Government needs to rethink National Standards after US experience

In 2002, then US President George W Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 into law. No Child Left Behind was the US equivalent of the National Standards that New Zealand’s National-led Government has imposed on primary and intermediate schools – in fact it was the model upon which National Standards were based.

In the US there is increasing evidence that No Child Left Behind is a failure:

Over the years, the law became increasingly unpopular, itself blamed for many ills in schools. Teachers and parents complained it led to “teaching to the test”. Parents didn’t like the stigma of sending their kids to a school labeled a failure when requirements weren’t met. States, districts and schools said the law was too rigid and that they could do a better job coming up with strategies to turn around poor performance.

A common complaint was that the 2014 deadline was simply unrealistic.

As the deadline approaches, more schools are failing to meet requirements under the law, with nearly half not doing so last year, according to the Center on Education Policy.  Center officials said that’s because some states today have harder tests or have high numbers of immigrant and low-income children, but it’s also because the law requires states to raise the bar each year for how many children must pass.

The increasing dissatisfaction with No Child Left Behind came to a head last Thursday, when President Obama exempted 10 States from their compliance requirements.  Schools in those States will be free to assess students with methods other than test scores and will be able to factor in subjects beyond reading and mathematics.

There are another 29 States, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, also in the process of applying for exemptions.  I expect most of them will be granted, and that we are seeing the beginning of the end of the failed ideological experiment that is No Child Left Behind.

New Zealand’s new Education Minister, Hekia Parata, could do well to heed the lessons from the United States. The concerns that school principals, the NZ Educational Institute, Boards of Trustees and educational academics, as well as the Green Party, have been expressing about National Standards here are exactly the same concerns that have led to the discrediting, and now the impending demise, of No Child Left Behind in the US.


16 Comments Posted

  1. You do understand what “peers performance” means don’t you? So why do you think that there can really be so many people achieving beyond them because of national standards?

    I won’t even factor in that there is no moderation between schools.

    National Standards will make parents complacent about their children’s performance simply because they and their school are beyond the so called standard level. More advanced performance assessment charts the performance of the child in advancing beyond their former level during their teaching year.

    PS The reason a particular school has its ERO checks at less regular periods has little to do with very recent moves to National Standards.

  2. Catherine says “and now the impending demise”

    News for you Catherine. Our local school is now in it’s third year of National Standards, and despite your years of predictions of doom and gloom, the world didn’t collapse for our children’s education.

    You’re probably disapointed about that. You sound desperate for National Standards to be a disaster.

    We have the same great curiculum (hasn’t changed). What has changed with NS is additional effort for those kids struggling with the core subjects that they need to go through life, and more effort with parents in homes helping their kids, and more information about their progress and how to help them.

    Of course these are all bad things according to the politically biased anti brigade.

    In fact there are now so many children at achieving “at or above their peers’ performance nationally in reading, writing and numeracy.” (ERO quote) that they have pushed out their normal three yearly inspection to four or five years.

    And this is bad?

  3. There is a reason we had better educational outcomes before NCLB and afterward.

    Look up ERO, most educators opposed National Standards because it would detract from the teaching that realised the good results we get most of the time and reduce it to a lower level – just to cater for a LCD standardised system. As to reporting to parents, while it was not standardised (without any moderation across schools this is moot anyway), many schools were using more advanced assessment systems, and a requirement to use one rather than imposing a limited and limiting one was always preferable.

  4. I am very qualified for this, I was in the US education system until 2001 and my mother was an educator within it. In the education sector the schools in most states had been teaching to the test for many years before I was done, NCLB didn’t do that. Teachers referred to it as everyone left behind because it didn’t work and many people knew that from the start. The difference with National Standards is that in the US schools were already reporting lots of quality information on students’ performance and most people knew where they stood, the idea was to find ways to fix the problem. Here no one even knows how the children are doing. I’ve got co-workers who were told to leave school to help the other kids who had a chance. That’s a failure of a system and Labour with your confidence and supply agreement didn’t seem to care much when that was going on 5 years ago either. What’s the alternative you propose?

  5. As an ex-pat kiwi living and working in US schools while the No child Left Behind Act was implemented, I have one comment: DO NOT DO THIS NZ! It is bad for children, bad for teachers and bad for future literacy. Teachers are relegated to technicians “teaching to the test,” as centralized “pacing guides” (ie. told what to teach and when to teach) are imposed on classroom teachers. Children develop test anxiety trying to rote memorize “facts” to get the right answers..because the tests are multiple choice tests that can be graded by machines and statistics quickly generated to compare school results..

    The only beneficiaries of the NCLB system are the test bank companies and data collectors..who are scooping needed funds from the classroom to line their own pockets.. I would suspect the “suits” of these companies were no doubt an important part of the decision to adopt this in NZ.. Beware the snake oil salesman peddling failed goods from overseas..

