Archive for Achievement

Talk-ED: The Aspirations of a Three-year Old

 

Chatting to a friend over the weekend she was telling us about her grandson.  I will call him Taylor for that is his name; he is three years old, lively and normal.  In response to a question about what he was going to do in the future he told his Nana that when he was five he would go to school and after that he would go to university.  “Why will you do that?” his Nana asked. Quick as a shot the answer cane back – “To get a job!”

And that is the middle class advantage, growing up with a possibility that develops into an expectation and becomes an aspiration.  I would be certain that Taylor doesn’t really understand at this point just what it means.  He will know about school because they walk past the local school often enough.  He will know about jobs because Mum and Dad both have them.  But already the connections between schooling, postsecondary education and training and jobs are starting to grow in his mind.

Middle class children get all this with their cornflakes. It’s part of the chatter that goes on in those homes and it becomes a powerful factor in sustaining young people such as Taylor through the 16 or so years that come between his simple plan and the future.

So starting the talk about jobs as an outcome of education is very important.  But it often is hidden behind a number of myths.

Myth 1.                                                                                                                                         

Most of the young people we are teaching will end up in jobs that have not yet been invented.

This is patently untrue.  Most young people in education now will go into jobs that exist now and many will work in jobs that have been around for a long time.  Those who do go into the cutting edge of employment, into the jobs that are really new are not these novice workers starting out but the experienced, highly skilled and workers.  The jobs the children in classrooms now will need to be skilled and prepared for are the jobs that are out there now.

Myth 2.

We have to prepare young people for a future in which they will have seven careers.

“Career” is a very funny word. Can you set out to have a “career” or does one simply emerge from the set of activities and experiences that are accumulated over time? Is a “career” something you look back on, a useful term that means all the bits and pieces I have done?  Is there a difference between changing your job quite a bit and a career that is usually applied to substantial experience in the same vocational area?  And that’s the point – we have changes in our jobs bit not necessarily a change of jobs.  I have had one job all my working life but I have had six positions.  I am an educator – I guess that is my career – but I have added skills as different positions have demanded them.

Preparing young people to get into the workforce – to make a start in a career by getting a job – is a key outcome for schooling and tertiary education and training.

Myth 3.

There aren’t any jobs out there.

Try telling that to employers desperate for skilled workers.  There are jobs for those adequately prepared.  The sad truth about youth unemployment is not that young people are unemployed, although that in itself is not to be desired, but that so many young people are unemployable.  You hear quite a lot of talk about university graduates who are clearly under-employed,  that is to say that they are working in jobs that require skills and knowledge at a much lower level than their qualification demands.  That is not a good thing at all.  But with young people who are perhaps early school leavers, the skills of employment are a balance of practical skills as well as what is called the “soft skills” demanded by employers.

These so-called soft skills are attributes such as a strong work ethic, a positive attitude good communication skills, time management abilities, problem-solving skills, acting as a team player, self-confidence, ability to accept and learn from criticism, flexibility/adaptability, and working well under pressure.  How would our students score if those were the heading on their report card?  And could we point with confidence to our programmes and show that each of these is explicit in them?

Add to this that employment also requires knowing other things as well – language, mathematics, science of one kind or another and so on.

Yes, Taylor has got quite a lot to do before he gets that job!

 

Announcing the Bridging the Divides Conference

For more information, please contact the Manukau Insitute of Technology Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways, Colleen Young:

E:  [email protected]  or P:  09 968 7631.

 

Pathways-ED: The Select Committee Bouquet

 

St Valentine’s Day – a day of romance, love, the joy of hope, the euphoria of positivity.

Just like yesterday when the Education and Science Select Committee started hearings on the Education Amendment Bill which among other things give the warrant for Charter Schools (now known as Partnership Schools Kura Houora).  As could be predicted the submissions did not require even the hearings for their content to be known.

Except for the Ombudsman who drew attention to what surely was a mistake in the drafting of the Bill – of course any sort of school should be subject to ombudsman scrutiny. Then I wondered – are independent schools subject to ombudsman inquiry? Must find out! Integrated schools? Surely!

The ombudsman’s reported comments simply said that in the education cases she dealt with, it seemed mostly to be about stand-downs and expulsions that schools had “cocked up”  and “cocked up big time”. This, I hope, was an exaggeration which flowed from the moment rather than a calm assessment of the workload.

But calm assessment seemed from the reports to have been something a little light on the ground at this first day of hearings.

I am amazed that education which ought to be identified with reason, with evidence and with scholarly discourse, prefers to present itself as something else.

