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Billionaire Steven Jennings has blamed teachers as the cause of lower rates of achievement in low decile schools. Not only is the whole education system ‘failing’ according to Mr Jennings, but poor teaching and nasty unions are entrenching inequality for (predominantly) Maori and Pasifika students.

Of course, the facts suggest otherwise. Participation, retention and achievement for Maori and Pasifika learners is improving every year, while international surveys show that New Zealand teachers rate amongst the highest in the world. Further, Ministry of Education statistics actually show that when socioeconomic factors are controlled for, the achievement of students in lower deciles is comparable to those in higher decile schools.

While nobody would suggest that everything is rosy for all Maori and Pasifika learners (or, for that matter, all low decile, alternative education and special education students), a blanket pillorying of teachers because statistics show a percentage of these learners aren’t achieving at the same level as kids in higher decile schools is not only unjustified – it is deliberately misleading.

Prior to New Zealand’s entry into the ‘free market’ (where Mr Jennings began accumulating his massive wealth through his involvement in the selling down of state assets), 50% of secondary school students failed their national examinations. That was how the system worked. Nevertheless, many of these students had access into trades and employment in local industries which are now largely gone (a result of the deregulated ‘global market’ which moved manufacturing to the lowest wage economies in order to return the greatest profit). The greatest impact of such ‘free market reforms’ were of course on those groups who had previously worked in these industries – predominantly those who had not been on the right side of the bell curve at school.

While an education system that provided pathways into the types of work the society needed probably made some sense – sadly, the deregulation and competition that these reforms engendered saw a massive increase in inequality. That is, those who benefitted (such as Mr Jennings) did so at a time where the employment of ‘lower status’ workers became much more precarious.

Where were teachers in all of this? They, (through their unions), worked to change the system.

The development of a broader Curriculum in the early 2000s (with a focus on students being able to demonstrate their competencies against a range of objectives across and within curriculum areas rather than in a high stakes exam) paved the way for more students to achieve – (However, no assumption was made that this would mean all students would subsequently achieve all of them: The strengths and interests of learners are of course diverse). Sadly, the great strides taken by ‘lower decile’ students since this change have not yet been able to offset the entrenched deprivation of those communities whose jobs have been moved offshore because the labour is cheaper or who have found themselves victims of casualised and unsavoury employment practices.

The impacts of entrenched poverty should need little explanation: students whose families cannot afford food, uniforms, access to technological devices, students who arrive at school carrying the burden of stressed and at times help-less parents who exist from week to week and are afraid to check the letterbox for fear of the next bill - preparing these students for assessment is often not the same job.

Despite this, teachers are having an impact: the engagement and achievement of many of these students is increasing at a time where house prices make it difficult for even white collar workers to get on the ladder, by individualising learning programmes, building culturally responsive pedagogy and sharing best practice. And largely, they are doing it themselves (continuing with strategies to meet the needs of groups of learners even when the Ministry of Education stops funding proven programmes such as Te Kotahitanga).

Sadly, when billionaires are given a soapbox these facts don’t seem to be examined too closely. Instead, Mr Jennings suggests that 10% of teachers are failing (likely a calculation based on the fact that a tenth of teachers are in the lowest decile schools) and has even taken aim at teacher appraisal, saying 99% of teachers are promoted every year – a figure he appears to have plucked out of the air.

Here again Mr Jennings seems happy not to let the facts get in the way of a good time. Teachers are appraised against the 12 Professional Teacher Criteria every year (which involves classroom observations of their practice and providing evidence of their competency against these criteria), they undertake Professional Inquiry, must participate in Professional Development (which they often have to find and fund themselves – in their term breaks) and are increasingly held to account for the achievement rates of their akonga. In fact, the steadily increasing bureaucracy involved in teaching is causing some teachers to leave the profession – because it takes them away from teaching, exponentially increases the scope of their professional role (without providing access to professional support) and increasingly holds them accountable for redressing factors outside their control.

While those of us in the bottom 90% of earners might see it as pretty cynical to interpret high rates of promotion as suggesting we need more appraisal to weed out more teachers - it appears Mr Jennings has no such scruples. He, and other ‘educational experts’ such as Mainfreight Chairman Bruce Plested, suggest that Performance Pay for teachers is the answer. (One wonders how much extra teachers might be offered. Starting salaries are in the $40,000s -no wonder teachers can’t afford to live in Auckland). Ironically, if a Performance Pay model was implemented in New Zealand that took account of the additional hours teachers put in to provide education to students from diverse, impoverished and challenging backgrounds it would bankrupt the country. (An alternative economic model would be bulk funding where you cap how much $ there is and take the extra for the crème de la crème from those at ‘the bottom’: not so helpful in generating collaboration or retaining new grads one would imagine).

