Sunday, September 12, 2010
Allan Peachey: The Scandal of School Failure
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.
at 9:50 PM