Taking notes 60: why teachers matter in dark times

Philosophers for Change

[Credit: Joe Magee.] [Credit: Joe Magee.] by Henry A. Giroux

Americans live in a historical moment that annihilates thought. Ignorance now provides a sense of community; the brain has migrated to the dark pit of the spectacle; the only discourse that matters is about business; poverty is now viewed as a technical problem; thought chases after an emotion that can obliterate it. The presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee, Donald Trump, declares he likes “the uneducated” — implying that it is better that they stay ignorant than be critically engaged agents — and boasts that he doesn’t read books. Fox News offers no apologies for suggesting that thinking is an act of stupidity.

A culture of cruelty and a survival-of-the-fittest ethos in the United States is the new norm and one consequence is that democracy in the United States is on the verge of disappearing or has already disappeared! Where are the agents of…

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Neoliberalism – how it travels, and how it can be resisted

Reclaiming Schools

by Professor Stephen Ball, UCL Institute of Education

Stephen-Ball-

This article is based on chapter 3 of Flip the system: changing education from the ground up, a new book published in association with teacher unions around the world. It explains some of the ways in which the economic and political project called Neoliberalism impacts on children’s education and teachers’ work. 

I want to make clear that I use the term neoliberalism with some trepidation. It is used so widely and loosely that it risks becoming meaningless. Neoliberalism is not simply a concrete economic doctrine, nor a definite set of political projects, but (in Ronen Shamir’s words)

a complex, often incoherent, unstable and even contradictory set of practices organised around a certain imagination of the “market” as a basis for the universalization of market-based social relations, with the corresponding penetration in almost every aspect of our lives of the discourse and/or practice of commodification…

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Do we really want equity in education?

by George Gilchrist

We are experiencing a time in education where equity and the closing of attainment gaps for those learners who are facing the most challenging of social circumstances, seems to be high on everyone’s agenda. Much research has been produced and papers written about the negative impacts experienced by young people from the most deprived backgrounds on their learning and educational achievement. In Scotland, the paper produced by Sue Ellis and Edward Sosu in 2014 Closing the attainment gap in Scottish education for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation is but one example of what the research is showing us all. In  Scotland, we have established centres of excellence and research such as the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change set up within Glasgow University, which has a vision and a remit of promoting equity and social inclusion within education systems, both in Scotland and further afield. We have a first minister, and government, who have committed to eliminating attainment and achievement gaps that exist within our education system and who have produced various policy documents, such as Getting It Right For Every Child and a National Improvement Framework which set out their determination to tackle the problem of inequality of opportunity for many of our learners, raise attainment and close those gaps. A lot of the impetus for this has been driven by and  been influenced by what we have seen happening in the Finnish education system. Consistently near the top of international rankings, Finland has been seen to put equity of opportunity and provision at the top of its own rankings of characteristics that make a difference in their education system and schools.

What we have in Scotland is an alignment of policy, institutions and systems that all have the issue of equity at their heart. So it should be. I don’t know about you, but I never entered education thinking I was going to try and disadvantage a significant section of our learners, or society. Fortunately, I have never met many teachers or colleagues who have thought any differently either. We all came into education because of our love of learning and our desire to make a difference for all our learners, so how come these gaps exist and what’s the problem with where we are now in Scotland and elsewhere?

I would like to suggest that the gaps that exist are a result of a combination of factors, and not just educational ones. Though we do have to hold our hands up and accept a portion of the blame. I attended a lecture by Stephen Ball in Glasgow recently and he pointed out that the responsibility that could be laid at the doors of our education system and schools for the equity gaps that exist represented just 11 to 15% of the causes of that gap. The rest of it was attributable to societal factors such as poverty, the class system, government policy, health, culture, history and the like. Sue and Edward, in their paper mentioned above, noted that the OECD had already identified that socio-economic factors have a greater impact on educational attainment than the schools which learners attended. Both Ellis and Sosu, and the OECD, felt that education was still a crucial factor. There is no doubt that this is true, but we should listen to the caution of Stephen Ball and not be drawn in to laying all the blame, and the focus, at the door of our schools and our teachers. Many of the gaps, in terms of literacy, verbal reasoning and problem solving are already in place by the time children enter our schools, and we are playing catch up from that point. That said, we can make a difference and should never give up striving to make a difference for all our learners.

