Friday, August 31, 2012

Educational Readings: Diane Ravitch, David Wenmoth,

By Allan Alach

Hard to beat this item on Diane Ravitch’s blog as a great introduction to this week’s readings:

There have been many times in history when the evidence and discoveries by researchers and scientists (such as Galileo and Darwin) was suppressed by those in power. This is one of those times.  

The peer-reviewed unbiased research in biology, neuroscience, education, and social science corroborates a humanistic, child-centered, constructive approach to how we raise and educate our children.  It’s amazing how the biological research into the workings of the brain supports the research from education and social science.  Many of us know that there is already evidence that tells us to do the opposite of what the laws and policies require.  

Someday people will look back and ask, “How could a society have done that to their children when they knew better?”

Diane Ravitch’s blog will be there, in archive, to tell the future how it happened. Thank you Diane.’

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

This week’s homework!

Finding the Genius in Every Child
Self explanatory, except for politicians and other school ‘deformers.’

Being a profession?
New Zealand educator, e-learning specialist, and blogger Derek Wenmoth offers valuable commentaries in his blog. Here’s an example, commenting on the seemingly endless discussions and policies on teacher professionalism.
‘This debate has been around for a long time and never seems to be fully resolved, and may never be as long as we have a situation where teachers and teaching is subject to so much direct political influence and interference. There is hardly a day goes by when we don't see teachers and/or teaching represented in a negative light by the media who seldom waste an opportunity to position teachers as "a problem to be fixed."’

The Great Interactive Whiteboard Swindle…a 70s themed post!
Yes indeed, came to the same conclusion when I investigated IWB for a sabbatical project.

New Forms of Assessment: measuring what you contribute rather than what you collect
Can’t see the deformers buying into this, therefore is must be good…..

Seven Sins of Our System of Forced Education
This article dates back to 2009, but that doesn’t affect its relevance. Health warning to GERM laden deformers …. read at peril of having your prejudices challenged.
We can use all the euphemisms we want, but the literal truth is that schools, as they generally exist in the United States and other modern countries, are prisons.”

Want to Kill Student Curiosity in 12 Easy Steps?
Here’s how.

Why Scotland's approach to publicly funded education works
Can we import some Scottish politicians?  Seems that they are immune from GERMs.

The People Holding Us Accountable Should Be Held Accountable Themselves.
Sounds like a reasonable proposition to me.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Making the most of Team work in schools as a means to develop creative thinking

The Aussie gold medal winning hockey team- with no captain. They all knew what to do. Teamwork!
Team work in schools all too often seems to me to be increasingly about conforming team members to school expectations; about ensuring all members are on the same page.

Such expectations can have, according to Lehrer, limiting effects on tapping individual members’ creativity in schools this can result in clone like teaching.
Consistency is all very well to ensure quality but it ought not to be at the expense of creativity. When I used to visit classrooms with teachers I always asked them to consider each classrooms ‘CC ratings’ – one eye to observe consistency the other to note individual creativity.
Teaching isa creative activity with lots of variables to cater for and the value of teamwork planning,  Lehrer writes, is to connect member’s imaginations through collaboration. The group (or teaching team) according to Lehrer ‘is not just a collection of individual’s talents. Instead, it is a chance to for those talents to exceed themselves, to produce something greater than anyone thought possible’.
Lehrer is interested ‘why some groups are more than a sum of their parts.’ And importantly there is ‘evidence group creativity in organisations is becoming more necessary…  solutions can only be found by working with other people.’ Today 99% of scientific breakthroughs are achieved through teamwork ‘requiring the expertise of people from different backgrounds who bridge the gaps between disciplines’.
Lehrer considers why some stage productions are more successful than others. It all boils down to the degree of ‘social intimacy’ of the people working together – the relationships between the collaborators. When there are poor relationships musicals were likely to fail but if they knew each other too well the work also suffered.  The best teams were a mix of old friends and ‘newbies’. People seem to want to work with their friends but this it seems is the wrong thing to do. If you want to make something special,and avoid ‘group think’ you need new people – outsiders!
It seems creative solutions require the view of people who do not ‘know what to do’. In creative organisations (and ought not schools to be seen as creative organisations?) innovation ‘emerges when people of diverse backgrounds work together’
Really creative organisations like Apple have realized that the best collaborations happen by accident and have arranged their ‘campuses’  so that it is impossible not to run into others. One sociologist calls these meetings ‘third places’.  Throughout history shared places ‘have played an outsized role in the history of new ideas from coffeehouses of eighteenth century England… to the Left Bank of modernist Paris’. ‘Random conversations are a constant source of ideas’. ‘The most innovative teams are mixture of the familiar and unexpected’.
Creative organisations have structured their spaces to allow such interactions to happen – even considering the placement of toilets! Schools by contrast have traditionally separated children in age cohorts, ability groups, and by fragmented subjects – all isolated from the immediate environment.
As well creative organisations recognise that their most creative employees are well connected and have the ability ‘to suck up ideas like vacuum cleaners’. Schools ought to value these ‘creative swipers’ because through them new ideas enter the system from elsewhere. The teachers that need to be valued are whateducationalist Mitchel Fullan called, in his latest book, ‘deviants’.
As Lehrer observes ‘the best stuff happens when someone tells you something you didn’t already know’.’ Innovative systems’, computer scientist Christopher Langton once observed, ‘constantly veer towards the edge of chaos’; environments that are neither fully predictable of fully anarchic.  Schools and individual classrooms are in the same position.

