What is Naplan?



Below is the copy of a letter sent to a local newspaper as a public service for those who know little about NAPLAN.

You might like to send it on to your local paper or chuckaway.


NAPLAN preparation is part of the busy-work of all Australian schools at present. Few non-school adults know what NAPLAN is, its origins nor the impact that it has on classroom learnings. It’s “one of those things that kids do at school.”

NAPLAN stands for National Assessment Program Literature And Numeracy. It is a series of standardised blanket tests set for children in Years 3,5,7,9 purporting to judge each child’s level of ability on a few aspects of literacy and numeracy that the government has determined are important for a person to succeed in life’s challenges. This is an absurdity, but the political fondness for testing a few salient foundations usually overtakes common sense. Although very limited in scope, NAPLAN authorities force three days of testing each May on every school in Australia. Since personal and school reputations depend on the results, the preparation for the tests can be intense and stressful.

For standardised blanket testing to be useful for measurers, the test has to be exactly the same test given to the same grade-cohort, all at the same time under the same or similar conditions. If the test does not do what it aims to do, it is said to be unreliable. If it does not measure what it is supposed to measure, it is said to be invalid. NAPLAN tests have been judged by expert statisticians and competent teachers to be both invalid and unreliable in statistical terms and of little use for classroom teachers to make judgements about the progress of pupils. As a test of anything useful, it misses the mark.

It is now a higgledy-piggledy operation conducted on an uneven playing field. Any authority that runs such a program should be ashamed of itself.

Quality schools, conscious of the deleterious effects on Australia’s overall cognitive strength, try to minimise the impact. That’s the best they can do under extreme political force.

NAPLAN, useless as it is for learning purposes, produces a set of worthless numerical scores that politicians use to enliven their ‘educational’ statements of the political kind for a gullible public. Many Australian politicians are good at this. They use terms like ‘doing better’ or ‘doing worse’ based on totally unreliable evidence. Concerned parents need to note that their children are wasting their time contesting NAPLAN because rational descriptions of human potential are more than a series of numbers.

Most parents believe that NAPLAN testing is mandatory. It isn’t. Schools have been prohibited, up until now , from informing parents of their rights. Parents need only to drop a note to the school to tell the school that they do not want their children to indulge in the contest. The uncertain test results are not revealed for five months, in any case, by which time the damage has been done.

The intensity of preparation can be high and heavy. Time spent in and out of school on test practice, beyond normal time-table allocations, depends on each school’s judgement. The use of school time, expected to be devoted to developmental parts of the school’s curriculum, is a matter for each school or teacher to determine. The school’s guide to learning…called curriculum …is usually trashed for a few weeks – at NAPLAN time. Where the preparation is intense, more important subjects just have to give way. Overall cognitive development of children is held in abeyance; and at a time of the year when things should be ripe for progressive learning.

A growing rogue industry has recently developed in Australia providing ‘how to score better’ services to schools, individual parents and pupils by external testucating firms at cost. It is a very profitable industry. Your child could be a victim.

The cost to the government has not been revealed as yet. It is expected to be announced in May. The known costs of the marking alone is approximately $1million. The general SBT [Standardised Blanket Testing] industry in test-focussed countries has proved enormously profitable. Rupert Murdoch, who now employs Joel Klein – the founder of the Australian system – figures that on-line testing alone will add $500billion – yes, $500billion – to his coffers, in the US alone. The origins of NAPLAN lie in the profit motives of test publishers, on-line services and allied productions, and little else. It has little to do with magic improvements to learning. It has no real educative function.

Fair dinkum school-experienced Australian educators, academic teacher-educators and parents concerned for their children’s mental health oppose the tests. Testucators within schools and beyond who approve of or support the ‘gathering of scores at any costs’ seem lost and placidly support the variety of gimmickry that comes with high-status testing ….Charter School, shifting grades around, navvy-style extra-pay for test results. There is a widely-held view that if such gimmicks fail in the USA, we then copy them. Monkey say; monkey do. Done.

Concerned educators sincerely worry about the cognitive development of the present generation of school children and about Australia’s economic future. Tests of the NAPLAN kind have, historically, entrenched mediocrity. The failure of the serious Minimum Competency Movement in the US and of the Assessment of Performance Unit in Britain is only part of this history. Research indicates, also, that classroom educators believe that almost all schooling processes and any kind of imposed GERM reform will be corrupted while NAPLAN exists. There has been no plausible increase in the scores of most of the items tested over the past five years; nor should be expected any while fear-controlled testing is part of the parcel. It continues, nevertheless.

We need to ask WHY before the forth-coming elections. NAPLAN is an enormous waste of money, energy and talent.

Phil Cullen AM

41 Cominan avenue

Banora Point 2486

07 5524 6443


Note: Paul Thomson, Principal of Kimberley College on the outskirts of Brisbane,is our guest for next week.

Almost every parent of Kimberley College children has told the school that they don’t want their children to perform NAPLAN tests in a couple of weeks. They’d prefer that their children continue the College’s renowned learning-based program without unnecessary interruption.

There has been some media interest. Watch during the week for indications on Today Tonight [Channel 7], ABC TV News and,later, SIXTY MINUTES.

Please tell as many parents as possible. Those in doubt should benefit.

They might also like to read the latest : http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/04/the-coming-revolution-in-public-education/275163/

Educational Readings April 26th

By Allan Alach

There was a wealth of excellent articles to chose from for this week’s list of readings. Make sure you watch the “Why I hate school but love education’ video – very powerful and, to my mind, very true. The series of articles about national standards will keep you out of trouble for quite some time – they are lengthy but extremely well researched and presented, and so are possibly the defining statements about the attempts to impose standardised learning in New Zealand.

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at allan.alach@ihug.co.nz.

 This week’s homework!

 In an Era of Global Competition, What Exactly Are We Testing For?

World renowned educator Yong Zhao finds that ‘…the countries with lower scores had students who reported higher interest in the subjects,’ and further,  ‘If the stated goal is to get kids ready for careers, and careers demand confidence, creativity, and an entrepreneurial attitude, then why focus on test scores that seem to produce the opposite effect?’


Don’t Mandate Cursive Writing

‘In their eagerness to drag the schools and children of their states back to the early 20th century, legislators in North Carolina and South Carolina want to mandate the teaching of cursive writing. In this comment, handwriting expert Kate Gladstone explains why the cursive mandate is a bad idea.’


Education Discussion: The History and Evolution of Standardized Testing

While some of this article isn’t that relevant, it does provide food for thought, regardless of whether the tests are used for ranking purposes (summative) or in an attempt to provide diagnostic information (formative).


The break-things-into-bits mistake we have been making in education for centuries – happening today with standards

‘Dewey’s point is clear even if the writing is dense: so-called analysis of things into bits for the purpose of learning the whole has no basis in cognitive psychology or epistemology. Indeed, as he says just after, it is a case of putting the cart before the horse. Distinctions are made when we need them in the service of understanding. Learning an endless array of distinctions and their names prior to encountering the whole and interesting problems that require analysis yields no meaning and merely verbal knowledge.’


Is It Possible to Measure Creativity?

What do you think? I have my doubts.


Why I Hate School But Love Education

‘As the cyclical and seemingly never ending debate about education rages on, the topic – somewhat ironically, often poses more questions than it provides answers.But what is the value of mainstream schooling? Why is it that some of the most high profile and successful figures within the Western world openly admit to never having completed any form of higher learning?’

Indeed. We must not confuse education with schooling. Two different things altogether, yet this is the club used by GERMers to justify ‘deform.’


National Standards and Neanderthals – “They will know what is required …”

Here is a series of three very comprehensive articles about national standards in New Zealand, with much relevance to other countries as well.  This is a superb analysis.

