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National-style standards and Key’s teacher trap

Written By: - Date published: 1:00 pm, February 15th, 2010 - 38 comments
Categories: education, Unions - Tags: , , ,

– We all know Mike Smith, former priest and ex-boxer, but did you also know he was General Secretary of the Labour Party for many years? Welcome aboard, Mike –

National’s education standards are one of John Key’s six policy initiatives that will supposedly see us equal Australia.

When recently they came under concerted criticism from teachers, principals, academics and (belatedly) the Maori Party, John Key reached back for that old National Party stand-by, the trade union bogey.

Prime Minister John Key criticised teacher unions today saying they were protecting under-performing teachers.

The attack comes a day after Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples, an associate education minister, said he held “grave fears” about new nationals standards.

Speaking on TV3 programme Sunrise, Mr Key said unions were worried the standards would show some teachers were not making the grade.

“We are a government that’s not going to sit back and accept the status quo which is decades of under-performance from some teachers and a failure of a whole bunch of kids,” he said.

Union-bashing was a favourite tactic of Rob Muldoon’s. One commentator on Key’s website suggested he should follow the example of Maggie Thatcher, another notable handbag-swinger.

Anne Tolley has made a mess of the sector, so Key has now effectively made himself the Education Minister.

Education Minister Anne Tolley had faced a lot of flak over implementation of the standards and last week Mr Key reduced her workload by giving her tertiary education portfolio to another minister.

Mr Key said she was a capable minister.

“I think you are always, if you are a National Party education minister, up against a little bit with the teacher unions. That’s just the way it is, there’s always been a fairly hostile environment there.”

The old stereotypes are certainly still strong in National, but they have led Key into a trap. What might have worked for Muldoon or Maggie in the past won’t work now for a number of reasons.

First, unions are no longer regarded as the bad guys. Nine years under the Employment Contracts Act showed many people the value of their union. John Howard’s great mistake in Australia was to mount an attack on union rights at a time when many people’s incomes were under pressure.

Secondly, the union in this case, the NZEI, is a professional organisation as well as an employee union. Their own standards are high; for themselves, their pupils and their programmes. They care about their processes and their kids. They are not driven by self-interest, nor are they inexperienced. They know what they are doing.

Thirdly, teachers are connected. They see each other in staffrooms every day, they spend time with children every day, and often with parents as well. National Party MPs making occasional visits, and Key’s taxpayer-funded letter and brochure containing comments like “Many parents tell us they’re not happy with the ‘politically correct’ and ‘sugar-coated’ school reports they receive” will not compete.

Fourthly, the NZEI are superb organisers. One of the most effective union campaigns I have seen was their campaign for pay parity. Towards the end of it, parents all around the country willingly looked after their kids for a day so the teachers could make a point. They had a good case and they gained widespread support.

And the reason is simple. Every parent knows that teachers are the most important people in their kid’s lives for most of the day.  They are both hugely valuable and hugely under-valued.

When they say about National standards “Let’s take this carefully and get it right” they deserve to be heard.

Maggie Thatcher would have made a terrible Education Minister. So will John Key if  he turns into just another teacher/union-basher.

38 comments on “National-style standards and Key’s teacher trap ”

  1. Lanthanide 1

    Maori schools get an exemption from the national standards until special standards have been written for them.

    Apparently this is because the Maori schools are “not just teaching a translation of the curriculum, so the standards can’t just be translated”.

    If the Maori schools aren’t teaching the curriculum, what *are* they teaching?

  2. r0b 2

    Welcome aboard Mike, great post.

    Scoop has another good piece up, “Govt Fails National Honesty Standards“, which quotes Emeritus Professor of Education from Massey University Ivan Snook taking apart several of National’s lies on national standards.

    • Draco T Bastard 2.1

      This unfortunate impact of similar policies overseas is being ignored by the government which is pursuing another agenda altogether.

      And the agenda that the NACT+MP government are following is a decrease in education because it’s easier to lead ignorant people and to tell them what to do.

    • Fisiani 2.2

      Keep up the opposition to a sensible policy approved by 80% of parents. Watch Phil slip to single digit support. oops he still is single digit. 6.8% Closing in on Helen at 7%

      • Mac1 2.2.1

        Source for “approved by 80% of parents?”

      • mickysavage 2.2.2

        Hey Fisiani

        You should read the comments posted here and throughout the Standard and marvel at the information supplied and the quality of the analysis. Then comply with Mac1’s very reasonable request and provide the source for your statement.

