Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Kelvin Smythe:The not so hidden corporate agenda of National Standards, and PaCT testing

This an extract froma longer posting by Kelvin Smythe – and slightly adapted for this posting.

Since the announcement of NZEI, NZPF, AIMS, and CPA joining together to oppose PaCT and national standards we awaited the response from the anti-public school coalition  of John Roughan of the Herald, Bernadette Courtney of the Dominion, Treasury, the prime minister, and Hekia Parata. First one out of the blocks was Key, followed by Courtney. 
Biased editorial writer
‘The time has come for teacher unions to accept that national standards in reading, writing, and mathematics are here to stay,’ she trumpeted. The first paragraph in an editorial in metropolitan newspaper and a whacking great mistake.

I am not going to go through in detail the ‘arguments’ of the Editor except to assure readers that the editorial has dumb, pudding-like naivety which is the editorial’s main source of momentum.

But in an early misstep she says: ‘One of the strongest arguments teachers have advanced against the standards is that there is a lack of consistency in the way that they are applied and insufficient moderation at the national level.’
‘One of the strongest …’
There are others?
For an editor setting out to play dumb, this was a dumb sentence – because it is accurate – a slipup not to be repeated, however. While she is not quite as adroit as John Roughan, editor of the Herald  in total she is far more trenchantly dumb.
Then she comes to the nub of her editorial and the nub of this posting. She responds to claims that PaCT will undermine teachers‘ professionalism and reduce quality teaching.’
The claims are ridiculous,’ she declares. ‘Ensuring consistent assessment in reading, writing and mathematics will have no impact on how individual teachers seek to inspire, guide and educate their charges.’
No impact … the gall is breathtaking.
Thousands upon thousands of articles, many based on research have shown otherwise, and hundreds of books, and she knows it, but she is playing dumb. This is dumber than dumber.
One standard to rule them all!!
So let me see: reading, writing, and mathematics are going to be measured for standards, that requires those subjects to be organised for measurement, that requires learning in those areas to be divided into small learning bites, that requires learning to be standardised into standards – learning to small, standardised, measurable bites is an inefficient way to learn, it is a time-wasting way to learn, it is a less interesting way to learn, it is a less challenging way to learn, and it leads to an emphasis on ability grouping. All this is bad for children’s learning. As an example, research in England has shown that the move to enforced ability grouping in mathematics has been the largest contributor to England’s plummeting maths achievement. In New Zealand, ability grouping in maths is now widespread with similar results. The alternative of mathematics based on real-life problem solving has virtually disappeared.
 In reading, an emphasis on ability grouping and comprehension-type activities has resulted in less independent reading and love of books. And don’t get me going on the insincere waffle, adjective- and adverb-laden writing that is being produced. Good work Billy: two metaphors and look at all those adjectives. Plenty of rubric ticks there.
But it gets worse. Because teachers, especially New Zealand teachers like to teach more holistically, the kind of teaching they are forced to do is seen as the teaching the bureaucrats want, as someone else’s teaching; it’s not teachers’ preferred way, so creativity and initiative is reduced.
When curriculum areas are chosen for measurement and national attention, a number of things happen: the chosen curriculum areas are narrowed and pedagogically corrupted; the remaining ones neglected. Yet those neglected curriculum areas are important to the chosen ones and crucial sources of flexible and creative thinking overall.
When you have an education change involving high stakes’ measurement and standardisation of learning, the repercussion throughout the system are profound. What has been described  above being just a fragment of the fallout.
All students to sorted and graded
Teachers know that the drive by the right for national standards is not really about national standards but about providing a platform for bureaucratic control and putting schools down. We know what Editor is setting out to achieve with her dumbness: Providing an excuse for politicians and education bureaucrats to take more control over public schools for the purpose of squeezing the life out of them to the advantage of private schools. And the refrain she wants to induce: Look at those irresponsible, self-serving  teachers rejecting what is good for children’s education – we’ll have to give more power to bureaucrats and politicians to force them to do what they ought to be doing.
The Dominion Editor knows that that PaCT is intended to be used for all kinds of centralised control. She knows this but plays dumb because this is what she wants.

To the Editor national standards are about parents knowing ‘how their children are progressing in the three most important building blocks …’
Don’t make me laugh.
Who needs diversity and creativity
National standards and testing are not about parents knowing how their children are progressing: they are about making way for political and bureaucratic authoritarian control over schools; they are about a rapid growth of private schools for the children of the more privileged; they are about international corporations using education as a source of investment and profit; they are about using education for the neoliberal propagandising of students; they are about achieving wider social and economic neoliberal goals; and, cruelly  they are about appearing to do something for less privileged children when they are actually preparing  them to be part of a disposable generation.
The Dominion Editor knows this and is playing dumb to disguise the real purposes of national standards and testing. Gates, McKinsey, Pearson, Murdoch et al, are not
interested in parents knowing how children in classrooms are progressing – don’t make me laugh (again) – they are interested in how their profit is going and the spread of ideas to advance that profit. National standards and testing both here and overseas provide the foundation blocks for all those corporate and neoliberal purposes. They provide the flags to be planted for neo-colonisation and furthering the power of the corporate elite.

The Editor knows this but blathers on about parents knowing how their children are progressing.

This is not about parents knowing how their children are progressing but about parents being hoodwinked. Youth unemployment will be the major challenge of the future, but the education being advanced for many children is an education for stupidity. A concentration on a narrow version of the 3Rs is not an education for preparing children for the future, it is a preparation for failure and becoming part of a disposable generation – the disposable generation being an inevitable outcome of corporate authoritarianism.  Critical and flexible thinking is being suggested as something to attend to when the 3Rs are accomplished. What nonsense – they should be present in the education of all children, all the time. Anyway, nearly all children accomplish the 3Rs, but where is the learning for critical and flexible thinking? Way down as a priority. National testing and standards, in the light of this, can be seen as a fig leaf to cover the doing of nothing real for children outside the elite class (who will be attending privileged private schools).

Education ought liberate creativity
The Dominion Editor knows all this but does not care, she is on a very different trajectory, a neoliberal trajectory, away from the common good encompassed in the social contract, to a market-driven ideology that emphasises individual solutions to economically and socially produced problems; to an ideology of carelessness and cruelty based on fear, humiliation, and obedience. She is on a trajectory where trust is viewed with suspicion because human motivation is seen as grasping and predatory and where the template for the organisation of society is corporate greed.

The Editor knows that if teachers are given the autonomy to be creative, children will learn to think flexibly and to be critical in their thinking. Children educated in a humane, diverse, and democratic environment; children who develop their own voice – will be more likely challenge corporate authoritarianism and not allow themselves to become tools of an uncaring instrumental tool of repression.




Anonymous said...

Seems to me very few NZ principals are aware of the real agenda behind National Standards - this posting ought to be compulsory reading for them!

Bruce Hammonds said...

I fear you are right - too busy complying to notice the direction they are being taken in. Some, worse still, are in agreement.