Dom Post on Education Standards

October 26th, 2009 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post Editorial:

According to Mr Key, as many as one-in-five pupils are being left behind. The consequences of that are as inevitable as they are disastrous. Without basic literacy and numeracy, there is little chance of succeeding in 21st century New Zealand society. It is no coincidence that research last year showed 90 per cent of prisoners are “functionally illiterate” – their reading and writing skills are inadequate to cope with the demands of daily life.

No coincidence indeed. The degree of hearing loss in prisoners also suggests not just a correlation but a causative effect.

The desire of parents to have clear, honest, specific and regular feedback on their children’s progress, achievement, and strengths and weaknesses in language the parents understand is reasonable. Parents – and, through them, their children – need to know how they are performing, and in a meaningful way. Despite some teachers’ belief that revealing to pupils and their parents that they are performing below the national standard will hurt their motivation, engagement and self-esteem, the alternative is cruelly unfair. Allowing parents and pupils to falsely believe they are performing adequately is a sure step to failure.

And this is not comparing to some standardised median or mean. This is not about ranking kids within a school, within a decile or even nationally. And it is not about ranking schools. It is simply about letting parents know if their child is able to do the basic numeracy and literacy skills that are expected of a child of that age.

British research suggests that putting too much emphasis on literacy and numeracy, and on the achievement of in those areas, can see other parts of the curriculum squeezed into oblivion.

A nation of spellers who can add up but have little grasp of science, small exposure to the arts and only the occasional foray into physical while at primary school, is not going to enjoy success either.

I agree. But basic literacy and numeracy helps immensely with science, the arts and even physical education.

There is no room for debate in one area, however. The decision by teacher and principal groups to boycott the announcement of the policy cannot be allowed to develop into an undercutting of its implementation. There are still murmurs of inflating assessments so that schools are seen to be performing well.

Teachers are public servants and that means they must follow the policies put in place by those who represent the people, the government of the day, regardless of their own personal views. They cannot simply decide to ignore them.

I hope they do. But at times I get the feeling they want to be the equivalent of the British coalminers union of the 70s.

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49 Responses to “Dom Post on Education Standards”

  1. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    Leftists love messing with the minds of children. That is the key to this whole problem, wherein those social engineers posing as educationalists try to influence the way children think about society rather than educating them and thereby giving them the means to come to their own decisions.

    Schools and teachers should not be seen as substitutes for good parenting, or as a means to shape social mores.

    All socialisation subjects should be dropped, and the focus returned to the basics. Parents should also be provided with the means to assess whether or not their child is being taught those basics, rather than being brainwashed with leftist political ideology at the expense of a real traditional education.

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  2. tvb (4,519 comments) says:

    But the Teachers are giving a strong impression that they oppose this measure and will use industrial action to frustrate it. Never mind the parents, the public at large (who are paying for all this). Education in their view is all about the Teachers. Teachers stand apart from all other professions in that they do not give a damn about the people that pay for their service nor the consumers – parents and students.

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  3. kino flo (83 comments) says:

    “But basic literacy and numeracy helps immensely with science, the arts and even physical education.”

    And vice versa, but this policy does not seem to take into account those kids who learn that way.

    Tolley really is the weakest link. The advice she’s getting is appalling. That’s what happens when her advisers haven’t even finished their undergraduate degrees.

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  4. PaulL (6,048 comments) says:

    kino flo: exactly what difficulty will be created by measuring the achievement of literacy and numeracy? If kids learn in a different way, it will still be shown in their achievement scores. And if the teacher is good enough to work out how the kids in their class learn (not all are) and work with it, then the achievement scores of the kids in their class will be higher. In an ideal world, we’d then reward that teacher, but the unions don’t like that.

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  5. wreck1080 (3,972 comments) says:

    I always remember, in High School English. Being taught how to analyze poems and hidden meanings in books that were in hindsight obviously targeted toward female students. This was being done, while the boys generally could not even construct essays.

    Surely basic grammar is more important than the other guff we were being taught? John Key is on to a winner here.

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  6. MT_Tinman (3,263 comments) says:

    Teachers know everything about everything.

    Just ask them, they’ll tell you.

    Why should they need guidelines or adhere to standards?

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  7. PaulL (6,048 comments) says:

    wreck: heh. Hidden meanings does tend to be a female thing. I also recall 7th form English. Only subject I failed. I could read, write, comprehend and spell just fine – better than fine actually. But memorising long tracts of prose from dead white men really wasn’t my thing. Actually, not that interested in it from dead black men either. And without that memorisation, the rest was rather hard. I’m fine with allegory, with understanding the context of a text, all that stuff is interesting. But if you can’t quote the damn thing verbatim, you can’t pass.

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  8. Psycho Milt (2,419 comments) says:

    It is simply about letting parents know if their child is able to do the basic numeracy and literacy skills that are expected of a child of that age.

    Really? No doubt Tolley will be chuffed to find out then that schools already do this, so she can drop her proposals and spare us taxpayers its expense and additional bureaucracy.

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  9. Kimble (4,443 comments) says:

    Do it, teachers, you idiots, go ahead and fucking do it.

    Just you TRY to strike on this issue. Go ahead, show everyone how little you actually care about education by striking in opposition to something as reasonable as this.

