Education Readings April 20th

By Allan Alach

Due to the recent sad loss of Phil Cullen, sometime in the next few weeks I will put this website into hibernation. All past articles, especially the many gems written by Phil Cullen, will still be visible but I will stop adding any more education readings. Instead these will be available on Bruce Hammonds’ LEADING AND LEARNING website.

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

Letting Students Succeed as Themselves

An American teacher shares a lesson learned during time he spent in New Zealand schools.

‘What if this idea were applied to other contexts? What if we in the U.S. worked to provide all of our students with knowledge to succeed and be proud in knowing who they are? School would be a different experience for these young people if they felt a connection to learning. School would be less about fulfilling external requirements and more about investing in a process that would be central to one’s current and future identity.’

Seven reasons people no longer want to be teachers

How many of these ring bells for you?

‘It’s not surprising, then, that numbers of applicants for teacher education programs have slumped. The programs are long and intense, the creativity and relationships aspect of the vocation has been eroded, there is pervasive negativity in the media, and comparatively poor salary and working conditions.’

How Can We Begin Developing Imagination in Our Older Learners?

‘As younger children, play and imagination are at the core of learning. Nevertheless, the truth is that as we get older we imagine less and less. Since we know a creative imagination is more important to learning today than ever, it’s time to reclaim it. How do we make developing imagination a worthwhile goal for all grade levels?’

Why playtime is key to raising successful children

‘One approach to redesigning education systems and equipping children with the right skills is often overlooked. We need to provide opportunities for children to learn in the way most natural and engaging to them: through play. We also need to erase the false dichotomy often drawn between children’s play and their learning of academic content.’

How Kids Learn Better By Taking Frequent Breaks Throughout The Day

‘Once I incorporated these short recesses into our timetable, I no longer saw feet-dragging, zombie-like kids in my classroom. Throughout the school year, my Finnish students would, without fail, enter the classroom with a bounce in their steps after a fifteen-minute break. And most important, they were more focused during lessons.’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

To Advance Education, We Must First Reimagine Society

‘Because disaffection with the education system reflects a much deeper societal malaise, it’s imperative that we first figure out what kind of world we really want: a world populated by responsible adults who thrive on interdependence and community, or a world of “customers” who feel dependent on products, services, and authority figures, and don’t take full responsibility for their actions?’

PC pedagogy: How much technology should be used in Kiwi classrooms?

‘But news that tech-executives in Silicon Valley are choosing to send their children to Waldorf Schools, where there’s not a computer in sight, has also got people thinking. These parents are choosing the low-tech or no-tech education that teaches students the innovative thinking skills needed in the workplace. They develop the ability to think independently from a device, without a reliance on it.’

5 Strategies to Demystify the Learning Process for Struggling Students

‘Oakley recognizes that “many educators are not at all comfortable with or trained in neuroscience,” so she breaks down a few key principles that teachers can use in the classroom and share with students to help them demystify the learning process.’

Don’t Stress About Coding: Focus Shifts To Teaching Problem Solving Not Computer Skills

‘But many now recognize it’s not enough for students simply to know how to write code. The capacity to build a product or solve a problem requires an entirely different literacy. With this in mind, the focus of coding education is shifting from teaching the specific skill of coding to teaching computational thinking—or the ability to follow a step-by-step process to solve a problem.’

Dawn Picken: Quit the school caste system

‘What once was an egalitarian system, where brainiacs sat beside average and struggling children, has developed into a more rigid hierarchy for students at around age 11. Children who pass a rigorous test are separated into one or more gifted and talented classes per school, leaving less-gifted and talented peers in “regular” classrooms.’

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Bali Haque.The failure of Education Reforms in New Zealand – with an emphasis on secondary schools. NCEA/ NZC and National Standards

‘Bali  believes that  power of a quality teacher depends on what he calls ‘a state of mind’ ; the individual teachers ‘personal dispositions, attitudes  and assumptions’. This he says is reflected in the New Zealand Curriculum ( Teaching as Inquiry) which asks teachers to constantly ask questions about the effectiveness of what they are doing and be willing to change what isn’t working. Such teachers believe all students can learn achieve provided the right conditions and help.’

Educational Books for Creative Teaching – to develop the gifts and talents of all students

‘So if you have time explore some of the links to some of my favourite books below. After reading my ‘review’ you might want to get the book for yourself – or share the blog with other teachers. How many are you aware of?’

Education Readings June 9th

By Allan Alach

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

Finland Will Become The First Country In The World To Get Rid Of All School Subjects

Thanks to Phil Cullen:

‘How many times have you wondered if you were going to need subjects you were made to learn because the curriculum said so? Finland has decided to change this in their educational system and introduce something which is suitable for the 21st century.

By 2020, instead of classes in physics, math, literature, history or geography, Finland is going to introduce a different approach to life through education. Welcome to the phenomenon based learning!’

Persistent bullies: why some children can’t stop bullying

‘Persistent bullies continue bullying in spite of interventions and sanctions employed by schools. Why they persist remains unclear. These students were the focus of our research. We believe understanding their behaviour and why they may be resistant to change will be gained by accessing their lived experiences.’

Data Walls: Why you will never see one in my class.

New Zealand teacher Melanie Dorian:

‘While I acknowledge that children will always know if they are bottom of the class or not, we can give them the dignity of some privacy.  To display their next learning step or what they have achieved on some reading rocket is garish in my opinion and unneccessary.  There are other ways of informing students of their achievements, next steps and goals that do not make them despondent about learning.  As one of the first photos I published at the top of this post says, “How would you like to be Norissa?”’

On the Wildness of Children


‘We have forgotten that these were the original purposes of the factory-like institutions that most of us grew up in; we speak of our familiar school experience almost as though it were an integral part of nature itself, a natural and essential part of human childhood, rather than the vast and extremely recent experiment in social engineering that it actually is.’

Research Finds The Effects Of Homework On Elementary School Students, And The Results Are Surprising

‘After over 25 years of studying and analyzing homework, Harris Coopers’ research demonstrates a clear conclusion: homework wrecks elementary school students.’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

Black and brown boys don’t need to learn “grit,” they need schools to stop being racist

‘Everyone seems to think that a lack of “soft skills” is the reason why students of color aren’t ready for college and careers. More schools and after-school programs are teaching students how to have “grit,” compassion and a “growth mindset.” Rubbish! Soft skill training is disguised bootstrapping, which insidiously blames youth for failing in racist systems designed to block their success, and it abdicates the middle class from any responsibility to uproot inequality.’

Inside a Multiage Classroom

‘Dividing students by arbitrary birthdate ranges doesn’t make sense, advocates say.

Multiage education is not a return to the one-room schoolhouse of yore, in which students of all ages learned different subjects in one space. Instead, students from (typically) two grades learn together in an environment that, advocates say, encourages cooperation and mentoring while allowing struggling students enough time to master material.’

Finland is famous for its education system. What makes it different?

