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

 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.

Educational Readings March 15th

Educational Readings

By Allan Alach

A personal note:

Last week I wrote an article for about the privatisation of New Zealand education. Things are moving rapidly, generally below the radar. The link takes you to a repost on Bruce Hammonds’ Leading and Learning blog.

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

This week’s homework!

Amplify – it’s powerful, it’s also dangerous.

I introduced Amplify in the introduction to last week’s readings. Here’s another opinion piece by Pat Buoncristiani discussing this in more depth.

‘So here is my first fear – that learning becomes mediated through the tablet rather than through the teacher, that learning ceases being a shared human activity and becomes an interaction between a screen and a student.’

6 Common Misunderstandings About Assessment Of Learning

“Educated’ educators will know all about these. Sadly too many principals and teachers are ignorant. This article will help you educate them, as well as non-educators.

Free school head without any teaching qualifications plans to ignore curriculum

Profession is being ‘deskilled’ say unions as figures show 10% of teachers in new sector are unqualified.’

Welcome to charter schooling. What was that about ‘raising achievement’?

Standardized tests are killing our students’ creativity, desire to learn

An excellent article from the Denver Post:

“Students’ abilities can be evaluated in many, creative ways. The idea that every student take the same test at the same time is nothing more than the warmed-over factory model of education used in the 1950s, now laughingly called “education reform.”

As Oscar Wilde has observed, “Conformity is the last refuge of the unimaginative.’ “

Should school children be treated as battery hens or free range chickens?

A podcast that explores this issue.

Where are We Going and Why?

By Andy Hargreaves and Pasi Sahlberg.

Good stuff, as you’d expect. Sadly GERM minded politicians are congenitally unable to read this kind of material.

Getting rich off schoolchildren

‘Stop pretending wealthy CEOs pushing for charter schools are altruistic “reformers.” They’re raking in billions.’


‘Education results, however, don’t matter to the moneyed interests behind the “reform” movement. Profits do — and the potential profits are enormous.’


Press Release from New Zealand Green Party

This speaks for itself and shows that, as with charter school movements elsewhere, the real agenda to is enable foreign corporates (guess which ones….) to mine New Zealand schools for their profit stream. As is also the case overseas, it is lower socio-economic children who will suffer under this.


New opportunities for foreign corporates to profit from kiwi kids

Thursday, 14 Mar 2013 | Press Release

Contact: Metiria Turei MP

The National/Act Government has just laid out the welcome mat for large foreign owned corporations to receive huge tax payer subsidies to run profit-making schools in New Zealand, with potential to take over large parts of the education system in the future, the Green Party said today.

Two clarifications released this morning by the Governments’ tendering website GETS confirm that 100 per cent foreign owned corporations can apply to run charter schools immediately, and promises more opportunities for them to set up taxpayer-funded corporate schools in the future.

“New Zealand has one of the best public school systems in the world and we will protect the right of every kiwi child to a high quality, free public education at their local school,” Green Party Co-leader and education spokesperson Metiria Turei said.

“New Zealanders will be shocked to learn that large entirely foreign owned corporates have been invited to apply for significant taxpayer subsidies to expand into our public education system, not just now but in the future.

“New Zealanders will be shocked to learn that large entirely foreign owned corporates have been invited to apply for significant taxpayer subsidies to expand into our public education system, not just now but in the future.

“Funding agreements already published show the taxpayer could pay more than $1 million to establish a charter school, and then much more than $1 million each year to run them.

“This is privatisation of our education system at its most extreme.

“The most insidious part of this plan is that the experimental first stage will be inflicted on vulnerable children in lower income areas.

“These are precisely the kind of kids who need the best education, by the best trained teachers, following the New Zealand curriculum, and to be offered the best and most recognised qualifications.

“Instead these children could be taught by unqualified people, or forced to spend hours longer at school each day as there are no limits on the school day, or even the size of their class.

“The National/Act Government pretends this is choice for lower income kids and compares it to the choice that more wealthy children have available to them through private schools.

“But they know that wealthy New Zealanders wouldn’t have a bar of charter schools.

“The group representing private schools have submitted against charter schools claiming that allowing untrained teachers threatens the entire education system.

“New Zealanders do not want untrained people teaching their kids and they don’t want to pay foreign companies to come in and erode our education system either,” Mrs Turei said.