    This isnt a pay dispute, morons. The publics’ collective memories of that one great teacher they had when they were young isnt going to win the emotional battle on this one. When you strike, you are striking against your students and everybody is going to see it.

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  10. Willie_Escaped (29 comments) says:

    No imposition of standards on 100% of children (Labour) isn’t so much different to imposing a single set of standards on 100% of children (National).

    The principle is the same – centrally manage a one size fits all system that governs the lives of all people for the most critical 12 years of their lives.

    No recognition of the individual. All shall be subjected to the same standard. Those who conform will be recognized as successes, the outliers will be marked as failures.

    Same shit. Different party in government.

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  11. s.russell (1,646 comments) says:

    If teachers campaign against allowing parents to know whether their kids can read and write it may finally get the message across to those parents that teachers are actually the enemy of good education and the promoters of mediocrity, interested only in protecting themselves.

    Once that message sinks in it might become politically possible to undertake further reform, such as pay for performance. Here’s hoping.

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  12. Johnboy (17,084 comments) says:

    OK Willie so under Labour those who have no standards are successes and under National those who meet a standard are successes? I’ll go with the latest model I think!

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  13. Red Sam (122 comments) says:

    “Really? No doubt Tolley will be chuffed to find out then that schools already do this, so she can drop her proposals and spare us taxpayers its expense and additional bureaucracy.”

    Exactly. Most primary teachers already use a wide range of assessment tools and reporting systems. We already know the students who require extra support in maths, writing, speaking and reading. There are a range of support programmes, such as reading recovery and similar maths programmes, which Tolley would be better putting money towards.

    National testing/standards regimes internationally do not raise achievement, as Tolley keeps bleating on about. They certainly don’t appear to engage and raise the academic achievement of students from poorer backgrounds. It will take far more than a tory government’s national standards regime to raise the academic achievement of all primary students. Cutting teacher professional development, including many of the advisors and extending higher standards contracts, were all backwards steps.

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  14. gazzmaniac (2,307 comments) says:

    I too recall 7th form English. Mainly because of the fact that I was one of only two academically successful students at my school who didn’t take it. And I didn’t hide my reasons either – learning poems and rubbish is a waste of time. So what if I don’t know the tales of Geoffrey Chaucer? I bet it hasn’t helped the people who did learn it.
    Science (of the examine things critically variety, not the spoon fed social variety), practical mathematics (eg financial mathematics such as how to calculate the amount of interest you are paying on a loan, and how to calculate return yields, neither of which were taught to me at school), practical English (report writing), civics (of the unbiased “this is how stuff works in our country” variety), maybe a bit of relevant history (ie not Oliver Cromwell or Greek Vases), and practical vocational skills (I did a STAR electronics course, there are also mechanics and other courses) are what need to be taught in high schools. Perhaps then people might think for themselves instead of reciting some of the useless drivel that is currently taught, and everyone would be more productive. Anything over and above that should be privately taught.

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  15. Brian Harmer (687 comments) says:

    Hmmm … I wonder if we are prepared to follow a similar path with physicians and engineers … are are we so genuinely convinced that their professional opinion is worthless. I guess I will cop lots of negative karma on this, but I wonder what are the qualifications of all the armchair experts who know better than teachers how teaching should be done? Why does everyone consider themselves an expert on this .. or do they just regard teaching as a babysitting job with some state mandated educational content?

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  16. gazzmaniac (2,307 comments) says:

    Engineering is based on measurement and calculation, and an engineer’s work is auditable. That is exactly what the teachers’ union is trying to stop.
    A bad engineer will soon find himself out of work, particularly if a structure he has designed fails. A bad teacher won’t, as there is currently no quantitative way of assessing how good he or she is.

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  17. Luc Hansen (4,573 comments) says:

    The level of ignorance apparent in this debate is simply appalling. It’s as though rabid right have found yet another target for their particular brand of profoundly ill-informed and savage bullying. As Psych Milt point out, reporting is already being done well and Tolley has admitted so. Yet another red herring thrown out to arouse the pack.

    It’s not the teachers who are the main consideration here, it’s the children, and there is now an abundance of evidence available to show that the government is returning to the bad old days of straight-jacketed learning.

    Bye bye Helengrad, welcome back Joe!

    The fact’s are that 1 in 5 is wrong by a factor of 25%, and that the failure rate has already been decreasing at an impressive rate as NCEA beds in. Furthermore, the OECD reports that we underfund our schools compared to most other member nations, yet we are in the very top groups when it comes to results.

    This can only mean our education system and our teachers are performing exceptionally well.

    The OECD makes special mention of the need for New Zealand to put more resources into educating our most deprived and disadvantaged groups (eg those who go on to make up much of our jail population). New Zealand would benefit hugely if the government did this and left our non-disadvantaged kids to flourish, as they are at present.

    Narrowing education as Tolley suggests actually disadvantages students who have no problem with literacy and numeracy anyway (by far the majority), and if the straightjacket is still in place when my daughter goes to school, we are going to have to work harder as parents for our child to have a full education.

    I think this issue is one for teachers to stand up and be counted. Outright defiance would be a good start! What’s the government going to do? Lock out teachers and shut down schools?

