Change, Support and Development

As professional teacher-educators we quickly learned that the only constant in education was ‘change’.  From 1987 to the present day, change has been continuous and has brought its own stresses and pressures. We understood that overlaying a new system onto an old system only leads to confusion because of inertia and reluctance. Finally, we understood that if there is to be a major shift in education, then it is essential to have a thorough teacher support programme that clearly and fully explains the reasons for the change. Teacher-educators need to “buy-in” to the change, not to have them imposed.   A good educational example of that is seen in the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum’s introduction that was supposed to make a paradigm shift in education to utilise the Key Competencies, Values, Metacognition and Future Focus Learning to change the direction of education and assessment. However, the NCEA and traditional teaching strategies remained dominant and assessment has not developed past subject and skills based tasks. Teachers were never sufficiently supported to understand the significant differences the 2007 NZC might provide to students, so assessment dominated.

Although the NCEA results show steady achievement improvement for all cultural groups, from a more international perspective, the PISA results from 2010 to 2017 show a relatively high proportion of Māori and Pasifika students scored below the OECD average in in science, reading and mathematics.  The Review of Tomorrow’s Schools (Review TS) has shown that “some schools have large numbers of children who experience disadvantage whilst other schools have large numbers of children who are advantaged. While we know all students can make significant gains in learning and achievement, regardless of their circumstances, it is clear we are not starting on a level playing field by any means.”  (Bali Haque)

Bali Haque’s Review of TS is proposing to set up 20 new Education Hubs that will provide

  • More consistency with capped rolls and funding according to student disadvantage, but less stability for teachers who can be moved between schools and less choice for students with lower out-of-zone enrolments.
  • More support for teachers and Principals for professional development through the Education Hubs but less parental democracy and less choice for students as schools become less diverse.
  • Better access to schools for disruptive students who might be given more right to return to the same school after suspension, if the Education Hub people allow that. This removes the authority of the senior staff in the school.
  • Lower costs for parents as they would no longer need to pay high school donations, but less ability to maintain facilities in schools that are in more privileged areas and have developed those special facilities since 2010.
  • More stability for students after Intermediate Schools are removed, so they do not need to change schools after only two years, but greater risks for the students who may need to change high schools during Year 11.

Review and Fix, or Risk and Replace?

Why are we proposing to take such big risks with our education system in New Zealand? While we are aware that there are many problems, surely we should be determined to fix the problems using the current system and resources that are available? We have several very good universities that are Centres of Research Excellence and Centres for Teaching and Learning, there are associated Teacher Support Centres e.g. Kohia Centre and Tai Tokerau Centre that could be expanded to provide more professional learning and development for all teachers, and a post-graduate professional development programme for all teachers could be established and become part of the existing appraisal system.  Behaviour Support is already accessed through the Ministry of Education and Learning Support has a new 6 element model being implemented.  While these may need reviewing and enhancing, it must be better to utilise and upgrade these services rather than overlay a completely new system.

Reflecting on Other’s Experiences

Research and discussions with international educators and administrators has provided awareness of considerable problems in the proposed Education Hub model for New Zealand.  The USA school system is administered in each state, which has its own laws and policies for education. Local school districts establish schools and colleges, develop curricula, and determine requirements for enrolment and graduation. Education finance in America reflects this predominant State and local role. A substantial majority will come from State, local, and private sources. This is especially true at the elementary and secondary level, where about 92 percent of the funds will come from non-Federal sources. This system seems to partly be reflected in the TS Review proposals.  Does this imply that there may be potential in New Zealand for funding from national education allocations to be reduced when the Education Hubs are established with some responsibility for funding to be re-allocated regionally and locally?

In 2015 Matthew Lynch made a study “10 Reasons the U.S. Education System Is Failing”. He warns that “in USA the now established education system is unable to meet the needs of our hyper-connected society – a society that is in a constant state of evolution.” He identifies and examines ten problems that prevent the US education system from regaining its former pre-eminence. These are listed below in summary form. (While the listing here shortens the statements in the original document, all efforts have been made to preserve the content and intention of Lynch’s statements.)

