So thrilled to see the Tui back again, fighting and feasting in the Harakeke. The shimmer of blue as the light catches their feathers is entrancing; and so I sit staring out my window, distracted from my work....
Also distracting me are your children. I have loved seeing them back again safe and sound after the holidays. They look pretty shimmery and shiny in their new blue and gold polos. I hope you had a wonderful time with them - managing to do lots of exciting activities and enjoying their company. One good thing was that the weather was a little better than the forecast led me to believe when I wrote my last editorial. It wasn't day after day of rain. However, it all went by much too fast. And now we are hurtling towards the end of the year. Lots of exciting activities to fit into a very short term.
The final election results have delighted many in education, who are hailing the end of National Standards and Communities of Learning. The celebration has already begun for some. My response is a little more measured. Many look back to the "golden days" of teaching before National Standards - to a time when we were left much more to our own devices in schools. I don't remember them as golden days. New Zealand had a huge tail of underachievement - largely Pasifika and Maori students. There was massive white flight as a result of greater parental choice and schools were (largely) not culturally responsive or particularly inclusive. Similar to today, there were some great teachers who effectively met the needs of their students and there were some who weren't able to do it as effectively. John Hattie (a well known academic and researcher) identified that there is greater variation in achievement results between classrooms in the same school than there is between schools. This hasn't changed.
I completely understand that the National Government felt the need to bring in National Standards to ensure greater accountability and to eliminate this variance in performance that was so severely impacting the achievement of Maori and Pasifika students in particular. And there is certainly lots about the way they implemented this policy that I take issue with. However, highly effective teachers have always created their own forms of "national standards" to ensure that they were covering the whole curriculum and meeting the needs of their students and ensuring consistent progress. Highly effective teachers have always wanted to know the impact of their teaching and learning programmes on their students; and they have always taken it to heart when they feel they have "failed" a student; rather than blame the student or their family or their socio-economic or racial background. But what percentage of our profession are highly effective teachers? Global research has suggested that 25% of the teaching workforce are these highly effective teachers and they consistently have a 10% more positive impact on the achievement of their students than other teachers. For some the percentage is higher.
I worry about what we will discover about the state of schooling if/when National Standards and other regulatory policies are removed - especially if they are removed quickly. Personally, I believe that it is time for education to take a good hard look at itself (at ourselves) - carry out a risk analysis - see what our strengths and weaknesses are , and then decide a way forward. There is a risk that the current external accountability policy environment has propped up a breaking education system (while at the same time dismantling it further and adding to its brokenness - huge teacher workloads is one such example), and once removed, who knows what will happen!
If I had any say at all, I would caution the government to take a measured approach. Teacher workloads absolutely have to be eased, but we also need to take the time to plan out a sustainable future for education and this cannot be done in a rush. As they say, Rome wasn't built in a day. We are at the juncture of epochs. The modernist (industrial) era lasted over three centuries beginning with the enlightenment. The new era we are creating may last as long or even longer. It is important that we are thoughtful and intelligent about the future we create because it may impact generations to come.