Some thoughts on National’s Standards

Regular readers of this column will be well aware of my feelings towards National Standards, charter schools and other such data-driven middle management nonsense being imposed upon the public education sector by the various financial experts, economists, business and farming leaders heading our largest parliamentary party.

Of course, I’m not saying these people are utterly unskilled in what they do. You don’t make $50 million or accumulate vast tax-free property portfolios by being an imbecile. All I am saying is that making $50 million does not make you an expert in pedagogical delivery. Sure it makes you an expert in making money and if making money is what you want from your small children, reforming the education sector is probably the sort of thing you should go for.

So this week our million-dollar men and women released the latest National Standards data. I have pointed out before that data can be a wonderful way to measure something you need to reform, but it can also be used to point out: a) how stupidly unsuccessful your reforms actually are, and b) see what I said for point a).

How statistically insignificant the “increase” in the new National Standards data is I cannot say. Given more time and more statistical inclination I could possibly find out, but I won’t. Instead, here is a link to a story from Television New Zealand earlier in the week should give you an idea about what this government requires from we educationalists to create these statistically significant increases.

Many other stories on the standards release made mention of the performance of Northland, the West Coast and Gisborne. Stuff also pointing out Otago kids topped the tables. Huzzah for them! For a government that said National Standards data would never be used to rank schools and regions into league tables, they sure like ranking schools and regions into league tables.

Since the government love their rankings so very, very much, I went out of my way to make some of my own. I’ve put all the data into one table which I have then, quite helpfully sorted. Twice.


Table 1: National Standards achievement data against GDP growth and unemployment rates – by region (sorted by reading achievement rates)

Sorted by Reading


Table 2: National Standards achievement data against GDP growth and unemployment rates – by region (sorted by unemployment rate)

Sorted by Unemployment


And presto! Those table are pretty similar. Who’d’ve thunked it???? Of course, tighty righties reading this will point to Manawatu-Whanganui’s huge unemployment rate of 8% and their mid-table National Standards ranking (table 1) and say something like, “but look, that one is different so your argument is a load of effluent run-off.” Possibly, but that would be a load of effluent run-off.

And therein lies the issue. Poor socioeconomic prospects – few jobs, little prospect of future jobs – is directly linked to your chances of doing well in school.

Ignore poverty and you ignore the root cause of the issues you are trying to address. Mind you, the same people who ignore poverty are sniffing their ignore noses in the direction of global warming.

But then the educational reform movement is not actually about lifting achievement or outcomes for our poorest kids. If it was you’d see some kind of regional development strategy or something. At the moment the government seems more focused on getting a four-lane motorway built so they can get to their Omaha baches three minutes quicker on Labour Weekend.

Actually, that’s not fair. I think Bill English’s bach is in Dipton. Or a trust.

Ranking is a dangerous game. What will happen when the National’s Standards start to fall? Actually… come to think of it… I very much doubt the achievement results will fall under this government and their wonderful way with behind the scenes statistical manipulation or, if you prefer, which they sometimes do, up-front data misrepresentation through falsehoods.

Enjoy your data.

Mr B


Ministry of Education told school to manipulate standards data – Labour: TVNZ – 23 July.

Otago children top the tables: Stuff – 25 July.

National Standards data (2013): Education Counts website.

Regional Gross Domestic Product: Year ended March 2013 (pdf): Statistics New Zealand.

Joint MSD/MBIE Quarterly Regional Labour Market Reports – At a glance: Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s