Attack! 106 Things are not OK

Welcome to ATTACK! 

ATTACK! is a two-page occasional publication giving attention to the curriculum – the holistic curriculum.

ATTACK! is for you, also to introduce to your colleagues. Each issue will be restricted to two pages. A cover graphic for a file or folder to store ATTACK! issues is available.

Most of ATTACK! will be concerned with the holistic curriculum which, if acted on, is a fundamental way to undermine the present undemocratic education system. Don’t be discouraged if opportunities to teach holistically are limited, do your best, be a guardian, and act as a witness to this culturally significant and inspiring way of teaching and learning.

To get in touch for comment, questions, and the ATTACK! issues to be sent to you personally:  ksmythe@wave.co.nz

Attack! 106 Things are not OK

Click here to download

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Attack! 105 Sir Patricio Grinch, Wekiu Tomata, Weary Gardener, and Tugger, the then PM

Welcome to ATTACK! 

ATTACK! is a two-page occasional publication giving attention to the curriculum – the holistic curriculum.

ATTACK! is for you, also to introduce to your colleagues. Each issue will be restricted to two pages. A cover graphic for a file or folder to store ATTACK! issues is available.

Most of ATTACK! will be concerned with the holistic curriculum which, if acted on, is a fundamental way to undermine the present undemocratic education system. Don’t be discouraged if opportunities to teach holistically are limited, do your best, be a guardian, and act as a witness to this culturally significant and inspiring way of teaching and learning.

To get in touch for comment, questions, and the ATTACK! issues to be sent to you personally:  ksmythe@wave.co.nz

Attack! 105 Sir Patricio Grinch, Wekiu Tomata, Weary Gardener, and Tugger, the then PM

Click here to download

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In which Pooh looks for a 21st Century Education Part 1

One day, when Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet were all talking together, Christopher Robin finished the mouthful he was eating and said carelessly: ‘I saw a 21st Century Education to-day, Piglet.’

‘What was it doing?’ asked Piglet.

‘Just lumping along,’ said Christopher Robin. ‘I don’t think it saw me.’

‘I saw one once,’ said Piglet. ‘At least I think I did,’ he said. ‘Only perhaps it wasn’t.’

‘So did I,’ said Pooh wondering what a 21st Century Education was like.

‘You don’t often see them,’ said Christopher Robin matter-of-factly.

‘Not now,’ said Piglet.

‘Not at this time of year,’ said Pooh.

Just as they came to the Six Pine Trees, Pooh looked around to see that nobody else was listening, and said in a very solemn voice: ‘Piglet, I have decided something.’

‘What have you decided Pooh?’

‘I have decided to catch a 21st Century Education.’

Piglet asked, ‘But what does a 21st Century Education look like? Then continued thoughtfully: ‘Before looking for something, it is wise to ask someone what you are looking for before you begin looking for it.’

What follows is something I look at as a kind of written doodle thus subject to continual revision (contributed to by what you have to say). In such a matter it is difficult to be comprehensive or fair; if I tried strenuously to be so, I would probably never get going.

We are, it seems, getting ourselves tied in knots about something called 21st century education – before looking for it, as Piglet suggests, it might be wise to find out what we are looking for.

This could be done in respect to how it might differ from what went before, how it might be the same as what went before, how it might be worse than went before, who is supposed to benefit from it, who is calling for it, does it exist, should it exist, what are its aims and, being education, how much is career- or self-serving bollocks.

I intend this posting to be a search for something called a 21st century education.

As part of that I declare my prior understandings about the concept – a concept because there has never been any discussion about something called 20th century education, it was never conceptualised in that way, so why for 21st century education? The formation and high usage of the concept label suggests powerful forces at work – forces, I suggest, taking control of the present to control the future. Those active in promoting the concept of 21st century education are mostly from political, technology, and business groupings, also some academics: the immediate future they envisage as an extension and intensification of their perception of society and education as they see it now. And in the immediate future, as well as the longer term one, they see computers at the heart of 21st century education, which is fair enough as long as the role of computers is kept in proportion as befits a tool, a gargantuanly important one, but still a tool.

Neoliberalism is dominant in current economic, political, and education thought so to understand what 21st century advocacy is about, there is a need to recognise the nature of that philosophy. But because it is neoliberalism we are dealing with a complex of abstract and polysyllabic words that need to be uncovered to reveal their true reality, a control, market-oriented, and anti-democratic one. But it is a Russian doll. Those words do more than cover anti-democratic, control ends; they also express a colossal ignorance of our best education understandings about how children learn, which, however, is not irrational, because that ignorance is partly a self-serving slipped-into ignorance.  And the reference to our ‘best education understandings’ is a highly qualified one, because neoliberalism has been hard at work under Tomorrow’s Schools undermining our best understandings and replacing them with their own, meaning the number of people ‘our’ refers to is a dwindling one.