For too many years, some teachers and schools reduced their expectations for some learners purely because of their backgrounds, where they lived, and the socio-economic groups they came from. I actually remember being in a lecture as a trainee teacher in the early 1970s and being told that some learners couldn’t be expected to achieve as much as others because of their backgrounds. When I questioned this and said I didn’t think that was fair, I was laughed at and told that this was just a fact of life and of course we couldn’t do anything about it. Fortunately we are a bit more enlightened now and have moved on from such narrow thinking and, just like we now understand intelligence as no longer being fixed, neither should the link between attainment and socio-economic background be seen as predetermined or set in stone.

However, I do feel our systems, structures, practices and curriculum have put more barriers in the way of our most disadvantaged learners. Often these have been equal, but not equitable. For many years we have developed all these systems and structures in our schools and have expected all our learners to engage with them, and dare I say conform, in exactly the same way. If you got it, and it worked for you, then you succeeded, if not the opposite happened. Now, many of us recognise that when learners are not engaging with planned learning, it’s not their problem, it’s ours. We need to shape and structure our learning so that it is accessible to all, and that means we need to really know our learners and where they are in their personal learning journey. If we believe, as I do, that much of the curriculum and learning that takes place in schools is ‘hidden’ in the culture and ethos of the school, then we need to make sure all of this is accessible to all learners. We need to examine everything we do in school and ensure it is truly accessible for all. That doesn’t mean we stop doing things because some are unable to access them for economic reasons, but we should be aware of this and explore all ways we can to ensure everyone has the same opportunities, no matter their background and circumstances. We need to value each individual learner and what each brings and takes from every learning episode, some of which will be deliberately planned and some of it at a subliminal level.

Currently we have an awful lot of rhetoric around the issues of equity and closing of gaps. Trouble is a lot of the strategies that are being proposed and supported to achieve this in Scotland may do the opposite. Every educational system that has gone down the road of high-stakes testing, increased accountability measures and more top-down direction, informed by cherry-picked research, has delivered lowered attainment levels and widening gaps. If we look to USA, Australia, Sweden and England as examples, the harm of such approaches can be readily seen. So to see Scotland beginning to travel down the same road is concerning and dispiriting for what we are all trying to achieve. Add to this the fact that education budgets and resources are facing cuts of a severity that make it more and more difficult to support all those who need and would benefit from it, and the impacts could be catastrophic. We see local authority after local authority cutting support available to our students, removing qualified teachers from nurseries, closing libraries, cutting home-school link workers and more, whilst still ratching up the accountability demands on teachers and leaders. The media is full of sound bites and more rhetoric about what is going to be demanded of teachers and schools, when the reality is that the people and resources to deliver on this is being cut deliberately, or by stealth. How can we get it right for every child, if we can’t support the ones who need it?

Add to that depressing picture the fact that those families and children most at risk are facing another barrage of cuts and financial stresses at home, and I am concerned about our ability as a society to meaningfully address this issue. In the face of changes in support and benefit systems, rising prices for food and accommodation, wage stagnation, attacks on the National Health Service, the rise in the use of food-banks and the almost demonisation of poverty by some media and politicians, it can feel in education  like putting your finger in the dyke with regard to trying to close gaps caused by disadvantage. If we are really serious about this, it requires political, social cultural and system change. Is everyone up for that? I don’t think so, not yet. There are significant vested interests that will be adverse to this disturbance of the status quo. So, whilst we may look and sound as though we are tackling the issue, in reality there is a lot of tinkering at the edges and not enough real and meaningful action. The fact that the dialogue by so many is solely focused on schools and education is another distraction that Stephen Ball cautioned against. But, I suppose, it deflects many from the real causes of, and actions required, to address the issue of equity and closing the gaps. At the moment it feels like schools and teachers are getting all of the blame, but I wonder who will receive the credit if anything actually does happen to those gaps? If they really do close in a meaningful way, everyone will deserve credit, because it’s only through changed thinking and actions of all that this is going to happen.

Let’s get on with it!

About the author

George Gilchrist is a primary school Headteacher based in the Scottish Borders. He is a Fellow of the Scottish College for Educational Leadership and a member of the Board for the Scottish Parent Teacher Council. He thinks, writes, speaks and blogs about education, leadership, learning and how we might improve. You can follow George on Twitter @GilchristGeorge and his blog School Leadership – A Scottish Perspective.

