Friday, September 16, 2011

Mind Control from the Ministry of (Mis) Education

Mind control compliance 'helpers' are on the way!

Guest Blogger Allan Alach

A few days back two staff members from the Ministry of Mind Control, or in Newspeak, MiniMind (aka Ministry of Education) attended a BOT meeting to inform the BOT about all the good reasons for implementing national’s standards.
Ostensibly this was supposed to be part of the negotiation process over the non-compliant charter, except that MiniMind preempted this through their ‘use these targets’ or else letter, deemed to take effect on the long scheduled day of the meeting.

One MiniMind employee had been given the ‘salesperson’ role. He ran through a Powerpoint presentation, supposedly developed for the school, except that after a few slides it was obvious that this was THE standard Minimind slideshow prepared to sell national’s standards to BOTs. As I’d resolved to restrain myself, I kept busy typing notes of the presentation and discussion, and have now objectively analysed these.

The presentation starting with listing the reasons given for national standards.

1. Information for parents.
2. Aimed at NCEA level 2.
3. Assisting in classrooms
4. Information to MOE about how NZ school system is working
5. Self review data


1. Existing tools, from the levels defined in the NZ curriculum, to the exemplars and matrices for all curriculum areas, provide all the information schools need to report to parents. The NZ Curriculum provides for expected levels of achievement in each year group. The difference is that the levels are in age and developmentally appropriate bands, while standards are set at about the 60 to 65% above average range.

2. The standards are targeted at NCEA level 2 and distributed down in equal sized steps from there. Two points have been raised by informed educators about this. The first is that no national debate or research has been carried out to substantiate (or not) the decision to use NCEA level 2 in this way. The second point is that equal distribution of every step down does not take into account that human development, whether physically, intellectually, or in maturation, is not linear nor regular and predictable, varying in every single child,

3. Existing tools provide for all the information needed to assist teachers in their classrooms. The summative (end point) aspect of standards is far less use than the formative (diagnostic) assessment tools used by teachers.

4. It is true that there are no systems to provide numerical data to the MOE on how the school system is working. However it can be argued that the 3 yearly ERO review process is able to identify schools where there are concerns, and the MOE already have intervention and support procedures in place to help these schools.

Extending this, it can be argued that schools who receive positive ERO reports are providing quality education for their pupils.If this is not true, then the role, function and effectiveness of ERO immediately comes into question. Watch this space?

The National Education and Monitoring Project (NEMP) funded by the government, and operated by Otago University, carried out systematic sampling of children's learning at Year and Year 8, in all areas of the curriculum, on a repeating cycle. Their reports, publicly available, were very effective at recording and analysing trends, up or down. NEMP has now been renamed and has a new function, focussing on literacy and numeracy. This will now mean that research based information, previously provided by NEMP, will no longer be available to support the wider curriculum. There are significant implications here for New Zealand education.

5. Existing tools are more than capable of providing all the information schools need to carry out effective self review.

On the basis of the list of points made at the start of the presentation, there is no compelling reason for national standards that would significantly enhance a school's education and assessment programmes.

Following on, the presenter discussed a wide range of issues throughout the presentation, and I shall now comment, again objectively, on some of the statements that he made.

There is a wide range of school assessment capability across the country.

Obviously true, but to what extent? No data was provided to inform the audience as to the level of this, or the proportion of schools at various levels of effectiveness. This statement could be valid if there was one school doing extremely well and the bulk poorly, or vice versa. It was not possible to determine this one way or the other, so the statement has very low value.

The second issue that arises is that we can speculate that there will schools going very well, and schools doing poorly. Through ERO reports, schools with issues should be clearly identified and it would be reasonable to query why all schools are being required to comply with national standards on the basis of the claimed range of assessment capability.

I am a big fan of standardised tests.

The relevance of linking personal views to support national standards can not be justified, in the same way as an opinion against standardised tests could not be used as an argument against national standards.

Targets are used to drive a school's operation.

Under present and past school management philosophies, this is a correct statement. Targets have been required since about 2002 and schools have been required to report on these in a variance report as part of the annual financial reports.

This statement however does not of itself provide a reason why national standards are needed. It is clearly obvious that schools have set, and reported against, targets for many years.

It would be a special kind of stupid to have national testing regimes (in answer to a question from a BOT member about this possibility).

Personal opinion. He is not qualified to comment on the possibility of tests being introduced in the future, as this is not the role of anyone in a Ministry regional office.

Tests may or may not be introduced in coming years. This will be a decision by the Minister of Education of the time, not the Ministry of Education.

Your school is in a good position/doing well (repeated a number of times in different ways.)

This then raises the question of why do schools doing well need standards?What are the benefits to these schools? No information to inform these questions was provided.

Aim to get 'below children' to make more than a year's progress in one year.

The aim is admirable.

This, however, then implies strongly that without national standards, these children would not make progress, and that before national standards, nothing was done for 'below' children.

No data was provided to support this nor to show how national standards would make a difference. There is a strong inference here, criticising schools and teachers for failing to identify and address the needs of these children in the time before national standards were introduced. This is not a situation that can be supported by data.

Standards can be used to assist self review.

True. However, quality and informed school reviews has been successfully carried out by BOTs ever since their formation in 1989, without the need for standards.

The regional manager wrote a letter instructing the BOT to insert defined targets.

The regional manager signed the letter. However the letter was virtually identical in format with those received by other BOTs. The deemed date that charters were to take effect has varied between schools and there is a pattern where this date has fallen before scheduled meetings with regional MOE officers.

The MOE have a task force looking at the issue of league tables (in answer to a question from a BOT member about this possibility).

The task force was established by the Minister of Education. There is no representation from teacher and principal organisations. The one middle school principal on the task force has no (recent?) history of involvement with primary school organisations and certainly is not qualified to speak on their behalf. The members of the task force, by and large, have been proponents of national standards from the outset.

The speaker was not in a position to comment with any authority on the league table issue, one way or another.

The issue of concern is the Official Information Act. Unless a government is prepared to change this, then political observers/commentators believe that it will not be possible to stop media using the Act to access data. I understand that the same would apply today if media applied to any school, under the Act, for their national standards data.

On the basis of this presentation, the case to support the implementation of national standards to significantly enhance school operations or children's learning, in ways that were not achievable before standards were introduced, was not well made.

One is then left with the inevitable question:

If this is the best that MiniMind can produce to justify the introduction of national’s standards, what is the point of the whole exercise?

You tell me.

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