        With the greatest of respect it is BS. The polls were nonsensical as is your interpretation of them.

        • SD

          Hmm I suspect the Herald is the source of that “80%”.

          The problem is it was herald readers that were questioned; most of them are probably tories anyway so of course they would support it! Its a shame theres no other daily paper for us Aucklanders to get balanced news from!

          Given the herald is trying its hardest to sell national standards on behalf of the government anyway, is it not suprising they would come out with such a poll???

  3. greenfly 3

    Has someone inquired about and had explained the exemption from the proposed standards that private schools enjoy?

  4. SD 4

    That photo of Tolley and Key on the home page would make a good “best caption” post. Not that I can think of anythng though!!!! Anyone else…..

  5. Greetings to Mike

    Good introductory topic.

    With regards to Greenfly’s comments it is both private schools and Maori Kura that are exempt or allowed to conduct a trial. It is difficult to understand why there should be an exception.

    R0b’s link is very interesting. The suppary to the ERO report does create the impression that 30% of teachers are failing whereas the body says that 90% of schools (rather than teachers) are doing an adequate or better job. The ERO has always impressed me as being somewhat shrill and they should be questioned on why the summary apparently differs with the actual information they have.

    These would be very good questions in the house for Labour. Tolley is a weak link and should have the pressure applied.

    • Zorr 5.1

      The ERO are shrill because that is what they are paid to be. My mum worked for them reviewing schools for many years and the storys of that work still haunt me! ^_^

      Basically though, individual teachers within a school may be failing their students (as rated by the ERO) and will be brought to the attention of the principal/BoT, however this will not necessarily affect the rating of the school as the schools are rated on their overall ability to both educate students and parents and effectively manage issues that arise surrounding this. Essentially what it comes down to is that Yes, 30% of our teachers may be failing their students. The question we have to ask then is “How badly?” We are talking about a marking situation where you either pass or you don’t and unless you are privy to the discussions that occur between ERO, principals and teachers regarding it then you will have no idea on how much the teacher needs to change to be successful. It may be something as simple as needing to maintain a more open dialogue with the parents of the children in their class so that they know where their kids are at and what is expected. “30%” covers a LOT of potential situations.

      We should just be thankful that we have a system that works and teachers that care and we should stop trying to politicise the education of our children as I think we can all agree that the only thing we want is for them all to do well. National Standards are not going to help that, ever. They have failed elsewhere so obviously they are the panacea to our issues. x_x

      • Draco T Bastard 5.1.1

        It’s still not 30% of teachers that are failing the children but 10%.

        • mickysavage

          I suspect most of those teachers are teaching in poor areas and are faced with a situation beyond the control of all but the most experienced and talented of teachers.

  6. “If the Maori schools aren’t teaching the curriculum, what *are* they teaching?”

    I put my kids through kura kaupapa and would gladly do it again, more for the sense of pride in who they are and how they fit into the bigger picture from a maori perspective and for the fluency they now have in their language.

    They never suffered for learning what they needed to in english as a second language but when the time came for high school there just wasn’t the qualified teachers to translate higher concepts, particularly mathematics, so i mainstreamed them. Having said that though, all the teachers i had the pleasure of dealing with were excellent, committed and qualified at the lower levels.

    It’s fair to say i had way more involvement with their education in kura because we as parents were expected and wanted to be more interactive with the school being that it was run as a whanau.

    Still, i dont see what the hold up in instituting national standards in kura would be and would have welcomed the chance to see the direct comparison with mainstream and private schools. Lost in translation is a weak excuse given the quality of bi lingual maori academics.

    The problem in kura with some kids wasn’t the teachers. It was the parents and the culture of neglect and abuse the kids suffered from and the lack of a culture of mainstream success by parents to breed from and for their kids to aspire to, in higher education and employment .

    It was disheartening to see the frustration of good teachers work being undone at home by not so good parents.

    The maori party are doing a massive disservice to kura by excluding them. Shame on them.

    • r0b 6.1

      Speaking as an (ex) board member who attended too many heartbreaking disciplinary meetings, this problem is widespread. Given their home situations, some kids never get a chance. National standards won’t fix that. Raising the minimum wage and better community support would be a good start.