Children have no choice as to what century they reside in, 21 carries no more significance to how one should approach the education of children than 20. I believe that people in education, or around education, should stop looking over the top of children to look at those before them: the best way to prepare children for the future, no matter the century, is to meet their needs now. Those needs would be along the lines of empathy [of which reading should be seen as a key contributor], fairness, independence, collaboration, creativity and imagination, problem-solving, commitment to democratic principles, critical thinking, ways of thinking [for instance, for science, arts, drama, history, mathematics], key knowledge [everything in education or life is by definition value-laden but that doesn’t mean children should be denied access to culturally important and cohesive knowledge – computer advocates are for skills and spasmodic knowledge based on children’s often passing superficial interest which is paraded as some kind of 21st century transcendental insight].

School education is being pressured to inappropriate purposes by groups who claim a hold on the future and from that hold generate techno-panic to gain advantage in the present.

Another prior understanding is that the inappropriate use of computers for learning has contributed to the decline in primary school education (though well behind the contribution of national standards and the terrible education autocracy of the education review office). For all the talk of personalising learning, of building learning around the child, of individualising learning, the mandating question for 21st century education seems to be: how can we build the digital into learning instead of how can we best do the learning? And even further: how can we build schools for digital learning instead of what is best for children’s learning environment? Large open spaces are not the best environment for children’s learning, meaning that in combination with the heavy use of computers to make large open spaces ‘work’, a distinct problem is developing. Computers and large open spaces are being promoted by 21st century advocates as the two key ideas to carry us forward to the education for the 21st century.

In respect to computers, learning about them and using them is both necessary and inevitable, how could it be otherwise, but from that necessity and inevitability comes the responsibility to protect schools from their disassociating effects. The neoliberal advocates of a computer-laden future are putting at risk the potential of human thought, behaviour, and imagination. Their judgement, based on what computers can do, remains undisturbed, it seems, by any understanding of what the best of learning can be. Computers are going to be everywhere, beyond the imaginations of most of us; all the more important to appreciate the decisive contribution of learning beyond and apart from the computer and the need to challenge the social control that pervasive computer use brings to bear on school and beyond.

The use of computers should not become the defining characteristic of what is called 21st century education but it has, and an education and social tragedy is unfolding.  The defining characteristics of 21st century education should be the same as the defining characteristics of 20th century education (expressed above) before the neoliberal philosophy took hold.

In the following paragraphs I will refer to trends deriving from the greatly increased use of computers, also the effects of the neoliberal changes to the education system such as national standards, the narrowing of the curriculum, the fear-laden functioning of the education review office, and the government control of education knowledge.

The particular form of learning most associated with computers is inquiry learning. For all the talk of discovery, creativity, and thinking claimed for that approach precious little seems to be forthcoming. Inquiry learning is the main curriculum practice developed to suit computers and neoliberal education. No matter what a teacher does, if it is called inquiry learning, the teacher is safe; the use of any other name puts the teacher at risk – the system likes conformity, even more obedience, and throughout a teacher’s practice and records the authorities are looking for those little signs of deference that communicate the teacher has got in behind.

Despite a lot of cute tricks and manoeuvres, inquiry learning is simply swept up old-style projects using google and computers. It is considerably an empty shell – yes, children are often interested, but what is missing is the development of the vital ways of thinking particular to a curriculum area. An empty learning shell is a prime characteristic of 21st century education.

Another 21st century prime education characteristic is the priority of skills over knowledge – meaning for ends any knowledge will do.  As stated above ‘everything in education or life is by definition value-laden but that doesn’t mean children should be denied access to culturally important and cohesive knowledge – computer advocates are for skills and spasmodic knowledge based on children’s often passing superficial interest which is paraded as some kind of 21st century transcendental insight.’

Because the neoliberal education system puts a low value on the arts, drama, and dance there has been a diminution in their quality and quantity, also contributing to that diminution is the cramping effect of national standards which, admittedly, is just another expression of that lack of valuing. In open space schools, which in some respects one would think ideal for the arts, drama, and dance a further diminution derives from the pressure to avoid the noise and activity that typically comes from children’s participation in those activities. The shush factor of the newer open space schools is not as noticeable and inhibiting as in the older ones, but it is still there.  And I miss the independent advisers throughout the curriculum but in the arts their absence is particularly painful. It was a team of art advisers dropping in at odd times that was the crucial stimulus to Elwyn Richardson – oh that they could come knocking again.

Open space schools lack the spontaneity available in conventional classrooms, for instance, allowing the varying of the timetable and being able to carry on with a programme, say for most of a day – a cherished part of the primary school tradition.