‘It’s pretty clear from the documentation that National Standards ‘double down’ on the directing and controlling aspects of education that have been at the heart of modern schooling since its inception. But there’s a subtler point to be made about what this rhetoric indicates about the actual – as opposed to claimed – role of National Standards.

The role is not, in fact, to enhance learning – or the capacity to learn (‘learning how to learn’). It is about directing learning to achieve a progression within a subject area.’




Our bubble-headed, zombie-creating reliance on high-stakes testing

Reposted from http://www.newsobserver.com

By Ilina Ewen and Pamela Grundy

How are standardized tests like zombies? They’re mindless, and they just keep coming. For more than a decade, North Carolina schools and students have suffered from an onslaught of high-stakes standardized tests. These zombie tests have invaded our schools, sucking time and money from teaching and learning. They’ve deadened creativity and original thought, squashed imagination, stripped both teachers and students of dignity.

Like zombies, these tests just won’t die. Despite conclusive evidence that the explosion of testing under No Child Left Behind did more harm than good, the numbers and the cost of tests continue to multiply.

It’s time for state leaders to do what they can to end the madness.

Learning is a lifelong pursuit. Schools should inspire students, not enrich corporations. They should ignite curiosity, not quell it.

As the parents of North Carolina public school students, we have seen the harm these tests have done to schools and to students of every background and ability level. We have felt the tensions that pervade school hallways as test season approaches.

We have seen inventive, hands-on work pushed aside in favor of drilling for higher test scores. We have even seen English classes enshrine “test preparation” as a “genre,” placing it alongside fiction, poetry and drama.

We have seen otherwise creative children lose interest in school and complain about having to attend. We have watched these creative spirits wallow in worksheets, practice tests, assessments and rote memorization instead of writing, learning through play and immersing themselves in challenging projects.

We have sympathized with the many highly skilled teachers who have left public schools rather than fight against a system increasingly driven more by “data” and dollars than by children.

And contrary to the claims of test-makers, the tests aren’t getting better. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds, they’re getting worse.

Case in point: this year’s new math tests for grades 5-8. In an unfortunate effort to meld an open-ended test with a computer-scored bubble sheet, the tests call for students to calculate an answer and then bubble that answer on a grid. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. So in addition to learning math, our children are forced to spend time studying a complex bubbling technique that has no value beyond this particular test.

The math tests are part of an onslaught of dozens of new state tests that North Carolina students are scheduled to take in the next two years. The math and English tests being introduced this year will be replaced in two years with online Common Core exams. In addition, the state Department of Education is ramping up new tests in science and social studies, part of the requirements of the state’s federal Race to the Top grant.

Most of the cost of administering these new exams will fall on local districts.

In addition, experts have clearly indicated that the limitations of standardized testing mean that the new tests will not effectively assess the skills our children most need to develop: creativity, entrepreneurship, collaboration, real-world problem-solving.

It’s crazy.

We in North Carolina cannot stand by idly and watch a generation of zombies arise before us. We call on parents, teachers and concerned community members to join us in urging our elected officials to change course.

Our state legislators can take the first steps. Senate Bill 361, the so-called “Excellence in Education Act,” contains provisions that will heighten the stakes attached to these growing numbers of tests and thus intensify the damage they do. Legislators can remove them.

The bill claims to “maximize instructional time” by limiting the time available for testing. That provision, however, fails to acknowledge that the greatest problem with high-stakes tests is the way they warp the entire educational enterprise by narrowing the curriculum and creating a “teaching to the test” mentality. Neither limiting the number of practice tests nor reducing the testing window will stop that.

The most problematic proposals are the test-based A-F grading system for schools, with a required “wide distribution” of results, and the call for a performance pay system based substantially on test results. Both attach real-world consequences (high stakes) to test scores and will intensify teaching to the narrow range of material that will be tested. Legislators should remove both provisions.

Instead, we should place at least a three-year moratorium on the high-stakes use of any test results, giving the state time to examine the many successful examples of comprehensive assessment strategies that do not rely heavily on standardized tests, including portfolios and peer review. While these strategies contain few opportunities for handsome corporate profits, they will serve our children well.

North Carolina will not thrive with a generation of zombies at its helm. Let’s stop the madness now.

Ilina Ewen of Raleigh and Pamela Grundy of Charlotte served as the 2012 and 2011 North Carolina delegates to Parenting Magazine’s Mom Congress. Find out more at notestingzombies.com/.

The Economic Case for Gonski

[ For non- Australians: 

The Gonski Review was the most comprehensive investigation of the way schools are funded in Australia in almost 40 years. It was commissioned by the Federal Government and conducted by an expert panel headed by senior businessman David Gonski. The final report was released in February 2012. Gonski found Australia is investing far too little in education and, in particular, in public schools.

As a consequence, too many students are missing out on the resources they need and there are growing gaps in the achievements of students from different backgrounds. Gonski recommended a $5 billion a year injection of funding into public and private schools (75 per cent to public schools) and an overhaul of the way the money is distributed to ensure it is going where it is most needed.]


The Economic Case for Gonski

by Trevor Cobbold

Reposted from Save Our Schools Canberra

The economic case for the $6.5 billion investment in disadvantaged schools and students recommended by the Gonski review of school funding is just as compelling as the equity and social justice case. Reducing educational inequity is as much an economic imperative as it is a social justice imperative.

Australia has a high degree of education inequality compared to many other developed countries. The latest international and national test results show low average achievement levels for low socio-economic status (SES) and Indigenous students, and very big achievement gaps between the most and least advantaged students.

For example, results from the recent Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) show that over 70 per cent of low SES Year 8 students did not achieve the minimum mathematics standard compared to only 14 per cent of students of a parent who had a university degree [Thomson et.al. 2012]. Nearly two-thirds did not achieve the minimum science standard compared to only 10 per cent of students of a parent who had a university degree

Low achievement levels amongst the disadvantaged in secondary school leads to lower rates of Year 12 completion and transition to employment. The latest Report on Government Services shows that only 62 per cent of low SES students completed Year 12 in 2011 compared to 80 per cent of high SES students [SCRGSP , Table 4A.109]. According to the COAG Reform Council [2012: 48] only 59 per cent of low SES 18-24 year olds were fully engaged in employment, education or training compared to 80 per cent of high SES young adults.

OECD figures show that Australia has a relatively low proportion of adults who have attained at least upper secondary education including vocational equivalents. In 2010, Australia ranked 20th out of 31 developed countries with 73 per cent. In comparison, it was 92 per cent in the Czech Republic, 91 per cent in the Slovak Republic, 89 per cent in Poland and the United States and 88 per cent in Canada [OECD 2012, Table A1.2a].

Low achievement and low school completion rates amongst disadvantaged students impose high costs on the economy. These include higher unemployment, lower lifetime earnings, lower productivity, less taxation revenue, higher health care and crime costs, and higher welfare expenditure.

Failure to complete Year 12 translates into lower employment rates. OECD figures show that in Australia in 2010 65 per cent of those who did not complete secondary school were employed compared to 80 per cent of adults who completed upper secondary education and 84 per cent who were tertiary educated [OECD 2012b, Table A7.3a].

The general consensus of economic studies is that the increase in annual adult income earnings from spending one extra year in secondary school exceeds 10 per cent. A paper co-authored by Nobel Laureate, James Heckman says: “…there is a firmly established consensus that the mean rate of return to a year of schooling, as of the 1990s, exceeds 10 percent and may be as high as 17 to 20 percent” [Caneiro & Heckman 2003: 41]. A UK study found that the returns for completing secondary school compared to leaving at 16 years of age without a qualification was 24 per cent [Blundell et.al. 2005]. The Productivity Commission recently estimated the average earnings gain from an extra year of schooling at between 10 and 13 per cent [Forbes et.al. 2010: 25].

