The Listener article is out: Testing Times

There will be hints of conspiracy from time-to-time in this posting, but the charges against the ministry and the NZCER will not dwell on conspiracy but on a series of decisions that has affected the results of two key tests to the extent that in ordinary circumstances they will be significantly higher and in a high stakes’ environment will be massively higher. The children who have either lifted or soared are the average and less able ones. This has to be exposed because of the propaganda implications relating to national standards and  the education implications of faux improvement on children who need real improvement.

If you read my second posting on the issue, both organisations when challenged by teachers in the field immediately acknowledged the results’ inflation and both gave conflicting reasons before settling on the farcical ones expressed in the Listener article. A massive obfuscation campaign is underway.

It will be very difficult to get at the truth because nearly all quantitative academics are contracted to the government and a particularly powerful grouping of them is formed officially into a designated group. This will have to be once again a case of teachers doing  it for themselves. This has to be another case of teacher power. I want to issue a warning to the ministry and NZCER: the three main teachers featured in the Listenerarticle are strong people, extremely well versed in standardised testing for school standards, and valuing what standardised tests can contribute as part of the mix. They will not be fooled around with, nor will they accept scaling as dominant over the classic bell curve, one of them calling scaling ‘witchcraft’. Standardised tests based on scaling I have designated as post-modern, in other words, worse than useless.

It is significant that the first academic who tried to quell the Hikurangi rebellion from was Charles Darr, a senior member NZCER member, and also the NZCER representative on the invidious Progress and Consistency Tool (PaCT) which is developing a form of national standards focused on individual student projections to provide a value-added component to appraisals soon to be imposed on principals and teachers. (Those working on PaCT, of course, would say they are just working on a new and better way for national standards – that is why I call such academics and most quantitatives the mad scientists of education.) The reason for the revisions of the two tests will, I suggest, be found in the intention to seek consistency in philosophy and practice with PaCT. The ministry and NZCER will trot people out to say scaling is the big thing in USA, well, if it is both so big and so good why the furtive launch of the revised tests, why not upfront?

This issue is of supreme importance. Without this expose of national standards data, later in the year Hekia Parata would have been crediting national standards and her work as minister for the improved results. Without this expose of national standards data appraisals soon to be imposed on principals and teachers based on individual student trajectories and added value would have had a free run. Without this expose of national standards data it would have made more politically difficult Labour’s policy to abandon national standards, and more difficult for Labour to make education an election policy (John Key and Parata would have been trumpeting their success). And, above all, without this expose of national standards data, the average and less able children, those displaying the most inflation in e-asTTle and STAR, would have continued to have nothing done to really lift their performance.

We are not good at fighting future issues: but we have in this fiasco the opportunity to fight the issue on our terms and to our advantage. I want the fight to be between head offices, not the ministry head office and schools. Schools have had enough; I want the teacher organisations to take the heat on this one. And all it would take would be one leader to make the call for this year’s national standards to be called off. That would get everyone’s attention, and establish the issue in the media eye. But as stated above, this won’t happen, and it will be up to schools to carry the fight.

The Friday Herald, first. This paper is a sister publication for the Listener, and has done a teaser, and a jolly good one too. (The link to the Herald article wouldn’t fit so I will put it in the accompanying letter.)

My presentation of what has happened does not dwell on conspiracy but on steps in certain policy directions: that is, to align the two tests with PaCT and to move to scaling as against stanines with the inevitable effect of considerably changing the bell curve. Why, seems clear to me, but it is open to discussion. The effect, though, isn’t: the effect has been a considerable lift in results for certain groups of children. Another undoubted thing is that both tests have moved to scaling without it really being discussed with teachers generally while the test was in development and, amazingly, not after. Why not? Once again that can be discussed. But the answer seems pretty clears to me.

The move to scaling wasn’t due to political interference or even ministry interference, but as a result of an agreed policy decision. Education policy makers can make education decisions, in apparent innocence, that are politically laden in effect. In an education bureaucracy (I resided in one once) what is expected by higher management is in the air, recognised as such, never mentioned as such, but acted on as such.

What does the Herald have to say?

Ministry reviewing key school tests after concerns that higher than expected results could boost National Standards – was the headline.

Listener investigation has found widespread confusion because students appeared to be achieving at far higher levels than expected.

Graeme Cosslett acknowledged that NZCER could have improved its communication with schools over the new reading test. (A big cosmic laugh on that one.)

Education Minister Hekia Parata was unavailable for comment yesterday.

The allegations of flawed tests could place greater pressure on the minister and her department.


Now for the Listener article.

I’m working into the night on this one. I’ll assume you will have read it or will read it, allowing me to go straight to the arguments of Chris Harwood for the ministry and Graeme Cosslett for NZCER.

They both say there has been no deliberate match-fixing, but this is just a straw argument, so are their denials of government influence. Beyond question the match has been strongly influenced by outside influences, but that isn’t necessarily match-fixing. Of course there has been government influence, especially on e-asTTLe, it’s a government test after all; the nature of that influence and how it was communicated would be interesting to find out about, but as far as I’m concerned, just a diversion.

Harwood then admits ‘we did get some concerns’ about the e-asTTle results ‘and gives two possible explanations’ – get ready to guffaw.

There are, she says, ‘more students now using the tool, which naturally means the spread is wider.’ Sorry Chris, and the second?

In an innocent tone she says ‘another explanation is that what the test is actually testing has fundamentally changed.’

My goodness, I think she’s got it. She could be on to something here. The general effect when you fundamentally change anything is usually something pretty different. And I have a feeling that that might be the case for a standardised test as well. Yes – the more I think about it, the more I think she is on to something there. And knowing that the test had been fundamentally changed, you would have trumpeted that far and wide I’m sure. Proud no doubt about of this groundbreaking way to approach writing. Writing is a fairly well established activity around the world now, so to have come up with something fundamentally different to test in writing, is really something. None of this sincerity, persuasiveness, logicality, fluency, structure, appropriateness to audience, technical correctness – that is old hat.

So what is this testing actually testing now?

Chris explains: ‘The old e-asTTle test looked at the piece of writing each student did during a test, and gave results purely on face value. The new one uses that piece of writing as a starting point, and extrapolates to what the student could probably do with support from his or her teacher and without the pressure of the test.’

She goes on to explain this again using the term ‘calibration’.

Oh dear!

This account by Chris is excellent classroom practice, but terrible for a standardised test. I don’t agree with e-asTTle, never liked it, finding it a flakey test for the reasons Chris and her associates have changed it from a standardised test to something that incorporates OTJ into its proceedings. What Chris has done has finished e-asTTle and the plans for it to service the writing part of PaCT.

End of story on e-asTTle. It must be dumped. Chris you can stop the review, such a test would never stand any kind of testing pressure. Pack up the test and wander off into the desert.

Now for Graeme and STAR.

Graeme believes that ‘Crawford and many other principals are still feeding their raw results through stanines – the classic bell curve graph.’ Oh you naughty boy Bruce and many other principals. Just because you have been using stanines for years is no excuse. And neither is it an excuse that NZCER in the excitement of it all failed in one tiny matter, to actually tell you that stanines are an archaic practice, a no-no. And that old, out-of-date classic bell curve, oh dear. Welcome, Bruce and many other principals to the new, much curvier bell curve.

You see, Bruce, the new STAR method is into tracking. Silly you for not seeing that. It’s a form of astrology Bruce. Tracking, Bruce, STARS, got it? We gave you the clues Bruce, not into cryptic up there obviously.

But hold on what is this? Stanines are back in again, well to some extent. Graeme says ‘stanines can be helpful in other ways, but under the new test, they can give inflated results at the end of the year.’ Same raw material isn’t it Graeme? Now scaling gives inflated results all the time. Is that progress?

‘A stanine is a much cruder measure of progress and it’s a less reliable measure.’ Absolute rubbish. Stanines provide a very good measure of progress because they relate to the classic bell curve, providing credibility. This is a bell curve breaking exercise isn’t it Graeme. Wonder if breaking it will have any effect on national standards data Graeme. Every child an island in your standardised tests is it Graeme?

This is really just post-modernism Graeme isn’t it. You want, for reasons I don’t want to go into here, to break children’s performances from the bell curve, so it becomes a kind of testing Wild West?

In comparison with Chris, Graeme has put up a much more sophisticated argument, but just as absurd.

