The Treehorn Express
Treehorn was a normal, every-day primary school pupil who started to shrink. During his ordeal he came to grips with a sad, prevailing condition that everybody knows about : that adults don’t take much notice of what happens to young school children. Treehorn learned this the hard way. .We adults really don’t care much about the school world that he and his age-peers live in, do we? Face up to it. If we did we would never had allowed the kind of testing programs that have altered school systems, teaching procedures, learning aspirations and our economic future. Florence Patty’s story The Shrinking of Treehorn exposes our haughtiness beautifully. When will we ever learn?
Set Yourselves Free
This was the title of a recent Primary Principals Federation conference in New Zealand [where “National Standards’ testing was introduced at about the same time as Naplan was introduced into Australia. Both were cunning political moves for sure and certain…nothing to do with improving learning.] Below are some excerpts from the Conference and from the March and June editions of New Zealand Principal magazine.
The editor opens by saying that “National Standards [= Aussie Naplan] are flawed, fuzzy and inaccurate measures which will produce at best unreliable data and at worst, harm our children. They are unwelcome boiled tripe – soft, wobbly and gutless at the banquet of educational celebration.” The editor continues” …there is hardly a single principal who thinks ‘national standards’ can assist children’s achievement and many consider they will harm them. They are being introduced for one reason – political purposes.” Apropos: Peter Simpson, President of the Principals Federation commented, “ What we don’t want is to allow uninformed politicians to rule and find ourselves implementing a ‘national standards’ [=Naplan] system which brings high risk of harming children.”
Other writers added…
Prof. Terry Crook : ” I have sincere and grave doubts that they will make any significant contribution to the goals for which they have been introduced.” He adds that “…teachers should instead be developing deep insight into the capabilities, interests and needs of each of their pupils” Like Diane Ravitch he expresses the concern that educational changes need to be embraced by teachers; rather than have them imposed.
Cedric Croft: ”A point of confusion with ‘Standards’ is that politicians and officials who promote them are not clear what they are talking about.” They rely on teachers and principals to make them appear to be working.
Prof. Lester Flockton : “In England interpretations of the standards are the same as in the USA, Australia etc. ….places that have revealed their serious limitations, burdensome impositions, flawed procedures, misplaced faith in data and corrosive curriculum distortions.” The policy rings nicely in the ears of a voting public. [The ones that ignore our Treehorns.] He continued ,”…recuing that 20% of children are’ failing every day in our schools’ is the robotic and almost daily repeated reason for National Standards [=Naplan] given by the Government and ignores the true reason why children struggle ….that the large percentage are seriously disadvantaged by their living circumstances. “It is silly to think that National Standards can get struggling children to succeed without addressing the underlying causation.”
Prof. Flockton has no time for a Minister for Education who ignores reasoned opposition ; who dismisses criticism as ‘politics’, ‘nonsense’, ‘rubbish’, ‘we’ve heard it all before’, ‘unions’, and such like.
Bruce Hammonds of ‘leading and learning’, from whose report this article is précised, says “ The report on the NZPPF Conference provided compelling arguments from the key-note speakers to unshackle the claustrophobia of a currently imprisoned assessment culture and rebuild confidence in teaching to a broad and innovative curriculum.” ….
Andy Hargreaves : “ Schools are not just about achievement in literacy and numeracy. [Note:-Aussie Naplan, the malady that drives our state systems, stands for National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy] They are also about identity, culture and language. The time is ripe to ask our educators , “What are your dreams?”
Prof. James Spillane [Chicago] said that the principals had to get beyond the mindset that is caught with standardising and homogenising. He warned of the culture of surveillance and distrust. He asked principals to understand their teachers’ beliefs and knowledge and to develop a ‘living culture’ based on ‘what teachers and others experience every day’.
Prof. Yong Zhao [China] “While the USA was focusing on centralism, standardisation and accountability, China was reducing instructional hours for maths and increasing hours for electives and P.E.” He said, “Singapore, a world high flyer, has developed a deliberate strategy to teach critical and creative thinking skills, reduce subject content and emphasise process over outcomes when appraising schools. [Fancy that! What an idea!] Singapore’s Ministry is calling for a more varied curriculum, a focus on learning rather than teaching; and more autonomy for schools and teachers. Similar developments are occurring in Korea.
“So what is the point in pursuing a culture of testing and data collecting ? Children are like popcorn. Some pop early and some pop late. We need to respect individual differences, understand multiple intelligences and cultural diversity; and possessing curiosity, passion and creativity…the employable skills for the future. What children will be doing is inventing a job, not finding one; and to do that they will have something that others want. They will need to have confidence and passion to innovate.”
The President of the Primary Principals Federation reminded the conference of the theme Set Yourselves Free. Principals need to free themselves from the doubt that NZ is in crisis [as is Australia]. “We do not need National Standards [=Naplan] to identify our underachieving children. Principals need not fear the consequences of doing the right and ethical thing by the children in our schools. The assumptions underpinning the National Standards that all children progress at the same pace, and labelling children as failures is unethical and could cause life-long harm. “[Amen to that, Peter]
He continued, “Principals must not sit back and quietly watch all that is good about our education system fall into decline because of flawed government policy.
He called on the audience to utterly reject the National Standards policy in which the teaching profession has no confidence….and he received a standing ovation.
Sincerely…..God Bless New Zealand Primary Principals.
May your ethics be infectious.
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*Please Note : This is an important paper. It portrays the activities of a large professional organisation – probably the first national Principals Association in the world to emphasise its professional ethics. Please send it or give it to as many teachers and principals as you can. [One reader already sends The Treehorn Express to 14 teachers.]