Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The need for leadership in an age of standardized education

Brain research has shown how individual brains grow depending on the experiences they are exposed to.Education has the power to amplify or limit intelligent behaviour and skills. As educators we can either value the diversity of students talents or conform them to our expectations or imposed standards.

Fish, the saying goes are the last to discover water, so it is with teachers - so busy teaching that the bigger purpose is overlooked. As in everything purpose is vital.

When things change unlearning is as important as learning. Writers from the fields of science, business and philosophy  are certain of one thing, not since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, have leaders, in any field more to learn (and unlearn).

And this applies to those involved in education, particularly school leaders, because this is where minds are shaped.

Minds that might have served a purpose in a hunting, or later in an agricultural, culture were of little use in the Industrial Age. The trouble is industrial aged thinking, successful as it was, still haunts many organisations   including schools. Industrial aged thinking required obedience, conformity, standardisation diligence and awareness of  standardized 'best practices. All these attributes were commanded by those in authority.

The ghosts that haunt our organisations are the hand me down ideas, beliefs and practices that inform current actions. If a critical eye is cast on schools then many current practices have easy to read links to the industrial  past. The metaphor of the factory still  underpins  many taken for granted actions. Bureaucracy, bells, timetables, testing for standardisation, fragmented subjects ( even in primary schools)  and sorting out students ( by age or ability)  serve educational purposes that no longer exist. Mass education , the dream of the nineteenth century has become a nightmare for many students and teachers.

Unfortunately many  who have gained positions of leadership cling to the practices that rewarded them and  those who criticize can be expected to be regarded with suspicion or ignored. Business as usual is hard to shift - too many people have too much to lose.

Those in power know best, or have to power to make others comply, exist at all levels. Leaders with survival skills minimize the consequences of wrong headed polices like National Standards because they have been unconsciously been conditioned to comply.

Ironically it is during times of dramatic change that that we get the greatest bursts of creativity. And surely schools  should be seen at the lead of such creativity but for this to happen courageous principals are required - principals who are prepared to share innovative ideas with each other and not wait mildly for 'best prectices' to be delivered to them by tame advisers.

The new world will require  learners with initiative, creativity , self responsibility, with  passion and  a zeal for whatever turns them on. Developing the diverse gifts and talents  of all students will be a new role for schools not standardisation.

This new world was briefly shown to schools with the publication of the 2007 New Zealand National Curriculum but before it could be actioned schools were commanded to introduce National Standards.

So rather than schools being at the vanguard of change they are being asked to support the status quo of industrial aged schoolingIt has been an easy victory as most principals minds are informed by those ghosts from the past. Obsessive testing has become endemic. Literacy and numeracy have become the 'default curriculum'.  Schools have become equally obsessed with consistency across rooms - a good idea but only as a base for teacher creativity.  Standards are just the next step - then of course, 'league tables'. And these, by distorting the curriculum, will result in even more students  failing as they find schooling out of step with their lived culture.

Teachers now live in surveillance culture impossible to imagine by teachers from the creative 70s and 80s.

 Enforcers of the status quo ensure schools toe the line. The 'status quo police' obviously include the Ministry's compliance requirements, the Education Review Office ( with their power to reward or punish schools who do  not comply to the National Standards) , the Student Achievement Practitioners  ( the sneakiest of them all) and, sadly, principals who do not know how to respond, or who happly comply, or who  simply know no better.

All this is rather sad but it confirms to me that real change only ever comes from the edge - from those contrarian creative teachers who are in tune with the minds and needs of their students and not constrained by the ambitions to get ahead that principals suffer from .

We need leadership to create the conditions to inspire creative teachers,  who can see the big picture, and who want their students to leave their school with the 'future in their bones'. Teachers who , with the publication of the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum almost saw the promised land.

Things are changing. The world is increasingly becoming unpredictable and this, combined with  issues of sustainability, will force change.

Maybe as change demands become more intense leaders will emerge ; leaders keen to share the wisdom of their creative teachers? Leaders who really believe in empowerment and engagement.

Such leaders need to embrace new challenges - to search for 'next practices'.

Leaders who are prepared to challenge current beliefs and practices - toxic beliefs that persist from an earlier era. Leaders who appreciate that real power is shared power; leaders who value diversity over standardisation, or bland consistency.

And leaders who embrace the new principles that they have uncovered;  principals who develop a 21stC DNA for 'their' schools  dedicated to developing the gifts of  all their students.  Leaders who value creative teachers, no matter how difficult they might be ,  in the search for new ideas.

The alternatives are not worth considering. We need to  change our metaphor from  'schools as factories' to evolutionary resilient  'learning communities'; communities where all students and teachers are helped to ' seek, use and create their own knowedge' as it says in the 2007 curriculum.

I am reminded of the fate Titanic - the pinnacle of the Industrial Age , or the earlier Polynesians who slowly destroyed their own culture on Easter Island.

Only   leadership, able to create inclusive learning cultures, will be able to avoid such a fate for schools.

Is this is a dream worth pursuing?

Surely  there must be a growing number of principals  and teachers who feel hogtied by the distant dead hand of an  elitist bureaucracy and the demands imposed by those with little understanding of the reality of  the lives of students .

Are there?

Monday, June 27, 2011

The danger of National's Standards!

One Dinosaur has noticed things are a- changing - for the worse -  for them!

Guest blog by Allan Alach

As the weeks go by, and as the pressure to implement the “national standards” (better phrased as ‘National’s standards”) is increased, I’ve been noting, with growing concern, what seems to be an increasingly tacit acceptance of the situation. I guess there are three possible reasons for this development.

