The steaming mound of lies that is the ministry media release on mathematics

Can’t the media get it? Can’t the editors get it? Can’t the boards of trustees get it? Can’t the parents get it? Everything that comes out of the ministry of education commenting on education, the big mouth of Hekia, the smirking one of the PM’s, the education review office, is light years from the whole truth. I put that challenge out there for anyone to find an example of something even approximating the truth

Yes – the principals and teachers are largely wonderful but the system is rubbish and the quality of learning plummeting – yet with propaganda, lying, and a system structured to pressure teachers to cheat, and a media that is close to hopeless, nothing is happening.  The truth is there to be dug out but the motivation to dig has to be there, then to know where to do so.

This posting is about the outrageous media release put out by the ministry, published by the NZ Herald – warmed up by Nicholas Jones in hack fashion – expressing deep concerns ‘over gaps in maths tuition because of programmes not addressing lack of focus in critical geometry and other formal topics.’ The media release and Nicholas Jones minor adaption of it are a steaming mound of lies.

The implication is that it is the fault of teachers, but not to worry, the ministry has now arrived on a prancing white horse and after brilliant forensic work lit on the pearly truth.

But the gap, you see, is entirely the fault of the ministry of education, the education review office, and the system.

But will anyone listen, of course they won’t because the editors of newspapers just won’t or can’t believe there could be anything wrong with a system they have been complicit in.

I’ll give you an example: internal NCEA is a huge scam, as is the diverting of what secondary sees as borderline students into softer subjects. However, the reduction in the number of internal credits allowed, a stronger insistence on core subjects, and the resulting fall, fall, fall … of UE passes has given an unprecedented glimpse of what is truly happening, but it will only be a glimpse.

 I wrote a posting on this – but a deep silence, no-one wants to know. I warned in the posting that it will only be a glimpse because the system is structured to produce almost instant cover-ups with one of those being quickies before the university year begins. And the quickies came to pass much to the confusion of beginning secondary teachers who were thrust into the scam before they had had time to be culturated into the secondary scamosphere. There have been a number of a number shocked and deeply upset beginning teachers. How neglectful of the schools of education not to induct students into the realities of 21st century education.

However, no-one cares a damn. 

Before I get to the mathematics steaming mound of lies, I would like you to see what I wrote in my Developmental Network Magazine in the first year of its publication. The following was written in 1990 – yes 25 years ago.

The education of children is problematic and value-laden. For the integrity of the education system, the various groups within it need to be free, willing, and able to argue and even, at times, obstruct, the ideas and actions of other groups. There never has been and never will be a set of aims and related processes that have met, or will meet, the needs of all children within a system, or be agreed to by all those within a system.

Power should be shared throughout the education system, and various checks and balances be in place to stop it becoming too concentrated. It is only in this way that children will gain some protection from the vagaries of educational and political ideas and the human drive to control and dominate. The powerlessness of the young, the fact of them being young, makes school-children tempting targets for those who want to turn schools into battlegrounds for competing visions of what society ought to be.

Teachers are unsettled by the possibility of curriculum and administrative ideas being able to be passed quickly down the hierarchical chain without those ideas requiring teacher involvement at all stages of their development. The best ideas for education come from teachers and those close to teachers. The part of the education system that is important to teachers is the part close to them. The part further away has the capacity to do much harm, but little capacity to do much good. The nature of the education system should be to protect teachers from hastily conceived ideas – no matter their potential benefits. Good ideas are only good if the process for their development has been good.

The last thing teachers want is the kind of efficiency that has someone in the hierarchy having an idea, and then using the chain of command to force it on them without due process.’

This is why our education system is struggling.

And what about this in 1991?

Principals and teachers should stop looking over their shoulders to check out whether they are doing the right thing – there isn’t anybody who knows. This is especially so when there is so much inexperience, ideological intemperance, or amateurishness (or all of these) amongst those in positions of political and bureaucratic power.

As well, it is an expression of the value-ladenness of education – of there being no ‘right’ way for all situations, all children, all teachers. Which means it is the people who are closest to the action and who have to bring it all together – the teachers and principals – who are likely to be closer than anyone to knowing.

Saying this does not mean that teachers and principals should not listen to other voices. It means, rather, that in listening to others they should, first of all, be allowed to be confident about in what they know in themselves.

From this confidence should result more discernment by teachers and principals in what they take out of what they hear, and a greater willingness to act decisively on any useful ideas resulting.

Enough, back to that steaming mound of lies.

