National Standards rural resistance

Last week, I attended a meeting on National Standards in a small town in the Waikato. It was a cold Thursday evening but about 50 parents and teachers and the three candidates for the Coromandel electorate had a chance to hear Professor Martin Thrupp report from his current research on National Standards in schools. Martin was at pains to say the research is not finished but he made some excellent observations about the way schools are struggling with an imposed and unhelpful measurement system, with about a quarter failing or refusing to comply. [Today’s NZ Herald now reports that of the 2076 schools required to submit Charters including the Standards, 416 sent in non-compliant Charters, 117 are still being assessed for compliance and 30 failed or refused to send in any Charter at all.]

The Principals of two of the local Waikato schools and several teachers gave impassioned contributions last Thursday evening about their commitment to student achievement without labelling and league tables. They believe the narrowing of the focus in schools undermines the support for a diversity of learners. Everyone agreed at the meeting that the education system needs to keep challenging itself and looking at what isn’t working, but no one spoke up in favour of the Government’s untrialled and imposed solution. Normally educational reform is rolled out with major input from academics and teachers as well as politicians. The lack of an evidence base for the Standards may not bother the Government but it isn’t impressing the people in heartland Aotearoa.

I have also attended two hui with kaiako Maori and with Maori Boards of Trustees. At both these hui I received huge support for the Greens position and our poster “Ten Great Ideas in Education, and Ten Concerns about National Standards”. The kura kaupapa have been exempted from the crude imposition of Nationals Standards, but at least 85% of Maori tamariki are in the Pakeha school system so Maori teachers are standing up for these tamariki.

Our curriculum has international respect and our outcomes could improve even further if we looked to Finland where teachers are well paid and respected to enhance the quality of the whole education system – and it works!

I think Education Minister Anne Tolley underestimates the damage done. Schools are hurting and every day parents write to me worried about the impact of this retrograde approach. There is so much we can do to support our children and they only get one shot at primary school.

3 Comments Posted

  1. The hidden agenda behind national Standards needs to be exposed. Part of the neo-liberal agenda of “less government” is a global thrust to impose a commercial model onto education. This manifests itself by using a vocationalized education system to produce a stratified population where a small educated elite takes the high paying technical positions while the bulk of the workforce takes low grade, low paying jobs. This focus on standards is really a substitute for a jobs policy.

    Most jobs being created are by companies like MacDonalds and education can do little about that. Vocationalizing education waters down the curriculum for most kids, so that they’re going to take jobs that require only a bare literacy, because those are the jobs that are being created in a commercial economy. The result will be a growing gap between the achievements of poor minority children and those who come from prosperous families living in affluent suburbs.

    A commercial model also mandates reducing costs and the biggest expenditure in education is teacher salaries, so to reduce the costs they have to lower teacher costs. And in order to do that, they have to deprofessionalize teaching

    Since we’re not going to educate children to do anything more than McJobs all we need is teachers who are “good enough” to follow scripted curricula and to teach to these standardized tests. And if you only need teachers who are good enough for this you don’t have to pay them very much.

    The programme also cuts of the supply of critical thinkers who are likely to challenge the status quo of society.

  2. Another important point to note is that only one target is required to make a school charter “compliant”, so to have so many schools with no targets at all is a very significant outcome. Ministry officials have been having meetings with school boards and pleading with them to set even one target, so that they can “tick the box” and say the charter is compliant. This shows the farcical situation that has now developed.

    Allan Peachey actually used a phrase in his book to describe his treatment when Labour was making changes that included the removal of bulk funding etc. He talked about “The Brutal Exercise of Political Power” (p. 94). Why do politicians become such hypocrites when they are elected?

  3. Most interesting thing in the Herald article you link to Catherine is at the end:

    Meanwhile, it has emerged that the ministry has accidently approved some non-compliant charters, despite schools deliberately removing all reference to National Standards.

    Ms Tolley acknowledged “there were some problems in the ministry”.

    “My understanding is that the ministry has now contacted all of those schools and informed them that they were not compliant, and it is working with them to ensure that they are.”

    Seems some staff in the Ministry also have no confidence in the Standards, which is hardly surprising given how deeply flawed the whole process has been.

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