Sunday, September 12, 2010

Allan Peachey: The Scandal of School Failure

I did not have a lot of time for Al Gore, the former Vice President of the USA. It was a stroke of good fortune for the world that George Bush finally prevailed over him in 2000. However, Gore did say one thing that continues to resonate with me: “Scandals are front page news, while routine failure is ignored.” He could have been talking about the New Zealand schooling system. The media, particularly but not exclusively the Sunday print media, love the “teacher sleeps with pupil” stuff or for variation “pupil sleeps with teacher”. And whether the Teachers’ Council is stern enough, or severe enough, or quick enough, or public enough in dealing with such cases. I am not arguing that such matters are not important, of course they are. But they attract far more attention than what the routine failure of schooling attracts.

In fact, the real scandal of New Zealand schooling is the way that routine failure has been ignored for far too long now. Even more scandalous is the way that we have accepted without question excuses for the failure in our schools. And too often we hear that old shibboleth – “New Zealand has a world class education system”, and the conversation is expected to stop. There are aspects of the New Zealand schooling system that are world class, but they are confined to too few schools. The New Zealand system cannot continue to piggyback off a few schools to claim to be world class. There cannot be a world class schooling system when up to a third of children fail to learn to read, write and do maths to an acceptable standard. That constitutes, in Gore’s words, “routine failure” and has for too long been ignored.

Take a look at the public resources that have been thrown at State schooling in New Zealand over the last 30 years. Teacher salaries, based on no more than length of time in the job, have continued to rise. Classes are smaller than they have ever been. The school leaving age has been put up. The investment in property and operational funding is greater than it has ever been. The State today funds early childhood education to levels never dreamed of even a decade ago. Teacher training occurs in the universities today to a greater extent than ever before. And it is more “research-informed” than it has ever been. Education bureaucracies are bigger than they have ever been. And there are more of them.
And yet …… still a third of children fail to learn to read, write and do maths to an acceptable standard. Why is it then that no single action or no raft of measures ever seems to work? And that being the case, what hope is there for the future?
Not a lot if we continue down the path of previous years. Not a lot if we continue to tinker around the edges of the problem, or more actually tip toe through the minefield of self justification and political correctness that is the New Zealand schooling sector. Not a lot if we keep diverting large amounts of taxpayer money into administrative (bureaucratic and political) processes and away from classrooms and children. Not a lot while our system remains so weak at fixing or closing down bad schools.
The great defence, of course, is that the “tail” of children not learning is spread over all schools. Therefore, by definition, it is a problem for all schools. Therefore we can justify tinkering around the edges of the system rather than going to the heart of the problem. I accept none of this. The tail is far longer in some schools than in others. There are too many communities in New Zealand where whether a child gets to learn to read, write and do maths to an acceptable standard depends on the direction that they walk to school each morning.

I have great confidence in my view that if only we would fix or close bad schools we would reduce the number of children not learning to read, write and do maths. I am seeing far too many schools doing far too good a job while others around them are not to believe anything else.
A good place to start would be to show greater respect for those schools in New Zealand that are world class. My experience has been that there exists in the New Zealand schooling system and the bureaucracies that dominate it, an institutional embarrassment at the success that some schools generate for themselves. There were days when I felt that that success was just an embarrassment to the system because it showed just what is possible. It showed what can happen when the restraints of a reform-resistant system are thrown off, when old attitudes driven by socio-economic determinants are discarded, and when top people are left to get on with the job.
It is not the success of our top schools that we should be embarrassed by. What we should be embarrassed by is the routine failure which was tolerated for so many years.

11 comments:

Sarah said...

I would be interested to know where you found your stats. Recent education counts data shows that more than 85% of students attain the NCEA level one qualification (which has literacy and numeracy requirements).

Where are the figures to support your claim that 1/3 of kids can't read or write? The MOE data would suggest you're way off beam...

Anonymous said...

The first step would be to pay teachers on results just as takes place in many private enterprises. The fact that many teachers are well paid in spite of the results their students obtain is an insult to those students.

Anonymous said...

I understand how on the face of it, it would seem a great idea to pay teachers on results. I thought that too once. However how do you measure results? An example. We have in our school several children recording well below 50% attendances. Should the teacher be commended or penalised if the student makes 50% of the standard? What if A child comes in in year 4 term 3 from an other school? There is far more to measuring then it may seem on the face of it. I was guilty of judging others by my own situation. Our schools intake covers a full spectrum of parental involvement and of socio economic back ground. I believe there is a lot of room for improvement. I also feel that often communities have a school that reflects the people who make up its community. Aren't schools run buy a board chosen by that community after all?

Anonymous said...

So-called school failure is mostly massive social failure connected with an ever increasing, chaotic underclass. The best students teach themselves and the worst students are unteachable. Why can't people see or admit that the family culture is far and away the most important factor? And as for paying by results, an indifferent teacher in a decile 10 school will get terrific results and a terrific teacher in a decile 3 school will get indifferent results.

Anonymous said...

You are all off beam. Literacy standards have been declining since 1)teaching methods were changed 2) Schools were transformed into businesses - endless paperwork and fundraising etc.
To Sarah : Forget MOE stats. The fact that these days universities are complaining about low literacy standards of new entrants speaks for itself ! It is a fact of reality that no one can rely on any govt ministry to provide a true and up to date picture of anything since it takes so long for new information to be assimilated.
And its hardly reasonable to blame teachers who are themselves products of a faulty education system.

Thomas said...