‘For as small and homogeneous as Finland may be, its repeated success in national education rankings means there are at least a few lessons the US can learn.For one, the tiny Nordic country places considerable weight on early education. Before Finnish kids learn their times tables, they learn simply how to be kids — how to play with one another, how to mend emotional wounds.’

How Design Thinking Became a Buzzword at School

‘At a recent teaching conference in Richmond, Virginia, a session on “design thinking” in education drew a capacity crowd. Two middle-school teachers demonstrated how they had used the concept to plan and execute an urban-design project in which students were asked to develop a hypothetical city or town given factors such as population, geography, the environment, and financial resources.’

Mindful in Middle School

One teacher’s experience incorporating mindfulness into her middle school curriculum.

‘Mindfulness is emerging as a technique adopted in education to address student anxiety and stress, increase focus and creativity, and foster stable behavior and patience. In this essay, I briefly discuss my journey in implementing mindfulness with my sixth and eighth grade students, implications for teaching practice, and lessons learned along the way.’

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Negotiating the Curriculum

‘Learning is a process to deepen personal understanding or skill. This is best achieved with the assistance of a learning ‘mentor’. Such a ‘mentor’ negotiates learning with the learner, always leaving the ‘power’ to learn with the learner.In the book ‘Negotiating the Curriculum’, edited by Garth Boomer, four steps are suggested to negotiate a study with students applicable for any level of schooling. Essentially it is an inquiry model that emphasizes valuing the ‘voice’ of students in the their own learning. It is very much in line with the ‘co- constructivist’ teaching philosophy.’

Experience and Education -John Dewey 1938

‘Such a lot of the ideas expressed today have their genesis in the ideas of John Dewey.That Dewey’s ideas have yet to be fully realised says something for the power of conservatism in education. ‘Experience in Education’ is Dewey’s most concise statement of his ideas written after criticism his theories received. In this book Dewey argues that neither ‘traditional ‘ nor ‘progressive ‘ ideas are adequate and he outlines a deeper point of view building on the best of both.’

Michael Moore: Where do we invade next?

“Where to Invade Next?”

You know Michael Moore, that sloppy looking bloke whose fond of stirring the possum.

On Monday, 26 February 2017 he presented a documentary on SBS, which can be found of your TV’s “SBS on Demand”, called  Where to Invade Next? in which he ‘invades’ countries on the continent that have the most outstanding  ways of combating social issues and conducting some of society’s most successful social institutions.

His ‘invasion’ of Finland’s education system is outstanding. He queries some of their more preciously held beliefs on the nature of schooling The looks on the faces of those Finns amazed at the ways we treat our school children, is worth the effort of watching.

It’s a pity that a video clip of this section of his documentary cannot be sent to every schools in Australia. It says so much.  The reference below is not as easy to follow [poor sound] as that available on TV’s  ‘SBS on demand’.

But, no matter how you access it, please make sure you do.

You will note…
Schooling starts at 7 years of age.
No ‘rich’ [aka ‘private’] schools.  Rich kids must mix with lower class kids. No distinctions are noted nor made between neighbourhood schools.  Each one is proficient.
“Less is More’.  Allow time for kids to be happy, to be ‘hands on’, to be problem solving learners.
[You will note the surprise on Moore’s face when the Maths teacher said that his pupils have to be happy with learning Maths. Please consider the NAPLAN view of how the teaching of Maths ought to be handled!]

If you should like to find more, another handy video clip that gives 5 reasons for Finland’s supremacy, is useful. Any authority can copy them….or….at least….talk about them.

1. No standardised tests during schooling …only one at end of schooling.
2. More time for play and socialising. School week is only 20 hours at school.  No homework.
3. Teaching is the highest and most respected profession in the country. A Masters Degree is required for entry.
4. Post-schooling college and university education is free.
5. Pre-schooling is universal.

Treehorn insists : Australian schooling, now near the bottom of the international scale of effective schooling, has the potential and the intellectual power to leave Finland and other top-rated systems way behind in schooling achievements. It only lacks drive and initiative and thought..
  1. It needs to get rid of NAPLAN
  2. It needs to consider whether there is any social merit in Public Examinations generally. After all, they contain the elements of serious threat to teen-age well-being; suicide being only one of them.
  3. It needs to consider whether the creation of fear and anxiety in young children is preferable to the creation of play and being happy.
  4. It needs to think about the reasons for schooling.
  5. It needs to wonder why the kind of Finnish élan for learning works comprehensively better than the Australian macabre disposition for driving learning by fear.

    Thanks Gavin.

    Phil Cullen  41 Cominan Avenue  Banora Point Australia 2486   07 5524 6443   0407865999  REFER: Who’s Who in Australia.

    Which do you think is more important for Australia’s future……  Its Schooling or its Defence by submarines?

    [It’s a trick question.]

Education Readings January 27th

By Allan Alach

Well, here we are at the start of another year, which in New Zealand and Australia is also the start of the school year. I wonder what 2017 will bring as far as education is concerned. I fear that little that is good will happen, especially in the USA, given the suggested Secretary of Education. The possible exception could be a change of government in New Zealand when the elections are held later this year. Such a change should mean the end of the current standards based nonsense, but we will have to wait and see.

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

Burnout’s devastating impact on teachers who can’t switch off

Burnout sneaks up on you, as I found to my cost. Beware.

‘Defined as the process of collapse attributed to excessive and continuous demands on energy, strength and other physical, psychological and emotional resources, burnout develops across time and can be viewed through a lens of ever reducing levels of passion and compassion, self-efficacy and effectiveness.’

Sometimes Misbehavior Is Not What It Seems

‘The following are examples of seeing misbehavior from a new perspective. In each of these cases, diagnosis is very difficult — as are the remedies. For chronic misbehaving students, pay close attention to their home situations, the type of misbehavior, when it occurs, and whether they behave differently with other adults. Be advised that the best responses to these situations sound easier than they are to put into practice.’

To Encourage Creativity in Kids, Ask Them: ‘What if’?

‘I explained to them that these two words are a kind of secret tunnel into the world of new ideas. In fact, I told them, I only came up with the booger story after asking myself: What if a family picked their noses so much that they create a monstrous booger? And what if the snot rocket rolled out the window and gained so much steam it threatened to roll over the town? And what if the whole story rhymed?’

21st Century Skills Don’t Exist. So Why Do We Need Them?

‘This is a very good point and even if you don’t agree at first, we encourage you to chew, swallow, and then slowly digest it. Listen up (confession: all examples here are stolen from Rotherham and Willingham). Do you really think that in the ‘old days’ – whenever they were – we didn’t need to think critically and solve problems? What about the development of tools, agricultural advancements, discovery of vaccines, or land and sea explorations? And don’t you think the lads and gals back in the old days would have to communicate and collaborate to progress?’