    Keep your resolve NZ Dept of Education. Your progressive education model could be an example for the US.. not the other way round..
    Why would we want to change our education model when we enjoyed one of the highest literacy and numeracy rates in the world..??

  6. National standards is National politicians telling a proffesion how to do their jobs …..

    The Nats will put less effort and money into poorer schools or to help struggling students.

    The Nats are about as credible as John Keys denials over his knowldege about the free election hand-out that Keys himself and his staff organised with radio New Zealand.

    Private schools do very well from National governments …..

  7. Toad: I was reporting – not advocating. I don’t agree with national standards as such. My claim is that there is no left or right, only w—–s wanting to use and sculpt other people to their personal ends, like slaves.

    I do not like everything Act stands for. I get tired of “right wing” politicians telling me I should aspire to their empty world of “life is about professional success”. (It’s funny how every sector always wants to sell the world its own defense system – Long story!)

    You cold probably call me an economic conservative and a social liberal, but within reason. I believe in direct population control when and as required, reproduction licences to stop the inter-generation spread of chronic child abuse, and even some negative eugenics because I do not believe that Homo Sapiens are not above nature law. So, before anything I am just a pragmatists.

  8. So the big reason to stop National Standards is not because of what is happening in NZ, but because a different standard, in a different education system, in a different country, has been criticised.

    This on top of Russels prediction of the downfall of Hong Kong property development because a city over 2000km away in Inner Mongolia has empty buildings.

    On top of Gareth and Russel trying to make us believe a $500 million loan is actually profit so they can falsely claim that the power generators are returning 18% per year – 3-4 times greater than the private generators.

    What is this? Perhaps an attempt by the Green Party to destroy their credibility by making claims to tenuous they are absurd?

    I may not agree with many things from the Green Party but I do beleive in a credible opposition.

    And there’s zero credibility in making claims so tenuous that they’re laughable.

  9. @Andrew Atkin 9:04 PM

    I have to express some surprise at that comment, Andrew. From some you have posted on other threads, I had assumed you were a social and economic libertarian.

    But to advocate Government dictating assessment standards and reporting in schools is about as far removed from libertarian principles as you can get.

    This is the problem with your beloved ACT Party, Andrew, and why hardly anyone votes for them. In one moment they purport to be libertarian. Nek minnit, they adopt the most authoritarian position possible, as with National Standards.

    The Greens, by contrast, always take their position on issues from their Charter Principles.

  10. Toad: Quote: “right wing ideological experiment”.

    Throw away your Left versus Right thinking. National standards is just another update on the human resource factory, to achieve the results that “the powers that be” want. Ie. Kids that measure up to THEIR specifications.

  11. @Andrew Atkin 5:45 PM

    Maybe we need to start interviewing the people who tell our politicians what to do?

    You mean like Catherine Isaac, who gatecrashed the ACT (read John Banks, sole MP) – National negotiations to get charter schools into the confidence and supply agreement.

    Yet another failed right wing ideological experiment, at the time that the US model for the Nats’ last one, National Standards, is demonstrably failing and being wound back in the US.

  12. @James Rawiri Meager (in the Facebook comments)

    No, they are not absolute equivalents, but National Standards is still modeled on No Child Left Behind and they have many features in common. In particular, they have a nationally imposed assessment approach that fails to give schools the flexibility to develop assessment standards most appropriate to the demographics of their pupils, provide comparisons of schools’ supposed performance that takes no account of the social circumstances of their students’ families, restrict assessment to the narrow learning outcomes of literacy and mathematics, label children as “failures”, and encourage “teaching to the test”.

    While I agree with you that the detail differs, at the level of the principles they are essentially the same right wing ideological experiment being imposed on our kids, and it is an experiment that has demonstrably failed in the States.

  13. Given that New Zealand is ranked in the top 5 internationally for primary education you would think it is the one sector that needs the least attention and yet Anne Tolley stated in a speech to the last National Party conference that the government believes wide systemic change is necessary. Judging by the credible report card produced by the New Zealand Institute there are many other sectors that need to be looked at before education:

    This government doesn’t care a damn about educational outcomes for children, what they care about most is removing the professional voice from the management of the sector (it should be left to Treasury and the Act Party, obviously). Their claims that teachers are only motivated by political self interest is a joke, they need to look in the nearest mirror when making such claims. I certainly didn’t enter the teaching profession to get rich and have political influence but I am certainly involving myself in politics after what has happened.

    Copying an eduction system that is one of the poorest performers in the OECD makes no sense. Our quality education system was heading from great to excellent but we are now banking hard to the right and about to head into a dramatic downward spiral!

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