ERO’s RAP: Take my word for it Iona, the indicators are spurious rubbish

The Raising Achievement Plan (RAP) introduced by the education review office is an education obscenity and demands the two teacher organisations work together to support schools that refuse to implement it. The minister has lost control of the teacher organisations and her policies are failing – as a result, we in education should be prepared for a particularly restless period of new schemes and policies, many of them half-crazy, as Hekia tries to assert herself also to distract from the failure referred to. She could well be at her most dangerous and radically right-wing.

In this posting I am concentrating on the education review office and its indicator travesty.

I will mainly work from the letter sent by Iona Holsted to schools announcing that the Plan is now a full term and seven weeks into its introduction.

The new indicators she claims draw on the best evidence of practice needed to achieve equity and excellence. ‘We know,’ she claims, ‘these are the conditions necessary to improve student outcomes for all learners.’

No evidence to this claim is even close to being provided.

On the other hand, I notice that no best evidence is provided to support an education bureaucracy that has developed a curriculum plan with no involvement of schools or teachers.

Is having no real teacher and school involvement in the policy development best practice?

Take a step back Iona and think for yourself.

Now let’s get one thing right: this is not a Plan, it is a new official curriculum – yes the old curriculum is thereabouts; but this is the new one (with more such bureaucratic curriculums to come), all without any genuine reference to schools and teachers. Is this really the way to run an education system?

In 1996, in Developmental Network Magazine, I wrote:

No nationwide curriculum initiative has succeeded under the present philosophy and none will succeed. The official curriculum has been superseded by national standards, ministry regulation, and education review office indicators and decrees. Any curriculum initiative no matter when or where comes loaded with unworkable and undesirable features. The only way it can be made to work is if teachers feel free enough to colonise it, but teachers, as an outcome of the present philosophy do not feel free enough to colonise it, are not freed enough to colonise it. And so under the present philosophy it is not teachers who colonise curriculum initiatives (and the curriculum generally), but the bureaucracies.

And the education review office has more than colonised the existing curriculum it has obliterated it.

In 1990, in Developmental Network Magazine, I set out the three principles to guide the teacher organisations (indeed, all of us in education):

  • The education of children is problematic and value-laden. For the integrity of the education system, the various groups within it need to be free, willing, and able to argue and even, at times, obstruct the ideas and actions of other groups. There never has been and never will be a set of aims and related processes that have met, or will meet, the needs of all children within a system, or be agreed to by all those within it.
  • Power should be shared throughout the education system, and various checks and balances be in place to stop it becoming too concentrated. It is only in this way that children will gain some protection from the vagaries of educational and political ideas and the human drive to control and dominate. The powerlessness of the young, the fact of them being young, makes school-children tempting targets for those who want to turn schools into battlegrounds for competing visions of what society ought to be.
  • Teachers are unsettled by the possibility of curriculum and administrative ideas being able to be passed quickly down the hierarchical chain without those ideas requiring teacher involvement at all stages of their development. The best ideas for education come from teachers and those close to teachers. The part of the education system that is important to teachers is the part close to them. The part further away has the capacity to do much harm, but little capacity to do much good. The nature of the education system should be to protect teachers from hastily conceived ideas – no matter their potential benefits. Good ideas are only good if the process for their development has been good. The last thing teachers want is the kind of efficiency that has someone in the hierarchy having an idea, and then using the chain of command to force it on them without due process.

Iona, you seem to be operating under a weird misapprehension that what happens at the classroom level is largely a given and that all that is needed to get things going is for teachers to try harder in association with mountains of jargonish, behaviourist material. I know I can never get it through to you Iona, you didn’t stay long enough to gain a semblance, but genuine improvement in the various parts of the curriculum starts with the teacher, but only if the teacher is provided with the freedom for that start – if the teacher is, and allowed to get on with it, it can be a beautiful, magical process of revelation, personal to the teacher and life enhancing to the children.

It is not a matter of the teacher being urged to put more into it under the guidance of gibberish from their education bureaucracy. We know, for instance, how nearly all children in low decile schools can catch up in reading and writing: it is by the methods used in Picking up the Pace which was part of the Mangere project. That was done by teachers and those who truly knew how to help teachers, and started with a rigorous use of the Concepts of Print – but how to implement Concepts of Print, how to provide the most rewarding context for it, takes a lifetime of experience. It is not done by numbers or by those academic ‘experts’ you employ for cover. Education review officers just don’t have a clue. I could go through every curriculum area pointing out where the heart of it lay and expressing appreciation for those who understood it and worked there. It is no good talking to you Iona – you are just too ignorant of how teaching works.  In teaching, having set up the right framework, the genius is in the magic of those small workings with individual children.

In your email you say: ‘I want to address some recent feedback where some principals were surprised that the ERO review recommended that the school develop a Raising Achievement Plan.’

What a farce! A document larger than the curriculum; meetings occurring; and principals not being informed that this was to be the beginning of a huge new scramble of writing and documentation – and more bureaucracy.

Iona, in the face of the scorn demonstrated by those present; your officers didn’t have the nerve to make things clear.