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  18. mickysavage (786 comments) says:

    Can someone explain how handicapping the teaching of science will assist in the raising of the standards of the lowest 20%? And what about the education of the highest 20% or at least those whose parents cannot afford to send them to private schools?

    And how will the emptying of primary schools in poor areas after the league tables are published help those schools or those unfortunate still to be there?

    The policy is a crock designed to push PR buttons with no comprehension of the repercussions or the implications.

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  19. PaulL (6,048 comments) says:

    Brian, I didn’t see anyone claiming to know better than teachers how to teach. Well, I did see a couple. But I don’t see what that has to do with national standards. That just tells us whether our kids ARE being taught, not HOW they are being taught.

    The story that I was told recently was of a visit after an ERO report in a particular school. A discussion with the principal about how they thought the school was going. The answer was “pretty good, only one problem identified in the ERO report.” The point being that the one thing wrong was a failure to teach the curriculum, and that school was seen as a failing school – because failing to teach the curriculum is a pretty big thing.

    Standards aren’t there to catch the teachers that are doing a good job. They are there to point out those that aren’t, and allow something to be done. At present as a parent it is pretty hard to know whether your school teacher is really really good and just baffling you with bullshit, or really really awful and baffling you with bullshit. The standards are intended to point that out in a clear and unequivocal way. (Actually, I reckon most parents do know, but with their lack of power in the current system they can do jack all about it).

    I don’t understand why some are trying to turn this into an argument about how kids are taught, or about what they are being taught. It isn’t. It is just a debate about whether we are entitled to know whether they are learning it.

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  20. Fletch (6,502 comments) says:

    [sarcasm on]

    It doesn’t matter if they can read or write or not, so long as we teach them all about how man is causing climate change and get their parents to wade into waist-deep water to fetch flyaway ice-block wrappers.

    [sarcasm off]

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  21. taranaki (20 comments) says:

    The problem with this system is that it removes even more teaching time from the kids. Which would be fine if it improved things for the kids, but all the evidence says that it wont – it’ll likely make things worse. More testing, less engaging curriculum, “teaching to the test”, less learning – where’s the upside again?

    And it’s cut into science funding. What the fuck?

    The reports say we have one of the best schooling systems out there, with the least funding. I can’t believe we’re flushing what little cash education gets (in comparison to the oecd) on this half-baked scheme. The only real benefit it’ll bring is to the published league tables – whoop de fucking do. Pretty minimal achievement Tolley.

    PaulL, schools already perform a multitude of assessment. Your kid’s report details closely how your kids are going, as well as you should be meeting with the teacher during parent-teacher interviews. You could also talk to little Johnny to find out how school’s going too. If none of that is any use to you, then you’re already a lost cause. You yourself say you already know. What a wast of fucking money and time then – the sad thing is that I can always pay more tax, but your kids will never get that wasted time back.

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  22. PaulL (6,048 comments) says:

    taranaki: schools that are doing well already perform a multitude of assessments. In a well run school, your kid’s report details closely how your kids are going.

    The point is, this isn’t a policy aimed at the average school and the average teacher. At the median, our schools perform very well. The problem is that NZ has a higher proportion of failing kids than other similar countries, when measured by independent studies. Our current assessment system goes out of its way to cover this up – so under NCEA fewer kids are failing. But our scores on the international studies aren’t changing. Interesting.

    Focusing on the achievement of individual kids, and mandated at every school, allows us to identify:
    – failing kids
    – groups of failing kids (whether by demography of some sort, or by region)
    – failing schools
    – failing teachers

    All of those are useful things. You’d be correct in saying that identifying them doesn’t solve the problem – you still have to create some sort of meaningful intervention. But without the information, there is no way to intervene other than relying on the fact that schools and teachers know best. And for 95% of kids in NZ, that would be a good bet. The problem is that for the other 5%, there is no way to get back that lost opportunity.

    I’m sorry, there is today no national, standardised, test that covers literacy and numeracy. If we start from the assumption that some schools are failing, I don’t see how the message of “rely on what the schools are individually producing” is going to work.

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  23. Psycho Milt (2,419 comments) says:

    PaulL: all sounds very reasonable in theory. In practice, it simply means my kids who can read, write and do maths very well already will have resources for other subjects stripped from them and will waste their time preparing for tests that won’t tell me anything I didn’t know, all for the purposes of establishing that yes, as we thought, decile 1 schools have no shortage of kids who can’t read and teachers who can’t get jobs in wealthier neighbourhoods.

    As you point out, it’s the creation of some sort of meaningful intervention that counts. Unfortunately, there’s no sign that Tolley’s thought any further than throwing our taxes at compiling some statistics.

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  24. Luc Hansen (4,573 comments) says:

    taranaki said: The only real benefit it’ll bring is to the published league tables

    And the problem is, these tables do not bring any overall benefit.

    Tolley has already stated schools do communicate well to parents, so what axe is being ground here? An outdated ideology. The best comment I can pass on is this:

    Tolley’s policy is just lazy thinking.

