Tolley and the official report: Plain lying
By Kelvin Smythe
Tolley and the official report: Plain lying - Click here.
NZCER official report on national standards: Tolley’s duplicity
Is this a turning point?
[This posting won’t be one of my better writings in style and correctness, but I hope in content and import it will be of special significance. I missed the test last night to be in reasonable condition for writing today, and now I can’t see the replay, because here I am banging away at the word processor, and I won’t see it later because I’m taking the grandchildren to Tinkerbell.]
Before I get going on a consideration of the official report, I want to refer you to an article that appeared this morning in the Sunday Star-Times (November 1, 2009). Catherine Woulfe, using the NZCER report, writes an article headed: ‘ “Three Rs” plan alarms parents’. Yes, the same Catherine Woulfe I icily satirised a week or so ago for warming up a ministry handout; but campaigns bring changing and ever shifting alliances.
Catherine Woulfe has written a beautifully balanced and professional item. I will be going over some of the same territory so will just refer to the key points she makes, and some information she contributes wider than the report.
Catherine Woulfe reports how, in an open question, 38% of parents made negative comments about the national standards’ system and only 14% positive. To this, Tolley is reported as saying that ‘she does have parents’ support’ and that ‘the open-ended question would naturally generate some negative comments.’
Come again – she has parents on her side, she says, but an ‘open-ended question would naturally generate some negative comments’? Silly me, I would have thought if a group of people were in favour of an idea and they were provided with an open-ended question, they would have piled into it.
Tolley clearly brings a post-modernist insight into contemporary polling.
She goes on to say that ‘I don’t think they were ever asked, put up a show of hands, do you want this or not … we sort of did that at the election.’
But then, we sort of put up our hands for a second tax cut, what happened to that.
For me, the most serious revelation was that Tolley’s press release on the report was titled, ‘ “Parents support National Standards” its opening line read: “Consultation feedback shows strong support from parents.” ’ Concerns about national standards, Catherine Woulfe reports ‘were not mentioned in the release’.
Tolley’s press release is not true, what do you think that makes Tolley? And when you lie in education, when you act considerably in your self-interest, when you humbug, when you fail to scrupulously examine your conscience, it is children who suffer. Our children deserve better than a slogan in a manifesto; they deserve the greatest care that our society can assemble.
I have known about the report for months. When I rang up to get a copy, I was told that it was not available, and that no date had been set for its release. Then, a little while ago, the report was quietly put up, accompanied by the ‘misleading’ press release.
Trevor Mallard, Ernie Buutveld, and Frances Nelson all expressed surprise at the existence of the report and made appropriate comments.
Frances, though, may have got one interpretation slightly wrong. She says that parents ‘showed strong support for the plain-language school reports and learning plans that will be sent home twice a year.’
Parents did show support for learning plans and for plain-language reports, but not for the plain-language reports. In general, parents did not want the government interfering at classroom level in this way; they had confidence in what schools were doing now and the mix between written and verbal communication.
National’s national standards policy is a shipwreck and Tolley is bobbing around saying this is what parents wanted.
The national standards’ policy should go back to the drawing board (but not to the original one located at the National Party head office), and there should be a shared enquiry and proper consultation. And what should come out of this process is a series of ideas for helping literacy and numeracy. Then, in the spirit of Tomorrow’s Schools, teachers and communities should be free to respond to those ideas in ways that suit them.
Does Tolley really want to be, for posterity, in the line-up of the worst ministers of education, in the company of, say, Wellington and Lockwood?
Meanwhile, we in education need contingency plans for protest: one I’m suggesting is refusing to proceed with the implementation of the new curriculum while having to cope with national standards. It won’t really be loss to the new curriculum because with standards, it would go under, anyway.
Could I suggest you act on Tolley’s duplicity? It is the duplicity that is the main point. Her characterisation of the report in the press release is of even more significance than the report’s contents. I suggest a vigorous campaign of letters and e-mails to whomsoever you think could usefully be in receipt of such letters and e-mails.
We have a minister who can’t be trusted; a minister who is duplicitous; a minister who lacks credibility; a minister who puts an education slogan ahead of the welfare of children. If the slogan stands scrutiny all right, then the minister has a right to act on it, but if it isn’t allowed such scrutiny, then all wrong. I call on teachers to act: this is the time.