  1. Parents are not involved enough. Of all the things out of the control of teachers, this one is perhaps the most frustrating. Time spent in the classroom is simply not enough for teachers to instruct every student, to teach them what they need to know.
  2. Schools are closing left and right.  Parents, students and communities as a whole feel targeted, even if school board members are quick to cite unbiased numbers. There is no concrete way to declare a winner in these cases, either.
  3. Schools are overcrowded. The smaller the class, the better the individual student experience. A study by the National Centre for Education Statistics found that 14 percent of U.S. schools exceed capacity. At a time where children need more attention than ever to succeed, overcrowded classrooms are making it even tougher to learn and tougher still for teachers to be effective.
  4. Technology comes with its downsides. Lynch indicates he is an advocate for technology in the classroom. While ignoring the educational opportunities that technology affords and puts kids at a disadvantage, screen culture overall has made the jobs of teachers much more difficult. Education has become synonymous with entertainment in many ways.
  5. There is a lack of diversity in gifted education. The “talented and gifted” (TAG) programs separate student peers for the sake of individualized learning initiatives. Though the ideology is sound, the practice of it is often a monotone, unattractive look at contemporary American public schools. District schools need to find ways to better recognize different types of learning talent and look beyond the typical “gifted” student model.
  6. School spending is stagnant, even in our improving economy.  A recent report from the Centre on Budget and Policy Priorities found that 34 states are contributing less funding on a per student basis than they did prior to the recession years. Since states are responsible for 44 percent of total education funding in the U.S., these dismal numbers mean a continued crack down on school budgets despite an improving economy. If we cannot find the funding for our public schools, how can we expect things like the achievement gap to close or high school graduation rates to rise?
  7. There is a lack of teacher education innovation. It stands to reason that if students are changing, teachers must change too. More specifically, it is time to modify teacher education to reflect the demands of the modern K – 12 classrooms. There are policy and practice changes taking place all over the world – many driven by teachers – that address the cultural shifts in the classroom. (see Integrated Curriculum as an Effective Way to Teach 21st Century Capabilities  Drake, S.M. Brock University, Toronto, Canada)
  8. 80 percent of students are graduating high school…yet less than half of these students are ready for what’s next. While 80 percent of high school seniors receive a diploma, less than half of those are able to proficiently read or complete math problems. The problem is that students are being passed on to the next grade when they should be held back, and then they are unable to complete grade-level work and keep up with their classmates.
  9. Some students are lost to the school-to-prison pipeline. Students who are at risk of dropping out of high school or turning to crime need more than a good report card. They need alternative suggestions on living a life that rises above their current circumstances. For a young person to truly have a shot at an honest life, he or she has to believe in the value of an education and its impact on good citizenship. That belief system has to come from direct conversations about making smart choices with trusted adults and peers.
  10. There is a nationwide college-gender gap, and surprisingly, we are not focusing on it. While there seems to be a nationwide push to better encourage girls in areas like science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), are educators neglecting an even larger gender gap issue? Will the young men in our classrooms today have a worse quality of life than females if they do not attend college – or will it be about the same?

In Finland there is a national board of education and local regional offices, but they trust their teachers and principals in providing quality education. Focus has always been and still is the excellence and equity in education. The focus has been on more disadvantaged students, but nowadays more attention is given to support advanced students too. School funding is based on the number of students and student needs. However Special Education and Vocational Education schools have faced severe cuts in recent years. There used to be more national funding, but financial responsibilities have been shifted more on municipalities and cities. (Email response from Pirjo Suhonen, Finland)

Inferences relevant to New Zealand

  1. We do need greater parent involvement to ensure subject learning, values development, and effective learning strategies are being developed at home.
  2. It is essential that educational leaders and teachers are provided with the resources, support and professional learning opportunities to confidently develop the learning-teaching strategies required for
    21st Century education futures.
  3. New Zealand must develop digital curriculum content and strategies, but must be given the support and resources to resist the use of technology to provide educational entertainment.
  4. Resources and strategies need to be provided to support the 21st century skills and initiatives for all students in the form that is appropriate to enable students to develop and improve their learning disposition, ‘meta’ knowing, subject learning achievements, diverse literacies and numeracies, understanding and application of values, Capabilities and Competencies. TAG programmes and education support programmes must be maintained and enhanced to support students and parents.
  5. There is an urgent need for a financial audit of the TS Review proposals to determine if the proposals can be sustainably funded and that there will not be education funding cuts and dispersed responsibility to regional and local sources.
  6. Teacher education must be viewed through a new lens to provide both pre-service and more in-service professional learning and development as part of the on-going support for teachers.
  7. Much greater attention must be given to the education research that is available from NZCER and other sources so that student needs of education futures 21st century are placed up-front as the New Zealand Curriculum is re-developed.
  8. While there may be some need for particular emphases identified, it is essential that a whole system perspective is maintained.

We seem to be headed down the wrong pathway right now!

There seems to be six things we need to do to get New Zealand Aotearoa Education on the correct road.

