In Education in New Zealand over the last couple of months, we have heard the threats of performance pay, and bumping up class sizes, and developing better teachers. This has been well documented in the press, with recent articles on Stuff outlining the intentions of the current Government.
www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/6930082/Bigger-class-sizes-announced – 16 May, 2012
www.stuff.co.nz/6936035/Bad-report-card-for-bigger-classes – 17 May, 2012
Please take your time to read both posts, and then my thoughts regarding the future of New Zealand’s education. There are also further links to similar articles at the bottom of this post.
If you think that this doesn’t affect you, you may be right. But this will be affecting your child, your son, daughter, or your niece, nephew, or your friends children. You will know someone, some child that this will affect, and it would pay to be thinking of them when you consider these points.
From these articles, there are three major changes that the Government is pushing. They are wanting Better Teachers, so there are going to be changes to educating teachers to be better. They are introducing larger class sizes, so that there are less teachers to pay. And finally they are wanting to introduce performance pay for teachers, as a “reward” for good teachers.
Part of the intentions of the National led government, (who don’t even make up the majority of this country’s support!) to try and sell these policies, is to say that they want to make better teachers. No one is going to be able argue that having better teachers is not a good thing. Aside from that, it is incredibly insulting to the profession so suggest that teachers at the moment aren’t “better”.
And how do we define “better teachers”?
How do we assess whether one teacher is better than another?
Well, the government would say “By results against the National Standards”, which we know is a load of crock, because National Standards are a set of unfounded and unjustified guidelines for failure not achievement. Add to that the fact that National Standards are based on an “Overall Teacher Judgement” , which surely enters into a conflict of interests, where results are used to determine if you are a better teacher than someone else.
Enter National testing. This will be the next line of changes to the system, as Teachers will not be trusted to make the decision as to where the students are at, so we will have a National Standardised test that every kid in New Zealand will sit.
The other thing the government would say regarding how you assess whether a teacher is better than another is this coin word called “Engagement”.
My first, and only question will be – “How do you plan to measure engagement?”. The answer to that will be so flimsy and washy that even tree huggers would be ashamed.
So how else will we get “better” teachers? By educating more teachers (of which there is already an excess of; or is it to replace all the good teachers who leave because of this)? They are also talking of making additional study requirements of existing teachers, on top of teaching a class, and raising the achievement of that class so that they can get paid? Is anyone else getting this!? It sucks. Yet its happening.
This is a planned red herring for these changes. They’ve set this one out as a mouse, so that everyone dances and screams, whilst across the room they sneak through the lion which is performance pay. The major change isn’t the raising of the class size, but that schools will be funded based on the class size. See, changing the class size requirements in Year 2 to 10 classes from 23-29 pupils to 27.5 pupils isn’t going to make much of a difference. I started this year with 28, and am now down to 27 (essentially 27.5!). In years gone by I’ve had 29, and even a term of having 31. It’s not like they’re making class sizes 35, 40, 45…. Yet.
Yet what a difference it makes when I have a class of 22 -24. The room is quieter, which means there are less distractions, and more learning productivity. The students are more relaxed and more focussed, and so tend to be more “engaged” – if that can be observed. The teacher is more relaxed and has a better headspace, and is less likely to be having to deal with the niggles that occur in larger class sizes. We get through groups quicker (or can cover more learning in extended group times) allowing me to touch base with students one on one and see how they are going. The students get a long better, its easier to keep an eye on them. Everything is better. There is not a single downside to having less students in the class – if you are focussed on the benefits for the students.
However, if you are not focussed on the benefits for the students, and are instead focussed on the red number at the end of the leger, then of course, larger class sizes to take in every child in New Zealand, means less teachers over all, which means less salaries to pay, and salaries take up 80% of the budget.
But larger class sizes mean less one on one time with the teacher than they already get, there’s more noise, which increases distractions, and lowers learning. There are more niggles in the class, which raises the teacher’s stress levels as they try and contend with keeping on top of things. Students realise this, and also notice that they can get away with little things while the teacher is busy dealing with other problems. Less quality time is spent on teaching, and more on crowd control.