How to Teach a Middle School Class in 49 Easy Steps


Why Schools Should NOT Be Run Like Businesses

‘It’s absurd. Not everything benefits from being sold for a profit. Imagine if your spouse suggested running your marriage that way. It would turn you both into prostitutes selling yourselves at ever cheaper rates while any self respect, dignity and love disappeared.’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

Why A More Creative School System Might Be The Solution We’ve Been Looking For

Let’s start the 2017 year with Sir Ken Robinson:

‘If you think of it, children starting school this year will be retiring in 2065,” he tells an enrapt audience in a video captured at the Monterey, California event. “Nobody has a clue, despite all the expertise that’s been on parade for the past four days, what the world will look like in five years’ time. And yet we’re meant to be educating them for it. So the unpredictability, I think, is extraordinary.”In his talk, Robinson describes the unpredictability of the market and the jobs it creates as an opportunity. But insofar as it is seen as a challenge, a problem, he says he’s identified the solution: build an educational system that celebrates and encourages creative thinkers and out-of-the-box problem-solvers.Making our job a little easier, he suggests, is that kids are ready-made to come up with weird and wonderful ideas. We’re just currently teaching them not to.’

The Beauty and Chaos of Free Play

‘I love the joyful learning that I see when children are engaged in free play, exploration and creative thought with materials, using them in their own innovative ways as loose parts. I often find any carefully presented centres I try to create are soon used in novel and other-than-intended ways and I have to resist (not always with success) the urge to say, ‘but wait…”. And while resisting the urge often results in a gigantic tidying time, it also results in unexpected and joyful learning.I often have to ask myself, is it more important for children to engage in this exploratory free play or to engage with the lovely provocation I have so carefully laid out?’

Finnish-ing touches on education

New Zealand needs to learn from Finland.

‘Education is also a national priority, funded well, with more than 55 percent in federal dollars, and catering to working families. Free meals, health care and outside-of-class child care are available to all students, who start formal schooling at age 7 after state-sponsored compulsory kindergarten that features outdoor play and exploration.School is mandatory through grade 9, or age 16, with two tracks in high school—general academic and vocational. Nearly 40 percent of students choose the vocational side, which is geared toward what the country expects to need in the next decade in terms of skilled workers, such as computer coding and engineering.’

3 Types of Unintentional Learning (And How to Make Them Intentional)

‘We are all aware of the teachable moment, and most of you reading this have experienced it firsthand. We know that one of the best opportunities for students to learn is when they are asking questions, so we make time for this in each lesson. Some questions can be off topic, and just like unwanted weeds, we pull them out and redirect the students’ attention to continue our planned and deliberate teaching (gardening). But most questions bring forth deeper clarity for the learners in the room, and sometimes there’s the ripe question that elicits deeper questions and understanding. There’s nothing like that moment when a revelation happens for multiple students in the room.’

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Creative Schools – an impossible dream?

‘Educators who believe that education is more of a process of creating stimulating environments to allow students to begin the process of helping the young explore what it is that they are best suited for have always been in the minority. Most teachers have little choice to put programmes into place that have been defined by their school, by those distant ‘experts’ that determine the curriculum and, most invasive of all, by those who determine the means of assessing students learning. When the latter is in the hands of the politicians supported by compliant principals then the possibility of creativity is all but lost.’

Checking out your class, or school, for quality learning.

Something to think about for the year ahead.

‘Is your classroom a quality learning environment where students are able to ‘seek, use and create their own knowledge’ as it states in the ‘new’ New Zealand Curriculum?

Here are some questions to focus on.’

Education Readings October 7th

By Allan Alach

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

If I Were Secretary of Education – A Classroom Teacher’s Fantasy

If only teachers were given the chance to run education.

Steven Singer:

‘I’m only a classroom teacher. The powers that be don’t trust someone like me with that kind of responsibility. It’s okay to give me a roomful of impressionable children everyday, but there’s no confidence I can make sound policy decisions. For that we need someone with experience in management – not schools, pedagogy, children or psychology.’

Creativity and Academics: The Power of an Arts Education

‘The arts are as important as academics, and they should be treated that way in school curriculum. This is what we believe and practice at New Mexico School for the Arts (NMSA). While the positive impact of the arts on academic achievement is worthwhile in itself, it’s also the tip of the iceberg when looking at the whole child. Learning art goes beyond creating more successful students. We believe that it creates more successful human beings.’

Government hell-bent on dismantling public education, says Auckland professor

New Zealand education is also under attack, as the government follows the overseas rule book.

‘Make no mistake, Minister of Education Hekia Parata is on a mission to systematically dismantle public education. Changes already in place and those planned will radically alter the education landscape in New Zealand. Public education serves many purposes. It prepares young people for a life of work, teaching basic skills in literacy and numeracy. This is seen as its primary purpose by the minister.’

Why I Threw Away My Rubrics

‘It was only when I was on the receiving end of a rubric, while taking a graduate-level education class, that I had my first critical thought about rubrics. After looking at the rubric the professor had completed for me, I wondered, where is the human response in all of this?’

The Problem with Exemplars

‘While I believe showing examples of quality work can be useful, many students immediately shut down when they perceive too great a gap between their current ability and what is deemed exemplary. I’m certainly not against the use of high quality exemplars but caution against too few examples as well as a lack of scaffolding to see where incremental success can be found. In addition, the power comes when the student decides what they want their work to be.’

Charters and Choice: Research Shows Negative Impact

So much for the ‘school choice’ ideology:

‘The press continually gets eye-fulls of graphics indicating that accountability and charter schools can increase student performance. Rarely are these studies peer reviewed and almost none ask the questions that policy researchers should investigate. Few ask what will be the most likely results of reforms.  These papers shout out the supposed benefits of favored policies while ignoring their inherent costs.’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

Modern Learning Environments (MLEs) – pedagogy from Jerome Bruner

Bruce’s latest blog posting:

‘Bruner’s ideas are in opposition to the standardized direction being imposed on our schools but are surely the essence of what a modern learning environment is all about? ‘Towards a Theory of Instruction’  is the book, first published 1969, I want to share today..’

Finnish education: a system based on equity, trust & responsibility

Yet another article on Finland for the reformers to ignore. Why is this? Maybe this is the answer:

‘Teaching is a respected profession In Finland, and teachers have a great deal of autonomy in the delivery of the curriculum and caring for their students’ welfare and learning.’

Getting Restless At The Head Of The Class

‘They read a book quietly under their desks, pester the teacher for extra credit, or, perhaps, they simply check out and act up. Every classroom has a few overachievers who perform above their grade level and don’t feel challenged by the status quo. A new report suggests they are surprisingly common — in some cases, nearly half of all students in a given grade.’

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Why are teachers so reluctant to change?

‘Changing entrenched mindsets is a difficult task even for those in charge. Leaders are more conditioned that those lesser mortal working at the fringes. The idea of getting to the top to change things is a myth. Creative ideas are always watered down by what is possible – the art of compromise.’

An amoeba – a model for future change!