OECD figures show that in 2009, the annual earnings of Australians aged 25-34 who only completed school were 25 per cent higher than those who did not [OECD 2012b, Table A8.1]. Year 12 completion also opens up the prospect of tertiary education. The OECD figures show that gaining a university degree increases earnings by nearly 40 per cent compared with Year 11 or below. Several Australian studies indicate that the earnings of people holding a degree or higher qualification are 30-45 per cent higher than for those who have not completed Year 12 [Forbes et.al. 2010: 11].

In addition, there are substantial non-pecuniary gains as highlighted in a study published by the US National Bureau of Economic Research [Oreopoulos & Salvanes 2009]. These include work satisfaction, making better decisions about marriage and parenting, less likely to engage in risky behaviour, and more social interaction. The authors suggest that the non-pecuniary gains from an extra year of schooling may be as high as the earnings gains to individuals or higher [27].

Educated workers are the foundation of economic growth. Higher levels of education are associated with increased workforce participation and labour productivity. More education increases workforce skill levels and contributes to greater innovation and use of new technology. These are critical to improving Australia’s competitiveness in the world market.

Productivity Commission estimates show that increased skill levels contributed over 20 per cent of annual multi-factor productivity growth from the mid-1980s through the 1990s [Barnes & Kennard 2002: 35]. Other Commission estimates show that an increase in the average level of schooling of the workforce by one-quarter of a year would increase productivity by about 1.2 per cent [Productivity Commission 2006: 248]. The OECD has estimated that an additional year of schooling would raise productivity by 4 to 7 per cent in a country such as Australia [OECD 2003: 76].

Increased workforce participation and productivity would boost GDP. For example, economic modelling for the Dussledorp Skills Forum and the Business Council of Australia estimates that an increase of 0.15 in the average level of schooling of the workforce would result in a 1.1 per cent increase in GDP by 2040 [Dussledorp Skills Forum 2003: 15, 18]. This amounts to about $16 billion on today’s figures.

Low education is also a public health issue. In general, individuals who do not complete school are likely as adults to have less knowledge about health, higher rates of illness and earlier deaths than those who complete school [Allensworth et.al. 2010; Cutler & Lleras-Muney 2010]. International evidence shows that more education is strongly associated with lower death rates, less risky health behaviours such as smoking, obesity and lack of exercise, and more preventative service use [Freudenberg et.al. 2007].

OECD and other studies show a direct causal effect between more education and better health and that the health returns are substantial [Feinstein et.al. 2006; Groot & Massen van den Brink 2007; Muennig 2007; Cutler & Lleras-Muney 2012]. Other evidence sug¬gests that improving school completion rates may be more cost-effective than most medical interventions in reducing health disparities [Woolf et.al. 2007]. Improvements in health outcomes also reduce government expenditure on health care.

About 35 per cent of Australia’s prisoners have not completed Year 10 compared to seven per cent of the general population [AIHW 2011]. International studies show a causal connection between increased education and reduced property crime, which constitutes the vast majority of crimes [Machin et.al. 2011; Lochner 2010; Lochner & Moretti 2004; Moretti 2007]. The estimates of the social savings of reduced costs of crime for individuals and the criminal justice system are substantial. There is also Australian evidence that extended education reduces property crime significantly [Chapman et.al. 2002].

People who fail to achieve an adequate education are also more likely to be reliant on welfare support. Their economic circumstances are frequently so poor that they need financial and other assistance to meet basic needs. More education can increase employment and income and reduce government welfare payments [Waldfogel et.al. 2007].

Increased education, employment and earnings have a dual impact on government budgets. They deliver higher tax revenue to governments while reducing the call on government expenditure on health, crime and welfare. For example, one study has estimated that the annual lifetime government saving from an additional high school graduate in the US to be $US209,200 in 2004 figures [Levin & Belfield 2007]. It took account of extra tax revenue and savings in health, crime and welfare costs. It estimated that the net benefit to the public sector of investments to reduce the US drop-out rate by one-half would be $US45 billion annually in 2004 figures.

The OECD has estimated the net public benefit of an Australian male completing secondary school at $US27,518 compared with someone who did not [OECD 2011: Table A9.2]. The estimate took into account direct education costs, foregone taxes while in learning, increased income taxes and a reduced unemployment effect. The Dussledorp/Business Council modelling shows a big net improvement in Australia’s fiscal balance from increased school retention [Dussledorp Skills Forum 2003: 15, 19].

In the light of all these benefits from increased education levels, the critical issue is whether they can be delivered by the big increase in school funding proposed by the Gonksi report. Will the increased funding make a difference to education outcomes?

There is a widespread view that money does not matter for improving school quality and student outcomes. It follows the findings of what is still one of the most widely cited papers in the economics of education. This is a review of empirical studies by Eric Hanushek from Stanford University [Hanushek 1986; see also Hanushek 1989, Hanushek 1997]. He found “no strong or systematic relationship between school expenditures and student performance” [1162].

What is largely ignored by the popular view that “money does not matter” is that Hanushek’s finding was refuted by a re-analysis of his review of research studies by academics from the University of Chicago. They found that the vast majority of studies with statistically significant effects show a positive relationship between expenditure per student and student achievement [Greenwald et.al. 1996]. In contrast to Hanushek, they concluded that “a broad range of resources were positively related to student outcomes, with ‘effect sizes’ large enough to suggest that moderate increases in spending may be associated with significant increases in achievement” [361]. Other more recent studies have come to a similar conclusion [see Baker 2012]. In addition, it has been found that most of the studies included in Hanushek’s review suffered from serious data and methodological limitations, which have since been addressed in more recent work [Baker 2012; Dewey et.al. 2000].

Another issue ignored by the popular view is that studies analysing the relationship between overall spending and student outcomes are limited because they cannot distinguish how the money is spent. As a result some studies show positive results and others no effect or negative impacts. The outcomes really depend on how the money is used together with the complex interaction of different resources available to schools that is not captured most statistical models. When this is considered, “the conclusion that ‘school resources do not make a difference’ is quite wrong, then, and has been the result of studies that are weakly conceptualized and dependent on impoverished data” [Grubb 2009: 8-9].

Money does matter in reducing education disadvantage. There is extensive evidence from the UK, the US and elsewhere that increased school funding for low SES students leads to better school results [Ooghe 2011; Roy 2011; Holmlund et.al. 2010; Henry et.al. 2010; Jacob & Ludwig 2008; Papke 2008]. For example, a recent study from the London School of Economics shows that increased funding has a large impact on the achievement of low income students [Gibbons et.al 2011]. Nobel Laureate, James Heckman, together with various colleagues, has published several studies which demonstrate that large benefits are derived from increased expenditure on disadvantaged students [for example Heckman 2011; Heckman & Masterov 2007].

Even studies that find a weak overall relationship between funding and general student outcomes find bigger effects for disadvantaged students. One such Danish study found that the effect of raising school expenditure on low income students is about three times as high as for the average student [Heinesen & Graverson 2005].

But, money is only the start. Success depends on how effectively it is used. History is replete with examples of waste in education funding.

There is a wealth of studies to draw on to improve achievement in disadvantaged schools [for example, Heckman 2011; Jacob & Ludwig 2008; Levin & Belfield 2007]. In particular, the OECD [2012a] has compiled a huge data base of research evidence and practices in different countries and synthesised it into key recommendations about the most effective strategies for these schools.