Firstly, we need to remove the dichotomy of objective and purpose between Years 1 to 8 and Years 9 to 13.  In Year 1 to 8 schools we have lost specialisation and developed Modern Learning Environments, which allow development of integrated learning that diffuses and blurs learning of specific content. The blurring of the curriculum content in Years 1 to 8 seems to have contributed to decreased levels of literacy and removed specialization. However, in year 9 to 13, students need to rapidly adapt to specialization and competition both with themselves and with others. Secondary schools offer courses that emphasize subject based learning and these courses are based upon learning objectives that encourage learning of specific, limited facts and practice at showing understanding through assessments of specific knowledge and its applications.  Students find this considerable change in learning perspective difficult to manage and adapt towards, with Maori and Pasifika students finding this change most difficult.  While the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum document includes Coherence as a lead principle, it is not possible to have coherence while this dichotomy exists.

Secondly we need to reinforce the need and expectation for completion of homework and development of effective study skills. The slow demise of homework means less reinforcement and lower ability to read with understanding, lower interpretation and inference abilities, and lower understanding of mathematical skills and content.

Thirdly, there needs to be a major review of curriculum, pedagogy and assessment to determine the education futures for the 21C.  If a school administration and resourcing model is developed while leaving the current curriculum, teaching-pedagogy, and assessment system only slightly modified then the opportunity to develop a forward-thinking, initiative-based, purpose-developed, coherent education system will be lost for another twenty years. The research based statements from NZCER, the OECD and World Economic Forum must be given priority over the development of school resourcing models.  The determination of what the New Zealand Curriculum 21st Century needs to provide educationally will then help teachers, schools, educational leaders and education administrators, together with politicians, determine the extent of needs, the diversity of needs and sufficiency of funding needs.

Fourthly, the suggested review and restructuring of education in the TS Review may seem to offer advantages, but needs to emphasize benefits for schools, students and teachers. Claire Amos’ expressions that “change is needed if the system is to benefit all our learners” and that “We quite clearly have a system that is not serving each and every one of our learners and we absolutely need to have some courage to make some changes” have much more depth than the statements seem to imply. The first changes need to be changes to the NZ Curriculum, the determination of what support teacher-educators will require to implement those changes.  Only then can we determine the needs-basis that might provide greatest benefit to the students.
It is essential that there is greater focus on developing learning disposition of students, supported by greater access to a coherent, advanced PLD programme for teachers, and a 21st Century NZ Curriculum that includes learning-teaching strategies.  If we are to ensure as many students as possible are entering high school at the expected curriculum level in each subject area and with good Capabilities and Competency developments, then there must be alignment and coherence between 21st Century educational needs, the NZ Curriculum and teacher support programmes.  The current functions of CoRE tertiary providers for education must be reviewed, expanded and developed to focus on professional development for teachers, development of strategies for improving bicultural education strategies, developing strategies to engage and improve achievement of Maori, Samoan and Tongan students and development of student dispositions to education. Applications of digital strategies in education, development of diverse literacies, and more significant engagement of families in education are all essential too.

Fifthly, we need to enhance the style and diversity of assessments by giving emphasis to formative assessment, then include subject-based assessment and include assessment and reporting of Competencies, Disposition and Values in summative assessment.  New strategies such as Team Based Learning and use of Wicked Problems will need development. Teachers will need a huge mind-shift if we are to transition to include more strategic, procedural and capability/competency based assessment. Further, each cohort of students and families will include a range of achievement levels so that several different learning and assessment structures will be needed and there will need to be consultation with many families and students. A review of current NCEA assessment frameworks is not enough! Major changes in teacher PLD, teaching and learning structures, and assessment structures are needed now!

Finally, there is a need to develop a community perspective and educational expectations that ensure greater engagement of the student, the teachers, the parents and the community.
While there has been considerable emphasis on student agency, it would seem that the greater extent of student disruptions and the need for greater student engagement may show that teachers, educational administrators and parents need to have greater influence to set clear boundaries of student behavioural expectations.  Some students are now showing overt unwillingness to do homework and engage in real learning effort, yet evidence by Dylan William (Embedded Formative Assessment, 2nd Edition, Solution Tree Press, 2018) clearly indicates that purposeful effort and achievement are essential. In the past, students were required to complete readings, assignments, problem solving and apply test and examination strategies. Experience, in the past ten or so years in several secondary schools, has shown that students are no longer as willing to develop meta-knowing, complete homework assignments, and practice effective study strategies. Many arrive at tests and exams without effective, rigorous preparation. Many of our social and educational problems exist because there is a lack of knowledge and understanding in families of social, behavioural and educational developments and expectation. The Youth Offending Strategy supports students with behavioural problems.  Some students with behavioural difficulties are supported through private agencies such as those in Manukau and Helensville.  Current funding levels must be guaranteed to preserve these agencies and even expand them to support families through Family Education programmes.  If there are to be Education Hubs, they must have the important function of developing, staff and facilitating compulsory parent-family education programmes that present information in three stages: Young age 0-4, Beginning School 4-10, Teenage Development age 11-18. Payment of MSD and doctor’s/dentists accounts will only be available if complete attendance occurs. Values, behavioural expectations and learning initiatives at home and from school should be included.