A heavy use of paper templates is common in schools today, with iPads providing digital ones, and exerting a decidedly deadening effect on learning. Another deadening effect is derived from an idea imported from America for use in open space classrooms in association with computers, but is also being used in some conventional classrooms as well. It is called ‘the wall’. Its purpose is to have children work independently on activities from a range of curriculum areas but especially the basics. Activities are displayed on ‘the wall’ and a place for the children to sign off when completed. In New Zealand, a direct duplication of the practice has largely been avoided but many classrooms especially open space ones, employ something like it. The crucial pedagogical point is that to avoid organisational confusion and a lot of demands on teachers, the activities provided are routine and a little below the level of challenge for children. If the activities are ability grouped, the activities for the top group are closer to being OK than the lower groups. The practice is unstimulating and limiting in all curriculum areas but especially in mathematics.

Twenty-first century education has also become associated with two harmful language practices – in reading, a trend to more phonics and words in isolation – oh champion; and in writing, on the basis, it seems, that primary children should be prepared for university from early juniors, the emphasis in writing has shifted to the expository and argument and away from children writing imaginatively and expressively. This combined with the use of templates and the asTTle emphasis on using adjectives and adverbs willy-nilly, is resulting in writing in New Zealand schools being smashed.

Another prime characteristic is the way the role of the teacher is defined. The role of the teacher as carried out in the past is first belittled, pouring water into bottles apparently while standing at the front holding forth (which seems quite a trick). And having established that, the 21st century teacher is then defined as being a facilitator (my hunch is that if that facilitator worked out from what to where and how, the facilitator would, in fact, be a teacher).

One of the substantial problems with computer use and learning is the way it encourages or allows teacher to forgo their responsibilities (as I see it) to deepen and extend children’s learning before they go out on their own (so to speak). Learning experiences need an introduction (with all sorts of open questions and activities), gaining of knowledge (interestingly and pertinently), use of that knowledge (with investigation or activities), and a conclusion (presentation and discussion). But the 21st century way is to quickly hand it over to computers and inquiry learning, with the teacher congratulating him or herself on the independence being encouraged.

The reason why the Treaty of Waitangi is hardly touched is because teachers are unwilling or unable to take children into such a topic, to build up the knowledge, to develop a feeling for what happened, and to identify the issues for the children to investigate from there. And a reason why teachers are so fixed on inquiry learning (leaving aside hierarchical insistence) is a lack of knowledge of alternatives. It is important for teachers to know, even if they don’t feel able to change, there are.

Where is the social studies thinking? that is, the comparative thinking based on the interaction of knowledge with the affective.

Twenty-first century social studies is children choosing their own topics or being asked to investigate large, abstract impersonal topics like communication. There is very rarely a true social studies challenge in a topic like that, or a source of empathetic development.

The social studies thinking will be absent.

Where is the science thinking? that is, thinking based on science investigation.

The question: The question that guides the investigation.

 

What I know now: The child records all he or she knows about the question. If the child already knows the answer, then there is no point in investigating it further. The teacher can also at this stage make a judgement as to whether it is possible for the child to investigate it in the time available. Many topics like volcanoes and dinosaurs lend themselves to study-skills rather than investigation processes.

What I did: This is the vital stage and what differentiates science from point-of-view? It is a step-by-step record of what actually happened; it can be in diary or note-taking form. It records the observing, testing, and trying out of the question. The failures as well as the successes are recorded. Others can read what went on and may suggest ways to revisit the investigation by another route. It may help show others not to go along that path. The child also includes references about those who helped and testing methods used.

And so on.

The science thinking will be revealed.

Where is the language way of thinking? that is, sincerity expressed in writing.

Imagine: the discussion, encouraging but not obtrusive to the child’s thinking; the child knowing how previous writing had been used and that imagination was valued; the art that had occurred or might follow; the urging to intensive observation and accurate expression that preceded the writing by the nine-year-old girl who decided to view the world through the grass not toward the grass:

Small balls of rain fall down and spit up in tiny streaks of white.

Leaves knotted by strings of weeds.

Leaves like cups hold blobs of water.

Drops of water trail down leaves and peak at the top.

Bird’s wings doubles as it flies.

Twigs uneven like a fork.

The dripping tap splits into tracks.

‘Did you find what you were looking for? asked Piglet.

‘Yes,’ said Pooh in muffled tones.

‘But I have decided something.’

‘What have you decided Pooh?’

‘This honey pot is a lot more interesting.’

Continued in Part 2

 

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Two bits of policy, Chris Hipkins, Labour, a challenge, clusters, and a bit at the end

Labour’s latest two bits of policy bring bad and good news: Labour has gone with NZEI, and will continue with clusters – albeit with changes, oh dear! but listened to teachers, and national standards will go, oh good!

Can’t NZEI get it? clusters just won’t do it.  Education from primary through to tertiary is in decline (Te Whariki is still doing good things for early childhood), and nowhere faster than primary – it is not primary schools’ fault it is the system’s, but schools will get the blame and the bureaucracies, as ever, will come up with the answers, mainly via the education review office tightening the screws.

Clusters just won’t do it.