Gimmicks. Fads & Fancies

Treehorn Express
[Maintained by NZ educator Allan Alach]
 Gimmicks, Fads and Fancies
Trevor Cobbold, in his seminal paper : “School Autonomy is Not the Success Claimed”   [  June 2012 ] points out clearly how wasteful it can be, when Governments think-up a diversion to the mainstreamconversation by inventing or copying a new fad or gimmick that they can easily popularize, mostly because of the amount of money that can be poured into the gimmick and they don’t want to talk about schooling too much. Charter schools is the latest, another New York based gimmick, not working very well up-over.  Cobbald points out the gross irrelevance of the innovation by citing empirical and other forms of hard evidence that indicate that they are a waste of money. Never mind, the federal government, not wishing to worry itself too much about the schooling of children, has committed $475 million over the next seven years to spread them around the continent. Wow!  $475m !  $69m over the next two years! Must have plenty to throw around.
Peter Garrett says, “We are doing it [???] because we know it [???] works.”
‘Charter’ Schools are those with degrees of freedom not granted to neighbourhood schools and are supposed to increase productivity. Fully funded by the government [no school fees] they are run by private organisations or a more placid form of state control, on the condition that they sign a charter that commits them to certain conditions in the first place. The concept in some countries has been linked to a McDonald’s franchise because they can offer fast products. Taxpayers pay whether they approve or not; as they did with NAPLAN testing. Principals and parents organisations are chosen and blessed with what sounds wonderful.  The British call them ‘Foundation’ schools or ‘Academies’ or ‘Free’ schools. Same dog, different leg-action. New Zealand education, renowned and widely-regarded as a system of such ‘stand alone’ schools is going to start some Charter Schools, and any Kiwi will describe the level of current discussion to you, if you are prepared to listen to bad language. No form of charter schooling anywhere has ever lived up to promises. In no state or country have they proved to be anything better as places for improved teaching and learning than the ordinary neighbourhood school. They waste valuable space and money.  Queensland is calling them by the confuse-parents-trick, oxy-moron Independent Public Schools. Cunning beggars.
Charter schools join middle [aka muddle] schools, pre-schools, prep grades as costly gimmicks designed to show-up neglected neighbourhood schools always trying to provide a place which kids love to attend because they love the learning that goes on there. Well cared and well supported with learning-based resources, one can’t invent any fad that is better. 
There will come a day when all Australian schools will join those wonderful neighbourhood schools that now provide learning experiences;  and children attend them  because they love learning and want more of it.






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Listening to Others

The Treehorn Express

 Proudly prepared and presented by Phil Cullen anti-NAPLAN geriactivist thinking of kids.

Treehorn story?

The Treehorn Express Theme song: ‘Care for Kids’


April 11



Listening to Others

To whom do we listen ?

Julia listened only to Joel. Now we have his/her army of drill-and-kill adherents working in Australian schools, supported by the Great Silence, removing all the joy that kids used to believe is part of learning. The kids in Years 3,5,7,9 have to wait until May 18 for some respite. It should feel like a public holiday for them then. Learning will resume soon after.

We are a Yank-happy lot. Next gimmick on the agenda to copy is sure to be Charter Schools. America, home of the free and the brave has been proud to have an almost pure public school system for 136 years, until now. Some states [e.g. California] would now like to copy the Brits who have ‘proper’ schools for rich kids. New Zealand, also strong on the provision of pubic education, historically, has led the world in a variety of schooling enterprises and achievements; and is now copy-catting Yank ideas for no good reason. Charter schools now, VAM next. Suicidal. NZ was a beacon to the world in so many ways.  It’s just so sad.

Australia has become chock-full of gimmickry. Instead of having a system of compulsory schooling that starts in Year 1 and finishes in Year 12; with seven years of primary schooling and five years of secondary schooling, and concentrating on helping our future citizens to develop their abilities to the utmost within that structure, we fiddle. We fiddle with the start of school and the middle as if we have never known what we are doing to children, as if we have never been to school and as if we have never had anything to do with helping children to learn. Our politicians think that people will vote for them because our leaders appear to know what they are doing……and really have no idea.  Australian schooling is reaching the upper limits of craziness.

We antipodean colonialists don’t seem to know what to do, so we copy anything…anything. We need to be told what to do, it seems,  We’ll copy anything that is packaged in the U.S.A. and controlled by the mega-rich who can make more money from what kids do at school than they have ever done. That’s the new big feature of schooling in the U.S.A. and its satellites. It generates mega-bucks. There’s little concern for kids in the test-based equation.


G.E.R.M [Global Education Reform Movement]

“The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry. to down dissent and originality. That is the aim of the United States [AND AUSTRALIA] whatever the pretensions of politicians, pedagogues and other such mountebanks, and that is its aim everywhere else…Their purpose, in brief, is to make docile and patriotic citizens, to pile up majorities and to make John Doe and Richard Doe as nearly alike as possible.”

Australia is now a true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool GERM country [See The Treehorn Express 19 Dec.2010], one that believes in


Testing core subjects only


Pre-test school panic

Ranting a variety of gimmicks

Adopting educational reform ideas from the corporate world

Hiring non-school experts as leaders

It is almost the opposite of what was envisaged round about 1979 when Australia was singing ‘Care for Kids’ during the International Year of the Child. Click above. If Australian teachers and parents had had, then, the political support to encourage broad and creative learning, to build on the vision of what a good education system looked like, using educational leaders who had been there, done that we would now be far ahead of most other countries, including Finland.



Shouldn’t our Australian Teachers’ Unions and Professional Associations establish a fund to send Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne to Finland for a week or two?  How soon?


Readings :

1. The practising epidemic is much wider than I had thought. Trevor Cobbalt [10 April 2012] :-  Open  Then ‘Students Face NAPLAN Test Barrage’  . {I’m quoted as saying:”Practising is not teaching. It is big-time cheating when the original schooling concept of teaching a full curriculum to all, using pedagogically useful syllabuses and time allocations based on society’s view of their importance, is fiddled with for nefarious reasons…publishers’ profits and political bloody-mindedness. A balanced time table, related to child growth and development, is a critical schooling issue. } I repeat.

2. Marion Brady [a Treehorn Express reader] reported a story in the Washington Post of a person with a bachelor and two masters degrees who failed Year 10 Maths & Reading Tests. The story spread, and Mackenzie Ryan of Florida Today writes:

3. Tony and Christopher might like to read this before they head for Finland. ‘How Finnish Schools Shine’  is a report in the UK’s Guardian


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Maintained by outstanding NZ educator, Allan Alach

Phil Cullen

41 Cominan Avenue

Banora Point

Australia 2486

07 5524 6443