As for Tolley, I know of further bombshells to come.
I have just read the 75-page NZCER national standards’ consultation analysis commissioned by the ministry. This is the report that Anne Tolley has had for some months, sat on, messed around with, then sneakily put up in an inaccessible location. The NZCER writers, led by the redoubtable Cathy Wylie, have done a good job, they have been scrupulously fair – nevertheless you can sense them having a bit of a chuckle.
Is it me or Tolley who is in an alternative world? I know reader opinion is usually divided on the matter but I think, in this instance, it will be Tolley baying at the moon on Sunday night [This was written yesterday if that doesn’t sound somewhat alternative in itself.]
She has continually said that the national standards’ policy was in the National party manifesto; the government was voted in with that as part of its manifesto; that consultations were undertaken with parents, communities, schools and organisations; and that parents wanted national standards.
Yes – national standards are in the manifesto and the government was voted in with them as part of their manifesto, but the manifesto policy was largely based on ‘research’ undertaken by Hattie and the review office. Since the election, Hattie, in sequence, was very quiet about national standards; said they would take education ‘back 50 years’; said he had his doubts about them but bring them in anyway and do ‘independent research’ two years later. Make of that what you can, I couldn’t possibly comment. As for the review office, who but education conservatives take their research seriously?
The policy might have been part of the government’s election policy, but if they were so confident of general support for it, why did they rush through the enabling legislation in the first few weeks of their term, at night, without a semblance (leaving aside the rushed formal legislative procedures) of parliamentary scrutiny or consultation?
Finally, there is the consultation report. Though it was set up to support national standards, has come out as highly critical of them. (That’s one for the books.)
There is big trouble ahead.
As the farmer said watching two trains about to collide, ‘This is no way to run a railway.’
In any research, writing, or speaking on education these days, teachers need to ask who’s paying the piper: in the case of academics, those close closely involved in classroom-focused commercial activities should be approached with considerable caution – actually the barge-pole metaphor comes to mind; the review office has a vested interest in worse case scenarios – the way they produce these is to have a philosophy that is plausible but impossible, or one that is alien to teachers; NZCER is considerably dependent on government funding but has a philosophy of independence and some carryover people from earlier times, in other words, retains elements of institutional memory. To walk the line between what the government wants, and the teacher and academic community requires of research, the NZCER continues to do well.
There is, however, no way that the analysis presented in the report gives sanction to the national standards’ policy, or indicates support for national standards from any sector, whether parent, teacher, school, board of trustees’ (especially board of trustees’), or education organisation.
No wonder Tolley and her adviser (her press officer) decided to hide the report for as long as possible.
My interpretation is that from older people, the 3Rs gain support in the implicitly infinite way that calls for increased prison sentences do, the response being emotively based, more a commentary on life in general rather than what is happening in particular – in this case, to their grandchildren at their grandchildren’s school. Like the continual push for increased superannuation, this is another way older people or the old-at-heart, in the long-established cycle, take revenge on the young for no longer being so.
The report, when I first read it (yesterday) had, for me, the feel of dead ideas walking; perhaps it was in the mind of the beholder, but I felt a sense from the responses and the report writers, that no matter what was said or reported, the government wasn’t going to listen.
Reading it this morning, my perception has become more hopeful. Good on those parents, teachers, principals, and organisations for having their say; your ideas may well reverberate down the corridors of power and the classrooms of the nation. You are heroes.
Read the report for yourself, it is quite an easy read, better breezed through I suggest, than laboriously pored over. The overwhelming message expressed is confidence in our teachers, schools, and system.
All right, now to the report.
There is a lot of attention to school reports which, in my view, is a diversion from the real issue which is compulsory national standards: school reports are just an adjunct. They are a stunt balancing on a stunt. School reports provide an opportunity for a whole lot of fuzzying to go on.
Should reports provide information that is timely? No, untimely.
Should there be good access to teachers? Out of sight out of mind as far as I’m concerned.
Should they motivate and respect the individuality of the child? No, they should continue to stamp all over them in their usual fashion.
Should they provide ideas or resources for parents to use at home? Whatever for? Next thing they’ll sending home books to read.
Should they work with parents and respect them? What is this, a re-run of Tomorrow’s Schools?
Should they provide good-quality teaching and resources for underachievers? No, poor-quality resources.