Illuminate the Darkness – the need for Critical Pedagogy

tait coles @Totallywired77 - PuNk Learning


It has recently been brought to my attention that a Guardian piece I wrote over two years ago has resurfaced. Similar to when it was first published, there has been mixed responses to my writing, both in agreement and in opposition.

The idea that our education system is unfair has been supported by a recent CentreForum think-tank survey. It is important to consider the insidious use of data here to convince the humble consumer of fact that ‘our’ schools are failing ‘our’ kids’ – for ‘our’, read white. A discourse about how the use of data can be strategically used in the context of race and education is vital one; one that I am not going to attempt here. But, for reading on the subject please look no further than this piece by David Gillborn ‘The Monsterisation of Race Equality: How Hate Became Honourable’ in, The Runnymede School Report: Race…

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“Mind the Gap!” by Ken Cunningham CBE

ken_cunningham

by Ken Cunningham CBE

Visiting with some Texan friends in London the other weekend, I was forcibly reminded of a phrase that you can’t ignore as you travel round the London metro system – “Mind the gap” – spoken and frequently writ large! It all washed over me but to my American friends it was intriguing from several fronts. One because ‘gap’ does not necessarily mean the same to them and, to their added surprise, the gap they had to mind was never constant if indeed it was even there.

You can’t go far in Scotland these days without ‘minding the gap’ either. Hardly a day passes without some reference in education to ‘closing the gap’. Article after article; political volley after political volley; news report after news report. It has become the stick with which to beat a range of backs and upon which the credibility of the reigning powers will depend. Shame on all counts. Like much in politics and education, aspiration is quite a different beast from reality. Like motherhood and apple pie, Named Person and closing the gap, there are few who would disagree with the sentiments. However, many will argue over delivery and probably even definition. A bit like my American friends, there is no defined ‘gap’ as such, well none that doesn’t leave more questions than answers anyway, and the gap indeed is variable, often depending on who’s measuring and what, where you are, who you are and what you are.

And the reason for raising the issue is obvious. Therein lies equity’s greatest challenge. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Gary suggested in this first blog (maybe last depending on reaction!), I say something about my background, how that has been impacted by ‘curriculum and equity’ and some initial thoughts around its main challenges (I might have to do a second blog to deal with that…)

I’ve had a privileged and long career in education and every position has been impacted by the recognition of the effect of poverty, background and circumstances on the life chances of young people. And my very working class upbringing likewise. Having passed my ‘qualifying exam’ I was sent to the local senior secondary which delivered a wide range of courses allowing me access to university. After that brief stint at uni (another story), at the age of 19 I had the opportunity of teaching in a local junior secondary where I quickly realised just how big the gap in aspiration and ambition was.

That drove me into teaching as a career where I worked in a range of comprehensives with by far the greatest diversity of opportunity being in the city and including as an Assistant Headteacher in one of the poorest housing estates in Europe. It was a steep learning curve. When I moved into the Advisory service (as it was then), my Headteacher very wisely counselled me to work out quickly in my new post what real difference I would and could make to young people’s lives. That challenge never left me. I have seen it through that post, then in succession, directorate, inspectorate, head teacher and principal, General Secretary of School Leaders Scotland, and also Scottish Qualifications Authority throughout in various guises. But I have also seen it through a range of other third sector roles including as a Director/Trustee of Notre Dame Child Guidance, of Young Enterprise Scotland, of Children’s University Scotland, of the ICAS Foundation and most recently of Children 1st (RSSPCC). Every one of these exists for the main purpose of righting wrongs in children’s lives and improving equity. Different challenges; different issues; different responses; different measures for all of them.

If we get to a second blog, I’d like to explore these issues in their contexts. But let’s leave this with one thought. The biggest single difference ever made in lives were at an individual level, with individual interactions and a huge personal commitment from the teachers and workers who spent hours with each young person. The reinforced message: the quality of the professional at the point of contact makes all the difference. I’ve been blessed to have had the privilege to have seen many in action.

About the author

Dr Ken Cunningham CBE BEd MEd(Hons) DUniv FRSA FSQA is the former General Secretary of School Leaders Scotland. He has spent most of his working life in education having held a range of school posts as well as those of adviser, inspector, Chief Examiner and in local authority directorate. He was appointed General Secretary of School Leaders Scotland in 2008. He has Chaired and been a member of a range of Government Task and Steering Groups as well as Chair of Educational Broadcasting Council for Scotland, former Director and Vice Chair of Young Enterprise Scotland and Notre Dame Child Guidance Boards, a member of the Qualifications Committee of SQA and the SCHOLAR Advisory Board, and a Trustee/Director of ICAS Foundation, Children’s University Scotland, and Children 1st. He was for 15 years the Head and Principal of Hillhead High School and its learning community, during which time he oversaw the merger of two large secondary schools. He was awarded a CBE in recognition of his services to Scottish education in 2002.