‘It seems strange to think of one of natures most simplistic animals as metaphor for an organizational model for the future but the amoeba is a good choice, as it has survived almost as long as life has been on the planet. It is able to sense environmental threats through its semi permeable membrane and move away from threats – it is also able to equally sense the opportunity to move to a better environment or to seek out food which it simply engulfs. The intelligence of the organism is centred in its nucleus and a deeper look indicates it is not as simple as it first looks.’

The killing of creativity by the technocrats.

The killing of creativity by John Hattie

As I visit classrooms I have become increasingly concerned about the use of a number of strategies as defined by John Hattie and promulgated by the contracted advisers spreading the word about his ‘best practices’.Somehow, just because Hattie has amalgamated every piece of ‘school effectiveness’ research available ( mainly it seems from the USA) his findings, it seems, ought to be taken for read. The opposite ought to be the case – we need to be very wary of such so called ‘meta research.’. More worrying however is that the approaches he is peddling is pushing into the background the home grown innovative creative learning centred philosophy that was once an important element in many classrooms. Overseas experts always seem to know best – or those that return with their carpet bag full of snake oil.’

The only real test

Aussie Friends of Treehorn

protecting school children from nasty excesses of the greedy and misguided
encouraging adults to think sensitively, to care for kids, to make wise choices….with their hearts in gear, their pens active and their votes available.enough
The Only Real Test
“The only real test is whether children are happy and healthy writes William Doyle located at the University of Eastern Finland. He states, “…for five months, my wife, my son and I have experienced a stunningly stress-free and stunningly good, school system.”  [S.M.H. 26/03/16 P.34]
“Let children be children,” “The work of a child is to play,” and “Children learn best through play,” are well-held beliefs in Finland, he says. “Finland doesn’t waste time or money on low-quality mass standardised testing. Instead children are assessed every day, through direct observation, check-ins and quizzes by the highest-quality “personalised learning devices” ever created – flesh and blood teachers.” 
The Treehorn Express” and its fellow crusaders have been repeating this ad initio but Australian politicians, bureaucrats and testucators are so hard-wired to the Murdoch/Klein/Gillard belief that children should be kept anxious and tense and fearful when they have to learn something that is easy to test, like basic maths and English.  Treehorn, the ignored child and his cobbers, are having very little success in getting rid of NAPLAN testing, which must go if Australia is to experience any commercial, cultural or academic success is to be reached.
The use of shared evaluation, as Doyle is suggesting, cannot be overlooked. For schooling to be successful and important in the eyes of the learner, modes of shared evaluation must be used constantly. If anything at all is important enough to be learned, it’s important enough to learn how well one learns it. Self evaluation, it could be called.  Evaluation is an essential part of learning.  The use of shared evaluation, about which I’ve written elsewhere, is based on a partnership between two human beings, whereas NAPLAN is based on the creation of fear and of opposition to each others’ frame of reference, leading to dislike for particular subjects, of each other, of school, of learning.
Finland is considered to be at the top of the world pole of outstanding schooling as far as world opinion is concerned. Australia is said to be 14th [says even our testucrats] and has slipped rapidly during the life of NAPLAN. standardised testing.
Any messages in that for us, do you think?  
[See any “Treehorn Express” during the past five years or so… of learning, love, play, shared evaluation, classroom teacher expertise, holistic curriculum, professional ethics]
Why are our politicians too frightened to discuss such matters in public “?
Why doesn’t any political party provide a comment on NAPLAN, since this particular form of standardised blanket testing drives our present-day schooling?
Will any political party be brave enough to sever its links to Murdoch and Pearson and Klein  and the BCA, for long enough to discuss ‘schooling’ in depth, in public;  and listen to its experts – the classroom teachers [while we still have some quality ones left].
As one Finnish professor said, “Our mission as adults is to protect our children from politicians. We also have an ethical and moral responsibility to tell business people to stay out of our building.” Any Finnish citizen is free to visit any school whenever they like, but her message was clear : Educators are the ultimate authorities on education, not bureaucrats, and not technology vendors.”
 Phil Cullen  41 Cominan Avenue  Banora Point  Australia 2486  07 5524 6443              
07 5524 6443          0407865999


Are you sick of Finland?

Aussie Friends of Treehorn

protecting school children from nasty excesses of the greedy and misguided

encouraging adults to think sensitively, to care for kids, to make wise choices….with their hearts in gear, their pens active and their votes available.


Are You Sick of Hearing How Good Finland is?

I’m getting tired of hearing about Finland’s great school education system, aren’t you?

I’m jealous, really.  It just wonderful to discuss what one country, like Finland,  can do for its future citizens; but I know that Australia can do better. Why don’t we  try?

Finland seems to have a Rolls Royce system while Australia is still trying to shove a bent crank-handle in a T-model to get it to move. It uses NAPLAN oil, as well, and so the vehicle is moving alright …being shoved…backwards.

The structural differences are startling……

Finnish teachers all have masters degrees and are paid very well; children don’t start school until they are seven years of age; tests of the NAPLAN kind are banned because of their corrosive nature; and their curriculum documents feature the learning of how to love  a particular subject rather that parroting stale facts from the subject in order to pass a test, Aussie style.

Australian education is stuck with the British Grammar school examination system, based on sorting out the plebs so that the survivors can go to a university and get a good job. This has been traditional and is based on the I’m-aussie-and-I’m-tough tenet, ‘if it was good enough for me, it’s good enough for present-day kids.’

Finland wants each of its pupils, even the ‘slow’ ones [those who’d be slow at scoring well on Aussie style tests, that is] to extend their learning abilities as far as they possibly can and to enjoy learning….and to be happy. Australia prefers that ‘light’ and ‘mid-strength’ pupils  stay at home during testing because judgements are made about schools and systems based on unreliable scores of a few testable-questionable items. It’s crazy and upside-down. How often have you read rubbish like “Penrith out-performed Toorak “ sometimes with a passing ‘based on NAPLAN’; both comments grossly stupid and erroneous and sickly?

That’s just the way we do things. Our educratic adult mafia, operating on behalf of their US godfather are in control….not serious educators from the work-face.

It really borders on criminal, the way we treat our children. It’s only when we compare what we do with other places that the rottenness reveals itself.

The Australian system became really bastardised, more so than other system, when politicians interfered and introduced the klein scheme,  with the ‘sorting process’ starting much earlier, like Year 3. The testing mentality went into over-drive. That started in Australia in 2008 and it has since wrecked the learning processes of a few million potential ‘lovers of learning’ who have been unfortunate enough to have attended school between 2008 and 2016.  They deserved better. If they had attended school in Finland during this period, the world would quite different for them.

That’s not what I wanted to say when I started this. That’s just the introduction. I wanted to say…..

Australia Can Have the Best School System in the World

if it wants one.

The problem is that we don’t appreciate the quality of the teaching force that we have. They have been ridden rough-shod for too long; and advantage taken of their busy-ness and their tendency to cooperate rather than to question…….by people who know sweet f-a about learning in classrooms.

