The Week in Education

Good morning class.

There’s been a lot of talk this week in the lead up to the publication of national standards data here in New Zealand. Teachers in the UK and the US are probably wondering why we are going down this path since it hasn’t really worked in boosting them up the OECD rankings.

Fairfax Media through their website launched the School Report webpage. This horrified many in the education sector – especially since Prime Minister John Key had labelled the first round of data ‘ropey’ a few weeks back. Principals, teachers and commentators are saying the data can’t be trusted because it is unmoderated – meaning that no two schools are necessarily assessing students in the same way. Keith Ng also gave the NZ Herald and Fairfax a lesson in data analysis courtesy of an NCEA level 1 textbook.

Many have pointed out that the information really doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know about outcomes for Maori and Pasifika, boys, and students special needs. But as Dr Bryce Edwards pointed out on his political round-up on Friday, if “…the results actually show that this ‘tail’ is largely the result of growing deprivation and inequality then it may be poorly performing politicians rather than bad teachers and schools in the firing line.”

The last word for goes to our governess the Rt Hon. Hekia Parata, Education Minster, who popped up ahead of the government publishing the data on Friday suggesting national standards data could, “…have a role in assessing the performance of teachers.” This will concern those who believe there is an ulterior motive behind the government bring in national standards.


Here are some other things popped up during the week.

  1. Dr John Hattie (often quoted out of context by the National-led government on bigger class sizes) has a talk with Finnish education expert Pasi Sahlberg about the system in Finland. I found this most interested – mostly because the system over there has a ‘big picture’ focus on equity starting in early childhood and going through primary school. Teacher quality is also important. They do this by having highly trained teachers that are seen by everyone to be as skilled as doctors and engineers. Watch the conversation or read the transcript here.
  2. Why Do People Hate Teaching Unions? Because They Hate Teachers. Cory Robin gives some insight into how teachers are viewed by some media commentators (and parents and students) in the United States. He points out back in his childhood world teachers were seen as people who’d opted out of the capitalist game and weren’t doing what they do for money, therefore they were less worthy of anyone who produced something concrete.
  3. The Autism & Oughtism blog featured a post on how her child (who is on the autism spectrum) was reported as being ‘well below’ on the national standards and how the special school he attends had 100% of children at this level against the standard. It’s a compelling read. She talks about the ‘privacy breach’ of the standards being made public and that initially the government had said special schools wouldn’t be included in the published data. Another point she makes is the school hadn’t told her directly at any point that her son was ‘well below’ the standard. This just proves how important it is that teachers and schools have regular communication with parents. Education is high stakes stuff, particularly in these times of whole websites of data available to everybody.

That’s what took my fancy this week. If you’ve got anything to add, or say, then feel free to. I’m trying to be a bit more regular on the blog from now. Next week I might look into the socio-economic links to educational achievement.

Have a good week.



National Standards

I am an angry camper. Well technically speaking I’m an angry teacher.

I’m angry with politicians and I’m particularly angry with the media who are now just seem to be working as PR types for the politicians (You know who you are John Hartevelt). Here are my main points.

Firstly, why are teachers no longer considered a body of professionals capable of using their extensive body of knowledge gained from years of training and experience? Instead you think we are a bunch of moaners resistant to change. Do you not think we have the right to express our concerns at policies that are, in our professional experience, will impact negatively on the education of New Zealand children?

Put it this way… if the government decided to bring in national standards for health and then linked the pay of physicians to the death-rates of their patients, there would be uproar. Any whitey-righties reading this will say, “that’s a ridiculous notion” and bluster away tut-tutting me for my nonsense while saying some of their best golfing partners are doctors and death rates are arbitrary, Boon. They are affected by all manner of things. My point here is national standards are also an arbitrary measure of a child’s performance at one moment in time. It can be affected my a range of things like poverty, hunger, tiredness, mood, poverty, absence from school and poverty. To link my pay to that measure of performance is totally unfair. In fact, Hekia Parata, I would like to link your pay to your performance, which I shall measure by bouncing a basketball up and down. The more I bounce it, the more you get paid.

I’d also like to know why are the media still not continuing to ask why we are adopting systems that has worked so well for the United States and United Kingdom they are ranked 10 and 16 places behind us on the OECD rankings (2010) . We are 4th on that list by the way. The reason I’ve included it is because the Guardian has an easy-to-read summary on their website, and it dates back to a time when National were putting the standards in place. UK and US schools teach the test to their kids to boost their national standard league table position and regularly exclude students that fall below the line. This also bumps up their statistics.

Another point I need to make is about the motivations of each group arguing in favour of national standards. Politicians are motivated by votes. The more votes you get, the better chance you have of running the country. You cannot tell me that this is not the case across the board. Labour, National, Greens, everyone. I know it’s the case because politicians never say anything. At the moment, anything they say they can’t remember later. Or they never read it. David Shearer did say they other day that he wasn’t going to cancel the national standards if Labour led the next government. He is doing this because he knows there are votes available. If agrees with them, keep them. If he doesn’t, dump them. Don’t snag yourself on the top of the fence not saying anything. Be a man!

On the other hand, newspapers are motivated by selling papers, or more recently, directing internet traffic to their websites. The more people who buy their paper, the more money they get. The press – mainly (fairfax), but also Granny – will tell you they are motivated by some altruistic notion of keeping parents informed. They are not. They want to sell papers (increase web traffic).

A reader pointed out in The Press newspaper yesterday they had counted three major changes that had happened to the education sector since they’d left school in the mid-eighties. That’s probably about right. It isn’t very good for job security, or attracting the best and brightest to your profession. But never mind – unregistered teachers will fill the gap.

Even so, it doesn’t matter what anyone does. Whatever system I have to work under, I will. Because it’s not about what I believe in. It’s not about what you believe in either. It’s not about whether I agree or disagree with your politics John Key. It’s about providing the best education I can to the children I am educating this year. Do what you like to the system you misguided ideologue, but I’m not going to let it impact on the quality education my class gets.

See you next time.