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Evidence vs. hysteria

Written By: - Date published: 1:13 pm, November 13th, 2010 - 35 comments
Categories: dpf, education - Tags: , , ,

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?

35 comments on “Evidence vs. hysteria ”

  1. With the welfare of our children at stake, who do you really believe?

    definitely not tolley or farrar !!!

  2. ianmac 2

    What makes this truly remarkable is that Hattie is brave enough to reverse his support for National Standards. As the chief adviser to the Government he has much to lose personally.

    Having read the pro-National Standards lobby they are very seldom in support of the actual National Standards, but very loud and accusatory of the area around NS like being obedient to the boss, claims of non-democratic decision making by BOTs, and alleged case studies of failures of the current system, re-quoting misinformation about failure rates. None of these things address the actual application of data to very woolly NS nor whether it would help kids if they did.

    I specially like the comment above from Hattie : “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.”
    Hear hear!! We knew that!
    (My son has now an Honours BA degree, and now working on one in Law, and yet his ability to write anything right through Primary School was severely delayed. Different pace.)

  3. ianmac 3

    Rob: Brilliant post by the way. Thanks.

  4. Irascible 4

    Hattie’s remarks and recant echo those of the architects of much of the Bush era education “reforms” that included testing against “national standards” . The evidence has stacked up against the processes and results. The problem in the USA especially is that the financial “investment” in the processes along with advisors who, despite all evidence to the contrary, cling, like Bankers, to the belief that the are always right.

    • KJT 4.1

      There are actually several education advisors in the States, who advocated the “No child left behind” project originally, who were honest enough to say it had failed

  5. Fabregas4 5

    If I can be so bold … we do have a problem in our education system. It is highlighted by initiatives such as Kotahitanga and Ka Hikitia (both of which are now substantially on the back burner). Kids like everyone actually need to have good relationships with their teachers in order to be engaged in school and learn best. Evidence says Maori children in particular need to feel valued and close to their teachers. The structure in primary schools provides for this and engagement levels for all children are high – so are success levels. The problem comes with the change in structure in High schools where engagement drops rapidly (in particular for Maori who are always talked about when discussing educational failure). Sorry to take a while to get the point but Karen Sewell the 1/2 a million dollars per year Secretary for Education has a Secondary School background – she sees secondary school solutions (and old ones at that) such as labeling kids at success or failures as this is all she knows and she doesn’t know or probably care for the Primary School system which quite frankly I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t think does a great job for the kids overall – (before the manics post – please don’t expect any system to be 100% – there is no system on earth in any sector that is). Hence her desire to have a standard that sees 5 years not acheive – she was around for School C – remember that?

    • ianmac 5.1

      Two secondary teachers had a day for observation at a Primary school near here, where obviously they expected to watch teachers who had it real easy with just those little kids to bother with. Well. The two went away shattered ! They had no idea that kids could learn in a friendly busy multi-directional, selfmotivated, self-monitored, active learning classroom. They went back to College and after a try at breaking up their classes into three groups for discussion and problem solving, they gave up and returned to whole class lecturing. Teachers know their subjects but not how students learn. Pity.

  6. NZ Groover 6

    I’m surprised at how many times David Farrar’s name appears here. Do you consider him a threat or irrelevant?

    • lprent 6.1

      A symptom of a disease.. That is the simplest way of describing my attittude

      • jcuknz 6.1.1

        Just as rOb here is .. both pushing their particular barrow.
        I don’t think it matters which way we go so long as we are prepared to correct and fund that correction as we find the pitfalls.
        Hattie is a strong supporter of NS according to rOb, stated both here and in reply to me elsewhere, and seems to be saying the second part of what I suggest above.
        It is this God Dammed idiotic ‘black and white’ approach which is so wrong in this and so many arguments. We have a very good educational system with excellent results in the main, but there are some frayed edges that need to be looked at.

        • Joachim's 6.1.1.1

          “Hattie is a strong supporter of NS according to rOb, stated both here and in reply to me elsewhere”

          I think you just lied. For instance this quote:

          “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.

          But listening to his concerns (see story below), a different picture emerges. Hattie insists the system can work but admits if he had the choice, he’d drop it and start again from scratch. …”

          from this link (and the comments around it)

          Nats bullying schools again

        • r0b 6.1.1.2

          Just as rOb here is .. both pushing their particular barrow.

          Yeah? So which disease am I a symptom off jc?

          I don’t think it matters which way we go so long as we are prepared to correct and fund that correction as we find the pitfalls.

          So given your new found caution, don’t you think it would be a good idea to test and validate the standards before insisting on their implementation in all schools? If not – why not?

