Sharing the Experience of School Reforms Overseas

Professor Tells a Cautionary Tale of High Stakes in Public Education
Primary school classroom in New ZealandWhat started out as one keynote address at a convention of the New Zealand Education Institute (NZEI) for Warner School Professor David Hursh turned into a nine-week quest across Oceania to share the impact that some state school reforms, like high-stakes testing and privatization, are having on public education today.
Hursh’s two-month trip overseas began earlier this year in Wellington, New Zealand, where he presented a keynote to the union, representing primary school teachers and principals, on education as it has occurred in New York State and across the U.S. the last two decades. During his talk, he shared some shortcomings of the educational system and how these policies have impacted teachers professionally and, more importantly, children in the classroom.
According to Hursh, New Zealand educators have a long tradition of professional independence that has allowed curricula and assessments to be created at the local level. Each Primary school has its own school boards made up of community members, including parents, who are very familiar with the institutions and contribute to school-wide discussions and decisions.
The New Zealand educational system—one that Hursh looks to as a model for the rest of the world—currently does not have standardized testing or state-funded private schools. National standards, however, are in place. The Minister of Education Hekia Parata, he explained, wants to follow the U.S. model of high standards, standardized testing, and teacher accountability through test scores. The NZEI annual convention focused on why New Zealand should not adopt these same reforms that are currently in place in the U.S.  
“My main goal is to encourage you to keep on working on what you do best and to make sure teachers’ voices are heard,” Hursh said as he opened with his talk to more than 300 educators. (View his NZEI keynote address here.)
Students in New ZealandWhen Hursh first learned of his travel to New Zealand, he reached out to several individuals at all levels of the educational system, with the goal of extending his trip to help teachers, school officials, and parents there and in Australia impact national policy. While in New Zealand and Australia, he gave numerous talks and met with members of the unions, universities, primary schools, media and journals, and government, including the Minister of Education, around some of these issues as well as sustainability in education—another area that Hursh spends much of his time researching. During his travel, Hursh was also named associate editor of two international publications: Policy Futures in Education and the Journal of Education Policy.
Upon his return to the United States, Hursh has continued some of these conversations around high-stakes testing and New York policy. In June, he discussed state education policy on WXXI’s radio show Connections and led a community discussion, “Follow the Money: How Education Policy is Made in New York: A Dialogue” at Rochester’s First Unitarian Church. Hursh, who has been assisting teachers and parents in the Spencerport School District protest Common Core exams, also spoke at the rally “Stand with Spencerport Teachers” last month.
“A lot of people are interested in these issues,” said Hursh. “These reforms are not just taking place in New York State alone, but globally. It truly has become a global phenomenon.”
To help address this worldwide trend, Hursh will teach a new course this fall that looks at different models globally. The doctoral seminar in teaching and curriculum will examine the impact of globalization on education, from the preschool to university level.
“My goal with all of this is to remind teachers both locally and internationally that schools can be good if teachers work with the community and schools to develop a voice and show them what they know and have gained from their own experiences,” Hursh concluded.
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(Photos: Hursh visited with schools around issues of sustainability. One school he visited, Hukanui Primary School in Hamilton New Zealand, was designed by fifth- and sixth-grade students over two years. For the sustainable classroom building and surroundings, students tested out numerous materials, including earthen bricks that are a form of passive energy storage, and designed a rainwater harvesting system. Students also manage a vegetable garden, wormery compost pile, fertilizing chicken tractor, apiary/beehives where they gather honey to sell for funding future projects, and a native tree nursery.)

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Tags: David Hursh, environmental sustainability, global, high-stakes testing, sustainability education