Patsy questions were not restricted to the school reports’ issue:
Did you find the national standards’ material easy to understand? Completely beyond me, but I always was a dunderhead.
It is quite clear from the parents’ responses that they wanted school reports to have certain commonsense qualities, but there was general satisfaction with the present system, yes – learning plans would be good as long as they didn’t interfere with teachers’ teaching but, government, stay out of our schools, we like them.
As far as parents were concerned a strange aspect of the consultation was the overwhelming attention to school reports as against national standards, so parent comment on standards was mostly indirect. I think that was a deliberate tactic of the ministry. The opportunity, as a result, to respond to open-ended questions provided a crucial element to the consultations, and the most revealing, though the patsy questions could be seen as an attempt to shape the responses in anticipation.
A revealing number: only 79 school trustees responded. Why is the School Trustees Association one of the drivers of the national standards’ policy when only 79 responded? How the 79 responded will be even more significant. It is for teachers, a great disappointment that the usual partisan siding of STA with a National government has occurred again.
A series of summary paragraphs:
Parents gave meetings with the teacher much the same weighting in importance as written reports. They found that meetings were the best way to get across tough messages and suggestions for parents to help at home.
In respect to national standards (as mentioned above), 14% of parents made a positive comment; and 38% negative. These positive comments ‘included valuing their school’s current way of reporting and discussing student progress with them and not wanting to lose it, concerns that national standards ignore differences in individual patterns of growth, would narrow teaching, ignore the development of the whole child, de-motivate low-achieving students who never made the standard or lead to unfair comparisons of schools’.
In respect to plain language reporting, many parents said ‘they would be interested in knowing how well their child was doing in literacy and numeracy in clear terms, but not if this narrowed the existing curriculum, current effective ways in which they and the school communicated and interacted, or supplanted the time teachers had to work with their child, in ways that aroused their interest and confidence in learning.’
Main themes from parents and teachers about plain language reporting ‘were that schools were already doing this, in ways the school community liked; that the example reports would over simplify or raise expectations that the child or school could not meet’ also that national standards could be ‘counterproductive’ for ‘those with low performance’, that ‘national standards could become the actual curriculum at the expense of the wider New Zealand Curriculum, loss of school flexibility, and the labelling of students’.
The attention by parents to ways to gain information about school programmes was not really directed to school reports, but to a continuous flow of information, formal and informal, in much the same way as occurs now.
‘Negative comments and concerns about the standards outweighed positive comments related to standards. The negative comments included comments that change was unnecessary, since the parent/whanau already got good information from their child’s school, concern that standards would ignore individual patterns of growth and development of the whole child, with narrowing of the curriculum. Positive comments often did not give reasons for liking the ideas included in the consultation, with the main explicit reason the value seen in knowing how one’s child’s performance compared with others.’
I won’t include comment about teacher sector views of the appropriateness of the standards’ levels except the almost universal criticism was that the mathematics’ levels were too high.
Nor will I go into the teacher sector view of the standards’ reports except to say, that the sector could be seen to be listening in an open-minded way, though the overall view was highly sceptical.
What did catch my eye was the sustained opposition by boards of trustees to national standards and its accompaniments.
‘Trustees were most concerned about league tables (63%), using existing sources of data (47%) [as against more being generated through national standards], unfair comparisons (20%), and extra work or cost (13%).’
Such responses by the boards of trustees are possibly even more devastating to the national standards’ policy than the parents’.
In the teacher sector response, 17 themes were identified, of which 16 were negative. What more can I add?
Then back to the trustees again: ‘Trustees were more likely to comment about league tables (51%), undermining NZC (39%), the speed of implementation (51%), that good information is already given (24%), the need for separate standards for subgroups (34%), concerns about enforced consistency (28%), but were least likely to comment positively on standards (3%) [yes, just 3%].
Give those boards of trustees a Lion Red.
The report ends with a summary of submissions. No surprises there, of course, but there was a plaintive note.
It was from IHC: what about our kids was their cry from the heart?
It is not so much what is in the report, as hugely damaging as that is, it is that a minister of education, a minister charged with looking after our children, has held on to a key report, an official report, a report we’ve paid for, for as long as possible, then grossly misrepresented its contents, to serve her self-serving purposes, to the detriment of the reputation of our teachers, and the welfare of our children.
That is that. Now it’s up to you.