Archive for Pathways

Pathways-ED: Bridging the Divides with Pathways

 

 

Over the past two days 260 educators have been meeting in Auckland at the third National Conference on Pathways and Transitions – Bridging the Divides : Secondary-Tertiary-Employment Transitions for Learner Success.

The conference was organised by the Manukau Institute of Technology Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways in association with Ako Aotearoa, the University of Auckland, the Ministry of Education, Cognition Education and Cyclone Computers. This “family of six” reflects the importance given to the topic and the extent to which it has moved more and more towards centre stage in the awareness of those who care about improving students outcomes.

There are two key concepts – the notion of “transitions” and that of “pathways”. We know that the transitions between and within the different parts of the education system are choke points in the journey students face as they pursue an education. The shift from ECE to primary, primary to intermediate and subsequently for all, into secondary, then on into some postsecondary education which finally move into employment is a reflection of a system that is built for the adults that survived rather than the learner/student.

Dr Joel Vargas from the Jobs for the Future Foundation in Boston U.S. showed that the loss of students at transition points was an issue that went well beyond our shores. We know that we “lose” over 4,000 students between primary and secondary, that 20% of students drop out, that half of those starting a postsecondary qualification do not complete. Much of this waste of talent and potential is the result of the issues surrounding transitions. And there is that transition form the stages of education into employment.

Associate Professor Leesa Wheelahan (University of Melbourne) reminded the conference of the weak link between education and employment, a point reinforced by business leaders who addressed the conference.

Transitions need to have “pathways” if they are to lead to the levels of seamlessness that will address the issues of the dysfunctional transitions which might more correctly be thought of as fractures.

Pathways are seamless, start somewhere and arrive somewhere else. In themselves they are an organising principle that calls for connection and quirks each of those who work on each side of the crevasse to work together. It is interesting that some of the systems we admire have solved this issue through looking to sector reform to shape a system based around the needs of young people rather than around the sensitivities of adults.

260 educators working to address these issues simply have to make a difference. There is developing a community of practice that is seeking to construct new pathways and transitions with a more seamless approach to create increased likelihood of more positive educational outcomes for more students.

This was a clear message of the Minister of Education Hon Hekia Parata who in addressing the conference emphasised the Better Public Service goals as clear markers for outcomes which the system must work towards.

This will require us to work differently but this will not always require us to embrace startling and new or radical ideas. As has been a theme of recent EDTalkNZ pieces, some of the ideas have moved across the education stage before. The notion of a “jagged edge”, even “seamlessness” and the reforms of Post Compulsory Education and Training in the 1980s had canvased many of the changes now being seriously considered – a point made elegantly by Professor Gary Hawke who led the reforms back then. Professor Hawke made an interesting point in his reminder that we need to focus on post compulsory rather than postsecondary.

So it was an exciting gathering where ideas surfaced and were considered, where for two days there was a coming together of people working towards shared goals. The things that divide us in education were parked at the door and students were considered. Many were impressed by the eloquence and directed energy of the students, especially one who had gone through the MIT Tertiary High School.  He had made the transition from risk to reward, from being given no hope in school to seeing a pathway that would take him into a job he loves and which opens up a big wide world.

It is early days but directions are emerging that hold the promise of an education system that will deliver pathways to students that see them college (postsecondary) ready and career ready. If we can achieve this we will perhaps avoid the demographic time bomb that ticks away and was so clearly described by Sir Mark Solomon.

 

It could be that in time is not on our side in these issues.

 

Pathways-ED: Charter Schools – "A View from the States"

written by Ben Riley, Director of Policy and Advocacy, New Schools Venture Fund

I’m tremendously excited that Stuart asked me to offer my “View from the States” on New Zealand education policy. For reasons I’ll explain in a future post, I am keenly interested in New Zealand’s education system and I’m eager to learn more through this partnership. Let’s dive right in, shall we?

Recently, Stuart blogged about pending legislation to create charter schools (or as you are calling them, “Partnership Schools Kura Houora”). Given that the organization I work for, NewSchools Venture  Fund, has funded charter schools for more than a decade, I thought it might be helpful to share my perspective on US charter policy in the hopes of informing New Zealand’s nascent interest. I’ll begin with three general comments and then offer a few specific observations on your pending legislation.

