When is civil disobedience justified?

Dave Kennedy is the Green Party’s candidate for the Invercargill electorate.  He has worked as a primary teacher for 30 years. Dave has his own blog site, which is well worth a regular read.  I’ve decided this insightful post by Dave yesterday on how we have reached the stage that at least a quarter of schools are refusing to comply with Education Minister Anne Tolley’s National Standards deserves republishing here in full:

The introduction of National Standards into our schools was a shock to the teaching profession. We had developed a professional culture where an evidence base and an inquiry approach determines our practice. Our curriculum was developed using a co-construction process between the Ministry of Education and practicing teachers over a period of five years. The Ministry also produced a series of Best Evidence Synthesis (BES) publications where different areas of professional practice were defined and analysed based on existing research.
To suddenly have an assessment system forced on us that was politically driven, had no research base and did not fit with anything else we were working with was a real shock. The initial reaction from the profession was to look at what was being introduced to see if it was actually fit for the stated purpose (raising the academic achievement of our struggling children). Our leading educationalists and academics studied what was being proposed and unanimously rejected them.

An open letter expressing serious concerns from four academics, including John Hattie (the Government’s main education advisor) was ignored and a report expressing concerns from the parliamentary library was dismissed and removed. A petition with around 40,000 signatories asking for a trial before implementation was also ignored and the Standards were legislated into law.

The Minister, Anne Tolley, refused to address the flaws in the standards and was only interested in discussing issues around implementation. She claimed on numerous occasions that the Government had a mandate to introduce the Standards and as they are now law all teachers (as servants of the state) are bound to obey. Rather than a trial using a small number of schools the Government has decided to spend $26 million to implement it across all schools in a three year “bedding down” period. When at least 80% of our children were doing well academically, and wouldn’t benefit greatly from the Standards, many felt that the money would be better spent targeting those children who needed the extra support and were easily identified using existing norm referenced assessments.

The National Standards have taken considerable time for many schools to implement in any marginally meaningful way and most teachers, principles and school communities are struggling to see how the Standards will add value to what their schools were already doing. There are huge professional and ethical concerns for teachers when they are compelled to rate children below or above an arbitrary standard that has no professional basis. The introduction of the standards has effectively shifted time and energy from implementing our internationally regarded curriculum to spending time on an initiative that many teachers believe will deliver no benefit to their children.

For school communities to align their learning targets to the National Standards, with the knowledge that to give effect to those targets would have a detrimental consequences for their children, created a professional and ethical dilemma. They were left with two choices either follow a legal requirement and then just pretend to follow through, or make a stand and refuse to comply.

A refusal to comply has to be supported by school’s board of trustees who operate in the best interests of their school communities. It is a brave decision when the Minister has threatened to sack noncompliant boards and replace them with statutory managers and withhold professional development and ministry resources. The fact that at least a quarter of all schools have taken this extreme step is a telling indictment on the true nature of the standards.

Primary teachers are not a particularly strident group. The New Zealand Educational Institute started life in 1883 as a professional institute and only became a union when it began to represent teachers in agreement negotiations many years later. I think there have been only two times in the 128 year history of the institute that it has reluctantly gone on strike to progress a claim. It takes exceptional circumstances for primary teachers to put their neck out to make a stand and to break the law on a point of principle has been unheard of until now.

The process of introducing the National Standards has been hugely frustrating for teachers who regard their profession as one that should have similar professional autonomy to that of doctors, where the onus of duty is to those in their care. After being dictated to by a Minister who ignores all professional advice, sees no point in consultation and any attempt to reach any form of compromise has been dismissed out of hand, the only course of action left is civil disobedience.

36 Comments Posted

  1. I don’t really understand the need for national standards testing. It seems to me that if a student is not ready for a next step, the people handling that next step should do the testing based on their acceptance standards. Any testing, if it is NOT done for a specific next step, may become a significant waste of time for everyone. It is definitely worthy of civil disobedience when this is the case.

  2. Anne Tolly is a disgrace and “national standards” is a slogan turned into bad policy. The fact remains that natioanl has no plan and no money for the kids that everyone knows are failing at school.

    National has stolen money from early child education, curtailed adult education and ignored experts evidence in favor of right wing ideology.

    Maybe they think a stupid population is more likely to vote for the nats.

    Anyway I think history will show Anne Tolly to be one of the worst education ministers ever.

    A mean old sow who dislikes children ………. especially poor ones

    National to the core …………….