PMs Julia and Kevin overplayed their role   Uni. graduates of the old school, they thought that they had all the answers. They treated the teaching force shabbily by imposing a system of schooling that few would ever approve of, if they had been given a chance to comment. The political twins were captured by the giants of greed; and had to rely on sweet-talking measurement folk to tell them what to do.  PMs since them don’t know what to do either, so they have just left the processes in place, hoping that not too many parents complain, and NAPLAN might just go away of its own accord.

Australian teachers have proven themselves in the classroom for ages.  Their teaching skills are in demand in other countries because they seem to know how to teach children to love learning better than most. During the naplanning of learning in our schools, they have maintained a quality of schooling that should make us all proud. They seem to be particularly skilled at controlling the million little interactions between teacher and learner that occur each hour in each classroom. Australian Michael Dunkin, with USers Bruce Biddle and N. Gage studied the complexities of the interpersonal relationships that teachers use to inspire their learners for some years. Their descriptions are still salient. Primary school classroom teaching is a helluva task but its one that many people love to undertake. Love for kids is the main criterion.  Measurement junkies, who prefer to frighten kids, have a hide, trying to tell experts classroom teachers what they should do.

Australia needs to start again. [     Just follow the reinventors.

Here’s what I would do…

I would assemble a hundred or so of Australia’s best classroom teachers……100 primary, 100 secondary…..and just encourage them to talk to each other for a few days about schooling per se. No set topics, except that they would know that they will be talking afterwards about classroom learning,  holistic curriculum, shared evaluation and any other topic that they think is important. They would share their visions of healthy classrooms and the tricks they use.

Then, using some sorts of interactive techniques, spend a few more days discussing the nature of learning in particular classroom settings and assembling a statement of some kind.

If deemed useful, a visit to some O.S.  authority  known for lively learning classrooms should be arranged.    It might be preferred to keep isolated and develop something unique.

A report from such a group could then be forwarded to every school in Australia, inviting comment.  A special unit would be required to process the interactions and compile a final statement.  The unit should be, as Churchill said,  ‘on tap, not on top.’ On top might be any one of our Directors’- General who has had wide experience at the chalk-face, in a supervisory role.

What could we lose?


 Phil Cullen  41 Cominan Avenue  Banora Point  Australia 2486              
07 5524 6443          0407865999


Education Readings June 26th

By Allan Alach

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

This week’s homework!


Hattie’s research: Is wrong Part 5 – this should clinch it.

Education academic John Hattie has been in the news recently as part of another self promotion tour. Here’s Kelvin Smythe’s latest critique of his so-called research that is being used by governments as an excuse to rip apart and privatise primary education.

“At some time in the future, Hattie’s research and his opinions will be revealed for what they are: a huge charade. But you don’t need to wait – all you need to do is read the postings in the Hattie series and clear-sightedly and undistractedly employ your critical faculties. Everything about Hattie’s research is false except for some opinions which, while true, are also false, because he claims them to be evidence-based.”

Can data really define ‘coasting’?

Think things are bad in your neck of the woods? How about new legislation in England defining and targeting ‘coasting’ schools and then using this to force schools to become academy (aka charter) schools?

‘Coasting’ suggests a lack of effort but all we have, with results data, is a statistical end product: the output numbers. Teachers could be working phenomenally hard, and yet failing to improve results as much as outsiders might wish, because schools, in reality, do not have full control over results. These are, inevitably, subject to unpredictability, from the motivation and ability of pupils to ‘perform’ on the big day to the vagaries of marking. And there may be a sense of a zero-sum game: ‘below-average’ schools will always be penalised, even if all schools are working very hard, if the indicators used are based on comparing one school’s results to others’.

1984 Arrives Thirty Years Late: Say Goodby to Privacy Forever if This Bill Passes

This article by Diane Ravitch highlights concerns in USA; however the implication for other countries is just as ominous as similar data collection systems are established and extended.

‘What it really means is that the federal government will:

 authorize the creation of a federal database of all college students, complete with their personally identifiable information, tracking them through college and into the workforce, including their earnings, Social Security numbers, and more. The ostensible purpose of the bill? To provide better consumer information to parents and students so they can make “smart higher education investments.”’

Big Bird Can Close the Achievement Gap? Not So Fast…

Here’s a response to a recent news item that highlighted the benefits of Sesame Street.

“Don’t get me wrong: I love Big Bird as much as the next guy. But when people start talking about how Sesame Street is just as effective at closing the achievement gap as preschool, I start to worry that we’re becoming enamored with a seductively simple characterization of a deeply complex problem.”

Deeper Learning in Practice

“Across the education sector, we define what students need to know and should be able to do for succeeding in college and career. We know that they need more than just the ability read and write — today’s constantly changing workforce shows that they must be able to master academic content, communicate and collaborate effectively, think critically, and become life-long learners. Supporting students as they develop these skills, understandings, and mindsets often requires a shift in how we think about classroom learning and the competencies needed by teachers to facilitate that learning.”

Debunking 10 Big Myths About Gifted Kids

“Here are myths about gifted kids and some realities, based on years of classroom observation and interaction with teachers who work with them.”

Teachers’ fightback against the destructive ideals of Germ has reached global proportions

“The fight takes different forms in different countries, but there are common threads throughout. Not only are the attacks part of the same neoliberal agenda but, in each case, resistance relies on the ability of education unions to mobilise the mass of their membership, developing their political consciousness through struggle. Teachers and their unions emerge from this process changed — stronger, more democratic and with a wider vision for education.”

Beliefs about innate talent may dissuade students from STEM

This is a lengthy article, which also includes a couple of videos, and is very worth reading.

“We need to abandon dangerous ideas that some people just can’t do math. Neuroscience and educational research flatly contradict such beliefs. As the new study suggests, valuing hard work over innate “genius” might even spur students to tackle new challenges.”

This week’s contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

Lessons from Finland

Finland, as ever, offers a high trust community orientated alternative to the GERM corporate  target based model the Anglo American world is taking.

“In recent years, Finland’s students have been at the top or near the top on a range of international indicators. Furthermore, Finland’s commitment to social equity has led to low levels of variance in student results from school to school.However, this has not always been the case. In the early 1990s, Finnish students achieved mediocre results on international tests such as PISA and TIMMS. Yet, they turned this around. Notably, they didn’t do this through introducing high-stakes testing, introducing charter schools, or enforcing superficial compliance with central mandates. Rather, they did it through placing teachers at the very heart of school reform.”

How Can Teachers Develop Students’ Motivation — and Success?

Most teachers will have heard of Carol Dweck but how many implement her ideas in their rooms?

“What can teachers do to help develop students who will face challenges rather than be overwhelmed by them? Why is it that many students seem to fall apart when they get to junior high or middle school? Can the “gifted” label do more harm than good? Do early lessons set girls up for failure? Is self-esteem something that teachers can or should “give” to students? Those are some of the questions Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Columbia University, answers. Some of her responses will surprise you.”

