Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Learning Curve

I've been keeping out of the National Standards debate for the simple reason that I don't have kids. There's a heap of others who are far more clued up on this thing. Even so, I can't help but think that John Key might go down on his fricken knees to beg Katherine Rich back and get her in on the List in 2011 to keep a lid on Education. Or Welfare.

My mate was down for the races the other day, and seeing he's got three kids in the thick of it, I cross-examined him on the matter. For the record, this top bloke is a Nat through and through. He's no unionist. Biggest thing that matters he sez, is good teachers. Screw the tests, screw the curriculum, it's all about good teachers.

One of the best teachers he's met has left his local school and become a funeral director. Someone who was evidentially great for teaching kids has found a better life in Six Feet Under-land. Not the first case I've come across either. I saw my old Career Guidance Counsellor from high school when we were seeing off Second Mum.

He went on to say that his kids already have some tests, the AsTTle (Assessment Tools for Teaching and Learning) system from John Hattie at a guess. He knows where they're at, right down to areas of interest. He's not fussed with these new tests for his kids. They'll be fine.

Which might very well be true. These matters were largely fixed early in Clark's Labour government, when school zones were introduced and real estate agents around the country rejoiced. Parents who can afford it now buy their schools, just like those middle class US families Elizabeth Warren was talking about.

So, if the middle classes aren't going to see any huge benefit from this new testing regime, what's the point of it?

National's rationale has been multi-pronged. Firstly, it is to identify the 20 percent of primary school kids who are "falling through the cracks." OK, fair call. You identify that 20 percent (assuming that schools couldn't already do so). Now what? Alternative and Deaf schools are closing down. National, where's your therapy? Where's the rehabilitation? It seems that mainstreaming is the cost efficient cure du jour.

Dudes, you are seriously going to need a bigger boot camp. Are we ruling out triple-bunking in prisons too?

Second prong is weeding out the poor performing teachers. Gordon Campbell covers that union-bashing angle nicely. Key sez 30 percent of teachers "cannot adequately teach numeracy or literacy". Grant Robertson sez ten. Either way, the cure for a national shortage of teachers is a bigger shortage of teachers. Good teachers would rather be funeral directors than stay in teaching right now. Why are they leaving in droves? Mightn't the mindbuggeringly high turnover of teachers be a better priority right now?

And while we're looking at poor performers, why is John Key fronting this one? Helen Clark didn't jump into portfolios until a few years in. Key's doing in scarcely one year in and he's the minister for everything. According to Trans Tasman's Roll Call 2009, Anne Tolley was the poorest performing government frontbencher. Even Nick Smith managed to hold it together better. Clearly, the mainstream of front bench life is not improving her odds of catching up in class.

Another prong in favour of primary school national standards now is that this is supposed to be a multi-year indicator for parents, and the sooner the thing is planted, the sooner they'll get the information. Sweet, unbiased, relevant information, down to three decimal places. Call me old-fashioned, but I'm damned glad I didn't go to primary school with a fistful of Key Performance Indicators looming all the time. That shit would have done my head in.

But what do I know? From creche to university, Big Ed is all one big lonely robot kindergarten to me. Here's some liquid numbers called music: