Monday, March 22, 2010

Allan Peachey: Teacher quality key to student achievement

How do we deal with the 25 percent of students who are not learning? How do we deal with the highest achieving students who require constant challenge and many of whom are capable of doing even better? How do we deal with the mid-range students who do OK but from whom we actually need to expect much more? How do we deal with the mid-range students who are failing when they could be passing because we do not expect enough of them? Regardless of how each of these questions is put, the answer to each of them is the same – improve the quality of teaching.

For a long time now the answer to these questions has focused on students and their backgrounds. It is time to shift the focus away from students and put it on to the quality of teaching. That is the only way forward if New Zealand schooling is to take a step change into the future. Without that step change in schooling we will not get the step change in our economy which is essential if more New Zealanders are to enjoy the fruits of prosperity.

There is now widespread agreement across the education sector that of all the factors that contribute to whether a child learns or not, the quality of the teacher is pre-eminent. The teacher unions will use this wisdom to justify pay increases for all teachers, despite something we already know – teacher quality varies between schools and, where the Principal is not doing the job properly, within schools. There is a harsh reality to all of those and the most vulnerable to teaching of a variable standard are those two groups of midrange students that I identified earlier. One or two years of bad teaching is all it takes to put these children behind to an extent that they never catch up. And that remains the experience of too many youngsters in the schooling system.

When are we going to start measuring teacher performance against how well students learn? And when will pay rates follow teacher performance rather than length in the job? Some of the best teaching in New Zealand schools is coming from young and relatively inexperienced (in terms of years in the job) teachers. And they are the least well paid teachers in the system. Judging the performance of teachers against how well students learn would require a quantum leap forward in understanding what constitutes the type of teaching that makes youngsters learn. I sometimes despair that this country will never be ready to take that step. Of course the teacher unions have not wanted to have this discussion because to do so would be to draw attention to something we already instinctively know – that some teachers are more successful at making students learn than others.

It is easy to determine whether a teacher is making students learn. Regular assessment does that. National Standards will assist that judgement in the primary school system, if they are implemented effectively. The challenge for principals is to be able to identify the qualities to be looked for in a person which would suggest the ability to make students learn. The same challenge exists for those charged with the responsibility of selecting applicants for teacher training in the first place. Principals I respect frequently tell me that they are not satisfied with many of those seeking employment out of teacher training programmes. I worry that the qualities needed to successfully complete a teacher training course are not necessarily the qualities that are indicative of being able to make students learn.

Experienced principals, if they so choose, can easily identify in a teacher the qualities that will make students learn. First and foremost is the ability to manage the learning of all students in a classroom regardless of each youngster’s prior learning, socio-economic background and ethnicity. Such teachers frequently and consistently check all youngsters’ understanding and do not leave it for individual students to indicate whether they understand or not. This is easily observable in the classroom by an expert eye. Teachers who make students learn have very high expectations of themselves and have the same expectations of each of the youngsters in their classroom, regardless of each youngster’s prior learning, socio-economic background and ethnicity. And again this is an easily observable quality to the expert eye. Another of those qualities, also easily recognisable, is a determination and a relentless energy not to let anything get in the way of students’ learning, be it a perceived shortage of resources, the background of students or the craziness of regulatory bureaucracy. Teachers who make students learn are “no excuses” people. I recently saw this referred to as “grit”, an invaluable personal quality in many walks of life. And I could go on.

My point is, with or without National Standards an experienced eye can by observation and by study of students’ assessment data easily identify those teachers who are successful at making students learn and those who cannot. Those teachers who can make students learn will take National Standards in their stride. Those teachers who have spent years not making students learn and who have made a science out of hiding behind now discredited socio-economic explanations for why students don’t learn will struggle and be exposed. They need not be. All they need do is take on the qualities that I have outlined above. The challenge may take some effort, but it is not insurmountable for most currently in teaching.


Anonymous said...

Why isn't Alan Peachey Minister of Education?!!! He was an outstanding teacher and principal who broke the pattern of subservient, union-pleasing, ERO-pleasing sycophants which has for too long been drowning the vast majority of state schools.

I am a retired teacher and principal who got out of the state system and set up a little private school on the smell of an oily rag. Given the chance to put into practice what I knew kids need, the pupils excelled. Nothing affects pupil achievement more than high teacher expectations of each child. Research has repeatedly shown that this is true. Sadly we are now into the third generation of teachers who were not taught the basics themselves. Small wonder they can't teach effectively.

Somehow we have to either reclaim the teachers' colleges and put in sensible practioners, or probably more cost effective and effective would be to, train teachers by apprenticing them to the most highly skilled classroom teachers.

Duncan Lennox

Anonymous said...

so when the league tables eventually come in how can you judge a teacher on children who are not at the standard but have been at several schools previously. I teach 5 and 6 year olds. The group I have had since New entrants will all achieve the national standard level. However the 5 children that will not will still be deemed my failure as they are in my class, even though some only a few months. One child has been to 6 schools and two to 2 other schools.Two others had 2 schools and were assessed when they entered my class at 6 at a 3year old level.
Burt reading/spelling and asTTle and NUMP and Marie Clays 5 and 6 year net and Pm Benchmark are all nationally benchmarked, previously trialled tests where you can compare your child with children all around NZ.
National standards untrialled, no tests just information. Texts( Reading) can be seen ( how many times - doesn't say 1 or 10?)Language used can not be transferred to your own reporting sheets that your school makes up, with out adaption. Poor teachers ? I think you will find some of them will have ok results . Who checks?? Remember NCEA up near Hamilton. Credits for putting out assembly seats.How can an untried ,unmonitored, unchecked, not standarised system where you do your own tests and can't compare results with other children round the country work effectively??

Anonymous said...

Alan Peachey is correct as a mother of 3 children I have seen an array of teachers and the calibre of them has been varied to say the least.

I have 3 children of very different academic levels- I have had a teacher tell me that the child that is average but falling through the gaps because not a lot is expected of him, she asks too many questions. I was blown away. The same teacher taught one of my other children who was in the extension class - the teacher liked them because they didn't ask questions or if they did they then understood the answer straight away and did not need to keep asking. I was appalled as I really think teachers should be encouraging kids to keep asking and keep learning and teachers should want to keep finding ways to get that kid who is keen enough to ask, to understand the answer. All kids have something great to offer it is a shame that all teachers don't see it.

Anonymous said...

All the preachy Peachey stuff as usual. The above raises more questions than it could ever answer. If it were this easy, everyone would have been doing it years ago!

In today's terms, it could be compared with principals making decisions about team leaders, permanent teachers, relieving teachers - and what all these people do to impress the principal and get their promotion.

The ability to apparently teach well, as we should know, can relate to subject at a particular school, resourcing, peer group support and lots else.

Duncan - in your eyes Allan Peachey deserves to be in Cabinet - could it be that John Key is behaving with all the wisdom of the typical school principal?

If Allan Peachey was in the ACT Party where he probably belongs, he might indeed be in Cabinet by now!

Anonymous said...

Our family has had a good run of teachers in mid-decile schools. We have learned a lot by listening to our teachers, with their training and experience they provide insights for parents who want to listen - as opposed to parents who constantly want to tell teachers where it's at.

We have brought up our kids to always look beyond the teacher - find out what they need to know and cover the ground one way or another. We've also convinced our kids that learning is a process of engagement between teacher and student, and that there is always a way to access the knowledge of teachers. Build the rapport, build the respect - way to go!

For our part we have encouraged all teachers to do what they know best.

In our family of 3, attending schools through primary and secondary, we have never asked to have a child moved to a different teacher.

When it comes to discussing who is a good teacher, I find that our kids and their friends argue a lot! Some like the spoon-feeding variety, some like the delegating variety. Some like big personalities, some like laid back. And as mentioned above, I think effectiveness is to some extent driven by the culture and the subject matter. It was just the same when I was that age.

Some may wonder with our "live and let live" approach to education if our kids ever learned anything. Well yes, we can show you Excellence in NCEA passes = and kids gaining access to tertiary courses of their choice. They are not burned out through panic learning and heavy indoctrination at school - and they did not compete in the private schools homework maximising one-upmanship. They are ready for self motivated learning that is the way at tertiary.