          • Pascal's bookie 6.1.1.2.1

            Hattie seems to think the correction needed at the moment is to scrap National’s scheme and start again from scratch. I guess that’s Jc position also, except not.

          • Joe Bloggs 6.1.1.2.2

            Yeah? So which disease am I a symptom off jc?

            A mis-spelt youth, evidently – forgive the pun

          • jcuknz 6.1.1.2.3

            I will not speculate since I’m not a doctor but it appears to be very similar to DPF’s, except in reverse, so maybe you are the cure or else DPF is? Maybe Lynne can help you here, since she made the original suggestion.

            Since I have recently been wildly attacked over at Kiwiblog and am being given similar treatment here I can only conclude that I am on the right track, with my common sense guiding me .

            I suspect that the majority of teachers and schools are getting on with it and it is just a few politically influenced are trying to block progress. It is a syptom of the foolish right wrong left right attitudes. The left have so little going for them they are struggling to make something out of nothing. Altogether rather sad that they are currently so ineffectual.
            It is nice for somebody to change their mind but not to expect after all the effort and expense has gone into setting the system up for it to be scrapped so they can invent something else.. I repeat that he seems to be in favour of NS, if not this one but another 🙂

            • r0b 6.1.1.2.3.1

              Come come jc, if you’re going to insult someone you should have the courage of your convictions and say why.

              And I can’t help but notice that (surprise!) you didn’t answer the question, So I’ll ask it again. Given your new found caution about national standards, don’t you think it would be a good idea to test and validate them before insisting on their implementation in all schools? If not – why not?

            • felix 6.1.1.2.3.2

              jcuknz: “Since I have recently been wildly attacked over at Kiwiblog and am being given similar treatment here I can only conclude that I am on the right track, with my common sense guiding me .

              Having people from across a wide spectrum of opinion think you’re an idiot is not necessarily a sign that you’re on any sort of “right track”.

              Sometimes it’s just a sign that you’re a fuckwit with nothing to add, and that no-one can be bothered with you.

              • jcuknz

                Felix … So why are you commenting on what I say 🙂
                tOb … As far as I can see the hysteria seems to be originating from you rOb with so many posts while none from DPF in the same period …I don’t visit other RW sites so my conclusion may be an error. While my contributions are a common sense moderation of the situation, though some might be trollish as I try to get reasons rather than statements out of you.
                Who am I insulting?
                Question was answered in my last post when I said that this is not the time to call a halt and my caution extends only to observing and correcting possible pitfalls if they eventuate. This may seem horribly luke-warm to an advocate but it is my ‘sitting of the fence’ position of being quite neutral to NS, not believing for one moment that hordes of children are going to suffer, or the hyperbole about ‘back 50 years’. Both are ludicrous.
                I have not read the original but from others reports it does seem that your worthy academic wants to have a second go at creating NS mark 2 … being unhappy with the or some of the detail worked out while he was away.
                ‘If not — why not’ …read my thread again because I answered it.with the reason..

                • r0b

                  While my contributions are a common sense moderation of the situation

                  You have far too high an opinion of your own “common sense”. Common sense is based on relevant knowledge or experience, of which you appear to have none.

                  I said that this is not the time to call a halt

                  So you disagree with every educational expert who has spoken on the matter, and you are quite prepared to damage the education of a generation of children. And that is “common sense” to you.

                  or the hyperbole about ‘back 50 years’. Both are ludicrous.

                  Why is that warning – from the government’s own education advisor – ludicrous? Let me guess – your “common sense” tells you so does it?

                  It was quite wrong of me to call you an idiot in the other thread. I do apologise to idiots.

                  • jcuknz

                    Oh rOb … I think you are descending from statements to abuse and completely loosing the plot thereby .. pity … though a source of amusement. LOL 🙂

                    • r0b

                      And — brandishing his wounded dignity like a shield to hide the naked foolishness of his argument — jc makes a run for the exit, stage right. Curtain. Raise the house lights. Show’s over folks.

                      [lprent: ummm – perilously close to a pronouncement of ‘pwned’. ]

                      [Yeah, and I’m cross with myself too believe me. But this issue makes me angry like no other. — r0b]

            • lprent 6.1.1.2.3.3

              My view is that National’s standards show little thought about what they’re trying to achieve, and even less thought about how they’re going to achieve those desired results. I also think that DPF exemplifies the same lack of logic in the way that he tends to wander away into dog whistles about opponents of NS rather than discussing why they provide ANY useful purpose.

              I have a real problem with NS in that it looks like it is massively subjective simply because there is no effective validation on the measurements. Effectively it relies entirely on teachers making a completely subjective assessment without any significant normalization (eg the massive effort for NCEA). Quite simply the methodology is complete crap. What I see is a GIGO problem – garbage in and garbage out. Hardly what you require for the mythical market based system that seems to be all that the proponents seem to see operating.

