The PISA results are now out. From 2009 to 2012 New Zealand’s educational standards have apparently crashed. Our results have gone from seventh in reading and science to 13th and 18th respectively, and from 12th to 23rd in maths amongst the 65 countries engaged in the study.
Hekia Parata has said that the cause is not the introduction of National Standards but because of a major shift in the curriculum in the last three years and under-investment in teachers’ skills. She may be right but she does not acknowledge that funding for teacher professional development was cut in 2009 and the money was transferred to the National Standards Programme. There may be a direct link between the drop in standards and the roll out of National Standards.
The 2008 briefing for the Education Minister gave a snapshot of the education system that National was inheriting under Labour. Three points stand out from the briefing:
So what happened? In Budget 2009 then Minister Ann Tolley gave private schools $35 million extra funding, announced the roll out of National Standards and at the same time cut funding for the literacy and numeracy projects despite their effectiveness. If she wanted to do something for literacy and numeracy she would have not done this. She was obviously looking to appease National Supporters and introduce testing for PR purposes at the cost of two quality programs. It is not difficult to see a link between declining professional standards and the subsequent decline in PISA results.
Of course this is probably only half the reason for the decline. The ongoing attacks by the Government on the teachers unions and fiascos such as the Novopay have sapped morale and reduced the effectiveness of teachers. And the growth of inequality and poverty is no doubt one of the major contributors. Young people will not perform to their best if they are hungry or stressed or living in overcrowded conditions or their family is suffering financially. Attacks on working conditions and on beneficiaries will inevitably have an adverse effect on their children. I am sure that it is no coincidence that worsening results have occurred at the same time as increasing disparity in our society has occurred.
There could be implications for the Government’s Charter School policy. As noted by Gordon Campbell the Pisa report comes out strongly against Charter Schools. He quotes Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s deputy education director as saying the following:
My organisation [the OECD] is very strong on choice, enabling citizens to make choices, and you would expect that systems with greater choice would come out better. You expect competition to raise performance of the high performers and with low performers put them out of the market. But in fact you don’t see that correlation… Competition alone is not a predictor for better outcomes… The UK is a good example – it has a highly competitive school system but it is still only an average performer.”
Our data doesn’t show much of a performance difference between public and charter and private schools once you account for social background.”
What this occurrence has done is shoot down in flames any pretence that National may claim that it cares about improving education standards. It is willing to attack teachers unions, is totally indifferent to the effects of poverty on the lives of young people, and is willing to engage in mass state funded PR at the expense of a rounded previously high quality education system.
When it comes to education National does not have a clue. It needs to be removed from office before it does further damage.