One of these is that many principals, even though very well informed, and anti-standards, have come under pressure to implement them, either from their BOTs or a result of the MOE bullying. Principals, teachers and BOTs giving way to MOE pressure is understandable, if regrettable. It can be very lonely out there.

Another possibility is that there are significant numbers of educators out there in schools who don’t really understand the full implication of the imposition of standards, nor of the agenda that is driving this. Why?

The most concerning aspect is that some of our colleagues are actively buying into standards based education as the best way forward, although what they are moving forward to is a moot point. Again, why?

Unity is our best defence. Let’s imagine a situation where every primary school in New Zealand, fully supported by their Boards of Trustees and wider community, refused to have anything to do with the standards, regardless of any pressures from the government and their puppets in the MOE.

What would happen? Nothing. The power remains with the people. Or, to phrase this another way, as Benjamin Franklin said when he signed the US Declaration of Independence "We must all hang together, gentlemen, else, we shall most assuredly hang separately". Unfortunately we don’t have this unity, and so it appears that we’re slowly being hanged separately.

Communities (especially parents) need to be well informed about the whole curriculum, and about what and how children are doing . The National government cleverly targeted their lack of knowledge by raising fears that their children were failing - hence the very inaccurate '1 in 5 children are failing.' How about, to use the same dubious data, saying that 4 out of 5 are doing very well?

Informing our communities about all our successes is vital, to show that NZ schools are indeed leading the world in providing a full education, rather than the narrow '3Rs' focus of the government. It's my experience that parents really want their children to have a full breadth of educational opportunities. Competence in the 'basics' which is another variation of the '3Rs' that was current a couple of decades ago, provides the key skills for the rest of the learning to occur. That's not rocket science, and I’ve found that parents are very receptive to this explanation.

The case against national standards in the New Zealand context has been very well made by many authoritative voices and doesn’t need repeating by me. Any reader of this blog, and Kelvin Smythe’s Networkonnet, should be very well aware of the issues about standards. Anyone who hasn’t got the message by now isn’t going to be changed by further argument.

Further to this, the case against any standards based assessment/testing regime, as used in a number of overseas countries, is also extremely well made. The arguments are so comprehensive that really there is no debate that this is a disastrous development in education,nationally and internationally.

Given this, I really wonder why it is that there appears to be significant numbers of principals who don’t seem to be aware of this, or, even more puzzling, why there are principals who are actively promoting standards in their schools. Or is the answer that many people see only the surface level problems with the standards, and believe that they can work their way around them? I don’t know. People who play with fire are in danger of getting burnt.

Why are the warnings of people like Bruce Hammonds, Kelvin Smythe, Lester Flockton, Warwick Elley, Ivan Snook, John O’Neill et al, as well as the NZPF, NZEI, and of very experienced principals such as Geoff Lovegrove, being ignored or downplayed?

Why are these voices of experience not resonating in the educational community? A recent comment on one of Bruce’s blogs said; “it seems we have commentators who have long since left working in schools feeling they can also have a go at us as well”. Without doubt, a sizeable proportion of the most vociferous anti-standard campaigners are ‘well seasoned’, either at or approaching the end of their active careers in education. Is this why their voices are discounted? Does this blog comment imply that only those still in principalship or working in schools have a voice?

Reviewing the educational scene, we know that the current system, with its underlying ideology, has now been in place for 21 years. We can therefore postulate that a large group of today’s teachers (including quite a number of principals) have worked most, if not all, of their teaching careers in this system. Institutional memories of the pre “Tomorrow’s Schools” era are growing dim.

Let’s not forget that the period 1992 - 2002 or thereabouts was dominated by the requirement to assess all 1220+ achievement objectives set out in the curriculum documents of the time, and that the chief villain was, typically, ERO’s demand to see this documented. There was little scope for creativity, innovation and so on, in this framework - the formative teaching years of the group of teachers and principals we are discussing.

It wasn’t until the introduction of the New Zealand Curriculum that this strait jacket was officially removed, and schools and teachers were given the freedom to develop creative and innovative educational programmes in their schools. It’s not surprising that this was very new territory for many, although for us ‘grey hairs’ it was a refreshing chance to revisit the best of the past in a 21st century context.

Here we are, a mere few years later, and the strait jacket is returning in a modified form - same agenda, different method. It’s not altogether surprising that many principals and teachers may be confused and unsure.

It is apparent now, that there is little to be gained by providing more anti-standards information. Anyone who hasn’t got the message that there are serious concerns about standards must be living in a different space-time continuum, and so we need to reflect on why the warnings are being ignored or set aside.

Socrates defined a wise person as one who knows that they do not know. Such a person is open to learning. The reverse of that is a person who does not know that they do not know, and who therefore is not open to learning. Socrates defined this as ignorance. One would hope that principals and teachers are wise by this definition.

Do New Zealand principals and teachers really understand what is happening? Or is there a degree of hiding their heads in the sand and hope the danger goes away (the so-called ostrich approach)? Or do people truly not know? Does this explain the tacit acceptance of the national standards?

The present government’s agenda is obvious. If we don’t fight now, when do we fight? When league tables are published, rating schools by test results? Or do we wait for the inevitable statement that since principals and teachers can’t be trusted to provide accurate national standards data, it will be necessary to implement a national testing regime? Or do we wait a bit longer, for an attack on the NZEI and the development of principal and teacher performance pay based on test results?

Think this won’t happen? Are you prepared to take the chance?

