they are not yet teenagers. Intermediate schools reflect this stage of development in their organisation which is hybrid of primary and secondary schools.
My students spend most of their day with me which provides them with security as they make the transition from primary school but they also spend two sessions a week taking woodwork, cooking, art and music from specialist teachers which is similar to the model in high schools. I know my students value those hands-on subjects. Technology class give students a chance to build something in woodwork, learn some basic cookery skills, learn a bit about basic electronics and also receive instruction in the arts from teachers who have specialist skills in those areas.
Nobody is pretending that technology classes will immediately turn intermediate students into the next Karen Walker, Bic Runga or Bruce Farr. But the classes do give kids their first taste of what could be a life-long passion. Yes it is important that kids learn to be literate and numerate however a soft materials class might set off a spark in a child that leads them down the road to founding a company like Icebreaker.
To be sure providing these learning opportunities cost money. Yet for decades New Zealand have funded technology classes and I know what a difference the classes make. Not just in terms of kids actually getting a chance to put what they learned with me in maths into action but also to help keep kids who might otherwise be on a path towards disengagement from school a chance to shine.
Of course none of this fits well with the government’s mantra of primary schools focusing on reading, writing and maths. However there is a significant amount research that shows that exposure to the Arts and technology actually increases achievement in the 3Rs. This makes sense. There is little point in teaching kids to understand numbers without giving them a chance to experience measurement through cooking or woodwork. Moreover exposure to the Arts helps kids to develop imagination, curiosity and critical thinking which are necessary not just for success in exams but success in life.
Which makes me feel for fearful for what 2013 holds for my students and I. Reading a newsletter I spotted in my facebook feed from an intermediate with a similar-sized roll as my own the schools charged with educating our tweens are faced with a set of bleak choices. Magically find hundreds of thousands of dollars from their locally communities to fund technology classes or face laying off teaching staff. The latter move will entail an increase class sizes by six or seven students to give students the chance to enjoy specialist instruction or schools can keep classes the same and deny opportunities for specialist instruction to our 11 and 12 year olds that generations of New Zealand students have enjoyed.
Surely I’m not the only one out there who thinks our kids should be leaving primary school with more than a set of basic set of literacy and numeracy skills to enable them to pass NECA level 2. Our kids should have a broad education filled with rich experiences in the arts, technology, science and social science to help them discover their passions and navigate their own path through life.
Our intermediate school kids, well really all kids, deserve nothing less.
I graduated today. This should have been a happy occasion, a celebration of slogging out a tough course. But instead the mood was a mood of despondency among many of the those who graduated today. Many didn’t show up.
There are no teaching jobs.
Horror stories quickly start to emerge. Hundreds applicants applying for a single position. Graduates with straight As posting off dozens of CVs to not get a single call for an interview. I’m defintely more of the exception rather than rule as a member of the class of 2011 who started the 2012 with a full-time permanent position.
However I worked hard to secure it.
My mother, who is also a teacher, looked on slightly bemused last year as I filled out lenghty application forms built e-portfolios mumbling how much things had changed since her day when teacher trainees were pretty much guaranteed a job at graduation. Of course back in the 1970s there was also country service which Dad had to write a letter to get my Mum exempted.
But the surprising thing about the employment market as it stands in 2012 is that even students studying in the provincial areas are having the same problem.
No teaching jobs.
I understand that we don’t want just anyone in our classrooms.
It should be hard to find a teaching position. I like that it is hard. To be deemed worthy enough to be responsible for a class of learners should be viewed by society as an accomplishment.
But it should not be this hard.
I’m hazarding a guess that maybe around 40% of the students at best have actual teaching jobs from my course and at least half of those teachers are fixed-term contracts. Given that the government plans to increase class sizes in the next fiscal year, teachers on fixed-term contracts (many of whom are first and second year teachers) have a strong likelihood of finding themselves unemployed at the end of the school year just as the next batch of students start graduating.
And that’s just students from the 2011 Graduate Diploma from University on the Hill.
There are also the three year BEds who don’t have permanent teaching jobs and there will be similar refrains heard from the 17 institutions up and down the country.
No teaching jobs.
Some teachers are going the relieving route but New Zealand is now in the process of losing these teachers overseas, to early childhood and to other professions. I can’t help but rage at the massive waste of resources, not only in terms of the time and money of the students, but also in government money that we are training so many teachers for jobs that simply don’t exist.