In contrast, Teachers and unions want all teachers to be supported to be great teachers. We take the view that this requires professional development and collaboration.

Even if you could create a set of criteria to gauge top performance that took account of the complexities of the job and the variance in what learners from different backgrounds bring, without access to mentoring, professional development, a significant reduction in bureaucracy and space to collaborate and share best practice the idea is fraught.

Where highly paid ‘expert’ teachers have been marketed in other countries they have failed spectacularly to bootstrap professional practice. Borrowing a model that says you rain money onto the top echelons at the expense of those at the bottom simply doesn’t work – it means you have less teachers willing or able to put themselves through the ringer, lower trust and a pecking order that erodes collective endeavour. Mssrs
Plested and Jennings need only look around to see what happens when you run this market ideology – you end up in precisely the situation they decry as our nation’s shame: massive inequality.

If you summarily dismiss 10% of the workforce as Mr Jennings does, or implement a more competitive model as Mr Plested sees fit to endorse, you increase class sizes for everyone left, create barriers (on top of the financial ones that currently exist) for our brightest and best to consider teaching as a career and continue the precedent of blaming teachers for things outside their control.

Of course, vilifying teachers as the cause of inequality and suggesting they need to be held to account with more draconian appraisal (for the princely sums they receive) is unlikely to help recruit and retain good teachers – there is already a supply crisis for teachers who can’t afford to live in Auckland and it appears that the Education Council are bumbling their way to erecting further barriers for relievers, itinerant teachers and new grads who can’t get permanent employment.

Surely as someone who has benefitted from deregulation, Mr Jennings’ can understand that increasing bureaucracy, demanding additional barriers to advancement and blaming teachers for social ills is unlikely to improve recruitment and retention of high quality teachers.
Unfortunately, this understanding is missing from his oligarchic pronouncements to our nation.

While it is acceptable for a man who surfed the wave of privatisation in the 1980s to have a personal view of the power of the market, perhaps he should turn his focus to ‘fixing’ Auckland housing – and let teachers teach.

b2ap3_thumbnail_JenningsJack.jpg

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Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand and… Australia

So the hopeful travelers who have been given free tickets on the Hindenburg are now boarding excitedly. 

According to the Minister of Education they will be “trailblazers” which promises a lot of excitement for all of us.

zeppelin

She also says that they are among New Zealand’s foremost practitioners and education experts.  That would be except for the Australian, Tony Mackay.   Is it really the case that we are so short of teaching expertise in New Zealand that we have to pick up an international jet-setting consultant to show us the error of our ways?   Especially since he comes from a country that has a shameful record for running down public education.   Look at this from an Australian blog dedicated to fighting for greater equity for public schools:     

New figures show that private schools were massively favoured over public schools by government funding increases between 2008-09 and 2012-13. Funding for private schools, adjusted for inflation, increased by a staggering eight times more than for public schools. Save our schools

You won’t catch Tony Mackay compromising his OECD contracts by fighting an injustice like this.

Another intriguing appointment to Educanz is Helen Timperley from the University of Auckland and latterly a member of the Professional Learning and Development Review group which was supposed to clean up the mess that resulted from contracting out of professional development.  The report has been languishing on the Minster’s desk (probably because it proposed a system that had schools and teachers more involved with the management of PLD).  Given that the initial ministry papers on Educanz suggested dropping the PLD spend into Educanz, one doesn’t have to be clairvoyant to see where this is going.  Teachers resent paying fees to Educanz and Educanz needs a lot of money because it has acquired a set of extra tasks around professional leadership that should be funded from the public purse and not from teachers’ pockets. Give Educanz the $80,000,000 PLD budget to dish out amongst its consultant friends and solve two problems at once.   The door for racketeering will be jammed wide open.

The other Council members (whether they realise or not) are just placeholders. They are there to give a veneer of educational credibility to an organisation that is firmly under the thumb of the minister.

Their puppet masters in government, the Ministry of Education, the Education Review Office and Treasury will pull the strings for more contracting out, more privatisation, more standards for teachers and performance pay and the council members will dance merrily.