'Necessity makes even the timid brave'  Sallust Roman Historian

Thursday, June 23, 2011

How long can principals ignore the dire warnings about the consequences of National Standards?

Are principals turning into sheep?

'Set yourselves free' Peter Simpson President NZPPF

A principal, in a recent blog comment, said he we was tired of ex principals, and 'outsiders;, giving principals advice about how to lead their schools.

Two things come to mind such  'outsider' advice is true advice - readers are free to completely ignore the views of people like myself  unlike the 'advice' they get from the education Review Office,  the Ministry, and worst of all the SAPS  (Student Achievement Practitioners) .

The second thing is that the same warnings are coming from educationalists both within New Zealand and overseas including the Teacher Union ( the NZEI) and the Principal Federation.

The fact is that it is hard to find any educationalists in support of National Standards - the future  asks of schools to  personalise not standardize education.

So why at local levels aren't schools working together to put up a joint front particularly in an election year?

 Two things may provide an answer: One is the  difficulty of admitting  one's schools is becoming stressed ( a sign of weakness) and  the other an unwillingness to work with others. Maybe there is third some principals actually believe in the idea of  imposed National Standards - I know of one principal in  Whakatane who has said as much - at least he is showing leadership! Thankfully there are some principals and schools working together against National Standards but not enough.

The  March and June editions of the New Zealand Principal magazine  surely must convince all New Zealand Schools of the seriousness of the situation?

 An article from a parent Bill Courtney  gets straight to the point. The big question school and parents need to consider, he comments, is 'what is the point of education in the 21stC'? He writes that, 'while literacy and numeracy are important skills they are not all that matters'. He continues, 'education today is much more about ways of thinking which involve creative and critical approaches to problem solving and decision making.'

Bill quotes Albert Einstein saying, 'Not everything that can be counted counts. and not everything that counts can be counted' , and he also notes that Einstein's parents were told by his school that he was borderline retarded.

The editor ,writing  as a feisty journalist, says that, 'National Standards are ' flawed fuzzy and inaccurate measures which will produce at best unreliable data and at worst harm our children' they are 'unwelcome boiled tripe - soft wobbly and gutless at the banquet of educational celebration'. The March issue she writes has, 'contributions  from prominent academics.Terry Crooks, Lester Flockton and Cedric Croft outline succinctly and with blinding clarity the reasons that National Standards will not enhance the educational health of the nation.'

The editor writes 'there is hardly a single principal who thinks National's  standards can assist children's achievement and many consider they will harm them'. They are being introduced for one reason -  'political purposes'.

If this is so where is the concerted action by such principals?

The President of the Principal's Federation Peter Simpson calls for action .What we don't want is to allow uniformed politicians to rule and find ourselves implementing a national standards system which brings high risk of harming children.' And he reminds readers of the failures of such approaches in the UK and the US  and that schools will have to consider the future our children will live in and the skills and capabilities they will need.

Terry Crook, Emeritus Professor of Education Otago University has expressed ongoing concerns about the details of National Standards.and writes, I have sincere and grave doubts that they will make any significant for the stated goals for which they have been introduced.' And he is worried about the side effects and believes teachers should instead be developing 'deep insight into the capabilities, interests and needs of each of these students.He also worries that the 'more teachers focus on trying to get all students in their class to a prescribed standards....the less appropriate their efforts will be for the most capable and least capable studnts'.  He also is concerned tat educational changes to be effective need to be embraced by teacher rather than have them imposed and that the proposed standards  have been developed with minimal input of teachers.

Cedric Croft, another respected New Zealand assessment expert and independent consultant continues the argument writing, 'A point of confusion with "Standards" is that politicians and officials who promote them are not clear what they are talking about.' In most cases the Standards cover too much to ensure that all teachers are assessing their students on the same outcomes.'

This brings up further bureaucratic intervention by some sort of moderation! And of course the 'results for every school to be reported to the Ministry in 2012, the inevitable league tables may come next' All this Croft believes will do 'little more than demonstrate the status quo.They will show that  'schools with  socially and economically advantaged students, and better resources, achieve higher levels' and vice verse.  It all indicates moves toward 'the central control of schools by governmnts' and if implemented will 'show a restricted picture of what schools and students are achieving'....'There is no recognition of the arts, physical skills, education outside the classroom, or special programmes schools may develop for their particular communities.' And, he adds, that 'measures of "added value" have met with limited success in the US, UK, and Australia.'

Croft believes that 'no new assessment policy has been so poorly conceived or introduced in a manner that puts so much responsibility on teachers and principals to make it appear to be working'. The standards are Croft concludes 'no silver bullets..and not worthy of support.'

'Appear to be working' - that is a worrying phrase for apologists for the standards.

The final contributor in the  March issue is Lester Flockton another internationally respected assessment authority.

Lester repeats many of the warnings of earlier contributors saying , 'in England interpretations of the standards in the , USA, Australia, etc. - places that have proven their serious limitations, burdensome impositions, flawed procedures, misplaced faith in data, and corrosive curriculum distortions.'

Lester asks that , 'brighter leadership at the top is requited to shift thinking outside of an outmoded square and away from a discredited model.A paradigm shift is required.' 'The current National Standards policy rings nicely in the ears of a voting public'. He continues that , 'recuing the 20% of children who are "failing every day in our schools" is the robotic and almost daily repeated reason for National Standards given by the Government' and ignores the 'true reasons why some children struggle'...that the 'large percentage of children who struggle with school work are those who are seriously dis-advantaged by their living circumstances'....'It is silly to think that National Standards can get struggling children to succeed without first addressing the underlying causation'.