Creativity occurs at the edge of chaos
In the most creative teams the entire teams feel responsible for ‘catching mistakes’ – ‘to learn from the mistakes of others’ - able to criticize others ideas. Lehrer mentions the problem with traditional brainstorming, where ideas are accepted uncritically – the ‘freewheeling of ideas’ saying it is important to debate and criticize each other’s ideas. Dissent in group sessions can dramatically expand creative potential – even if the dissent is wrong. Obviously criticism should never get out of control – one idea is that any criticism should contain a new idea that builds on the flaws of the previous contributor. Many good ideas come after meetings when things have cooled down! Such meetings involve difficult conversations and disorientating surprises but as one film producer said ‘no one said making a good film was easy’
There is a message here for school or team leaders – ‘you need to hire the best folks and get out of the way’ – unless you want your own ideas ‘rubber stamped’! Creative leaders value the individual ‘voices’ of team members and respect their learning identity – as hopefully do the teachers in their classrooms.
Like any creative organisations schools need to bring in ‘flesh blood’ and incorporate new ‘voices’; they need to ‘allow the inexperienced to ask naive questions and to come up with plenty of impractical suggestions’. Organisation need these weird people – ‘you need to tolerate a certain kind of ..weirdness.’
Schools are, by their nature, fairly conformist environments. Every opportunity ought to be created to allow ideas that might just make learning for teachers and students more fun.

Contrary to a common phrase, ‘there is no” I” in TEAM, if there isn’t then schools are in trouble – they will remain idea or imagination free environments.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Time to show some imagination in our schools?

'Imagination is infused in all thought processes'

‘Imagine’ is the title of an exciting book by Jonah Lehrer. Lehrer’s book, he writes, ‘is about our most important mental talent; the ability to imagine what has never existed’. It is a book about creativity and how it is seen as something mysterious – something that comes from somewhere else. Lehrer’s book returns the focus by ‘to the source of the imagination: three pounds of flesh inside the skull’.