First, pay careful attention to authorizing and oversight of charter schools. The basic theory behind charter schools is that you offer greater flexibility in return for higher accountability. That accountability, however, turns out to be trickier to establish than many expected when charter laws were first introduced. It turns out that parents are not always “well informed consumers” when it comes to selecting schools for their children; as a result, we see low-performing charter schools continue to operate in the US longer than a pure, market-driven choice model would suggest. Similarly, we’ve also learned that it’s just as difficult to close low-performing charter schools as it is to close their non-charter counterparts. Schools serve as cornerstones within our communities, thus to close one – charter or otherwise — almost inevitably results in controversy and political strife. The key is to ensure the charter authorizers are independent and empowered to make tough decisions — the National Association of Charter School Authorizers offers good guidance on this subject.

Second, make sure charter schools have equitable access to the resources they need – school facilities in particular. In the US, charter schools are supposed to have equal access to public resources as those provided to traditional schools. While that aspiration remains unevenly realized throughout the states with respect to funding, an equal if not bigger challenge is ensuring that charter operators have access to public facilities. Obviously, it’s very hard to provide quality instruction if you’re struggling to find physical space to teach children.  

Third, create clear paths for innovation and success within charter schools to translate into change within the entire education system. Perhaps my biggest disappointment with the “charter movement” is that new innovations and successful school models within the charter sector have, with rare exception, remain isolated from the traditional school system. Despite a growing body of evidence demonstrating that good charter schools can provide a high-quality education to our most challenged students, the practices common to these schools are considered “unique to charters” and thus irrelevant. And this prejudice flows in both directions, by the way: There are many interesting innovations happening in the traditional sector that charter operators never discover.

To address this, the Gates Foundation is investing US$25 million in seven “City Compacts” to promote local collaboration between charter schools and traditional schools, in the hopes that this will lead to the spread of good instructional practice. This model is one New Zealand should consider from the outset to ensure the charter sector remains connected to the larger education system.

With those general observations as background, I have read through New Zealand’s Cabinet Paper and Regulatory Impact Statement on developing a charter school model. On the whole, the vision accords with what we’ve learned in the US and strikes the right balance between autonomy and accountability. Moreover, as I am only beginning to understand how your system works, I hesitate to offer any suggestions without knowing the local context. That said, I flag two items for further consideration.

To begin, I would caution against permitting for-profit operators (or “sponsors”) to run charter schools. The reality is that any for-profit business must be run as exactly that, a business, with a fiduciary obligation to maximize profits. One problem with that, however, is that if a charter school runs out of resources in the middle of the school year, it’s supposed to shut down – with the brunt of real harm falling upon displaced students and irate parents. Just as importantly, allowing for-profit operators to operate charter schools inflames the suspicion of some that the charter movement is a cover for “big business” looking to profit and privatize public education. Perhaps this tension is not as vibrant in New Zealand as it is here but at least in the US, many people still don’t understand what charter schools really are or what purposes they serve.

Similarly, the proposed legislation allows faith-based organizations to serve as school sponsors/operators. In the US, mixing public funds with private religious instruction results in spectacular political fireworks. We are about to revive this highly contentious debate over what we call “vouchers,” which provide direct payments to parents that they can use to send their children to schools of their choice, including private religious schools. New Zealand policymakers might ask themselves – are they prepared to provide public funding to a school devoted to, say, promoting Creationist theories on the origin of humankind? In my opinion, the whole thing is a massive distraction that takes away focus on instructional quality. Better to scrap this and spend the bulk of political capital on developing clear guidelines on what’s expected of charter operators, and holding firm on accountability to ensure quality.

In closing, I am excited to see New Zealand pursue charter schooling and direct resources to provide high-quality school options to parents and students living in challenged communities. By addressing some of these issues at the outset, I believe New Zealand will be better positioned to achieve the student outcomes you desire.

Talk-ED: Clear the decks, here come another group

 

“Coming Ready or Not!” was the cry whenever we were playing hide and seek or “tiggy” as it was known back then.

