The Education Cluster Bomb and the Parata Principle

 ”This will enable decisions about the schooling network to consider housing developments and surrounding infrastructure. It will also facilitate engagement with parents and learners to ensure they play a significant role in deciding the type of education provision that meets their community’s needs,”  Hekia Parata, Minister of Education

Engagement with parents and learners? What about principals and teachers?  More like enragement over the last fortnight because of the way the seismic shake up in education in greater Christchurch has been mismanaged.

There have been enough recent Big Brother announcements on the wider earthquake front without a Big Sister pronouncement to boot. Still feeling rather bruised and fragile, citizens have had to be passive recipients of recent proclamations on the 100 day Central City Recovery Plan, more residential red zoning and the off hand extension of the timeline within which democracy is going to be returned to regional government in Canterbury. The latest shock waves affect several schools, the hearts of their communities for young families and the not so young.

Missed the Cluetrain

As the tsunami of letters to The Press attests the natives are restless but not voiceless about “we know best” decisions, especially if information on which they are made is partly withheld rather than being fully shared. The Cluetrain Manifesto is now 17 years old but some organisations still haven’t got a clue.

Ministers like opening schools, not closing them-ask Trevor Mallard. But for obvious geological, geographic, and demographic reasons there has to be some major post quakes rationalization of education provision in the wider city, with 4400 unused desks.  Many families have left the region; others have moved west and teachers and resources have to follow.

It would be unreasonable to expect a continuation of the post quakes moratorium on staffing changes. Resources have to flow to where the people are now-and where they’ll be when the much vaunted rebuild gets into full gear, with more than 20,000  new workers in the city, many with families.

The sad thing is that the bungled announcement of the initiatives may have inoculated some school communities against some real education changes needed, earthquakes or no earthquakes.

The Pareto Principle

The Pareto principle, also known as the 80–20 rule and the law of the vital few, states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. The principle helps manage those things that really make a difference to results. Business management consultant Joseph Juran named the principle after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed in 1906 that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.

The Parata Principle

The Parata Principle states that 20% of each Ministry of Education policy announcement will cause so much smoke and fury by the way it is arrived at and delivered that it will be difficult to see any virtues, let alone necessities, in the other 80%.

So it was with the withdrawn class size averaging proposal earlier in the year when the Minister was given a statistical hospital pass by her ministry. Parata initially said that about 90 per cent of schools would either gain or have a net loss of less than one full time equivalent teacher as a result of the combined effect of the changes, hardly justifying the-sky-is-falling-again response in some quarters, but omitted to point out the somewhat larger effects on the other 10%.

So it also was with Canterbury education shake up announcement on 13 September. 173 schools out of 215 were not affected by the announcement-exactly 80%.

Schools assembly
…Blue’s the colour of the sky In the mornin’ when we rise … Green’s the colour of the sparklin’ corn In the mornin’ when we rise…”
Colours  Donovan & Joan Baez 1965*

When they rose that morning, many principals had little idea of the scale of changes about to be detonated. As they arrived at the schools assembly to hear an announcement marred by confusion and mired in bureaucratic terminatorology, principals were given colour coded name tags according to whether their schools were in the proposed optional (or optional proposed) categories of purple “rejuvenate” ( eu-than-ase); orange “consolidate” and green “no change”. The use of colourful weasel words didn’t help schools given a Don’t Come 2013. The blues were soon on parade.

In a (very) mixed media combo consisting of a starter video, ministerial miniseries from Earthquake Minister Brownlee and Education Minister Hekia Parata, it was announced that 13 Christchurch schools would close and 18 could merge. Five Aranui schools would also combine into an education “cluster”. Since they are going to physically be on one site in Hampshire Street a “huddle” or “mob” would have been more appropriate.*

Then principals were then engaged in a DIY breakout activity Find out the Fate of Your School by flicking through the folder of bumf. Look there it is, right at the end!

Feedback and feedforward
”As we move from recovery to renewal, we have an opportunity to realign services with changing community needs and ensure our investment delivers better outcomes for learners and the wider community…’In line with community feedback, we are taking the time to get this right because the benefits to Christchurch and wider New Zealand are tremendous…”  Gerry Brownlee

Community feedback was just about to start, though a lot of people would have appreciated the opportunity for feedforward. Minister Parata said the region’s education sector and wider community had “signaled” support for new approaches to education and this included greater sharing of resources and capital. To achieve that, schools had been grouped into clusters based on their geographic location.