As a teacher there is a case for the MOE to answer. They readily acknowledge that teaching is an ever increasingly stressful job and yet keep adding compliance burdens to the teacher work load. When will they wake up and realise that for teachers to cope with workload and stress levels, the teachers must dwindle the emphasis put into lesson plans, marking etc. Latest research shows NZ teachers put in the third highest amount of hours worked in the OECD and one of the lowest paid too!

Anonymous said...

Two of the many reasons for the apparent decline in literacy standards:
1.Many students spend very little time reading at home these days as there is huge competition from electronic forms of entertainment.
2. Thirty years ago, only the top students entered university. Now a much greater proportion of young people do. There are many less-than-literate people around in their 50s and 60s (50% of those who sat School Cert English in the old days failed. And that didn't count those who left at 15) but they didn't try to get into university when they were young.

Neither of above has anything to do with teachers. Stop playing the blame game.

Anonymous said...

Certainly let's hold our teachers accountable but let's provide them with a reasonable working environment where they can focus on the important teaching and learning tasks.

We want teachers who can actually teach - but at least some of the job ads I've seen seem to place more emphasis on "behaviour management."

Lets make our bureaucrats and misbehaving pupils more accountable. It is not really logical to demand payment by results when many teachers have to spend a great deal of so called teaching time in "managing behaviour." Now, if a teacher could pick his or her pupils that would be a different story.

I know teachers come in for a bit of stick but, who among the people reading this, would want to be a teacher working under current conditions?

Michael Darmody said...

The Education System is indeed in crisis. The routine failure that Allan Peachey describes is at all levels. The MOE lacks innovation and creativity, contracting out the latest initiative to failed classroom teachers who deliver very little, eg Careers Initiative. ERO lacks any rigour, as long as the students and staff stay loyal and tell the inspectors how wonderful the school is, this is what is reported. The Teacher Training establishments are producing teachers who are not equipped with the basic tools to survive, never mind to be successful educators. The PPTA sidelined a large number of its most experienced and best teachers by accepting a pay deal that excluded G3 equivalent teachers from reaching the top of the pay scale. The results of which are still being felt. There are many outstanding teachers working hard in our classrooms everyday but there is an ever growing number of incompetent useless individuals who masquerade as teachers. As a result, Professional Development is no more than basic competency aimed at the lowest common denominator. I was amazed to sit in a room of over 100 professionals being given the message by a so called "Education guru" that keeping the noise levels down in the classroom is beneficial to students learning and even more amazed that this was a revelation to fifty percent of the participants and something that they were going to go and try !! I do not have the time or space to discuss the issues of NCEA accept to say that having worked in and studied education systems all over the world, this has the least educational value of them all and will be a major hindrance to the development of this country in the future. There will be a price to pay for this routine failure and for many it will be too late to fix. If parents could get the same insight into education as teachers do on a daily basis, there would be a hugh increase in home schooling. My advice to anyone is start to save for your grand childrens education so that they have options in the future because if these problems are not addressed and the Allan Peacheys of the world listened to, the mediocrity which has destroyed some of our schools will only spread. Our children deserve so much better and shame on those who have got education into this position.

(PS I have no political bias towards the National Party but Allan Peachey needs to be listened to on this issue).

Anonymous said...

Having recently arrived in New Zealand from the UK I find the differences between the two systems fascinating.

I could quite possibly be stereotyping but I note some destinct differences. Fisrtly, UK children are far less engaged with schooling. Secondly, they are far more abusive and teachers are often engaged in far more negative verbal exchanges. Also it has to be acknowledged they are better paid, it is no good complaining about standards if pay is so poor.

The chldren in NZ are engaged and learnng is far more child centred. Teachers tend to be reflective of pupils interests and great emphasis is placed on inquiry skills. As for standards all I can say is my own children find the work in class easy.

UK education for me is reaching a serious crisis point. On major reason is standards, that often vague notion favoured by conservatives to beat progressives or teachers generally. UK children are bored and hate the emphasis on core teaching (to the test). NZ teachers seem to be aware of that pit fall. However, national tests have improved standards and children have good skills in very narrowly constrained areas of literacy and numeracy.

You canot complain about wasteage(salaries or funding initiatives) until you know the vast fortunes the last UK government squandered on armies of teaching assistants, mid day supervisors or the armies of inspectors lining their own pockets.

You have, in the good schools I have visited, lifted a good deal of UK assessment and moderation material at little cost to tax payers.

I hope to find out more about the education system in the coming months!

ChrisB said...

Firstly, lets ignore the bit about how lucky we are to have had George Bush jnr as US president.
Mr Peachey delivers a lots of criticism of todays schools but offers no creative solution to the apparent problem.
Larger class size and learning by rote used to be the norm in the golden age of learning and it may work now.
This is as creative as Allan Peachey gets.
Performance based pay? How do you measure that? Where will the teachers come from to teach the lower streams ?
The modern curriculum may be a problem being far more crowded it is also much more sophisticated than it was 40 years ago.
Pupils that were less able to learn in the class environment left at 15 yoa and were able to get a meaningful job. That is much harder to do now.
Many of those people were absorbed into work places on cadet schemes, as juniors and apprentices which do not exist to the same extent at this time.
Universities are accepting more people probably with less ability than 40 years ago which may be why they think the standard of literacy has dropped.
Routine failure? 50 % of candidates used to be able to pass School Certificate, that is after many pupils left at 15. By Allan Peacheys standard that really is appalling.
Can you maintain oversight when there is less bureaucracy?
Teachers are not well paid. 68000 is the most you can earn as a teacher without being some sort of supervisor.
For someone with more than 10 years experience this does not seem a good salary. I cannot see how performance pay will be effective in delivering better standards
MPs get 144000 (basic), no experience necessary and by reading Allan Peachey's diatribe do not have to be very able or creative thinkers.