Busytown by Jolisa Gracewood

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Busytown: School bully

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  • Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    I chair a small committee that administers a set of scholarships (UWC Scholarships, in case any of you have a bright, motivated, socially engaged and engaging under-17 lollling round the house...). Every year, when our applications come in, I go through my annual rage against the inequities in our education system. How, I ask myself, am I meant to compare this application from someone at a large Decile 10 city school, where more than half the Year 11s get NCEA Level 1 endorsed with Excellence, and another third endorsed with Merit, with this other application from someone at a small low decile rural school, where noone got endorsement even with Merit - and so many more didn't get NCEA Level 1 at all. Fortunately we are allowed to select on potential as much as achievement, but that's what makes it difficult. I can't believe that the educational potential of the students at that poor rural school is really that much lower than the potential of those at the wealthy city school. So in between trying to adjust for the different applicants' educational opportunities, I can't help but rage at all that wasted potential.

    I don't for even a moment think that the solution is charter schools, or bulk-funding, or "performance-based pay", when all of those have repeatedly been shown to not work. The willful pursuit of these debunked ideas just makes me rage all the more, because it diverts teaching and educational researcher attention, energy and funding from finding and implementing something that will work.

    Rage.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 585 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    The link to the scholarship site needs to have the http:// at the start, Lucy, otherwise it tries to direct it within PAS.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    As ‘their’

    solution is charter schools, or bulk-funding, or “performance-based pay”, when all of those have repeatedly been shown to not work.

    I wonder what was their question / perceived problem?

    It’s apparent they have warped the empirical
    ’some (many) of our kids are failing’
    into the more imperious
    ’We need more smart kids…’

    with the tacit proviso they are
    …left to their own devices
    in large private precincts!

    What could possibly go worng?
    rite?

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7943 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    Thanks Matthew. Rats. Too late to edit it. It should read http://www.nz.uwc.org.

    they have warped the empirical '__some (many) of our kids are failing__' into...

    'the teachers are failing our kids', when I suspect it's more that government and society are failing the teachers and our kids.

    When I envision a future society where children have an equal chance of realising their potential and aspirations regardless of which school they attend, the only way that I can imagine that happening is in a society where the children have enough food to eat and less stresses in their home life, and the teachers have a whole lot of resources (much as I hate the "toolbox" modernism, it's probably apt here) available to them to help where those basics aren't enough or aren't quite there.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 585 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    I wonder what was their question / perceived problem?

    The only problem they see is that it's one of the last public services still holding out against the forces of private equity. You know something's amiss when even Forbes is calling bollocks on it.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5429 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    While I'm not in the slightest agreement with Baxter, it does seem that the best way to answer his question is not to show how these idea have been debunked, but to lay out the many ideas that are successful, haven't been debunked, or haven't even been tried. Because the meme of "At least National are going to do something" is going to keep coming up unless there are strong alternative positive suggestions. This is a comment that applies far wider than education, IMHO, too. If a Labour/Green coalition is to stand any chance whatsoever, then it will from relentless presentation of positive alternatives. Negative campaigning has very limited success against Key's National. That might make some people hesitate to vote National, but it won't draw them to any consistent locus.

    The most problematic aspect is that the long tail and falling rankings of NZ educational standards might indeed by a result of increasing poverty, but solving poverty dissolves into an issue not targeted at education, and muddied by all the numerous value judgments that go towards poor people in a society where human value is predicated around work and remuneration.

    Far better than a "generally socialist" approach of lifting all ships on a rising tide of equality, is to make many piecemeal and populist proposal to eliminate highly specific problems. This is IMHO a far more powerful response to the general "We'll just tough out the austerity, in absence of any ideas, thanks".

    For example, children going to school hungry is fixable. It's not even expensive. Children having cheap access to swimming facilities is fixable. Universal access to completely free ECE is possible, and might even be an employment bonanza, considering the number of daycares struggling to make rolls, because people can't afford to send their kids (thus double-downing on the poverty trap because that means the parents also can't get paid employment). Poverty targeted literacy programs need not be outrageously expensive, presumably the teachers amongst us can elaborate what is currently in existence and what they'd like to see.