We now know enough about the brain to understand how imagination works. Creativity is no longer to be seen as a separate kind of cognition it is now seen as infused in all thought processes. The human brain has the creative impulse to make new associations built into its operating system until dulled by education.
Lehrer’s book explores the creative process – a process that is innate from birth but all too often seen as the ‘magic’ territory of ‘creative’ gifted individuals and sadly ignored in mainstream education.
 Lehrer explores the conditions under which creativity is encouraged; the influence of the surrounding environment; the creative process; the importance of collaboration - and what kinds of organisations (including classrooms) would increase creativity?
These are the issues that should exercise educator’s minds not worrying about implementing the narrowing effects of National Standards.
‘Every creative journey’, writes Lehrer ‘begins with a problem. It starts with a feeling of frustration, the dull ache of not being able to find answers’…’When we have no ideas what to do next’.
All too often this frustration, attempts that fail, are left out of discussing creativity but the feelings of being stumped is an essential part of the process. ‘Before we can find an answer – before we even know the question – we must be immersed in disappointment… is only at this point, after we stop searching for the answer, that the answers arrives.’ This unfolding process is also covered in another exciting book 'Where Good Ideas Come From' .
Schools, with their emphasis on defined measurable outcomes, are the antithesis of the creative process.
It seems school focus too much on the logical literal left hemisphere of the brain rather than the more metaphorical artistic  right side  but research now shows we need both to process information  - brains that can see the forest and the trees. ‘Chance’ as Pasteur wrote, ‘favours the prepared mind’. It is the struggle that forces us to try something new – to look at problems from a new perspective – to break out of traditional constraints.
Lehrer discusses businesses that are defined by their innovative thinking such as 3M (only beaten in the innovation stakes by Google and Apple). 3M requires every employee to make time for activities, to speculate on new ideas that at first glance might seem unproductive - to take regular breaks, to take a walk in the park, or to daydream! This produces a happy positive atmosphere. Such unfocused activities allow imagination and creativity to flourish. Such ‘attention deficit’ has its advantages. To think harder is the wrong advice for struggling learners!
A second strategy at 3M is to encourage people to share their knowledge across fields to encourage ‘conceptual blending’. The history of innovation is full of inventors mixing up old ideas into new inventions. Often outsiders have the advantage of knowing less and can seeideas hidden by habit to others.  Youth’, writes Lehrer, ‘are natural outsiders… they haven’t been encultured… so they often invent more…time steals ingenuity’. Gutenberg transformed wine press into a printing machine. 3M rotated their engineers between departments to encourage this sharing.
Imagine schools following these successful strategies?
One myth about creativity is that it is associated with ideas coming in a flash – as an epiphany. This myth ignores the painstaking work that surrounds them. And when new ideas are revealed that is only the beginning – they still need work, through drafting, revising, refining and that this is often not fun. Lots of new ideas have to fight for attention. Sometimes it is impossible to see the forest for the trees.
School students need to appreciate being confused and the perseverance involved – ‘stick-ability’ is an important trait to encourage.
Creativity has two opposing drives, one is to spontaneously create new ideas and the other to resolve messiness and impose order onto the disorder of reality; divergent and convergent thinking. The creative brain modifies its own sense of what is important. And, when accomplished, ‘we suddenly look at reality through a slightly different lens’.
This is the essence of learning – it is not about teachers ‘transmitting’ knowledge it is about students ‘constructing’ - or, as it says in the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum, ‘seeking, using and creating their own knowledge’. Answers cannot be decided in advance – contrary to what many teachers believe in their classrooms. Interestingly many innovative students have a feeling that they are on the right track – that the answer is within reach - that keeps them going. The next thought might be the answer! Worrying about making mistakes limits such thinking- mistakes are part of the process. An inner voice telling you not to do something, or constraints imposed from above such as National Standards pressure, kills creativity.
There is no such thing as a creative type.  ‘All of us’, Lehrer reminds us, ‘have a vast reservoir of untapped creativity’. People need to be reminded that creativity is a doing word. It’s about paying attention. – constantly reefing ideas It’s about taking an idea into your head and transforming that idea into something real. Nothing good is ever easy.  And developing new creative ideas can come with risks upsetting the status quo. ‘If you are at the cutting edge, then you’re going to bleed’ which can cause problem for such innovators.
To be creative requires a learner to be able to let go of past success or present ‘best practice’. Continual improvisation is the name of the game so as to spontaneously generate new ideas. The ability to improvise require learner be immersed in the field they are studying. An obsessive interest in an area of learning is valuable – it pays to have a touch of Aspersers it seems.
Escaping the inhibitory limits of the mind has been summarized by Picasso: ‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist bonce we grow up.’ This explains why the very young are so effortlessly creative; their censors don’t exist. As children move through their schooling they soon learn to conform to their teachers expectations – for better or worse. When asked many adult creative people give the advice to ‘aspire to the state of the beginner’ – to create simply for the pleasure of it.
Creativity need not slip away. Everybody can develop the mind-set to innovate our lives if we keep open to new challenges, and retain the thinking of the very young and if we are in a creative learning culture.
Maybe this is the true purpose of a future orientated education system – to ensure all students have the opportunity to develop all their innate gifts and talents. ‘The real moral’ writes Lehrer, ‘is that creativity isn’t a phase of life – it’s a state of mind.’
‘The larger lesson, he writes, ‘is that our thoughts are shackled by the familiar…the brain spends a lot of time and energy choosing what to ignore. As result creativity is traded for efficiency… physiologists refer to this bias as functional fixedness’.
It is time to forget what we know about education and the current ways we organise our schools and imagine new idea about how to educate our youth for a world we can never imagine. Schools could introduce master- apprenticeship approaches; students learning by doing. Students should spend all their time creating not being bored by formulaic literacy and numeracy tasks. Schools need to value more unstructured open ended play rather than teacher imposed tasks. ‘Children should learn what it takes to get good at something, to struggle and fail and try again… to manage their own time and persevere in the face of difficulties... how to keep on working until the job is done’.
Lehrer writes, ‘What kind of culture do we want to create? Is it a world full of ideas that can be connected? It is time to create the kind of culture that won’t hold us back. Are we willing to invest in risk takers? Do schools produce students ready to create’?’’ ‘It is not enough to raise the test scores….we have to ensure that those with talents are allowed to flourish…we must identify those with motivation and potential and give them the tools to discover and invent’

Our current government educational policies, and the inability of current schools to re-imagine themselves, will ensure New Zealand will fail to become a creative country.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Educational Readings; Martin Thrupp, Finland, Joel Klien,


By Allan Alach


A potpourri of articles this week, concluding with a couple of more positive ones on the way education should be developing. However as the first article shows, there is little immediate hope while governments play the corporate agenda. The biggest puzzle, to me, is why it is a supposedly more left leaning Labor Government in Australia who are in cahoots with the corporates. A secondary puzzle concerns the Australian Minister of Education Peter Garrett. For those who don’t recognise the name, remember the Australian rock band Midnight Oil, and their protest songs about Aboriginal land rights (Beds are Burning) and uranium mining (Blue Sky Mining) ? Garrett was the singer. Some inconsistencies here, Pete. For more, read Kelvin Smythe’s satirical posting.

