Thursday, December 11, 2008

Lucia NZ Education getting behind in Maths and Science

Apparently NZ children are behind in maths and science at years 5 & 9 compared to the rest of the world that was in the measurement. Leaving aside maths for the moment, behind in science? Just what type of science are both those years supposed to know? Science was more an upper high school subject for me when I was young, rather than something we were taught in primary school.

However, being behind in maths is more serious.
[The study] says Kiwi teachers spend less time teaching maths than any other English speaking country [...]
Let's just contrast that statement with the following from an article about a young woman (Rhee) reforming Washington DC's schooling system:
Rhee is convinced that the answer to the U.S.'s education catastrophe is talent, in the form of outstanding teachers and principals. She wants to make Washington teachers the highest paid in the country, and in exchange she wants to get rid of the weakest teachers. Where she and the teachers' union disagree most is on her ability to measure the quality of teachers. Like about half the states, Washington is now tracking whether students' test scores improve over time under a given teacher. Rhee wants to use that data to decide who gets paid more--and, in combination with classroom evaluation, who keeps the job. But many teachers do not trust her to do this fairly, and the union bristles at the idea of giving up tenure, the exceptional job security that teachers enjoy.
So, track the scores of students.. tie those scores to the teacher.
The data back up Rhee's obsession with teaching. If two average 8-year-olds are assigned to different teachers, one who is strong and one who is weak, the children's lives can diverge in just a few years, according to research pioneered by Eric Hanushek at Stanford. The child with the effective teacher, the kind who ranks among the top 15% of all teachers, will be scoring well above grade level on standardized tests by the time she is 11. The other child will be a year and a half below grade level--and by then it will take a teacher who works with the child after school and on weekends to undo the compounded damage. In other words, the child will probably never catch up.

The ability to improve test scores is clearly not the only sign of a good teacher. But it is a relatively objective measure in an industry with precious few. And in schools where kids are struggling to read and subtract, it is a prerequisite for getting anything else done.
Good teachers make a huge difference. Sounds incredibly reasonable.
Right now, schools assess teachers before they teach--filtering for candidates who are certified, who have a master's degree, who have other pieces of paper that do not predict good teaching. And we pay them the same regardless of their effectiveness.

By comparison, if we wanted to have truly great teachers in our schools, we would assess them after their second year of teaching, when we could identify very strong and very weak performers, according to years of research. Great teachers are in total control. They have clear expectations and rules, and they are consistent with rewards and punishments. Most of all, they are in a hurry. They never feel that there is enough time in the day. They quiz kids on their multiplication tables while they walk to lunch. And they don't give up on their worst students, even when any normal person would.
The idea that NZ would pay teachers according to their ability to teach is anathema to the teacher's unions. It appears that if any country is to improve their school outcomes, the teacher's unions are the largest stumbling block.

I started my post with wanting to contrast the statement Kiwi teachers spend less time teaching maths than any other English speaking country" with "Most of all, [great teachers] are in a hurry. They never feel that there is enough time in the day. They quiz kids on their multiplication tables while they walk to lunch." But there was too much good stuff in the Time article to just stop there.

Related Links:
Kiwi kids behind Kazakhstan in science ~ Dominion Post
Rhee Tackles Classroom Challenge ~ Time Magazine

12 comment(s):

Canterbury Atheists said...

Lucyna, it’s easy to see why those figures are bad, when you factor in the 20% of secondary schools in this country, where in Year 12 the only two compulsory subjects are ‘Religious Studies’ & ‘English’ & at Year 13 the only compulsory subject is ‘Religious Studies’! So we have 20% of New Zealand secondary-schools which make English and Math’s an option for students - subservient to Religious Studies. No wonder we are falling behind Kazakhstan. Cripes, that’s two articles in a row I agree 100% with what you have highlighted. In the so called ‘Knowledge Economy’ we need to take education standards seriously and schools should be teaching Math’s & English & other core subjects, rather than superstitious clap-trap that no employer wants. Paul.

Lucia Maria said...

Paul, the only schools that would do that would be Catholic schools, and last time I looked, their educational outcomes exceeded those of the state. Strange, really.

Lucia Maria said...