Get this straight: if National is returned, paying for the clusters will just about be it, and National will have another term saying clusters will solve everything (another three years lost for Maori education) just as they said it for national standards; as well, because NZEI has supported clusters, they might be able to carp about them, but not really oppose them – they will have fallen into the government’s trap just as they did with Tomorrow’s Schools; if Labour gets in, then there won’t be much else for primary, certainly not in the first year. When Andrew Little is talking about education as one of Labour’s three major policies, he is talking about full qualifications for early childhood teachers, extra pay for support teachers, and free tertiary for students – there will be precious little for anything else.

Clusters can be nice socially, moderately useful educationally, but they don’t get to the heart of education where teachers and children are struggling; as well, their reach and effect is, and always will be, patchy. And, of course, over time, they will increasingly become administrative units for the government and a captive market for private corporations.

But at last from NZPF, a hint of good sense and independence from government policy by Whetu Cormick, who wrote in his latest newsletter: ‘Some principals attending the Moot made the comment that it is not about the government not having funds, it’s about priorities.  With special education in such disarray many principals feel that the $329 million set aside for future Communities of Learning, might be better spent on supporting special education now.’

  • In the Whanganui Chronicle, Chris Hipkins (March 18, 2017) described the clusters as flawed due to lack of consultation, but that if Labour became the government it would retain the idea.

Oh for goodness sake Chris, listen to classroom teachers not NZEI.

  • But in the Manawatu Standard, Chris Hipkins widened his scope and said some quite inspiring things about education, mind you, just at the end he is more Grant Robertson than Peter Fraser.

Chris Hipkins, however, also started off unpromisingly with the groan-inducing education cliché referring to an ‘outdated system designed for the industrial age that needs to be overhauled for the 21st century and better resourced.’

What he fails to recognise that it was a case of an increasingly industrial 21st century (think of commodification) backing into a somewhat more enlightened 20th one.

‘We have a factory model of education,’ Chris Hipkins says, ‘a filtering system – SC was designed so half of young people would fail. The workforce needs of today are very different to what was needed in an industrial economy.’

An analogy oft used but is it a good one? Would a factory be functioning if half the product failed?

A dose of realpolitik, there is no escaping from secondary schools being a filter, no matter what fantasists say (Jane Gilbert, for instance), secondary schools will always be a vocational filter; as a liberal idealist I recognise that – indeed need to recognise that to be able to respond realistically. What is needed is a much higher proportion of children beginning their attendance at secondary school who are independent readers, fluent writers, good thinkers, creative and imaginative, and who like school – in other words more children being given a chance.

And what is needed from there is a system to pick up students at the end of secondary – and Chris Hipkins is up to that.

‘First of all,’ he says, ‘we need an education system that … is seamless and life long.’

Then to his Peter Fraser mode:

‘Funding should cover 100 per cent qualified staff for early childhood.’

Tick!

National standards and burdens on students and teaching resources from over-assessing students should go …

Tick!

… subjects outside reading, writing, and arithmetic should also be fostered as strongly to support creativity, and the focus in schools should be teaching children to learn …

Tick!

… so they can continue to adapt to changing needs in the workforce.

Cross!

Chris Hipkins should have articulated that children need to be prepared not only for changing needs in the workforce but also for changing circumstances in their lives.

Life is not just for work but life.

Chris Hipkins should never mention the 21st century again in reference to education; it is not as if children have any choice as to what century they reside in and 21 carries no more significance to how one should approach the education of children than 20.

Like a lot of other people in education he should stop looking over the top of children and look at the children before him: the best way to prepare children for the future is to meet their needs now.

The last few weeks I have undertaken a systematic investigation of how clusters are functioning and, overall, relative to cost, not well, some dithering, some very brittle in purpose and relationships, and a few nicely.

Two points: First, I don’t want hear the absurd claim that clusters are a break from a competitive model, primary schools have never competed in that sense, they have always been co-operative – the previous system through the various ways teachers met and discussed freely, was a huge stimulus to those within it, for instance, the legendary way stjcs handed on knowledge.

And a personal point, the way clusters impart knowledge wouldn’t have suited me, I like my knowledge from leg glances, the sparkle of an idea and no more, and from there to work on it in directions that suited me in relation to the children.

I pose a challenge to Chris Hipkins and Labour to put me in the wrong with I have to say below.

A below average-size school would get $220,000 extra every four years if the internal funding for clusters was allocated to schools. I calculate another $200,000 if the bureaucratic and other external costs were included. What would that do for high needs children? For class sizes? For employing specialist teachers (drama, arts, Maori, science, mathematics, the lot). For having an independent specialist service? For really supporting education for Maori (see below).