Conclusions

Before launching into a re-structuring of New Zealand education by following the TS Review pathway, the New Zealand Government, the Ministry of Education and all the TS Review team need to step back and look at the past and current research available.  The most valuable assets are the current and future students, together with the education leaders and teachers in all sectors of education in Aotearoa New Zealand. Surely we should take the inspiration from Dr Eric Mazur (Balkanski Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard University) when he explains we should take a more scientific view of teaching by using research as a basis for course design (2012). 

Karen Tui Boyes (Winner of the NZ Educator of the Year 2017 and 2014 and NZ Speaker of the Year award in 2013) has blogged (September 4th 2018) that “Our current education system was established to create employees, from the manufacturing model of the nineteenth and 20th centuries. The 21stcentury requires a rethink of this. Dr Bena Kallick, Co-Founder of the Institute for Habits of Mind and EduPlanet21, talks about the world being VUCA: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and full of Ambiguity. Change is happening fast and our students are growing up in a world where jobs are not certain or guaranteed. Carl Frey suggests that up to 60% of the jobs of the future have not been developed yet and that 40% of the five year old students in schools today will need to be self-employed to have any form of income. Dylan Wiliam, British educationalist and Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment, states “the purpose of education is to prepare students for a world we can’t envisage, so when they are stuck, they choose to think, instead of remember.” Much of what is taught in our current education system is either not relevant to students lives today or can be googled. Being able to memorise the formula for working out the circumference of a circle has little value for most professions and if required can be googled.  Thinking must therefore become the centre of our curriculum – not memorisation of information to be forgotten the day after the test.
Traditionally the ‘soft skills’ have been mostly avoided in schools because they are harder to measure. These soft skills include persistence, flexibility in thinking, the ability to listen with understanding and empathy, metacognition, resilience, creativity, communicating with clarity, self-management, and being open to continual learning.

It seems clear that the Tomorrow’s Schools Review intentions may be seriously faulted. If New Zealand students are to show they are ready for the 21st century the following research based steps must be followed:

1) There must be a financial analysis of the costs and benefits before any progress is made towards developing Education Hubs and dismantling the current structures.
2) There needs to be immediate recognition that we must adapt to a new paradigm of education in New Zealand. To develop Education Hubs seems similar to the return to Education Boards in the 1960s to 1980s. If Education Hubs take over responsibility for maintenance we may be in jeopardy of returning to the situation of deterioration of buildings and resources, simply because the response time and resources were too small to cope.
3) A 2021 New Zealand Curriculum must be developed and implemented to recognise the need to provide resources and strategies to meet the needs of students in the 21st Century. This 2021 New Zealand Curriculum must include recognition to develop positive dispositions to engage and learn, and include meta-knowing strategies.  The curriculum must provide for a flexible approach to learning and assessment that includes a balance of subject-based learning and achievement; Capability and Competence based learning and achievement; the more diverse view of Literacies and Numeracies that includes digital competencies, media, personal health, and environmental achievement objectives; and the soft skills that are held to be of importance by the OECD and World Economic Forum.
4) Greater support and coherence for professional development must be given to Principals/tumuaki and teacher-educators/kaiako. The Education Hubs/CoREs need to be vitally concerned with teacher support and development.
5) The engagement of parents and family must be increased through at least three compulsory parenting programme modules that have achievement objectives for Years 0-4, Years 5-9 and Years 10 to 14. These programmes must include behavioural expectations, developmental ideas, study and achievement expectations and Values learning for both school and society.
6) The dichotomy in education between Years 1 to 8 and Years 9 to 13 must be removed with a coherent education system, while leaving the richness of our current system with single sex and co-educational schools, private, integrated and state schools to provide the needs of different students.
7) Equity of opportunities must be reached by considering the needs of each student and providing them with suitable engagement, learning and competency development opportunities rather than using the Education Hub idea of infusing one style of school throughout each Hub.
8) Schools are being entrepreneurial, creative and innovative in their endeavours to develop their own features and cultures. This must be encouraged because many of these endeavours are taking New Zealand education towards 21st century needs.

If the New Zealand Education system is to encourage students to develop depth of knowledge, together with an understanding of digital technology, a demand for high expectations and the ability to be an analytical and critical thinker while promoting the soft skills of team building and management, initiative and creativity, the direction of the TS Review must be altered to reduce the importance of how we administer education and give greater recognition to the importance of the curriculum, students and teachers. Surely we need to review, fix, expand and re-structure, rather than re-design, risk and replace!  Let’s get the new paradigm correct, based on research and best practice. Australia has already started down the preferred pathway. Will New Zealand follow? Will we be brave enough?

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