      • mickysavage 6.1.1

        Agreed and teachers should not be blamed because they are not able to get everyone up to the preordained standard. This is the most disturbing part of this issue, the blaming of teachers for their supposed failures. It is a cheap line that gets support from those on the fringe but does nothing for the education system or teachers’ morale.

        • A Nonny Moose

          “Raising the minimum wage and better community support would be a good start.”

          Absolutely. It just goes to show that National has little concept of the flow on/cross effects of all their other policies on education, and vice versa. Education Policy is not just the domain of Education – it’s social welfare, minimum wage, economic/trade policies, creating jobs. Stop treating the policies as independent of each other National – support the family to support the child.

          Oh and that “support” does not include your new crime policy of identifying At Risk families by profiling kids in the womb. Give them to chance to form something of a personality and opinion before you write them off.

      • pollywog 6.1.2

        Yeah shithouse eh r0b ?

        Not to mention that 6 girls my eldest daughter went through kura with, either got pregnant and had babies at kura or left kura and had babies. That broke their teachers heart cos she wanted to break the stereotype instead but in the end was powerless to do so and it made her want to give up teaching.

        My girl, on the other hand, graduated with merit from mainstream last year. She coulda got excellent but we moved city in her final year and it kinda messed things up having to adjust, not only from co ed and lotsa friends, but to oh so catty Nelson girls and the conservativeness that entails 🙂

        Still, i’m so proud of her and even more so now she’s moved back with her mum to decide what she wants to do next. The world is her oyster and she knows it.

        BTW i’m samoan, my ex maori and when we split i eventually took the kids and solo daddied it for a while, just cos i was in a better position and headspace to do so. No slight on their mum cos she’s an awesome awesome lady. Strong, fierce, proud, beautiful, massively talented and tattooed

        • r0b

          Still, i’m so proud of her and even more so now she’s moved back with her mum to decide what she wants to do next. The world is her oyster and she knows it.

          Good for you PW, and good for your daughter too. Kia kaha. I have kids too, so proud of them I could burst. (Without going in to the specifics of it all, my family isn’t Pakeha).

          • vto

            r0b “(Without going in to the specifics of it all, my family isn’t Pakeha).”

            ? ?

            by which ?? you mean ?

            If I lay some presumptions out in the way you have laid out some presumptions in that statement of yours the picture aint too pretty. Do explain.

            • r0b

              Sorry vto, I have no idea what your presumptions mean. But I think you’re reading too much in to something somewhere, and I know that I don’t owe you any explanations on anything.

              • vto

                I would be curious to know why you had to explain that your family is not pakeha in the context of that exchange.

              • r0b

                PW told me a lot about himself. I told him a bit about myself (all I’m comfortable with in a public forum). Just people getting to know each other vto, making friends is all.

  7. The whole policy from the Nats regarding education points towards privatization. Every time they discuss education you can be sure they are working towards helping ( by tax payers money) private schools.
    Im afraid that if they are returned at the next election we will see the end of our world class education system with more privatization or its relation contracting out. The problem we have is that they have a top class public relations firm that is running a never ending election campaign . However for the benifit of our young people we must win somehow .

  8. Red Rosa 8

    Here we have an untested (ironic, eh?) policy being rammed through by a lightweight Minister, largely driven by prejudice and National Party social engineering.

    The policy has little or no independent academic support, more the contrary. You really have to wonder where they got it from. There seems to be plenty of evidence from overseas that similar schemes have not worked. Why replay failure here?

    Just possibly, all those cheerleading middle aged Nats who haven’t seen a school for years might pause to consider a Big Point. The people who actually teach (the teachers, remember?) represented by their Union (that’s when they all get together, not some Marxist invention) don’t think it will work.

    • Now the interesting point is why Key has appointed a lightweight minister?
      Because I believe Key is a clever but crafty sly typical Tory.
      Everything he does has a reason and I have no doubt his appointment of Tolley has a purpose. We underestimated Key at election time so don’t let us be taken in by his smilling walkabouts and backdowns.
      My fear is that with his Super public relations firm behind him he will win the next election then smilling John will reveal all. Full scale privatization
      and contracting out of all State and public ownership. We need to be very vigilant .

  9. The Voice of Reason 9

    Good post, Mike, hope you’ll be doing more.

    One small quibble; sadly, Thatcher was in fact an Education Minister in the Heath Government of the early seventies. You’re right to assume she was a terrible one and she famously cut off the free milk in schools, leading to a popular chant of Thatcher, Thatcher, Milk Snatcher. Her obvious dislike for the children of the poor was applauded by her colleagues and she was rewarded with the party leadership in 1975.