Though, I would agree that the particular religious curriculum in place in Catholic schools is a waste of time and has been for decades. It needs to be totally replaced with something with real substance.

Greg said...

a. perhaps the secular schools are dragging down the high scores of Catholic schools?? Not all secular schools are Kings Col!
b. what subjects are compulsory in Kazakhstan? Surely you have to consider those two points before confabulating a wild theory...

Anyway my wild theory is that it has more to do with our lackadaisical she'll be right culture that inspires most university entrants to become lawyers, marketing managers, and PE teachers rather than engineers and scientists.

That in turn means the teachers are not only less likely to know any Y11+ math themselves but they are less likely to even know anybody who knows math!!

Further, the recent shift of Fisher and Paykel and moribund "biotech" industry inter alia hardly inspires high-schoolers to see engineering and science as solid choices in NZ.
Another thing to thank Labour and the Greens for.

Greg said...

I am certain that contact with strong teachers and mentors at particular developmental points contributes to some individuals flourishing and others stagnating.

In reality, I don't think a "Lisa Simpson", a bright kid with an indifferent teacher, system, and role-models, does particularly well compared to an average kid with good teachers who keeps receiving that extra push, insight, and extension at each level.

Canterbury Atheists said...

Integrated schools have the option to accept students in the same fashion as private schools – they get to pick and choose and are not bound by school zones.

Even if you were a church-going protestant and lived next door to Middle Grange here in Christchurch, if you were as a disturbing element, they could say ‘go away’ we ‘don’t want you’.

Then we get back to half-baked subjects like Religious Studies, these are seen as easy options for any students as compared to say Chemistry and Physics.

That’s why integrated schools will always have a head-start in any NCEA tables – the students there have a ‘easy’ subject like Religious Studies to fall back on whilst (thankfully) those in Secular State schools can’t get out of studying math’s and English.

If New Zealand wants to increase its academic standards we need to raise the bar – not lower it.

20% of School Administrators in New Zealand think Maths is less important than Religious Studies.

Greg said...

I think you are getting too excited about an irrelevance.
Why not pick on policies regarding compulsory PE periods as neither PE or RS are examined?
What about personal reading, peer-group, and "career" periods?!

When I went through integrated school Maths and English were compulsory in form 5 (Y11) and form 6 (year 12, NCEA 2). I did six subjects in forms 5 and 6.

In form 7 (year 13, NCEA 3) nothing was compulsory. Many people dropped English and did Stats and Calc as part of five subjects.

These English & Maths policies are still currently held at my two local state schools, one of which perennially returns exam results in the top 10.

I would think the problem lies elsewhere.
The Time article Lucyna refers to is worth looking over.

Greg said...

The high school that rates in the top 10 every year has a partnership with the local university. They offer 10 university papers including Calc, Linear Math, Econ, Accounting, Chem, Phys, and Biol.

No doubt the presence of and school culture that incubates accelerated students pulls everyone else along.
That's what gets you to the top of the leaderboard.

The 20% argument is spurious.
What is required to "raise the bar" is the attitude of this state school which is superior to 95% of schools, private, state, or integrated.
Unfortunately "culture" isn't sold in a bottle!

Anonymous said...

If you spent 5min with any primary teacher these days you would realise they are only slightly more emotionally mature, and even less slightly more ahead in the curriculum.

Anonymous said...

Than the students I mean

Canterbury Atheists said...

Gregory, both PE and RI are NCEA subjects mate.So if you can remember at least a dozen saints and catch a tennis ball - you are already one third of the way to getting NCEA here in New Zealand. Agree Teacher Only & Study periods = glorified opportunity to bunk.

Greg said...

RE is NCEA but is unapproved for UE, it doesn't count towards University Entrance.

Sure, there's lots of fluff students can take to get NCEA credits but that's not the problem is it?
They just aren't forced to take a significant amount of maths (let alone science!) in the first instance...

You need only 8 maths credits to get NCEA 1 (form 5), which is 80 credits (a mere 1/10!!).
At NCEA 2 & 3 there is no maths or literacy requirement!

It's more about the culture of schools and whether they push maths, science, and literacy through senior school Y11, 12, and Y13.

Take a look at the maths unit standards. As I understand it, you can get through high school with only EIGHT credits from this list!

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