Digging into the education ammendments

There’s a lively debate going on over at Public Address System, on a number of issues including the new amendments to the Education Act regarding national testing.

A commenter, A S, asks why I have concerns, when the section in question is very short and seemingly innocuous. I have read the bill, made available by the Greens. Several times. I think that the concern being expressed by others is warranted.

The section in question is very short. I’ll write it out here in full.

8 National education guidelines

Section 60A (1) is ammended by inserting the following paragraph after paragraph (b):

(ba) National standards**, which are standards, in regards to matters such as literacy and numeracy, that are applicable to all students of a particular age or a particular year of learning.

9 School charter

Section 61(4)(a) is amended by adding “including the assessment of students against any national standard published under Section 60A (1) (ba)

All it does is create an instrument, and little indication is given about how it will be used. The relevant question is: how will the testing be used?

Does the minister want to see how well the country is doing nationally? Possibly, but this appears unlikely. There are already measures of this. It is also not supported by the minister’s rhetoric.

Will it be used to identify schools which are doing well or badly? Yes. A school charter will be published.

What will then be done with this? In a best case scenario, we might see these schools showered with additional resources and teachers, and given the help they need. I don’t think anyone I know would oppose that.

But after seeing that funding for private schools has just been almost doubled, with no increase to public education, I think that such a scenario is unlikely. We can expect that it will be published with the intention of showing parents and caregivers which schools are doing well, and which are doing badly.

After school zoning is abolished (as they have indicated they will do again), schools which do badly in these tests will see their student numbers drop, and will suffer considerably. Those that do well will see an increase in numbers and benefit. There will be significant pressure to maintain and improve standings – with the kind of “teaching to the test” as has been described at PA System in detail. The consequences are saddening,  with even good schools failing, and the personal experiences worth reading. This teaching devalues learning, and harms students, particularly those already struggle to engage and are thus most likely to have difficulty.

A cynic would argue that this is why they’ve slapped $3000 fines on truants…

It will punish schools that are already struggling with students with problems, and rip out a number of best and brightest. It will punish those parents without the means to send their children out of zone to a “good” school or a private school. Those who can, will. I saw this happen after only a few years in the 1990s in South Auckland, and it has taken years to repair the damage. Students who think they’re at a ‘bad school’ have no pride in themselves, and their self-esteem goes through the floor. Believe me, it doesn’t improve their education.

Combined with the abolition of zoning (which I predict within the next 18 months if not sooner), this will go a long way to creating a two tier system. Metiria Turei has got to the heart of the matter in the house, and she deserves a huge congratulations for the stellar work she’s putting in at the moment. But the message needs to go widely.

There appears to be a very clear idea from National about how such a system will improve education outcomes, and will force schools to teach well core subjects. Unfortunately, the international experience shows that such a system in loaded with unintended consequences. At least they could argue that these were unforseeable.

2 thoughts on “Digging into the education ammendments

  1. This is a good explanation of the predictable results of their latest efforts. ‘Teaching to the test’ is indeed the result and is well documented.

    Higher standards of literacy and numeracy are worthy goals, but testing students just doesn’t help achieve that. Teachers and schools need more resources for that.

  2. Teachers also need to feel valued, too; constantly referring to ‘good schools’ vs ‘less good schools’, will cause young teachers who already stay here grudgingly, to heave themselves offshore & get better pay elsewhere, the biggest crisis facing our schools.
    Having a huge student loan to pay off, and only a beginners ‘bulk funded’ salary to do it with, is not an incentive for our newest graduated teachers to stay in the country.

    I’ve just been to a secondary school prizegiving, during which the principal announced which teachers were leaving and thanked them for their hard work during the time they’d spent at his school. At least two were going to an OE-type experience, with intentions to return in 2010 – but will they?

    We’ve just seen the ‘baby blip’ kids (1988-1990) finishing college – schools are about to face a demographic shift, where the resourcing they did to cope with this mini-windfall of students, will leave them over-resourced for the intake that follows.
    There will indeed be much horse-trading of enrollments and incentives/marketing to parents, for the ever-decreasing commodity of our times, the child who needs education.

    The voucher system, the changes to ERO & NCEA assessments, and the ‘school charter’ clause (most schools already have one, d’oh!) are just means-to-an-end of seeing education profits go to the business sector, rather than the state-funded schools.

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