Chris Hipkins and NZEI, it seems, have combined to have the cluster policy retained. It will be a cluster policy without national standards so the most detrimental characteristic will be absent but it will still be a policy with a collaboration sticker deceptively attached to it. It will still be an administrative unit of education and another layer of bureaucracy. It will still be a Labour Party incapable of standing back and asking what is the best way to get new knowledge into classrooms. It will still be a Labour Party incapable of standing back and asking what it is it that teachers in classrooms need most. It will still be a Labour Party unable to come up with policies that aren’t warm-ups of National Party policy or borrowed from overseas. It will still be a Labour Party incapable of a cohesive restructuring in the interests of teachers and children. But I could be wrong, so let’s see what he has in the manifesto bag. If it isn’t a restructured school review process, it’s a fail from the start.

Oh yes – the clusters will be administered differently but they will still add up to a distraction and a use of money that could be better spent. And the wonder is, clusters are failing now – with all the threats and inducements, only half the children of New Zealand are in cluster schools. The prospect beckons of three years of fooling around with clusters to the neglect of issues that matter more. (I reiterate, though, that I did come across some clusters that were working; they tended to share a set of characteristics which I will discuss in a later posting.)

Clusters are a mini-Tomorrow’s Schools, an extension of Tomorrow’s Schools – and while they mightn’t display their full neoliberal colours under Labour, three years later, under National, they will be subjected to national standards again, made compulsory, and then, as occurs with any period of Labour rule, the Labour education rule will be forgotten, a nothing – that is because Labour has no school education structural ideas for itself, it simply accepts National’s policies – the real Party of structural change – simply making them a little kinder.

When I left the formal education system to fight the philosophy of Tomorrow’s Schools, in other words fighting Labour, National, and NZEI, I had to contend with the Tomorrow’s Schools propaganda waffle of schools having more freedom; now, with clusters, I have to contend with the propaganda waffle of collaboration, again fighting Labour, National, and NZEI.

And the bit at the end.

During the introduction of Tomorrow’s Schools, I remember listening to national radio (as it was called then) and a Maori woman being interviewed on the street and her saying: ‘The system has failed Maori children; this is its last chance’. Well, it failed in funding, system, and philosophy. Bill English’s favourite saying for being miserly with schools is we can’t just throw money at schools, well not throwing money at schools hasn’t worked, so I’m tempted to say why not try it. But, yes, the system needs to be put right, the holistic philosophy valued, the advisory support there, the bureaucracies tuned in – then the schools with many Maori children provided with access to generous support, including substantial bonuses for teaching in hard to staff and particularly challenging schools, we can’t just lollop along at a slightly faster pace, we need to gallop.

A strange way to conclude perhaps, but the message and circumstance stuck in my head.

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Is the Rangiora commissioner disassociated from reality?

I am referring to an item in the Christchurch Press (March 26, 2017) headed ‘Government intervention at Canterbury’s Rangiora High School to end this year, report says.’

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/90764769/government-intervention-at-canterburys-rangiora-high-school-to-end-this-year-report-says

In the context, this unbalanced reporting does continuing harm to Peggy Burrows, already found to be unjustifiably dismissed.

In the circumstances the reporters should have contacted Peggy Burrows and her lawyer.

I could go through all the lies, distortions, and misinformation in the report, but following the workings of the commissioner’s mind would not be helpful.

Perhaps the most important place to start is that on March 15, 2017 Peggy Burrows and her lawyer filed in the court. The filing was based on Beverley Moore accusing Peggy of financial impropriety, which was not only wrong in itself, but somehow leaked, also for the production of what could euphemistically be called misinformation.

No mention was made of that in the Press report but it explains everything

Both the ministry and commissioner are panicking, that is what this so-called information released under the Information Act is about: the ministry wants away from the commissioner who is considerably out of their control (the ministry is also very concerned about individuals within the ministry being caught up in it); and the commissioner is trying to act as though everything is normal, to fool herself and everyone else by winning in the media what she has already lost in court.

I want to make one thing absolutely clear, huge efforts have been made by the commissioner throughout the three years of blaming Peggy Burrows for financial impropriety or financial lack of expertise. It pops up in everything the commissioner says.

Not one cent has ever found been out of place and the books were in excellent order. Peggy Burrows amongst possessing many other skills is a whiz at finance.

You will note that coming out of the head of the commissioner is the implication of problems that are somehow a carryover from when Peggy Burrows was principal.

This was, and still is, all made up, all from the head the commissioner. If there are any financial difficulties they are entirely of the commissioner’s making or imagining.

In desperation at her imminent day in court, she suddenly discovered $5 million dollars that Peggy Burrows was supposed to have carelessly overlooked. Nonsense – all in her head.

The story can be told very briefly though it begins back in Lockwood-Smith’s time in the ‘90s. A proficient reporter of a Christchurch newspaper ought to know this: Rangiora High School is asset rich – land was left to the school over 100 years ago and is protected under a special act of parliament complete with caveat about how the land could be sold. In the ‘90s Lockwood tried to take-over the assets but in the end the ministry advised him against it. About three years ago a few in the community and board tried again, tried to sell some of the land (one wanted to be the buyer), but Peggy Burrows blocked the attempt. Those people went to the ministry.