And it has become something of a familiar cry at the start of each year as cohorts of about 35,000 all move up one class. Back then when tiggy was popular, the final line on a final school report for the year was Class for next year ____.   It was at that point that it was known to child and parents whether the student would proceed onward and upward or whether it was thought to be in their interests that they remain in the level they were in.

Nowadays its blow the whistle and everybody goes up. “Sooo long, it’s been gooood to know ya’”

This is because we have little idea of what constitutes readiness for the big transitions (home to ECE, ECE to primary, primary to secondary) let alone the transitions that take place within institutions at year’s end.

The old system of standards (Standard 1, Standard 2…….) has been replaced by the rather meaningless Year 1, Year 2, ….and so on. In fact ask many students what class they are in and they reply “Room 7!”

In 1989 President Bush in the fervent excitement that no child would be left behind declared that “by the year 2000, all children in America will start school ready to learn.” The only problem was that there was no shared understanding of what that meant. But parents perhaps intuitively do have a sense of readiness for you often hear a parent say that their child is “ready for school”. I wonder sometimes if they mean that they are ready for him/her to go to school!

What has to be understood is that transitions are a process and not an event and that the three parties to the process – the group from which the young person is farewelled, the group into which the young person is being received and the student/ caregivers from home – each have a vital role to play in this process.

The Receivers need to help the other two groups understand what they mean by “being ready” while the Farewellers need to reflect on what that means for them in the provision of a programme that will achieve a substantial number of the skills, aspects of knowledge and dispositions that have been identified.

This is no easy task, that is probably why it hasn’t been done. But it is arguably the most important way of helping everyone give meaning to their respective roles in the process called a transition.

Excellent work is coming out of the United States in the area of College and Career readiness. David Conley has developed a useful overview of the process and what we learn from that work is that readiness is not a single dimensional factor but rather a collection of features that develop and mature at different rates. Some of these characteristics spike early while others take more time – and the good news is that it varies from student to student.

National Standards perhaps had the potential to be helpful in leading people to an understanding of at least curriculum levels that are appropriate but all that got lost in the noise. But a readiness statement will encompass more than just academic preparation standards, although they are important.

And agreeing on them is no easy task. When they set out to do this in the US for the start of schooling there were some clear differences between parents and teachers.

Parents thought that the following were important while teachers did not give them much importance:

 

  •          can count from 1 to 10;
  •          knows the letters of the alphabet;
  •          able to use pencil, paint and brushes;
  •          sits still and pays attention;
  •          takes turns and shares.

 

On the other hand teacher ascribed importance to the following which parents did not mention at all:

 

  •          is sensitive to other children’s feelings;
  •          is not disruptive of the class;
  •          can follow directions.

 

The points about which teachers and parents ran the risk of almost agreeing were:

 

  •          enthusiastic and curious in approaching new activities;
  •          communicates needs, wants and thoughts verbally (in the child’s primarty language);
  •          physically healthy, rested and well-nourished.

 

It is not at all clear just what readiness statements could helpfully look like. But unless we start working on them we shall never know!

 

Talk-ED: Continuing to believe in Santa Claus in your late teens

 

It’s bad enough driving to work on a wet morning on a wet Monday on a wet motorway without having to flick on the radio and listen to an educational leader complaining about  how wrong it is of Ministry of Education CEO, Lesley Longstone, to draw attention to the fact that the New Zealand education system has flaws which challenge its claim to be a world class system.

In the Foreword to the MOE Annual Report, Lesley Longstone paints a picture that is thoughtful and based on analysis of the facts. Unpalatable that might be to some, but until the problem is articulated the solution is unlikely to follow. The willingness of the MOE CEO to put it clearly is to be applauded.

Essentially, her argument is this. New Zealand achieves high results with a significant proportion of its student population and these students are predominantly Pakeha and Asian. In this respect the system is world class. This generalisation masks the fact that there are in our system Pakeha and Asian students who are not getting good results. That’s how generalisations work.

Now the other generalisation is that with Maori and Pasifika students, our system is not getting good outcomes and in this respect our education system is not world class. It is clear in the Foreword that her time in the New Zealand system has led her to believe that the issues that this raises are of such a proportion that we can simply lay no claim to being a world class system overall.

