I have read education editorials for around 60 years, and when I haven’t clenched my teeth on a face-cloth to hold myself back from expletives, I have sent away furious responses. When I started to write Developmental Network Magazine in the early ‘90s and networkonnet in 2007 they, in part, became vehicles for my frustration. In the last decade, the Press and the Dominion have remained in a bleak anti-teacher rut in columns and editorials; the Herald, while displaying a fair amount of fairness and insight in its columns, continued to produce editorials that read as though, if not actually written by an Auckland Grammar principal, then on his detailed advice.
But now we have the editorial of Wednesday, 4 January 2017.
One of the characteristics of the editorial that appealed was its restraint; cautiously correct (according to my lights) – mainly staying clear of big conclusions; providing information in a steady, unspectacular manner. But there was something else, was it irony? that hinted the editorial was saying more than appeared in the writing.
The editorial was headed: Ranking must bear wider comparisons, and the key statement: ‘Although the Government continues to trumpet rising National Standards and NCEA results, two international reports published late in 2016 pointed to a much murkier picture.’
PISA (maths, science, and reading for 15-year-olds), the editorial says, has rankings bottoming out at a low level after sharp falls since 2009; and in TIMSS (mathematics and science for 10-year-olds) the students were ranked worst in the English-speaking world. This even after some of the more difficult problems were removed.
The editorial, in a deft move, then referred to a 2013 National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement report carried out by the University of Otago which found ‘less than half (41 per cent) of Year 8 students were achieving expectations in maths in their final year before secondary school’. Yet, as the editorial points out, ‘National Standards relied on by the Government showed teachers believed 69 per cent of students were “at or above” the level required in 2014.’
There was ‘no room,’ the editorial continues, ‘for complacency about reading either’ with Tertiary Education Commission research revealing that ‘40 per cent of Year 12 students who met official NCEA literacy and numeracy requirements fell below the OECD minimum …’
In the final paragraph the editorial says ‘the solutions are complex’ and then refers to better training (which, from my point-of-view would require a system change) and making clear to parents that some credits are more equal than others (one senses more editorials to come on this and a wider frame).
And a countdown punch with the deceptively languid concluding sentence: ‘In the meantime, we should pay close attention to independent research on student achievement and treat any results linked to national targets with a healthy dose of scepticism.’
The editorial is a little gem.