The evidence shows that the quality of the human resources in disadvantaged schools is fundamental to success. Principals, executive teachers and classroom teachers all need to have specialised knowledge and training to handle the challenges of disadvantaged schools. They need to be well-supported with outside expertise and services. It is imperative that high quality staff are retained for continuity of programs and good teacher-student relationships. This may require additional financial and career incentives.

Early identification of students who are struggling and early intervention are essential. Disadvantaged schools should have a range of support measures such as special learning assistance, off-line programs, mentoring and counselling. Small class sizes just for these schools can also be beneficial, but success here seems to be dependent on taking advantage of smaller classes to change teaching practices.

The learning environment should have high expectations with strong teaching and emotional support for students. Also important are strategies to enhance teacher-student relationships, as they lead to better learning and teacher environments and therefore, both more teacher satisfaction and better student outcomes.

Developing strong family-school links to reduce absenteeism and disengagement and to enhance achievement is also a key. There is little more than rhetorical support for such programs in Australia. They too require specialised knowledge, training and support and need to involve the local community. They may include home-school liaison, mentoring of students by community members, and parenting and family literacy programs.

Another important point to consider in a program of additional funding for disadvantaged students and schools is that it is necessary to improve achievement, education policies and programs alone are not enough. Disadvantage is continually being reproduced in society by economic and social circumstances. Other policies are needed to mitigate the effects of a student background on education [Lyche 2010]. For example, numerous studies show that investment in early childhood programs has big pay-offs [Conti & Heckman 2012; Kilburn & Karoly 2008; Karoly et.al. 2005].

Australia faces a huge challenge to improve the education outcomes of low SES and Indigenous students. Without Gonski it is not going to happen and Australia will continue to bear the high social and economic costs of education disadvantage. The Gonski funding increase promises to be a worthwhile investment if it is targeted at those most in need and at effective programs. Gonski is important for our future economic competitiveness and prosperity, but realising its potential depends on using it effectively and being complemented by other social and economic policies.

I don’t Want the NAPLAN


Ray Kelley is a well known writer of humorous verse. He has been described by Phillip Adams as “…a clever bugger” and by Bruce Dawe as “…our finest poet of light verse.”

His two publications, “Flight to the Chookhouse Roof” [C.Q. University Press, Rockhampton 1998] and “Go, Lovely Nose” [Five Islands Press, Carlton 2005] are widely acclaimed. He has had more than a hundred poems printed by The Spectator and a fair number of these have won the best entry bonus. During his long career as a Principal of State Schools in many parts of Queensland, Australia, he wrote quite a number of parodies about issues of the day that were sung by his colleagues at their social gatherings. In many of these he was unafraid to take cheeky cock-a-snooks at the powers-that-be. http://kelleyandcullen.net/

Born in Sydney, raised in Mackay, married to classmate Lawrie Ross in Mackay in August 1954, Ray attended Kelvin Grove Teachers Training College in 1947-48. After service as Assistant Teacher in Sarina and Marian, he became a Head Teacher [later called Principal] at Miclere Provisional, Mt. Gipps, Oakenden, Mt. Alford, Blenheim, Glenella, Gympie West, Emerald, Richlands East and Moorooka. He retired in 1987.

Perhaps his Head Teacher at Te Kowai State School in the 1930s inspired Ray’s dedication to and admiration for the better features of the profession of primary teaching.


 He wore a coal-black suit despite the chalk,

That starched and ironed man, remote as God,

Whose dark jowls made him look

Like Ginger Meggs’s dad.

Summoned one morning from the littlies’ school

To where the Big Kids sat at work, we stood

Around his table, all

A-twitter to be heard.

Our 3 from 12 twice 7 5 plus 8

Answering in turn, but never fast enough

For him. When he took out

A pocket handkerchief.

We gained a respite; I gained something else.

The unfolded hankie of our awesome judge

Was riddled with small holes

And frayed along one edge!

And so I chanced at seven years of age

In the Almighty’s presence to perceive

Frailty; and felt a surge

Of pity and, yes, love.

One of the great pleasures of taking an interest in the young Treehorns of the world is to share comments with like-minded true-blue educators like Ray Kelley. If NAPLAN has done anything of worth, it has sorted the educators from the testucators. Educators care about kids. Testucators don’t.

 Phil Cullen


 Ray Kelley writes: “When Phil asked me to support his campaign against NAPLAN with a few ditties, I readily agreed. As a teacher I spent more time testing than was warranted. If I had my time over, I’d test only for the purpose of helping me plan remedial learning activities.”

 I Don’t Want to do the NAPLAN

[Tune: ‘’I Don’t Want to Play in Your Yard”]

I don’t want to do the NAPLAN,

I don’t want to post a score,

Once my Mum and Dad decided

They object to what it’s for.

 I don’t want to do the NAPLAN,

Just because I’m in Year 3,

And we hear ACARA holler

To imply it’s mandaTREE.

I’m not going to do NAPLAN

I don’t have to any more.

I’ll be carefree on the test day,

Having slept the night before.

Wasn’t granted an exemption

For some disabiliTEE –

Just withdrawn because the truth is

That it’s NOT compulsoREE.


Teacher: Don’t You Waste My Time.

[Tune: “Don’t Fence Me In.”’

Oh teacher teach, teacher teach to our understanding’s reach.

Don’t waste our time.

Help us learn, help us learn – that should be your main concern.

Don’t waste our time.

Don’t spend hour after hour on that testing practice,

For hocus-pocus focus lands us in the cactus;

Save us from the place where NAPLAN cul-de-sac’d us,

Don’t waste our time

Oh no, teacher don’t you waste our time.


 In a brilliant acrostic, Ray describes NAPLAN and its effects on classrooms


[Tune: “Mother’]

N is for the Nervousness it’s causing:

A is for the Angst it’s causing too;

P the Pointless Practice, Practice, Practice;

L the Loss of Learning that we rue;

A stands for the Axe with which to Axe it;

N this Needless Nuisance we deplore;

Put them all together, they spell NAPLAN –

A thing to ban forevermore.



Phil Cullen

41 Cominan Avenue

Banora oint 2486

07 5524 6443


Einstein, Darwin, da Vinci & Mozart et al

Based on the book ‘Mastery’ by Robert Greene.

By Bruce Hammonds

Reposted from Bruce’s Leading-Learning blog.

I listened to an interview on National Radio with Robert Greene about his book Mastery and felt inspired to acquire his book.

greenDeveloping an education system premised on developing the talents and gifts of all students has always been my vision. Unfortunately schooling has been more about standardisation and conformity – sorting and grading of students. National Standards with its emphasis on literacy and numeracy at the expense of other areas of endeavour, is the most recent iteration of this standardised approach.

The alternative is an emphasis on personalisation of learning; an education premised on masterythe centrality of developing student creativity – building on the default way of learning innate in all learners.

Although there have been individual teachers who have developed creative classroomsmost classrooms could be classified as benign environments where students achieve success by achieving teacher determined objectives.

Robert Greene’s fascinating book, by using examples of masters past and present, illustrates vital lessons about how teachers could develop their classrooms as true creative learning communitiesThe power he outlines is the process that leads to mastery – one that is available to all of us.

Essentially in whenever we are learning something new at the beginning we are outsiders and the process of achieving mastery seems confusing as we realise how much there is to learn. Many people, living in a world of instant gratification, give up at this point.

einstein If we get past such feelings, and by following the lead of others, by observing, by practice and effort we gain basic skills and in turn gain some success and gain in confidence. As time goes by mastery is developed.

There are three stages in this processThe first is apprenticeship where we are outsiders, watching and learning. The second stage, through much practice and immersion we gain a more comprehensive understanding and in the third we internalise what has been learnt and can apply ourselves intuitively. We have moved from novice to relative expertise.

