Commentators are chortling gleefully over David Shearer, the NZ Labour Party leader appearing to do an about face on education. His party, always in abject submission to its controlling unions--of which the teacher unions are dominant--has been taking great umbrage at any suggestion that the government education system is failing. Apoplectic tirades have poured forth insisting that there is nothing wrong with government schools: they are the best in the world, etc. etc.
But Shearer knows that parents and the public in general really like the idea of National Standards in government schools, testing for age competence in reading, writing, and maths. So, he has done the next best thing: he has promised that his government would spend more money for underachieving schools (which hitherto did not appear on Labour's radar screen). He has also promised that he would keep National Standards.
His critics are mocking the about turn. But not so fast.
Education unionists are clever--and very skilled and rorting the system to achieve their own ends. They are past masters at the black arts of propaganda. A decade or so ago they foisted a great rort upon the government education system--a rort supported by both political parties, as it turns out. They pushed for, and got, a new national educational qualification in years 11 through 13 of schooling: the NCEA qualification. The objective was to ensure that no-one left school without a qualification. To achieve this they broadened the number of "subjects" in which one could achieve a certificate.
And so we saw the NCEA qualification at levels I, II, and III in tiddly winks. Everybody thought it was great. The dark art of union manipulation and rorting of the system vastly expanded the number of subjects in which one could gain a qualification so that no pupil would fail. They could all succeed and achieve at something. End result: twenty percent of pupils still leave secondary education with no qualification whatsoever--not even in tiddly winks. But for a while the education establishment, the Ministry bureaucrats, the unionists and the politicians told themselves they had a world-class education system on their hands, superior to anything else in the world. And the public was gulled, for a time.
The education establishment and the unionists have now realised that the public will not put up with tossing out National Standards testing. Too many parents and teachers really appreciate it. So, the next best thing is to have National Standards not just in reading, writing and maths, but in everything. Expand it, until it becomes meaningless. Then the hopeless freeloaders in the government system will be able to say, "It's true our pupils are below National Standards in reading, writing, and maths, but we are ahead in dramatic arts and peace studies."
How do we know that this is coming? Look carefully at Mr Shearer's words:
Labour Party leader David Shearer says a Labour government would not cancel National Standards in schools, as it rolls out a Reading Recovery programme. Labour's new education policy highlights the need to extend the Reading Recovery programme to an extra 5000 students a year by making the one-on-one help available in all schools.The fix is in. When Labour become the next government standards testing will be inflated to the point of meaninglessness. Nearly two years ago when National Standards were first being introduced we wrote the following prognostication on how National Standards would likely play out in New Zealand:
Shearer told TV ONE's Breakfast Labour is not going to abolish National Standards, but the Prime Minister should understand how the education system works. "We've been measuring reading for 100 years. We know which kids are falling behind, National Standards doesn't change that," Shearer said, adding that National Standards simply say students should be at a certain point at a certain age.
"We won't cancel National Standards. But many schools will want to move onto something a lot more comprehensive and we won't stand in their way at doing that either," he said. (Emphasis, ours)
But the pervasive influence of our established and official Unbelief leads us to doubt that the national standards policy will survive. The established religion is just too strong, too pervasive, and too consistently interwoven throughout the fabric of the state school system--as you would expect it to be. So, here is how we expect it will play out: the educational unions will continue their dissent and campaign of opposition. Ninety percent of schools will comply with the new government testing programme. The educational establishment will ostensibly embrace national standards, then morph them until they become moribund. Firstly, they will call for national standards in more than just reading, writing, and maths. ("National testing is good. It's just too narrow and restricted. We need to extend it to other equally important subjects", etc.) Secondly, they will tweak the standards to reduce their meaning and usefulness. ("Language testing must reflect the diversity of our multi-cultural society. We need reading and writing tests in 'bro-talk' and 'txting' and other wonderfully vibrant lingual dynamic evolving lingual developments."). Testing in arithmetic will extend to IT skills and competency, computer use, keyboard facility, and so on.And so it will come to pass. The educrats and the teacher unions are smarter and more consistent than the average bear. Competence in reading, writing, and maths is so regressive, so old fashioned, so nineteenth century. We have moved way, way beyond that now. Shearer is on the curve. His critics are missing the point.
Within five to seven years the national standards will be as meaningless as NCEA is today.