Monday, February 8, 2010

National's Standards - 'to be or not to be'?

'Good golly' says Mrs Tolley, '150000 failing children are asking us to save them by testing them to oblivion and branding them as below average'. Sir John Charmalot believes that, 'with big business and Auntie Herald on our side we can replace the nanny state with big brother know best. Working together we can destroy creative education once and for all'.

The truth of what is happening in schools to help all children achieve is being lost in by a cynical publicity campaign led by the government and assisted by the Auckland Herald and editors throughout the country. Read Kelvin Smythe's latest for more detail. Teachers are being told to do as they are told or else and are being unfairly scapegoated for school failure of students who enter school with little 'social capital' to take advantage of what is being offered. Teachers do their best. The system is the problem and standards are not the answer.

For an excellent crit of Auckland Herald see this blog by Russell Brown
The argument is really about if schools should be personalised to help all students achieve their talents and gifts, in the process of self realisation developing the competencies that they will require to thrive no matter what life throws at them, or should our system become more standardised so the products can be measured and blame apportioned for any failure.

The sad thing is that for two decades the powers that be have imposed formulaic 'best practices' on schools and required more and more testing. Creativity is already at risk. Managerialism has all but crushed teachers initiative and independence. National standards are the last straw.

Even testing guru John Hattie ( is for or against standards?) writes that 'applied uniformity across every school is a hopelessly crude way of raising student achievement and will result in teaching to the standards and narrowing of the curriculum'. What he says is the important thing 'is for children to be able to self assess their own progress and for teachers to give focused feedback. Most of all, he writes, 'students need a level of trust in classroom to admit out loud that they don't misunderstand something.'

It is respect and trust that is missing in the Minister's hard lined attitude as she happily discounts any contrary advice as 'mischievous' or 'taken into account'. Education is about working together and results in the building of 'social capital' of all involved - students, teachers and parents. Creative education builds on and extends the interests of the students and cannot be limited to success in literacy and numeracy as important as they are.

You get the impression it is either impose national standards or put up with no decent teaching of literacy and numeracy. Anyone who has visited a primary school would see the falseness of this position. Creative education is already being squeezed out by the current emphasis on literacy and numeracy.

The question we ought to ask about 'failing students' ( we know who they are) is why they can't read write and do maths at 15? Simply put they can't see the point of what is being offered. Why is this? How can we engage them? How can we make schooling more relevant? Why do so many children start so far behind at 5? When do students disengage? How important is the distressing home circumstances of the failing students? National's standards are a distraction to solving such issues and are more about a return to 'market forces' ideology.

Solving such problems requires a whole system approach not simplistic standards and blaming and shaming ideas that have already failed in other countries. Although New Zealand does have a a long 'achievement tail' it is important to appreciate that this is also the case in socially unequal countries particularly those that went down the market forces approach to politics and schooling.

It seems John Key see education as putting things into kids heads and then measuring what sticks - this is a 'banking' metaphor and appropriate for person who sees capital as something that can be accounted for. As for Ms Tolley she only has two or three programmed standardised answers which she repeats predictably. The complexity of teaching and learning is beyond her. Teaching is to be reduced to simplistic standardised ‘plunket’ graphs but with no farex available to fatten up kids only measuring them twice year. Maybe she should get management advice from McDonald's to assist her in developing this uniformity?

It does seem strange that the government happily overlooks the connections between the 20% of children living in poverty, the 20% failing in schools and the 20% ending up in prison?

This unfairness is where we ought to be paying attention?

If we follow the imported failed standards agenda we will see our school disintegrating under the triviality of measuring what we already know - akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. And, like the Titanic the rich and poor alike will pay the price if we don't place some real innovative thinking into the debate.

We need some real future thinking not a return to past failed ideas.

National's standards are well below average if judged educationally and not by populist politics!.

Who will want to a teacher in such a standardized future?

And an excellent contribution by Alfie Kohn debunking standards

Read this story about the damage of national testing.

And a short story about national standards from NZ

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