The Nats are running their various ideological policies in education, claiming (while contradicting themselves in the process) that they are trying to address the “one in five children” who do poorly at school. I’ve written on the subject of one in five children before, concluding that post with this quote (pdf):
Can it be mere coincidence that there are similar proportions (one in five) of New Zealand children in the Ministry’s “tail of underachievement” as there are children in the greatest poverty that is, non-working, beneficiary-dependent families?
If the Nats wanted to do something serious about addressing educational underachievement, they would be addressing child poverty, not farting about privatising education. Below is an impassioned plea from an American teacher. Because of it’s relevance to what is going on in NZ right now I’m going to quote quite a bit of it:
The hard bigotry of poverty: Why ignoring it will doom school reform
By Valerie Strauss
This was written by Brock Cohen, a teacher and student advocate in the Los Angeles Unified School District who contends that we can no longer afford to trivialize the critical role that poverty plays in a child’s learning experiences – and that true school reform begins with social justice. Brock’s students were recently featured in an NPR piece that charts some of his students’ daily struggles as they pursue their education.
By Brock Cohen
… What had grown increasingly clear to me was that my students’ academic struggles did not simply stem from inaction, ineffective parenting, drug use, or neglect. While these elements were usually present in various forms, or to greater or lesser degrees, they weren’t the root causes of their failure; they were the effects of poverty. What I’d learned in less than a semester of teaching was that poverty wasn’t merely a temporary, though unpleasant, condition — like a hangover or the sniffles. It was a debilitating, often generational, epidemic.
While my teaching credential classes were perpetually bogged down with trivialities like journal reflections, acceptable formatting options for the three-tier lesson plan, and tales of woe that rivaled A.A. meetings, discussions or assignments that sought to unravel the poverty-learning conundrum never took place. In pursuit of other alternatives, I commenced my own research.
Study after study validated my experiences and observations from spending the past five months with disadvantaged teens. Healthy children require a nutritious diet, ample sleep, stable households, regular physical exercise, and access affordable health care. They require regular cognitive stimulation to give them the neurological foundations required for complex learning tasks. And they require affection and positive reinforcement to engender them with self-worth.
Most jolting to me was a 1995 study that remains every bit as relevant today. Published by psychologists Betty Hart and Todd Risely,Meaningful Differences details the magnitude of a child’s early learning environment. It concludes that low-income children are typically burdened with a 32-million word gap by age 4, as well as deficits in “complexity” and “tone,” which measure the depth and intensity of verbal exchanges.
While I continued searching for answers, either Congress or the Bush administration could have thrown me a life preserver. They opted for an anchor. Rather than instantly improving the state of public education by proposing legislation that attacked poverty at its core, they put their bipartisan muscle behind one of the most onerous, ineffectual, and wasteful slabs of federal legislation in decades.
What was then billed as a reauthorization of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), No Child Left Behind made quick work of common sense, setting multiple-choice standardized tests as the touchstone by which the nation’s students, schools, and, in many cases, teachers would be evaluated. The law’s founders assured Americans that what high-poverty kids needed was not better health care, smaller class sizes, expanded access to pre-K education, or supervised instruction in using 21st-century technology. They needed to be tested more. Teacher and school accountability, tied to test scores, would rescue poor children from the brink of failure. (After all, it wasn’t cynical policymakers or a misguided electorate who were failing our nation’s public schoolchildren: The real bogeyman was “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”)
Put another way, a first-generation El Salvadoran teenager, crammed into a Van Nuys apartment while acting as the primary caregiver for three younger siblings, would ultimately be held to the same performance-level expectations on the same high-stakes tests as a girl from Palo Alto whose parents attended Dartmouth. Failure of schools to ensure this would (and has) lead to monetary sanctions, mass firings, state and private takeovers, and school closings.
And so, with the stroke of our President’s pen, the act of leveling the playing field was ostensibly underway.
But then the National Alliance for Educational Progress (NAEP) started producing stacks of data that divulged what many educators had already predicted: Testing the bejesus out of high-needs kids probably wasn’t going to make them smarter. Given to a cross-section of the nation’s public school students in 4th, 8th, and 12th grade each year, NAEP test results perennially revealed that the policies of NCLB have had no discernable impact on bridging the still seismic math and literacy gaps between low-income children and their wealthier counterparts.
Rather than reversing the wayward course of NCLB, however, President Obama’s approach has proven even more ineffectual — and draconian. …
Darling-Hammond has galvanized opposition to the brigade of privateers, economists, public officials, and think-tankers who insist that poverty isnot a towering roadblock to a child’s cognitive development. In a piece that rails against the government’s fusillade of sanctions aimed at so-called failing schools, she writes:
Poverty rates make a huge difference in student achievement. Few people are aware, for example, that in 2009 U.S. schools with fewer than 10 percent of student in poverty ranked first among all nations on the Programme for International Achievement tests in reading, while those serving more than 75 percent of students in poverty scored alongside nations like Serbia, ranking about fiftieth.
… In education, there are choices to be made that can indeed move the needle of student achievement. Developing a collaborative model, for example, can lead to improvements in the skills and study habits of disadvantaged children. But closing the so-called achievement gap between rich and poor will first require Americans to recognize a far more uncomfortable reality: The policies employed to purportedly address the struggles of low-income children have ushered in a new era of school segregation. Claiming that poverty is no excuse for student failure trivializes the damage caused by years of actions and inactions that have widened the gaps between rich and poor communities. Good schools aren’t molded through harsh sanctions, private takeovers, or even soaring rhetoric. They emerge from healthy, stable communities. That is, they emerge from a commitment to justice.
I don’t think I have anything to add.