    I try not to cut and paste too much but here is an extract from the Cambridge Report:

    Main findings of the survey

    The period from 1988 to 2006 was characterised by increasing government control of the curriculum,
    the assessment of pupil attainment, and mechanisms for assuring system effectiveness. The
    establishment of a national curriculum in 1988 was followed by a further tightening of control over the
    curriculum and teaching methods in primary schools through national testing at Key Stages 1 and 2
    and the national literacy, numeracy and primary strategies, the first of which was implemented in
    1998. In 2006, this process continued with the requirement that reading should be taught with the use
    of government-approved methods. The reasoning behind this increased intervention has been that it,
    combined with a rigorous system of national testing, will raise educational standards.

    The evidence on the impact of the various initiatives on standards of pupil attainment is at best
    equivocal and at worst negative. While test scores have risen since the mid 1990s, this has been
    achieved at the expense of children’s entitlement to a broad and balanced curriculum and by the
    diversion of considerable teaching time to test preparation.

    Research evidence on the effects of the reforms shows:

    • Some arguable improvement at the system level with respect to the establishment of a more
    transparent and consistent curriculum with increased teacher planning for coherence and
    progression.

    • Some improvement in the educational standards achieved by many primary pupils.

    • A decrease in the overall quality of primary education experienced by pupils because of the
    narrowing of the curriculum and the intensity of test preparation.

    These tendencies are most marked in a series of large scale studies of primary education which found
    that over a twenty-year period classroom organisation may have changed, and sometimes radically,
    but teacher-pupil interaction remained teacher-dominated and concerned mainly with factual recall
    and routine matters, rather than with higher-level interaction of a kind which challenges children’s
    thinking.

    There is also evidence that the quality of teacher-pupil interaction has been negatively influenced by
    the pedagogy of the national strategies introduced from 1998 onwards, and by the statutory testing
    system and its associated target-setting.

    There is evidence, too, that high stakes testing has led to a narrowing of the curriculum.

    There is some evidence that teachers have gained a sense of enhanced professionalism following the
    introduction of the national curriculum and national strategies, because of the need for more
    collaborative lesson planning and management, but this appears to be counterbalanced by the
    increased workload and need for test and inspection preparation.
    (end)

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  25. Ross Miller (1,706 comments) says:

    The reality is that the Labour Opposition, working through their surrogate supporters, are trying to relitigate the debate on an election promise that was widely signalled to, and endosed by, voterland at last years general election.

    They need reminding … ‘National won, Labour lost, eat that’.

    Tough titty.

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  26. PaulL (6,048 comments) says:

    Luc, I’m not sure which bit of your cut and paste is the bit that explains the problem that national standards will create. It suggests that there may have been some narrowing of the curriculum, but doesn’t explain:
    – why this is bad. I’d argue that someone who cannot read and write doesn’t need a broad curriculum, they need to read and write
    – how much it narrows the curriculum

    It is a very weak finding in general. “There is some evidence” but “this appears to be counterbalanced by”. Sorry, it looks like lazy analysis from someone who is trying to find evidence of something they are already convinced of.

    It may be true that some teachers, presumably those who are concerned that they aren’t doing well, will “teach the test” so as to get good results. Although I would argue that it is hard to “teach the test” when it comes to literacy and numeracy. Or, at least, that if you did, then you’re probably giving your students something useful (if they previously couldn’t tell us that 7×7 is 49, and they now can, then I have no objection to “teaching the test’).

    I would agree that getting basic literacy and numeracy is not all a school should be about. But it is clearly a bare minimum – if you don’t get that then the school has definitely failed.

    Really, what some on here’s argument seems to boil down to is that this initiative will divert some resources in their comfortable, middle class schools, in order to improve the educational attainment of poor people in poor schools. Which, pardon my gross generalisation, is pretty typical of a Labour supporter, and of many trendy chardonnay lefties. I think some people should put their money where their mouths are – if we are serious about improving outcomes for those at the bottom, it will probably come at some expense to those at the top. Unless we’d like to increase taxes – probably increasing taxes on the middle class (i.e. on you personally, not on someone else).

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  27. Red Sam (122 comments) says:

    “A bad engineer will soon find himself out of work, particularly if a structure he has designed fails. A bad teacher won’t, as there is currently no quantitative way of assessing how good he or she is.”

    What an utterly ignorant statement from gazzmaniac.

    Every school has appraisal systems where teachers are measured (once or twice a year) against the Teachers Council’s teacher dimensions (currently being revised), practicing certificates are renewed by each teacher every three years, ERO reviewers observe in classrooms, and Principals can place teachers under competency if their practice is not up to scratch.

    Many schools also require teachers to submit reading, writing, oral language and mathematics data that relates to their students throughout the year, and questions will be asked if students aren’t progressing.

    Try being a teacher in New Zealand state school. Big brother (or Nanny Anne) is never far away. And she’s about to knock the professional judgement of teachers yet again.

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  28. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    “Try being a teacher in New Zealand state school.”

    The bottom line on the problem is that the NZ education system is infested with communists and Progressives like you Sam. That is the real issue, and nothing will change until the likes of you are fired and replaced by teachers who want to educate children rather than indoctrinate them. That’s why education has to be privatised. To free it from the dead hand of you and your ilk.