A little known fact that may or may not be relevant: The Hindenburg was as big as the Titanic.

 

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Posted by on in Career pathways

Facts

 

There has been a deliberate misinformation campaign about the proposed Investing in Educational Success (IES) which calls for some straight-talking.

1. Get with the programme

The cabinet paper (January 23rd 2014) that talked about “executive” principals and “expert” teachers and performance pay has gone the way of dial-up and leg-warmers.   PPTA has been bargaining with the ministry to turn the initial offer into something that will work in schools.  The primary aim of a union is negotiate better deals for its members.

2. What's so wrong with collaboration?

Everyone acknowledges that the competition fuelled by Tomorrow’s Schools is bad for schools, bad for kids and bad for teachers but when there’s a chance to do something about it, we get patch protection.  Up and down the country,  schools have been trying to work together to improve things for their students – now they will get some funding and staffing to support their co-operative activities.  Those who don’t want to be in a community don’t have to – though they will not receive any of the community resources. And those who don't want to apply for any of the positions don't have to.  Collaboration can't be mandated.

3. There’s no such thing as a super principal

See 1 above. The people continuing to use terms like this haven’t kept up. The new role is called community of schools leadership role and the task is to facilitate the effective functioning of the community. Each school remains autonomous within the community. There will be no bogey, “super principal” coming into schools and bossing other principals around – the role might even be filled by a local DP, a recently retired principal or it might be job-shared.

4. They’re regular roles with regular pay plus an allowance. No performance pay

The new IES roles are just like those of specialist classroom teachers or HoD positions. They are roles with specific functions, with money, time and PLD attached and job descriptions that require the holder to work to share their best practice with their colleagues,  within schools and with other schools in the community. There will be a transparent advertising process (the law requires it) and appointment on merit. Some of the roles will be fixed-term and members have signalled they don’t mind that because it means more people can get experience in the job. It also allows the community of schools to re-appoint if its priorities change.   And all these people will be regular classroom teachers working with their colleagues to share their expertise.

5. Variation and voting

This is a proposal from the employer between collective agreement rounds, technically known as a variation.  PPTA averages about one a year and they always follow the same process.  The PPTA advocates get to work with the ministry and NZSTA to shape the proposal into something that they believe will work for secondary schools and teachers, and then members vote to either accept it or reject it.  There are almost no circumstances when we would go straight to members with a completely unformed, employer proposal without first negotiating the detail so members can vote from an informed perspective.  

Presently, we are a long way from a variation.  All we have so far is an interim agreement on some key elements because there are working parties around such things as appointments, professional standards and community of school operations that have yet to report. We anticipate that the full variation will be ready for voting early in term 4 which is a helpful timeline given the possible impact of the election.

6. PPTA is a union of professionals

IES is a political initiative because it comes from the party that is in government and because it's election year but its aims are entirely consistent with PPTA professional policy around such things as:

  • collaboration between schools
  • openness and the sharing of expertise
  • career paths -  especially for new and beginning teachers.

 

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Posted by on in Uncategorized

One of the promises of charter schools was that they would be innovative. And as every educational expert from business sponsored think tanks, marketing companies and discredited political parties knows, one of the biggest hurdles to innovation is the collective employment agreement.

The immutable laws of Freidman and Hayek tell us we can’t have 21st century, child-centred instruction while teachers have such industrial era expectations as a set number of hours, class size controls, non-contact time or payments for extra duties.

So, what is going on here then?

Te Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru, Whangaruru (2 positions)

(10 Mar 2014)

Our secondary, bilingual school, nestled within the picturesque setting of Whangaruru, is an inpiring land and water environment which will be embedded in our curriculum delivery. We seek registered, experienced teachers to fill two positions. (1) 0.5 junior science teacher. (2) Full-time English teacher. Applicants will have proven teaching ability, can motivate and engage students to learn to their potential, inspiring our students to excel. We offer small classes of 15 and individual contracts with high-quality working conditions – equivalent to the Collective Agreement. If you are seeking a teaching opportunity to make a difference for our youth and want to work in idyllic surroundings, we welcome your application.

 

Have they forgotten what they were established to do? They have to show that our ‘long tail of underachievement’ is all a result of the lazy, incompetent teachers hiding behind exactly such outdated protections as collective agreements.

 

 (Before you rush off to apply for these jobs, they’re now advertising three positions. Out of four teachers. Within two months of opening.)