              From the supporters of NS, I have yet to see a coherent description of what they are designed to achieve apart from some really vague “free market” waffle that doesn’t exist without an ability for parents to move their kids to other schools. That (dropping zoning) in itself is a solution that causes far more problems than it cures if you’re looking at getting a consistent education standard across the whole population of children. DPF in particular seems to be avoiding even looking at what you do if you find a “problem”. But it does exemplify his shallow standard of thought.

              I’d be more willing to consider something like NS if I could see what in the hell you do with the results. There is no hint of targeting resources towards kids or teachers that show up as being “problems”. Again there is some kind of mystical belief that the magic of the market will operate. Frankly that is a lazy cop-out that I can only see causing far worse problems impacting on generations of kids subjected to this bizarre experiment.

              The worst thing is that the whole thing to me appears to be a purely political exercise by the proponents including DPF. It was a few lines in the limited policy that National had before the election. The opponents are quite rightly asking what in the hell it is meant to achieve and the method that it will be achieved. To date all we’ve seen is some mystical semi-religious mumbo-jumbo in response with zero information content. You get the impression that its proponents don’t seem to understand the basis for their own support apart from some primitive authoritarianism.

              Implementing it appears to be being done to tick a box off – “policy achieved” – without considering what in the hell the policy is meant to achieve. That is completely idiotic.

              That is also what r0b’s post is about. It is the clear failure by National or the proponents of NS to say why it is required, what it is expected to achieve in terms of objective(s), how it is expected to achieve those objective(s), and how resources will be expended to achieve them. Instead we have the simple mindless authoritarianism of the idiot right that prefers instead to focus on attacking opponents for “political” reasons without bothering to try to convince them. It is hardly any surprise that this is causing an outright rebellion amongst school boards, teachers, principals, and parents. The effort and resources that are being put into ticking this National “policy checkbox” appear to be much better expended in a more productive fashion.

  7. Hamish Gray 7

    The only people against the “evidence” are Tolley and Farrar? Hardly.

    The left is shooting itself in the electoral foot if it really thinks parents don’t play a role in this. You’re not living in some electoral vacuum where the only people interested are in the beltway or running schools. I can’t claim a scientific poll, but a recent parental gatherings for school events at a very middle of the road (decile-wise) school confirmed an overwhelming desire to see the Standards implemented, with little belief in the “damage” it would do to students.

    But hey, if Labour wants to lose a ton of the electorate at the next election, be my guest.

    • NickS 7.1

      Yeah, because it’s not like evidence that Nat.Stands. are bullshit is actually real, and yes we should allow people with no expertise, but plenty of unintended arrogance to decide whether or not the vague descriptions of Nat.Stands given by Tolley amount to being beneficial to kids.

      • jcuknz 7.1.1

        The point is that NS is the concept of a respected academic to meet a problem of low achievement by some of our children. To I believe counter the play-way that seems to be advocated by educationalists these days instead of a firm grounding in the three R’s at primary levels. Something which seems to continue in its absence even to those admitted for university education and certainly noted by older employers.

        Lprent makes some good points [1.38pm] about how ineffectual the current system of both educationalists and politicians in correcting the problems of the existing system … given our political system I’m not confident there is ever going to be a solution … there are too many people scrabbling for a slice of the cake and unwilling to help make the cake in the first place.

        What support I have for NS, and I’m guessing many more are thinking like me, is that maybe, just maybe, it will result in primary children getting the essential grounding that I did in the old days [60+ years ago]. because of the need to pass the NS tests. Though if they are not independent of schools then the results are surely suspect. More dam beaurocracy, we need teachers not mark counters.

        This obviously doesn’t appeal to the educationalists with their ideals but while on one hand we are preparing these children to be bright and innovative in the future, they also need a firm groundwork in the 3R’s to satisfy their future employers. The sad thing as I see it is that those younger employers are no better educated these days because the rot has been going on for decades. Judging from what I’ve read about some reports written about children by their teachers it strikes me as a case of the one-eyed person is king in the kingdom of the blind .. so how on earth can they complete the assessments or parents understand them. But then this is not a new problem as teachers struggle to say something original, if they bother hoping reports will not be compared, about 30 or more children in their care.

        The more I see of the ‘free market’ the more I’m convinced it can be a good thing in moderation but definitely not in open slather, and certainly is not the end all and be all to running an ecconomy. As a parent I liked the voucher system as a way to apply ginger to the system and taking control away from politicians at all levels, though I doubt if at any stage would I and my wife would have had the knowledge to use this freedom properly for our son’s benefit.

