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.