We all had this intuitive spontaneous way of learning when we were young but it is generally drummed out of us by an overload of information, by a conformist education system, and by the belief that only a few geniuses achieve mastery and that these people have ‘natural talent’ not available to the rest of us

Greene’s thesis is that mastery is a latent power in all of us and that we can reverse bad learning habits and recover from misconceptions about our ability to learn.

boxGreene shares fascinating insights from a number of ‘talented’ people to show that their success was down to a process we can all access.  The beginning of success is an early identification of areas of interest, an interest that allows them to stand the pain of practice. Successful people rely on desire, persistence and practice rather than reasoning power.

Too many of us simply don’t try. The less we attempt the less chance of failure. It is important to understand that other people’s success is due to their actions not genetics and privilege.

As teachers we need to focus on what it is that individual students are interested in. It was an interest in nature that drove Darwin, an obsession with observing that drove Leonardo da Vinci and an interest in magnetic force as a five year old that drove Einstein – Darwin , Einstein and da Vinci becameobsessed with the search and the process of creating. The 2007 New Zealand Curriculum echoes this process by saying every student should ‘seek, use and create their own knowledge’.

Teachers need to reconnect their students with their inclinations – we need, it seems, ‘learning recovery’ and do adaptation-charles-darwin-quote-02everything to help students to develop areas of personal interests to contribute to ensuring purpose in their lives.

Teachers need to provide a varied diet of experiences to provide opportunities to attract and engage student’s attention. Creative teachers know this. Real curriculums emerge through shared inquiry not delivered by outside experts.

Once students involve themselves in their own learning they need to value their strengths not their limitations and to value the importance of effort and practice.  Stickablity. Many examples of those referred to in the book who have achieved mastery did so by ignoring their limitations and by building on their strengths.  It would seem important for teachers to assist their students achieve a sense of mastery by doing fewer things well and to allow their students to dig deeply into areas of personal concern so as to produce results of personal excellence.

‘Hardwiring of creative power’ cannot occur in classrooms where students are constantly distracted moving from one task or class to another. Once an action becomes automatic, through experience and practice, students gain the mental space to reflect on their action – to work on areas needing improvement – which in turn brings greater skills and more pleasure.

There is research that shows that anyone who achieves a high level of skill have put in over 10000 hours of focussed practice and this applies to composers, chess players, writers and athletes.

And once skill and confidence is achieved through time and practice then it is possible to move to experimentation and true creativity – learning has become second nature.

Unfortunately schools, as they are currently arranged, values reasoning with word and numbers above making and building. Academic success is valued above practical hands on exploring. Creativity is limited to superficial decorative ideas. As a result many creative students have little opportunity to value their talents and worse still feel disengaged from learning and leave feeling failures.

Greene’s book writes about the importance of mentors in the lives of creative people. A good mentor (or teacher) does not shortcut the learning process but streamlines it. They observe and give real time feedback making practice time more efficient. Ideally, if you are creative teacher practicing in creative activities yourself students absorb from you the essence of creativity. Mentors provide support, confidence and allow students time and space to discover things for themselves. This is in conflict with the deterministic and formulaic teaching models most schools seem to base their programmes on.Mentors also practice ‘tough love’ by providing constructive criticism. Students while needing to be receptive to their mentor’s ideas must also avoid falling under their spell. Students need to cultivate some distance to develop their own unique ideas. A look around many schools shows an unsettling conformity of student learning – even in such a creative subject as art.

Greene’s book explores the full range of human talents including social intelligence writing that empathetic skills are as important as reasoning ones – it is notable that such vital skills are ignored by the National Standards which limit their judgments to success in literacy and numeracy. Those who show empathy mastery are able to immerse their minds in the world of others. An acceptance of every learner’s backgrounds and cultures is a vital skill for teachers.

One feature of creative individuals Greene mentions is what the poet John Keats called ‘negative capability’ – the ability to live through uncertainty and doubts. Current pre-determined school programmes are in conflict with this acceptance of uncertainty. The human mind is naturally creative, it wants to explore but it is easily killed when we grow afraid of making mistakesBut it is equally true that we all possess the potential to recover the potential to be creative which ought to give hope to all teachers.

The secret is to widen the view of creativity and to get learners to appreciate the importance of time and effort. Students need to learn to face up positively to the inevitable failures and setbacks that are part of learning, to learn to cope with uncertainty, and most of all not to give up. Students also need to choose realistic tasks, ones which they have the requisite skills in place, and then to let go of the stifling need for certainty and security. Teachers can do much to encourage such attitudes.

The creative process goes through several stages that students to appreciate. The first is thing is to let the mind absorb ideas without judgement. This is Keats’s negative capability – the need for certainty is the greatest disease the mind faces.

It is interesting to learn that many profound discoveries occur when the mind is not directly concentrating on the problem. At such moments ideas unexpectedly enter the mind. Such chance associations are known as serendipity but this only occurs after information has been entered into the brain. Chance favours the prepared mind. Many creative masters find it valuable to go for walks, listen or play music but when a new idea enters consciousness then it is time for full attention.  As Greene writes discoveries are, ‘like seeds floating in space, require the soil of a highly prepared mind and an open mind to take root and sprout into a meaningful idea’.

In many classrooms, particularly teachers trying to get students to understand maths, we push understanding onto our students that make little sense to them. Students need teachers who listen to them, who understand what they are thinking and feeling, and who see the importance of more fun, less abstract, experiences to feed the minds need for connection. Most importantly such learners need to be given a new perspective about maths to allow them to enjoy and learn. Unfortunately students are taught by teachers whose approach to maths (and other learning areas) is negatively coloured by their own previous experiences.

There is a pattern in the lives of creative people.First there is the initial excitement coming from personal involvement. Then they gather all sorts of information followed by a shaping and narrowing of possibilities but such individuals are not easily satisfied with what they are doing, they entertain doubts but they plow forward.  They might take a break and temporarily work on something else. It seems that temporarily losing the initial excitement provides motivation to look at our work objectively and not to settle too early on an easy solution.

Greene suggests that the key is to be aware of this process, to live with doubts and to work towards solutions. If students think that learning is a simple linear process they will not succeed if they come across difficulty. Time is required, going slow is a virtue but so it seems are deadlines – with deadlines the mind rises to the occasion.

The premise Greene puts forward that if we can get our students creativity involved in learning that they are interested in they will not be so attracted by drugs alcohol and other dangerous activities. If this were the case our schools suffer from an ‘opportunity ‘rather than an ‘achievement gap’.

To become creative schools need to  focus on identifying students’ talents and gifts , to value their ‘voices’, and to ensure all students retain their innate learning identities. To ensure at all costs learners love learning for its own sake, to have open minds, to start out in unstructured manner and then to search and dig deeply about what attracts them.

In all areas of life, Greene writes, ‘we suffer from dead forms and conventions’ that detract from creativity. Schools, as currently structured, come to mind.

When you look at the creative work of Masters, you must not ignore the years of practice, the endless routines, the hours of doubt, and the tenacious overcoming of obstacles these people endured’.

Creativity is not the step by step rational evidence based learning schools often follow; the achievements of the Masters cannot be reduced to a formula but the process they go through is accessible to us all. The amazing abilities of the Masters has been achieved, it has been shown, by minds altered after approximately 10000 hours of practice and hard workAt this point they are able to act intuitively.