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  29. Tauhei Notts (1,749 comments) says:

    Many apologists for teachers have blogged on this item already. Let me tell you about two of my friends who are employers.
    1. He got ten applicants for a simple job (two vacancies) in an engineering workshop. You don’t have to be Einstein to work there but you do have to know, just a little. Interview question; question made because they do a lot of work with reinforcing steel; If I have a metre length of steel and cut 70 centimetres off it, how much will I have left? Only two of the 16 & 17 year old applicants could calculate the answer.
    2. “Please enter on the word processor three per cent of $19,680 and add it onto the other sum on there.”
    “How do I work out 3%?”
    ” That must be very difficult for you. Let’s see; can you work out two per cent of $100 in your head?
    “No, I can’t. I was wasn’t very good at Maths.”
    “You are not fucking kidding.”

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  30. gazzmaniac (2,307 comments) says:

    Red Sam –
    When I was at school I had some shocking teachers. No matter how much parents complained, nothing was done about them. I can think of two specific examples off the top of my head, and I am sure that I can think of more if I tried. One in particular couldn’t teach to save herself, and used to spout on about feminist bullshit during class. I taught myself from a text book and from some borrowed correspondence school material. We don’t need to put up with that sort of crap.

    There is NO way of sacking a teacher for non performance, nor is there a way of measuring that non performance aside from parent’s complaints, which are never taken seriously anyway. The only way of getting rid of one is for gross misconduct.

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  31. Fletch (6,502 comments) says:

    gazz, when I was a kid in a small country school, one year we had a husband and wife team in the classroom who were terrible. My folks reckon I learned nothing that year. The next year I had a very good man as a teacher who got down to the nuts and bolts of it. He wanted to see what we knew and put some equations on the blackboard – addition, subtraction, division etc. He was shocked at what we knew – I think this was about Standard 4. We didn’t know how to ‘carry’ when subtracting numbers – eg, people were going 7 minus 9 – well I guess that must be two. He couldn’t believe it, and this was in the 80s. I can only assume it’s worse now. This good teacher also brought back cursive writing to the school. We hadn’t had it at all before them. I see that kids mostly just print nowadays and not taught do it.

    My mother used to teach us the times-table at home because they didn’t do it at school; she reckoned the role of parents and teacher had reversed: it was the school taking the kids to the museum and such like, and the parents teaching the basics at home.

    Then there was the time one of us had an essay which was marked but the spelling wasn’t corrected in it; my mother brought up the subject and they said they only correcting spelling when they were teaching the subject of spelling. In any other subject they ignored it.

    My nephew is having some problems at the moment too; the stuff he is being given is too easy for him; when my sister brought it up the teacher said she didn’t know what his level was or something, even though the kid said they’d just had some sort of test.

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  32. Luc Hansen (4,573 comments) says:

    PaulL

    Thanks for your challenges. It helps in getting to the nub of this issue.

    The OECD points out that our system, while in one of the poorer economies in the OECD, performs in the top echelons. Like the Cambridge report, they say that standards and a testing regime is not a disaster, but it is a distraction from the role of providing a broad education.

    The reports both recommend specifically that the government allocates more resources to those disadvantaged and low-achieving kids. The Tolley initiative simply diverts resources from the achievers to the non-achievers. This is disadvantaging those achieving kids.

    My baby does not come from a deprived background, and I fail to see why her education should suffer because successive governments refuse to address the root cause of low achieving – child poverty. Trouble is, when governments do take steps to address this problem, rednecks and the self-interested scream blue murder. Remember Closing the Gaps.?

    Furthermore, the testing proposed is backward looking because already stretched teacher time will be spent preparing kids for pointless tests instead of educating the kids, and the notion of one-size-fits-all is long since discredited.

    And you do seem to be labouring under the misapprehension that our kids are poor performers. Again, to quote the OECD:

    ” Despite their relatively poor material living conditions, Kiwi kids manage high rates of educational achievment – the fourth best in the OECD.” (New Zealand, Country Highlights, OECD (2009), Doing Better for Children).

    And

    ” New Zealand spends much less than the OECD average on young children and much less than it does on older children.”

    The OECD conclusion is to spend more on the younger, disadvantaged children, NOT to shuffle the same resources between groups within the system.

    And the really disappointing aspect of this debate is how it is made to be about the teachers, when our teachers are proven to do a superlative job.

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  33. PaulL (6,048 comments) says:

    Luc, you’re mixing averages with the entire population. On average NZ kids perform well. On average, NZ teachers do a superlative job. I believe, however, that studies show that NZ has a higher exclusion rate than other similar countries.

    I personally interpret this as that our teachers do pretty well with average kids. And some even do well at stretching the high achieving kids (although I hear enough stories about lack of stretch for them to wonder how common that is). But we have real problems dealing with low achieving kids.

    To give an example, the old phonics v’s whole language debate. Many studies showed that a lot of kids did brilliantly in a whole language teaching environment. But the slower kids, or those who weren’t being taught it at home, or whatever other outliers, did spectacularly badly. So that particular teaching approach, on average, resulted in improved outcomes. But in the detail, it resulted in polarisation – those kids who were already doing OK did better, those kids at risk did worse.

    Now, I’m not saying that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater here. Many kids did better with whole language. But we need a system that doesn’t fail 5%, or 10% or whatever of the kids. So teachers need to have alternate approaches, and to be able to apply those. All kids need an opportunity.

    If we can’t work out who is failing and who isn’t, then we’re in trouble trying to fix the problem. That is why we need the standardised testing – otherwise a percentage of our kids fail, and we don’t know about it early enough to do something.