    Tertiary achievement levels should probably also be somewhat decoupled from the high school debate, although, of course, they are related. But it's quite a cop out for universities to take no responsibility for the quality of graduates, pushing blame at the school system. It's also worth nothing that since the 80s there are a lot more places calling themselves universities, where before they were called Techs. Having a mother working as a senior Tech lecturer, I've watched this process slowly unfold, and there is no doubt that she has felt no less valued or consulted through the gradual Americanization of the Tech system than school teachers have. It's a pretty fuxored world to live in, where you're in the University option for people who are more likely to want to work as tradespeople, and yet be held against the standards of high achieving academic Universities. But even to be constantly assessed purely in terms of how much you raised the students is demoralizing. It's as if each lecturer is an island of accountability, rather than the entire system into which the kids slot, as if they personally are at fault for the kids who don't even come to lectures at all, never do any work, and scream blue murder that the tests are too hard. The end result of that kind of accountability is that of course they want to dumb down the assessments. Which doesn't feel good to them, but when their job is at stake, that's what people do.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10650 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Which is not to say that I'm not a "general socialist" or that I don't believe in the rising tide idea. I do. But I don't think it's the thing to be trying to sell at the moment. That debate is old and tired, and the camps are well formed and not very dynamic.

    Of course I'd hope that a Labour/Green government be generally more socialist, as well as specifically. But it's the specifics that are going to make for the best debate, especially if they come in large numbers. If the Government is in a situation that it has to come up with a counter policy for every Opposition announcement, then it's lost control of the narrative. Even if it wins (which is likely), it will be dancing to the Opposition's tune, and that could do a great deal of good, no matter how the election goes.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10650 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Keir Leslie,

    And assessment should be integral to learning processes — thinking of it as something [unrelated] that comes after learning is absurd. Students should, ideally, be thinking about how they will be assessed, what the assessments are, what the learning outcomes are. It is part of learning, and learning to learn.

    I had this idea that "learning to learn" was about discovering the joy in knowledge, and the pleasure of learning to do new things. I find it quite sad that your idea of learning is purely about external assessment. Perhaps that's just me, I have had a number of people remark that my approach to learning is idiosyncratic.

    I think training people to obey, and to think ahead to work out what the authority figure is likely to want so they can do it without being asked is scary. Where does thinking for themselves come into your picture of learning? Is there any place for a student to say "no, that's wrong" to the teacher? Either because the science has moved on, or because the instruction is dangerous or illegal?

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1229 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Telfar Barnard, in reply to BenWilson,

    It’s also worth nothing that since the 80s there are a lot more places calling themselves universities, where before they were called Techs.

    I don't know if you meant to type "worth nothing" or "worth noting". But either way is good.

    I have a poorly formed memory of a satirical UK piece in the late 1980s or early 1990s, in which a politician and a public servant discussed how to reduce funding for universities and break the tertiary unions. One of the central planks of the method consisted of renaming techs as universities, because then universities couldn't claim that universities were special because they were research institutions. I wish I could remember the rest of it.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 585 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to BenWilson,

    Which is not to say that I’m not a “general socialist” or that I don’t believe in the rising tide idea. I do.

    How is the “rising tide” idea markedly different from the “trickle down” idea, other than the volume of liquid (warm and yellow, or otherwise) with which those at the bottom find themselves surrounded?

    NZ’s tide has risen quite dramatically in the last 30 years, but there’s bugger-all evidence that the rise has lifted those at the bottom anywhere near as much as it’s lifted those at the top. Indeed, there’s rather a lot of evidence that the rising tide has largely swept around those at the bottom, leaving them bobbing slightly higher in the water than their starting position but with their overall movement being measured more accurately in centimetres than the metres seen higher up the pond.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    I don’t know if you meant to type “worth nothing” or “worth noting”. But either way is good.

    Oops. The latter! But yes, the former works, if you presume sarcasm.

    How is the “rising tide” idea markedly different from the “trickle down” idea, other than the volume of liquid (warm and yellow, or otherwise) with which those at the bottom find themselves surrounded?

    I actually originally said “lifting all ships on a rising tide of equality”, which isn’t quite the same thing as everyone being lifted at the same rate. But my point is that in a battle of ideologies, stalemate is the likely outcome. Furthermore, while large ideological differences may be claimed, the two large centrist parties are really not exemplars of either extreme ideology at all. Both support elements of both ideologies in a balance, just a different balance. The chance of winning points in a general push is like trying to win a battle by “turtling”. You close ranks, crush together, meet in the middle and push. The whole thing moves excruciatingly slowly, and generally favors the side with the better weaponry/training and/or superior numbers.

    This is a strategy that suits a large incumbent power, not a smaller, disadvantaged group with limited time and resources. If they genuinely wish to win, rather than just minimize lost ground, then there are much more dynamic battle strategies. A smaller group should really rely on mobility, changing targets continually, possibly dividing into targeted commando groups, keeping the bigger group constantly moving and getting tired, picking off and retreating. The larger group can end up being forced back, even without direct confrontation, just to avoid losing resources from being outflanked.