 The Thinking?
…Freedom is a word I rarely use without thinkin’.. Colours 

Just how much thought had gone into the proposals and where was the vision, the big picture? These had been the strengths of the rather draconian 100 Day Central City Plan V1 launched by Minister Brownlee only a few weeks earlier to reconfigure the city after the last of 1600 commercial buildings is demolished. While this was a totally top down process, it picked up on the earlier CCC run Share an Idea exercise in 2011 which allowed thousands of people to initiate ideas not merely respond to them. The 30 July CCDU launch had sold the big picture by articulating clear design principles without getting bogged down on the details, which included some tricky property time bombs.

Now the Earthquake Minister was telling the principals that the region’s education sector had experienced huge disruption since the earthquakes. This was not an entirely novel insight. It certainly had and the sector had shown great flexibility in coping, from site and resource sharing and running learning shifts to more use of mobile information technology.  Teachers and students at the electronic whiteboard and Blackboard face did very well: NCEA results for the region were outstanding despite the dislocation at home and at school.

The Education Minister followed by stating that a strong education system, from early childhood to tertiary, will be critical to the redevelopment of greater Christchurch and its economy in the wake of the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011:
“This is why the Ministry of Education has worked with the community and the sector to develop a Plan for renewal that will meet the educational needs of children and young people, and support social, cultural and economic recovery.
This will involve an investment of up to one billion dollars to develop greater Christchurch as a leading education community positioned to set new standards of excellence in teaching, learning and research.
It also offers a unique opportunity to take an innovative course of action that will improve the delivery of education, extend the options available for learners, and lift student achievement.
The plan for education renewal considers the needs of Learning Community Clusters …”

Post quakes education in Canterbury has been a fascinating laboratory of locally generated ingenuity and innovation. John Laurenson, the Head of Shirley Boys’ High School had posted some innovative post quake ideas for education in East Christchurch on YouTube in June .* Three months later, as top down met bottom up head on like two colliding tectonic plates,  he was blindsided and blindfolded like several of his fellow principals.

Media management: out to launch?
How to set the Cat among the Pigeons and Scare the Horses 101

The devil wasn’t just in the detail, it was also flagged right up front in capital letters in the inept way the announcement was planned and executed in both its professional and media dimensions.

Media management or lack of it was all straight from the manual of How to set the Cat among the Pigeons and Scare the Horses 101, with no obvious  subsequent credits having being earned for the companion programme How to Shelter from Fallout from Panicked Pigeons and Bolted Horses 201.

There was confusion between firm “proposals” and various “options”. The inclusion of the “option” of possibly merging SBHS and CBHS –leaked by NBR and picked up by Stuff before the optimistic embargo expiry time-was rated an emphatic “Not Achieved” in Geography, History and School Culture and brought into question the credibility of other options and proposals (or were they proposed options and optional proposals?)

There had been two rounds of post-quakes education shake up meetings held over the last year or so with hand-picked people, but there seems to have been no meaningful segue to the Renewing Education in Greater Christchurch launch.

Some schools down for closure or amalgamation as firm proposals had prior briefing (a whole one hour prior to the launch), but not CBHS and SBHS, whose geotechnical status had not yet been made available.  Media management on the day fell short. The Ministry didn’t make it easy for participants and media to access online information in real time. In an age of mobile social media and 24/7 news outlets placing an unrealistic 4pm publication embargo only encouraged some media outlets to also go off half cocked while denying principals and Board of Trustees Chairs with the information to pass onto their colleagues.

Not in my schoolyard
“It’s sad for those schools that are involved in closing and merging and we’ve got to sit down, we’ve got to talk about how we can positively work with those proposals and ensure we’ve got a good strong, efficient, effective network for learning in Christchurch.”  Trevor McIntyre, Headmaster of Christchurch Boys’ High *

On Newstalk ZB  and Radio New Zealand the day after the announcement Trevor McIntyre said that while the shake up of Canterbury’s education sector will be difficult for many, a reassessment was needed. Before the announcement, he said, Christchurch principals had been fully aware of the need for changes in the region. But specific proposals for individual schools, he said, are a lot different than generalised discussion about change and renewal across the region.

Banks Avenue School could either be relocated or close as part of the proposals. Principal Murray Edlin said while it will be hard for many, the reorganisation is needed: “Because we’ve had an earthquake, there needed to be a reassessment of what the education provision is for Christchurch. What is really pleasing to see is that this is [only] a proposal, so it certainly gives us an opportunity to have some reaction to it.”*

Some of the other initial comments were less printable. The repercussions of the percussion were suddenly far wider than envisaged. Schools in the west and elsewhere were now on Death Row, not just those in the more affected east.