A number of us have screamed till we were blue in the face that the numeracy programme was wrong, wrong, wrong … we said leaving out geometry and shape was wrong; we said giving children five different ways to add was wrong (the only children who gained something from it were brighter children, less able children were befuddled, and even for brighter children the time could have been better spent); we said the huge number of objectives, learning outcomes and the like were fragmenting learning, confusing many, slowing it down for all; we said the complex, wandering groups for mathematics was wrong; we said not having numeracy and mathematics combined was wrong; we said the absence of problem-solving, real problem-solving was wrong.

I put out a booklet largely devoted to mathematics encompassing numeracy based on the genius work of a principal in the mid-North Island.

And do you know what happened when teachers went back to their schools from courses and taught shape and geometry, also a lot of problem solving, and they and laid off the complex group structure and the strategies? They were variously harassed by principals and the review office and made to return to the ways now criticised in the steaming mound. In some cases ministry representatives and academics were called in to haul the teachers back into line?

Oh brilliant education system.

This is your doing you group of bureaucratic incompetents and snivelling self-servers. You have done this, and let me make clear, your suggestions for correction will not work; they will just bring a whole lot of new problems as well as retaining many of the old ones.

All curricula from the centre are faulty, because all curricula are faulty, but ones from the centre are even faultier because they are from the centre.

However, faulty curricula really aren’t that much of a problem as long as teachers feel free enough to colonise them and make them work. But we have group of functionaries going around insisting on only accepting learning that is measurable – these people are from the review office, yes of course we need people from the centre visiting schools, yes of course they do some useful things, but overall, because of their extraordinary and unaccountable powers, have had a devastating effect on the quality of New Zealand school education.

Education reporting in New Zealand, except for the Listener, is at an all-time low. Even John Gerritsen is a disappointment, probably too nice. Nicholas Jones has been OK but he has shifted to being a political reporter with education a minor responsibility. In effect, the right-wing Herald editors seem want to control school education with their editorials.

Nicholas Jones has taken a ministry propaganda sheet and been taken in by it.

The ministry as Nicholas repeats has a ‘concern over gaps in maths tuition and is suggesting programmes to address lack of focus in critical geometry and other formal topics’.

Hold on … ‘and other formal topics’. That’s everything you dunderhead.

Another line in this Edward Snowden expose of mathematics is: ‘Students are not being taught enough space and shape and the huge learning gap is hurting achievement.’

You can see the lazy journalism in the certainty that this sentence was copied down pretty much as was.

‘A lack of focus on geometry and other formal maths topics has been identified as a reason for the country’s decline in international school test league tables.’

Who identified the lack and ascribed the blame?

‘Spatial thinking is central to engineering, architecture, arts …’ and so on for many lines.

Dollars to doughnuts all copied.

Then a Lisa Rodgers from the ministry shows herself.

‘Lisa Rodger [anyone know the lady?], who oversees evidence, data and knowledge, drew attention to the learning gap at a recent parliamentary committee meeting.’

‘We are getting smarter about the gaps that students have in their learning,’ she said. ‘Students are not learning space and shape mathematical thinking.’

To be so important to ‘architecture, engineering, architecture, and the arts …’ and so on, it must form a significant part of children’s Numeracy curriculum …

Well, as a matter of fact space and shape are entirely missing.

Now Lisa has been brilliant enough to make the connection that the lack of it has something to do with gap of it.

Well done Lisa Rodger …

‘Mathematics is going to be made more formal.’

That sounds really catchy and sure to work.

‘IES will see communities working together.’  Oh for goodness sake, IES is a big conformity machine.

We have the usual academic quoted who I believe is quite sound but will become caught up in the system to become part of the problem herself.

Then a sickening Janet and John account of a student who loves maths, I’m sure she does and I bear her no ill-will, but oh the context. I believe she has been exploited.

Tell me the old, old story … the managerialist, conformist system has near complete control but when there is failure as there is bound to be, the managerialist, conformist system implies or says directly oh those incompetent teachers, don’t worry folks, we will fix it – only for the cruel circle to begin again and the system to become even more managerialist and conformist and teachers more worn down.

There are many in the bureaucracy with the learning blood of generations on their hands – and my mind’s eye sees them rubbing those blood-splattered hands together, saying hooray, now for another generation to work on.

Oh happy days.

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2 Responses to The steaming mound of lies that is the ministry media release on mathematics

  1. catharina says:

    I’m wondering why so many are so compliant with what is obviously such a disaster for mathematics, science and technology education?

    So many good points, Kelvin.

  2. This sums it all up so perfectly well: “The education of children is problematic and value-laden. For the integrity of the education system, the various groups within it need to be free, willing, and able to argue and even, at times, obstruct, the ideas and actions of other groups. There never has been and never will be a set of aims and related processes that have met, or will meet, the needs of all children within a system, or be agreed to by all those within a system.”

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