    I translated this metaphor into the political battle, which is “make attack on all policy fronts, targeting weakness, and never risking all out battle without significant advantage”. It’s not guaranteed to win, but the other strategy is, IMHO, guaranteed to lose.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10650 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to BenWilson,

    But my point is that in a battle of ideologies, stalemate is the likely outcome.

    Not in a democracy. Look at Australia, where the new federal government has an agressive program of undoing everything that the previous government did that they disagree with. That's a battle of ideologies, but it's not a stalemate. This electoral cycle one side has a one-vote advantage in parliament so they can do whatever they like. and they are.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1229 posts Report Reply

  • NBH, in reply to BenWilson,

    It's also worth nothing that since the 80s there are a lot more places calling themselves universities, where before they were called Techs

    This isn't true. 'University' is a legally protected term in NZ, and although one Polytech (or ITP) became a university (AIT become AUT) after an incredibly tortuous process that universities fought against tooth and nail, legislation was promptly enacted to block off any others. The current Chair of the TEC Board might claim that 'polytechs want to be universities', but that really seems to be evidence that that he hasn't set foot in one since around 1998 rather than an accurate statement of the atmosphere in that part of the tertiary education sector.

    It's also worth noting - although this is getting close to breaking my 'don't comment on professional matters on blogs' rule - that in many areas the ITP sector is miles ahead of the universities. For example, the new quality assurance regime that applies to them (SA/EER) is based on genuine evaluation and reflective practice principles and is far more effective - albeit still with teething problems - than the audit-based mindset that still dominates universities.

    Sorry for the slight rant - this type of comment just strikes a bit of a nerve.

    Wellington • Since Oct 2008 • 97 posts Report Reply

  • mic weevil, in reply to NBH,

    easier just to rename with a vaguely university-sounding name: ie. Unitec, or the deluded grandeur of Palmy's "universal college of learning" (UCOL)

    auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 52 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    This just in! What Hekia Parata actually said to the Herald on Sunday.

    I have the transcript.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22825 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Neale,

    Apologies if this has already appeared - I thought I'd posted but can't find it now... Thanks to Jolisa and Russell for the links to the overseas examples. This is sobering reading. I'd already thought of intermediate school here as a kind of golden idyll before the tougher assessment of high school; it's downright appalling to think of constant testing from kindergarten up, as in the US. Kids need the chance to try a hundred different activities, to discover their passions, to daydream and so develop creativity and problem-solving: not to be tested and re-tested on a narrow range of facts. They don't develop in a rocket trajectory; they have stasis periods, as they process all the socialisation they're going through at school; as their bodies alter; as they go through personal crises, changes. And then they have peaks: sudden bursts of confidence, sudden imaginative leaps. A recipe of relentless assessment seems like one for bored, agitated, disruptive, or stressed children. (Or all four.) The example of high school teaching to the test as given in one of Russell's links is just so dispiriting: a teacher told not to get the students to read the full novel of Mice and Men, just the passages that would be examined...you can imagine parallels in the other disciplines. Don't teach about how the heart and lungs work together, just teach the lungs - the other information isn't in the test. Don't let the kids out to run off steam and develop fitness - they have to re-sit yesterday's test. Don't fund the low decile school; they haven't done so well without laptops and text books and class trips this year, maybe they'll improve if they all have to stay shut inside the classroom doing mind numbing low-grade clerical work all day. A fragmented, decontextualised, irresponsible form of education; a way of widening the gap between the rich and the poor - so we all fall into the abyss of social disenfranchisement, resentment, and amorality. More from you Jolisa, more!

    Dunedin • Since Mar 2014 • 3 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to mic weevil,

    Or just call yourself MIT, possibly in ignorance that the prestigious US institution with the same acronym even exists.

    In the UK, they allowed every polytech or FE college to become a university, which doesn't really fool anyone, but has been good for a small number of higher-end polys like the [University of] Portsmouth [Polytechnic].

    And like MIT, many top tertiary institutions don't use the term university: Imperial College, CalTech, Europaische Technische Hofschule, etc.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to NBH,

    Sorry for the slight rant

    Not at all, and thanks for the correction. It is good that this happened. I must have been remembering the whole time that MIT was trying to get into this, all of the time Mum spent talking about them trying to get this status and not understood that they had actually failed.

    I was most definitely NOT trying to say that tech degrees are taught poorly! They seemed to me to be much more focused on teaching than research, that the lecturers are teachers first and researchers second, if at all.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10650 posts Report Reply

  • NBH, in reply to BenWilson,

    All good - and although it predates my professional lifetime, I've heard some really mind-boggling stories about the empire-building and let's say 'optimistic' visions that drove some behaviour in the 90s.