That Certain Feeling? No Minister

“Christchurch has been very tired but I think suddenly there is a new energy and feel … “I expected people would get upset but we had to give certainty and that’s what we’ve done,” Education Mininster Hekia Parata.

Expectations are very important in education. The Minister ensured that hers were self-fulfilled by managing to simultaneously panic parents, alarm students and irritate principals- the whole trifecta- and provoke calls to the ramparts with banners and posters trivialising the issues but providing a useful steam releasing valve for people sick off fighting earthquake battles and wanting their children’s schools to be havens of normalcy in the new post quakes  abnormal .

In the following days she wouldn’t be drawn on whether schools targeted for closure or amalgamation could hold onto hope. “We’re going to go through a process,… The point of consultation is to explain why their schools are on the proposal . . . hear what people have to say, for them to hear the detail, and then to reach a decision.”

The overhaul was “definitely, emphatically, unequivocally not a cost-cutting measure”. But to fit new needs surely it’s very appropriate for it to be at least a cloth cutting exercise, though one which appreciates the role of schools, especially in rural areas since they are often the last vestige of community now the post offices, the general store and the local church have closed. The same hold true in some suburbs.

Follow Up to Launch
“We have relied on your feedback during consultation on the Education Renewal Recovery Programme ‘Directions for Education Renewal in greater Christchurch’ Lesley Longstone, Ministry of Education Secretary

The Secretary featured two days after the launch in a full page Press ad looking inordinately cheerful in what could have been an old colour holiday snap. At least it was  in red and black. Entitled “To the people of greater Christchurch” the ad started: “As you will have seen or heard, the Government is investing up to ONE BILLION dollars in the renewal of education across greater Christchurch”.

ONE BILLION. What a capital idea! The timeframe of 10 years wasn’t mentioned and it’s not clear how much of this is new money.

 The secret  in strategy formulation is the sequence. Rather than the stages of Preparation, Response, Recovery and Renewal in terms of handling a natural disaster there is the clumsy omnibus concept “Education Renewal Recovery Programme” which scrambled the scale of changes and timelines for implementation. It all seemed rather confused not focused. Opportunities for some broadbased professional and community prior input would have been good, not just feedback.

The next day I couldn’t find anything on the MinEdu site pointing to the announcements, though Saturday’s ad provided an obviously non-hyperlinked url.*  Parata’s  subsequent “stepping back” clarification was a belated exercise in barn door closure. Since Announcement Day a flurry of phone calls, meetings and revised consultative time-lines has brought much less certainty than the Minister averred.

Over a fortnight later a letter regarding the now revised consultation period was hand delivered to the principals of affected schools last Friday. The next day there was a new Press ad under the heading Greater Christchurch Education Renewal (no mention of recovery now): “More community consultation-the next step for schools proposed to be merged or closed.”

More?  I didn’t know we had had any yet.  At least there is now a more realistic timeline for the “consultation process”. Each affected school is left to run its own process “in the way that best suits their school and their school community.”  If they want assistance Minedu will pay for an independent facilitator. “This is your chance to influence what happens.”  Not much chance of that with an atomised process but better late than never I suppose.

Beyond the Status quo

People will support what they help to create.” Marvin Weisbord

With the shift in population westwards from the munted east, there had to be more than a degree of rationalization in the provision of education in the wider city. The issues in the west, especially in Selwyn County-where the launch meeting was held-are about handling population expansion already happening apace pre quakes and accelerating since. Scaling up not scaling down is the challenge there.

The Minister’s statement that there is the opportunity to make education in Christchurch better, not just restore the status quo is fair enough, even if it got lost on the day. While some people fear a New Orleans post Katrina privatisation of education in Christchurch, given the scale of the challenges, not to mention the run on Banks, the Charter or “Partnership” school concept is a horse of the stalking rather than the Trojan variety.

This is not the time to merely paper over the physical and metaphorical cracks in education in the region. This is the opportunity to build deep and strong new foundations for differently configured learning communities based on strengthening present and new communities as they respond to seismic and other shocks, including fully coming to terms with the mobile digital revolution and with the implications of a new understanding of the principles and practices of effective learning and teaching from the work of Christchurch educator the late Graham Nuthall  and others.

It is also an opportunity to and explore new methods of governance and the sharing of educational plant and overheads both within learning clusters and with other community organisations. Many schools would benefit from sharing overheads: keeping the professional autonomy bestowed by the original Charter Schools 23 years ago but working more collegially in clusters to share resources and ideas and looking at new forms of governance and overhead cost sharing by taking the burden of property maintenance and other administration off individual principals and boards of trustees so schools can focus on the 20% of the causal factors which leads to 80% of learning outcomes.