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

This week’s homework!

Joel Klein Comes Clean

Seems Common Core Standards is all about enabling businesses to profit from education. What a surprise.

Why Creative Geniuses Hated School

Three creative geniuses explain why they hated formal education. Never mind, we’re busy creating another generation who will also hate formal education.

15 Reasons Reformers Are Looking to Finland

Yet another article on Finland and its educational success. Those who want to deform schools in the opposite direction clearly failed their own schooling.

Standardization Will Destroy Our Education System, If It Hasn't Already

Title says it all...

Release of Primary School Data Disingenuous & Deluded

Waikato University Professor of Education Martin Thrupp has released this opinion piece on the New Zealand government’s processes towards joining the international GERM movement. Shambolic. Deceitful.

How to Turn Your Classroom into an Idea Factory

Nothing to do with GERM….

“How can we prepare today’s students to become tomorrow’s innovators? It’s an urgent challenge, repeated by President Obama, corporate CEOs, and global education experts like Yong Zhao and Tony Wagner. Virtually every discussion of 21st-century learning puts innovation and its close cousin, creativity, atop the list of skills students must have for the future.”

This beautiful video about parabolas will 100% blow your mind

Robert T. Gonzalez

I know, I know. You're probably wondering how exciting parabolas can actually be, right? Well, it turns out that, in the remarkably capable hands of mathematical rambler/artist/stream-of-conscious-doodle-wizard Vi Hart, the answer is: pretty damn interesting.’

Apart from blowing minds, it also demonstrates why standards based, tick the right box/supply the right answer approach doesn’t work. We’ll just have to overlook the fact that the producer of this works for Khan Academy!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

New Zealand Teachers –to be creative make use of outsiders.

New Zealand - we ought to be at the cutting edge of change.