As for the 50 SAPS Lester writes should first work with struggling students before they are acceptable to work in other schools!

And he warns us of the 'whole new industry of data manufacturing and trafficking' that will come with this 'blind faith in data'.

And Lester has no time for a Minister of Education who ignores reasoned opposition , who dismisses criticism  as 'politics,  'nonsense', rubbish', 'we've heard it all before', 'unions' and the such like. The Minister is unwilling to engage in reasoned debate  and has 'proven incapable of doing so'.

And Lester is worried that , 'we are seeing many schools that are simply doing all the superficial stuff in order to get ticks in the required boxes' , but some school he writes,  have thought out their own systems and that  these schools 'should  be left alone to do and prove their own thing unfettered by the Ministry thing'.

In the June issue the debate continues.

The President writes about the difference between professionalism and prescription  and reflects that Finland, the top performing country, succeeds because teachers are professionals trusted to deliver a curriculum  similar to New Zealand,in a manner and style they think best to suit their students with very little measuring and testing.'Finlands  sweeping success is largely due to one big weapon; the teachers.' The punitive aspects implicit in National Standards is a worry along with the idea that the standards will only measure what they set out to measure!

The report on the keynote speakers echo New Zealand educators concerns and provided , ' compelling arguments to unshackle the claustrophobia of a currently imposed assessment culture and rebuild confidence in teaching to a broad and innovative curriculum'

Andy Hargreaves  has a special interest in turning around failing kids and said that research has shown 'that a culture of assessment and comparing kids and schools with each other in competitive way is counter productive and that we have become 'obssessed with the assessment culture, and this has negative effects on children's achievemnt'.  He talked about how 'we need to understand are the gaps in achievement levels between groups...We need to examine gaps in society such as income gaps' He reminded the audience  , 'that one in five children languish in poverty and that income gaps between the rich and the poor have reached intolerable levels'.. and that the blame for failure has been blamed on schools not social inequities. Standardisation shifts that arguments away from poverty to say there is no excuses for failure.

'Schools', Hargreaves said, ' are not just about achievement in literacy and numeracy.They are also about identity,culture, and language.We cannot have standardisation in a multicultural environment.' 'In New Zealand'  , he said, 'the time was right for educators to ask "what are your dreams". Do you want a globalised dream, an imported rented dream narrowly focused on testing, data gathering and monitoring? Are you colonial renters or self manged innovators?

Another speaker, Professor James Spillane from Chicago told the audience that we had to 'get beyond a mindset that is caught up in standardizing and homogenising'. He warned of a culture of surveillance and  distrust and asked principals to understand their teacher's beliefs and knowledge and to develop a 'living culture' based on 'what teachers and others experience every day'. Spillane believes it is important  to take advantage of the abilities of others and to create an environment that supports teachers by sharing leadership which 'enables solutions to  real problems to found without seeking out "off the shelf"  remedies like standardisation.'

It seems that the hit of the conference was the address by Professor Yong Zhao from China. 'While  the USA was focusing on centralisation, standardisation and accountability, China was was reducing instructional hours for maths and increasing hours for electives and PE. 'Singapore, a world high flyer', Professor  Zhao said,'  has developed a deliberate strategy to teach critical and creative thinking skills, reduce subject content and emphasize process over outcomes when appraising schools'. Singapore's Ministry is 'calling for a more varied curriculum, a focus on learning rather than teaching and more autonomy for schools and teachers'. And similar developments are occurring in Korea.

'So what  then is the point  in pursuing a culture of testing and data colecting' According to Zhao  none. 'Chidren are like popcorn.Some pop early and some pop late.We need to respect individual differences, have faith in every child and provide second, third and fourth chances.' 'Issues children will have to face up to', Zhao said, will to  'recognise individual differences, understanding multiple intelligences and cultural diversity and having curiosity, passion,  and creativity'. These are what he describes as 'employable skills for the future'. 'What children in the future will be doing is inventing a job, not finding one and to do that they will have to be global entrepreneurs.They will need to have something that others want and be great at it.They will  need to have confidence and passion to innovate'.

Professor Zhao was taking about a world away   from the narrow focus on National Standards. and the narrow focus on reading, writing and maths that dominate the educational debate in New Zealand!

The president Peter Simpson reminded the audience of the conference's theme : 'Set yourself free' telling attendees  to free themselves from any doubt that the New Zealand education is in crisis, that we do not need National Standards to identify our underachieving  children..that principals  need not fear fear the consequences of doing the right and ethical thing by the children in our schools.  The assumptions underpinning the National Standards that all children progress at the same pace and labeling children as failures is unethical and could cause life-long harm.

Principals must not sit back and quietly and watch all that is good about our education system fall into decline because of flawed government policy.

He called on the audience to utterly reject the National Standards  policy in which the teaching profession has no confidence.

He was given a standing ovation.

This will  not be enough.

It is now time for principals in their local area to begin the fight back.

The time for talking is finished.

It is now time for action

Are school principals up to it? 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Schools being taken down the wrong track -and many to busy to notice?

This is a book all schools should have on their professional reading shelf. Professor Linda Darling Hammond is a internationally renowned leader in educational reform and former adviser to Barack Obama's presidential campaign. Unfortunately her ideas have not had any influence at 'our' Ministry of Education . Our technocrats seem determined to follow shadowy advisers of their own choosing - ones that fit the  populist accountability ideology of the current government. Mind you the Ministry equally ignores the ideas of Sir Ken Robinson, Guy Claxton, Howard Gardner, David Perkins, Andy Hargreaves,  Professor Yong Zhan and the success of such countries as Finland.  And, of course the expertise of  such New Zealanders as  Lester Flockton, Terry Crooks, Havid Hood, Kelvin Smythe and Elwyn Richardson

And still  most schools meekly comply. Schools would be advised to remember Michael Fullan's words  that 'politicians are aways wrong' and get together for mutual support to put up real opposition before it is too late.

