Incoherence about national education standards

There’s incoherence in the government’s rollout of the new national educational standards regime which goes beyond the unreasonable use of statistics I noted yesterday, and it’s illustrated most crisply in the differing approaches taken to mainstream schools and kura kaupapa Māori. Simply put, standards are being implemented on a trial basis (audio link) in KKM, and without a trial process in mainstream schools. The problem is not about a lack of background: Anne Tolley made this clear last year in response to a Parliamentary question from Te Ururoa Flavell, saying that there existed “a significantly robust research basis from which to develop national standards in kura kaupapa Māori.”

The mainstream education sector — without whose buy-in any such implementation will certainly fail — are understandably furious since their main problem with national standards has not been one of principle so much as a lack of confidence in the details of any regime’s implementation and an understandable desire to have input into a system which will fundamentally change the nature of their work. A substantial part of the reason they are suspicious is because National spent its nine (long) years in opposition taking every possible opportunity to deride the education sector as Labour toadies and teachers as walk-sock-and-cardigan-wearing fat-bottomed do-nothings, and as NZ Principal’s Federation president Ernie Buutveld says in the interview above, the sector’s suspicions have been confirmed: national standards is less about measuring students and more about measuring teachers, with a punitive view to demonising them in the eyes of parents. This is the political motive: driving parents to vote for National rather than for Labour. I suppose the reasoning goes something like, if teachers are well-respected and regarded and generally vote Labour, Labour will be similarly well-respected and regarded amongst parents. Or something like that.

The problem with measuring teachers on the performance of their students, however, (and I speak as a former teacher), is the same as the problem of judging a football team by its fans. A team doesn’t choose its fans, and schools or teachers don’t choose their students. There is only a certain extent to which a given teacher, however inspired or well-meaning, can influence the social, cultural, economic, health and other factors which feed into educational success; even more so when there exists a strictly results-focused teaching culture, rather than an improvement and engagement-focused culture, as there certainly will once standards are bedded in.

This is not to say that KKM should be denied their national standards trial process. But that is what National should be saying, in order to be consistent. Because the stated reason a similar trial has been repeatedly denied the mainstream education sector is urgency — the sense that we must move swiftly and make the changes so that not one more child will be left behind. This sort of incoherence in policy and rhetoric (or, as it is in this case, between policy and rhetoric) always yields flaws which can and should be exploited, and here’s the flaw in this. One of the two following statements is necessarily true:

  • The Government’s justification for rolling out national standards in mainstream schools without a trial period (urgency) is false and misleading, and accordingly the government’s motives in rolling out the trial period are different to their stated motives; or
  • The Government doesn’t care about kura kaupapa Māori students or schools, and doesn’t consider their educational standards a matter of urgency or substantial importance.

So, Anne Tolley and John Key, which is it?


Update: Sage wisdom on this topic from Gordon Campbell.

2 thoughts on “Incoherence about national education standards

  1. Overheard in the back seat of a limo:

    Pita: “Hey John, my people say these standards could make our kura look pretty bad. I’ll have to criticise ’em publicly.”

    John: “Aaaaaargh! Public criticism! Nooooooooo! Hey, hey, whatf we just trial ’em or summing in the koora?”

  2. I have opined this elsewhere, but may as well echo the lead comment here.

    We compare favourably (internationally) at Standard 3 level in the primary school where there is no national standards in place – this despite us starting behind many others in numbers in pre-school education. So what exactly is the problem, current performance is very good.

    Research has not shown national standards to improve the education outcomes (which is why we do poorly at secondary school – students constantly ranked below others lose motivation and essentially give up).

    So why this option, where there is no problem and even if there were this would be not the answer shown by research into educational performance?

    All national standards do is

    1. Create more bureaucratic workload for teachers – reducing time preparing lessons.

    2. Rank pupils to others, rank achievement between schools.

    They have nothing to do with pupils and their education and everything to with the elephant in the room. This change is required to bring in pay for teachers based on performance (and related bulk funding – creating teacher competition for available money and reducing mutual teacher support and co-operation) – which is why the advocacy for standards is the idea that where children perform below others of their age, this is some sign of poor teacher performance.

    In actuality, performance has been and will remain a function of deciles. And if anything such national standards will reduce teacher motivation to go into certain schools and try and make a difference. It will therefore result in some schools losing pupils and closing and consequently creating a need to bus children out of their neighbourhoods to get them to school.

    IMO, the most important change required (in primary schools) is teachers trained to teach children with dyslexia and there to be classes for these children, so they learn to read and write despite their problem as soon as possible and then return to the mainstream. The money promoting “National” party political propaganda could be better spent.

    “National” standards have a place, to assess the performance of a school across years of their student’s enrolment – intake and final output. The same sort of outcomes tested by NCEA for individuals used for primary and intermediate schools. Anything more is more a control device placed on union workers by there would be political bosses and for ideological reasons not educational ones.

    PS Failure of the students ranked as low achieving can only be reversed by getting them out of their “failure habit” environment and into a new one – (reading recovery at the lower school) and earlier academy “diversion” at secondary level (possibly for all those who reach this level too far behind others to be mainstreamed). Many would do better in more group orientated learning, with mentors and the like.

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