Conversation in another post has brought home to me again how little some people know about the national standards debate. The Nats and their pet blogger DPF have some people believing their line that the opposition to standards is some kind of Labour / union “plot”. So even though I feel that I’ve said it before a dozen times, I want to point out just how ridiculous, pathetic, and indeed dangerous that spin is.
Opposition to national standards started with John Key’s hand picked education policy advisor, Prof John Hattie. Not Labour. Not a unionist. The Nats own advisor. From February this year:
… Hattie – Auckland University professor, student assessment expert and the man top politicians in this country see for advice about education … Ten days ago he was summoned to Prime Minister John Key’s Beehive office to explain what was going wrong with the Government’s grand plans for national standards in reading, writing and maths for all primary school children.
Education Minister Anne Tolley, stripped of her tertiary responsibilities the day before, attended the private meeting but it was Hattie that Key wanted to hear.
Both National and Labour have paid close attention over the last decade to this internationally recognised expertise on how to improve children’s learning. Bill English sought Hattie’s views when he originally developed the party’s national standards policy and Key took the same route, drawing inspiration from Hattie’s advice that a standards-based approach could work wonders in even the poorest schools. …
So it came as a shock when Hattie returned from a six-month study tour in the United States last July to tell the Herald that he was deeply concerned about the direction the Government’s policy had taken and worried that it could set back education 50 years.
In November he repeated his criticism, warning of a potential disaster with no improvement in children’s learning. A few weeks later he joined three other education academics in writing an open letter to Tolley, which pleaded with the Government to delay the introduction of the new system.
So what went wrong and where exactly does National’s education guru stand on the issue? Hattie says the Government didn’t consult him about the details, which were developed while he was out of the country. He adds that Key is right to say that he supports the idea but has concerns about its implementation. … Hattie insists the system can work but admits if he had the choice, he’d drop it and start again from scratch. …
Hattie’s first point is that, despite sweeping claims of failure by Key and Education Minister Anne Tolley, the New Zealand school system is in good shape, especially compared with the rest of the world.
National standards, he argues, are usually the catchcry of countries where the education system is in serious trouble. They have been introduced in the US, Britain and Australia but none of these countries have been able to show any overall improvement in student achievement.
Hattie believes national standards may lift the performance of a few children at the bottom of the educational heap but says the average will not change because bright children will be neglected. He thinks the policy threatens to destroy one of the great strengths of New Zealand’s education system, which recognises that children of the same age have different academic abilities and allows them to learn at the level of their current ability.
To repeat, Hattie is the Nats own education advisor, and he actually believes in standards (even though they haven’t worked in US, Britain and Australia). He helped the Nats design their policy. You won’t find a more pro standards expert anywhere, and it’s simply ludicrous to suggest that he’s singing a Labour or union song. But even he says that National have stuffed it up, they could set education in this country back 50 years.
Hattie was reporting on the American experience. The experience in the UK was just the same:
Tests blamed for blighting children’s lives
Landmark study of primary schools calls for teachers to be freed of targets
Children’s lives are being impoverished by the government’s insistence that schools focus on literacy and numeracy at the expense of creative teaching, the biggest review of the primary school curriculum in 40 years finds today. …
Children are leaving school lacking knowledge about the arts and humanities having spent too many years “tied to a desk” learning times tables, the head of the review, Robin Alexander, said.
“Our argument is that their education, and to some degree their lives, are impoverished if they have received an education that is so fundamentally deficient,” he said.
The report says schools should be freed of Sats and league tables to allow them to make more decisions about what and how they teach. …
Independent of the government and funded through charitable donations, the review is based on three years of academic research, 29 research papers and dozens of public meetings around the country. It marks 40 years since the last wholesale review of primary education and presents a blueprint for a curriculum that would give teachers control of 30% of their time to teach what they want.
The international evidence is all against national standards. The government’s own advisor, who believes that standards could work in principle, wants to scrap the Nats’ system and is warning of disaster. Other experts agree, citing the probable harm to children.
Against the evidence and the experts there is only the fanaticism (Tolley) and propaganda (DPF) of those who are quite happy to damage children for political ends. With the welfare of our children at stake, who do you really believe?