He says that ‘Given that schools have been using scale scores with the Progressive Achievement Tests (PATS) since 2006, we underestimated the need for ongoing learning about the usefulness of scale scores for STAR, as opposed to stanines.’

He’s a wily one this Graeme.

Most principals I know don’t scale PATS and when they do they give priority to stanines, that is because stanines rule the PATS’ roost and in doing so give some kind of credibility to the scaling (but not much).

In STAR, scaling now rules the roost hence the shambles in the stanines and STAR.

Then, he comes clean, ‘Most schools would be using a mix of both methods.’

Oh! So the old stanines are still in. But the problem is that without the bell curve the stanines are just blowing in the wind.

Your argument acknowledges that in STAR, scaling predominates over stanines, that STAR is in a shambles, that you didn’t come clean in the presentation of the test, that STAR is undoubtedly contributing to national standards inflation, and that you have made a colossal error.

I’m just not going to get caught up in why all this has happened, the motives and influences behind it: what I want to demonstrate here is that Chris and Graeme have to my ears been talking rubbish and they know it. They are playing a game about which we can only speculate. A standardised test has a role to play in providing a source of relative information; it has a role in the context of a lot of sources of information. But if a standardised test is let loose from the classic bell curve it becomes something else and if it becomes mixed up in a whole lot of other stuff, that should be acknowledged – while it might be trendy, it becomes a dangerous mutant, crashing around with all the authority provided by numbers.

[It is 3.30 a.m. and I am tired. Tomorrow I will check it again to make it more readable, but the message should be clear, no matter what.]

Sorry the links don’t seem to be working but the list gives the names of the postings and the order.

Miracle on Swann

STAR and now e-asTTLe: I now accept the likelihood of a jack-up – enquiry called for

‘The stain of ideological corruption�

�The e-asTTle and STAR scandal made clear�

‘A tale of two tests: and lo and behold the first post-modern ones�


You are not in Zimbabwe Mr President

A very brief note as I am working on another posting and, anyway you can see for yourself that Phil Harding is hopelessly compromised and the executive is without sufficient numbers to force the controlling group to act according to members’ intent.

Phil Harding talks in National Party catch phrases and propaganda expressions.

You voted he says for a proposal to ‘transform school leadership’.

Investing in Educational Success’ is the heading provided.

And so on.

Phil Harding, it seems, has lost control of the situation, a tossed cork, and can’t imagine himself being divided from Peter.

I went through the results carefully and on issues that mattered, the response against was over 80%.

The survey was skewed in nature; its presentation hopelessly biased; and its diffuse nature allowed strange totalling; above all, the ridiculous length gave the opportunity for Phil Harding to get what he wanted, a self-allocated or -organised right to carry on negotiating.

It is like Zimbabwe, even if you win decisively, you lose.

To me the whole process has been an exercise in manipulation. (I do commend, though, the recording of principals overall comments, that was unZimbabwe like and illuminating.)

This decisive vote against clusters and executive officers is not enough to stop Phil Harding.

 Congratulations on your decisive vote against the proposals no matter how they were tallied.

Anyway, as though something negotiated wouldn’t be changed, of course it would be. It will just be a bit of paper. As long as clusters are there under an executive officer (or any other name), National will have got what it wanted. Change from there would be easy because the executive officer could restrict freedom of speech; or he or she could  call in the review office (quite unrelated to a school wanting to speak out, of course) to put the school through the hoops. The powers of the executive officer wouldn’t even need to be that formal – he would be the government person on the spot.

Under Phil Harding and his supporting group we are heading for disaster. The executive under the leadership of Phil Harding is just not listening in the sense that actions and policies are changed in response to members’ expressed wishes.

Precious time is being wasted. Where are NZPF policies for children and teachers? Why are we wasting time on these right-wing education policies (the impetus for which came from John Morris)? We have the system bearing down on schools from all directions to make them come to heel. Yet here we have the NZPF turkeys helping to make arrangements for Christmas.

Why aren’t the moots to be used to advance NZPF’s policies to benefit children and schools? Has the executive no policies to advance, unable to think of any? Too afraid to?

Or what about changes to the Teachers Council to be opposed?

Phil Harding weeps crocodile tears for the new charter proposals (which came from his new chum Peter Hughes) and the way they are based on national standards; yet here is knowing, no matter the protestations from National, that they will be the heart of the cluster system.

No, Phil, my goodness you are tricky with your members, ‘lack of trust’ is not the huge obstacle for any proposed change: IT IS THE BLOODY NATURE OF THE CHANGE.

He doesn’t like the term executive officer as it implies power down leadership – how sensitive, well a rose by any name.

Clusters were suggested by Ben Levin in the early ’90s as away of controlling primary schools and reducing their number; Longstone salivated over the idea when talking about it – well here it is primary principals, recognise it for what it is, because your Phil Harding and his supporting group don’t, and once implemented that will be it.

Take my word for it, come hell or high water Phil Harding won’t be stopped, read his slanted spiel carefully, he was thwarted over PaCT, and it’ personal – only a tsunami of protest will do it.

You are not in Somalia now, Mr Shearer

I am eschewing the conventional form of introductory paragraphs except to say that this posting is a fairly long journey starting with David Shearer’s most unsatisfactory speech; to the need to rid education of the baleful American influence; to why the voices of teachers need to be heard in the interests of our social democracy; to a consideration of the influences around Shearer; to an unspoken agreement between Shearer and a particular journalist and his newspaper; to how that paid off; and to how the OECD report has validated New Zealand primary teachers and made fools of their critics.

I want to make clear to Shearer and his group of advisers that I lived and argued and struggled through the first betrayal of teachers by a Labour government in the form of Tomorrow’s Schools, often a voice in the wilderness, and I’m not going to tolerate a second betrayal – this web site will be relentless in doing what it can, to the extent of its influence, to that end. And I want to warn Shearer and his group that the teachers of today and their teacher organisations are very different from the teachers and teacher organisations of those days – they are battle hardened, savvy, and angry.

From the early ‘90s in Network Magazine, and now through this web site I have warned about the implications of rightwing structures being imposed on primary education – in particular, of course, has been the imposition of the rightwing structure of Tomorrow’s Schools and its so-called parental control of schools. I warned from the beginning that this was just a ruse, temporary moving station, before New Zealand school education became something very different.

And right from the beginning, as a result of governments acting on the neo-liberal anti-teacher idea of ‘provider capture’, and the accompanying denigration of teachers, the power of teachers to influence policy developments has been eliminated. In such ways, using such spurious arguments, is social democracy undermined. So we have the strange phenomenon of those who are close to children, who really know about schools – being shut out; and those who are distant from children and only know about schools though other means, mainly American-style academic research – being in control.

In Orwellian terms, this has set up the rightwing, especially the neo-liberal section of it, and bureaucrats and politicians, to control the present by controlling interpretations of the past (especially through institutional amnesia), and by controlling the present to control the future.

It is difficult for the public to believe, when confronted by research result numbers, that most American-style research is self-serving, politically laden, replete with tricks, and essentially dishonest, sometimes fraudulently so. (An important point to establish here is that American-style research is also practised by New Zealanders trained in the art of developing research findings to meet the requirements of their political patrons.) Such research has informed decades of American-style education, a style of education that is obviously in difficulty because the wrong analysis has been applied and therefore the wrong solutions. But no worry to the advocates of American-style education, because any failure is ascribed to teachers, so the cycle repeats but, in the wondrous way contemporary education works, rewarding the advocates of failure for their failure. Nevertheless, American education with all its tics, shudders, and horrors is our future.

That this is bad for education and a bad sign for social democracy is given little heed by right wing and, seemingly, not by those who helped to frame David Shearer’s desultory speech of Thursday 15 March, 2012.

His office I strongly sense has made a mephistophelian deal with the rightwing media, I can even suggest a particular journalist – John Armstrong – and a particular publication – the Herald – and that is that, he will be their creature. What the media can give, they can take away, which they will pronto, and his little no account stint will be over. His time, if he ever becomes prime minister, will simply be more of the same but not quite so much.

These are very serious times in education: in postings I have made clear the lying, severe propagandising, and scapegoating that has occurred. Teachers have, sometimes in fear, sometimes in exasperation, resorted, yes – inappropriately – to totalitarian imagery: this resort should not be dismissed, though, but seen an intimation of something threatening to our social democracy, an indication that all is not well.

