Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Michael Johnston: No evidence, No evaluation, No exit - Lessons from the 'Modern Learning Environments' Experiment

In 2011 the Ministry of Education embarked on a ten-year strategy to rejuvenate New Zealand’s aging classroom estate. Part of this strategy involved establishing large, open plan classrooms, populated by many more children than are found in cellular classrooms.

The Ministry conducted no research on the effects of these ‘Modern learning Environments’ on students’ learning prior to compelling schools to adopt them. Neither did they conduct any evaluation of their effects after they were established.

The rationale for Modern Learning Environments was that they promote team teaching and self-directed, student-centred learning. Again, there is no evidence that either of these teaching approaches is effective. On the contrary, a preponderance of research suggests that direct teaching approaches are more effective for literacy, numeracy at primary level and the
disciplinary subjects at secondary level.

The strategy under which Modern learning Environments were promulgated has now expired. However, open plan classrooms are still being built, and many of the country’s classrooms have already been converted. Schools are therefore left with a permanent legacy of a policy based on ideology rather than evidence.

Future education policy must avoid the mistakes of the Modern Learning Environment experiment. In the future, educational initiatives should not be implemented without evidence that they will be effective and plans to evaluate their implementation and effects.

Dr Michael Johnston has held academic positions at Victoria University of Wellington for the past ten years. He holds a PhD in Cognitive Psychology from the University of Melbourne. This article was originally published HERE


Barend Vlaardingerbroek said...

As an immigrant kid starting school in 1961 I was taught in a prefab holding a class of over 45. I learned the basics and learned them well from teachers who had mostly exited school after Year 11 and then spent 2 years at TeaCol. If we're going to do what works, bring back the old prefabs, large classes, and teachers who regarded their duty to be teaching and not recruiting for woke social causes.

Anna Mouse said...

Successive governments have always driven education by ideology. Some have been more concerned with outcome and have measured their ideology with some benchmark.

The current government uses on ideology and that ideology has no ruler because to measure would be a colonialist construct and damaging.

What we now see in the public that the government dismisses is an OECD rating in STEM and literacy at levels where the OECD are going to have to create a new chart to cater to NZ alone we are so far down.

Robert Arthur said...

From the point of view of pupil or teacher I cannot imagine anything worse than an open classroom. All must end each day very fatigued. Open plan offices are bad enough. Many modern children seem unable to concentrate; open classes make it impossible. I think the classes are a device to mask poor teachers. And teachers appointed for te reo ability and/or pro maori attitude can coattail off teachers with real ability in real subjects. Open classes also enable streaming in disguise; one teacher can concentrate on the interested and able whilst the other effectively teaches a group which should have been failed to a lower level. Also disguises low acheivement by maori and pacifica island groups. So presumably the Teaching Council and NZEI are all for.

DeeM said...

You wonder what our Ministries do, especially with all the extra people they've hired over the past 5 years.
As far as education goes, they clearly don't review published research and then weigh up what will likely be most effective, as demonstrated by the Modern Learning Environment example.

We pay all these people and should expect in return some degree of ability and competence for all our hard-earned money.
What we typically get is the complete opposite.
Unfortunately, we're not able to sack them and our governments are too useless to do it because that would force them to admit they approved a bad idea.

Everyone knows our public service is over-staffed, over-paid and invariably ineffective....and things have gotten MUCH worse under Labour.

Anonymous said...

the biggest challenge is to understand who is the 'customer'...
the student doesn't pay the teacher's salary, so improving their outcomes is irrelevant.
the parents don't pay any fees, so they don't see the school as anything beyond a free daycare facility.
the teachers must keep the MoE, teaching council and teachers' union happy. so, they will spend more time doing things unrelated to education as long as it protects their job, salary and registration.

charter schools suggested by ACT might be worth a try one more time...

Robert Arthur said...

Dr Johnston on RNZ 20th 9.20am explained how very little seems to have been spent on researching the teaching method. Compare with the vast sum frittered on the schools' history curriculum. And that has not even produced textbooks. The likes of Michael Bassett could presumably have written a set of authoritative books in his sleep, saved millions, and made the task workable for teachers.