For students to achieve such high levels of mastery they need to be provided with qualitatively rich learning experiences where students are inspired to be engaged and where they are able to see personal connections – difficult in  current traditional fragmented school programmes where they are exposed to simplified ideas of reality and conventional ways of thinking. ‘Why’, writes Greene, ‘should any individual stop at poetry, or find art unrelated to science, or narrow his or her intellectual interests? The mind was designed to connect things, like a loom that knits together all of the threads of a fabric’

Greene writes that the greatest example is the Renaissance where the ideal was to connect all branches of learning and where there was no division between the arts and the sciences. ‘Perhaps today’, he writes, ‘we are witnessing the early signs of a return to reality, a Renaissance in modern form’ with ‘the artificial barriers between the arts and the sciences will melt away’.
Imagine if students were immersed in a creative personalised culture at school rather than the increasingly standardised experience we have today?

hiresMastery’, Greene writes, ‘is not a question of genetics or luck, but by following your natural inclinations and the deep desire that stirs from within. Everyone has such inclinations…something (that) marked you from birth as unique.’

Imagine if schools were premised on the need to develop the gifts and talents of all learners.

Educational Readings April 19th.

 By Allan Alach

 New Zealand teachers and children have now completed the end of term one and now have two weeks break until next term. I stopped referring to these breaks as school holidays a number of years ago, as this conveys the wrong impression to people who are ignorant of the demands of teaching. Instead this break consists of a week or so for teachers to recover and recharge (this can be viewed as sick leave), while in the second week teachers’s thoughts turn to preparation for the coming term.  Not much of a ‘holiday,’ is it?

This week’s articles are a collection of odds and ends!

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at allan.alach@ihug.co.nz.

 This week’s homework!


 The myth of learning styles

Prepare to be challenged….


 Charter schools are not about charter schools

This article by Kelvin Smythe is a superb appraisal of the charter school agenda in New Zealand, and which can easily be adapted to describe similar movements in other countries.


 Thanks to Bruce Hammonds for the following links.

 Banned TED Talk: Nick Hanauer “Rich people don’t create jobs” 

Worth watching for the first time, second time, third time ….


 Ernesto Sirolli: Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!

“When most well-intentioned aid workers hear of a problem they think they can fix, they go to work. This, Ernesto Sirolli suggests, is naïve. In this funny and impassioned talk, he proposes that the first step is to listen to the people you’re trying to help, and tap into their own entrepreneurial spirit. His advice on what works will help any entrepreneur.”

I suggest this applies equally well to teachers! What do you think?


 Why Rising Test Scores May Not Mean Increased Learning.

‘A rise in test scores leads most people to believe good things are happening in their schools. Not unreasonably, politicians and parents alike infer that students have learned more when test scores go up. But since the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law was passed that inference may be unwarranted. Sadly, there are numerous reasons why rising test scores may not be related to increases in student learning.’


 A Dog in the Barn: Parallels in Teaching and Parenting

Reflect on this.


Moral behavior in animals

Now for something completely different….


Charter schools are not about charter schools

By Kelvin Smythe

Reposted from Networkonnet.

The education situation is dire, western economies are struggling, with one of its manifestations being the rich and powerful acting to undermine public schools. Charter schools not being about charter schools is emblematic of that dire situation.

Let us look at how this is playing out in New Zealand. Throughout our history our overriding economic plan has been to hang on to the coat tails of first England, then America, now China. We were only truly comparatively wealthy in the Korean War period when the price of wool sky rocketed. The present government is now taking the coat-tail policy to extreme: selling farm land, allowing foreign manufacturing of farm produce, emphasising tourism (with its low pay characteristics), mining exploitation, asset sales, and signing sycophantic free trade policies. Apparently we can raise capital for property speculation but not for industry.

No matter the slightly more benign period at the moment, our prospects are that we are going to face severe unemployment, reaching deep into the middle class – so where will that leave applicants from less privileged environments? And the jobs there are will be largely low paid. Genuine social, economic, and political change is required but the response by the rich and powerful to avoid this has been to scapegoat.

This  (New Zealand) government, headed as it is by a financial player, is a do-nothing government in the sense of industry and making things (and stuff). Making things is disappearing; making things is not valued. Because of ideology, how to put ourselves in position to make things is beyond this government. The only way New Zealand can put itself in position to make things is by substantial government involvement, but this government resiles from government involvement in capital raising for industry. It is in making things, in developing our research, in using the education skills of New Zealanders, in using the acknowledged imagination of its people to make things of high value, that widespread and worthwhile employment can be established.

The rich and powerful in western countries have resorted to scapegoating and distraction to protect their position. One of the ways education is being set up as a scapegoat is promoting education as the key to prosperity. This is a false argument: when a country has reached a certain level of education achievement, there can be found no substantial connection between education achievement and economic success, indeed, the argument for education as a private good gains some credence here (though education leading to good life decisions surely contributes to the public good). By linking economic success to education achievement when there is little or no link, makes education the perfect scapegoat for successive economic failures as they occur. This has three considerable consequences: first, the true path to economic success is not recognised and followed and, second, a platform from which to devastate public education is formed and, third, the vacuum left by the destruction of public education, provides an opening for the institutions of the rich and wealthy to place themselves in a position of social control over the young.

Economic success in Western countries depends on the economic decisions not on education.

(Education, though, as a human right so that individuals can compete more fairly with others for employment and for a satisfying life in other respects is, of course, undeniable.)

Connected to the promotion of education as the key to prosperity is the idea that poverty has little effect on education achievement. This is, of course, preposterous, akin to believing in the literal Adam and Eve. The rich and powerful, in the face of an obscene widening of inequality, have promoted education, virtually on its own, as the way to reduce inequality. Those from economically deprived environments have little chance of competing with middle-class children in genuine education achievement. If the link between poverty and reduced education achievement was accepted by a society it would lead to attention being given to housing, health, and income, as well as education. In education we know how to lift the achievement of children from poverty environments. We understand the need for providing compensatory environments, for instance, a stable, loving context, intensive individual attention, sensitivity to cultural aspects, school meals, allowing time for basic concepts to develop so learning can proceed on the basis of understanding, reducing harsh testing procedures to ensure a safe environment, and not seeing flexible thinking as mutually exclusive from the 3Rs.

A central way the rich and powerful have promoted the idea that poverty has little effect on education is to change and redefine it. Education has been reduced to a narrow version of reading, writing, and mathematics by focusing on the measurable and the immediately observable. This measurable and immediately observable is atomised to allow commodification and factory-style industrial ways to transmit and test it. Such learning results in a second-rate education because true education, true that is to success in higher education, high value jobs, and making successful life decisions, is about flexible thinking. The middle-class bring a cultural capital to education that children from straitened circumstances can rarely approach unless special compensatory education is put in place. But special compensatory education is not put in place because that would cost money. The rich and powerful are only interested in ‘helping’ poor children if it doesn’t cost any money, indeed, reduces costs overall by dismantling public education systems, and avoids any social, economic, and political change detrimental to their position.

So what we find is that children from poor families are being organised into schools that produce ersatz education results in an attempt to embarrass public schools. In charter schools, children will be drilled in the 3Rs at the expense of flexible thinking, meaning, and sustainable learning, and with long-term detrimental learning consequences. To introduce just two classroom learning points: true reading is about reading for meaning, so for children’s reading to develop truly, a rich variety of concepts needs to be part of children’s thinking; and drilling a narrow version of mathematics leaves children unprepared for more abstract mathematics later. Drilled education is a second-rate education, recalling Maori children doing 1900s gardening duties. But all this by-the by, it is the consequences of bringing public schools into disrepute that is the point of the charter schools.

So what we are finding, and will find, is a range of mainly small charter schools or small schools of other sorts, that produce in secret a series of impressive ‘results’, an outcome of drilling, a form of ‘coaching’ close to cheating, and test inflation. (This behaviour will extend to, indeed will be a feature of, small secondary schools.) These schools, because they are small and structured in certain ways, will not be representative of the school population, and will never have significant numbers of decile 1 children.