Excellence with Equity: An Educational Imperative by Avis Glaze

by Dr. Avis Glaze
Edu-quest International Inc. Canada

As an educator for almost four decades, one of the areas that has concerned me most is the question of whether or not we can achieve both excellence and equity in school systems today.

I have a strong belief that we cannot truly say that we have an excellent school system if there is a long tail of failure, and, when we disaggregate the data, those at the bottom belong to specific demographic groups. These include boys, immigrants, girls, children from low socio-economic backgrounds or children with mental health concerns, to name a few. If some or any of these groups are clustered at the bottom of the achievement ladder, we cannot say that we have an equitable and inclusive system. That is a key measure of equity. For me, we cannot have excellence without equity.

Societal expectations are very high. In a recent discussion with Michael Fullan, I asked him what his thoughts were about school improvement, given his statement some years ago that schools should achieve 90-95% success. Michael’s response was that “The new mission for schools is to achieve 100% success, and to have specific explanations and strategies for addressing any figure that falls short of full success.”

I have long felt that the days of making excuses for low performance are long gone. We have the knowledge and skills to improve student achievement. If this is the case, the question has to be: Do we have the will? We know what works. We now have to build upon what we already know and have already done in many of our schools, to take the education systems as a whole, to new heights. We need to learn with and from our colleagues. In every system in which I have worked across the globe, there are many schools that are achieving the expected outcomes. But we need to refocus our efforts on building capacity, developing our leaders, establishing networks and spreading successful practices across schools.

Recently, I was asked to address the question: What does it take to improve student achievement? I identified 7 of the strategies that contribute significantly to improving student outcomes, which I will de-construct in another issue. These are, in random order:

1. High Expectations for Learning with Growth Mindsets
2. Effective Instruction in the Digital Age
3. Early and On-going Assessment, Interventions and Support
4. Inclusive, Culturally-Responsive Pedagogy
5. Innovation, Creativity, Entrepreneurship and Career Education
6. Leaders as Co-Learners, and
7. Character Development

Another Critical Factor

There are many other important factors that contribute to student outcomes. I would like to add another to the list above. It is the issue of teacher quality. We know from many years of solid research in education that the strongest factor in determining student achievement is not school size, accountability measures, standards, social-economic status or even the aptitude of students. In fact, researchers such as Wise and Liebrand (2000) have concluded from their meta-analysis of standards and teacher quality that well prepared teachers have a greater impact on student achievement, are more attuned to students’ needs, and are better able to devise instruction to meet individual needs. Another popular researcher, Linda Darling Hammond (2000) in discussing the notion that investment in teacher quality pays off, concluded that the greatest predictor of student achievement is not student demographics, overall school spending, class size or teacher salaries. She asserts that teacher quality is the variable that most influences student achievement. Other well-respected researchers Kenneth Leithwood and Doris Jantzi (2000) said that leadership is second only to classroom teaching as an influence on student learning. So let us continue to invest in and build teacher and principal capacity in order to improve our schools.

I hope you share my optimism for the future of education and the confidence that today’s educators will achieve both excellence and equity. We have the will and the skills to realize this promise. I encourage you to draw upon your rich repertoire of knowledge and skills and to focus on what works. We must build upon our successes and continue to improve our schools – with a sense of urgency. Parents are expecting it; politicians are demanding it; the community-at-large deserves it. But most importantly, as educators, we want the best for our students. We do not want to truncate their life chances or future possibilities. That’s why we accepted the challenging roles of teaching and leadership. As true professionals, we will redouble our efforts to make every school an excellent school in every neighbourhood.

In sum, we want all students to be successful so that they live happy, productive and self-sustaining lives. We want to improve our schools and ensure that all students, especially the most vulnerable or disadvantaged, graduate from our schools with confidence, high self-regard and concern for others. These imperatives are grounded in moral, demographic, enlightened self-interest, community health, social justice, global competitiveness and human rights expectations. We want to unleash student potential and motivate them to do their personal best regardless of the background factors that locate them in society. We want to build teacher and principal capacity leading to the instructional and leadership effectiveness that are necessary for systems to thrive.