To settle things down a special adviser was called in and a financial one – and because Peggy Burrows and the other board members were entirely sure of their ground, they agreed. The financial adviser found all absolutely correct but suggested the amount of money the principal could spend without getting board approval be lowered.

Beverley Moore concocted a report, kept secret from Peggy Burrows, but bits shared with senior staff to defame Peggy, and then there was the claim of financial impropriety. (It was this that caused a strain between senior staff and Peggy, with the staff coming to believe the accusation of financial impropriety.)

Beverley Moore was appointed to being commissioner on the basis of this disgraceful report.

From then on every utterance from the commissioner about Peggy was slanted, wrong, a lie, or transcendentally trivial.

A new board of trustees had been elected, the chair an experienced one saying it was the best board he’d ever been associated with, it was all ready to go – but Beverley Moore sacked them and became the cuckoo in the Rangiora nest to devastating effect to the host.

Because Peggy Burrows had been suspended then fired on the basis of stopping the sale of the school’s assets, a big thing had to be made by the commissioner about that; she regularly declared that there was nothing stopping the sale of the land and no caveat.

She had searched everywhere, she said, but it was nowhere to be found. Yet the caveat is part of the special act.

I have often wondered if the commissioner fits the pattern of two other people I have had to unmask as unfit to be a commissioner, the key part of that pattern is that they had usually trained for something but got nowhere in it because they weren’t willing to put in the structured effort – but they were so drawn to power, near absolute power, that being a commissioner was sought as providing an instant fix.

How the ministry appoints commissioners – what knowledge, requirements, and skills are sought in the applicants – needs to be investigated.

Here is a commissioner found to have wrongfully dismissed a principal and facing a serious defamation case, having the temerity to say via the ministry report ‘that there were major concerns around long-term planning financial planning and school property.’

This sounded a bit weak so the commissioner strengthened it up with ‘These were deemed to have a significant impact on student achievement, teaching and learning, and wellbeing.’

All made up after she made herself commissioner.

The implication was that these were a carryover from Peggy Burrows. They weren’t an issue when Peggy Burrows was principal but apparently they were now. She has either been incompetent as commissioner or is lying.

The wrongful dismissal of Peggy Burrows is being trivialised by the commissioner as a distraction to her work.

How could she? Bring crashing down the life of a beautiful human being and a first-rate principal.

The commissioner was found guilty of doing this wrongfully and here she is acting as if still in the right, still acting if somehow it is Peggy Burrow’s fault.

Is the commissioner disassociated from reality?

And how could the Christchurch Press continue to be complicit in this extended psychological cruelty?

I want to let readers know, even if giving satisfaction to the commissioner, that Peggy was in Japan with her grandchildren on holiday, when Press article arrived.

I said forget it – let me reply.

An utterly innocent principal – the reasons for her dismissal utterly groundless, but years later the commissioner is still making things up, and in this case the timing devastating.

The ministry knows the new board should appoint the principal, you can read that between the lines, but they have lost control of the commissioner (the ministry is bound to deny this), and the commissioner wants the satisfaction of appointing the principal as  final hit,  judged on the basis of her actions, against the woman she has come to hate.

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John Hattie: your research is now a con

In this article I am going to place considerable demands on Simon Collins’ flexibility of thinking, on his ability to imagine the unimaginable, his willingness to recognise a wrong universally accepted right by the media as an incontrovertible right, and the naïve trust he no doubt shares with his media colleagues in the truthfulness of education authority.

The prompting for this posting is a follow-up article Simon Collins wrote in the New Zealand Herald  (March 18, 2017) to an earlier major one detailing New Zealand’s declining international test results.

Simon Collins asked, as the media always do, an academic – described as a top educator – why he thought this was happening.

The academic was adamant: ‘We have more streaming than any other country in the world.’

He must be dreaming!

Well he does now live in Australia.

I have come to know this academic very well and am confident in declaring that he was winging it.

The colossal irony is that it was the actions and words of the academic being asked, more than any other academic, more than any other New Zealander, who caused the decline in international test results.

A decided motivation to distract.

How this academic must have laughed.

Oh what a humble amanuensis Simon Collins proved to be.

How this academic, this top educator, must have enjoyed Simon Collins falling for it.

The top educator went on to say, we used to be at the top but now we weren’t, and the reason is ‘streaming children into top, middle, and bottom classes’. (The top educator, as ever, has it wrong: the huge preponderance of streaming doesn’t occur in classes but within them, a fact that would be second nature to a true top educator.)

What a fiddle the top educator was getting away with.

I have long written about the advantages of unstreamed learning and taken courses on how to organise classroom learning without it (for it to work at its best, holistic practice is required) but its use has only miniscule harmful effects on learning compared with the widespread structural effects of the introduction of national standards, one of them, not incidentally, being an increase in streaming.