No survey study of charter schools anywhere has found that they are without exception, a “bad thing”. Generally the evidence is that there are good charter schools, middling charter schools and poor charter schools. It is clear that there are good state schools, middling state schools and poor state schools – we aspire of course to have good state schools. An interesting piece of the charter school evidence is that the proportions of good to middling to poor reflects closely the proportions of good to middling to poor schools in the respective state system.

Would anyone set out to create a middling or a poor Partnership School Kura Houora? Of course not. Therefore blind opposition can only be ideological rather educational in origin.

It surprised me that there was so little reported commentary on the general issue of school success and failure or of disengagement and truancy as key education issues that any new development must address. If a new development does not engage in activity that will deliver higher levels of success and lower levels of disengagement it would be probably not worth doing. This might have formed part of the submissions. If it was, then it has failed to make an impact on the media.

In our peculiarly Anglo-Saxon education system (and in our peer systems of Australia, the UK, the US and parts of Canada) the key issues in education are the levels of success and  failure in the education system, levels of disengagement from it and professional support for teachers working in it.

It is therefore good to see that the Education Amendment Bill ties educational achievement to the responsibilities of the Board of Trustees. The key role of governance bodies such as Boards of schools is to provide returns to the shareholders and increase the value of the operation. In schools this is less about money but very significantly about the success that is brought into the homes of tax payers who support the schools through their investments of time and work.

Issues of health, housing, youth justice, for instance, have their solution in education. Not that schools should attempt to directly address health issues directly other than by playing a proper educative role and perhaps working closely with health providers, nor should they attempt to address hunger which is a role of central government – Finland feeds everyone in schools, the US and UK means test eligibility for lunch while we  struggle to put on a little breakfast in the odd place.

Getting the focus clearly and back on achievement is perhaps the matter in this Education Amendment Bill that has the potential to make the biggest difference.

As for Charter Schools – New Zealand, building on its long experience with charters for all schools, might be able to show others that with focus they can become another way of working. Of course working differently has never been very popular in New Zealand – that is a problem which often hides a solution.

We need lots of educational red roses!

.

Pathways-ED: The Tangled Web we Weave!

 

There is less than meets the eye with the series the NZ Herald has published this week on NCEA Schools under a claim that it tells us how well our schools are performing.

The results cannot be taken at face value for a number of reasons.

First, the figures presented are simply percentages of those who participated in NCEA at the level deemed appropriate for that year. They do not include those who drop out of school, those who are not entered by the schools, those who do not finish the year and so on.

The only true measure of success for education organisations is the percentage of the cohort who succeed. So the figures that we need for school success in 2011 are the percentages of the respective cohorts (2007, 2008, 2009) who succeeded. But even these figures are distorted by those who do accumulate enough credit to claim success at a level over two or three years. And further distorted by the transience that is a feature of schools. The cohort Year 13 will have quite a proportion of students who were not in the 2007 cohort.

So a national measure might be the way to get a true picture of our schools performance as a system. These are the figures:

These are the 2010 figures that are the actual performance of the cohort (i.e. for the group that started secondary school in 2006) in NCEA.

At the end of Year 13 NZ students with NCEA Level 2:

  •        NZ European                             68%             
  •        Asian                                          74% 
  •        Maori                                          43%
  •        Pacific                                        58%

 At the end of Year 13 NZ students with NCEA Level 3: 

  •        NZ European                             42%             
  •        Asian                                          54% 
  •        Maori                                          17%
  •        Pacific                                        24%

And these statistics raise the second issue. The success and/ failure in NCEA is no reflection of equity in our community. Our schools are not bringing students through to meet levels where they have a basis for going forward with education and training. The Herald tables don’t tell us this.

Nor do the league tables tell us about the gaps that exist. For instance, in one area of Auckland the school figures look pretty good with a wide range of results mostly above 65% and liberally sprinkled with 70+ and even 80+ percentages. Well done, I say. But as was always the case with the old School Certificate system, success masked failure.

But a measure of the same area shows that at age 15 there are, in round figures, 1,500 learners in the area. At Age 17 this group is reduced to around 700 and at Age 19 there are only 400 left. This level of disengagement from education and training will always be hidden in the league tables as they have been presented.

The third fallacy that the tables perpetrate is the view that NCEA in itself represents an achievement. NCEA is simply on the way to something else and it is that something else, the post-secondary qualification, that becomes the basis of success in employment and in most respects, life and how are we going in this.