Education is on the cusp – the next teaching age will be a digital one, an age of apps, with opportunities to be grasped and Orwellian dangers, if the concern is social democracy, to be avoided. Teachers need, in the interests of children, to be deeply involved in the decision making around digital education to maintain the cognitive and affective integrity of the curriculum in relation to children’s emotional and learning needs. Yes – there will be larger classes when schools are fully digitalised, teachers will accept that because it will be more than a slogan, the apps being able to undertake a lot of the basic work. Children will still have individual needs only a teacher can discern and meet, and teachers will have the function beyond whatever is provided by computers (and it will be increasingly amazing), of inspiring, integrating, and push for the transformational.

And there will have to be decisions about ways to meet children’s full range of needs: When is too much for children sitting at their digitalised work station? How will the provision for, say, music, the arts, and physical education be undertaken?

There are the terrible dangers, though, of increased opportunities for a kind of corporate authoritarianism to be established in respect to education, a dominance of education by experts who control without genuine democratic reference, an imposition of even more conformity on schools, an increasing narrowing of the curriculum, an organisation of schools and classroom learning on an industrial basis, an emphasis on that which is measurable, a movement to centralised surveillance and direct digital feeds between classroom and government offices, a propagandising through the use of programmes prepared by politically-slanted international corporations, and a loss of cultural identity as a result of unchecked globalisation.

For those who genuinely support social democracy, this is no time for teachers and parents to be cut from education decision making. But here we have the group around Shearer apparently oblivious to all this, using coded words to align themselves with the coded words of those groups set on denigrating teachers and public schools.

But to the Shearer group, this is so much hot air.

So my intention is to bore in.

Let’s have a look at what I surmised has happened. I want to emphasise that I am in receipt of no specific information about who the advisers in Shearer’s group are, there is, apparently, Josie Pagani, who stood for Rangitikei; her husband, John Pagani, who writes what is described as a left-leaning blog on Stuff and who will, I think, be in and about; and the group has the feel of Trevor Mallard being in the mix; I suppose Nanaia is in there too, but who knows what her thinking is, she hasn’t yet unburdened herself of her ideas on education, I hope her appointment is not a case of being there; and, now I think about it further, Grant Robertson would, surely, be in the group.

Now let’s get down to tintacks.

On Wednesday, 15 March, 2012 we had the most dismal speech from Labour leader it is possible to imagine.

Its amateurishness, clumsy obviousness, and inconsistencies were breathtaking.

Shearer laid claim to Finland as an example, but it was obviously based on passing knowledge, because the ‘programme’ Shearer laid out, was directly opposite to the Finnish example. In an offhand way he made a criticism of national standards, then a sneaky supporting reference to performance pay which is part of the national standards philosophy, and then a reference to putting schools on notice which is also part of that philosophy – because putting schools in a negative light is central to the neo-liberal policy in education.

He cast public schools as part of the problem, whatever problem that is, not part of the solution.

So the public school teachers of New Zealand with their outstanding OECD results – 13% better than any other country when compared with poverty ratings; and the only decidedly multi-ethnic country in the top-rating countries – are part of the problem are they David?

So the public school teachers of New Zealand who told the country that national standards were unnecessary, that they were harmful to children’s learning, and that they would narrow and distort the curriculum – have been proved right, but you don’t find them worthy of praise.

You have joined in maligning the public school teachers of New Zealand – mainly our mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, grandmothers, and nieces – they will be picked on when they stumble you imply, and their schools put on notice. Yes, let fear and loathing reign.

Yes – you have joined the neo-liberals in using ‘teacher quality’ as a smokescreen for doing nothing for the poor.

You have joined the madness of the group that says education is the standout key to economic development – let an independent group investigate the validity of that claim – it will be seen to be pure balderdash. Let them show that doing anything different in education from what occurs now, is going to achieve an economic transformation. And we are apparently to have to wait 15 years for these better-taught children to work there way into the workforce for economic valhalla to be achieved, also, unfortunately, a good number of years to learn that the policy was balderdash.

The sheer inadequacy of Shearer’s address in moral terms was breathtaking – there was absolutely no moral and visionary basis to the speech. Remember, this was Shearer’s first address – there can never be another first time: he will forever be tied to the nature and tone of that address – and that nature was sneaky and the tone stale and pedestrian.

The important point, though, is that this lack of moral and visionary basis was intentional. It was intentional cracker barrel thinking spotted with little messages, almost at a subliminal level, like an advertisement. It was a group of people who have done too much West Wing and not enough contemplation of Labour’s moral basis.

Now what was the sequence of events that has led to Labour making an unspoken agreement with John Armstrong, political writer for Herald. I rather admire Armstrong’s political analyses but, of course, in an education, I am taken aback by his obsessive dislike of primary school teachers who he categorises as teacher unions. What is it with aging men and their yucky focus on public primary schools? In Armstrong’s case his usual shrewd analyses fall apart when it comes to teachers. The reason why, I think, is that those shrewd analyses derive from his cynical view of political behaviour which is a perfect derivation for that category of behaviour; but his analytical compass goes awry when it comes to understanding teachers – he is challenged and made uncomfortable by teachers’ genuine public service motivation, so much so, that his attitude is one of deep irritation, and it shows.

I believe this story can usefully be begun on Tuesday, 18 October, 2011, when my attention was drawn to John Pagani’s self-styled Left-leaning Stuff column. He had said that Labour would need to drop its opposition to national standards and detach itself from close association with the teacher unions.

There follows the correspondence that ensued. I have made no fundamental changes to the text. I come across as waspish and exasperated – compounded by my irritation at being diverted from my real writing.


[My e-mail in response to John Pagani’s blog.]

Dear John

We can measure children’s learning in the narrow 3Rs’ area to the nth degree. We don’t need any more tools or professional development for that.

Social democracy and children need a creative, intellectually challenging education not an industrial model being forced on schools through the rampant capitalistic model.

Social democracy is under pressure – in your columns you are doing your best to hold the ground for social democracy, yet when the ideology creating that pressure is expressed in schools, you recommend giving way. Very grand of you.

Education as the narrow 3Rs is a way for capitalism to indoctrinate children, control teachers, and to develop an obedient society. In a posting last week I said: The rise of quantitative academics is a symptom of capitalism in excess.

If parents had a say, as against the public, and the media took education seriously – you would find that there is a very strong demand for enlightened education.


John – when I write against an opponent or an opposing policy, I draw blood – sharpen up. You write like the tame liberal on Fox News.

Poor old Labour – hopelessly at sea – all policy points, and no coherent philosophy.

Best wishes


—– Original Message —–

From:   John Pagani

To:   Kelvin Smythe

Sent: Tuesday, October 18, 2011 11:49 AM

Subject: Re: John – please pay attention

‘The tame liberal on Fox News’. Ouch.

You are going to have to explain to me in slow, carefully-enunciated syllables, what is not social democratic about knowing how well my kid is doing compared to other kids the same age. And then explain why most social democratic leaders around the world support national standards (see PM Gillard), but it becomes not social democracy here.

I think you’ll find most social democratic leaders list educational achievement as the number one social democratic value. I’m not quite sure I see the academic educational establishment as the keepers of the social democratic flame, but maybe they are and the overwhelming weight of social democratic thinking and leadership around the world is wrong.

While you are drawing all this blood, you might want to pause and review the basis for this statement: ‘not an industrial model being forced on schools by through the rampant capitalistic model.’

Not exactly sure who is advocating that model, but if you are suggesting that is a rough synonym for a system of national standards, it’s not me whose thinking is blunted.


Jeez John

A narrow view of 3Rs is not a proxy for education.

You’ve been sucked in John.

If you think the 3Rs is a sign of a strong democracy, well good on you.

You may be forgetting that we are in the top four in the world on that measure: yet we have significant poverty, and we spend significantly less on education than comparable countries. God dammit where is the problem?

I’ve been going into schools for 44 years in an official capacity and still am, and I can tell you that the curriculum has been narrowed and made shallow, with the disengagement of boys rife. Children are cutting and pasting not thinking, science has virtually disappeared.

Look read, say my last four or five postings.

The crisis in education is a contrived one to distract from the collapse of rampant capitalism and to shore it up.

Schools have mountains of information comparing children to other children.

Remember Marx? If the capitalistic model is rampant, why wouldn’t that be expressed in education as in any other part of society.

I can give you some very sad USA readings of big money taking over schools.