I have pointed out that our system is bipolar for a long time and was once rapped across the knuckles for doing so. But the facts have been there for a long time and PISA among other surveys continues on further analysis to show just that.

In a different analysis delivered to a West Auckland gathering convened recently she is reported By COMET Auckland to have described it in these terms:

“Lesley Longstone’s boldest remarks were about the overall quality of our education system. Before she arrived in New Zealand, she understood our education system to be excellent, with a tail of underachievers. After looking at the data, has revised her view and believes our system is fair with pockets of excellence.  When we disaggregate the data, international results for Pakeha are among the very best in the world. But for Maori and Pasifika we are on par with the worst in the OECD.  Our education system is at bottom in the OECD in its ability to mitigate against poverty and poor education outcomes.  It matters for all of us because it has both social and economic implications.  Data from the USA says the impact of the tail of underachievement in our education system is equivalent to a permanent recession.”

There is a consistency in this and I am quite clear in my mind that she is right. How can a world class education system continue to produce the following outcomes:

  •          21% of students leave the system prior to their 16th birthday;
  •          Truancy runs at high levels (10%, 30,000 a day – there are a lot of figures tossed around for this);
  •          50% of people who start a tertiary qualification fail to complete it;
  •          Educational outcomes for Maori and Pasifika students (groups that are rapidly increasing proportionately in our school system) are clearly and dramatically behind those for Pakeha (a diminishing group) and Asian (a growing group).

The fellow complaining about Longstone’s analysis of course adopted the Finnish Default argument saying that a recent visitor from Finland had noted a number of features in our system that he was impressed with and wanted to consider their place in the Finnish way of working. This is absolutely how it should be. But one, two or even a dozen swallows do not a summer make. I have studied the Finnish system closely and it is unlike ours in a large number of very fundamental ways. We could do well to take note.

Finland has the smallest gap between schools of any system – perhaps it is us that should be asking them how to it is so. None of the other higher ranking systems other than the Anglophone ones have the rather negative outcomes listed above. A world class education system delivers sound educational outcomes for all its citizens.

Intellectual honesty and a willingness to face the reality of the situation is the only sane way in which we might get improvement in our education. To continue to do the same thing and expect different results is simply a clinical diagnosis of madness.

 

Talk-ED: Change in Auckland without the shake

 

There was a good response from the piece last week about the population changes facing New Zealand as the growth focuses on the Auckland Region. The fact that 38% of New Zealand’s population would be contained in the Auckland region quite clearly has implications for all other regions. I suggested that the changes proposed for Christchurch should be the start of a national discussion on the forms of education and training that are appropriate for the future.

One correspondent thoughtfully asked “And what are the implications for Auckland? Do you think that no changes are called for?” And so, on to Chapter 2…

Quite clearly Auckland will change quite dramatically and the large amount of green field development will see large areas requiring new schools, better transport and increased education provision right through the system. So here are some suggestions.

New early childhood education centres and schools will be required as new communities are developed particularly in the north and the south of the region. It is wishful thinking to believe that this can happen without changes to existing provision. Some schools will close; others will need to get larger; some will merge; and so on. It will be Christchurch come to Auckland albeit a much gentler shake-up.

As increased interest in the schooling sector starts to promote the notions of different ways of working, of a multiple pathways approach to senior secondary schooling, of increased growth of secondary / tertiary interface programmes and other new ways of working, the face of the secondary school system will inevitably alter. Auckland has recently seen the building of Junior and Senior High Schools without any overall view as to the role of such institutions and the impact of this development on the wider system.

So how will Auckland change in its education provision?

For a start, it is expensive to provide great increases in university places. I suggest that the Epsom and Tamaki campuses of the University of Auckland be converted into “community colleges” taking students from Year 13 and combining it with the first one or two years of an undergraduate degree. This would create space in secondary schools and at the university where the impact of such a move on undergraduate / postgraduate ratios would be advantageous. Equitable provision would probably demand that such a community college be established in the north of the city as well.

