Sunday, June 24, 2012

It took an American researcher to tell us the obvious!

How many more stuff-up, back downs, blatant lies do we have to endure from this Government? Why don’t we trust our own researchers when it comes to examining education policy and its impact on our schools? We all know that the Government is encouraging our schools to compete against one another rather than work in a collegial way. It has been so for a few decades now. This policy (Tomorrows Schools) came under the guise of schools being made to be more accountable to their local communities and the policy came in under a Labour Government. The problem has been that it was hijacked and distorted by the National Party Governments of the last few terms.
We have seen the debacle and subsequent back downs by Parata and Key over ‘class-sizes’ and now we have the ‘League Tables and Decile rating issues. Once again the Government is using it to distort what is going on in education for their own purposes; that is their own agenda.
An American researcher pointed out the obvious---he was surprized that his findings caused a ‘stir’ in NZ educational circles. The decile debate is interesting. Rating schools on a decile basis was never intended to be used as a tool to rank a school’s effectiveness. It was meant to give the Education Department a means to fund schools based on the socio/economic levels of the families in their catchment (zone) area. If a school was then designated as decile one, then it attracted more government funds in order to equal out educational opportunities. This is good and fair.
What has happened (and made worse by Government meddling)  is that parents have come to believe that a school with a lower decile rating will not do the ‘job’ for their children and that the teachers may not be as good as those in higher decile areas. This is wrong and it has been perpetuated throughout the country, hurting lower decile schools.
The research found that schools also feed into this myth and even manipulate their boundaries; excluding lower decile streets in their area and denying some students access to a higher decile school.

If you add the issue of ‘League Tables’ into this mix, you can see that there is a real problem of misunderstanding the real effectiveness of a school. One does not need a degree in education to understand that students from lower decile families are going to lack the ‘cultural capital’ I have referred to in other blogs on this subject. In short, if a student comes from a more affluent family, he or she brings to the classroom a set of beliefs and skills that have been learnt and gained from an early age. We cannot get away from this. It is not an excuse for a lower decile school to NOT achieve a high quality delivery for its students, but it is a potent factor.
Add the increasingly competitive format of NZ education and you can see where I am going with my argument. If the so called ‘League Tables’ are used to enhance a school position by tweaking the expectation of parents, then we will have ‘loser schools and winner schools,’ all based on a spurious parental understanding of what the tables show or mean. I am not trying to diminish the understanding of parents, but the very nature of these tables can be easily simplified and misread.
I do not believe that Ms Parata and her leader are capable of understanding the impact of the policies they are proposing. They will put back any gains we have made over the years and slowly erode what is still a world-class education system.

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