NZ is brilliant at the 3Rs – why can’t we concentrate on the children struggling mainly because of poverty, and give the 90% a brilliant, imaginative education.

[However, to correct myself, I believe we should also give struggling children plenty of opportunities for imaginative education.]

An industrial model has all children going through the same hoops, and only measurable things are valued. Wonderful basis for social democracy and the future.

[I made the references to Marx and industrial model to see whether John Pagani comes at these matters from a philosophical point-of-view or he near faints at the references.]

Gillard, Obama, Blair – for goodness sake, what is it follow the failed leader?



—– Original Message —–

From:  John Pagani

To:  Kelvin Smythe

Cc:   Allan Alach

Sent: Tuesday, October 18, 2011 1:57 PM

Subject: Re: John – please pay attention

I’m afraid I have higher priorities for policy, government and kids than contemplating ‘the collapse of rampant capitalism’.

[So here we have a left-leaning blogger not concerned at the effects of the fall-out from the last recession. Qualifies as the best comic moment.]

Compare and contrast these statements:

‘God dammit where is the problem.’

[The problem is in the distortions being forced on teachers, eventually something is going to give – all the signs are there.]


‘I can tell you that the curriculum has been narrowed and made shallow, and disengagement of boys is rife.’


‘The crisis in education is a contrived one.’

Fundamentally, you set up a flawed dichotomy. I want to know whether my kids can read, write and add up a column of figures as well as other kids. I can’t see how my knowledge of that stops them from having an imaginative education, and in fact the attempt to press the point makes your entire argument look weak. It makes an ‘imaginative education’ sound marginal and weak. And you won’t find many parents who want their kids’ education designed to equip them for post-revolutionary society.

[The fundamental problem is that John Pagani refuses, or is unable to recognise, that schools have lots of information showing how children are doing, and how their performances relate to other children. As well, if schools and teachers are to be judged on a narrow view of literacy and numeracy, teachers will concentrate on those and neglect the other parts of the curriculum. He just needs to read the masses of reports to this effect from around the world.] 

Anyway, you’re wrong about the narrowing of the curriculum. It’s never been stronger or broader, and that’s why we’re doing ok on some measures. No one should be complacent.

[The latest OECD report confirms all my concerns – see below.]

The weakness with your argument Kelvin is you are trying to superimpose one argument on a different one.


On 18/10/2011, at 5:35 PM, Kelvin Smythe wrote:


The collapse of capitalism in excess is what all societies are having to confront now.

All Marx said was that the group that has most power in society, has most power in all parts of it. Obvious and mundane really. I’m sorry for scaring you.

I’m not against capitalism, far from it, just the need for it to be better controlled.

I don’t want a post-revolutionary policy: I want a healthy social democracy which, presently, is being undermined by capitalism in excess.

Note capitalism in excess and Europe; the small group controlling the media; the obstruction to climate policies; the promotion of asset sales; the last recession and the one coming; the increasing gap between rich and poor; and the troubles in the USA; and the high sense of entitlement the wealthy have.

[Apparently John Pagani doesn’t view these as concerns or, perhaps, anything to do with rampant capitalism.]

 What is it you are contemplating more than that, and the connection between this and that.

Re. schools: your school can tell you exactly where your children are re literacy and maths – we have available over 40 normed tests. I want you to have that information, schools want you to have that information, and you can have that information.

You are setting up a problem that isn’t there.

If society tells schools they will be judged on the measurable parts of literacy and numeracy, and that alone – teachers will concentrate on that largely to the exclusion of other things.

Creative thinking, getting children to enjoy books, getting them to enjoy writing, imaginative thinking, problem solving, divergent thinking aren’t measurable. The social sciences, the arts, aren’t measurable – so they are increasingly neglected. No-one disputes that, not even advocates of education as the 3Rs. This borne out all over the world.

I’m not talking post-revolutionary – I’m talking about a healthy social democracy. When parents are asked, they want a balanced education for their children; they want children to be thinkers, to enjoy learning, to be intellectually challenged, to be creative and imaginative, not just the 3Rs.

Your school can tell you exactly where your children are in the 3Rs – so I don’t really know why you are saying that information isn’t available.

Yes – science, as one instance, a terrific opportunity for imaginative thinking, has nearly disappeared.

I know it sounds stuffy, but I have been a main supplier of intellectually challenging social studies materials, and written a 20-set international science series, and I go into about 300 classrooms a year, on contract – I really do know what is going on.

I’m 73 and doing it for my grandchildren and yours, though clearly you don’t think so.

Our wonderful primary education system is in difficulty, a crisis is being created to the benefit of the wealthy and the ideological right.

However, poor boy, you remain unconvinced I’m sure, and Allan has been hammering you too, so goodbye and out.


[I’ve had enough of it and want to get back to my writing, but, no, he has another go.]

—– Original Message —–

From:  John Pagani

To:   Kelvin Smythe

Cc:  Allan Alach

Sent: Tuesday, October 18, 2011 5:41 PM

Subject: One more thing

Just this sentence:

‘Your school can tell you exactly where your children are re literacy and maths – we have available over 40 normed tests. I want you to have that information, schools want you to have that information, and you can have that information.’

‘If this is true, then what is wrong with national standards? I don’t mean National’s national standards, I mean the concept. This is an example of the talking past I was writing about: you can come out and say – national standards are fine for literacy and maths. They don’t work for other important skills; and then we are on the same page.’

[What a tin ear for education. Can you believe it? All the things teachers been saying about the invalidity of high stakes’ testing; the huge increase in centralised government powers to enforce national standards; the coercion by the bureaucracies; the detrimental effects on the curriculum and children’s learning – this and a myriad other effects have completely escaped John Pagani – the inference is that teachers are self-serving, unreliable thinkers who wouldn’t know, and Tolley and the government are paragons with special knowledge and insight.] 

I think you’ll find, though, that’s not what the principals say in that video, where they argue you can’t say a child should be at ‘*this* level when they are 8’. Their view is nonsense.

[Oh my god: norms give that kind of relative information, but you can’t have all children at a norm and above. As for the individuality of children’s learning, the pace at which they develop, home environments, it all means nothing to John Pagani.]


On 18/10/2011, at 5:35 PM, Kelvin Smythe wrote:



We have reached the nub – good on us.

[My new ploy for drawing things to a close.]

Schools do school standards brilliantly – using the myriad of normed tests to give national comparisons. It’s all there for us – and not high stakes, so the results can be trusted to be authentic.

National standards were a diversion by Key to appear to be doing something for children while doing very little, at even less cost.

Remember, it was touted as a main way to reduce unemployment.

National standards distort the curriculum (there is really no question about that); give less accurate information (for reasons I won’t go into here); and give control of education to education to bureaucrats, politicians, and academics of a certain sort.

If you trust this last group more than teachers you will like national standards, but irrespective, it is teachers who do the teaching. The right hates the idea of a group of people largely motivated by genuine public service – it is anathema to what they want to believe about human behaviour.

Sorry about this John – but in the balance, I deeply love, admire, and trust teachers.

In the end, control by education bureaucrats and the like drains initiative from teachers, undermines trust, and gives control to a group, many of whom have never been in a classroom, or are not free to be independent in their thinking.

Schools are being set to fail, so this centralised group assumes more control, leading to the demise of the public education system, leading to more schools being specially set up for the privileged.

Confer USA.

In case you over-read this, I do support external evaluators (after all I was a senior inspector of schools).

National standards are bound to fail because they are not addressing a real problem, they are a symptom of a problem wider than education.

[I say mysteriously: I’m referring to governments wanting to take parental and teacher involvement out of education decision making and transfer it to themselves, carefully chosen experts, bureaucrats, and corporates in response to economic events as these groups see them.]

All best


Then we come to an opinion piece by Josie Pagani published in the Herald on 12 January, 2012.

Now my intuition tells me the following sequence occurred.

The opinion piece was written under the guidance, and with the approval of, the Shearer advisory team, then the contents were, in general, discussed with John Armstrong.

An unspoken agreement was reached.

Josie Pagan’s item is pleasant and skilfully written. It poses the question as to how Labour can best represent working people, who she opined, and correctly as it happens, had turned away from Labour. The message is confused, but amongst it she referred to how unpopular the extension of the ‘Working for Families’ tax credit was. The term aspirational is referred to quite bit, and she sees the need for contract labour, and employment flexibility. She concludes in breezy style saying that Labour’s policies for creating jobs evoked a pleasingly positive response from her constituents.

