Like many teachers I’m astounded by the National’s Party’s plan to test aspiring teacher’s personality. Is the party’s answer to every problem in education to test students? However the rest of the party’s teacher education policy, behind the more headline-grabbing ideas is well worth an examination.
The first is the party’s plans to make teaching a post-graduate only qualification. At the moment there are two routes into teaching. The 3 year undergraduate degree which a lot of primary school teachers study and the 1 year graduate diploma. Massey University has already jumped the gun and is planning to disestablish the four year direct-entry Bachelor of Education degree. This policy isn’t particularly new. It stems from recommendations made by the Education Workforce Advisory Report which was released in April last year.
Interestingly Singapore also has gone through a process of reviewing teacher education. What struck me about the Singaporean report was that there was a clear vision of what they wanted for their kids and then looked at how teacher education programmes could help teachers to develop their professional capabilities in response to this need. In contrast the New Zealand version is woeful both in terms of overall vision and the research to back up the report’s recommendations. .
This makes me think that the move to making teaching a graduate-only qualification has more to do with
productivity cost-cutting than any real desire to improve teacher education or elevate the the profession. As the OECD notes in report about the American system
“the best-performing countries are working to move their initial teacher-education programmes towards a model based less on preparing academics and more on preparing professionals in clinical settings, in
which they get into schools earlier, spend more time there and get more and better support in the process.”
So why are cutting back on the very degrees that offer clinical support? Because graduate diplomas are a lot cheaper for universities to run as the students are still at varsity studying for 4 years but the institution don’t have to maintain a large Faculty of Education to support the staffing demands of the Bachelor of Education.
What should concern everyone is that this potential narrowing of the curriculum for our would-be teachers. As it stands you don’t have time to study a large amount of child psychology, pedagogy or assessment theory in the 1 year course. Moreover at the primary level there isn’t much time to plug any gaps a student might have in their content knowledge. Given the breadth of the New Zealand curriculum, particularly at primary level, this is concerning.
But what is more concerning is that party supports putting graduates without any teaching qualifications into classrooms. I’ve already written about Teach First New Zealand a scheme where ‘high achieving’ graduates will be teaching in the classrooms of ‘low status‘ (their language) secondary schools after 6 weeks training for a period of two years. National has earmarked $200,000 towards supporting. Not much in the grand scheme of things but we’ll be hearing a lot more about this programme in the coming years.
The scheme is modeled on similar ones in the United States and United Kingdom and it is worth noting that both countries score lower on international student achievement studies than New Zealand. The research into direct-entry teaching schemes shows that teachers coming out of the programmes are less effective in the classroom and leave the profession at higher rates than rates than teachers who go through teacher certification programmes however these gaps close once the teachers become certified.
Nevertheless the introduction of the scheme has been hailed by many players inside and outside the education system. On first glance it has a nice narrative, high-achieving graduates who would otherwise be destined for the glass towers of Shortland Street riding into to save poor children for two years under the banner of educational equity. But when you look at the wider picture things come unstuck. There are hundreds of qualified teachers already looking for work which begs the question why we need to be placing unqualified teachers in classroom. Moreover the experience overseas shows that the teachers don’t come from the communities they teach and the two year commitment means they necessarily stick around much after their tenure is over. This makes the scheme look at best self-serving at worst down-right exploitative.
Given the small number of teachers (just 20 a year for the next 5 years) and large amount of private funding that appears to be supporting the initiative Teach First New Zealand, I’m sure the programme will be successful in terms of its stated goal of being an exclusive recruitment programme for recent graduates who will use the scheme as stepping stone to bigger and better things.
Unfortunately the type of educational leaders that theses schemes spawns are well, kind of evil. They are the type of ‘leaders,’ and I do use the term loosely, who take pleasure in using test scores to label schools as failing and see that as some kind of success rather than their failure to lead. And unfortunately they are the ones Tolley is talking to.
I’m sure detractors would argue I just another lazy teacher looking to avoid any sort of accountability in my job. Let me be clear that the type of accountability measures National are introducing are great if you want conformity and control. But if you after things like engagement and creativity, which is what you want if your goal is to keep kids interested in learning, then these sort of measures actually impede that goal.
There is also a nasty undertone from National that teachers are there primarily to serve the interests of the parents and that value-added incentives are the way to get there. This move is designed to pit parents against teachers and teacher against each other rather than trying to encourage a partnership so that we can all do the best for the kids (whose voices are almost completely absent from educational policy debates).
Least I be accused of being just another lefty teacher. Not all of National’s policies are bad. Their plans to rejuvenate school buildings are good and I’m cautiously optimistic about the Network for Learning. It’s just a shame that the money they are spending on 21st century buildings and technology will be wasted due to 19th century pedagogy and a smattering of colonial do-goodism thrown in for good measure.