    In my experience most of that seems to have been washed out of the system now, though, and ITPs/Polytechs are much more focused on understanding how they can help students (and that includes the communities in which students live and work) and doing that effectively. I know some of my education policy colleagues would disagree, but I think that Labour's introduction of the first Tertiary Education Strategy in the 2000s and the consequent focus on 'distinctive contributions' of different parts of the tertiary system had a role in that shift.

    Wellington • Since Oct 2008 • 97 posts Report Reply

  • bmk, in reply to BenWilson,

    I translated this metaphor into the political battle, which is “make attack on all policy fronts, targeting weakness, and never risking all out battle without significant advantage”. It’s not guaranteed to win, but the other strategy is, IMHO, guaranteed to lose.

    If politics really were a war then the Clausewitz principle is to strike for the heart (or centre). If there is one objective that will win the war then you focus all your forces on that objective.Your strategy will lead to a dilution of forces and either an attritional stalemate or a loss if your enemy finds a weak point of yours and breaks through using a concentrated force.

    Of course whether war is an applicable strategy guide is uncertain. Though I think the two are similar; as Clausewitz (again!) said 'war is the continuation of politics by any other means'. The corollary of that you could argue is therefore that 'politics is war by any other means'.

    Since Jun 2010 • 327 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to bmk,

    Heh, this is the same Clausewitz so roundly ridiculed by Tolstoy in War and Peace? Wherein the Russians beat Napoleon doing much what I said. Napoleon captured Moscow, after all, when he pushed the Russians from the field at Borodino, when the inferior Russian army attempted to fight head on. But just by being surrounded, harried and engaged in small skirmishes from then on, his magnificent army was completely routed in one of the most notorious and costly defeats in military history.

    ETA: I don't think there are any really certain tactics in warfare. However, when you've got the numerical disadvantage, I think that if you really wish to win, then you have to do something other than the most obvious concentrated head on clash. Odds are, just by the fact that three terms is the median and mode number for an NZ government, that National has the advantage, and the polls are reflecting that currently. In 3 years, head on might be a workable strategy, but if Labour wants an upset, they have to be tricky.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10650 posts Report Reply

  • bmk, in reply to BenWilson,

    True, though invading Russia usually spells defeat and there were a whole range of reasons why Napoleon was defeated. Logistics is often cited as the primary cause which usually is the limiting factor in an army's advance (see also Nazi Germany in both Russia and North Africa).

    And to this day Clausewitz is the foundation of military strategy. He is far higher regarded than Tolstoy when it comes to military strategy and his key points aren't regarded as being refuted. For the tactics you mentioned to work you have to have substantial superiority.

    In this political landscape National has the advantage and a significant one. I think if Labour followed your strategy they would make gradual gains and maybe regain office in 2017 or more likely 2020. If they actually want to win in 2014 they can't simply play it safe and wait for the opposition to make mistakes (show weaknesses). Sniping from a static front-line won't work when you are behind in the war.

    Since Jun 2010 • 327 posts Report Reply

  • bmk, in reply to BenWilson,

    However, when you've got the numerical disadvantage, I think that if you really wish to win, then you have to do something other than the most obvious concentrated head on clash.

    I agree with this entirely. I think we are on the same page just seeing different answers. To me staying on your line will mean you lose the war of attrition. You have to find a weak spot where although you have less forces overall you have more in that region and then hammer that point. In politics this means a policy area where you have an advantage and focus primarily on that.

    If all they do is react and try and oppose National on all of National's policies I think they are bound to lose. They have to find a highly important policy where they have an advantage and concentrate on that.

    Since Jun 2010 • 327 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to bmk,

    I think we are on the same page just seeing different answers.

    Pretty much. The head on war I was referring to is this entrenched ideology vs ideology one that moves backwards and forwards with the same pace as you'd expect from trench warfare.

    They have to find a highly important policy where they have an advantage and concentrate on that.

    My suggestion was that the advantage should be formed into very clear, specific objectives, with a strong thrust for each, rather than a general objective of "push back the Right". And there should be many of these attacks, forcing each one to require specific answers. It's not enough that this kind of education policy is wrong, it has to be countered, rather than just blocked.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10650 posts Report Reply

  • linger,

    Basically Labour’s chance of reversing Clausewitz is Foucault?

    ("Politics is the continuation of war by other means": Michel Foucault, in Society Must Be Defended (2003))

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1923 posts Report Reply

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