I can see where she’s coming from, but there’s something very stale and limited in all this. In some respects, one asks: how does it differ from National’s kind of election offerings?

But this is not the time to go into what could have been. For instance, I believe the Labour should be a party of individuals not a mix of individuals and unions; on the other hand, I believe in strengthening unions and associations in the interests of the dignity of labour, greater democracy, and a genuine and evenhanded restructuring of the economy.

Such things, though, miss the point of the Josie Pagan’s item: it was intended to appeal to the media and to signal a middle of the road policy, it was not about seriousness and sincerity in policy making.

But what the Herald gives in the form of muted support the, Herald can taketh away with a blast of its rightwing voice. If Shearer becomes prime minister, New Zealand will go through its Tony Blair phase who, in his case, had a temporary accommodation with Rupert Murdoch.

Well – how did Shearer do in the Weekend Herald? Armstrong kept his side of the bargain, heading his column, ‘Shearer takes reins of a different beast.’

‘Perhaps, most significant of all’, Armstrong says, was [Shearer’s] incursion into … the seemingly unfettered power of the teacher unions to run a ruler over the party’s education policy.’

There is much more along these lines, in particular: ‘Shearer intends shifting Labour’s mind-set away from not upsetting the practitioners of policy … to satisfying the consumers of policy, parents in this case.’

(When Ann Tolley surveyed parents to see whether they were satisfied, the results were so pro-teacher that Tolley tried to hide the results.)

New Zealand will solve its economic and social problems, it seems, by having teachers do exactly what they’re told by governments, bureaucrats, and selected academics. Does Armstrong still believe in Santa? Where is Armstrong’s cynicism about governments and bureaucrats just when you need it?


What Warwick Elley’s has to say in a Herald article, Friday, 2 March 21, 2012, commenting on the OECD report, is of high significance to the matters in hand: Shearer’s coded rightwing references to school education; John Pagani’s stunning lack of awareness of how schools work; John Armstrong’s emotive, irrational criticisms of primary school teachers; Josie Pagani’s Tony Blair-type lack of challenge to the status quo; and the correctness, professionalism, and moral courage of teachers in opposing national standards.

Warwick Elley said New Zealand educators were praised in the OECD report for generally high standards even though ‘we spend far less per student than nearly all of them.’

New Zealand was ‘praised for avoiding “high stakes” testing in primary schools’ because so far, ‘like Finland, the OECD’s star performer, we have kept compulsory assessments and league tables out of primary classrooms.’

‘But this is about to change’, says, Warwick Elley. ‘Our national standards policy was identified as our one weak spot needing change … a potential threat to our high standing.’

The OECD, as reported by Warwick Elley, says that countries like America or England, which have used high stakes testing and league tables for decades have found that ‘the big tails of underachievement have not disappeared, and their top students are fading’.

The OECD is also reported as saying that the focus on literacy and numeracy will ‘marginalise other curriculum areas’. (Are you still with us John Pagani?)

How did the Herald mark this important report and commentary by Warwick Elley? A major article? An editorial?

No, by restricting it to a limited edition of the newspaper.

When Sarah Palin was announced as candidate for vice-president, a Republican woman commentator said, ‘Oh no!’ candidates with back stories never work for Republicans.’

In a similar vein, however Labour might wish for the freedom, sneaky never works for Labour.

And when that sneakiness is aimed at teachers, with children bearing the collateral damage, it becomes, for a party, that still retains a certain idealism about education, something that will never work for Labour.

I was taken aback by your speech – I will not let it go.

I expected to hear about an underlying philosophy of the need for a cohesive society, bolstered by healthy public institutions, supported by clever economic development, and based on fostering a healthy social democracy – we needed a speech that advanced on all fronts, not one that speciously and dangerously brought it all down to education, and school education at that.

I was so sure you were going to use the strengthening of social democracy as the philosophical basis for your speeches: with references to the need for a broad, rich, creative education; to opportunities for life-long education; to a more balanced and varied media; to ways of raising capital for new economic ideas; to the fostering of an enlightened sense of identity; and to creating more social cohesiveness and trust.

You’re not in Somalia now, Mr Shearer – where you and your team benefited from working under the inspiration of the ideals and vision of the United Nations.

You are in New Zealand now, and as leader of the Labour Party, it is your task to establish the ideals and vision for the next little while – it won’t be done for you: you will have to do a lot better than the mean-spirited message of your opening address which made victims of New Zealand primary teachers and the children who are their responsibility.

Will the NZPF campaign get it right?

I’m worried that it won’t. We all know that the technicalities of national standards are irreconcilably flawed, but are we sufficiently focused on national standards as a concept being irreconcilably flawed? National standards are irreconcilably flawed as a concept because they set up narrowed versions of literacy and numeracy as proxies for the curriculum, resulting in a lack of time and attention to the broader curriculum, laying it waste. This means children who are having no problems with literacy and numeracy, for no good reason, have an impoverished education; while children having problems with literacy and numeracy, for good reason, but doomed means, have an impoverished education as well.

The big issue of national standards is not that they don’t work for literacy and numeracy but that they harm the education of all children by working against the wider curriculum in the process of not working for literacy and numeracy either.

Understandably, we pay a lot of attention to the implementation flaws of national standards, as does this posting, but the effect on the wider curriculum is the number one issue for children and teachers, and the most potent one for getting the message across to the public about national standards. The devastation national standards inflicts on the wider curriculum, and how this comes about, is where the NZPF campaign should concentrate.

Now to a speed dating overview of national standards and its irreconcilabilities.

This web site has continually made the point that national standards cannot be defined and that in the absence of this definition, formal assessment tools function will come to act as de facto definitions. National standards cannot be defined because in any definition there is always at least one idea that requires further definition.

It needs to be made clear that if the discussion was about school standards, it wouldn’t matter if there was some imprecision in the definitions because it would simply be an agreed goal towards which a school was working, but national standards are a very different thing.

I sometimes hear teachers say their school is doing national standards. Rubbish – no school is doing national standards. National standards, by definition, are about high stakes’ assessment (meaning individual and school reputation, and career aspirations, are at stake), involving national moderation procedures and external checking. The ministry and review office will be all over schools. It will be a Disneyland for the bureaucracies. When you are doing them you will know – you will be feeling the pressure in relation to the decile you are – an intense, unpleasant pressure. And always in these circumstances ‘distortions’ occur. Wow! That decile 1 down the road has done amazingly well. What’s going on there? Yes, what is going on down there?

Then there is Overall Teacher Judgement (OTJ). In New Zealand, as a selling point that our national standards are somehow different from national standards that have occurred elsewhere, OTJ has been introduced. What a merry dance leading nowhere that is going to take us.

National standards will not be real national standards for about five years. The time in between will just be play time.

Let us go back to national standards and follow the lead from there to establish the real national standards. Clearly those bland statements called the national standards aren’t the real national standards; they are general statements lacking any semblance of precision. So national standards are not the real national standards. Those non-national standards’ national standards point to the curriculum levels. But those curriculum levels were not designed to be national standards; they were designed as general levels for a curriculum. This is demonstrated by the curriculum levels requiring a large number of achievement objectives to explain them. But these achievement objectives were not designed to be national standards either; they were designed as indicators for the curriculum levels. The achievement objectives are too numerous and too lacking in scope to be the national standards. The same can be said for the progressions that have been produced, and which have no formal recognition, anyway.

So far, no luck with finding the real national standards.

We are now left with the standardised assessment tools and the press-ganged assessment tools, and OTJ. Ostensibly the standardised and the press-ganged assessment tools are there to place children at particular curriculum levels, but seeing curriculum levels are not real national standards, that is not possible.

The standardised assessment tools (PAT and the semi-standardised asTTle), and the press-ganged assessment tools, however, are producing numbers which are putting children in categories. What are those categories? Are those categories the real national standards? My answer is yes. What, then, are national standards? National standards are the categories that assessment tools are putting children in. Yes – but what are national standards? They aren’t anything you can define in words; they are the numbers allocated to children by the assessment tools. They can’t be defined in words, because the assessment tools whether already established, or press-ganged, perform their function by producing their numbers. Anyway, as has already been suggested, national standards cannot be defined.