Polytechnic provision. Given the fact that Auckland already has less polytechnic provision than the population demands and the fact that participation in polytechnic education and training is at half the level of the national rates, this sector is one in which large growth can be expected. This should be planned growth rather than reactive provision which always runs after demand and never quite gets there. There is probably a good case for another large polytechnic to be created in Auckland or it could be a major new campus within a federal relationship with either or both of the two existing polytechnics.

A clear emphasis on growth of provision in Auckland must be on trades and technical areas (Disclosure: I work in a polytechnic) but this is essential for the skills levels of in both Auckland and the rest of New Zealand. The skill base needed to maintain industries and infrastructure and to cope with extraordinary demands such as is currently evident in the Christchurch Rebuild, the Leaky Building Response and the sheer size of the demand for new housing in Auckland. A significant portion of these new skills will have to come from Auckland. Therefore, look to see an increase in programmes such as those currently under the banner of the Youth Guarantee policy, look to see an increase in early access to vocational education and training, look to see young people get traction from Vocational Pathways and so on.

In short, we are facing a major repositioning of education especially in the senior secondary school and that will inevitably be the basis on which new secondary schools and other kinds of education and training provision that will be developed in response to the new demands.

You can be sure that Auckland will face changes that are dramatically more significant than those elsewhere which will be typified by a need to cope with declining demand across the education system.

Sensible management of the education system will seek to maintain universities at a viable and productive size throughout New Zealand so that will be one area where Auckland students might just have to travel to access university education if they fail to secure a place in an Auckland institution. And that is not such a bad thing.

We are talking about these major changes being required within 30 years. The discussion must start now.

 

 

Talk-ED: The inevitable drift north for the education system

 

The recent demographic growth figures for New Zealand have some clear messages for education.

The key figure is that by 2031 it is forecast that 38% of all New Zealanders will be living in Auckland.  This is an extraordinary proportion that Dublin eclipses at 39% but which takes Auckland ahead of cities such as London (21%), Tokyo (25%) and Copenhagen (24%).  Or put another way, 61% of the total growth of our population will occur in Auckland.

Additional factors are that there will inevitably be population decline in many other areas of New Zealand and that the significant concentration of higher population growth groups in Auckland will see a proportion of young school age citizens even higher than the 61% general forecast – perhaps as many as 75%.

Twenty years is not a long time period in which to prepare for these shifts.

In short, the sort of shuffle that is happening in Christchurch is only the beginning of a significant shift of resources to the Auckland region. It is simply a fact that many schools outside of Auckland will close, it is inevitable that many schools will be merged (a softer form of closure).

Just north of Auckland there is a little settlement called Waiwera. First there was one school on the hill which was replaced by a new school down on the flat. Finally, that school was closed and the young ones transported to Orewa. This reflected the shifts in school population and is a bit of one example of what has already happened in many rural and isolated communities throughout New Zealand.

I am told that perhaps twenty schools are likely to close in the Central area of the country simply because they will run out of children. It is a matter of simple maths that if two thirds of New Zealand’s new babies are born at Middlemore Hospital in South Auckland each year then five years later two thirds of New Zealand’s new Entrants are likely to be in the Southern Auckland area.

Rather than go into denial. The education system would be better to start planning for these dramatic changes and participate in them rather than sit back hoping it will all go away. This can only end up with tears as the necessary changes are  brought about.

So what will it all mean? Schools will have to close and others merge. But this should be on the basis of known formulae rather than have the appearance of random and perhaps responses to pressure from communities that can bring pressure to bear or simply make more noise. The formula could be agreements about optimal size of schools and optimal distances for children to travel, all having regard for “community” however that might be defined.

Each of these factors has changed over time: roads are better, no-one travels to school by horse, many parents transport the children to school, few use bicycles. It is likely that schools do not need to be located where they are currently. It makes no sense to spend capital on schools without these assessments.

“Community” is a very emotional factor. But that has changed as well. Many students choose to transport their children out of the community in which they live to access schooling is another community. Many schools actively seek students from communities other than their own for a wide variety of reasons. “Community” cannot be assumed to a simple matter of plonking a school in the midst of a suburb or a town.