I did a little exercise in 2010 that took 100 babies born in 2010 and applied all the success profiles that we have for the different ethnic groups in the baby cohort and asked “How many will have a post-secondary qualification in 2033 – a generous timeframe. I concluded that 29% was the answer. Now this was not an elegant statistical exercise but some who knew much better concluded that the result “looked about right”.

And so to the fourth fallacy. There are quite a few students, just how many is not fully understood but it could be quite a large group, who get the equivalent of NCEA Level 2 through other pathways – foundation and bridging programmes in tertiary education, courses and qualifications from private providers and so on. Getting a more accurate picture of performance is going to be critical.

Because the Better Public Service Goal of the Government is a brave target – 85% of all 18 year olds having NCEA Level 2 (or its equivalent) by 2017. And this is a target to be interpreted in a way that does not allow for the poor performance of some groups of learners to be obscured by the excellent performance of others.

But the NZ Herald and I imagine quite a few in the community and I also imagine some schools will have either been tickled pink or turned green with envy at the whole rather meaningless exercise.

Alexander Pope had the measure of all this:

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave 
 When first we practice to deceive!”

 

 

Pathways-ED: Is "most" good enough?

 

Auckland as a city has an ambition to be the world’s most liveable city, it’s something of an organising principle for aligning the efforts, goals and direction of this newly created entity.

One of the outward signs of this is the publication of a “Scorecard” that rates progress on a number of measures. In education the measure is the number of students in schools that attain NCEA Level 1 Literacy and Numeracy.

There are a number of issues with this.

First, it takes no account of those who are not in the NCEA net. We know that 21% of 16 year olds have already left school and are most likely not to have even attempted NCEA. The failure to take account of cohort measures continues to mislead us in our assessment of progress. That is why I presume the Government settled on “all 18 year olds” as the group that would be measured for the Better Public Service Goals.

Secondly, the performance is very unevenly reflected in the various ways that results can be diced. Along ethnic lines there are still worrying differences between Pakeha students and those who are from Maori and Pacific Island communities. Auckland carries a responsibility for a very significant number of young Maori and Pacific students, a greater proportion than other cities and global measures do not reflect progress when it occurs when they are reported as one measure. That is why I presume the Government settled on the principle with its Better Public Service Goal –  85% of all 18 years old having NCEA Level 2 (or its equivalent) – and stating clearly that the target would apply to each and every group, Maori, Pacific, Special Needs, Migrant, Pakeha, Rural, City and so on.

Thirdly, the Scorecard is not bound by target or time; it simply reflects what is called progress. But progress to where and in what timeframe? How will we know when the education system is performing well and contributing what is expected of it to the world’s most liveable city goal? Knowing simply that we are “getting better” by small increments” has a feel good factor but in reality might be lagging behind the pace of improvement needed. That is why I presume the Government settled on establishing 2017 as the point at which the Better Public Service Goal should be met.

Now the explanation given in the Scorecard is that NCEA Level 1 Literacy and Numeracy is “the equivalent of School Certificate”. Well, it is certainly not. Whether you use the old SC (200/400 in your best four subjects including English) or the later version (single subject passes), NCEA Level 1 Literacy or Numeracy nowhere near equates to neither. No one is going to burst onto the world of work or into a career with that as their qualification.

The irony of all this is that the Auckland Council somewhat led the way in settling on NCEA Level 2 as a sensible goal. That is because it reflects what can be considered as a satisfactory measure of a level of success at school. But even NCEA Level 2 is meaningful only to the extent that it is used as a foundation on which a post-secondary school qualification is gained. Auckland Council “joined the dots” in its Auckland Plan and in its Economic Development Policy ahead of the Government settling on its Better Public Service Goals. And both were right to do so.

I have long promoted the notion of “joining the dots” – access to early childhood education, NCEA Level 2 and a postsecondary qualification. All here are essential markers on the pathway to a secure future. Hon Nick Smith, then Minister of Local Government, in the last days of his tenure of this position, criticised the Auckland Plan for having such goals. Soon after we were to see the Government similarly “join the dots” in the Better Public Service Goals.

A seamless progression along the pathways of education at the pace that sees all students hitting the NCEA Level 2 (or its equivalent) marker by about the age of 18 years will lead to an educated and knowledgeable city. And a city that is educated and knowledgeable is likely to become a very liveable city because it will have opportunities for employment, quality democratic processes, vibrant art and culture features with participation, leisure and sport opportunities. Above all it will have a performing economy with growth that will sustain now over a third of the population of New Zealand.

Where you place the target tends to be about where the arrow goes. Let’s stick to worthy targets.