Two principals commented in the latest article on Stuff today. One said that he started teaching “…he had a class of 40 and that was not conducive to modern teaching methods. ‘It was `Sit down and do this’. There was very little discussion and very little of what makes teaching effective.’”
The other makes an incredibly good point, one that I hope everyone else can come to realise, in that larger class sizes means that “The very group that the Government say they want to work with most – Maori, Pacific Islanders, special needs students – we know that when there are large classes, it is harder for them to achieve.” – Bad-report-card-for-bigger-classes – Stuff, 17 May 2012.
But politicians will argue that a “good” teacher will be able to teach any number sized class. Some university proffessors who also haven’t had any teaching experience in the last 20 years, will also try and tell you that “research suggests” that quality teaching is more important than class size.
So let us get the “best” teacher in the country, and put them in front of 35-40 students. Not for a day. For the year. According to these politicians (who have never taught a class, or if they did, they left and became politicians – says more about them than they think!), this teacher should have no problems raising achievement against National Standards, while continuing to teach other subject areas, complete reports, analyse data and provide differentiated learning for the class, whilst maintaining control of the behaviour in the classroom.
Today (17 May, 2012) it was announced that performance pay would be decided on, not just by an appraisal system, but also based on achievement results of National Standards.
I find it relatively humouring, but I am very much annoyed that this has been somewhat hidden by the whole uproar over class sizes, as it is quite clearly a much bigger issue.
Before I begin into my rant, I want to make it clear that I understand the need for a performance pay type model. There are a lot of “bad” teachers out there, and there does need to be a system for working them out, and removing them from the system. The good teachers do deserve to be rewarded for their efforts, and often are in the areas of being given units for the additional work that they do.
So I do agree that poor teachers need to be whittled out, and the good teachers do need rewards.
However, performance pay based on results is not the way. Especially when those “results” are going to be based on National Standards, which still have not been fully developed or implemented properly or fairly, and have so far been able to tell us nothing about achievement, but instead, have given us a very good picture of failure.
Basing performance pay on results is ridiculous. And here’s why
Some students are behind the eightball when it comes to learning. A list of factors would be longer than my arm, but a few would include such things as;
- mental disabilities or challenges
- being hungry due to lack of breakfast/food at home and school
- stresses at home (mum and dad split/fighting/depressed/drugs/alcohol
- abuse (verbal, physical, emotional)
- unhealthy living environments that cause regular illness and misses out on school
- lack of support at home, where value placed on education is minimal, and so student is often truant
Many of these things are out of the school’s control, and are out of the child’s control, and sometimes even out of the parents control. No one can be blamed for any of this happening – not even the government. It’s called life.
But what will end up happening?
I have had students in the past who were well below the National Standard. There is no hiding it. The parents were made aware of this, and there were no real surprises at all. Every teacher that had been before me, and myself, had worked hard to raise the level of achievement, and had done so, but at a very low pace. And nothing would have changed that. The student, at the end of the year, had made a year’s progress, but was still well behind the eightball when it came to National Standards.
I have a privileged view of this whole issue. I have worked in classrooms for the last 3 years. I know what it is like. What is scary is that the people who are making these decisions, not only don’t have any experience of what it is like, and are merely concerned with making the red figure at the end of the leger smaller, but they don’t want to listen to those who actually have some idea about it.
But I get that. Why would you listen to teachers? Of course teachers are going to complain about being paid based on performance. Of course teachers are going to complain about having larger class sizes.
But what about listening to what has happened in the past? Look at the education system in the UK. A mess. Why? Because of the National Standards that they introduced into their country, which has completely destroyed the hope in teachers and students over there.