  3. Our school has been using National Standards since the first half of 2010, with few initial issues, and really positive results for our children.

    With lots of children swapping schools because of the Christchurch earthquake, it’s been really apparent that previous reporting of childrens achievement had more to do with the teacher, school, and peer group, than it did on childrens actual ability.

    If 18 months on, some teachers and schools are struggling to work out National Standards, as Dave Kennedy says, then that’s a good indication of who should be looking for another career.

    They’re either useless, or putting politics before our children’s education (like the protest about NS on our school grounds – it wasn’t teachers protesting – it was Labour Party members).

  4. “Why does NZEI shy away from competence/effectiveness as a key basis for an effective remuneration system?”

    There is nothing in the agreement that prevents paying more to more competent or effective Teachers.

    Who judges though? Ann Tolley?

    If anyone comes up with a fair and consistent method of judging Teacher performance. ( I do not think it will be soon. The private sector still struggles with identifying effective managers) I do not think Teachers will abject to extra pay for achievement.

    National Standards are a very crude and ineffective way of measuring either Teacher or Student performance. There is a justifiable and real worry, that some ignoramus like Tolley, will start trying to judge performance on National Standard scores.

    Yes. teachers are worried about evaluation because it is very unlikely to be adequate or fair.

  5. The imprtant thing, overlooked by many, is that National Standards do not impose a teaching structure or syllabus on teachers: all National Standards do is measure the teaching ‘output’ (and I make no comment on the validity of that).

    If a teacher beleives teaching maths through music is a great idea, then that can still be done: the outcomes will reveal any ‘success’ or ‘failure’ in such a method. Accordingly, the ‘evidence-based’ teaching that Dave Kennedy talks about can still be employed by teachers. All National Standards will do is evaluate that.

    The implication is, therefore, that it is the ‘evaluation’ that some teachers are scared of.

  6. How would frog and Dave Kennedy feel about ‘civil disobediance’ by dirty-dairyers, coal miners, deep-sea trawlers ….

  7. “Why does NZEI shy away from competence/effectiveness as a key basis for an effective remuneration system?”

    Because at the moment teachers earn the bare minimum that they should be paid for the important work they do. You just said that you wouldn’t do the job for twice the money and you’re surprised that the body whose role is to represent teachers wants to protect their remuneration?

    If the prospect was for paying bonuses to high-performing teachers then the story may be different (I doubt the NZEI would be saying no to more money for teachers) but I don’t like the odds that National will agree to paying teachers more even as a way of recognising achievement.

  8. i second what mark sez about ‘information clearing house’…

    i go there every day…

    ..and that is where most of my libya information has come from..

    ..also john pilger regularly posts incisive opinion pieces on current events..

    ..(maybe someone shd alert keith locke to it..eh..?..

    ..y’know..!..pilger et al..?..

    ..it cd have saved him from the recent faux-pas..eh..?..)

    ..i wd also recommend ‘alternet’…

    ..two lighthouses in a very foggy world…

    ..and..(ahem..!..)..of course..whoar..

    ..make that three lighthouses…eh..?


  9. Good Day Dear Sprout!
    I often pinch quotes off Tom Feeley’s “Information Clearing House”
    It is an US based News-site, lives off contributions where available.
    As a source of News you won’t hear on the Telly at 6pm it is a real eye opener and I would certainly recommend it to anyone!
    The stories there today remind me how gifted we are in NZ – s’why our ’employees’screwing up here disappoints me sometime.
    Like watching a 3 year old flying a 747 – it’s giving me a fearfull squint.
    Wonder which Green is standing the the Epsom seat!

  10. Insider – Entry into most university courses for teacher training involves meeting fairly robust criteria and the quality of those entering teacher training is generally strong. Of course there are many potentially brilliant teachers who don’t apply because the remuneration is less than what they could receive elsewhere and the status of the job is continually undermined. Police earn considerably more than teachers, are paid throughout their training and their salaries are considerably higher.

    Once obtaining a teaching degree, beginning teachers have to be supported through a programme of advice and guidance for two years and must meet the “Registered Teacher Criteria” before gaining full registration. http://www.teacherscouncil.govt.nz/rtc/rtc.stm The standard deemed acceptable and the quality of support continues to be raised and the process is becoming more robust.

    After gaining registration teachers undergo annual appraisals where their performance is judged against the RTCs and the more experienced a teacher is, the greater the expectations of performance. Any gaps in their practice should be identified (often self identified) and rectified through their personal professional development.

