Friday, 6 May 2016

Public Good Partnerships and Collectives of Schools

A Rationale for Public Good Partnerships around Schooling Collectives

New Zealand, in its 26th year of what was known as Tomorrow’s Schools, is the most unusual Education Jurisdiction in the developed world, in that there is no ‘district level’ infrastructure and each school is a Crown Entity answerable to the Minister of Education via the Secretary of Education, ERO and OAG.
Coupled with this, we are blessed to have a national curriculum, (many states do not), but one that gives enormous latitude in its delivery, and in fact commands under the Education Act, that curriculum must be contextualised and approved at a school by school level.
This granularity of delivery gives unequalled opportunity for innovation and light houses or even whole communities of excellence, whilst also enabling profound incoherence, black holes of failure and an absence of understood and mandated practice for success at system level.

This situation needs to be addressed and is acknowledged by government in the Education Act review going on at present, as well as being critiqued and written about by qualified education researchers like Cathie Wylie, John Hattie and Stuart McNaughton.

New Zealand is at a new turning of the ways in respect of the direction education will take to serve the needs of the C21 population, community & economy, and the kind of structures and infrastructures that will deliver it. There are equally critical decisions to be made about its purpose and how we ought to measure its effectiveness against that purpose.

As in other developed jurisdictions there is an observable ‘bipolar disease’ evident in the rhetoric and actions of government, the demands of the commercial establishment and the downward pressure of Universities on the education system:
On the one hand there is powerful rhetoric to be heard on all fronts, from all pundits about C21 skills and dispositions and how important they are in commerce, in industry, in innovation and in the world at large. These are attributes like creativity, curiosity, resilience, ability to collaborate, work in teams, innovate and so on.
On the other hand, the powerful push down and accountability structures are all around knowledge building in defined sets of knowledge related performance. These are things like proficiency in Maths, English and Science and to a large degree, excepting the area of Computer Science, have not changed since the C20.

Developed world economies are all wrestling with this tension, (whether they realise it or not), and are gradually realising that the industrial education system we have brought forward into the C21 is currently unable to deliver what we, corporately, say it should.
In New Zealand, we handle this challenge (badly) by trying to do some of the C21 stuff at primary school, at secondary, (driven by high stakes testing), we talk about it and at University we criticise the schools for preparing the students poorly, and then prepare the graduating teachers even more poorly.

Generally speaking, except in very courageous lighthouse projects, around the developed world, the more successful the community and the better off it is economically, the more conservative the parents and the establishment are, about re-designing school. The conservative, university controlled knowledge building system is all powerful in these neighbourhoods. The families in this broad cohort can be heard to echo “well it worked for us, so it should work for our kids.”

In all developed countries with history of social support, there is strong concern about the “education long tail”. We in NZ, are accustomed to hearing that ours is worse than everyone else’s. In other countries, that’s also what they hear about themselves!
It’s important to consider the long tail, (and ours is bad), in the broader context of essential education re-design that is an urgent global need. It’s pointless trying to fix inequity in outcomes as a thing by itself or as a thing inside a C20 system.

New Zealand, at this turning of the ways, could find itself the recipient of a new state structure mandating top down practice change, that is likely to be driven almost entirely by the C20 knowledge sets and their attendant accountabilities. This is exactly what has happened in the English education system. Jurisdictions making this choice tend to opt for a School District type of delivery structure as it enables the scale, implementation and accountability measures to be pushed from the centre and robustly delivered at the edge.
Alternatively it could adopt what Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves, who currently advise our Ministry of Education, call “innovation and development from the middle. Their idea of the middle being; -a collective entity that has its being between the Ministry of Education level and School level. A cluster, a collective, a community of schools, that has the resourcing and power to design, develop and test innovative pedagogies and has sufficient lateral and vertical accountabilities to stay true to a moral purpose, “stay married” and meet the expectations of both crown and community. This is obviously what the NZ Govt is trying out with its $359M IES policy enacted through Communities of Learning that have laterally and vertically agreed ‘Achievement Challenges’

Our experience in Manaiakalani, as the longest running evidence based cluster in NZ is that this idea can be made to work, can enable the development and implementation of innovative pedagogies and can try and address the issues referenced earlier in this paper.
Our finding is that this approach alone is not enough. We needed to become a Public Good Partnership.