I  chose the title with great thought for a number of reasons.
Society is at the edge of new creative age – an age of ideas that will replace the current information age – which in turn replaced an industrial age. Ironically many organisations still have their genesis in this industrial top down era; one premised on predictability and measurement. In the school situation this is seen in the current emphasis on standards and targets. School structures, age cohorts, ability grouping, streaming, fragmented subjects, all reflect this factory era.
So we are at the edge of a new era of learning – the cutting edge of change but schools are being pressurized to retreat into the past. New learning lies at the edge of chaos not in the certainty of past thinking.
 I also chose the title because I have always felt at the edge of teaching and now, at the edge of my career. Some would say well past my sell by date!
But any success I have had over the years has been being an outsider. At first I was an itinerant science adviser (later an art adviser) and this meant I escaped the conformity of expectations that classroom teachers have to live with.
I have come to really value the importance of ‘outsider’ thinking.
When I went teaching for a few years ago I found my ignorance of current teaching procedures an advantage. I chose to ignore advice to divide my students into abilitygroups for reading and maths – this was a practice unheard of in science andart teaching. Rather I chose to help students personally as required and placed my emphasis on inquiry teaching. As an adviser I was also fortunate to be able to observe the few creative teachers who integrated skill teaching with their contextual studies.
All schools ought to have a copy of Elwyn's recently reprinted book ( from  NZCER) 
This approach wasbest represented by the teaching of Elwyn Richardson and those who followed asimilar approach who saw their classrooms as communities of scientists and artist exploring  and expressing ideas about their environment; teaching that valuedthe ‘voice’ of individual learners. Today this has come to be called ‘personalised learning’.  The writing of David Perkins sums up the idea of integrating skill teaching so as to play the game of real learning. Recently Michael Fullan, one the guru of top down innovation, has recantedand now believes that real innovationcan only come from tapping the insights of what he calls ‘deviant teachers’. The trouble is the school environments are not conducive to encouraging such deviants – rather the opposite1
Today schools arefull of formulaic ‘best practice’ clone like conformist teaching. Intentional teaching, success criteria, WALTS, exemplars are all part of this ‘official’ approach. What has been forgotten is that education should celebrate individuality not conformity; should develop students’ gifts and talents not measuring standardized achievement based on imposed standards. League tables will make it worse.
We are seeing the ‘McDonaldisation ‘of education.
When I was appointed a principal (during the introduction of Tomorrows Schools) having never been a principal my ignorance, my ‘outsider’ view, was again an advantage but try as hard as I could I found that many teaches were en-cultured into a traditional way of doing things.
If schools are to be seen as hothouses of creativity and innovation then they need to tap into ideas from outsiders.
A recent book (‘Imagine- How Creativity Works’ by Jonah Lehrer) is well worth the read.(See also Steven Johnson’s book ‘WhereGood Ideas Come From’).
Lehrer dedicates one chapter to the importance of outsider thinking in successful businesses and his ideas are extremely important to school leaders. Successful businesses make real use of outsider ideas to escape the conformity of past expectations. He writes that people deep inside an organisation suffer from an intellectual handicap. It is only when problems are shared with outsiders that new solutions can be found.
In the past I learnt that innovative schools made use of advisers more that conformist schools – but advisers in earlier days were not simply transmitters of officially approved ideas as is the case today. I also learnt that great ideas come from people on the edge – art advisers, early education teachers, Maori educators, special needs teachers, innovative businesses; education is too important to be left to teachers.
‘The world is full of natural outsiders,’ writes Lehrer, ‘we refer to them as young people. The virtue of youth is that the young don’t know enough to be insiders, cynical with expertise.’ ‘This is why’, he writes, ‘many fields from physics to punk rock have been defined by their most immature members. The young know less that why they invent more.’
He continues, ‘Why are young….more creative? One possibility is that time steals ingenuity that the imagination starts to wither but this is not the case – we are not biologically destined to get less creative.’ The young have the advantage that they are haven’t become encultured or weighted down with too much convention wisdom, they’re more likely to rebel against the status quo.’
The trouble is that with time people start to repeat themselves and they become insiders. This is what seems to happen to many principals but this doesn’t have to happen. ‘We can continue to innovate for our entire careers, ‘Lehrer writes, ‘as long as we work to maintain the perspective of the outsider.’
Being an outsider is a state of mind but it is not easy to maintain or cultivate in our present compliance regulatory educational environment but it can be done – if we work with others. Also the internal structures and expectations of schools, the obsessive teamwork, and desire for consistency destroy any possibility of tapping ‘outsider’ thinking.
To really be innovative we have to leave behind much of what we have believed to be true. Our thoughts are shackled by the familiar. Creativity is all too often traded for efficiency and consistency.
School leaders need to encourage experimentation (and learn from failure) and value open-mindedness – be more willing to realize there are different ways of interpreting situations. Creativity, it seems, is a side effect of experiencing and valuing differences.  Rather than neat solutions leaders need to value surprise and even confusion – this is the area where creativity is to be found. When we come to believe we don’t know all the answers then we are open to new ideas. You suddenly notice ideas you previously ignored.
The trouble with all this is that we live in world that worships ‘insiders’ says Lehrer. The answer is to ignore what you already know. ‘Knowledge can be a subtle curse’, he writes.  ‘Through what we know we learn all the reasons why the world cannot be changed. We get used to our failures and imperfections. We become numb to the possibilities of something new. In fact, the only way to remain creative over time – to not be undone by our experience- is to experiment with ignorance, to stare at things we don’t understand’.
Schools need to make use of ‘outsider’ thinking. They need the expertise of people from different backgrounds – to share ideas with others who have different perspectives.
Schools need to all work together and to tap into the ideas of creative outsiders or to fail alone. The most innovative businesses are a mix of the familiar and the unexpected. Such environments are neither fully predictable nor fully anarchic.
The best learning is at the edge of chaos.
The best ideas come from the edge of chaos rather than erecting walls and establishing hierarchies that keep people in their place stifling conversation, dissent and sharing of ideas and, in the process, making it harder expand the collective imagination of all involved.
And as an aside there is research that indicates that many teachers find it hard to accommodate creative students in their classes. ’The point is’, Lehrer writes, ‘the typical school isn’t designed for self-expression’… ‘Everyone agrees that creativity is a key skill for the twenty first century but we are not teaching our kids this skill.’
An obsession with standards and league tables is exactly the wrong way to go. Imagination is too important to be ignored.  There is no test for the future we can teach to. Creativity is a skill that never goes out of style. No text book for ingenuity, no lesson plans for divergent thinking. Rather they must be discovered; a child has to learn by doing.
It is time for schools to focus on developing the gifts and talents of all students; it is time for schools to contribute to creating the kind of culture that won’t hold us back.
This blog is my small attempt to share an ‘outsiders’ view for those schools open considering as yet unrealised alternatives.
Be great to get feedback!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Educational Readings: Yong Zhao, Anthony Cody, Marion Brady, Joe Bower

Yong Zhao on PISA 

Educational Readings  By Allan Alach

One common element of ‘deform’ across the world, is the use of PISA tests to justify the implementation of GERM.  As Phil Cullen observes in his latest Treehorn Express  these tests are an offshoot of the OECD, an organisation of economists. Since when did economists have valid educational credentials? This begs the question- why do we take any notice of PISA? Anyone able to explain this to me?

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

This week’s homework!