Why Glorify Failure to Enhance Success?

The difference between mistakes and failure – and the teachers role in helping their students.

“Teachers must help  students understand that the conditions for success are within their control and that thry will help them remedy their learning errors when they occur. Teachers, must have a growth orientation to learning, and help their students develop the same orientation. As Dweck reminds us, a growth orientation creates motivation and enhances productivity. When shared by both teachers and students, it also builds positive relationships.”

Academic subjects alone won’t ‘set every child up for life’

Beyond the basics! The importance of innovation and creativity

“What successful employers, big and small, hi-tech and no-tech, are crying out for are recruits who are innovative and creative, who can think laterally, communicate clearly and work as part of a team. These are all abilities that are most effectively developed for children through the arts and music.”

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Putting critical information literacy skills into action – use them or lose them

To make good use of exciting learning experiences students need a full range of literacy, numeracy observation , inquiry, and expressive skills to be in place. Real literacy requires a context, or need, so that students can see the point of acquiring such vital skills. Literacy and numeracy are all about gaining meaning and power. Exciting studies provides the context for such learning.”

The artistry of the teacher

The killing of a Vikings’ chieftain’s horse – and the artistry of a creative teacher

“Teacher artistry and sensitivity is required to enter into dialogue with the individual learners to help them develop in-depth thought. Lack of depth and understanding is all too commonly seen today in students’ observational or scientific writing as well. How do you help a student get the most out of an experience? Read on.”

Write Now Read Later

“These days reading, or better still the language arts ( now called by a more technocratic title ‘literacy’) seems to have been taken over by academics who are pushing a phonemic approach onto schools – ‘P’ Pushers! This is an approach that distorts the organic relationship between experience, oral language, writing and reading – all premised on a need to make meaning and to communicate. The traditional language arts programme has also been distorted by those who are peddling an meta-cognitive approach that sees acquiring reading skills as an end in themselves.”

Education Readings June 19th

By Allan Alach

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

This week’s homework!

Hattie warms up Visible Learning for Pearson; also Hattie and Pasi Sahlberg on YouTube

Kelvin Smythe targets John Hattie’s latest ‘research.’

“Hattie’s research is rubbish.

For him, the beauty of it being rubbish is that it allows him to say it says whatever he likes.

In his latest trick he has produced a new book called The Politics of Distraction: What doesn’t work in education.”

School starting age: the evidence

Thanks to Cam Lockie for this:

Interesting research from the University of Cambridge, which runs counter to the usual spin from the school reform movement.

“In my own area of experimental and developmental psychology, studies have also consistently demonstrated the superior learning and motivation arising from playful, as opposed to instructional, approaches to learning in children. Pretence play supports children’s early development of symbolic representational skills, including those of literacy, more powerfully than direct instruction. Physical, constructional and social play supports children in developing their skills of intellectual and emotional ‘self-regulation’, skills which have been shown to be crucial in early learning and development.”

The Common Core can’t speed up child development

When did the science matter to the ideologues?

“However, for skills in what Bloom calls the “cognitive domain,” the school curriculum has become blind not only to the progression of normal child development but also to natural variations in the rate that children develop. It is now expected that pre-school children should be able to grasp sophisticated concepts in mathematics and written language. In addition, it is expected that all children should be at the same cognitive level when they enter kindergarten, and proceed through the entire grade-school curriculum in lock step with one another.”

How Early Academic Training Retards Intellectual Development

Following on, here’s Peter Gray’s contribution to this theme. Maybe one day our leaders will realise that there’s more to education than ideology and economic theories.

“Now, here’s the point to which I’m leading.  It is generally a waste of time, and often harmful, to teach academic skills to children who have not yet developed the requisite motivational and intellectual foundations.  Children who haven’t acquired a reason to read or a sense of its value will have little motivation to learn the academic skills associated with reading and little understanding of those skills.  Similarly, children who haven’t acquired an understanding of numbers and how they are useful may learn the procedure for, say, addition, but that procedure will have little or no meaning to them.”

ALL Babies Walking By Six Months Old… A Satire on the Common Core Charade.

“It was ensured, by adhering to these rigorous standards, ALL babies would be on track for the Olympics and/or professional athleticism. No one questioned the age appropriate sports standards. No one questioned who wrote the standards… and those who did, in any way, were looked down upon.   Many, at first, even believed these standards were appropriate, necessary, and the answer to preparing the babies for a solid future in professional athletics and quite possibly a turn in the Olympic Games.”

The Education Revolution will Not Be Standardized: The “Moral Imperative” of Testing Refusal

“The bigger picture underlying the battle against neoliberal/corporatised education:

Education reform is not happening in isolation. To revolt against testing as vehicle for the destruction of our schools, our communities and our children is to recognize that education is merely one piece to a bigger puzzle of corporate global control over our lives (energy, food, prisons, industry, etc etc).”

Myth: You can do more with less

Another Pasi Salhberg article – any other comment needed?

“Some economists have calculated how much students’ achievement could be improved by enhancing the quality of the teaching force. An efficient way to do that, they argue, is to find poorly performing teachers and get rid of them. Then, bringing young, enthusiastic talent into these classrooms will actually lead to the betterment of education at the same time when resources diminish. Within this logic lie three fallacies that, if taken as facts, will be harmful for the teaching profession and thereby for the entire education system.”

Finland’s Latest Educational Move Will Produce a Generation of Entrepreneurs

And yet another article about Finland….

“The new approach aims to encourage different kinds of learning, shifting from facts to problem solving, individual work to collaboration. In other words, instead of skill-oriented instruction, this topical structure prioritizes the four Cs—communication, creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration—skills that are central to working in teams, a reflection of the ‘hyperconnected’ world we live in today.”

This week’s contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

8 Wishes for My 3-Year Old About the Future of Education

Bruce’s comment: this is a feel good link. What would you wish for in education for a three year old? A good question for schools to ask their parents! Here is one dad’s wishes for his three year old and all the wonderful educators  along the way.

“You may wonder what your educational journey will look like. Honestly, every person’s experience is different. I am hoping that my journey can be a guide for yours, but also that you are able to set your own path. Right now I see an educational system that is evolving, and hopefully it is evolving to meet your needs, wants, desires, and passions. It is my wish that your educational journey will be successful beyond your wildest imagination.”

Improving Our Schools From the Inside Out

Bruce’s comment:  Difficult times for teachers in America. In light of the current issues flooding our education system, from an overemphasis on standardized testing to a shaky implementation of the Common Core State Standards, veteran teachers are turning to extreme measures to stress their dissonance: resigning. Let’s make sure things don’t get so bad in NZ but we know of some teachers who have had enough.

“Foremost, I cannot imagine what it must feel like leaving a profession that you love out of frustration and hopelessness. I am in no position to judge any teacher who expresses his or her grievances publicly and resigns.

But what happens to the teachers who decide to stay?