Our goal must be to work quickly and effectively while always being mindful of the fact that we will not achieve excellence without equity. Let us re-affirm our commitment to improving our schools with a sense of urgency. Let us redouble our efforts and draw upon our rich repertoire of knowledge and skills to get the job done.

The children cannot wait.

 

About the Author:
Dr. Avis Glaze is one of Canada’s outstanding educators and a recognized international leader in education. From classroom teacher to Director, she was appointed by the Premier as the province’s first Chief Student Achievement Officer and Founding CEO of the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat. Avis played a pivotal role in improving student achievement in Ontario, Canada. Currently, she is President of Edu-quest International Inc., offering a wide range of educational services and speaking engagements across the globe.
Avis co-authored Breaking Barriers: Excellence and Equity for All (Glaze, Mattingley and Levin) on the high impact strategies to improve education systems in general, and schools in particular. Her most recent book, High School Graduation: k-12 Strategies that Work (Glaze, Mattingley and Andrews), identifies the research-informed strategies to improve graduation rates for all students regardless of socio-economic or other social or demographic factors.
A few years ago, Avis’ international contributions to education was recognized in Scotland when she received the Robert Owen Award from Mr. Michael Russell, former Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning.
Visit her website at: www.avisglaze.ca

References

Darling -Hammond, L. (2000) Teacher Quality and Student Achievement: A Review of State Policy Evidence. Education policy analysis archives, [S.l.], v. 8, p. 1, jan. 2000. ISSN 1068-2341. URL: http://epaa.asu.edu/ojs/article/view/392/515

Glaze, A. (2013) How Ontario spread successful practices across 5,000 schools. Phi Delta Kappan, November 2013 vol 95, no. 3, 44-50. DOI: 10.1177/003172171309500310

Glaze, A., Mattingley, R. & Andrews, R. (2013) High school graduation: K-12 strategies that work. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin

Leithwood, K., Jantzi, D. (2000) The effects of transformational leadership on organizational conditions and student engagement with school. Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 38 Iss: 2, pp.112 – 129. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/09578230010320064

Wise, A.E., Leibbrand, J.A. (2000) Standards and teacher quality. Phi Delta Kappan, vol 81, no.8, 612-621. URL: https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-61557305/standards-and-teacher-quality-entering-the-new-millennium

Getting involved with Curriculum for Equity

Curriculum for Equity is an experiment. The idea is to find out if and how a collaborative blog for educators, researchers and other professionals could contribute to the aims of equity and social justice. See About Curriculum for Equity for more details.

If you are a researcher/academic interested in this area, you could submit a piece that signposts readers to your findings and examples of practice you have uncovered in your work. A great example is this paper from Richard Niesche and Amanda Keddie of University of Queensland, Australia: Foregrounding issues of equity and diversity in educational leadership. The paper outlines one secondary school’s approach to equity, including an ‘Equity Action Group’.

If you are a practising educator (all those from formal and informal settings are welcome), you could share stories, ideas and practice, you could ask questions and share the findings of your own enquiries. A great example is this article from Robert MacMillan (Principal Teacher of Social Studies at Lochgelly High School in Fife, Scotland) in his address to the Scottish Secondary Teacher’s Association: End Child Poverty.

Pieces like these are the inspiration for the creation of the Curriculum for Equity website. It is so easy to feel dis-empowered by the prevailing lack of fairness and justice. We can get run down dealing with the very effects of inequity in our day jobs, we can get fed up with politicians using terms such as ‘social justice’ in order to further their own agendas or careers, and we can feel overwhelmed by the global scale of the challenges facing us.

This is why sharing these thoughts and engaging in dialogue is so vital. We are one, global and knowledgeable community with a common goal in ensuring the best for children, young people and indeed people of all ages. We need to get better at challenging the status quo and being active, critical advocates for equity and social justice.

This website could just be the thing that connects an educator with a researcher, resulting in meaningful collaboration towards that common goal. Or it could result in an idea such as an ‘Equity Action Group’ being created in a school on the other side of the world.

Please leave a comment anywhere on the site or send a brief message via the Contact page if you would like to write a piece for the Curriculum for Equity website. You could also suggest a potential blogger, a topic you would like to see covered, or a question you would like explored.

Let’s get cracking.