If Chris Hipkins can’t do it give it to Kelvin Davis Part 1

If you scanned through what follows, you might ask, what has this to do with Chris Hipkins and Kelvin Davis?

Well, recently in the Herald (April 13, 2017) there was a gushing article about how wonderful Hekia Parata had been as minister of education based on boys, Maori, and Pacific children gaining faster than average in the latest results for NCEA and, in response, Chris Hipkins saying ‘the NCEA results should be celebrated’.

Now these are the facts: Parata’s reign as minister of education has been a disaster in general and, in particular for boys, Maori, and Pacific children, and the children of the poor (see below).

And here we have the prospective Labour minister of education praising the ‘success’ Parata has concocted for her success – and Labour’s failure if it won the election.

There are two key points here:

  1. The media, by its stance, is exploiting vulnerable, needy children, for its own political ends and ease of vocation. It is just cruel. These very groups of children need heaps of attention and funding, but what chance now? The media continues, as through the decades, to live largely by ministry media release alone. They just won’t listen to us, far easier to play the gullible than the sceptical: keeps the editors happy and it is a breeze just warming up the handouts
  2. Chris Hipkins would know about the NCEA manipulation described below but decides to celebrate it – that means he is planning to continue the policies that brought about that celebration, in other words the scam. But you naïve fool Chris Hipkins, when Labour gets in that same scam process and others throughout the system (national standards) will be media and editorially hunted. Labour’s education policies will be pilloried and not only the ones that brought about the ‘celebration’ but the good ones. With Hekia now a success, you have nowhere to go but down. And if National’s education policies are a success, why vote for Labour. Chris you are not a politician’s elbow. You have failed miserably to expose National’s failed policies and in failing that you have set Labour’s policies to fail to. You must go and be replaced by a genuine politician, one with fire in his belly – Kelvin Davis

In this morning’s Dominion (April 15, 2017) Jo Moir does a public relations job for Hekia Parata: and, amidst the long ludicrous blurb the only Parata ‘success’ is held aloft like a flag at Iwo Jima – Moir’s success for Parata is the so-called NCEA improvement for boys, Maori, and Pacific children. Everyone in teaching, and a good few outside, know the results are a scam; a scam set up early by National ministers of education to distract and justify a wrecked education system. In international testing New Zealand is at the bottom of the Western world in results and everywhere else.

Also, in New Zealand research: Let us go to the National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement (NMSSA) whose task is to assess student performance across the y. 4 and y. 8 alignments as set in the New Zealand Curriculum.

NMSSA results are produced by government contract out of Otago University by a team of quantitative academics.

Take y. 8 reading as adjudged by schools: in 2014 77.64% of students achieved ‘at’ or ‘above’ the national standard; as adjudged by the NMSSA: 59% of students achieved ‘at’ or ‘above’ the national standard.

Or y. 8 mathematics as adjudged by schools: in 2013 68.90% of students achieved ‘at’ or ‘above’ the national standard; as adjudged by the NMSSA: 41% of students achieved ‘at’ or ‘above’ the national standard. You can imagine where boys, Maori, and Pacific children sit here.

So how could suddenly, out of the ruins, appear boys, Maori, and Pacific children. Well only by a scam. Tellingly, UE results that are mainly externally passed are as poor as ever for these groups. Scams, in the end, as against real improvement, do these groups no end of harm.

The government has declared the Level 2 NCEA to be the key indicator of the success or otherwise of the New Zealand education system. It has also approved a system in which the testing and marking for that level, in particular, is largely left to the schools. At NCEA Level 2, the high stakes effect is revealed in a marking rort and the diversion of children to peripheral units. This very high stakes assessment distortion at Level 2 NCEA has implications for the school system right down to the first year at primary. The ‘success’ by high stakes assessment (of the sort pertaining) at Level 2 NCEA means no signal is being sent throughout the school system that when children arrive at secondary they are arriving considerably unprepared for that level of schooling. In return, there is also very high stakes assessment in the primary system which means no signal about unsatisfactory performance, even if of only the unsatisfactory national standards variety, is being emitted.

The story of high stakes assessment needs to be traced back to primary school, where the government has imposed an education system to serve its ideological and fiscal purposes. When these children arrive at secondary, many, especially children from lower socio-economic environments, have little chance of meeting the demands of an authentic NCEA Level 2, so an unauthentic one is provided instead. The lack of preparation for secondary education is most seriously demonstrated in children’s lack of genuine interest in learning and a lack of development in intellectual challenge and flexible thinking. (As well, there is a growing number of children who can read but aren’t readers. And we won’t even mention mathematics.)

I acknowledge that one of the main reasons secondary teachers don’t want to change the NCEA Level 2 situation is their understandable feeling for social justice – wanting a broad range of children to leave secondary with accreditation. They point to how much it means to some children, and how substantial failure for a large number of children would be a return to the old exam days which made school certificate such a harsh exercise in social and vocational sorting. The idealism is admirable but misplaced. One of the functions of schools, whether schools like it or not, whether idealists like me like it or not, is social and vocational sorting. However, the whole system should be geared, right from primary, to give all children a better chance and a wider variety of choice, authentic choice, when that sorting occurs. As well, the basis for the sorting must be fair, transparent, and inclusive. And as part of that, there being some kind of official accreditation for every child who demonstrates a satisfactory range of qualities, but it must be authentic.

NCEA and national standards results are being manipulated by the government to a high degree to make it look as though things are going well in education. Making things seem to go well in education allows the government a relatively free hand to maintain its fierce centralised control of education and from there to exclude teachers from genuine participation in policy- and decision-making; to implement a narrow education aimed at vocational ends; and to avoid policies that while they might well improve education – particularly for children from lower socio-economic environments – are removed from consideration on grounds of cost. School education at both primary and secondary is weak and heading to the dismal. The government has been willing to provide money for certain projects like national standards and clusters because they are organisational features that increase centralised control and steer well clear of anything approaching the curriculum except as represented by national standards.

