National Standards threaten public education

The most encouraging aspect of the launch of the government’s so-called national standards last week was the decision by teacher and principal groups to boycott the gathering.

Despite Prime Minister John Key labeling the event the most important development in education in 20 years serious concern among educators is so widespread that those who job it is to implement the standards stayed away.

Predictably the Minister of Education was furious but is determined to force the changes through. She says she is “delighted for the first time that parents will now have information on what their children should be able to achieve and by when.”

She also said “Parents want, and deserve, clear information on how their children are doing at school.”

Prime Minister John Key took up the theme saying “parents want, and deserve, clear information on how their children are doing at school.” He said the standards were supported by parents, would lift achievement standards and provide “clear signposts” on a child’s progress.

It all sounds like motherhood and apple pie. Anyone would think schools were deliberately keeping parents in the dark and the government was stepping in to force those know-all teachers to toe the line.

In fact the vast majority of schools do provide parents with high quality data which tells the parent how their child is progressing, what the areas of weakness are and what needs to be done to improve in any particular area or excel further in areas of a pupil’s strengths. They also tell parents how they progress compared to other kids of the same age.

So why are teachers and principals so opposed to national standards? Simply because they will not raise educational achievement one iota but will bring a host of negatives for schools and pupils. There is not a single credible educational academic or school leader who supports the government on this one. Educators know the government is playing politics with our kids’ futures.

It is true the government of the day has the responsibility to set the direction of educational policy and the responsibility of the sector to implement it. But there is also a profound responsibility on education professionals to let the public know when a government has got it wrong.

So it’s good to see them kicking up a fuss. Their responsibility to parents regarding the education of kids is greater than their responsibility to the government of the day.

So this comes down to a battle for the hearts and minds of the public. The government is wading in with simplistic rhetoric which tries to convince parents that teachers and principals and preventing parents getting good information. They are claiming the national standards will improve student achievement but there isn’t a skerick of evidence to back up this claim.

On the other hand our education professionals can point to a host of overseas examples where national standards have had a dreadful and demoralizing effect on students and student achievement. The government is insisting on a policy which educators know does not work.

Waiting in the wings are the media who are siding against schools and championing their right to compare schools with league tables, based on national standards. They did this with secondary schools where they lauded praise on the likes of Cambridge High School and Avondale College and slammed low decile schools. Heaven knows we don’t want primary schools emulating Cambridge with its artificial 100 pass rates and what the media told us was inspiring leadership.

National wants national standards because it supports the idea of competition between schools and is quite happy for the media to publish the data to pit school against school. When this has happened overseas the effects have been wholly negative with teachers changing focus to “teach to the tests” and children getting a narrower curriculum.

The damage associated with national standards far outweighs the supposed benefits. It’s good to know our principals and parents will resist this most damaging development from the Minister who slashed night classes.