Charter Schools and Corporate Ed Reform

As other countries rush down the charter school road, evidence to the contrary keeps coming out of USA. Naturally our GERM minded politicians take no notice - powerful string pullers behind the scenes? Thanks to Barbara Nelson for this link.

“The following is an excerpt from Charter Schools and the Corporate Makeover of Public Education: What’s at Stake? co-authored by Michelle Fine and Michael Fabricant. The book traces the evolution of the charter school movement from its origins in community- and educator-based efforts to promote progressive change to their role today as instruments of privatization and radical disinvestment in public education.”

New school year: doubling down on failed ed policy

Or ‘how we need to learn from our mistakes”

“This was written by Lisa Guisbond, a policy analyst for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, known as FairTest, a Boston-based organization that aims to improve standardized testing practices and evaluations of students, teachers and schools.”

10 Ways School Reformers Get It Wrong

“When it comes to education reform, we're not trying to reinvent the wheel anymore; instead, we're building square ones.” Nothing else needs to be added. Thanks to Phil Cullen for this link.

Secret Teacher has had it with WALTS, WILFS and other education jargon.

The Guardian newspaper, UK, runs a regular feature where a different secret teacher each time writes about issues of concern. This one is written by an Academy School (aka charter school) teacher, and provides a warning of what is to come.

Yong Zhao on PISA

For the last 18 months or so, I’ve been raising questions about this PISA test programme that is being used by ‘deformers’ all over to justify their educational agenda. Why is a test developed by an economic organisation being used in this way? Why do we give it any credit at all?  Think about it - the PISA tests to determine any country’s educational achievement have exactly the same drawbacks as using tests to determine a child’s achievement. This blog by Diane Ravitch, referencing comments by Yong Zhao, covers this more authoritatively. Getting rid of PISA would be a major step forward.

Technocratic Expansion of Education Data Systems Stirs Privacy Concerns

This is an extremely important article by Anthony Cody.  The online student database system he describes here is also being developed in New Zealand, ready for implementation in 2014. Are similar systems being developed in Australia, UK and elsewhere? This is big brother, people. No exaggeration.  The only thing Orwell got wrong was that he anticipated a far left state, not a right wing corporate based state with fascist overtones. Just to back this up, there’s also another link from a homeschooling website.

Eight problems with Common Core Standards

Another great article by Marion Brady. New Zealand readers might ‘enjoy’ reading this, substituting ‘national’ for ‘common core.’ Aren’t coincidences wonderful?

Thank God for standardized test scores

With the coming publication of ‘achievement data’ for New Zealand schools, as the government rushes in a ‘me too’ fashion’ to join the bandwagon, this satirical article by Joe Bower is timely.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Top blogs last month

Find out more about Guy Claxton by clicking on the Educational Books for creative teaching below.

The blog below by a principal that is well respected has been the most popular blog for months and is well worth a read. Since it was written the government has approved of shonky league tables to be placed on the web.I bet he is more disgruntled now1

Read the implications for schools behind the implementation of  national standards and league tables. By now few schools will not appreciate the changes in teaching that  they will cause - unfortunately the general public are  less informed. What is the truth behind the 'one in five students failing'? How well do NZ students do on international surveys?

Art education is at risk with the introduction of league tables - it is worth thinking about how important art (  in its broadest sense) is.

 Creative teaching - personalised learning is a real alternative.

What educationalists underpin your school's philosophy? How many books are you aware of?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Educational Readings Noam Chomsky,Steve Wheeler

Educational Readings
By Allan Alach

The strange world where politicians and associated deformers pursue their agendas in seeming ignorance of the ever increasing objections of educators and parents continues all over. The same complaints “Why don’t they listen?’ can be heard in many countries. The fact that this happens, and is ignored, tells its own story.

As far as New Zealand is concerned, the government have pushed on with their plan to make each school’s national standards data available to all and sundry via a website.

 The existing scheme of allowing schools to submit ‘data’ in a wide range of formats has made it impossible to collate the ‘data’ and this has spoiled the plan to produce league tables this year. As I expected, the system is being tightened up next year, requiring schools to enter ‘achievement data’ online, and further, also as I predicted, the following year (2014) will see the introduction of a online assessment tool that will rank children against national standards. Given the internationality of GERM, it is not drawing too long a bow to suggest that this approach is being trialled here, before being introduced elsewhere. The USA, with their Common Core Standards, is not too many light years away from being ready to go. Beware. This is another step to demote teacher professionalism and judgement - the other end of the ‘computer as teacher’ approach.

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

This week’s homework!

The remarkable successes of the student strikers in Quebec

Lessons for us all from this? We can overcome neo-liberalism!

