Breaking news: Cynical ploy of Tolley to derail the NZPF campaign
By Kelvin Smythe
Breaking news: Cynical ploy of Tolley to derail the NZPF campaign - Click here.
Tolley’s cynical ploy to derail the NZPF campaign
The minister of education has sent a proposal offering to convene an advisory group to consider the implementation of national standards but only if the NZPF calls off its ‘political action against government policy’.
Tolley then proposes a group structure and membership for the advisory group, and an agenda, that would guarantee a shambles. Tolley is insulting the NZPF if she thinks it will fall for this one. Tolley knows the NZPF won’t accept, but she wants a propaganda angle to counter the NZPF when it begins its education-based information campaign.
NZPF will politely reject the minister’s non-offer and cogently explain why – thus blunting Tolley’s cynical propaganda manoeuvre, even getting some nice education points across in the process. Perhaps the NZPF will preface its polite refusal with a compliment to the minister in recognising, but a hundred miles from sufficiently, that national standards are in difficulty. NZPF, as I suggest below, should also come up with a counter offer.
Tolley begins her letter by saying she does not accept the argument that national standards are fundamentally flawed. Somehow, Tolley has developed the view that the NZPF is asking for a tightening of definition to correct these perceived flaws and advocating a tick-box approach to national standards. This is, of course, a complete misunderstanding of the NZPF argument, a bizarre caricature of it.
Tolley then goes on to repeat the mantra of a range of tests and teacher judgement being the way to successfully implement national standards. Nevertheless, she says, having heard, as she has moved around the country, concerns about national standards that echo NZPF concerns, she is accepting what she says is a NZPF proposal for ‘an advisory group to work constructively to ensure the National Standards are implemented in a manner that assists the necessary lift in student achievement.’ She is calling the group the National Standards Advisory Group. [Tolley is being distortingly blithe here: NZPF offered to participate in an advisory group to discuss the ‘fundamental flaws’ in national standards; fundamental flaws by definition require fundamental restructuring, in other words, to examine fundamentally different ways to ‘lift student achievement’.]
Tolley said she would appoint an independent chairperson and lists the sector groups concerned. They are all there: NZPF, NZEI, NZSTA, NZAIMS, ERO, APIS, KURA KAUPAPA, KURA A IWI, AREA SCHOOLS, TE AKATEA, MOE, plus four practitioners (two nominated by the group, two by the ministry).
The group, she declares, is to provide advice on the implementation of ‘the national standards’. She condescendingly suggests giving advice on such things as ‘the benefits of using assessment to increase understanding of learning pathways’ and ‘the tools and skills that teachers, principals and boards will need to effectively use assessment information to inform their practices.’ [Tolley does not seem to understand that we are fully aware of the benefits of using assessment and how to use assessment tools and skills – it is misusing them for national standards that is the problem.]
She goes on to say the group ‘meet this year, preferably within the next six weeks.’
Then comes the point of it all: she hopes this offer to work together constructively will be accepted ‘However, your group’s participation cannot be considered while your political action against government policy continues.’
You will notice that in the letter she continually refers to the national standards, essentially pre-empting any debate about their nature, with the task of the group limited to providing advice on the ‘implementation of the national standards’. End of story, really. Notice, also, the considerable size of the group and its composition: such a group is not amenable to genuine discussion and negotiation. It’s a move designed to wrong foot NZPF, create disharmony in the ranks, and put NZPF at a propaganda disadvantage.
The NZPF, as an organisation, has spent a considerable amount of energy, in good faith, detailing the fundamental flaws of national standards, yet she airily waves that aside with an offer to the NZPF to become one of the minister’s little helpers along with a stitched together group guaranteed to be an education babel.
And what a hurry she is in. I wonder why? Anything to do with the proposed information campaign NZPF is about to mount? So that’s the first point, the campaign should be characterised as an information campaign which it is.
The minister should be thanked for the letter and her suggestion to convene such a group, but NZPF has been charged by its members to negotiate with the government on the basis that national standards are fundamentally flawed. (Could I just check whether the policy adopted called national standards ‘fundamentally’ or ‘irreconcilably’ flawed?) The NZPF can, therefore, only enter negotiations on that basis. This would require, the NZPF should say, a substantial period of intense negotiation to work out if any common ground can be established. The NZPF, however, fully recognises the right of any sector grouping to take up the minister’s offer but, unfortunately, it isn’t in a position to be able to.
As a counter proposal, the NZPF could suggest preliminary negotiations for consideration of ways to restructure assessment education policy to avoid these fundamental flaws and meet the government’s wider education aims.
The NZPF must also remind the minister, and the public, that the fundamental flaws in national standards, as all such national standards overseas demonstrate, go well beyond the fundamental flaws in the technical aspects of national standards, to the even more important ones of seriously harming the wider curriculum and the quality of education for all children. The effect on creativity, imagination, and intellectual challenge in education, the NZPF should point out, has been devastating.
The NZPF should also be quick to point out that it does not see its information campaign – its exercise of free speech and contribution to the public debate – should in any way be seen as an obstacle to such preliminary negotiations.
Tolley’s offer is a cynical ploy to put the NZPF at a propaganda disadvantage ahead of its information campaign, to belittle the NZPF’s senior position, to disrupt the unity in NZPF ranks, to fix NZPF into a structurally weakened negotiating position ahead of executive elections, and to make light of the fundamental flaws it has exposed in national standards. It is a ploy bristling with political intent. I am confident that NZPF will give it the response it deserves.