    Any teacher can be subject to complaints from parents or concerns raised through ERO reports and all schools should have a complaints policy where there is an established process for dealing with concerns. If parents are unhappy with any school process they can approach the Teachers Council for support.

    I have supported a number of teachers on behalf of NZEI who have had concerns expressed about their competency. Some have just lacked proper professional support and when this has been rectified they have become very capable teachers. A few have not raised their performance despite support and they have been dismissed from their jobs. Some have not performed well because of a personal crisis and time out has been provided for them to sort things out. A school must contact the teachers council and inform them of any teacher who has resigned or left a position when there are concerns around competency and this will be noted against them and can be accessed by any future employer.

    What NZEI do not want to see is a form of performance pay only based on the achievement of their children. This can be grossly unfair when a number of factors like the decile level of the school or the number of children in the class with learning and behavioural problems are not accounted for. What we would prefer is something similar to a Practice Based Attestation system we have trialed, in conjunction with the Ministry where the professional skills, knowledge and attributes of the teacher are assessed through a properly moderated system.

  11. Insider.

    Education is “political” because politicians cannot resist tinkering with it.

    In Finland it is not “political” because they employ skilled and qualified teachers and let them get on with it. Like Doctors.

    Sure there are good and not so good Teachers, just like any job, but on the whole, NZ has much better and more dedicated Teachers than we deserve, given the pay and the amount of ill informed flak they have to put up with.

    Teaching is informed by research. Research which shows that narrowly focused rote learning, is certainly not the best way to Teach.

    As for performance measurement. Companies try to do it all the time, but except for a few areas, like assembly line production, genuine performance measurement has proven as problematic in commercial enterprises as it is in Teaching.

  12. @nommo

    I’ve never said anyhting about NS and underperforming teachers. Is that a reading comprehension fail or not achieved? 🙂 I think you may have munged some ideas in separate posts – I do it all the time. I know very little about the mechanics of NS, that’s why I didn’t want to discuss their merits. On assessement I tend to agree with you but I think there are ways relative performance can be measured. Companies do it all the time.

  13. @sprout

    Your gut feeling may be right, given my spouse is a teacher and in the union. She presses my buttons all the time. SO I know quite well what kind of work goes into teaching. I wouldn’t do it, even if the money is double. I’ve not said teachers are greedy, but these documents tell me the primary welfare concern is not children but the needs of NZEI members. Why does NZEI shy away from competence/effectiveness as a key basis for an effective remuneration system?

  14. insider,

    your arguments seem to reflect that you mainly see NS as a way of underperforming teachers. I see no evidence that NS actually identifies ‘underperformance’ because, as I said above, there are no standard human beings or standard human interactions.

    the trouble is that all the way through this thread you’ve claimed that NS is going to somehow weed out “bad” teachers (I don’t remember this being the main point of NS) I still haven’t seen the evidence that this is a valid approach. Should a teacher who struggles to help their lower-decile class of 30 meet NS be judged by the same metric as a teacher in a high-decile school easily assists her 22 students to pass with flying colours? do other circumstances have no effect or bearing?

  15. Insider, I guess if you have a predetermined view you take from a document what you want to see. I am heavily involved with NZEI and the bulk of my time is spent on professional issues and mainly focussing on improving outcomes for children. NZEI recently worked closely with the Ministry in rewriting the document to support IEPs.

    Your simplistic view of teachers as being self-centred and greedy and heavily focussed on money reflects more realistically on this government rather than a profession that has the welfare of children as its primary concern. Given the hours of work and the demands of the job, few teachers do it for the money and an easy life.

    I get the feeling that two words must seriously press your buttons, “teacher” and “union”.

  16. In short – as a grandson of those who put on the Khaki’s to fight for our ‘freedoms’ – civil disobedience is almost a duty (where required) – too many in my family were buried – all believing they fought and died for our right to disagree.
    Democratic is only an approximate term for those who have sacrificed – paid the price – they bought us certain rights with their very lives.

    To take those rights away (a la Ngats)is still a generation away – I know the hammer’s down about a NWO – but my views as a highly paid Public Servant are much different from those of a broken-down cripple.

    Maybe Parliamentary seats need to be paid the same as any dole bludger.

    But then we’d see corruption above and beyond.