The already established standardised assessment tools can be turned to producing numbers for national standards because they are normed to some degree – well normed in the case of PAT; and marginally well (and for the later years) in the case of the sprawling, wayward, and fitfully insightful asTTle. The press-ganged assessment tools weren’t designed for national standards; they were forced into service to produce numbers in relation to levels, which, as already discussed, do not work for national standards.

The end result will be that the press-ganged assessment tools will be sidelined, and we will be left, believe it or not, with PAT and asTTLe. All that kerfuffle and we are back with PAT and to some extent asTTle. This will, of course, take a few years to shake down, but that is what will happen.

What about OTJ? When national standards are fully moderated and externally checked in, say, five years, very little differentiation will be allowed between assessment tool numbers and OTJ. Schools will have to justify any significant differentiation and that will put a real crimp on that manoeuvre. To allow significant differentiation would be to concede that the assessment tools were faulty; and, above all, make the moderation process incapable of moderation.

With New Zealand national standards we have national standards which aren’t national standards; curriculum levels which weren’t designed for national standards; achievement objectives that were designed for the curriculum levels not national standards and, anyway, as achievement objectives aren’t suitable for national standards; and OTJ which, when national standards become high stakes and real national standards, will be seen as antithetical to the nature of national standards.

I want to stress that real national standards won’t happen for about five years, up until then we will be playing at national standards. The settling in period will really be a phony period for suckering schools. After that there will be a winding down to PAT and to some extent asTTle as defining national standards by whatever numbers they produce and wherever the national standards’ bar is placed.

And the irreconcilable flaws, well – there are no defined national standards or any other words that define them (levels and the like); all the press-ganged assessment tools don’t and can’t work for national standards; OTJ can’t be accommodated in national standards; leaving aside asTTle, only PAT works for national standards, but it is already working for standards, it is already moderated, it is already standardised, and OTJ is already used to put the results into context and perspective. Why would we want to stuff up that old faithful by forcing it into a task it wasn’t designed for?

Indeed, why would we want to stuff up our children, teachers, schools and system by having national standards?

How did this gigantic stuff up come about? Well it came about because our used car salesman wanted a stunt as a substitute for an education policy; the ministry said Oh no! It has been a disaster every other place it has been used, we’ll try and give it some credibility; but national standards can’t be given credibility, they only ‘work’ if they are imposed arbitrarily because, as an education idea, they are irreconcilably flawed; and in trying to give them some credibility, we have, ladies and gentlemen, this gigantic stuff up, Aotearoa-style.

If certain assessment tools are going to define national standards by the numbers they produce, as they will, we might as well go straight to national testing. It is probably the more honest thing to do. Then we can see our future more clearly: a devastated wider curriculum; and a child-time of children being prepared for tests. We will see our future in how it is reported from America; how it was reported from England by Robin Alexander in the monumental The Cambridge Primary Review.

Behold the wasteland.

We will, also, see quite clearly what monumental ….. we are making of ourselves.

When will the testing bubble burst?

Posted at 04:00 AM ET, 05/02/2011 Washington Post

When will the testing bubble burst?

By Valerie Strauss

This was written by educator Anthony Cody, who taught science for 18 years in inner-city Oakland and now works with a team of science teacher-coaches that supports novice teachers. He is a National Board-certified teacher and an active member of the Teacher Leaders Network

In the mid-1920s our economy boomed. The stock market, then relatively new, soared to amazing heights, as the middle class invested their money and saw their wealth grow. But there was a problem. The stock market prices had inflated beyond the intrinsic worth of the companies they were based upon. This came to be known as a stock market bubble, because when the inflation of value stopped, the bubble burst and the economy collapsed.

The nation experienced another bubble recently with the rising value of real estate, which blew up in our faces a few years ago, and is still costing many of our communities dearly.

Take a look at the dynamics of these bubbles. In each case we had something with some intrinsic value, which people began obsessing over. The future value was projected to be far greater than the current value, and investors started pouring money into the market, bidding up the prices. The phenomena started to feed itself: as the price rose, people saw others making their fortunes, and more money flowed in.

In the case of the housing market, government policies fed the boom. Lax regulations allowed financiers to create “innovative” loans requiring no documentation of earnings or collateral. Loans were packaged and sold so the risk was passed on to investors. And those who stood to profit worked to inflate the bubble as much as they could, spinning projections of wealth, saying that growth is inevitable, and denying the dangers even as they grew. Real estate speculators, investment bankers and loan agents all saw their fortunes grow as money poured into the market. And very few saw what was coming, and even fewer raised any alarm.

But at some point reality began to set in. The bubble expanded to its limits, tottered, and when the money available to feed its irrational expansion dried up, the collapse was inevitable. And prices returned to earth, to some proximity to the intrinsic value of the stock or property. Our economy is still reeling, and millions have lost their homes and jobs.

We are now in the last upward push of the testing bubble.

Just like real estate, test scores have some intrinsic worth. They can be used to see how students at a given school are performing in some important areas of basic skills. We have had tests available for this purpose for decades, and they allow us to see patterns at the whole school or district level, and to judge the effectiveness of different curricula or instructional programs. But the value of these tests is being vastly inflated as a result of the phony imperative that we are in an “education crisis,” and the only cure for this is “accountability” for test scores.

Corporate education reformers are so happy to have introduced “market forces” into the education arena, they have overlooked the fact that they are creating the most destructive dynamic of the marketplace — the unsustainable bubble — which is inevitably followed by a calamitous crash. And as with all of these bubbles, the longer it takes to burst, the greater the damage it will inflict.

Here are the things tests are supposed to accomplish for us:

Exit exams ensure high school diplomas “mean something.” However  research has revealed they do little good.

Make us competitive in the global economy. Except, as Yong Zhao has  described, our biggest competitors are trying desperately to escape the trap rote learning and testing have landed them in, and are trying to change so as to foster the creativity our schools produced in the past

Furthermore, as  Stephen Krashen reminds us:

“The core issue remains U.S. [student] performance on international tests and the studies relevant to the discussion are those showing the huge impact of poverty on these tests. When we consider children who do not live in poverty and who attend well-funded schools, U.S. test scores are at the top of the world. Our ‘low’ (actually mediocre) scores are because we have so many children living in poverty, more than all other industrialized countries.”

Close the achievement gap, by allowing us to reward teachers with good scores, and punish or fire those with low scores, driving out the “bad teachers” responsible for the low scores and attracting ambitious effective teachers to replace them.

The trouble is, performance pay has not, thus far, even worked to raise test scores. Furthermore, raising test scores often results in WORSE education, rather than better, as Alfie Kohn recently explained. High stakes tests have driven schools attended by poor children towards a “pedagogy of poverty,”

One thing that always happens when there is a bubble is that the people who are benefiting from the froth work as hard as they can to keep it inflating. In the housing bubble, the banking industry was making a fortune, and since they were selling off the loans as quick as they got them, they were not worried about the crash. And they convinced themselves it could only go up.

There is a phrase in Latin — cui bono – which means “who benefits?” Whose interests are served by the inflation of the testing bubble?

Billionaire philanthropists and political leaders want poverty off the table as an issue needing attention. So instead of recognizing the crisis created by one in four children living in poverty, they have relocated our schools as the cause of the crisis, and accountability for test scores as the cure.

Politicians who wish to destroy teacher un ions have also seized on this as a means of attacking them. Teacher unions must be resisting the removal of due process protections and seniority because they are trying to protect the “bad teachers” responsible for low test scores. Get rid of the unions, and then we can get rid of these lousy teachers and the scores will rise. At least that is the justification. And once the unions are weakened, pensions, benefits and salaries can be cut. Then there will be more money for tax cuts for the big corporations that provide the campaign dollars for the next election.

Projects that are able to focus narrowly on improvement of test scores for children in poverty are also winners. Once we define success as test score gains, then schools and teacher preparation or intern programs that master test preparation can appear successful.

Test publishers are big winners. Though the use of low quality multiple choice tests discredited  No Child Left Behind, the test makers have come up with a way to keep the bubble full, by promising vastly improved tests. These new tests will, of course, cost billions of dollars more, but their value will be inflated even more, because now they will supposedly measure critical thinking and creativity.

And recent news announcing the partnership between the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Pearson, a huge education company, reveals that any line separating philanthropists from profit-making test and curriculum publishers has been wiped out.

Scores of consulting firms that specialize in “school turnarounds,” test preparation, student data analysis and other “reforms” that revolve around test scores are making their money off this trend.