The joke will be on us in a few years wondering why the people we are investing thousands of dollars in don’t stay in New Zealand to teach or are not teaching at all. One of the reasons?
No teaching jobs.
What I don’t understand is how this situation was allowed to happen.
The number of teacher education providers and courses has exploded in the last decade or two, particularly at the primary level. I know that last year had the lowest number of teaching positions advertised and that during a recession teaching is a safe port in the storm. But my gut feeling is that the employment market for teachers shouldn’t be nearly this imbalanced.
Most of the teacher education providers in this country are state institutions and 85% of New Zealand students attend a state school. It shouldn’t be that hard for some policy wonk in the Ministry of Education to wor out that we have a massive mismatch between the number of graduating teachers our system is churning out and the number of positions actually up for grabs.
The parting piece of job-hunting advice my course-mates and I were given was to hang tight as the bulge of older teachers start to retire in the next 5-10 years and a bulge of students start to hit. But with student loans to repay and that small matter of eating and paying rent, graduating teachers don’t have the luxury of waiting out the tight employment market in the hope that might get a job in a few years once older teachers start retiring.
Which is why I don’t understand why the government is putting another $60 million into recruitment and teacher education. There is no shortage of graduating teachers. We have a glut. And that glut should translate into higher-quality teachers according to the world of market economics.
But there is one small problem with this theory.
At the moment teachers have protections which prevent them from being unfairly dismissed. Which explains the sudden myopic focus on teacher quality.
In the context of cutting education spending the superhero teacher line that keeps getting bandied about actually has little to do with quality teaching. Instead it is a way to manufacture a crisis in education to justify forcing older, more
experienced expensive teachers out of the New Zealand system in favour of bright young things cheaper teachers with little or no teacher education. If schools are forced to ‘compete’ for teaching talent through paying higher salaries for expertise and experience, one guess which schools will find themselves with more bargaining power.
I’m not saying that experienced teachers are inherently better teachers and that New Zealand’s teacher education is perfect. But as a first-year teacher I also know the importance of having great mentors and people you can turn to for advice not only for teaching but also for resolving incidents of bullying, managing relationships with our students’ parents and also coping with tough emotional issues that our students bring with them to class. But I have the luxury of an actual teaching position when I know for many of the course mates professional oversight is just not an issue.
They just want to enter the teaching profession.
Nevertheless, I’m sure I’m not the only teacher who is concerned that over the coming years we are going to watch the destruction of all that is good about the New Zealand schooling system as teachers and schools squabble for an ever declining poll of resources. It is easy to see New Zealand going down the American path where jobs, bonuses and student progression are based on shonky ‘data’ that has little do with student learning and more to do with abstract economic models dreamed up by people who have no experience in the classroom.
Instead of jubilation there was a mood of quiet resignation from many of the members of the teaching community who graduated today. Far too many of my fellow graduates just spent a year of their life and $7,000 learning to teach only to see it put to waste.
But we are only one pixel of a wider picture of educational deform.
Quality, noun. Character with respect to fineness, or grade of excellence: education of poor quality; teachers of fine quality.
Let’s take stock over changes recently announced by the Minister of Education for New Zealand’s education system. Being a major education policy announcement, you’d think that this would be at a school, university or even a playground.
Instead this announcement was made Trans-Tasman Business Circle.
That should give everyone one a heads up already that these policies aren’t actually about quality education. Well perhaps quality education as defined by people who spend time in actual classrooms with actual children.
Teachers would likely point out embarrassing holes in the Minister’s argument.
They would point out annoying things like how more kids in the class means less time to give kids individual feedback on their learning. Less time for feedback means less learning moments.
How does that equate to quality learning?
They would note that teachers will spend less time in teacher education which means less opportunities for supervised student teaching. The might also note that less students enrolled in pre-service teaching courses will undoubtedly mean less people researching teaching methods.
How does that equate to quality learning?
And when student teachers become Graduating Teacher they will have more students in their class with a mentor teacher who also has more students. Leaving less time for support during the early years of teaching.
How does that equate to developing quality teachers?
Of course the businessperson audience don’t ask those sort of questions because all they see are business units. They don’t see the children, their families nor the teachers who turn a bunch of buildings into a school. Because if they did, they wouldn’t make the assumption that each student comes to school every day ready to learn and that poor-quality teachers is the sole cause of student under-achievement.