So read Linda Darling-Hammond's address and decide to work with others to fight the good fight against the bland Ministry technocrats who are controlling our destiny.

Back to extracts from Linda Darling-Hammond speech given when she was awarded Columbia University's distinguished service medal.

She began her talk by reflecting on a teacher who helped one of her daughters who previously had had a difficult time at school.  Her daughter's new teacher, 'created a wonderful stimulating wonderland of opportunity for learning: children experimenting and investigating...designing and conducting projects, writing and publishing their own little stories'.

'Then ,as now, the creation of truly professional educators was a subversive business. As scientific managers were looking to make schools "efficient" in the early twentieth century - to manage schools with..more extensive testing, rules and regulations.'  A book written in this era asked  for ' unquestioned behaviour by teachers.'

'To implement this scientific approach obedience was prized. One  speaker in 1914 observed " there were so many efficiency engineers running through school houses ...that grade teachers can hardly turn around in their rooms without butting into two or three of them".'

'Does this sound familiar?'

'In the view of these brilliant managerial engineers, professionally trained teachers were considered troublesome, because they had their own ideas about education and frequently didn't go along with the plan.'

'As one such teacher wrote 1914: " We have yielded to the arrogance of the business men and have accepted their criteria of efficiency..without question.We have consented to measure the results of educational the terms that prevail in the factory...But education is not analogous to to a standardized manufacturing process.Education must measure its terms of increased humanism, increased power to do, increased capacity to appreciate."'

'Sounds suspiciously like John Dewey and Maxine Greene, doesn't it?'

While the scientific managers foolishness was creating a strangle hold on schools...schools leaders and professors were creating progressive schools in which students engaged in intellectual inquiry, hands on projects and activity based curriculum - guided by an understanding of child development, the new sciences of learning and emerging practices of pedagogy. These schools practiced democracy in action and provided a counterpoint to the factory  model schooling that Dewey called " mechanical, dull, uninteresting, and hardly educative in any meaningful sense" '.

Linda Darling-Hammond then moved her emphasis to the present and challenged current teachers , ' to plant the ideals of democratic, progressive education as leaders in schools...all around the world...making decisions on what is best for for mastery of a common body of knowledge and skills - and a commitment to always seek more and better knowledge to meet students needs..and a commitment  to define, transmit and enforce standards of practice - a community that pledges to work together to do the right thing.'

'This commitment is more important than ever before.We live in nation that is forgetting its children' ( she goes on to talk of the poverty gap that effects student's achievement in the United States).

And in reference to international comparative  test scores she says the  United States ignores that 'the top performing nations rely on school based assessments of learning that includes challenging projects, investigations and perfrmances'.

'Meanwhile , the profession of teaching and our system of public education are under siege from another wave of scientific managers, who have forgotten that education is about opening minds to inquiry and imagination....that teaching is about enabling children to make sense of their experience, to use knowledge for their own ends, and to learn to learn, rather than spend their childhoods...feedin the voracious data banks that govern ever more decisions from the bowels of the bureaucracy.'

Such scientific management she says provides mandates that, 'would "choke a horse"'  and 'threaten to replace the opportunities for teachable moments that expert teachers know how to create with their studnts'.

'These new scientific to rank and sort students, teachers, and our schools - rewarding those at the top and punishing those at the bottom, something high achieving countries don't do but often forbid'.

'And the new scientific managers cleverly construct systems that solve the problems of the poor by blaming the teachers and and schools that seek to serve them, calling the deepening levels of severe poverty an  " excuse" ...this is the equivalent of deciding that if the banks are failing, we should fire the tellers. ( And whatever you do, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain)'.

'But public education has secret weapon - a Trojan Horse, if you will: the members of the teaching profession..who have mastered a strong body of professional knowledge, who hold a strong ethic of of care and who are determined to transmit this knowledge and commitment to others throughout the education systm'.

And reference to teachers who lead the fight to a more equitable system ,'they are leading the efforts to create a more thoughtful and creative curriculum and instructional strategies, and who are developing more effective teacher and leadership education and professional development.'

Such people , 'will create more exciting and empowering schools for children; more useful  and assessment of learning; and more just and humane policies to guide a system focused on learning, not selecting and sorting, rewarding and punishing.' This will  be achieved, 'in the strong professional communities you have will carry on building a profession that serves democratic education - one that provides for all children what the best and wisest parent wants for his or her child, as John Dewey put it.'

Lina Darling -Hammond concludes, ' doing the right thing is not easy - meeting your professional commitment is not easy.

Whether it is standing for a child who is mistreated, or finding the energy to go the extra mile to reach out to a troubled parent, or taking up a challenging issue in the research, or taking on a difficult concern in the public discourse, doing the right thing is often hard.

As MartinLuther King reminded us, " on some positions, Cowardice asks the question is it safe? Expediency asks the question is it politic? But Conscience asks the question is it right? And there comes a time  when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right."

'Take heart in knowing that the arc of history is long, as King noted, but it bends towards justice.Take courage in knowing where a community of hands comes together to work towards justice, a freedom will grow. And take pride in knowing, when the work is challenging and setbacks come - as they must when anything important is happening - that you are building a better future for every child and family and community you touch.'