One does not have to be venal to contribute to this problem. As Upton Sinclair once said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” And some people have convinced themselves that improving test scores is a meaningful goal — even a moral imperative.

But moralistic proclamations notwithstanding, high stakes tests thus far have yielded few if any of the benefits we have been promised. They have not significantly budged the achievement gap – and in many ways have widened it. They have not made us more competitive, or prepared students better for college – as the rising number of students who need remediation indicates. They do not allow us to accurately identify the best or worst teachers, and when used for this purpose are likely to lower the quality of instruction, rather than raise it, by forcing teachers to focus on test preparation.

Parents have begun to join teachers in calling out this charade. The testing bubble relies on most us believing that the scores offer real value, and can deliver even more if we just invest more money and importance in them. This town hall meeting in Florida gave Rep. Ted Deutch and Department of Education official Michael Yudin a taste of the skepticism that signals the beginning of the end for this bubble. When more superintendents join   Texan John Kuhn in speaking out, more holes will appear in the bubble.

The sooner this bubble bursts, the sooner we can get to the REAL work involved in improving our communities and schools. We can roll up our sleeves and deal with some of the social issues that affect students’ abilities to learn. We can allow teachers to reflect and collaborate with a focus on authentic student work that is creative, rich and open-ended, instead of focusing on test score data.


From: Roger Goulstone <>
Date: Thu, 05 May 2011 09:53:31 +1200
To: “HighTrust (MIN)” <>, Paul Hutchison
Conversation: Leadership capability
Subject: Leadership capability


I am professionally and personally insulted by your remarks as quoted in the Herald this morning and wish to issue you a challenge and invitation to stand by your comment and prove its validity. If you are a politician with integrity I trust you will accept my invitation.

You are quoted in the Herald as saying that in schools that are not
implementing national standards leadership capability is an issue.

I have not implemented national standards in my school, and now a government minister has questioned my leadership capability in the public arena.

My invitation and challenge to you Minister is to meet with me at Valley School and for you to demonstrate to me how I am lacking in leadership capability. You can be absolutely assured of a cordial and respectful welcome to Valley School, a nice cup of tea with refreshments, and a challenging professional discussion in pleasant surroundings.

My opposition to national standards has nothing to do with lacking
leadership capability  – the easy road for me would be to become a compliant leader and follow your path. I believe I am displaying leadership capability of the highest order in putting the learning and the welfare and future of my pupils above everything else.

This is why I invite you to come to Valley School and show me where I am lacking – you will not find me lacking in providing a top class learning environment, nor do I believe I am lacking in making sure achievement data is used effectively to inform teaching and learning. You will not find me lacking in providing quality professional development for my staff, nor will you find me lacking in setting high expectations for our kids. You will not find me lacking in having a passion for kids and having a strong determination and professional integrity for doing what is right to provide the best I can for their future.

My leadership capability, professional ethics, and integrity means I cannot be a compliant leader who follows a path that has no research to prove its validity, and in fact is a path that has research to show it does NOT lead to the outcomes we both want – improved achievement for all our children.

Perhaps though you know something about my  19 years as a Principal and my leadership capability that I have missed? I look forward to meeting with you.

Thank you

Roger Goulstone
Valley School

What is Phil Harding up to?

It was not so long ago that Phil Harding appeared to be flirting with supporting PaCT without, it seems, undertaking anything like full consultation. Then, following a series of tracking postings from a particular source, he underwent a remarkable epiphany, going all shiny on us and deciding to join the far steadier NZEI in a united stand against PaCT, leading to a rare win against the grim and oppressive anti-democratic regime that is the current reality for the teachers and children of New Zealand. You would have thought that that might have brought some glimmerings about how to proceed against subsequent National oppressive policies, for instance, the present one of a new Teachers Council. But no, unlike Paul who was never the same afterwards, he seems to be driven once again, as have many teacher organisation heads before him, to respond to a vision of himself as a cross between Metternich and Kissinger.

Phil Harding in the NZ Herald, 2 November, is reported as saying that ‘overall he was “pretty happy” with the new council’.

‘Pretty happy’ what on earth got into him? Here we have a policy that began with a lie that the new policy was occasioned by the Northland imbroglio when, in fact, a ‘reform’ of the Teachers Council was always intended by the government and Treasury to curtail  teacher freedom of expression; to bring in further bureaucratic measurement controls of teachers; and to increase the privatisation of schooling. And here we have Phil Harding apparently wandering off on his own, seemingly ill-prepared, willing it seems to make some kind of accommodation with Hekia Parata and government policy.

What is particularly worrying is that having made a bit of a dick of himself last time, I sense that Phil Harding, once again, has failed to consult with either the Federation council or the membership. Being ‘pretty happy’ adds up to a near capitulation to the Treasury long term plan for authoritarian appraisals; one way to run schools and teach the curriculum; and individual and school payment by test results. In other words, it is the next step on for the national standards philosophy, and the ideological and political pay off for National in respect to its education policies.

Harding, after saying he was ‘pretty happy overall’ went on to say ‘he urged the minister to ensure the governing body was independent’. This is remarkable for two reasons.

First, what a strange way to ensure independence by having no teacher or principal representation in the so-called transitional agency, all the nine members, irrespective of their educational status in being selected by the minister represent the minister and cannot represent teachers and principals – to say they do is a corruption of the meaning of the word. The founding principles for the new agency will be decided by members who are not independent of the minister therefore the subsequent council cannot and will not be independent – even if some members acted independently that would be a different expression of the same word. There can be no true council independence without true council representation.

Second, Phil Harding, only urges, cap-in-hand, that the council be independent, he does not demand it. Harding has really given NZPF approval to a new kind of teacher participation in policy making, a participation exemplified by membership of the Cross-Sector Forum. If the teacher organisations are going to be ‘represented’ in this way, then schools and teachers might as well stop paying membership fees. Most of the money will be spent on, overseas jaunts, hi-mum moments, and indulgent power displays for the boys and girls.

Phil Harding couldn’t even articulate the obvious and say that similar professional councils for, say, doctors, nurses, and lawyers, had a predominance of representative members. The transcendental insult will be further compounded by teachers having to pay substantially more for something that will be substantially worse.

Phil Harding then further expounds NZPF his stance when he says: ‘The challenge is to make sure the profession has confidence in the Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand that in fact it reflects a sample of the profession who do know the challenges that schools and educators face.’

And there it is, the game given away, by a president who can’t consistently get it – ‘a  sample’. A new definition of representation, independence, and democracy – all the minister has to do is to present a sample. Well, a sample has been selected by the minister – Harding has what he wants: governance by government chosen sample; democracy by sample.

Phil Harding goes on to say: ‘The new board needs to be one that makes teachers say:”Wow, that’s an impressive group of educators we trust”.’

No Mr Harding, let me explain democracy to you. What teachers need to be able to say is: ‘Wow, that’s an impressive group of teachers we have elected or represent us through our elected representatives.’

Phil Harding’s stance is outlandish.

The political ineptness of teacher organisations is something of a horror story (thank goodness NZEI is going through a pretty good patch).

Two days before Phil Harding’s macabre performance, he would have read the OIA information that Treasury had ‘urged the education minister to keep the “ambitious agenda” for schools low key’ as far as presentation was concerned. The lie that purportedly began the new agency, the purposes declared for it, and the propaganda surrounding it are all examples of such low key presentation techniques. But carrying the import of that OIA document just a few days to shape the NZPF response to the new agency proved too much for him.

Including some of the points made above, the teacher organisations should have a formula for quickly dismissing such government policies, for instance:

  • New Zealand schools do not need another layer of bureaucratic control.
  • New Zealand schools need more government bureaucracy like a hole in the head; these suggested centralised and bureaucratic ideas will make education worse for schools already groaning under the burden of failed bureaucratic ideas – ideas imported from overseas.
  • Teachers and schools need to be freed from ideas that have no backing from academic and teacher knowledge that is in anyway respected. (In this instance, much should be made of the persuasive paper put out by the highly respected academics Ivan Snook and John O’Neill et al on education by measurement.)
  • Teachers and schools know how to help all children in schools from the ones struggling because of home background characteristics to children of high ability. What these teachers and schools need is for bureaucrats to get out of teachers way and to concentrate on getting resources to them that will help them in their task.
  • To this end, public schools are asking for class sizes to be brought down to the equivalent of those of private schools and funding to be lifted somewhere near that of charter schools.
  • A huge investment in maths programmes needs to be provided – as it is a programme that is struggling from faulty bureaucratic direction and lack of in-service funding.
  • The same for science.
  • Reading recovery, a proved programme, needs more funding.
  • Every class needs a teacher aide.
  • Greatly increased funding for ‘Reading Together’ and programmes like it is needed.
  • A greatly increased funding for computers is needed.
  • Special education funding needs to be greatly increased, including for helping children with dyslexia.
  • Emphasis should be on extra funding for class programmes away from grandiose building programmes.