That audience simply doesn’t see the child who hasn’t had breakfast, the child whose parents are splitting up, the child who was abused last night or the child being bullied. They don’t appreciate that every one of those issues impacts on a child’s ability to learn and often requires teachers taking time out from the core business of teaching and learning to try and resolve the problems.
Or maybe the businesspeople assembled do realize that class sizes impact on learning outcomes which is why are smaller classes are such a selling point for private schools. Perhaps what business is saying to New Zealand is that they are unwilling to pay for the education of other people’s children. Especially when the kids in question don’t look or think like businesspeople’s children, and especially when the kids don’t live in the same neighbourhoods as the people applauding the minister.
Because lets not kid ourselves into think that quality is synonym for cost-cutting.
Since teacher compensation seems to be in the news this week, with every man and their dog assuming that performance-based pay is the way to go for teachers I thought I would chip in with my $20.
Well I would but actually I can’t afford $20 because even though I’ve been working for two months, I’m still not getting paid correctly. While I wait for the Ministry of Education to assess my academic record, I’m being paid at the untrained teacher salary rate which is 3/5 what I should be getting paid. This would be the same Ministry of Education who holds enrollment details for all of my tertiary qualifications that I have now spent two months having backwards and forwards correspondence VIA POST about my salary assessment. I’m at a loss as to why something that would be completely unacceptable in the private sector, not paying someone their agreed salary for months on end, would be ok for teaching. Yet it is relatively commonplace in teaching.
But enough about my grumbling let’s get back to the lazy teachers who get paid the same as the hard-working teachers.
There’s been repeated assertions made that the way to improve the performance of all teachers and thus their students is by rewarding some teachers with financial rewards. Because the bonuses would not be given to all teachers, we’d have to compete against each other for bonuses. But really only the bad teachers are going to worry because
the good teachers will be rewarded. Since New Zealand teachers punch well above their weight internationally most of us should be ecstatic right ?
But here’s the thing, you can’t fool good teachers.
In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us author Daniel Pink diagnoses the problem with waving bonuses in front of teachers. Pink’s book, which has deep implications for education policy, argues that autonomy, mastery and purpose are the core ingredients in motivating people to do their best work and to innovate. There are also some real risks that policymakers are taking when they advocate performance-based pay as being the panacea of student achievement that are at present not being talked about.
One of the strengths of the New Zealand teaching workforce is the collegial relationships. In my experience teachers are hugely generous with their time and knowledge helping me as a junior teacher even if they aren’t the person officially assigned as my mentor. At present there is extra money available in the form of management units for teachers who take on extra responsibilities in school which could be things like overseeing a department, student assessment or leading the teaching of maths in a school. My hunch is that schools don’t give such responsibilities to staff members who struggle in the classroom. Yes not all good teachers want to be leaders . But from my limited experience you don’t want school leaders who aren’t also exemplary teachers because one of the primary duties of a leader is to nurture the people below them.
One of the key arguments around performance-based pay is that it is fairer. Good teachers currently get paid the same as bad teachers since salary progressions are done on the basis of academic qualifications and length of service. One of the flip side of notions of classroom excellence is that unless performance-related bonuses are divided up fairly among the 50,000 or so teaching workforce, you’ll end up de-motivating vast swathes of teachers to reward a few excellent teachers. Especially if it’s the Ministry of Education dolling out payments.
Based on my dealings with extracting money out of the Ministry of Education it can be a time-consuming and incredibly frustrating and that’s just for getting money that I’m guaranteed via the collective employment agreement. Subjective rewards, and identifying ‘excellent teachers’ will have a measure of subjectivity even if measured NCEA or National Standards (which are based on teacher judgements), will mean time and money that could spent on resourcing and supporting teachers to develop innovative teaching methods will get squandered on paperwork that has little to do with improving teaching. Because performance-based pay doesn’t actually improve teaching it just measures student test scores and assumes that there is a relationship between good teaching and assessment results. This isn’t necessarily the case.
More problematically when a student assessment becomes corrupted for purposes outside of measuring learning outcomes, i.e paying teachers and funding schools, then there is a risk of the assessments getting corrupted as was seen in Atlanta in the United States where wide-scale cheating infiltrated their schools. For the most part the New Zealand school system is free of these problems. But overseas experience tells us if teacher salaries are low and financial incentives are high, you provide an environment for corruption in schools. Is this something we want to risk here by instituting a system of carrots and sticks when the government is embarking in a period of cost-cutting?
