Rankings happen anyway

July 6, 2009

There is probably no profession whose members spend more time and energy on assessment than teaching.

Therefore teachers must understand that good assessment looks not just at what’s achieved but how much it took to achieve it. A little progress from a child with learning difficulties could be a greater achievement than a lot of progress from someone with much greater ability.

Teachers make such assessments all the time but distrust other people’s, particularly parents’ , ability to exercise a similar level of judgement and sense if they had information on schools’ performance.

That’s part of why they are so strongly opposed to Education Minister Anne Tolley’s plans for assessment which could result in publication of information which in turn might lead to ranking of schools. They don’t trust the public to make intelligent use of the information.

But parents rank schools already, based on their own experience and others’. That’s why people in cities pay far more than a house ought to be worth to ensure their offspring are in the “right” zone for a particular school.

This concern about which school your children attend is more an urban than a rural one.

In the country there isn’t a lot of choice. If you, or your child, doesn’t like the local school the alternatives require a lot of travel or boarding.

However, if the local school isn’t up to scratch, most parents put the educational needs of their children before their own convenience. If the problems aren’t addressed – and it’s not easy to improve or remove poor teachers – the children move to another school.

The decision by several parents to bypass our local school in response to concerns over a principal which eventually led to its closure.

It doesn’t need official rankings, parents talk to each other and soon find out if there are major concerns.

Publishing schools’ performance will make that information more public it might also help identify schools with problems and get them the help they need to solve them

Dim Post has a very good Q&A on this issue.


Education not just for school

November 11, 2008

She was 10 and in the middle class of a three class country school where all the other pupils were aged 7, 8 or 9.

The best of these were reading chapter books, she, the eldest, was reading books below the level of the youngest – the very early readers with a few words in large font and clear pictures on each page.

I was there as a parent helper and listening to her read. When she got to the word mug and couldn’t read it I was perplexed because she’d read mum and jug earlier so knew the sounds.

After a few moments of fruitless attempts I pointed to the picture and asked her if she knew what it was.

“Yes, that’s a cup,” she said.

I said it was like a cup and asked if she had cups and saucers at home. She said she had cups so I asked if she’d heard of mugs. She hadn’t.

I explained what a mug is and we got on with the next sentence.

But I wondered about her home and family if her vocabulary was so poor she’d never come across the word mug before and couldn’t use her knowledge of words with similar sounds to make a stab at reading it.

This was her seventh school but in spite of the best efforts of her teacher and several parent helpers, she made little progress and she was there only a few weeks before her mother moved again.

She’ll be around 24 now and while I’d like to think she’d succeeded in spite of her homelife it’s quite possible she hasn’t and will have a child or children of her own, struggling at school because of what happens, or doesn’t happen, at home.

One of National’s aims is to lift literacy and numeracy standards. It’s one I fully support but this anecdote shows that education can’t just be left up to schools.

Colin James  sums up the problem:

An underclass is a class without real opportunity. Do children get good nutrition and cognitive development in their earliest years? Those who don’t cannot learn at school and often end up as the enemies of society and economic development. And they pass on their life start to their children.

Key’s challenge is to intervene to give those children a true chance at life, as he had, well parented. Whether he makes a real start on that will define how truly unifying his prime ministership is.

Tackling poor literacy and numeracy would be difficult if all the problems lay in schools, because some of the problems are in society it’s even harder. There’s no doubt John Key and his caucus have the will to tackle it, the challenge is to find a way that works.


Swimming Through Syrup In Gumboots

July 2, 2008

Ever wondered what it’s like swimming through syrup in gumboots? Try getting the drainage at your school fixed.

Show Me The Money describes Mike Hosking’s interview on Close UP:

The Education Ministry’s National Property Manager Paul Burke first went through his bureaucratic routine of trying to explain why the school hadn’t quite jumped through all the hoops yet, despite three years of trying. He was trying to explain the shape of the hoops, the number of hoops, how round they were, what they were made of and the exact nature of the leaps required to jump said hoops. He wore a lovely suit with a beautiful tie. He seemed like a man who knew the rules very well. 

I wanted to throw things at the television. Mike Hosking avoided throwing things. But he did quickly tear apart the Kafka-esque web the good bureaucrat was weaving. Why was it taking so long? Why couldn’t the drains be fixed? How many consultants does it take to change the lightbulbs at Tiaho school….and why?

If this was an isolated case it would be bad enough, but it’s not.

It’s the product of the form filling, tick-box, hoop jumping, policy and proceedure before progress mentality which gives bureaucrats the power to say no but strips them of the courage to say yes.

Hat Tip: Kiwiblog


Gypsy Month Changes Neighbourhood

June 6, 2008

It used to be Gypsy Day, it became Gypsy weekend, then it took a week and now dairy farm numbers have expanded so much the pressure on home removal and stock transport firms is such it’s more like Gypsy month for dairy farm staff and their cows.

 

Dairy employment contracts go from June 1 to May 31 and hundreds of sharemilkers, dairy workers and managers change jobs and homes at the end of a season. That has an impact not just on the people who move but the communities they move to and from as well. A school with 100 pupils might have a 20% change or more in pupils as some come and some go.

 

That affects the whole school and a principal tells me that a child can lose up to a term of optimal learning each time s/he changes school. However, he said he’s noticed that more parents are trying to change jobs within a school catchment or shift less often so it’s less disruptive for the children.

 

The transitory nature of dairy farm work makes it harder to retain community cohesion too, although that was happening anyway. When our daughter started school in 1990 it had about 80 pupils and we knew all their families. When she left seven years later the roll was down to about 30, thanks to the ad-sag, and we knew only about half the families.

 

The district population has increased again as irrigation has brought more dairying – two years ago there were eight houses on our road, now there are 13. But it’s not as easy as it used to be to get to know new neighbours.

 

A couple who moved in to a house on the farm next door six years ago have moved out again and I never met them. The house is about four kilometres away from ours on an unsealed road we rarely use, so it would have taken a special trip to see them; and I did phone to invite them for a meal a few times but it didn’t suit. However, that doesn’t excuse the fact I didn’t make more effort and I’ve resolved to do better with the new occupiers to ensure that another Gypsy month doesn’t come around without us meeting.


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