    In terms of your suggestion that your children shouldn’t suffer when we redirect resources from successful kids to unsuccessful ones – how did you think it was going to work? Were we going to increase the funding for education? Didn’t Labour do that for the last 9 years when we had one of the largest surpluses on record? What would make us think that still more money will work now?

    My view is there are two different discussions here. Firstly, of the money we currently spend, how should it be allocated. I believe that more money should be allocated to those who are doing poorly than to those who are doing well. Secondly, do we need more money for the system in total. To make that decision, we need to look at how much we are spending today, and what else we’ll stop doing – or whether we’ll raise taxes. We already have a very substantial deficit.

    When you say that NZ spends less on education than the OECD average – is that as a percentage of GDP, or in raw terms? NZ has been slipping down the OECD ladder in terms of GDP per head, so logically that also relates to our spending on education. You can’t run a first world education system (or health system for that matter) in a third world economy. Again something that Labour had completely ignored. One small correcting influence is that a large part of the cost of education is labour, and in a third world country labour is cheap – so in a lower paid country you logically also spend a lower amount on education, as the teachers get paid less.

    Again, I don’t think your quotes are really telling us what you think they are.

    On ability to fire bad teachers. I know enough about the system to know this is true – they are moved from place to place for years, and never leave the profession. Even in a good school, they all have at least one bad teacher – they are forced on them, and they all must take their quota. So your kid will have at least one year in their education where they just don’t progress at all, because they got that teacher’s class. You can’t tell me that you don’t know who that teacher is in your kid’s school. Ever wonder why noone gets rid of them?

    Personally, I think that education is too important to accept 95% as success, or to just leave it to the teachers – none of our business. We all need to be involved, and it is one of the most basic investments that we can make in the next generation. Personally, I’d much rather vouchers as a means of getting truly high quality education, but national testing is a good start.

    As for those who suggest that the ability of parents to take their kids out of a failing school is somehow a bad thing…..what planet are you living on? If your kid was in a “bad school” are you saying you’d leave them there? You’d rather not know? Or are you just comfortable in your middle class certainty that it isn’t your kids that are in that school, and for those poor people down the road – well, that’s all they deserve, and we don’t want that lot sending their kids to our school?

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  34. Psycho Milt (2,419 comments) says:

    Really, what some on here’s argument seems to boil down to is that this initiative will divert some resources in their comfortable, middle class schools, in order to improve the educational attainment of poor people in poor schools. Which, pardon my gross generalisation, is pretty typical of a Labour supporter, and of many trendy chardonnay lefties. I think some people should put their money where their mouths are…

    Try “this initiative will divert some resources in all schools in order to achieve nothing particularly useful.” As for putting our money where our mouths are, we already do – decile 1 schools are expected to get a far higher proportion of their income from the parents, via donations and fundraising, than decile 1 schools, which are mainly state-funded. That’s not a complaint, merely pointing out a fact.

    Or are you just comfortable in your middle class certainty that it isn’t your kids that are in that school, and for those poor people down the road – well, that’s all they deserve, and we don’t want that lot sending their kids to our school?

    Er, sure – if we institute national testing, the parents of Manurewa will finally realise their kids’ schools are no good and move the kids to Kings or Grammar instead. It’s all so simple – how could we have been so stupid?

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  35. Luc Hansen (4,573 comments) says:

    PaulL

    Please can you define “higher exclusion rate” and give some idea of which studies you are referring to (a link would be great). Schooling is compulsory until age 16, and we are talking about primary schools here.

    The OECD reports that NZ has an average differential between high achieving and disadvantaged kids compared to the other 4 top reading nations, which have high differentials between top and bottom learners.

    I personally interpret this as that our teachers do well with ALL learners, and better than the other top reading nations with disadvantaged learners.

    The system is already working out who is failing and who is not, quite well, actually. Teachers already do have an increasing range of excellent diagnostic tools and skills to define literacy achievement with improving precision and complexity. That is the crux of the argument – the standardized testing threatens the already substantial gains that have been made with literacy.

    Tolley clearly does not understand this and is unwilling to give credence to an almost unanimous range of education experts. The same experts, I guess, who have set us in the top 5 reading nations in the OECD. The same experts, no doubt, that have set the course for the rapidly improving core literacy rates among school leavers.

    The OECD also specifically recommends that NZ should spend more on our disadvantaged kids for greatest overall improvement. As regards overall resources, the fact is that our total education spend is slightly above the OECD average, which places us eighth on that measure, but for primary and secondary school spending per student that only puts us 21st.

    As I said above, in the OECD, New Zealand is one of the poorer nations.

    I’m simply not getting into the red herrings you raise. Those are not what this debate is about. This debate is specifically about how we educate our primary school kids.

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  36. expat (4,050 comments) says:

    Q/ Is there a correlation between functional illiteracy and abuse of the funcionally illiterates children?
    Q/ Is teaching ICT, PE, Arts with corresponding field trips more ‘sexy’ than teaching Reading, Writing and Maths?
    Q/ What percentage of teachers have a good grasp of maths, spelling, grammar?

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  37. Luc Hansen (4,573 comments) says:

    groan

    Why is it so hard to keep a debate on track?

