Tuesday, June 23, 2009

So what's wrong with national standards?

There is a report in today's Nelson Mail about the MOE consultation meeting on the national standards held in Nelson yesterday and it gives space to several principals and teachers to express their universal dislike of the standards.

Boy, these pedagogues need better sound-bites if Joe Public is going to understand the issues. Don Mclean's "measuring kids doesn't make them taller" is the best but really it still misses the point.

The point is that kids come in a variety of sizes and having a standard "height" for 6-year-olds is absurd. Someone will always come up short - not meet the standard. There will always be a distribution of height, weight - or achievement. Go find your Plunket book. If you set a standard "height", all those short kids get hurt and resentful, and their parents fret, when it's just normal for some people to be shorter (or just grow slower).

The thing we might agree on is that New Zealand has a long tail of underachievers. Will national standards shorten this tail? I don't think so. The factors that contribute to under achievement are complex and varied. If it was just good teaching that produced high achievement then good teachers and good schools wouldn't have a range of achievement - everyone would be high achievers. I know this is not true. Good teachers and good schools still have a range of achievement, even when other factors that influence achievement are weeded out (poverty, parents' education level, etc).

Politicians seeking simple answers to complex problems will always be a problem. National standards for politicians - now there's an idea...


  1. You have made some very good points here. I read the article in the Nelson Mail and wonder if the Ministry really wanted to hear our opinions. I feel - maybe wrongly - that they will do what they want regardless of the feedback they receive.

    I like most others don't feel this will make any differnce to little Timmy or Jenny in the class, no matter what 'level' they are. In reading other blogs, it seems that others countries around the world, including states in the US, have gone down the same common standards route with little success or affect. Why does the government feel this is necessary when it seems obvious that it is not the way forward? That dead horse is getting a real beating if you ask me.

    Great blog - I look forward to your next post.

  2. The trouble with the Right is that they want to know their kids are better than your kids, they want to rank people (Class, it's called). So for all their denial of it, we are heading towards ranking schools and teachers - league tables. It doesn't matter that it doesn't do any good, that it does real harm, because it reinforces the notion that they are better than you, classier, if you will. And that is what they want/need to know. That spending all that money on a private school education was worth it. Get used to it, it ain't going away whatever you say to them (they are very suspicious of teachers).

  3. The speed of the roll out is scary. Two staff members from our school were able to attend to Nelson meeting. I now have to share my wonderings to the rest of the staff who were not given the opportunity to attend and galvanise them add their feedback on the consultation. Not sure what good it will do. They seem set on. They said they wanted us to leave behind our questions that we had written on Post It notes. What a lot of good will that be. They said they had taken note of our feedback but no one was writing anything down and no one said the meeting was going to be recorded.

    Here are my thoughts on that meeting

  4. Hi, I'm a primary teacher only into my third year now. I have struggled to understand what the aversion to NS is. From my perspective the pendulum seemed to swing a bit too far towards no direct or frank disclosure of how a child compares to her cohort. I note that we can't use the phrase 'needs to' in reporting to parents and have to perform linguistic gymnastics to couch low achievement or behavioural issues as 'unrealized potential'. I sense that parents struggle to get a sense of how their child is doing. If I was a parent (I'm not) I would be very happy to have a simple national average by which to gauge my child's strengths and areas of needed support. Isn't that what NS is?
    Adrian Tyler