In an article in the Herald (February 6, 2010), Andrew Laxon writes ‘Bill English sought Hattie’s views when he originally developed the party’s national standards policy and Key took the same route, drawing inspiration from Hattie’s advice that a standards-based approach could work wonders in even the poorest schools.’

In that same article Andrew Laxon writes: ‘Hattie’s sworn enemy in all educational matters, former school inspector-turned-blogger Kelvin Smythe is far more forthright.’

‘He believes that Hattie has worked hand in glove with the Government on the system and claims his influence is so great that other academics are too scared to speak up against him.’

John Key said John Hattie was the architect of the introduction of national standards into New Zealand. He became the overwhelmingly dominant academic supporting government policies. To those of us who wanted truth in education, who wanted progressive policies, who wanted genuine discussion, Hattie was an academic miasma. He was everywhere. His research was the rationale for government policy and in combination with the government and a bewitched media, a devastatingly formidable force to confront.

But the research, as I hope to convincingly demonstrate, is false.

Now this is the challenge to Simon Collins, instead of investigating declining test results and interviewing an academic (always the same one), I suggest he investigate the academic.

I know what Simon Collins will think – Kelvin Smythe is he unhinged? Hattie, a former University of Auckland professor, producer of the Holy Grail research, still dominant with the National government, presently head of the Melbourne Education Research Institute, the dominant academic voice in Australia, consultant to Pearson, the go-to academic world-wide.

Just as Fukuyama declared the end of history so, in a way, has Hattie’s research been declared the end of education research.

But that would be strange wouldn’t it given the name of the book of his research: Visible Learning? A book of research that concerns itself only with that which is visible? A perfect model for the neoliberal commodification of education but a gargantuanly imperfect one for research on children.

Despite all that, Hattie’s education research remains just as false – all it goes to show is Hattie’s fantastic charismatic, testosterone driven-ability to sell trombones and employ his cunning political skills.

I viewed him once talking to a group of students, nearly all women, and Hattie standing at the board saying: When you become a teacher, would you like to teach with the absolute certainty of being right? A swoony intake of breath was the response.

But his research is demonstrably false.

Hattie’s refusal to acknowledge the falseness of that research – undertaken as a young researcher, harmful to hundreds of thousands of children – means it has become akin to academic fraud. I don’t believe the research was intended as an academic fraud but after getting the research so wrong, and having it pointed out to him, his refusal to disown it, means he has to wear its falseness.

A number of British academics have exposed him and breaking through the fear of Hattie’s close relations with the government including his involvement in PBRFs, a few New Zealand academics.

(I have written a number of lengthy articles tracking the directions Hattie took and was a great nuisance to him. On one occasion he said he would only sign an academic petition if the academics could get me to shut up. I agreed on the condition I could open up if he went against the arguments of the petition signed, which I knew he would – and which he did. To a visiting English academic he complained about harassment and there were vague references to legal action.)

The falseness of Hattie’s research is not difficult to explain; it is not technical or abstruse. But everything about Hattie’s research is false except for some opinions which, while they may be true, are also false, because he claims them to be evidence-based. One reason Hattie has an appeal to teachers (along with his assertive sense of rightness) is that he talks about ideas and approaches which are at teachers’ level of interest. His tactic is to mix, amongst his mainly right-wing education ideas, a few liberal ones – that is Hattie the education politician at work, bringing teachers in, making him all the more valuable to corporates and neoliberal governments. Hattie always recognised that his status with authority and corporates was partly dependent on his hold over teachers, hence they tolerated the occasional radical swing in support for certain policies, in particular, national standards. He signed a petition, for instance, against national standards even though he was the ‘architect’ of them, soon to change tack of course; and just before he left for Australia he said the national standards were the wrong ones – a very odd response for the architect.

Hattie took his idea for meta-analysis from the medical world and applied it to the value-laden one of education in gigantic style.

The difference between, say – a study of hospital operations involving surgical mesh and complications, and a study of the learning effects of, say, whole language involving many countries and thousands of children; children of different ages; children of different genders; children ranging from those with disabilities to able ones to university students; children in classrooms to clinical situations; teachers and cultures with different understandings of  whole language; studies over different time periods (but always short); lessons that are formal to less so (definitely a huge bias towards the formal) – is vast.

