So… Exactly Where Are We Heading?

Thanks to a dose of the ‘flu’ (I’m a man, so for women that can be read as ‘slight cold) I’ve been able to spend some time reading up this week. Mostly I’ve read about the re-election of President Obama, but there have been a couple of very interesting articles I’ve come across in the last couple of days. They come from the United States of America – from where our current education policy is being imported. They shed some excellent, sometimes blinding light on the end game, the place Education NACTion is taking us.In the US they’ve had the long-standing No Child Left Behind Act (2001) which brought in national education standards for elementary and secondary schools. It was sold as an ‘aid programme for disadvantaged students’ (sounding familiar so far?). It was introduced by a Republican president (Bush Jnr) but has continued under President Obama.

So this means public schools in the United States have been working with national standards for over 10 years. Where has this left them? What does it mean for teachers? What does it mean for students? Are the standards being used to improve learning outcomes?

What it Means for Teachers

Teachers are now graded / rated based on the test scores achieved by the students they teach. Schools are also rated based on their results. Therefore the motivation for teachers and school leaders is to teach students how to pass tests rather than teach them how to be independent learners who are able to leave school and contribute to society.

Where’s my proof? Here’s an article from Huffington Post that shows what decisions are made when schools fail to achieve their standards targets. In short, 10 schools in Memphis that were in the bottom 5% have been handed over to some charter school operators (yes, that’s right, the schools were just given to them!) – one being the fabled KIPP where Catherine Isaac and our education reformers are getting their partnership school model from. Obviously this is only one article, but it is representative.

What does this mean? If your students fail to achieve, your school will be closed and handed over to a private operator. If you don’t think this could happen in New Zealand then ask the parents, teachers and principals in Christchurch. This is one option they’ve considered as they try to understand what the government is trying to do.

What it Means for Students

If national standards and charter schools are allowed to eventuate in New Zealand students will begin to hate school. Instead of having the time to plan and deliver exciting and informative lessons, teachers will end up “teaching to the test.” The pressure is on for schools when national standards are set. Ultimately, as has happened in the United States, funding will be tied to national standards results – especially if National are leading the charge. They just can’t help themselves with their tight fists around the purse-strings while their own personal money is cosy and safe in a trust of some kind…

Anyway, my point is that school will become very one-dimensional. Our children will be experts at passing tests. If you want proof about what kids think about this kind of education watch this interview from The Daily Show of student and chess whiz Pobo Efekoro – star of the documentary Brooklyn Castle. His comment? “Oh, no, I hated it.”

The government through Catherine Isaac and the Education Working Group and good old Banksy (no formal qualifications) are currently selling national standards to us as a way to lift our underperforming tail. They should spend more time looking at the actual causes of this rather than blaming teachers. Yes, we play a significant role in how young people progress while they are in our care. It is our duty as educators to use assessment and learning positively to create and enriching environment which will enthuse our kids. But to say it’s just down to teachers is just plain ignorant (or lazy).

Am I just a moaning teacher trying to protect my cushy job? No, I’m a hard-working teacher who’s interested in giving the best to their students.

What happens if my students don’t start with the best? Read the first part of this article from Education Week. If you want to read the whole thing you have to register, which is a bit of a pain, but it doesn’t take long and it’s a very interesting read. The upshot is this: childhood stress and trauma (say from poverty, abuse or neglect) can result in a range of serious long-term issues.

My message is this: if you’re a politician and you want to do something about our ‘long tail,’ then don’t be ignorant. Inform your policy making my looking at evidence rather than reading what David Farrar, Whale Oil or Karl du Fresne think. None of them are teachers.

Tackling the causes of poverty and inequality is probably quite a good place to start your reform of education.

Mr B.



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