There are also implications for governance and it is probably inevitable that we return to some key principles of Tomorrow’s Schools that were never implemented and ask if they now have a key role to play. I am thinking of the Parent Advocacy Councils, The Community Education Forums and the Education Service Centres. Each of these would have contributed to a greater sense of community and to a much higher level of community involvement in education than the truncated model based only on the Boards of Trustees has been able to achieve.

Finally, the greatest proportion of teachers will be needed in Auckland and this will happen within the next twenty years which is half of a teaching career. The impact will be wide and the cuts will be deep.

Those who cope with change best are those who embrace the future and take an active part in the changes. How we feel about such changes is a matter of choice.

 

Pathways-ED: Accentuate the positive!

 

There is something a little misleading when arguments are conducted mostly in the negative. A recent educationalist from Finland visited the country and most of the media coverage appeared to be a list of things not to do. It was a catalogue of things that were familiar to us.

Don’t have a national testing regime, don’t consider differential pay for performance and so on. They constituted a list that fitted neatly into the predilection of those who argue for no change.

What would have been instructive would have been the challenges that the Finnish experience poses to the New Zealand current way of working. Here is a little list of things that Finland has done and which the same educationalist is enthusiastic about:

  1.     provide free lunches to every child in school;
  2.     unify the Year 1-10 into one sector with shades of difference rather than wholesale difference between the first 7 years and the last three years;
  3.     introduce a clearly differentiated set of pathways at the Year 10-13 level that includes access to technical and vocational pathways;
  4.     treat young adults like adults rather than the young – the upper secondary school allow for student choice, are not based on age related cohorts, students choose courses rather than subjects and so on;
  5.     make a Masters level degree the basic teaching qualification at all levels;
  6.     require regular upgrading of qualifications of teachers;
  7.     make teaching a high-appeal career – 10% of applicants are selected (compared to 42% in New Zealand) and teachers are held in higher esteem that doctors by the public;
  8.     cluster schools and allow a lot of local independence in each school;
  9.     all tuition right up to university qualification is free;
  10.    there is only one teachers organisation that covers the total spectrum from pre-school through to higher education.

All of this requires a vision and a level of professionalism that we have yet to achieve. Especially in the matter of social justice and equity. The Finns believe that learning about and within a mixed social environment is a key contributor to one of the major outcomes of education – a society that is just, fair and balanced in its respect between people and the way it treats special need and disadvantage. Schools therefore are planned to be mixed to something of the same degree.

The result of this appears to have been a key to producing the smallest difference between schools in the OECD without detracting from and perhaps actually being a key contributor to Finland’s high PISA ranking. Meanwhile we continue to wear decile ratings as either a mark of honour or a badge of shame greatly to the detriment of one end of the range and consequently we have one of the biggest gaps between schools. In dropping decile ranking in its reports, is ERO giving a message to us all?

To return to the nature of what we call the senior secondary school years – Years 11-13. In Finland the Years 11 -13 are based on courses that last about six weeks. Students choose the courses they want on the basis of their pathway plan (each student has a personal careers advice / information /guidance / education allowance). Systems of co-requisites and prerequisites give longitudinal coherence to study without compromising the choice element.

In this tertiary style approach, Finnish students are required to complete 70 courses in the three years. Most students study more than the minimum and many achieve around 90 courses successfully completed. Meanwhile we struggle to get many students up to the minimum.

While the teacher education results in the Masters level qualification required for teaching at all levels and while those courses have quite a degree of shared content, there is a slightly different emphasis in what appears to be three slices – the pre-school / early years, the middle years of the “community school” and the upper levels of that school. But the shared level of course content that all have allows for flexibility.

Finally,there is the question of hunger – does New Zealand have the hunger to do the things that need to be addressed to lift our world rating and to move our education system into the ranks of systems with equitable results? Finland clearly did but we need to take a good hard look at ourselves.

The public discourse is all about what NOT to do with very little focus on changes that need to be made. In this respect the discourse is timid and negative. Let’s get rid of the fear of ideas and have much more talk about what we might do. It has become a cliche that to continue to do the same things but expect different results is a clinical sign of madness. The evidence suggests that change is needed, big change, and fast.

When visitors come to New Zealand we should exhaust every last idea they have which might inform or excite us rather than simply seek support for digging our collective toes in.