But there is a further ominous way the rich and powerful are protecting their wealth and power, they are entrenching international corporations at the heart of education systems. The commodification, reductionism, and standardisation of education allows national corporations to produce curriculum content, tests, products and consultancies across borders heedless of cultural differences. This has the effect of promoting the ideas and values of the rich and powerful through school systems. Decisions alien to our way of life are being made by covert groups far removed from schools and communities. Education organisation, as a result, is being turned into a form of corporate authoritarianism with sinister implications for classrooms and democracy.

It might be fitting to go over some of the points I made in an interview on charter schools for Campbell Live (a current affairs programme) to be broadcast later this week.

I was asked for my definition of charter schools. I said it was an idea – an idea promoted by the rich and powerful to avoid genuine social, economic, and political change.

I said charter schools were an idea developed in relative secrecy and introduced in a way deeply damaging to the fabric of democracy.

Charter schools are organised so that what happens in them is hidden: it looks as though the education review office has review responsibilities, but it doesn’t; parents are kept well away; the ministry has no real oversight; and corporate-type ‘public relations’ people will deny, hide, and lie.

John Key’s  (Prime Minister) charge in the 23 November  2011 debate with Phil Goff  (then Labour Party leader) that public schools were letting New Zealand down was a signal that it was going to be a free-for-all on public teachers and schools.

I said, charter schools will never be a system, they are not designed to be a system, they are designed to be a platform to discredit public schools so that more people will buy into private schools; charter schools are about privatising education; charter schools are about frightening children into private schools, transferring the cost of education to parents. Charter schools are about more privileged children going into private schools and less privileged children being congregated into public schools – schools that will be poorly funded and derided. Most of these children will be Maori and Pasifika children which should give pause to some Maori and Pasifika leaders but probably won’t.

Not mentioned in the interview, but relevant to this argument is the way John Key is promoting private schools by making huge increases to their funding: for example, the prime minister’s school of choice for his son,

Kings College, received government subsidies increased by 40% from 2009 to 20011 – that is from$1,663, 585 to $2,325,587. There is no extra money for the so-called one-in-five at the lower end – only national standards which harms these children and bully-boy attacks on their teachers – but there are huge increases in amounts being shovelled out for the one-in-twenty-five at the higher end, and implied approbation of their teachers. (Statistical information from John Minto, QPEC.)

That is why during the interview I called the prime minister a ‘slimeball’ or something like that (I’m finding it difficult recall exactly what I said at that moment of inspiration.) I hope they retain it in the interview.

I said, I was not mainly interested in what went on in New Zealand charter schools: yes – they will use reactionary teaching policies and hectoring control practices, but what happens will not be as weird as occurs in American charter school; my main interest will be on the outside effects of charter schools, that is, the use as of charter schools as a platform to scapegoat public schools and to introduce international corporations into central education decision making.

Education is becoming sleight of hand, distraction from one hand for a trick to be pulled in the other, all to the benefit of the rich and powerful. The call for one-in-five is not about doing something constructive for the one, it is about all five being taught the narrow 3Rs (a long-term conservative aim). ‘Achievement’ is not about genuine education achievement but narrow achievement for the unreflective. National standards are not for identifying children who are struggling (in fact, they are of considerable harm to them) but to commodify education to allow national corporations to take control. ‘Quality data’ is just the reverse, it is data made rubbish by tests being tampered with and high stakes’ contexts.

As for the spread of unemployment to the middle class; well, when Maori and Pasifika children line up with their NZCEA level 2 (secondary school qualification), middle-class children (Maori, Pasifika, and European) will get the few jobs available and the rest will be left with their certificates and their poverty. The point I am making is that charter schools are designed to distract and divide. Samoan and Maori (and some European) leaders to justify their taking of money for charter schools and accruing the status involved will berate public education as failing Maori and Pasifika children when, in fact, underfunded and against the odds public schools have done wonderfully well. As was intended, the position of the rich and powerful will be strengthened by this. Charter schools, as stated above, have been introduced to avoid genuine social, economic, and political change so the proper response by those genuinely concerned with reducing inequality is not to support authoritarian education policies that will strengthen the status quo but to politicise those affected by inequality to agitate for the necessary changes. Margaret Thatcher was the first western politician to realise that ignoring and penalising the poor actually provided an opportunity to increase inequality to be electorally popular as well.

The question that is charter schools does not lie in education but in preserving and advancing the position of the rich and powerful; neither does the answer, that lies in consciousness-raising and politicisation of the poor: which is why charters schools are not about charter schools.

The right — and wrong role — for teachers

By Marion Brady

Bill Gates spent$45 million trying to find out what makes a school teacher effective. I’ve studied his Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project, and think it ignores a matter of fundamental importance.

Consider: What makes an effective lawyer, carpenter, baseball player, surgeon?

The answer is that it depends—depends on what they’re being asked to do. An effective divorce lawyer isn’t necessarily an effective criminal defense lawyer. A good framing carpenter isn’t necessarily a good finish carpenter. A good baseball catcher isn’t necessarily a good third baseman. A good heart surgeon isn’t necessarily a good hip-replacement surgeon.

Put lawyers, carpenters, baseball players, and surgeons in wrong roles, test them, and a likely conclusion will be that they’re not particularly effective. So it is with teachers. Put them in wrong roles, and they probably won’t be particularly effective.

Gates’ faith in test scores as indicators of effectiveness makes it clear that he buys the conventional wisdom that the teacher’s role is to “deliver information.” But what if the conventional wisdom is wrong?

Here’s an American history teacher playing the “delivering information” role:

“What were the Puritans like? Many of the things they did—and didn’t do—grew out of their religion. For example, they thought that all people were basically evil, and that the only way to keep this evil under control was to follow God’s laws given in the Bible. Anyone who didn’t follow those laws would spend eternity in Hell.”

Later—a few minutes, hours, days, or weeks—it’s the learners’ turn to play their role. They take a test to show how much of the delivered information they remember. If it’s a lot, the teacher is labeled “effective.” If most of it has been forgotten, he or she is “ineffective.”

Let’s call this “Teacher Role X.”

Now, suppose the teacher doesn’t play that role—delivers no information at all about Puritan beliefs and values or anything else—instead says, “I’m handing you copies of several pages from The New England Primer, the little book the Puritans used to teach the alphabet. Get with your team, and for the next couple of days try to think like a little Puritan kid studying the pages. What do you think you’d grow up believing or feeling that’s like or not like your present beliefs and values?”

marion1 That’s it. The teacher may be an expert on Puritan worldview, but offers no opinion, just wanders around the room listening to kids argue their assumptions, defend their hypotheses, elaborate their theories and generalizations, getting ready to later make their case to the other teams.

Let’s call this “Teacher Role Y.”

Which teacher —the one delivering information (X), or the one requiring kids to construct information for themselves (Y)—is more effective?

Here’s Bill Gates, chief architect of the present education reform movement, giving his answer to that question: “If you look at something like class sizes going from 22 to 27, and paying that teacher a third of the savings, and you make sure it’s the effective teachers you’re retaining, by any measure, you’re raising the quality of education.”

Clearly, when Gates says it’s just as easy to deliver information to 27 kids as it is to deliver it to 22, he’s taking the teacher-as-deliverer-of-information role for granted. Just by talking a little louder, Role X teachers can deliver information to the additional five students. Give them bullhorns, and they can deliver to 127. Give them television transmitters or the Internet, and class size is irrelevant. Salman Khan’s online math tutorials reach millions.