Privatizing Public Schools: Big Firms Eyeing Profits From U.S. K-12 Market

A couple of quotes from this article, which is applicable to other countries as well:

"Think about the upcoming rollout of new national academic standards for public schools, he urged the crowd. If they're as rigorous as advertised, a huge number of schools will suddenly look really bad, their students testing way behind in reading and math. They'll want help, quick. And private, for-profit vendors selling lesson plans, educational software and student assessments will be right there to provide it."  


"Autism in particular, he said, is a growth market, with school districts seeking better, cheaper ways to serve the growing number of students struggling with that disorder."


Open the Flood Gates

Thoughtful posting by Walter McKenzie of ASCD. Makes a very good case for the need to discard standardisation.

Noam Chomsky - The Purpose of Education

Noam Chomsky discusses the purpose of education, impact of technology, whether education should be perceived as a cost or an investment and the value of standardised assessment. An antidote to the madness spreading around the world.

Education funnels and webs of learning

Steve Wheeler, from University of Plymouth, UK, writes a very good blog “Learning with e’s” While predominantly commenting on digital technologies in education, he also casts his eye over the wider educational scene, and the purposes of education. In this article he references visionaries such as Illich and Freire.

Let’s read them a story! Helping your children succeed in school

OECD article that highlights the importance of parents reading to children at home.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

National Standards, the status quo, or new possibilities for education

Hekia Parata -   led by ideology determined to take us down the wrong path.
So many sound bites about education to pay attention to these days.
The first  one that comes to mind is the mantra ‘one in five children failing’ that our current prime minister ,  our education minister and John Banks like to talk about endlessly as the reason for National Standards, League Tables and why we need Charter Schools.  The message is, ‘our schools are failing!’
Education it seems is where politics rule and reality comes second place.
How do we get this 1 to 5 negative ratio and how do we reconcile New Zealand high ranking in International Tests?

 In a recent OECD survey New Zealand students were still at the top echelons in reading, science and maths. In the latest survey New Zealand students were ranked fourth out of 34 OECD countries in literacy, fourth in scientific literacy and seventh in mathematical literacy. As in all past OECD surveys New Zealand students achieve near the top surpassed only by countries with ethnically homogeneous populations such as Finland and Korea. ' So why', writes Warwick Elley an emeritus professor of education, ‘isn’t this front page news?’ He continues, ‘we should be congratulating our rank and file teachers for drawing the best out of our students..’

And where exactly are these 25% of failing children? One clue is provided by Warwick Elley who reports that mainstream Pakeha students had a higher mean score than any other country. The impression is they exist in every school but in truth they are concentrated in low defile schools.  It seems we have more high achievers than other countries, but still too many at the lower end of the scale.  Elley writes that underachieving students ‘can be identified by gender, by decile level, and by ethnic group’ and he continues ‘compulsory assessment and league tables do not change them.’ ‘The problem’, he says, ‘is not so much in schools, but in social problems as poverty and dysfunctional families.’

National Standards across all schools seems like using a sledge hammer to crack a nut.  A more targeted approach would ensure greater equity?
Daniel Pink (authorof ‘Drive’) confirms that all high scoring American students can be predicted by their parents’ wealth. Conversely students that fail, as measured by standardised tests, can be equally predicted by the socio- economic circumstances of their parents. Some call this a lack of ‘social capital’.  Recently it was reported that New Zealand has the fifth widest rich/poor gap of Western countries and that this can be linked to the results of the Market Forces polices of the past decades. This, of course, is happily ignored by the current government.
In New Zealand 25% of adults now live below the poverty line so the link to poor school achievement (the 1 in 5 failing) is no great leap. There is data to say an estimated 170000 - 270000 children in New Zealand live in poverty and that New Zealand is ranked 20th out of 35 in OECD countries for children living in relative poverty. Such children often have poor health and many suffer from diseases that only exist in third world counties.
This of course shouldn’t be taken as an excuse for school failure but a reminder that poor achievement can be linked to problems outside of the school gate. Add to this that many parents are without jobs or have to work all hours God gave them just to support their families and that Maori and Polynesian children are over represented in such difficult environments. That such children enter formal schooling lacking what schools expect is understandable (and this is not saying school expectations are right).
It is clear that children do not have equal opportunities to achieve high educational attainment. It is impossible to ignore the influences of difficult home circumstances in the creation of the 1 in 5 failure rate. ‘The dirty secret’, one newspaper columnist recently wrote is all about, ‘middle class advantage and working class failure. Exceptional kids will, of course, always break the pattern. But the pattern remains’. To suggest success just by having excellent teachers and league tables is just ideological nonsense.
So what to do? 
The current government’s solution is more choice (hence the need for published standardsand from them league tables) and competition but it seems only the wealthy can afford the choice. And the latest solutions privatised charter schools which, in contrast to the narrow standards approach being imposed on public schools, offer greater freedom and flexibility - exactly what pubic school would like to implement. Privatisation, rather than equitable education, is the real agenda.