At a broader level, it is inevitable that the focus of these rewards will inevitably be on ‘raising levels of academic achievement’ on a narrow range of indicators which sounds fantastic until you see less teacher time being spent on activities that keep kids engaged and interested in school.
New Zealand teachers routinely take on complex and time-consuming extra duties, like organizing clubs or coaching sports teams. Let’s throw the teacher say $500 for managing the school’s production which over the course of year means they get around $2 an hour in time actual involved planning the event, holding auditions, rehearsals and attending the performances. Most would agree how nuts teachers are to routinely put themselves forward to do all the extra-curricula events but they do so in the knowledge that they have created a positive memory, an experience in teamwork and imagination for their students.
And it is this more than anything that gets teachers up in the morning. A sense that we are working towards a greater purpose. Because if you stop to consider the level of university education required (usually 3-4 years of university education) and the responsibilities undertaken, the top salary of a classroom teacher isn’t all that grand. But it’s enough to keep the issue of money of the table so that we can concentrate on doing our jobs well.
And that’s what most classroom teachers want, to do their job and do it well.
The ‘quality teacher’ meme that is being repeated by various people in the popular media, many of whom have often never taught a day in the lives, is the unstated assertion that our current teaching workforce just isn’t up to snuff and that there are legions of bad teachers failing our kids. However given the government’s intention is to find ways to cut costs in education, I agree with Brian Fallow that the quality teacher talk is a way for the government to cut the education budget rather than improve educational outcomes for students. I wish the teacher unions and opposition parties would loudly call the government on this. Instead we have the leader of the opposition repeating the same tired mantra being heard from the government.
Moreover I find it curious that a government that talks about quality teachers seems to be intent on giving less freedom to teachers to do their jobs effectively. Because the National Standards debate isn’t really about assessment or reporting to parents it is actually about professional autonomy. If the government required doctors to read out a statement of a patient’s BMI every time they wrote out a prescription, the medical profession would quite rightly wave their collective middle fingers at the mere mention of the move. Yet reading between the lines of what the Minister of Education said about judging teacher remuneration against ‘student outcomes,’ she is talking about judging pay on a set of measures that aren’t all that accurate or reliable.
I know that people outside of teaching find it hypocritical of teachers that we spend so much time assessing kids and not want to have our own performance measured. Firstly it isn’t true that teachers aren’t regularly assessed. My teaching is frequently observed and I have a performance agreement in place. But it is because teachers do so much assessment that we know that no measure of student achievement is 100% accurate. What makes some teachers jittery is when the government talks about dolling large sums of cash out on the basis of value-added measurements because test scores aren’t a reliable indicator of our effectiveness in the classroom. More importantly it’s this sort of stuff that sucks the very essence of teaching, doing paperwork to satisfy the whims of the government of the day, when we could be doing far more interesting things like coming up innovative ideas to try out in the classroom.
Surely I’m not the only one who feels like our entire conversation around education has become warped. We are so obsessed with arguments over how to achieve and measure outcomes that we’re losing sight of why we educate kids. I know I don’t speak for the rest of the profession, but I didn’t get into teaching to just help students pass assessments. I see assessments as a way to inform my teaching but really my purpose is to help students discover and discipline their passions so that they can lead happy lives. That might sound airy fairy but I make no apology for wanting my students to leave school with more than just a set of basic literacy and numeracy skills.
I want them to be able to understand others thoughts through reading and viewing and be understood when they speak or write.
I want them to have a knowledge of science and use the social sciences to help inform their decisions at a personal and societal level.
I want to be able to understand the implications of any financial contract they enter into.
I want them to have an appreciation of the world around them through learning another language and develop teamwork skills, self-discipline and pride in themselves through participating in sports and the performing arts.
I want them to be able to relate to others so that they can have life-long friendships, relationships, career success and be a good neighbour.
I want them to develop strategies to help them pull through the times when life deals them a bad hand.
I want them to be forever curious about the world around them.
Yes being literate and numerate is important but they are in essence a language that humans use to communicate what they see in the world. When we stop giving kids reasons to communicate by not giving them rich learning experiences outside of the narrow focus of reading, writing and mathematics for the purposes of passing assessments we deprive them not only of a childhood but the quality teachers and teaching that people keep talking about.
New Zealand is going down a road of gradually stripping teachers of their classroom autonomy, and loudly questioning their mastery. Once we remove teachers’ intrinsic purpose, no amount of money will pull promising candidates into long-term careers in the classroom.