'And remember, as Robert Kennedy, observed':

"It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped.Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a ripple of hope."

And Linda Darling- Hammond's last words, 'keep you hand on the plow ..hold on'.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The need for new mindsets and the importance of a future orientated education system

The first astronauts experience transformed their concept  of Earth;  as world of interconnected systems bigger than the ambitions of any one country - a planetary view.

We are reaching a stage in human development where we all need to appreciate the importance of the health, or sustainability, of the very planet we live on.

 In the past man made changes were restricted to  individual nations but now it is  widely understood that human changes have world wide consequences.   Marshall McLuhan, in the 60s, foresaw this writing: 'On Spaceship Earth there are no passengers, everybody is a member of the crew.We have moved into and age where everybody's activities affect everybody else'. It is an interconnected living world  which is showing worrying signs of stress. Developing an appreciation of this interconnection is an important role for a future orientated education system but so far schools have not taken up the challenge.

 If new minds, appreciative of the problems, are not developed then, within decades, the fate of the Polynesians of Easter Island will be replicated destroying human life on our planet. There is no denying degradation of our environment and effects of climate change -even the politicians, known for their short term thinking, are starting to take notice -  but  all too slowly.

Business as usual is no longer an option.

Powerful voices are suggesting a radical change in how we think about about our consumer society, what we value and how we live. In her book 'Plenitude'  Economist Juliet Schor outlines how we are degrading the planet faster than it is possible to regenerate. Food, energy, transport and consumer goods are becoming increasingly expensive and that our usual way back to growth is no longer an option.New thinking is required to develop sustainability.  Current economic thinking does not take into account the downstream costs of industrial pollution leaving the taxpayer to pick up the tab. Such indutries are loath to pay any carbon tax or clean up costs and continue to despoil  and degrade the  environment.

We are heading for an ecological crisis that can be no longer be solved by blind faith in progress and  new technology. One scientist, James Lovelock originator of the Gaia Hypothesis ( the world as a living organism), believes it is already too late to save human life!  Others write that to sustain a future population of 9 billion we would need the resources of three Earths.

Such voices would seem hard to ignore but ignored they are.

Without changes  the world is headed for a world of political conflict , often over scarce resources, a growing gap between rich and poor within and between countries, growing poverty, and environmental degradation. Inequality in any society creates fertile ground for conflicts - conflicts no longer restricted to the counties they occur in. Einstein wrote that we cannot continue trying to solve the major problems we face at the same level of thinking that created them in the first place and he is right. We desperately need these new minds.

Perceptive writers are arguing for the need to develop a planetary sustainable mindset. One such writer is Ervin Laszlo in his book 'The Chaos Point - the World at a Crossroads'.

Laszlo  writes that history shows that at major shifts of thinking happens at key points  in human development resulting in new civilisations and that the whole world now faces such a crossroads or turning point. Human genetical make up, he writes, has changed little from stone age days but in contrast human consciousness has changed dramatically in response to new situations.  Living in settled farming communities required different behaviours from an earlier mobile hunting era. Democratic ideals changed thinking in Greece and the Renaissance developed unheard of advances in thinking.  Capitalist ideal based on progress and growth  ( premised on Darwin's survival of the fittest) and socialist ideals of sharing such wealth emerged in response to the Industrial Revolution.

Such changes in thinking in the past took several lifetimes to develop but today, Laszlo writes, in our fast changing world,  time is at a premium.

Visions that drove earlier civilisations and nations as they competed for dominance now need to be applied to the world itself for without significant and widespread change our global civilisation could collapse into chaos. Easter Island on a world wide scale.

Everybody needs to be involved. Waiting for politicians to develop the courage  -as they slowly  appreciate a growing need for such changes in the voting populations will not be enough. Ideas once thought idiotic are now entering mainstream conversations.We need a new culture of planetary responsibility.

Laszlos', in his small book , is calling us to what may well be the greatest conscious moment in our collective experience as people realize  that, for the first time, humans could render themselves extinct by their own actions.

Laszlo  writes that we are a 'chaos window'  - a transitory time when any input, however small can blow up to change existing trends and bring new ideas into existence. In our lives we all know of such vital moments of choice without fully appreciating fully the consequences of our actions.

Such a moments occurs when chaotic times exists; when things are out of control; when old ways no longer seem to work; when 'business as usual' only makes things worse. Looking around our society there are no shortage of struggling institutions and organisations that fit this situation; schools amongst them. The current economic thinking, which excludes environmental consequences,  relying on growth at all costs, needs to be challenged.

In such chaotic windows of opportunity  chaos or crucial  tipping points arise when current organisations breakdown and can longer return to their prior state or behaviours.Tipping points can lead to either total breakdown or new breakthroughs and new ways of thinking.

Schools may look as if they are succeeding  and only need to be improved by more rigorous methods such as the imposition of  state sanctioned 'best practices',National Standards, testing, measurement and the narrowing of the curriculum to numeracy and literacy, but this is  just tinkering.

 Mass education which arose out of the standardized and mechanistic mindset of the  Industrial Era is no longer able to educate all students. In earlier days the  great majority were once happily excluded ( or streamed out for menial jobs  -jobs which no longer exist)  are now forced to attend. That only one in five fail is not only remarkable but ignores the fact that those who fail live in difficult social conditions created by the  industrial society of winners and losers they're forced to live in. As well, this simplistic statistic hides the deeper failure of schools to develop the unique talents of all students. With success being measured in politically defined areas  schools, by complying, ignore the need to develop the unique talents  creativity of all their students. As a result of unquestioned assumptions inherited from a failing era  little  attempt is made to develop the new minds required to solve problem old thinking has created.