For Role Y teachers, however, every additional learner after the first makes the job harder. They’re trying to gauge the nature and quality of learners’ thought processes; assess depth of understanding; set and maintain a proper pace; decide whether to move on, go back, or go around a learning difficulty; determine learner attitudes toward and appreciation of the subject; trace the evolution of communication, collaboration, and other skills; and note honesty, tenacity, and other character traits that a good education is expected to develop.

Role X teachers may care about those matters, but if they’re standing behind a podium in a lecture auditorium, talking to a television camera, or teaching a class via the internet, caring is the most they can do. Real learning is a relationship-based experience. The effectiveness of Role X teachers won’t change significantly unless somebody invents technology that’s capable of, say, delivering a kiss remotely that has the same effect as the real thing.

Notwithstanding the assumption that Teach For America recruits or others who know a subject well can teach it, teaching—real teaching—is exceedingly complex, difficult work. That Role Y history teacher in my example had to decide that understanding a group’s worldview is important enough to warrant devoting two or three days to it, and be able to explain, if challenged, why the study of worldview is relevant and important. He or she then had to find a vehicle (in this case, The New England Primer) that was intellectually manageable by adolescents of varying ability levels, dealt with the required content, required use of a full range of thought processes, and engaged kids sufficiently to be intrinsically satisfying.

Then the real work began—“reading” kids’ minds—analyzing their dialogue, interpreting facial expressions and body language, and sensing other cues so subtle they’re often below ordinary levels of awareness—cues that may relate to the learner’s mood, ethnicity, prior experience, peer and family relationships, social class, and so on—the whole of the challenge further complicated by the fact that no two kids in any class will be alike.

It takes years for those skills to develop and become “second nature.”

Teacher Roles X and Y are played not just in the teaching of history but in every subject, and the roles are poles apart. Indeed, so distinctive are the two approaches they create two entirely different classroom cultures, each with enough consequences—expected and unexpected—to warrant at least a half-dozen chapters in a book.

The performance of students taught by Role X teachers can be evaluated by machine-scored standardized tests. Machines can’t come even close to evaluating the performance complexities of Role Y teachers. That’s why the testing fad and everything that relates to it—the Common Core State Standards, student ranking, school grades, timed standardized tests, merit pay, pre-set test failure rates, and so on—drive Role Y teachers up a wall.

Failure to distinguish between teacher-centered and student-centered approaches to educating makes the conclusions of Gates’ Measures of Effective Teaching project of limited usefulness at best, misleading at worst. That failure also generates problems within the ranks of teachers, creating a chasm of misunderstanding that more than a century of professional dialogue has thus far been unable to bridge.

Decades of firsthand experience with both Roles X and Y in my own teaching and that of teachers for whom I’ve been responsible leave me without the slightest doubt that, notwithstanding its continued use, much Role X instruction amounts to little more than ritual. Unfortunately, Role X is what No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and other policies being forced on teachers by corporate interests and politicians are reinforcing.

Given the wealth and power behind those misguided efforts, the refusal of their advocates to listen to experienced teachers or respect research, and the assumption by the likes of Rupert Murdock that current reforms will build a money machine for investors, it seems likely that present X-based education “reform” efforts will be the only game in town.

I can think of only one sure-fire way to take control of public education away from Washington and state capitols, return it to educators and local community control, and open the door to broad dialogue and genuine reform. The young hold a wrench which, dropped into the standardizing gears, will bring them to a near-instant stop. If even a relatively small minority agree (as some already have) to either refuse to take any test not created or approved by their teachers, or else take the tests but “Christmas-tree” the ovals on their  answer sheets, the data the tests produce will be useless.

Conscience-driven students who do that will be owed the gratitude of a nation. They’ll have put the brakes on a secretive, destructive reform effort based on a simplistic, teacher-centered, learner-neglecting conception of educating.

I can anticipate some of the conventional-wisdom reaction to what I’m advocating—that it’s irresponsible, that kids are too immature to evaluate the quality of their schooling, that I’m undermining the authority structure that holds the institution together.

Before hanging negative labels on me, ask yourself: Is a system of education that limits intellectual performance to the thought processes that machines can evaluate, adequately equipping the young to cope with the future they’re inheriting?

A new creative agenda for education required

By Bruce Hammonds

Reposted from Leading- Learning.

Over the weekend thousands of teachers throughout New Zealand expressed their anger about their dissatisfaction about government’s plans for education.

 protestI wonder what the public think about it all?

Don’t get me wrong I am pleased that teacher have decided that ‘enuf is enuf’.  The government spin doctors have done a good job spreading the message that schools are failing with their simplistic ‘one in five failing’ – a claim that happily ignores the demeaning results ofpoverty on a growing percentage of New Zealand families. The government’s claim has created in the public mind an unfounded sense of crisis in education

As well the Novapay teacher salary disaster, while it has gained public sympathy, has distracted attention from the realenough issue – teaching and learning.

Teachers, it seems, have woken up to the true agenda of the government which began with the introduction of ‘Tomorrows Schools in 1986.

The agenda is summed up in the acronym GERM (Global Education Reform Movement) – an agenda that will, when in place, will lead to the privatisation of education – the beginnings of which are to be seen in the push for Charter Schools. The corporate thinkers behind the GERM agenda see education as a fertile ground for private enterprise. As part of this agenda we have National Standards which will lead to National Testing and League tables all to allow for school comparison performance pay and parent choice. Choice, it seems, for only for those who can afford it. The trouble is that the standards will have the effect of narrowing the curriculum and eventually teaching to the tests.

ThinkOut the window will go creativity in other areas of the curriculum and the shaming of students whose abilities that do not have strengths in literacy and numeracy?

Instead of being forced into a defensive mode teachers need to put forward an alternative vision based on an educational, not a political, agenda

What I would like tosee is for teachers to put forward a more positive agenda – one that places the side-lined 2007 New Zealand Curriculum at centre stage – with appropriate revision to place talent development central.

art-of-teaching-van-doren-quote1An alternativeeducational model should be seen as central to the development of New Zealandas a democratic creative innovative country. If we are ever to be seen as a creative country that keeps and attracts talented individuals then education is the key to achieving such a vision

Education needs to be premised on the development of every student’s gifts and talents – an ideal that has never been achieved. This focus on gifts and talents needs to become the focus of the New Zealand Curriculum and in turn all school programmes.
This would truly be atransformational vision and would require all schools to rethink how theirprogrammes, which have increasingly been limited to literacy and numeracy and academic achievement, would be presented. This is not to devalue such important area but to ‘reframe’ them to provide the foundation skills for creating a personalised learning environment; an environment not based on identifying student failure but building of each individual’s unique gifts and talents.
Such an approach would place the challenge of presenting ‘rich, real and rigorous’ contexts to uncover the talents of studentsStudent inquiry, individually or in groups, would become central and success would be evaluated by what students can demonstrate, perform or exhibit – by showing they can apply what they have learnt.
This is the agenda teachers, and hopefully enlightened politicians, should be presenting to the public.
  1.  New Zealand needsto be seen as a democratic creative innovative country – a country whose survival depend on making use of the skills and ingenuity of all its citizens
  2.  To achieve this education needs to betransformed so as to focus on creating the conditions for all students todiscover and amplify their unique talents – schools based democratic inclusiveness
  3. Such a vision needs to reframe the current focus on narrow literacy and numeracy so that they are seen as vital foundation skills to ensure all students can ‘seek, use and create their own knowledge’ (New Zealand Curriculum 2007).
  4.  Such a vision requires all schools to change radically and for all citizens to contribute their energy towards achieving in contrast to the divisiveness being created by current educational policies.

Now this would be worth fighting for!