Friday, 28 August 2015

The Travails of Government Schools

Union Bleating About Government Schools

We have found ourselves choking over the cornflakes, reading the latest bleat from our teacher unions.  They are upset over the unique high school qualification deployed in our government education schools.  It is called the National Certificate of Educational Achievement ("NCEA").  It was designed to ensure that no-one failed.  Everyone could achieve at something.  It was progressive.  It was innovative.  It was the coming thing. 

The teacher unions pushed hard for this new, unique assessment system in our secondary schools (although about forty percent of teachers opposed it at the time--and the level of opposition has remained steady.  But, sadly for the unions and the Progressive establishment, NCEA has been highjacked by the government--that very same entity that owns and operates government schools.  How unreasonable is that.  Achievement rates were pretty dismal under NCEA, so the Ministry of Education stepped in and set some targets.  The pressure started to come on, and the union has commenced a-bleating. That is one Achilles Heel.

A second Achilles Heels of the system (picture it as a centipede; its Achilles Heels are far more than a mere two) is the pluriformity of "subjects" for which NCEA credits are available.  Part of this was driven by the underpinning utopian ideology that believed no-one should fail to achieve.  It necessitated subjects that even students who could not read and write would be able to achieve at something, be it ever so profound as crocheting or local environmental studies (previously called "picking up litter" in the school grounds).
Consequently, schools massively increased their operating costs (more plant, equipment, and teachers were needed to cope with the ever burgeoning number of subjects on the menu).  Their capital requirements also exploded (take a gander through most secondary schools and pick out the poshest and biggest building on site--in most cases it will be a building dedicated to the performing arts--now social expectation for a superior NCEA education).

The present NZ government decided that a suite of core subjects and competencies was required if our education standards were to rise.  Most strangely, the core subjects included rather arcane subjects centred around literacy and numeracy.  Effectively, this had the effect of a bazooka blowing a big hole in NCEA ideology: not all subjects were equal, implying that a lot of schools were spending a lot of time on rather irrelevant or less important subjects.  Pity about those Performing Arts complexes.

Here is part of the union's bleat:

A paper released today by the Post-Primary Teachers Association said the government's 85 percent NCEA Level 2 target was encouraging "credit farming" and when combined with other factors, undermining the qualification.  The union said it would only continue to support NCEA if changes were made to ensure it retained its quality and fairness.  These included the removal of the government target, less required moderation, a reduction in the dominance of universities over the qualification, and a ban on international qualifications such as Cambridge and International Baccalaureate.  [NZ Herald]
Wow.  The union might drop its support for the NCEA--previously its pride and joy.  Notice what it wants changed: removal of performance targets, less moderation (schools should be able to set their own marking standards in subjects--after all, teacher knows best), and getting rid of universities sticking their oar into the NCEA swamp.

This last objection refers to a bombshell dropped by NZ universities last year.  It turned out that the universities had become unreasonably sick of having to admit students who could not read or write--and then spend lots of time and effort in remedial educational work to enable them to begin tertiary studies.  They had also become irritated at the plethora of subjects successful NCEA graduates were parading in front of them.  To preserve their own higher standards, the Universities collectively identified a core of subjects and NCEA papers they would allow to count towards university entrance qualifications.  NCEA credits in tiddlywinks were definitely out.

The problem the universities have, of course, is that their qualifications are measured against universities around the world, against which they are ranked by international survey organisations.  Funnily enough, students prefer to matriculate and study at highly ranked universities  Whilst we are not certain, presumably this has something to do with their career aspirations.  The effect has been to create a two-tier NCEA system almost overnight.  The teacher unions are mad.  It implies that a lot of their members are spending a lot of time and effort on subjects that others think aren't that important.  Hades has no opprobrium like the members of a teacher union scorned.

They are also mad at a growing trend amongst secondary schools to offer international qualifications such as Cambridge and International Baccalaureate.  The reason parents want such international qualifications is that they have no confidence in the local parochial NCEA qualification.  The union wants those international external qualifications banned--for very selfish reasons.  The teacher unions want above all to protect the interests of their members.  A "quality education" has to be redefined and re-specified so as to serve member interests, not the pupils' interests, nor the employers, nor the national interest.

There are doubtless many weaknesses and foibles within the NCEA system.  Yes, it can be gamed. Yes, it can be manipulated by schools.  Yes, it is a bureaucratic boondoggle.  It is an open question as to whether it can be reformed.  One thing, however, is very clear.  It never will be reformed as long as the teacher unions remain the de-facto controllers over so much within the government schools. They are far too committed to protectionism--not of pupils, but of their own members.  Under their vested world view, schools, parents, and pupils exist to serve the interests of union members.

So there.  Don't come back to the classroom until you get that straight. 

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