What happens to the next generation of teachers who are committed to the profession irrespective of decisions made outside of their personal classrooms? I refuse to become jaded and cynical or simply apathetic, counting down the days until retirement.”

How Student Centered Is Your Classroom?

How student centred are you in your school/classroom?

“In the education world, the term student-centred classroom is one we hear a lot. And many educators would agree that when it comes to 21st-century learning, having a student-centred classroom is certainly a best practice. Take some time to think about where you are with creating a learning space where your students have ample voice, engage frequently with each other, and are given opportunities to make choices.Use these questions in this blog to reflect on the learning environment you design for students in your class.”

Study: Feedback doesn’t always help students

The dark side of feedback.Under some conditions, we may need to refrain from ‘rescuing’ children by providing them with feedback, and instead let them struggle, engage and learn on their own. As well the concept of feedback implies teacher know best and can easily lead to a compliance mentality.and diminishing creativity.

“A new Vanderbilt University study challenges the assumption that feedback is always a good thing, at least for student learning.The study, conducted by Emily Fyfe, a doctoral student at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of Education, suggests that once a lesson is taught, immediately telling students if they are solving problems correctly or incorrectly can lead to lower performance on subsequent problems and post-tests. If a student is working on problems before learning the material, however, immediate feedback is helpful.”

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Together principals can do it

An oldie that Bruce wrote in 2005.

“The true challenge  is for groups of principals to find their common voice – what  is it that they  all believe is important and would focus and engage the energy of them all? The trouble is individual principals are loath to show their ‘real cards’ and share important educational issues. Our system in NZ since the mid 80s had bred into them a competitive ethic and, as well, it is not good form to admit weaknesses to others.”

L.I.S.P. New Zealand’s lost research!

New Zealand’s Learning in Science Project had huge potential but was cut off before it really had a chance due to a change in the political climate.

“Research showed that the ‘prior ideas’ a student brings to any learning situation , if not aligned with the teachers concepts, remains the view the learner holds, even if they know the ‘right answer’ to give back in a test. This has dramatic implications for teachers and teaching and explains why so much of what is taught is soon forgotten or fragile at best. As David Ausabel (68), the educational psychologist wisely wrote, ‘The most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows; ascertain this and teach accordingly’.”

Towards a creative school.

Bruce’s comment: Rear vision thinking – the schools’ default mode?

“It is sad to see schools happily ‘driving into the future using their rear vision mirrors’. Just as our students are entering a world beyond our comprehension we are busy ensuring they will be able to cope with a past age. There is more than a whiff of Victorian ‘three Rs’ around our schools as teachers focus on testing children in what are considered the two areas of concern literacy and numeracy. All this conformist formulaic ‘one size fits all’ teaching is leading us back to the standardisation of Henry Ford who one said, ‘you can have any colour you like as long as it is black’.”

Points of view from Mount Eden School

The New Zealand Curriculum – a lost opportunity? A focus on implementing the New Zealand Curriculum – ideas from Mt Eden Normal 2007.

With regard to the ‘new’ curriculum principal  John  Faire said that, for many, it is a bit ‘back to the future’ and that the curriculum statements and accountability demands imposed since the early 90s had all but ‘squashed out the creativity’ that was to be seen in the 70s and 80s.  It is now he said, quoting from Stoll and Fink , ‘about teaching and about time.’ The front half of the ‘new’ curriculum he said approvingly is ‘future focused’ but the ‘second half’ is the ‘same old same old’. John hopes that the  NZC’s more creative future focus is not lost due to accountability demands.”

Unfortunately the situation has become more difficult for such creativity since John’s presentation in 2007 and his advice is now more relevant than ever.

Testing, Testing… But Not Teaching

Reposted from

How standardised classroom tests are producing some frightening outcomes in the US 

by Gordon Campbell

Testing kids in the classroom sounds like a good idea. Surely that keeps tabs on how they’re doing, and identifies which kids might be falling through the cracks…and that’s all good, right? Well…except that most teachers have alwaysdone testing, have always sought to detect kids at risk, and have always managed to strike a healthy balance between teaching and testing. The issue is whether the demands to follow standardised testing procedures (and the practices and attitudes that go with them ) may now be poisoning the whole environment for learning.

As with many other social trends, the United States provides a cautionary vision of how good intentions can come unstuck. A few months ago, the impact of testing, testing, testing in the classroom came under the spotlight when a resignation letter by a veteran US teacher called Jerry Conti went viral. You can read the entire resignation letter here:

Its salient points are here:

With regard to my profession, I have truly attempted to live John Dewey’s famous quotation… that “Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.” This type of total immersion is what I have always referred to as teaching “heavy,” working hard, spending time, researching, attending to details and never feeling satisfied that I knew enough on any topic. I now find that this approach to my profession is not only devalued, but denigrated and perhaps, in some quarters despised. STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] rules the day and “data driven” education seeks only conformity, standardization, testing and a zombie-like adherence to the shallow and generic Common Core [Standards] along with a lockstep of oversimplified so-called Essential Learnings. Creativity, academic freedom, teacher autonomy, experimentation and innovation are being stifled in a misguided effort to fix what is not broken in our system of public education….

Conti continues :

…..My profession is being demeaned by a pervasive atmosphere of distrust, dictating that teachers cannot be permitted to develop and administer their own quizzes and tests (now titled as generic “assessments”) or grade their own students’ examinations. The development of plans, choice of lessons and the materials to be employed are increasingly expected to be common to all teachers in a given subject. This approach not only strangles creativity, it smothers the development of critical thinking in our students and assumes a one-size-fits-all mentality more appropriate to the assembly line than to the classroom. Teacher planning time has also now been so greatly eroded by a constant need to “prove up” our worth to the tyranny of APPR [Approved Teacher Practice Rubrics]through the submission of plans, materials and “artifacts” from our teaching, that there is little time for us to carefully critique student work, engage in informal intellectual discussions with our students and colleagues, or conduct research and seek personal improvement through independent study. We have become increasingly evaluation and not knowledge driven. Process has become our most important product, to twist a phrase from corporate America, which seems doubly appropriate to this case.

In the process, Conti says, school administrations have been both uncommunicative and unresponsive to the concerns and needs of staff and students “by establishing testing and evaluation systems that are Byzantine at best and at worst, draconian…” In the light of these developments, Conti could see only one possible conclusion : “After writing all of this I realize that I am not leaving my profession, in truth, it has left me. It no longer exists…”

Lest that be taken as the jaundiced opinion of one disgruntled teacher, Salon magazine recently reported some chilling examples of where the drive for standardised testing has taken some US classrooms : to the dreaded, so-called “ prep rally.” Columnist Mary Elizabeth Williams describes what that entails:

Last week, the principal of my third grader’s progressive, learn-by-doing school sent home a letter about the “overemphasis on assessments and the unintended consequences of using state tests to promote students and evaluate school,” a letter in which she promised the education our students receive there “cannot be measured by a single test score.”[Yet] the next day, the faculty shepherded the entire student body into the gym to cheer for the students to “Do your best” and sing, to the tune of “Ghostbusters,” that they were “test crushers.”