No-one else in education has tried a similar meta-analysis since, for an obvious reason, in education it throws up rubbish – there is no-way the variables can be controlled:

  • Fifty-thousand studies with the estimated number of 236 million students across many countries, though with a USA bias (every country to give a different meaning to the same words – for instance, whole reading and whole language meaning something very different in the USA to New Zealand).
  • Age (children who are younger are capable of much more rapid improvement than older children; and what is the relevance of studies of university students to the teaching of school children?)
  • Ethnicities (single ethnicity countries as against highly diverse).
  • Schooling systems (authoritarian countries as against democratic; technocratically advanced countries as against developing ones).
  • Learning contexts (classrooms or laboratories – laboratory and clinical contexts play a substantial role in the research results).
  • Student characteristics (a significant number of the results are based on children with learning disabilities).
  • Teaching styles (dominant characteristics from country to country).
  • Vocabulary (teaching practices and their names have different meanings in different countries).
  • Parts of the curriculum (certain parts of the curriculum suit different styles of teaching; what is being taught is not always made clear but mathematics, which can be taught more formally, is a definite emphasis).
  • Variation in aims from country to country (certain aims in education which might be of high importance to children and to particular societies might be more complex to teach and therefore take longer – for instance, whole reading is superior to phonics in the longer term but requires patience, the same with problem-based mathematics).
  • The affective (largely avoided as the name of the book states).

To take one of Hatties’s influences, feedback, there is an absence of easily accessible research information on:

  • The learning contexts used.
  • The institutional level involved (pre-school to university).
  • Whether the students were in a clinical or classroom context.
  • The curriculum areas involved.
  • Whether the thinking was straightforward or complex, skill-based or cognitive, formal or affective.
  • How it was taught, closed or open-ended, individual discovery or class led.
  • The age of the children, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or gender balance.
  • How long after the teaching the testing was done (of overwhelming significance).
  • The influence of the Hawthorne effect.
  • Whether the children were performing in comparison with where they were at the beginning or with a control group (ponder the enormous research significance of that – yet the results were all tumbled together).
  • How each influence has an independent effect entirely separate from the context (a more technical area of research error but pervasively significant) as he claims.

The crucial point is not that most of the information couldn’t, eventually, be identified but the impossibility of ever bringing the variables validly together. My assumption, given Hattie’s personality, is that he felt he could get away with it by deus ex machina and he largely has. Hattie, as demonstrated below, sometimes fragmented the data to often farcical effect and wickedly misleading outcomes but, it seems, we fell for deus ex machina again. Where is the outrage?

An academic dug deep down into the research information and came up with the following (there are dozens more just as grotesque):

  • Hattie’s ranking of quality of teaching (to the question: how important an influence is it – want to drive a bus through what quality means?), which he ranked 56th out of 138 in his league table (56th is he for real?), came solely from student ratings by college and university students. Can you believe this rubbish? How could Hattie not have known it was a con?
  • The micro-teaching influence was ranked 4th as an influence, but only came from pre-service teachers.
  • Professional development was ranked 19th as an influence but drops to 48th when only schools research is included.
  • Formative evaluation was ranked 3rd as an influence but there were only two sets of results and both to do with special education children.
  • Comprehensive interventions were ranked 7th as an influence but they only concerned learning disabled children.

British academics proved half his results were mathematically incorrect due to a school-level howler, a demonstration of his amateurism. It took him years to acknowledge the error even though it was self-evident. What chance then of acknowledging the falsity of his research as a whole. It is important to point out, though, the other way he worked out the results produced ‘correct’ results.

I searched all his writing to see if there was any kind of apology, any kind of counter, and I found only one semblance:

Hattie wrote: ‘No worry, it all balances out.’

Our professional lives are enriched when academics create education ideas greater than their research. Hattie, sadly, has managed the considerable feat of producing education ideas even more dismal than his specious research. There is a nimble but superficial prolixity to his writing that indicates the possession of a critical intelligence which can operate with no fixed connection to the reality of classrooms or their social context. There is, though, one exception to this, his ability to connect to the reality of the academic market. His tactically adroit research is angled and presented in such a way as to draw teachers in with its certainty, the media with its glibness, corporates with its marketability, and governments with its promise of increased control at the cheapest rates. I have written hundreds of pages about this academic, an academic who has played such major part in shredding the beautiful holistic education that is our heritage and culture. I have not written about him for some time and intend never to write about him again.

John Hattie: your research is now a con.

As for Simon, as eminent, skilled, and good-hearted as he is, taking on Hattie is beyond his reach, anyone’s, because Hattie is an embodiment of where school education is today he has, it seems, a free pass to any neoliberal outrage that takes his fancy, with truth and children the ultimate victims.

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Attack! 104 In the Early World: Elwyn Richardson

Welcome to ATTACK! 

ATTACK! is a two-page occasional publication giving attention to the curriculum – the holistic curriculum.

ATTACK! is for you, also to introduce to your colleagues. Each issue will be restricted to two pages. A cover graphic for a file or folder to store ATTACK! issues is available.

Most of ATTACK! will be concerned with the holistic curriculum which, if acted on, is a fundamental way to undermine the present undemocratic education system. Don’t be discouraged if opportunities to teach holistically are limited, do your best, be a guardian, and act as a witness to this culturally significant and inspiring way of teaching and learning.

To get in touch for comment, questions, and the ATTACK! issues to be sent to you personally:  ksmythe@wave.co.nz

Attack! 104 In the Early World: Elwyn Richardson

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