To have the Education Minister and the sycophantic mainstream media constantly asserting that the only way to improve the education our children get is to reform the system by privatisation, performance pay, and the collection of a few data sets is misinformation at best and at worst it is downright untrue.
There is another way to improve things. In fact many other ways, and those in power make a very deliberate choice on which way to go.
If they choose, like the current government, to actively ignore poverty, focus on test scores above all else, cut help for students with difficulties, refuse to engage honestly with educators, try to close down highly specialised special needs schools, cut professional development for staff, and ignore the desperate please of communities already broken by natural disasters, then they surely can hardly cry “shock horror” when a tide of opinion turns against them.
An education system needs to reflect the country it is in and reflects the ethos of the schools’ wider communities. To ignore the wishes of those communities is arrogant folly.
Countries that have moved towards more testing, performance pay, charter schools, voucher systems and so on have not improved their students’ educational outcome. Test scores have not shot up. Pisa scores almost invariably go down, down, down. Parents are not singing from the rafters about the brilliant new systems. It’s hogwash and a sham. Those changes benefit one group and one group only – those who make money from the system. The likes of Lord Nash who stepped seamlessly from the UK Government into running an Academy chain (charter schools by another name). (A chain that has more than one run in with the authorities regarding its use of public funds, I might add.)
There are experts lining up from all of these countries pleading with us not to follow the rotten path they have found themselves on:
Dr Diane Ravitch helped set up the US charter school system and now fiercely opposes it as the system as it now stands has little relationship to the one proposed, instead giving the likes of PitBull the mechanism to set up a school or two.
Professor Ernesto Treviño of the Universidad Diego Portales, says the challenge facing both Chile and New Zealand is inequality and poverty in education, and warns of the dangers of thinking charter schools are the answer, saying
“that is not the way to go to improve equity or quality. In fact, competition among schools tends to do the opposite, that is, to widen educational disparities.”
“Now we have an education market where schools compete against each other and are trying to gain prestige. Collaboration among schools has almost disappeared, and the logic is that the wins of some schools are at the cost of the losses of many educational institutions. In this context, effective improvement practices tend to be guarded as a secret, instead of shared in order to provide better educational opportunities for the most disadvantaged children.”
“The evidence shows us that market style education only provides small gains in quality but creates huge gaps in inequality. That’s something we certainly don’t want to see in New Zealand, which needs to improve equality.”
Other experts such as Pasi Sahlberg stress that there are other ways to improve a system, and that the first issue is to be honest in addressing where the problems lie. When visiting New Zealand, he spoke emphatically about the importance of all students having the same chance at a good education at all levels, and stressed that in order to improve education you must improve equity.
He also stressed that while some countries are moving to less or even no training for teachers, the system in Finland is based on a very high standard of teacher training. (2
All of these experts are at pains to stress that there is always a choice about which path a system is pushed along, and the reformer path may be good for profits but it isn’t proving to be particularly good for students.
Is that really the Kiwi way? Profits before people? Ideology before evidence? I don’t think it is.
The huge majority of Kiwis value our education system and recognise it is a good one. Most people want to build on the great things we already have going on in our schools and communities rather than causing divisions and competition. Most people realise that our neediest students need and deserve extra support, and that that support in the end benefits us all as those students achieve more and give back more throughout their lives. Most people recognise that better training and professional development for classroom teachers can only be a good thing.
Most people want our teachers and students supported, not ridden over roughshod by horse and rider in very large blinkers.