  10. Daveski 10

    Without retrieving my historical (or should that be hysterical) posts, as an ex teacher I’d happily take issue with some of Mike’s broad statements that naturally enough go completely unchallenged here.

    Non performance has been and continues to be an issue in teaching and everyone implicitly acknowledges it but no one will come out and say or do anything about it. Given the ogre like stereotypes of the right used here, I’d say the stereotypes of teachers is much less fevered and far more accurate.

    Teachers have always resisted any attempt to rank their personal performance or effort while doing exactly that for those they teach.

    Will standards solve these problems? Most likely not.

    Is the union scared that poor performing teachers will be more easily identified. Most likely yes as they’ve argued for years that the poor performing teacher is like the Moa.

    Frankly, I think the whole primary and secondary education sector needs a complete overhaul from the bottom up. That means incentivising the right people to teach the right skills and subjects needed in the C21. Sadly, the unions will prevent this from happening and everyone else will merrily accept the failures coming out of the system whether we have standards or not.

    • lprent 10.1

      Ummm I suspect that you’re being a trivial optimistic that an overhaul would achieve much. I’ve seen incompetent teachers in throughly private teaching institutions (they’re all over the place) with none of the trappings of unionism. Just as in the public sector, the really crap teachers leave.

      Basically teaching is a hard job that people really have to enjoy before they stay in it. Most crap teachers bail early because the little shits that they’re teaching can scent blood like a school of sharks and go into feeding frenzies…. Then of course there are their parents… The teachers receiving the product of crap teachers….

      There are a lot of what I’d consider are mediocre teachers out there. There are very few surviving bad ones.

    • Ari 10.2

      Daveski, standards for teachers are useful, but what isn’t useful is judging teachers by the raw grade-level achievement of their kids. You can immediately see the problem this causes for teachers who get involved with low-streamed classrooms or subjects that may simply attract students likely to struggle more.

      Running a schools purely by competitive principles, even non-market ones, has been an outright disaster. National Standards borrows heavily from the No Child Left Behind program instituted in the USA, which is by all accounts a miserable failure.

      Attracting more and better teachers in the first place is probably a great idea, however, and there have already been several efforts to get it done. 😉

      • Daveski 10.2.1

        Being completely reasonable is a nasty way to take the wind out of my sails 🙂
        Yep, there are crap teachers in all institutions and ironically – for the same reasons that really really bad teachers don’t last – the best teachers are often in the lower decile schools. The true measure of the teacher is not the raw result but the “value” added.

        God, now I’m agreeing with Ari and LP!! Better go before it gets any worse.

      • Draco T Bastard 10.2.2

        Attracting more and better teachers in the first place is probably a great idea, however, and there have already been several efforts to get it done. 😉

        And then the government shits on them, tells them to take a pay cut and blames them for their own bad choices. I suspect that the bright ones have been incentivised to get out of teaching.

  11. Jellytussle 11

    The ability to identify underperforming teachers has nothing to do with the introduction of national standards. Schools very effectively track the success of students at present. Renaming current assessments to national standards makes no difference in a schools ability to ‘identify’ underperforming teachers.
    To merely suggest that it does reeks of teacher bashing, hidden agendas and mismanaged policy introductions

    • Draco T Bastard 11.1

      Renaming current assessments to national standards…

      They’re introducing a hole heap of new, untested and, according to overseas experience, useless standards on top of the standards (that work) we already have.

      To merely suggest that it does reeks of teacher bashing, hidden agendas and mismanaged policy introductions

      National: Teacher bashing, hidden agendas and total incompetence R-US

  12. Maggie 12

    There are dozens of unanswered questions about the government’s education policy:

    1) How can you have National Standards without National Assessment?
    2) What will National Standards give parents that they haven’t already got?
    3) Why doesn’t Key dump Anne Tolley?

    I don’t want to know how my daughter is doing as school by comparison with some kid in Invercargill.

    I want to know she is doing her best, receiving a well rounded education and being given every chance to develop her talents.

    • Paul 12.1

      Maggie bless you. This is how the vast majority of Primary School principals and teachers think. It leads to happy,safe, and engaged children and wonderfully to kids achieving. BUt why worry about that says Tolley – lets just measure them and tell them (in some cases) that they are no good and have to keep on doing maths and reading all day until they get better at it.

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