  17. @ sprout

    I’ve read them. Re the first one, call me cynical, but it primarily consists of: we want more funding, 100% ECE teachers, we hate NS. Barely a skerrik on ensuring training=competence, maintenance and eforcement of professional standards, changes in teaching practice (maybe there will be other papers looking at that). It’s all ‘me, me, me’. It’s pure and simple an advocacy document I’d expect from a union, it has a large section labelled ‘political strategy’. But it exactly demonstrates the inherent conflict of interest re teacher standards v job protection I referred to earlier.

    The second one is about pay strategy. I noticed a lot about rewarding qualifications, responsibilities and professional development. Nothing about monitoring or rewarding for competence/effectiveness.

    The last is once again all about more ECE funding and a dig at general govt policy. Way to get them engaged guys. I don’t think these papers add much but to entrench positions and highlight that from the NZEI’s point of view it’s all about ME!

  18. This weekend NZEI are holding their annual conference and AGM. Three position papers will be presented that highlight the areas that the Institute is most concerned with at this time. The first is around protecting our quality public education system and making it even better, the second is on recognizing and paying teachers for their assessed skills and abilities and the third highlights the issues around poverty that have a direct impact on children’s ability to to function well at school.

  19. nommopilot. Like the new, New Zealand curriculum. Years of work and expert research based input. The introduction of which has been short circuited by introducing NS at the same time.

  20. @ joe

    This is turning into a debate on the merits of NS. I have no view on what underlies it apart from as a parent that likes the NS based reporting I’ve seen.

    The TC default is “you can’t unless”, HDC encourages direct resolution but no problem if you don’t want to. Quite different intent.

    I think welfare v performance could end up being one or the other. I think it is a huge conflict of interest especially in a fee paying situation.

  21. @ insider:

    Sure it is hard to link outcomes to inputs. But what value are National Standards if you are saying one can’t link the outcome to the inputs. What is the value in being told your kid is “failing” if you agree that can’t be linked to any input? What is the point of an assessment if the result might just as well be stochastic?

    “You primarily have to go through the school.” Unless you have evidence of a conflict of interest. How is this different from the health and Disability Commissioner which suggests you primarily complain to the provider?

    Why “ironic” – I don’t support all Green policies, or any political party for that matter.

    “NZEI is more concerned about job protection” Well that should be a unions’ concern – what would you think of an organisation that took fees from its members then ignored their welfare? That doesn’t mean they don’t regard performance as important – It is hardly one or the other.

  22. “We also know that not all teachers are great and dedicated and hard working”

    NS shouldn’t be used to assess teacher performance because there are no ‘standard’ students. they all learn at their own rates in their own ways and there is no control to compare how a student would perform under any other teacher so “standards” is a misleading term.

    Since we’re all experts, I’ll give you my ‘expert’ opinion: The key to helping a child to learn is to encourage them to learn through their interests. Find ways to relate the curriculum to the particular things that excite and interest that particular student and you will engage the student who will then do the learning part all by themselves. Telling a student they are failing will only work to motivate a small proportion of students and more will just develop the self-image that they are failures which is a travesty when we are talking about primary school students!

  23. @ joe

    outcomes can be easily measured. I think what is much harder in education is making the connection between outcomes and the inputs/processes. That’s partly why we have a range of alternative teaching systems – steiner and montessori being a couple, and private schools doing IB. They put out some very good graduates showing there is more than one way to teach and measure. There is the big push on Maori education that in effect says Maori kids need to be treated ‘differently’ from how they were treated in the past, yet it doesn’t seem to be paying off in results.

    Ironic your comment on quackery because that is Green policy… “•Establish a Complementary Health Care Unit within the Ministry of Health to facilitate the integration of selected complementary health practices and therapies into the public health system.” “•Support rongoa Maori (traditional Maori healing) practitioners and practices”

    Re the Teachers COuncil, you have very limited ability to complain. You primarily have to go through the school.

    IN my view, based on its behaviour on NS, NZEI is more concerned about job protection than responding to concerns about performance.

  24. Insider: I don’t know that learning is any harder to assess scientifically than health. If you think you can’t assess evidence of learning, then how do you think national standards can possibly work?

    A hell of a lot of people regard themselves as experts in their own health, but I wouldn’t support a government promoting quackery just because people voted for it.

    “the best I have is the parent teacher interview”. No – you can complain to the New Zealand Teachers Council. This is the body that sets teacher standards.

    And what do you mean by “seems to want” – does it or doesn’t it?