A few of the actions taken within secondary classrooms to manipulate results are:

  • Far more assessment opportunities than regulation allows (this is almost universal)
  • Overly scaffolding learning (in other words, setting out more information for student inclusion in their answering than should properly be made available)
  • Putting information on whiteboard and leaving it there
  • Overly detailed and suggestive feedback
  • Working in the computer lab to allow cutting and pasting.

Literacy can now be passed in nearly any subject – with most passing that requirement before they sit English, as a result, few take English seriously. The students can be passed for literacy, for instance, by drawing a graph, moving the curves correctly and adding a couple of sentences. They are able to pass passing in literacy using credits where the attention is not on the literacy but the ideas contained, scattered around so to speak. Very little English has to be deployed to pass.

The way things are set up allows many students to sidestep challenges, play a game of deep manipulation, just doing enough to meet what is required – leaving an overwhelming feeling of neither caring about learning nor understanding what was supposed to have been learnt. Students are more-or-less saying, if you want me to pass, get me through, but if you won’t someone else will.

This scam occurs across all secondary schools and particularly intensively in schools that take the Cambridge Examinations. Taking the Cambridge Examinations as well, has the obvious effect of restricting time for NCEA meaning shortcuts are a near necessity. Also, schools taking the Cambridge Examinations are almost certainly ones that have very high examination expectations.

The minister of education is on record as being vehemently against results based on test participation as against total roll, but the publication of results by the ministry always headlines participation-based. It’s crazy.

The farce of post-Christmas passes that became a particularly big thing two years ago will serve as a metaphor for the whole sorry matter.

The universities understandably fed up with large numbers of half-literate, unmotivated, and anti-intellectual students turning up at their ivy-framed gated-entrance, lobbied for some consolidation of English and mathematics standards into external exams. The result, a plummeting of marks that not even the ritual head office tweaking could hide. So there was a rush of students back to their local schools early in the New Year for what I call holiday passes. Typically, those students have not so much failed as fooled around in the course of the year making a nuisance of themselves with their distracting behaviour and lack of motivation.

Then, after the results are out, having heard, say, that a friend was going to university at Dunedin to do a physical education course become all interested and beseech their secondary school. The school in return has a vested interest in building up pass numbers. Success by a student in any post-Christmas NCEA sale would necessarily involve breaking NCEA protocols. The teaching or learning would not have been authentic. Students should properly have only been offered a touch here and there by the teacher with the initiative lying very much with the student. There is an additional point; if post-Christmas sale was open to one student it should by regulation have been opened to all.

A newly-appointed teacher, straight from the school of education, was given some post-Christmas students to pass. She couldn’t believe what was happening. Nothing at the school of education had prepared her for this. After tearfully approaching the principal he allocated the students to another teacher and it was all wrapped up in a week. In fact, the local newspaper proceeded to make local heroes of the students and teachers concerned.

But wait for it – unintended consequences? well hardly but apparently. Student numbers at universities dropped (wow! who could have guessed?), putting funding at risk so the universities set aside the legal minimum for university entrance and conjured up something called vice-chancellor’s discretion.

All this Chris Hipkins knows (or he’s incompetent as well as naïve) but calls it success. He must go. In Part 2 I detail why Kelvin Davis must be minister of education and policies I put up for his consideration.

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5 Responses to If Chris Hipkins can’t do it give it to Kelvin Davis Part 1

  1. Marian Hobbs says:

    Sorry, having heard Labour’s plans as articulated by Chris, you could not be further wrong. You truly disappoint me. You of all people making a judgement based on one line in news report.

  2. Kelvin says:

    Marian I don’t mind being scolded by you, there will be good justification for it, which I’m pleased to hear. I have the greatest of respect for you.

    In my defence, I had someone go along to a Palmerston North meeting and who reported back.

    Yes one line, but one that told me so much, on top of what I knew.

    He is keeping the clusters, yes changed, but still clusters – and they will be the structures for a deepening neoliberal future: schools conveniently organised for control and private companies. Tomorrow’s Schools – independence; Clusters – collaboration – all a cover Marian. He was greatly pressured from the Catholic Education Office. Teachers don’t’ like them; haven’t joined them; and those that have, mainly don’t like them. But Chris knows best.

    He has not laid the basis for serious change so no matter the policies they will not stick.

    Why can’t he report on what is happening in NCEA and national standards in the manner I have. Why does it have to be down to an aging educationist?

    Some of the policies may be OK (I take your word for that) but he’s not up to it.

    Above all he has not laid a mark on Parata.

    If he became minister, National politicians in alliance with the media will make mincemeat of him.

    I can’t risk another wet minister of education. If he hangs in there and he turns out all right, well I’ll party, but if he doesn’t (and he won’t) I’ll be relentless.

    The teachers and children of New Zealand deserve a lot more than has been dished up by Labour for 26 years.

  3. Kelvin says:

    Auckland George replies:
    A very sound recommendation Kelvin.

  4. Kelvin says:

    Auckland George returns:

    I just can’t feel any particular election momentum building for the opposition parties. They certainly need to mobilise some fire eaters in portfolios such as education and health – and in doing so try to bring Andrew Little up to speed as well.

  5. John H says:

    Your comments re Hipkins boxing himself in by endorsing Parata’s ‘successes’ are timely and astute Kelvin. NZEI too has painted itself an even brighter shade of beige by snuggling too close to Hipkins/Labour. It’s a case of desperate hand-holding in the dark that is likely to weaken the resolve of both organisations.

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