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One of the criticisms of yesterday’s announcement is that this is performance pay by stealth. Have a look here, here or here for examples.

It’s reasonable to be wary of this, from a Minister who said in the past that it something she’s considering.

PPTA’s position on performance pay is clear. In 2012 the Executive affirmed a long held stance rejecting “discriminatory performance pay for teachers”.  Nothing has changed since then.

The word ‘discriminatory’ is significant. To some extent teaching, like any other profession, already has elements of performance pay. And I don’t think anyone would argue with that.  At the most basic level, if you don’t perform at all, i.e. turn up, do what is required like finish your reports and keep your classes gainfully occupied, then you lose your job.

But there is a lot more to it than that. When performance pay is used, in teaching or other jobs, there various ways performance is measured. And in actuality, piece-work type employment, like apple picking, where the outputs are easily quantified, and the work is generally menial and repetitive is the only area where ‘pure performance pay’ happens regularly.

In most other professions there are some sorts of more or less subjective judgements made about how well someone is doing their job, or how much of it they are doing, which help determine whether or not they keep it, or get paid more or less.

And teaching is not that different. Except that one advantage teaching has, thanks in part to the strong collective agreement that covers our employment is that those judgements tend towards being less subjective and more transparent than in other workplaces.

The three areas in which teachers’ performance already impacts on their pay are:

  • Their qualifications – a proxy for ‘quality’ – not always the best, but certainly a reasonable indication of a level of skill and knowledge that will enable you to be a better teacher. Teachers with lower level qualifications earn less.
  • Attestation that teachers are meeting standards. There are two sets of standards that teachers need to meet – professional standards in the collective agreement to get pay increases and registered teacher criteria to continue to hold a practising certificate. Teachers have to show that they are meeting these standards – which are broad and reasonably holistic, and were collaboratively developed.
  • Pay for extra duties or responsibilities. Teachers who ‘do more’  - whether it’s leading a department or taking responsibility for some significant extra-curricular activities can get more money – this is what units are for. This is clearly a performance related pay – more work leads to extra pay.


So, hardly a ‘soviet car factory’ as some would suggest.

The second and third of these three areas are clearly where these new roles of ‘Expert Teacher’ and ‘Lead Teacher’ fit. They will have standards that teachers will need to meet to get the job – standards we’ll be involved in developing and which won’t (because we’ll make sure they don’t) place undue weight on reductive ‘measurables’. And these roles have extra duties and responsibilities attached – for sharing good practice, leading collaboration and encouraging innovation. Like the Specialist Classroom Teacher, which we fought for the in the 2004 Collective agreement round – they are a career pathway for teachers who have something else to offer their colleagues and the system as a whole, and in a role that is not simply ‘management’ of the school. And ideally – we’d like to see the third of these – qualifications be introduced to give them a further degree of objectivity and removal from school management control.

Performance pay becomes ‘discriminatory’ when it is competitive and rationed, and that’s where we have concerns. The position that we took in 2012 was that, if a performance pay system would pit teachers against each other in competition for a limited number of bonuses or recognise one type of easily quantifiable contribution to the school more than another less easily quantifiable one, then it would be resisted. At the time the Executive agreed that

“Discriminatory performance pay is a tool to control teachers and minimise the costs and responsibility of government for delivering equitable and high quality education to all. Some of its implications include:

  •  Changing the motivation of teachers from the intrinsic reward of seeing students learn to the extrinsic reward of a better pay packet
  •  Breaking down collegial and collaborative relationships, and replacing them with competitive ones
  • Increasing the recruitment and retention challenges for low decile schools
  • Ensuring that some students are taught by teachers to be deemed less effective, but remain teaching on a lower pay rate
  • Forcing schools into bidding wars for teachers in areas of subject shortages
  • Making it easier for inadequate educational leaders to command superficial compliance from teachers, at the cost of genuine motivation and buy in.
  • Undermining the morale of the teaching profession”


The new roles of ‘Expert Teacher’ and ‘Lead Teacher’ (the names are naff, I don’t know many teachers who will put their hands up and say, “Yep, I’m an expert”) don’t come with bonuses – but with extra pay for actual an actual job. There are always a limited number of positions – whether Principal or Head of Department. Roles that are focussed on mentoring other teachers rather than managing them, and sharing good teaching practice rather than developing it in isolation are fantastic – and in stark contrast to simply giving extra cash to a teacher who wrings the most ‘value added’ out of their students.

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