29th January 2016
Today the Herald headlined with:
‘Failure to close attainment gap would be ‘disastrous’ claims education guru’
I agree. Closing the educational attainment gap between students from more affluent and deprived areas is one of the most important ambitions we should have in Scotland. However, the Herald’s ‘guru’ needs to get back to the research if he wants to continue as a ‘guru’ whatever that is supposed to mean. In the context of education it usually means something like: ‘a teacher and especially intellectual guide in matters of fundamental concern.’
Before I get to the substance of Bloomer’s ideas, I have to take issue with the ‘guru’ bit. Maybe the Herald is responsible for this but it’s always important that we don’t go around believing stuff because of alleged reputations. Bloomer is a former teacher of history who moved quickly into management and then ‘consultancy’. Anyone can call themselves a ‘consultant.’ I can see no sign of the evidence for ‘intellectual guide’ or ‘guru’ of any sort. There’s no sign of an earned not honorary PhD or of any published research into pedagogy or curriculum.
Anyhow, what is Bloomer suggesting we need to do to close the gap? Here’s an extract from the Herald piece:
‘Creating a new system where poor children attend school for more hours and take fewer summer holidays than rich children could be a solution to closing the attainment gap, according to one of the most influential education experts in Scotland. Bloomer highlighted the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York, which describes itself as a “national model for breaking the cycle of poverty” and offers extended-day schools, a ‘baby college’ with a series of workshops for parents of children ages up to three, as well as extensive nursery care. “All over the world there is a relationship between poverty and educational attainment,” he said. “Just about everybody has got the same problem to some extent.’
Ironically Bloomer touches on the actual solution at the end of the quote but it’s not developed. Instead we hear of a New York scheme long shown to have serious problems in being applied anywhere else and without the massive funding it required. I’ll come back to the ‘poverty’ issue later.
First Harlem Children’s Zone in New York is already quite old and has had a great deal of criticism which most ‘gurus’ would have read by now and stopped suggesting we adopt anything like it in Scotland. Here are some from 2010:
- It costs $16 000 per pupil per year as well as further thousands in out-of-school activities
- It requires private donations to keep class sizes small
- Results have already begun to fall after New York State made its exams harder to pass
- Just 15% passed the 2010 state English test
- Administrators can fire teachers for low class scores
Most important of all, the HCZ schools are selective and thus not representative of the wider population. See this:
‘[C]omparing the student populations at Promise Academy with those in the nearby regular public schools is an apples-to-oranges matchup: The HCZ schools serve significantly fewer high-need learners, like special education students or kids who are learning English. For instance, only six percent of the third graders who took the 2007–08 English test at the Promise Academy had disabilities, while disabled kids made up 30, 40, even 60 percent of the test-taking pool in open-enrolment schools in the district. Only a handful of students at the Promise Academies are English-language learners, compared with 14 percent in schools citywide.
Harlem Children’s Zone, “The HCZ Project,” http://hcz.org/about-us/the-hcz-project (2012)
I could go on. Criticism of the Harlem Scheme is everywhere in the research material. It is ridiculous that ‘one of the most influential education experts in Scotland’ should be allowed, via the Herald, to persuade readers that a scheme can be lifted out of one context and placed into the Scottish. I’m reminded of the recent condemnation of the Scottish PISA scores and the daft idea that we could learn from South Korea’s system of child abuse. See:
What just about everyone else knows, despite not being ‘gurus’ is that you cannot resolve educational problems without first resolving the wider social and economic context of inequality. There’s no point faffing about with expensive educational schemes if you’re going to eject the graduates back into a world of deep inequality where regardless of the effects of the scheme, they’ll face the same discrimination as others from the same background.
Spend the effort and the political will in reducing social and economic inequality. Tax really progressively, raise the minimum wage, build more and better houses, improve and reduce the cost of transport, invest in jobs and force the elite universities to take more students from deprived areas.
Footnote: For more on how so called experts keep missing this point see: https://thoughtcontrolscotland.com/2016/10/30/shouting-operating-theatre-in-a-crowded-fire-imagining-a-crisis-in-nhs-scotland/