Scaling up educational reform: Addressing the politics of disparity
Reviewed by Joce Jesson, University of Auckland, published in the New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies Vol 46, Number 1, 2011.
This is an important book for both initial and in-service teacher education. The authors document the learnings to emerge from an innovative policy initiative, Te Kotahitanga, created to address disparity of achievement from a kaupapa Māori lens. Along the way, they also bring in various other New Zealand professional development initiatives as support for their argument.
The Te Kotahitanga Research and Professional Development Project began in 2001 with interviews of 70 Māori students, their whānau and teachers across 5 secondary schools. With Ministry of Education funding and support, the project has spread to over 40 secondary schools. The results, both qualitative and quantitative, confront the divide between policy outcomes, as desired by various stakeholders, and the reality of Māori students’ experiences and outcomes. An “Effective Teaching Profile” (p.20) that identifies factors that contribute to Māori students’ educational success as Māori was developed. The goal was that this would be extended from individual classrooms, across whole schools, to school leaders and ultimately to system-wide reform. Importantly, the book adds explanation to the dreams of teachers in South Auckland secondary schools in the 1960s: How can innovative practices in some classrooms be successfully spread to the whole system? And how can education bring about social change?
The book is set out along the lines of the model for sustaining school reform developed for Te Kotahitanga: GPILSEO (Goals; Pedagogy; Institutions and structures; Leadership; Spreading the reform; using Evidence; and Ownership). Each of these necessary aspects of sustainable change is addressed in a separate chapter. Each chapter then begins with the co-ordinating GPILSEO graphic, which is explained and expanded using the learnings of the project.
Importantly, this book also exposes the limits to change. By this, I mean they demonstrate, almost by omission, the very real challenge of replicating successes beyond the initial enthusiasms and Hawthorne effect (Mayo, 1933). The problem of scaling-up education reforms is sustainability: to enable the learning to be maintained and continued beyond the withdrawal of external support or funding, and become embedded in the culture of the whole organisation. In other words, success is possible only when the reform has become part of the very culture by which we do and think about things. Gramsci says this is the problem of cultural hegemony (Gramsci, 1976). This is the gap on which most education projects flounder; they are structurally unable to address the economic and cultural basis of society.
Nevertheless, these criticisms aside, Te Kotahitanga corroborates what other researchers on the process of scaling up education reform (e.g., Fullan, 2007) have found, and which we can see reflected in New Zealand’s own education history. Success comes with focused support and assistance from officials who, as policy champions, recognise the implications and importance of the innovation and operate as policy entrepreneurs through finding funding and support. And herein lies the rub. Short-term funding processes, limited by the electoral cycle, create their own inadvertent outcomes: pressure to shape teaching and education to meet externally required outcomes, or as Stephen Ball describes it, the pressure to end in “performativity”(2003, p. 215). Therefore, success at the system level requires a clear theory of politics. This necessitates not only a sound understanding of how power is experienced in a society but also a theory as to how the politics of a society might be changed. To a large extent this is the aspect of the book that is the weakest, but in this Bishop, O’ Sullivan and Berryman are much like others of us writing in education. There is no clear picture of what is required to really get there. It is not enough to advocate dreams of a better society; one needs to have a sense that through striving to change the existing system, through all of the mediating levels (including the economic level), that change is possible.
Despite this reservation, the findings of Te Kotahitanga indicate that improving pedagogy is possible, and changing leaders is promising, and that this may indeed be central to the goal of increasing Māori student achievement. This, in itself, also demonstrates that developing a successful school reform model is possible. However, once accomplished, even at a regional level, repeating this success requires intense effort, consistent leadership, and the political patience to allow the interventions enough time to work.
I believe that the book will serve a very useful purpose in providing New Zealand material for those engaged in teacher education - as students and as practitioners - to challenge themselves and others. Teachers can help create change.
Ball, S. J. (2003). The teacher's soul and the terrors of performativity. Journal of Education Policy, 18( 2), 215 - 228.
Fullan, M. (2007). New Meaning of Educational Change (4th ed.). New York: Teachers College Press .
Gramsci, A. (1976). Selections from the Prison Notebooks. London: Lawrence and Wishart.
Mayo, E. (1933). The human problems of an industrial civilization New York: MacMillan.