In this respect schools are part of the problem.

Educational leaders need to work together to create a learning culture in their schools that ensures all students leave with the competencies to become 'connected,  confident, life long learners'; learners  who are 'able to seek , use and create their own knowledge'. Ironically schools have the curriculum to do just this. The New Zealand Curriculum, revised in 2007,   moved  well away from the technocratic measurable earlier curriculum. Unfortunately the new government, with its allegiance to a measurable  efficiency business model, is imposing National Standards on schools which is a unnecessary distraction. 

As a result most schools are based on the thinking inherited from a past industrial age -and secondary schools most of all. Even primary schools reflect past thinking with their obsession on literacy and numeracy and their enthusiasm for testing. Schools today, living as they do in a surveillance culture, do not provide the conditions for developing the creativity of their teachers or students.

Schools need to challenge the assumptions  that underpin their current thinking.

They need to ask what is the purpose of schooling in such fast changing times? They need to ask how can they ensure the innate  desire to learn students are born with are retained ? They need to ask how can they personalise learning to develop the talents  and passions of all their students?   Most of all  they need to ask themselves how they can ensure  all students leave develop with future orientated mindsets; with a new consciousness able to tackle problems unable to be solved with current thinking.

How would such schools look?

One thing is they wouldn't be standardized. If they were to work towards a vision of a sustainable, evolutionary world they would need to develop unique approaches  to personalise learning for all their students - and  they would have to model themselves the behaviors and thinking the future will require of their students. The encouragement of school creativity  would contribute to the evolution of new ideas in contrast to the current accountability 'one size fits all' culture.

Thankfully there are teachers who have started on this journey and there are well respected educators able to give them courage. To succeed however  leadership at all levels will be required

The cause of current intractable world problems is old thinking - wrong thinking. At the dawn of the new millennium, Laszlo writes, 'we can no longer ignore that current trends are building towards a critical threshold. We are entering a tipping point which we could take advantage of or pay the ultimate price'.

This new view is emerging in sharp contrast to the worldview of untrammeled self interested progress that  has dominated  since the Industrial Age. The new view is a holistic interconnected one and it will require holistic and creative schools to ensure its growth.

Schools need to be seen at the creative frontiers of society not propping up outdated thinking. Schools can  either be part of the problem or part of the solution. In reality there should be no choice and to do so they should work with others. As Margaret Mead said, 'Never doubt that the power of a small group of people to change the world; nothing else ever has'.

Laszlo concludes his book with a quote from Victor Havel , then president of Czechoslovakia, who said, 'Without a global revolution in the shape of human consciousness, nothing will change for the better...and the ecological, social, demographic, or general breakdown of civilisation - will be inevitable.'

Laslo believes it can be avoided.

Let's hope he is right.

And I believe  a new holistic  education is central to success.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Time for moral courage -will the real leaders stand up!

I have been impressed with the writings of Kelvin Smythe and, with his permission, I have selected some of his thoughts to shareHe is calling for moral courage to be shown by principals and teachers in the face of  increasing authoritarianism - of a state imposed regime of education that has little to do with what most teachers  hold dear to them.

Teachers , increasingly, now live in surveillance culture where compliance is becoming a way of life. 

 There are courageous schools who stand against such impositions while others show a growing corrosion of character and fall into compliance mode -who go along to get a long. And, worse still, there are a few who see current doctrinal  directions as as worthwhile!

It is time for teachers to organize themselves ( Kelvin provides valuable ideas to consider) and to make a moral stand. What is needed is for a few people to notice what is happening and refuse to tolerate with impositions that will eventually destroy the creativity of the students they teach. Such people need to care enough to link up with others and to take  steps to confront those who would wish to destroy the creativity of our schools.

The appointment of the Student Achievement Practitioners SAPS ( an appropriate name) have tremendous implications for schools if they wish to value the creative diversity of their communities, teachers and  their students. It is ironic that a Government which believes in initiative, enterprise and personal choice  should introduce such a 'one size fits all'  standardised approach - free market Stalinist. Schools are to be run by  a political ideology that has long since passed its use by date. Political superficial populism and Orwellian 'double speak'  is to replace  a democratic and liberal education -an holistic approach that New Zealand was  once highly regarded for. Now we follow the United Kingdom, American Australian down a path that has nothing to do with creativity and innovation.

How long can schools stand by and be part of it all. 

Kevin writes:

'As Orwell explained, because people feel they are such decent, honest, hardworking people, they think that they couldn’t really be caught up in something immoral. But as Orwell further explained, immoral organisations depend on decent, honest, hardworking people fronting for that immorality.

Sophie Scholl, who has had a German film made of her short life (1921-1943), was brought to my attention by Clive James in his monumental book of essays, Cultural Amnesia.

Hans, her brother, did his best to keep his sister out of the White Rose resistance group, but she insisted. They managed to distribute a few handbills before, inevitably, they were captured. Hans and Sophie, from a well-educated German family had glittering Nazi futures, were a few of the very few Germans to protest the treatment of the Jews. Throughout her interrogation, the Gestapo offered her a choice of freedom if she recanted, a choice not extended to her brother. Plans by the Munich party office to publicly hang them were scrapped for fear of the resultant publicity. She walked bravely to guillotine, glanced up at the steel, said not a word, put her head down and was gone.

She had borne witness to goodness against evil, and in doing that provided a point of idealism for her country to begin regeneration.

The real damage is done,’ she had said, ‘by those millions who want to survive. The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own weaknesses. Those who don’t like to make waves – or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature.’