Look at the education system in the US. A mess. Why? Basically because of Charter schools and performance pay (from what I’ve read – I could be wrong…)
But why are we taking our world leading education system, with it’s curriculum that was world beating, and developed for a decade to be flexible and adjustable to suit EVERY classroom in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and completely changing it to be based on National Standards in Reading, Writing and Maths (3R’s… which I thought had been dispelled with the inkwell and cane in classrooms of old). Not only that, but then we go and base our whole education system on models that have been complete failures in other countries.
How stupid do we have to be to follow a bunch of sheep off a cliff?
What really scares me even more, is the notion that there might be a chance for parents and students to have input into the performance pay of a teacher. “[Ms Parata] revealed that parents and even students would soon get the chance to review teacher performance…”
Evidently my 9 and 10 year olds are the best kind of people to decide if I’m a good teacher or not, and whether I get paid. Who knew? Next there’ll be a National Standard in “Reviewing your teacher”.
I wonder how politicians would react to the tables being turned.
Maybe, we set a baseline salary for MP candidates.
And let’s introduce performance pay to that.
So a salary of $144,000 a year (which is the pay check one receives (2012) if he or she is just a member of parliament, with no other responsibilities…) will be available, but the percentage of that salary is decided upon how many votes you received. So if you get 100% of the vote in your electorate, then you should be entitled to 100% of the pay. But, if you got 59% of your constituents vote, then your salary would be $84,960 a year (which is nothing to shrug your shoulders at). The left over $59,040 could then be put into a fund that will supply services such as Health, Education, Police, with the funding that they deserve, or at least help contribute towards it.
I bet they probably wouldn’t like that.
I bet they’d probably complain about it.
I bet they’d probably complain a little like what the teachers are complaining like now.
I bet they’d decide against it.
So thank you to all of you out there who voted this government in. Thank you to all the teachers who blindly voted National because they fit in the pay bracket for tax cuts. The only thing we can do now is sit back and watch the future of this country plummet into the depressing depths of “Well Below” and “Below”, as the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer (in every aspect, wealth and education).
Is it that dire? Or can we actually get out there, and support the teachers?
Your child has a teacher, who works hard, works weekends, takes work home, and sacrifices their time, their money. If you don’t have a child, you will know someone who does, and that child also has a hard working teacher trying to make a living. And for those living under a rock and think that teachers work from 9 until 3, and get heaps of holidays and shouldn’t be complaining, you need to get a reality check. I am assuming you have a 9-5 office or something of a clerk at a place like Document Pros printing shop. Teachers work 8-5pm most days of the week, just like you. We often have to take work home on the weekends (although I try to avoid this as much as possible, because like you, I am trying to have a life as well!), and as for holidays, they are not. We work in the first week finishing off things from the last term. And in the second week we plan and prepare for the next term. The school holidays are just work without kids, which is exactly what you and the majority of the rest of the workforce does day in day out.
I want to encourage you to be active, if not for your child, then for me, a teacher. Write to your local MP, expressing your concern over these changes. Write to John Key (the current Prime minister) and express your concern and lack of support for these changes. The worst thing you can do is sit there and do nothing. Actually I lie. The worst thing you can do is sit there and blame teachers, and complain about how we are complaining about our future.
And what can teachers do? Well, we can bring the country to a stop by all walking out on our classes, together, as one. Parents all over the country will be forced to take the day off work. Production will go down. And no doubt, there will be complete and utter blame put on Teachers instead of the real cause of the strike, which is the Government’s decisions. But the reality is that I don’t want my teaching ability to be judged by the results of 9 and 10 year olds against an unproven and unjustified National Standards which have nothing to do with achievement, and everything to do with failure.
Teacher Performance Pay under fire – 17 May 2012
Concern over teacher performance pay – 17 May 2012
Principals criticise move to bigger classes – 17 May 2012
Education Changes: video – 16 May 2012
Teacher performance pay gets tick – 3 May 2012
Please Note: I am a registered teacher in New Zealand. I have been teaching for 3 years in New Zealand classrooms. The views I have expressed here are my own, and not necessarily the views of the school I currently work for, nor the Board of Trustees of that school.