Do we have a world class or failing education system?

According to PISA data the answer is yes we do, but when one considers all the children the system currently fails (the 1 in 5) the answer is not so clear-cut! The number of citizens who are incarcerated in our prison system – second in Western countries after USA seems to indicate many students leave schooling with little chance of success.  Most communities have high profile problems with alienated youth whichalso seems to indicate the need for new solutions.
Traditional education, it seems, suits the equally traditional academic students; for students who arrive at school with the necessary ‘social capital; students ‘who come from reasonably well off home environments. The really rich send their children to private schools.
So this brings us back to the one in five failing, who are they, where are they, and what might be realistic solutions? It seems the truth is known but ignored by politicians.
National Standards, as promulgated by conservative politicians, have a populist appeal to the general public but are they really an answer or simply part of a wide political ideology? Do they have any real advantage or will they have the same limiting effects that have occurred in countries that have implemented them? Ironically the countries that have implemented them (and the next step, league tables) score well below New Zealand on the PISA International tests. In such countries it has been shown that teachers narrow the curriculum and teach to the tests and as a result vital creative areas are given less time and students, whose talents in the untested areas, suffer.
‘National Standards consisting of measuring narrowly defined curriculum outputs’, according to Peter O’Connor associate professor of Education Faculty, Auckland University, ‘ and will be used to generate blunt and meaningless league tables. They will in turn create fear and suspicion about neighbourhood schools’. This he suggests is designed to increase the public appetite for private forms of education, including charter schools and will also professionalise teachers. Charter schools will be able to employ unregistered teachers.
So it is not difficult to appreciate that schooling is involved in an intense political ideological war; one in which the real causalities are the students themselves. As Peter O’Connor rightly says all this criticism is about developing an environment of  blaming failing students, failing teachers, failing schools and failing communities while the ‘white knights of business are presented as the rescuers’. As a result teachers and principals are cast as defenders of a failing system.
 Labelling and shaming is not the answer, nor the false choices of the neo liberal politicians with their privatisation agenda.
All the criticism of current schooling ignores the success of New Zealand schools as shown in the OECD and PISA surveys! All it has done is create a sense of crisis requiring the radical solutions proposed by the Government.
Just understandingthe ideological battle does not mean defending the status quo. We can do better. There are better solutions than the reactionary national standards or the doubtful charter schools. Charter schools, where they have been tried in the US, few have demonstrated to be better than traditional schools.
The reality is that for an increasingly unpredictable twenty first century students will require a particular set of dispositions and skills. One obvious immediate solution is to reinstate the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum as the central emphasis for educational reform.  It is obvious that schools cannot implement both the intent of the NZC, with its emphasis on ‘key competencies’, and the risk adverse limitation of national standards and league tables.
So the battle over our schools is not simply between privatisation (National Standards and league tables, or charter schools) and the current provision.
Schooling needs to be reinvented – re imagined to equip all students to thrive in the future. Too much of our current system has its genesis in the fragmented linear thinking of the industrial age.
Too much schooling is currently focused on sorting and grouping individual students achieve what teachers (and now politicians) have decided they ought to learn.
This antiquated ‘factory’ transmission model of teaching needs to be replaced with a more personalised model – learning tailored or customised, to suit the needs of each individual learner.
 Learning needs to be real, rigorous and relevant to the learner if all students are to develop the in-depth understandings and dispositions that they will require. Learners need to be encouraged to dig deeply into what they study and have access to all the traditional disciplines of learning as well as accessing the power of the World Wide Web.
This transformative model of education is in opposition to the ability mind-set that schools (both primary and secondary) currently implement by developing their programmes around ability grouping, setting students across classes, andstreaming.
The future will require individuals that can work collaboratively to develop solutions to integrated projects. Teachers, to ensure this, need to ensure skills are taught ‘just in time’ rather than ‘just in case’. ‘Learnacy’, as educationalist Guy Claxton writes, ‘is as important as literacy and numeracy’. This is reinforced by Sir Ken Robinson who says ‘creativity is as important asliteracy and numeracy.  ‘Students need’, as Piaget said decades ago, 'to know what to do when they do not know what to do.’
Teaching how to learn, how to research, how to express ideas needs to be the central role of teaching along with challenging students ideas they may have gained. As Jerome Bruner wrote decades ago, ‘teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation’. Students, as suggested in the NZC, need to become ‘seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge’. Schools need to be seen as communities of scientists and artists equipped to make sense of the challenges that they will face.
The choices for a future education are not as simplistic as the market forces solutions our current government would suggest, or simply defending the status quo.
The time for simple solutions is over.  The quest for an equitable and empowering education for all students needs to become a critical issue for us all –we can’t thrive as a nation if large segments of the population are being denied a real opportunity to succeed. Everyone has the right to learn .
This is not the path we are on.