  25. @ kerry and nommo

    The problem with the evidence issue and the medical comparison to me is that we are dealing with social vs a ‘harder’ evidence based science. And education is frankly far more political because we are all ‘experts’ because we’ve all gone through school or have put kids through school. We also know that not all teachers are great and dedicated and hard working, despite what the union says.

    Good medical practice is not controlled by the govt, it is controlled by the standards body. The govt does control funding hence the debates over drugs and waiting lists. If teachers want the same ability to control standards they have to follow the same path. That’s why the union is an impediment because it seems to want to protect bad teachers from scrutiny as much as impose rigorous and highly effective teaching standards. There is no patients and disablity commissioner equivalent I can complain to – the best I have is the parent teacher interview.

    And I have to say that my experience of NS as a consumer is extremely positive. I got a very clear statement of expectation and achievement.

  26. I’m a bit with the insider here (expect to have no ’employees’) – NZ has such poor governing practise (looks good on paper)- Rebellion against the impoverishing, ignorant, privileged class is the true duty of any Patriot.

    Suppressing the truth as we do (collectively)will leave us with deadly disorders – of the kind that “cracking down on” will not address, nor even come close.

    The right home for an honest Kiwi is Jail.

    As if Hitler was in power – sometime one has to move to a ‘not guilty’ stance – just running with the herd won’t do.

    NZ is so full bourgeois bullshit – that slow mediocre half-changes in wording will not fix our problems……nor oppressing the oppressed,
    nor throwing bags of confederate money.

    Calling the British rioteers ‘criminal gangs’ is an hopeless misread.
    Chaos theory propounded by a Government is always a dangerous mistake – the ‘Arab Spring’ is a Classic example.

    As it’s written,

  27. “Teachers have to separate professional standards like the debate on NS from employment issues”

    it is an employment issue. a major change to their job description made by non-experts in direct contradiction of professional advice and without any evidence.

    if we do live in a democracy then why should the government be allowed to dictate policy without any supporting evidence, trials, or consultation with the people directly affected by the policy? Democracy: We have a majority, we shall now dictate?

  28. “The Government does not tell a surgeon to do a frontal lobotomy when an appendectomy is required.”

    until Tolley is made minister of health next term…

    all patients will receive a standard treatment tm of amputation of one arm and one leg along with a taxpayer subsidised dose of happy pills from big pharma (actually an expensive placebo)

  29. “There is nothing in law saying education decisions have to be research based. The Govt is in charge of education and has made a policy choice”.

    They should be. To prevent the constant ideological, ignorant and idiot tampering with education by politicians.

    A professionals duty is to their clients. Last time I heard it was to the students. Not the Government.

    If you think the principled research and experienced based objections to Nationals attempts to dumb down our education to US levels is anything to do with industrial matters, from the Teachers view, then you have not been listening.
    That is Nationals plan down the track though. Like the USA, they want to fuck up public education so they can get their private provider mates in to profit by it. US education is so great we should copy it?

    The Government does not tell a surgeon to do a frontal lobotomy when an appendectomy is required.
    The surgeon would, rightly say “that is not in the best interests of the patient”.

    Exactly what Teachers are doing!

  30. The intent of forcing National Standards is to impose a commercial model onto education and thence cut costs by deprofesionalising the teachers.

    See my extended comment on Catherine Delahunty’s posting from yesterday.

  31. The really weird thing is that unlike Cuba, New Zealand is a democracy. This is a decision of a democratically elected government. People when voting for the government decided they wanted national standards. So if you are so arrogant not to respect the decision of the majority of the voting public then either move to Cuba, where there isnt the hurdle of democracy or quit your job. Unless of couse you want to seek the mandate from teh people of Invercargill so if you win the seat you can claim a democractic mandate not to implement national standards

  32. Feel free to be civilly disobedient – that’s your right, but expect to lose your job. That is because you have been given a role and responsibility, and I expect part of that is an expectation that you follow the rules and regulations, and policies and processes set down by the lawful authorities.

    There is nothing in law saying education decisions have to be research based. The Govt is in charge of education and has made a policy choice. You are deliberately disobeying them. Most professionals in that position would resign if they felt their professional standards were being compromised. Your response shows that you are not the professionals you claim you are.

    Note this shows the weakness of teaching in not having an independent standards body like the colleges of medicine, and instead using the union. Teachers have to separate professional standards like the debate on NS from employment issues if they want to be taken seriously as professionals.

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