In some ways, these people she speaks of are, to some extent, all of us, but there are still some who will rise to her challenge.

But what of those people who go beyond acquiescence to active participation and become the willing executioners of our ideals? History is replete with such people, and perhaps it is wrong of me, but for them I feel a sharpening bitterness'.

In another posting Kelvin continues:

'I remind readers of Sophie Scholl (from the last posting) of the way she was witness to goodness against evil, and in doing that provided a point of idealism for Germany to begin regeneration.

I have a tremendous feeling of urgency about all this.

It must happen now or it might as well never happen'.

Those schools that have stood out from national standards – yes their numbers will reduce in the face of a brutal use of political power, but those that remain are witnesses for all schools who oppose national standards but, for one reason or another, have been unable to stand out.

We must support these stand-out schools both locally and nationally in a number of ways. They are witnesses for the best in education, for our education heritage and, no matter what happens, when these bad times are over, their example will be crucial for education’s regeneration.

How we respond will be our measure and the measure of the organisations that represent us'.

Lets hope we have the equivalent of Sophie Scholl leading some of our schools.

Who needs the new Ministry SAPS?; the 'disgraceful 50! asks Kelvin Smythe?

Kelvin Smythe rightly warns schools of the danger ahead with the appointment of the new SAPS ( Student Achievement Practitioners) . I hope school ‘leadership’ has the foresight to scan ahead and see what the appointment of the new Ministry SAPS really mean.

In a recent networkonnect posting Kelvin talks directly to those who have taken up such positions , the disgraceful 50, and asks them to consider the dire consequences of their new positions.

To the 'disgraceful 50' he asks:

'Did you know that to become one of Tolley’s 50 was a moral issue; if you didn’t you really shouldn’t be around children. Did you read what has been happening overseas with national standards?

Did you consider the way national standards is just the first step towards much more radical anti-teacher change? Did you consider the way any right-wing change in education always ends up harming economically disadvantaged children?

Did you consider the effects of national standards on the wider curriculum? Did you consider the deliberate policy of demeaning teachers that is part of national standards?

Did you consider the cost for some of making a stand against national standards?

If, however, you did consider these matters and the morality of them, and you still decided to become one of her 50, what is it you bring to national standards? Can we look to the position you just left for indications of a brilliant response to the matters raised? Do you have some answers to the multiplicity of confusions and distortions that are occurring? Or are you simply going to be an agent for the politicians? Oh – and did you honestly weigh up how your decision might have been affected by the chance for you to escape schools, exercise power, further your career?

Yes – you 50, you are going into schools to monitor them – would that be much different to spying on them do you think? You are going into schools armed with new software that will pick up everything that crosses the ministry screens about the schools you are monitoring. That information will be aggregated on the basis of that school. It will all be there: ERO reports, charters, statements of variance, statistics, tittle-tattle, rumours, and lies. Will schools have access to the information your software has collected? Will that information, in its grouping, be added to, and relayed back to the ministry? Of course it will be'.

A thought for school principals:

'Of course, when they turn up at your school, it will not be about national standards, it will be about enlightened conversation about ‘achievement’, it will be all sweetness and light. Just a pity for this argument, though, that their budget allocation was tabbed for national standards. They take us for some kind of fools?'

Back to the disgraceful 50.

'The schools don’t want you there: most of them detest you (nothing personal, of course). Don’t you see the Orwellian nature of your role: the information-gathering, information-aggregating, authoritarian, fear-based nature of your work?

Oh, congratulations on your new job. When you entered teaching I’m sure you had in mind such a role for yourself. I hope schools make you feel wanted and at ease. Yes, you’re there ‘identifying schools for flexible response.’ Which, translated, means you are there to apply the full institutional weight of the government and bureaucracies to bully schools into submission. Charming.

And to think the money being paid to you was made available by the dumping of our wonderful advisers who functioned so inspiringly across the curriculum.

I consider your salary is education blood money. As well, part of the campaign to demean teachers is to have low status people like you come into schools, relying on the bureaucratic weight you bring with you for protection – all unspoken, of course, we are supposed to believe it’s just little old you.

Yes – all schools the same, standardised, uniform, controlled, buttoned-up, button-downed, paralysed by testing, and obedient to the bureaucracies and the government. Yes – the politicians, bureaucrats know best. Yes – this is education for the 21st century –you’ll be so proud to be a flag-bearer for it. This is corporate authoritarianism, but then again for you national standards is just about national standards, and pigs do fly'.

Back to school principals:

'The government knows best, so the provision must be right. I have a regional list in front of me, you’ll love it. There’s no health, or physical education, or technology, or drama, or dance, or music, or visual arts, or science, or social studies, or anything on competencies, or values, or integration, or anything on the new curriculum'.

A teacher wrote the following to Kelvin:

I wish to give expression to the despair and heartbreak I am forced to live with every day. It is devastating to have passionate commitment to teaching and learning whilst, at the same time being required by ministry edict to squeeze the wonder and curiosity out of each precious life I encounter.’

'This is a sentiment that most of us share. This expression was not written as a public statement, it was written out of deep personal sadness.

Not all principals are in a position to line their schools up against national standards, but all principals as individuals are in a position to line themselves up in support of their fellow principals and in support of a variety-based education system. I urge all principals to do this.

We must stand together. National standards are not of a nature that allows compromise because it is not about us, it is about the children, and it is not in our moral compass to compromise on their behalf.

I urge principals to stand firm, for principals to support their colleagues'.

I am right behind Kelvin!