Thursday, August 9, 2012

Numbers Game

League Tables... boiling students and schools down to 'comparable' numbers.  Really? Is this what our world class New Zealand education is going to do to our kids? For our parents?

It boils our schooling down to a system that worries too much about numbers and not enough about the kids those numbers represent.

Just over a month prior to todays release you were saying National Standards data wouldn't be shared this year as it was "ropey" (NZ Herald, 3rd July). Then why, oh why would you share data today that you, yourself as the Minister of Education, still deems as "variable" (NZ Herald Article, 8th August).  That's a pretty short attention span, dear Minister.

I get frustrated every time I hear Hekia Parata talk about 1 in 5 kids that are failing.  But yet a student in my class who still needs support and has 'exhausted his timing' with a Resource Teacher, so he is no longer eligible for the support he needs.   I could count on numerous hands the number of kids I've taught over 10 years where they are not 'low enough' to receive the additional support that they need or they have 'exhausted their hours of support' or are on waiting lists months long, that's if they are actually 'low enough' for me to submit the pages of paperwork to get them on the waiting list.  

I have been lucky to work with one of the most amazing RT Lits I have encountered.  Who has a heart of gold for the kids she works with and a talent at supporting kids to get them back on track.  I know it frustrates her having to drop kids off and look at the long line of students waiting for her golden support.  But none of this is being addressed. Why?

This opinion piece from the Manawatu Times entitled 'When Schoolings Not So Simple' caught my eye today.  The author talks about some of the ownership coming not just solely on the schools but also onto the parents.  Also about "politicians scoring points by messing with our schools".  To me, this sums it up.  I don't see a huge want from the government to make a difference to this famed 1 out of 5 children who are failing.  If they did, they would be coming into our classrooms and asking us what we really need to help these kids succeed.  But I see a group of people who have no real understanding of what is happening in our schools and what needs to be done.  It's easy to blame teachers and schools for what is happening as a government can manage that.  When will we see a government turn around to their voters and ask them to 'adult up' and become the parents we want for our New Zealand kids?

The fact is... schooling isn't that simple.  It can't be boiled down to a set of numbers and nor should it.  There are so many human factors that also influence our students achieving. Disabilities, families, relationships, prior school experience are just some factors that need to be considered.  But they aren't being discussed.  Paul Callister (Callister & Associates) dug deeper into the 'White Flight' debate that mainstream media took up a few months ago.  They dug into the trends and analysed the actual data to come up with an entirely different view of what was happening with low decile schools.  They talk about that fact that "there are significant inequalities in New Zealand society, including schooling.  There are also major demographic, economic and social changes taking place in schools and wider society.  The inequalities and changes need analysis and debate."  There is no debate into these issues.  The mainstream media picks it up when it's a slow news day and then we are lulled back into a false sense that's everything is ok.  Because it's not on the nightly news.  But teachers are just one of the groups who face this reality everyday while trying to make educational shifts for students.

The Government wants National Standards numbers so badly from all the schools yet brand spanking new charter schools won't have to comply to them.  Start something 'new and exciting' that is going to "target those pupils who leave school without any qualifications..." (Hekia Parata, NZ Herald, 3rd August).  You want public schools to focus on breaking this statistic through National Standards but yet charter schools don't need to be part of the National Standards comparisons.  Interesting...

I am surrounded by the most amazing teachers in my school.  Who support, encourage and deliver an amazing curriculum.  We collaborate, co-operate and share resources and ideas without even thinking.  In our school we have teachers who teach amazing drama and dance... we have an artist who fosters a passion for the Visual Arts in her students... we have gymnastic coaches who are patient and supportive in developing gymnasts and that's just to name a few.  There are teachers who look for all the talents that a student brings to the classroom, not just as another number in their class.

Professor Thrupp from Waikato University spent 6 years investigating education markets and accountability in schools in Britain.  He talks about how in schools "There becomes a national standards economy - a way of thinking where they narrow their teaching focus to just reaching those targets." (NZ Herald, League Tables for 'Sport', not schools).  What's to stop this from happening? Nothing at the moment.  Schools are scared of what National Standards mean for them.  Not scared of sharing the data, but scared about what people's perception of this data means for their schools and their students.

What happens next? The data is collected and you have your below, at and above standards.  What are you going to do next to help me support my students who are deemed below this standard line?

The Government has followed the National Standards path with determination
bullying and threats to close schools amongst some of them.  How can you trust a Government who uses this as the way to get their education system to comply to something they so honestly see as disruptive and useless.
For example, the 208+ principals who signed the 'Open Letter to the Minister' this month declaring their mistrust in National Standards. How can you argue against such a strong group of educational leaders? I'm proud to say that my principal is represented amongst that list.  I don't believe there are any benefits to our students from what is happening with the Government's tactics.

I choose to teach.  I love teaching and I wouldn't be doing anything else. My day does not consist solely of Writing, Reading and Maths.  I know these areas are important but what about innovation, creativity and problem solving?  What about the other subjects I teach each week... term... year? Maori, Art, Written Language, Oral Language, Art, Drama, Dance, Spelling, Grammar, PE, Health, Life Skills... I could continue.  Where is the acknowledgement in the array of skills that our teachers and schools are offering and fostering in our kiwi kids?

But all you want to know about... are the numbers.

Image used under Creative Commons from: e y e / s e e


keamac said...

Well said Amanda. I whole-heartedly agree.

TaraTJ said...

Really nice post Amanda. I particularly like the point you make in relation to the frustrations surrounding the support that many students need ... but dont get. Merely waving the National Standards wand will not address this. Your kids are so lucky to have you. Have an awesome rest of the term!

Anonymous said...

Well written. You have brought up excellent points. Shame that our government does not wish to listen.

Kimberley Rivett said...

very well said. And what is next? Standardised testing to provide accurate league tables because the OTJ of a teacher will not be deemed as 'accurate'. Let's hope that this blows over and the powers that be realise - before it is too late - that we have one of the best education systems in the world!

Craig Steed said...

Well said! The Manawatu Standard did another excellent article on Charter Schools and the Finnish system yesterday. It's well worth a read in conjunction with the post and articles you mention. It's worrying times.

PaulineHendog said...

Great comments Amanda. I am glad there are passionate, dedicated teachers out there who are starting to challenge
What we are being fed in the media .
We all know that to the Government this is a "numbers "game but that teaching is a "people priority" activity.

Thanks for sharing your views

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