        There is a continual demand for schools to teach more and more subjects to the extent that I wonder if essentials are not being skimped on and this raises the idea of longer school days as I believe happens in France. Maybe instead of getting the children home before ‘the workers’ go home but after is a solution to this … with a 9am to 6pm school day with many more teachers to cope with the workload.
        ..

        • lprent 7.1.1.1

          …because of the need to pass the NS tests.

          What tests? There are none as far as I’m aware. Furthermore even if there were, there is no national moderation of the marking (or the required resourcing) that would be required to make them useful.

          Also as I understand it, the first parts of National’s standards is targeted at the primers. Not exactly a conducive environment for running tests if only because the differential between the kiddies is so extreme at that point based on family environments, it is hard to get kids at that age to be interested in competing in something so abstract as a test, etc etc.

          Besides, I was there over 40 years ago and I can’t remember having tests then. Since I was reading books and had a pretty good grasp of maths prior to entering primer 1, I’m sure I’d have remembered aceing them.

          • jcuknz 7.1.1.1.1

            Surely there must be tests if one is to report them for league tables so vehemently opposed? Surely I have not been mislead by DPF?
            I re-read rOb’s top piece again and since it was [ or is ] never my intention to make him angry it struck me that it is so full of holes I wish I had started on it instead of how I have. But I guess I had better leave well alone. I’m off out of town tomorrow so will not be contributing for a day or two at least … take care all and watch your boilers. 🙂

            • jcuknz 7.1.1.1.1.1

              PS … because the programme won’t let me edit the above.

              I well remember [c.1940-41], in another country at the prep department of a Public School being tested every fortnight and because I usually came bottom or second bottom in my class I got two or one hits with a gym shoe from the Headmaster, he was an expert at inflicting pain. Grossly unfair I think because while I guess I was somewhat lazy my education of that period, two years, was interupted by thirteen spells in the school hospital with yellow jaundice. Until my guardian rescued me and I went to day school so she could feed me properly despite rationing and the war.

          • Draco T Bastard 7.1.1.1.2

            I remember having such silly little tests every week when I was at primary school. I usually got 100% whereas everyone else was struggling to get 80%. This, of course, taught me that school was easy and I stopped putting any real effort in to it which probably isn’t the lesson that you want children to learn before they’re 10 (Those who continuously fail also stop trying because they can never seem to get ahead).

            Children learn at different rates and that’s where NS falls down as it, ironically, gives a one size fits all answer to a complex problem.

        • NickS 7.1.1.2

          The point is that NS is the concept of a respected academic to meet a problem of low achievement by some of our children. To I believe counter the play-way that seems to be advocated by educationalists these days instead of a firm grounding in the three R’s at primary levels. Something which seems to continue in its absence even to those admitted for university education and certainly noted by older employers.

          Problem, NS as it stands has been trashed by the academic who National asked to create it in the first place, due both to changes National has made, plus further experience said academic had in England with similar systems*. Secondly, SATS are still in primary schools, meaning that the later years are already tested each year for their ability to do the three R’s, and as such, the present form of NZ primary level education has given NZ fairly high standards internationally.

          I also see the “play” that early years are involved in as actually important for developing social and civil skills developments, as the problem is kids do develop at different rates, thanks to the wonders of biological variation due to mutation, sexual reproduction and developmental environmental factors. Some might have reading difficulties early on, but get better by 6-7 years old, others issues with actually understanding basic maths (fuck memorising times tables, actually teach the fucking logic behind it /gumble ), or with social skills (potentially into early adulthood *cough cough*).

          Ugh, last bit before I run out of giving a damn:

          Lprent makes some good points [1.38pm] about how ineffectual the current system of both educationalists and politicians in correcting the problems of the existing system … given our political system I’m not confident there is ever going to be a solution … there are too many people scrabbling for a slice of the cake and unwilling to help make the cake in the first place.

          Lolwut? Methinks you have ironically failed to critically read that post, because nowhere in does he say what you claim he’s saying. Instead it’s clear the post is criticising National’s handling of NS, and their failure to even listen to concerns from those who do study primary educational systems.

          lawl.

          __________________
          * Nick tired, use the tags to find it on here. /sleeeeeeep deeeeeebt.

    • Colonial Viper 7.2

      Hamish, why don’t you let Labour get on with winning in 2011, thanks for your heartfelt concern though.

  8. Fabregas4 8

    I have tried very hard to provide a balanced perspective of National Standards to my schools BOT. But short of Ministry publications pro National Standards literature is thin on the ground whilst anti national standards is covered by an ever growing list of experts and academics. This was the list back in July http://thestandard.org.nz/tolley-lives-behind-the-wall/ – plenty to add since.

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