The rally may have been a well-intentioned attempt to defuse students’ pre-test jitters. A school administrator later told me, “It wasn’t to further promote testing. It was just about increasing confidence.” Our principal echoed the sentiment, saying, “We did a very intense test prep this year. We recognize that our kids were saturated and starting to feel overload…. And, she noted, “The idea of bringing a group together to garner enthusiasm is something we do all the time.”

The logic of the test pep rally is described by its enthusiasts in this article from Education World which carries the headline “Big Test Pep Rallies: 2, 4, 6, 8 — Taking Tests And Feeling Great!” Maybe for some. Many others will relate far more readily to Williams’ reaction in Salon:

But the ultimate effect had a strangely “Hunger Games” tang to it – a mood of forced, rah-rah re-assurance to the terrified children going into the arena, cheered on by those too young to yet participate. Unnervingly, it was a scene being played out in other schools all around the country, as they too have prepared their students for a series of tests many have been practicing for since September. The night of the rally, I spoke to my schoolteacher friend Blair in Pennsylvania, who told me they’d done similar events at her school and both of her sons’ schools, complete with near-identical catchy songs and even merchandise giveaways. “They sang ‘I will do my best best best’ to the tune of ‘Dynamite.’ It would have been cute if it wasn’t evil,” she said. “They hang up banners in the schools that say ‘I will do my best on the test.’ We get robocalled from all three schools before the test days. It’s all almost exactly the same wording from each principal. It’s a disgrace.”

As an integral part of this process, up to half of that Pennsylvania teacher’s salary will be tied to how her students performed on their tests. As Williams notes, such a system places those teachers who work with the children of migrants who may have English language difficulties and/or those who teach children with special needs — “who might be great students but not great English language test takers” — at risk of punitive measures.

As the heart of the Salon article is the contention that the emphasis on testing is skewing the learning experience for chidren. According to one teacher quoted : “My honors English curriculum now contains only two books, instead of the 12 I used to teach. And very few short stories. It’s mostly nonfiction, because that’s what will be on the tests. Any books I teach outside of the curriculum will harm my students’ scores on the tests that evaluate them and my performance. Goodbye, ‘Lord of the Flies.’ Goodbye, ‘Macbeth.’ Goodbye, ‘A Separate Peace.’ Most good teachers are demoralized by the test, and horrified by what it is doing to education.”

Another teacher : “This afternoon I was told that I must remove all the student art work hanging in the room, as it ‘will be a distraction to the students taking the tests.’” In the process, such emphases are changing the way that students view the purpose of their education :

“Children are getting the message at a very young age that if you pick the right choice between several options you can be successful. That’s not the way to learn, especially creatively. That’s not experimenting or exploring or creating. We’re telling kids that that life is a series of hoops and that they need to start jumping through them very early.”

At a higher level of impact, schools that score poorly on the tests run the downstream risk of being marked out for closure, or downsizing. The Core Standards system, the Salon article suggests, is perhaps being built to fail. “All the passing ratings are going to go down about 30 percent this year; that’s what they’re predicting,” author, advocate and education historian Diane Ravitch told Salon, “The dark view is that they want everybody to fail and they want people to say the public schools stink, so they can push for more vouchers and more charter [schools]. I can’t describe what’s going on without thinking that we’re in the process of destroying American public education.”

Most New Zealanders may be surprised to discover that the current US testing regime – and the New Zealand system of national standards that mimics it – originated with that paragon of excellence, George W.Bush. On the campaign trail in 2000 it was Bush who cited his so-called “Texas Miracle” whereby standardized testing had allegedly transformed the education system in his home state while he was governor, and this led durectly to the No Child Left Behind programme once he was elected President. It has since inspired similar ( and allegedly even more stringent) classroom testing practices under Barack Obama.

Reportedly, critics such as Ravitch do not oppose all forms of testing, only the way the process has become unduly standardised, and the status it has been given. In her opinion, such tests should be designed by the teachers, and kids should be tested based on what they’ve been taught. “Instead, the testmakers are telling educators what to teach — and that’s backwards. All of this is a terrible distortion of education.”

Absolutely, Mary Elizabeth Williams concludes, there are broken schools and faulty teachers, who are failing the needs of children every day:

But building a better system of public education – an education to which every child in this country is entitled — takes creative and innovative approaches, tailored to individual communities. Learning is not a one size fits all proposition. And our kids and our schools shouldn’t have their whole futures riding on how well children can fill in little circles, to be scored by machines. As Blair says, “We are exchanging authentic, age-appropriate learning – real thinking learning – for test taking. It makes me want to scream.”

Scream as they might, teachers and concerned parents in New Zealand are not being heard – either by the previous Education Minister Anne Tolley, or by her accident-prone successor. This is despite the evidence that far beyond the US, some countries have achieved better outcomes from their state systems by deliberately shunning standardised testing. In this informative Atlantic article, the Finnish journalist Aru Partanen cites the attributes of a Finnish school system that regularly outscores the US ( and New Zealand) in international rankings of student achievement. Among other things, Finland has no standardised testing, and no private schools at all. The key elements in its approach have been summarised as follows:

1. Finland does not give their kids standardized tests.

2. Individual schools have curriculum autonomy; individual teachers have classroom autonomy.

3. It is not mandatory to give students grades until they are in the 8th grade.

4. All teachers are required to have a master’s degree.

5. Finland does not have a culture of negative accountability for their teachers. According to Partanen, “bad” teachers receive more professional development; they are not threatened with being fired.

6. Finland has a culture of collaboration between schools, not competition. Most schools…perform at the same level, so there is no status in attending a particular facility.

7. Finland has no private schools.

8. Education emphasis is “equal opportunity to all.” They value equality over excellence.

9. A much higher percentage of Finland’s educational budget goes directly into the classroom than it does in the US, as administrators make approximately the same salary as teachers. This also makes Finland’s education more affordable than it is in the US.

10. Finnish culture values childhood independence; one example: children mostly get themselves to school on their own, by walking or bicycling, etc. Helicopter parenting isn’t really in their vocabulary.

11. Finnish schools don’t assign homework, because it is assumed that mastery is attained in the classroom.

12. Finnish schools have sports, but no sports teams. Competition is not valued.

13. The focus is on the individual child. If a child is falling behind, the highly trained teaching staff recognizes this need and immediately creates a plan to address the child’s individual needs. Likewise, if a child is soaring ahead and bored, the staff is trained and prepared to appropriately address this as well.

14. Compulsory school in Finland doesn’t begin until children are 7 years old.

Migration to Finland however, is not an option for New Zealand teachers. Although many of them would probably share Jerry Conti’s fears about where the undue emphasis on standardised classroom testing is leading us, and the damage it is doing to children’s creativity.