New Zealand, like all jurisdictions in the developed world has invested ever increasing amounts in education for little or no change in outcome for its “long tail of underachievement” or the “20%”. The rationale for Public Good Partnerships is based on a fundamental understanding that few if any governments in the developed world will be able to afford the investment required to bring intergenerational change to this cohort which exists in all of our countries and that the growing cost of this cohort over time is detrimental to our economy and our future, quite apart from the serious equity issues that it manifests.

A Public Good Partnership view is also based on the understanding that ‘if Education could fix Education it would have done so quite some time ago’ and that as well as needing a mixed financial resourcing portfolio to support this intensive investment over time, it needs the brains, abilities and understandings of people from other walks of life, to apply their acumen to the challenge we all face. The fundamental conservatism in education is very strong barrier to necessary change. Effective thinkers from outside of education have an enormous contribution to make if they bother to understand the context properly.

As times and global economic understandings have changed we have witnessed a far greater willingness and even eagerness on the part of the commercial, philanthropic, academic and investment sectors to partner in what has hitherto been seen as solely the purview of the state and ‘something we all paid our taxes for’. Manaiakalani is proof positive of the good will of very clever people from many differing backgrounds who want to “make New Zealand a better place” and are prepared to invest in something seen previously as the affair of government and something to steer well clear of.

Manaiakalani, as a Public Good Partnership was founded of necessity because the New Zealand Government via Vote Education, was not able to fund all the activities or the level of intensity required to sustainably raise learner achievement outcomes and effect intergenerational change.

It’s essential, though, that the state remains a strong partner in this process or it’s easy to lose the notion of public good, to say nothing of the the immediate loss of credibility. (Our commercial and philanthropic partners always want to know where government thinking is and where their funding is!) . We do not want the state removed from the design improvement and its attendant responsibilities. The net result would be a more “de-coupled” system in a jurisdiction that already has the most de-coupled education system in the developed world. An outcome of further de-coupling will always be an inability to scale the results of successful development and the continuation of education development as a cottage industry, delivering ‘pockets of promise’ instead of the capability for system change.

A community of schools, in the true sense of the term, is probably the smallest viable unit that should be funded for innovation as this enables the testing of performance over an education pathway from ECE to the completion of Secondary School, and preferably on through post secondary training & employment. Funding individual charter schools for innovation may bless the “cherry” but can never bless the “tree”.
A community of schools is probably the best unit size to keep relational integrity, be a responsive R & D loop, have close accountability to its constituents and to have effective stewarding of relationships with its public good partners. The public good partners are likely to feel benefitted by a close connection with those they benefit.
None of this can possibly be effective unless it is actually a true R & D model. This means research attached to design and implementation is essential. No group should be funded without robust effectiveness requirements.

The unit size of a community of schools is an effective ecology for the teacher practice change imperative that is a requirement of successful C21 pedagogy. New Zealand like other jurisdictions is dogged with poor practice in its social service deliveries. Evidence shows that most typically centre pushed practice change initiatives, delivered via a district structure, fail as they rely on ramped up accountability rather than a practice innovation approach. They also assume that the centre knows what the successful practice will be! Typically the reverse is true and successful practices are found at the edge and cohered in the middle, in collectives and learning networks that are committed to practice improvement.

Communities of schools and collections of communities are able to provide economies of scale for procurement, teacher practice development, R & D, system change development and still remain responsive to their communities, whilst informing the centre of “stuff that works” in our context. This is a vastly preferable scenario, if well managed, to that of purchasing expensive solutions from failing jurisdictions e.g England & the U.S, mandating and pushing them out from the centre, building an ever increasing infrastructure to supervise this, and then wondering why it didn’t work. The recent Herald articles about mathematics in NZ are an excellent example of this kind of thing. We invested massive amounts of money, time and resource over decades in different Mathematics programmes that did not have strong evidence from like contexts, suggesting they would solve the “Long Tail” or inequity problem in maths outcomes. Put bluntly from a decile 1 context, we had little certainty that this would make things better for the Maori & Pasifika people that I live and work amongst.

We are fortunate to be in this business at a time when both the Minister and Associate Minister of Education have publicly called for a more innovative education sector going forward into 2017. An obvious way to foster innovation is to invest in partnerships which produce it, thus enabling a systematic development that is appropriately evaluated and capable of being widely shared or scaled to bring intergenerational change.