 Not Clusters Last Stand
“If you don’t like change you’ll like irrelevance even less”.

Earthquakes or not, all learning communities throughout the country should all be open to self-generated efforts to give 1950’s educational arrangements a shake up in a more mobile and connected age with quite different cultural dynamics.

There is a unique opportunity to pick up on some of the exciting experiments post quakes generated by school communities themselves and sometimes facilitated by regional Ministry of Education people, rather than foisted on them from Head Office.

The challenge is to make the shotgun clusters viable while still keeping community identities. Large school aggregations such as that proposed for Aranui will be like scaled up rural area schools in the city. But, whatever the savings through facility and resource sharing, for many small is beautiful. More than 150 in any community and the social dynamics change markedly.

Distributing the Future
”The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed”. William Gibson

The shame is that the furious furore resulting from the patronizing approach may inoculate some people against a measured and timely response to the demographic and geographic shifts caused by the four major Canterbury quakes and to the real changes needed in teaching and learning, education governance and leadership focused on diverse learning provision appropriate to the second decade of the third millennium not the 1950s..

Of course, some schools are already there and the key to their success is organic self-generated professional development attuned both to the local community and national imperatives. 

MinEdu Report Card: Not Achieved
“The ministry must improve the analysis; the poorest papers lacked a clear problem definition or a coherent framework and failed in identifying major risks,”… Review of the Ministry of Education by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research.

There are lingering question marks over the performance of the Ministry of Education. An independent review of the ministry’s policy advice about the time Hekia Parata took over suggests a third of its papers are “poor or borderline” and only one-tenth are “good”. The results were no better than an earlier review in 2007.  Papers from the Ministry needed to be “far shorter” and “less repetitive”. Policy advice in the Ministry was graded low. “The ministry should act as a trusted adviser, recommending the best option rather than – more often than not – asking the minister to pick from a long list of options.”*

English import Education Secretary Lesley Longstone was expected to shake things up when she started in 2011.   Parata, also new to the job of Education Minister, said then: “I’ve made my expectations really clear to the new secretary about what it is I want and the pace at which I want it,”… “I’m driving in a particular direction and I need the support and the information and the reliable data in order to be able to do that.” …. My role is to tell her what my expectations are, what success is going to look like, what that means in terms of accountabilities for her.” *

The Ministry of Education needs to accept responsibility at the top level for a poorly orchestrated launch and learn from it. When it comes to dealing with both professionals and the public  it seems that the EQC demonstrates more EQ than the Ministry of Education. More importantly there are also big question marks over the substance of the proposals in terms of their formation and their strategic articulation.

Two successive glitches in the last 3 weeks with the new education payroll, which cost schools throughout the country lots of extra administration time, didn’t help the Ministry’s credibility. But what is needed more than efficiency is effectiveness. Perhaps its time to inject some more new people into the Ministry of Education. Some local Christchurch principals, who are demonstrating beyond their own patch leadership qualities in the present kerfuffle, commend themselves as likely candidates who could balance calls for top down change with an appreciation of the need for bottom up engagement.

Bottoms up to bottom up!

Did I just hear a (very faint) cry of Bring back Anne Tolley…?

*Blinks

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/7675704/Principals-in-tears-as-ministry-swings-axe
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0O87fFRizZY   Vid  Colours Donovan & Joan Baez Classic 1965 recording. Worth a play! 
http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/7678838/Cluster-schools-out-of-left-field
http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/7669918/13-Canterbury-schools-to-close-18-to-merge
http://www.minedu.govt.nz/theMinistry.aspx   Find the MinEdu’s change paper
http://shapingeducation.minedu.govt.nz   Oh here it is.
http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/7682703/Little-hope-of-Canterbury-school-plan-backdown
http://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/auckland/news/regch/792333415-earthquakes-forced-education-rethink—principals
http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/6869627/Staff-being-lost-in-big-reforms-of-Education-Ministry
http://www.ssc.govt.nz/sites/all/files/pif-moe-review-june2011.PDF   Review of Ministry of Education
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rwtm2-S95xg  John Laurenson, SBHS Principal. Earlier innovative post quake ideas 11/6/12
http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/7690199/Schools-lodge-Waitangi-Tribunal-complaints
http://www.stuff.co.nz/science/7712305/Cooperative-people-quicker-to-act 

#Lyall Lukey 1 October 2012
http://www.lukey.co.nz/  http://www.smartnet.co.nz
https: //bluggerme.wordpress.com  My other less serious blog

 

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