Listener on National Standards

The Listener’s editorial:

Hands up those who agree with this proposal. Not only should there be in schools, but the government should pay schools bonuses of up to $100,000 if they demonstrate improvements in the literacy and numeracy achievement standards of their pupils.

It’s no surprise, perhaps, that teacher unions have denounced the plans and immediately threatened to boycott the tests, talking of their concerns about “damaging league tables”.

What is a surprise is that all this is happening in Australia.

How is it, one might ask, that in New Zealand the introduction of national standards in primary schools has been denounced by teacher unions as nothing more than right-wing ideology while across the Tasman, the minister driving this “education revolution” is none other than the Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard? In her bid to improve school standards, Gillard has already muscled aside one of Australia’s most powerful left-wing outfits – the Australian Education Union – to ensure all school results are published on the My School website. This with the express purpose of identifying poorly performing schools.

Indeed. National Standards are just common sense. They require no change to current testing or assessment. They just require one additional step – to moderate the school data onto a national standard and add on one extra page to the school report with the national standard data also.

Frankly they are no big thing, and the opposition from entrenched interests is actually about league tables, not national standards.

Talking of her passion and commitment to ensuring every child has access to good schooling regardless of their background, Gillard spoke at the launch of the website earlier this year of the danger of schools quietly underperforming. “No one ever knows and no one ever does anything about it,” she said. “But children only get one chance at school.”

In New Zealand, where many principals are now promising to step up their campaign against national standards, it was Pita Sharples who this week talked of under-performing schools. A lot of schools, said Sharples, fail to monitor the achievements of Maori students, fail to use the professional support offered to them to help raise standards and fail to involve Maori families in the education of Maori students.

Absolutely. Despite what is said, we do not know well enough which students are failing and which schools are failing.

Contrast his statements with that of primary teachers union spokesperson, NZEI president Frances Nelson, who recently claimed that the Education Minister Anne Tolley had distorted data to “manufacture a crisis in education”. There is indeed a crisis but it is not of Tolley’s creation. The facts speak for themselves: 15,000 New Zealand students end up leaving school without NCEA level two and 7900 without level one.

Although our top performers are among the best in the OECD, it is the long tail of underachievement that causes alarm.

This is what the NZEI says is not a problem. 15,000 students every year leaving school without even NCEA Level 2.

This is not an imaginary crisis. In this country, almost 50% of Maori students and 35% of Pasifika students leave school without level two NCEA. In all, 29% of the students who will be leaving school at the end of next month will leave without this qualification. It is the minimum qualification that any young New Zealander needs to succeed in further study or skilled employment.

And this is the status quo the education unions defend.

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