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  38. expat (4,050 comments) says:

    Pish posh, do you mean ‘your debate’ Luc?

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  39. Lucia Maria (2,609 comments) says:

    You people ought to have a read of the standards. They’re pretty shocking, really.

    After one year of school, ie at just on age 6, children will be expected to be able to read words such as “rhinoceros” and “antelope”. These are pretty complex words to have as a bare minimum expectation for reading, which is what a standard should be – something you expect all children to be able to achieve.

    Not only that, but writing a story is also expected. However, those that are just on 6 are generally atrocious spellers and don’t really have much of a grasp of grammar. So, by expecting the writing of a story by that age you are subconsciously teaching the children that spelling and grammar really don’t matter, only self-expression does.

    Children ought to be learning all the base sounds so they can read out phonetic words, they should be spending time drawing and developing their fine motor skills at age 5, they should be enjoying having good, interesting stories read to them. But to have the focus on being able to write as soon as humanely possible without knowing the actual tools of writing sets children up to fail over the long term.

    I’m all for education standards. But really, look at the standards being set before you support them.

    With this approach, expect literacy to fall even further over the next generation.

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  40. expat (4,050 comments) says:

    Zzzz

    After one year of school, ie at just on age 6, children will be expected to be able to read words such as “rhinoceros” and “antelope”. These are pretty complex words to have as a bare minimum expectation for reading, which is what a standard should be – something you expect all children to be able to achieve.
    >> Are these all the words or have pulled out the two biggest words for ‘shock’ value? And what is wrong with have a couple of hard words in the spelling group to extend the better spellers?

    Not only that, but writing a story is also expected. However, those that are just on 6 are generally atrocious spellers and don’t really have much of a grasp of grammar. So, by expecting the writing of a story by that age you are subconsciously teaching the children that spelling and grammar really don’t matter, only self-expression does.
    >> How do you figure this subconcious bias towards elf expression over grammar? Sounds like a tenuous argument based on your own bias.

    Children ought to be learning all the base sounds so they can read out phonetic words, they should be spending time drawing and developing their fine motor skills at age 5, they should be enjoying having good, interesting stories read to them. But to have the focus on being able to write as soon as humanely possible without knowing the actual tools of writing sets children up to fail over the long term.
    >> Children should be learning to write as well as learning to speak and manipulate objects in fact writing is a fine motor skill isn’t it.

    I really cant see why you expect literacy to fall, there is no argument supporting this assumption.

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  41. Lucia Maria (2,609 comments) says:

    Expat,

    Have you ever taught anyone to read or write?

    I have.

    I homeschool two children.

    In learning, there are steps to being a competent reader, just like there are steps to becoming a competent writer.

    Of course I pulled out the words for shock value, I could easily get a quite a few more that are quite difficult words for a young reader

    It’s very easy to memorise words, ie Antelope. I have one of those kids that can memorise words. However, teaching him all the common sounds that make up words took much longer than a year. And he still wouldn’t be able to sound out either of those words.

    Therefore, in order to pass the test, expect words such as Antelope and Rhinoceros to be taught to 5 year olds.

    That’s what teaching to the test means. That’s what the teachers are saying they are going to have to do. That’s why they are protesting.

    Quite honestly, to explain why literacy is going to fall so that you and others like you will understand it is quite a lot more writing than I’m willing to do in a blog comment.

    I take a classical approach to education, and in the classical approach, a child of pre-logic (before ages 11 or so) years ought to be taught all the tools of reading and writing, such as how to sound out words, how to form words, how to spell, copying writing, spending time reading, etc. Their own writing of “stories” doesn’t come until much later – they need to have been immersed in good writing before they do it themselves. Making them do it far too early basically kills the whole process of forming good writers.

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  42. expat (4,050 comments) says:

    Have you ever taught anyone to read or write?
    >> Yes.

    The middle part of your reasoning makes some sense wrt kids having different skills but doesn’t explain why we shouldn’t have a set of measurable goals for foundation learning of core litteracy and maths skills so that parents and schools can address challenges early based on a known yard stick.

    Their own writing of “stories” doesn’t come until much later – they need to have been immersed in good writing before they do it themselves. Making them do it far too early basically kills the whole process of forming good writers.
    >> I think you’ll find the ‘test’ is about the (5 yr old) child using words in context rather than writing a ‘story’ as you describe it.

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  43. Luc Hansen (4,573 comments) says:

    expat

    let’s just stick to the basics here.

    There is measuring, consistent measuring of a type useful to teachers and parents. That’s not to say there is not room for improvement in communication to parents; the fact is some schools do that better than others.

    But dragging down overall achievement levels by the imposition of standardised testing is, according to the most authoritative sources, a backward step.

    And expanding the discussion by introducing tangential arguments is not helpful, although you may find it personally satisfying.

    Tell me what you find so hard about this simple equation

    In the OECD member and partner nations:

    New Zealand sits 21st in terms of funding per student on primary school education, and

    New Zealand sits fourth in overall student achievement.

    Ergo:

    New Zealand is uniquely well served by its education system and teachers.