The Plan adds up to the same as is in place now for Maori children but worse.

And that talk of acceleration: stop living in American research dream-world productions, and get back into the real world: join the real people doing real things. But you won’t have the courage to do so because it is a whole different paradigm.

The national standards give-away is in the first FAQ: ‘Is this just about national standards data?’

‘Answer: No. While national standards will be the starting point for the review, we will go further …’ blah, blah, blah.

My answer is for schools to imagine the response from the review office if, having failed in ‘the starting point’, you claimed great success in the ‘further’.

I am concluding by talking to you Iona. You might think, along with a good number of others, that I am some kind of misguided idealist, whose speakings are hopelessly outdated.  But I’d like to point out that in science, for instance, those whose prognostications are supported by outcomes, have their ideas gain status by the occurrence. My urgency and style of delivery come from not wanting another generation of Maori children to be betrayed by your office as they have been so repeatedly.  Once again you have persisted in putting national standards to the forefront along with the kind of education that represents; all to be horribly compounded by the oh so destructive indicators referred to. You may be willing to betray another generation with more half-baked ideas (to put it generously), I’m not and neither will a good number of teachers and principals.

Take my word for it Iona, the indicators are spurious rubbish. For goodness sake get your cold-hearted lists; your ill-informed representatives; and your puerile education ideas out of the way – and let principals and teachers get on with the job.

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11 Responses to ERO’s RAP: Take my word for it Iona, the indicators are spurious rubbish

  1. stephen dadelus says:

    Thanks Kelvin, send copies to nzei and nzpf!!

    These organisations need to be carrying your message straight to Iona’s office… tomorrow morning would be nice.

    Or maybe they will do another monkey survey!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Kelvin says:

    George writes:

    Another issue that I am sure applies is the sheer mountain of policies, letters, manuals that schools accumulate as one direction succeeds another.

    Good ideas (when they emerge) simply get squashed by the next release of documents and directions.

    Not to mention stuff promulgated at various professional development sessions and seminars.

    But that is what you get when too much centralised policy development is going on!

    No accountability when the results of these miscellaneous priorities are finally determined.

  3. Kelly-Ned says:

    Certainly sounds like ERO needs to go back and investigate ‘In The Early World’ and Sylvia Ashton Warner about how to truly make a difference for students.

  4. Steve Zonnevylld says:

    This is all news to me. Where does it say we have to do this? Does this replace our charters, strategic plans and curriculum documents? Has this been mandated? What happens if we don’t do this?
    Who understands their terminology anyway?
    Why is this suddenly deemed to be good practice?
    Why do I have a pounding headache?

    • Kelvin says:

      Yes – sneaked in but where were your teacher organisations? It replaces all the Maori part of those plans and documents. A document bigger than the curriculum itself. It is a madness but the teacher organisations just don’t care about things at the classroom level.

  5. Bruce Hammonds says:

    Kelvin, I am reminded of one of Elwyn Richardson sayings in respect to all the confusing, distracting and irrelevant directives coming from the ministry and ERO: ‘It is hard to remember you came to drain the swamp when you are up to your backside in alligators’.

    I fear that too many schools are so busy coping with such compliance demands that they are forgetting what education is all about – keeping alive the curiosity in their students to ensure lifelong learning dispositions; to develop the passions and gifts of all learners.

    The trouble with the obsession with this target driven ( measureable) education is that it is not the targets that you hit that count but the ones you miss because you weren’t looking.

  6. Kelvin says:

    Oh so true dear friend.

  7. Alister McCosh says:

    Kelvin, I have given up on NZEI showing leadership so feel appealing to them would be a waste of time.
    During the time of the National led government NZEI has opposed three major policy developments; I.E.S, National Standards and EDUCANZ, but all have been implemented basically as proposed.
    Changing the name of Communities of Schools to Communities of Learning is cosmetic and for NZEI to claim otherwise is disingenuous.
    A message from the NZEI President dated 21 June asks us to “help democratise the Education Council” by nominating members to represent us. We can nominate all we like, but the Minister is going to appoint whoever she wants. We will give up any rights to criticise the process if we agree, in our Collective Agreements, to the Ministry paying for our practicing certificates.
    We are well aware of the negative impact of National Standards, but by agreeing to the establishment of Communities of Learning NZEI is complicit in embedding them. You only have to look at the “challenges” put forward by Communities of Learning/Schools that have been accepted by the Ministry to see that the focus is on National Standards.
    The latest little gem is the “Global budget” discussed in the Review of Education Funding Systems. Bulk funding in another guise. NZEI is strangely silent about that.
    My apologies for straying off the subject.

  8. Sue McIntosh says:

    OMG, when will it stop? The NZ curriculum was world leading and great for teacher autonomy but the Government and their lackies seem intent on working on a low trust model, implying that teachers cannot be trusted to do their best for the kids. That is why we are leaving the profession in droves and is a sad endictment on the NZ system.

  9. Kelvin says:

    This is not the half of it – the government is poised to make its big move. Everyone should think of it as a jigsaw, with the government knowing the big picture, and most of us sitting around behaving like idiots.

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