Quick! Blame the teachers | The Jackal

16 Mar 2013

Quick! Blame the teachers

Today, the NZ Herald reported:

Up to half New Zealand's primary teachers may not have enough maths knowledge to teach children properly under new methods, says the education expert who introduced the changes.

We're not talking about rocket science here... With most if not all teachers having the skills to teach the curriculum required.

Professor Wright told the Weekend Herald the new methods were phenomenally successful when used in schools with strong leadership, a stable workforce and a culture of improvement and well-monitored student achievement.

But reformers might have overestimated the knowledge and confidence of many non-specialist primary teachers whose academic strengths were not in maths.

So now you have to be a specialist to teach times tables?

"Maybe we have to admit that we needed to provide more structured support for teachers than we did.

"In the ideal world, everyone would be able to run with this. Maybe they can't.

"I thought 50 per cent of the teachers were doing a fantastic job ... We just needed to have the other back-up plan, maybe, something more structured for those that it didn't work so well for."

Actually, the failure of the new system isn't because of teachers, its because the system they must use assumes that children already have basic maths skills when in many cases they don't.

Education Minister Hekia Parata described the results as "extremely concerning".

Somehow I doubt Parata will increase funding to ensure struggling students get the help they require. In fact having our schooling system underperforming will give the government the excuse they need to implement charter schools, which will in turn not improve educational outcomes at all.

Professor Wright co-ordinated the project from 2000 to 2010.

No wonder Wright is trying to blame the teachers then... He obviously cannot bring himself to admit that it's his system that's flawed.

Professor Wright said New Zealand had a longstanding difficulty finding teachers who were confident and knowledgeable teaching maths. Part of the problem was the low entry standard for teacher training and the limited time trainees had to study maths education, compounded by the shift from four to three-year teaching degrees.

If a low entry standard for teachers was the problem, then having no entry standard under a privatised schooling system National propose is obviously not the answer... Increasing class sizes and Novopay are also not the answer.

It should also be said that there hasn't been a reduction in the quality of teachers to cause such a reduction in outcomes. What has happened instead is an increase in poverty, with many more kids going to school hungry. Children simply cannot learn properly without sustenance.

But most of the struggling teachers were those already in the workforce, suggesting the real answer was better on-the-job training - like a maths version of Reading Recovery, which upskilled teachers as well as students.

So, Wrights' answer is to do the same thing again, which hasn't worked. The Numeracy Development Project that was designed to lift student performance by improving teachers' understanding has been a failure, which means Wrights advice shouldn't be listened to.

Instead, early childhood education, one on one teaching time and the welfare of our children all need to be increased so they're able to learn properly, and only the government can ensure that happens. Simply blaming teachers for the governments failure won't ensure kids can do the basics.