    QED

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  44. Luc Hansen (4,573 comments) says:

    Time for bed

    For all you idiots who give bad karma to someone posting facts and inescapable conclusions…

    “reason is the slave of the passions”

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  45. expat (4,050 comments) says:

    But dragging down overall achievement levels by the imposition of standardised testing is, according to the most authoritative sources, a backward step.
    >> here we go, generalisations of the evil being perpetuated on all by having a yard stick parents can measure their childs development AND their childs teachers performance against.

    And expanding the discussion by introducing tangential arguments is not helpful, although you may find it personally satisfying.
    >> its called an open discussion, one not constrained by your policy preferences

    New Zealand is uniquely well served by its education system and teachers
    >> Of course NZ is ‘uniquely well served by its education system’, NZ only has one education system. And besides, a different angle of anaylsis may assist in identifying areas where further effort and resources are needed and importantly let parents know how their child is doing against a standard benchmark rather than have their childs relative learning progress hidden from them as is the case now.

    For all you idiots who give bad karma to someone posting facts and inescapable conclusions…
    >> I’m glad you are so sure of what is a ‘fact’ and an ‘inescapable conclusion’.

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  46. camrun (49 comments) says:

    If I’m the Minister of Education I DON’T want to be getting my policy advice from PHD graduates who have spent their entire lives inside insulated academic bubbles. I’d want to hear from teachers at low decile/under-achieving schools, teenagers and adults who left school unable to read and write, and the parents who get a 10 minute interview and two pieces of indecipherable paper a year regarding their children’s academic progress. I would immediately kick out of my office anyone who used the terms “well-rounded citizens” or “21st century learning”. The 21st century means literacy and numeracy, more than ever.

    Essentially, school is about giving kids the skills required to get a job, which means the ability to read, write and count. Not many employers care about how well you did at painting, or if you came first in ‘Outdoor Education’ (real subject). These areas are important for development etc, but not at the expense of the basics. When I was at school (I’m 20 now), there were kids coming into college who couldn’t spell the simplest of words, read books I had in kindergarten, or write more than their own name. And this was coming from ‘good’, high-decile primary schools. How do these issues not get picked up? I don’t know, but it shocked me at the time and disgusts me now.

    As for teachers, their job is to teach. Private agendas and beliefs are for people not employed in the public sector. Public servants do their job regardless of the election result. Is it not hypocritical to oppose the same organisation you get your paycheck from? An organisation that represents a majority of the people from who your salary is paid?

    Rant over.

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  47. Put it away (2,880 comments) says:

    There can be few professions as tolerant of incompetence as teaching. A few years ago I did some voluntrary I.T. work at my old primary school, and got a chance to observe most of the teachers I remembered from 15 years before. I was surprised to see how well they matched up to what us kids thought of them at the time. The ones we thought were good and bad, really were good and bad. One particular woman that was known as a “dragon” that everyone dreaded really was one of the nastiest human beings you will meet. She would snap off at the kids with no provocation, with a tone of real bullying anger and hatred in her voice. It was obvious this person hated children and hated her job, and yet she had been allowed to do it for at least fifteen years with an attitude that would get a supermarket checkout operator fired on their first day. These are the people the unions are trying to protect.

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  48. Luc Hansen (4,573 comments) says:

    So we have three posters above who know more than the experts and, perhaps like Tolley, base their views on selective anecdotal evidence and what seems to be a visceral hostility towards the teaching profession for reasons we can only guess at.

    The only newspaper that bothered to check up on evidence-based research, the Herald on Sunday, came out firmly on the side of the NZEI:

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=10605223

    The editorial quotes two sources. One source, one of our most esteemed education researchers, John Hattie, who only last year published the results of a 15 year study specifically on assessment.

    The second source is the authoritative Cambridge University report, The Cambridge Primary Review http://www.primaryreview.org.uk/index.html which I have quoted here previously.

    I suggest you follow the links to the editorial and the Cambridge Primary Review and read these most informed commentaries.

    You will need to leave your prejudices at the door!

    Furthermore, I have quoted extensively from OECD reports, easily found on the web, but here is a short version specifically on New Zealand’s children: http://www.oecd.org/LongAbstract/0,3425,en_33873108_33873658_43589855_1_1_1_1,00.html

    But wait! There’s more!

    The most common insinuation throughout this debate has been around the very clever fudging by Tolley and others that rather than this initiative being about cost cutting, which it truly is, but that it is about widespread failure in our schools. Once again, all the evidence simply points to the opposite conclusion: our system is not only performing well, it is performing extraordinarily well when New Zealand’s status as one of the poorest economies in the OECD is taken into account.

    Also, Hattie reports that the number one indicator of overall achievement is time in the classroom, and in 2006, according to the OECD, we were fifth in that regard, just behind Australia.

    Finally, we can all point to various horror stories of individual students and teachers. We need to put that aside and concentrate first and foremost on the professional advice, not the alpha male Kiwi guy who thinks he knows all there is to know about everything! Until he enters the office of his heart surgeon ;-)

    My personally anecdote: I once worked under a manager who had been all the way through NZCE and reached for a calculator to divide a number by 10. I expressed my disgust and gave him the answer. He still checked my answer with his calculator and expressed admiration when he found I was correct. Somehow, we just never got on after that!

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  49. Luc Hansen (4,573 comments) says:

    PS keep those karma vibes coming in, guys. It tells me I am in the right place! If I can save just one soul…;-)

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