The list could go on, but you get the idea.

Teacher organisations should not get caught up in the government’s grubby anti-public school policies; they should daringly outflank those policies by focusing determinedly on funding policies to better meet the classroom needs of children and teachers. Teacher organisations should set the pace, not slip into the torpor of conceding the initiative to the government.

The teacher organisations, even the NZEI (though to a much lesser extent), are failing us in the overall policy stance to government policy authoritarianism. They have fallen into a languor, waiting for the government to announce its next item from its stock of horrors, then displaying surprise, confusion, and low tactical astuteness; concentrating on the particular rather than the conceptual; and acting apart from each other. This must stop. What to do about Phil Harding?  Perhaps, democracy can be made to work within NZPF, who knows? Above all, the teacher organisations must stand together as they did over PaCT, making very clear in regard to the council that there will be no co-operation without representation and majority representation at that. Tip the tea into the harbour and, throughout this fair land, ring the Liberty Bell loud and clear. As for Hekia Parata she steals in her policies in the dead of the night, too ashamed to allow the light to play on them. And she talks down to teachers, using her position,  well aware she can’t foot it with our wonderful primary principals and teachers if on equal terms. We have your measure Hekia, you neither fool nor frighten us.

Well done that principal: but the Principals Federation falls into serious error

Well done that principal: but the Principals Federation – forked tongue drivel and oleaginous capitulation

(This posting should be read in association with ‘Quick response to NZPF Flyer No. 5.)

I came across the following in a weekly school newsletter.

‘We started with an exciting and action packed camp and we finish today by sending home our written reports and learning journals. These documents provide you and your child with a record of their learning progress and future goals. Your child’s written report can be found inside the learning journal; it can be used alongside the learning journal to provide a snapshot of where your child is at with their learning. The reports have been issued prior to the holidays to allow plenty of time for you to celebrate your child’s successes and to help set or refine their learning goals for the remainder of the year. We will be having our parent-teacher meetings in week 2 of the next term and there will be an opportunity then to discuss progress.’ 

‘Please take time to fill in the parents’ page in the learning journal. Your child and their teacher value your ideas and input.’

Translated that means we are already doing a thorough job in reporting on your child  – who needs a bureaucratically imposed set of reporting requirements? Also, if under ‘Tomorrow’s Schools’ boards of trustees and the community can’t decide on what they want in the way of reporting, what can they decide on?

The principal has, so far, not missed a beat, but the next part is subtle genius, in a league with Koutouzow’s aggressive delay in the retreat to Moscow (actually through).

‘At this stage we have not reported your child’s progress against the recently published national standards. Our teachers have not received any professional development with the standards and we need further time to carefully evaluate such fundamental changes to our assessment practice and to consult with you as to what your preferences are with regards to reporting. As always we have reported achievement against New Zealand Curriculum level expectations and this is supported by nationally referenced assessments.’


Well done that principal.

Now for the New Zealand Principals Federation.

At the beginning of the year, the New Zealand Principals’ Federation called on principals to inform and educate their boards of trustees and communities about the implications of national standards. The logic in this was that the evidence showed that national standards were harmful to children.

The Professional Standards for Principals states that it is a requirement to base policy on sound evidence. The Federation policy had the vital ingredients of consistency, internal logic, and ethicality.

Principals have examined their consciences, and their situation, and responded in various ways. Some declared against national standards, some in a quiet, local way, others adopted the Koutouzow policy, others decided to accept national standards. All this is as it should be.

Nothing has changed since the beginning of the year: national standards are and were the law; the minister and the bureaucracies have continued to undertake a grubby campaign to discredit teachers; national standards are still pernicious, akin to an education evil; and there remains a wide diversity of principal opinion.

Now for the Flyer that was issued following the Principals Federation moot held in Wellington, Friday 26 March.

The Flyer has the hallmark of being been put together by media personnel. But whoever wrote it, the children of New Zealand deserve better than this forked tongue drivel.

If the Federation acts on Flyer No. 5, it will go down as one of the greatest betrayals in New Zealand education history. And if national standards become fixed in our system, mark this moment for why they did. National standards, if allowed to settle, will define education for a generation.

I challenge anyone to point out the consistency between the logic of the existing Federation policy and what is expressed in the Flyer.

I challenge anyone to point out the consistency between the logic of the various ideas expressed within the Flyer.

The Flyer refers to ‘developments in the ever shifting National Standards issue’. The only shift seems to have been the one trickily outlined in the Flyer.

There’s something about the matter I can’t quite put my finger on. Was the Federation policy shift prearranged? If media personnel were present (admittedly I’m guessing they were present) why were they there? Is it regular practice for them to be present on such occasions? Were there prior discussions with the government? Was the government informed of the likely policy shift? (I’m relying on those with inside information to put me in the picture. Mind you, my background in history has made me cautious of conspiracy theories: most unfortunate historical decisions are simply a result of prosaic human frailty and defective powers of reasoning. I suppose that will be the case here.)

‘We heard about the political and media environment and how the landscape has shifted and changed over the past 18 months …’

What has changed? And what does the reference to ‘media environment’ mean? And what does ‘landscape’ mean? And who is ‘we’?

This would seem to be media relations claptrap villainy. To think, as I suspect, that Federation money has gone into funding such people to try pull the wool over principals’ eyes is unconscionable.

‘There was a lively and energetic discussion and the expression of a range of views about the executive’s strategy for the next phase of this issue, reflecting the diverse range of views of from our membership. This is not surprising, given that we have 2300 members in 2300 schools, each with their own character and strengths, meeting the needs of 2300 diverse boards of trustees, parent populations and communities.’

‘Lively and energetic’: I’m so glad ‘energetic’ was added to make the meaning of ‘lively’ clearer.

Two thousand three hundred schools and 2300 members. Wow! That puts a different slant on things.

Interpreted this means the Federation is going to change from a policy of principle to one of expediency. It is classic public relations language.

And, interestingly, the groups referred to are adult; children don’t have a diverse range of needs in relation to national standards – they only have one: not to be exposed to them.

‘Membership reconfirmed our strong belief that National Standards are irreconcilably flawed, and a strong desire to continue to work for change in this area.’

If something is irreconcilably flawed by definition they cannot be reconciled. This is Orwellian.

‘… and a strong desire to continue to work for change in this area.’

Orwellian again: the past being rewritten. Federation policy has been to oppose national standards.

‘NZPF will continue to look for ways that children and schools can be protected from the negative effects of National Standards, tailoring the approach and strategy to suit the environment within which we find ourselves operating, ensuring we are using our limited resources in the most strategic and effective ways possible.’

The drivel continues.

‘Tailoring the approach and strategy to suit the environment within which we find ourselves operating’. Why doesn’t the Federation come out and say it: We as an organisation are without fixed principle and blow with the wind.

And do the needs of children change with the environment they find themselves operating?

There is no protection from national standards: national standards means centrally imposed and moderated assessment procedures for the labelling and comparison of schools and children. Those comparisons will out because that is what standards are about.

You are either opposed to national standards or you are for them. Governments, the media, and communities don’t go in for fine distinctions in such things. If the Federation works with the government on national standards, they are for them.

‘The focus at this time is on a last ditch re-engagement with government around the two issues of greatest concern to our membership: data validity and data safety.’

Why should principals be concerned with data validity? Up to now they have achieved data validity at a school level quite sufficient for their needs – the reference is really to

data validity for national standards’ comparison. Why get sucked into all that? This is a government and bureaucratic concern to do with a policy the Federation ostensibly opposes.

But it is the reference to data safety that interests me most. This is, of course, about league tables. The government will throw a bone to the Federation on this one, but it will useless. Comparisons will be made, starting from the review office cycle a school is placed on. And, as I said (in ‘Quick response to Flyer No. 5’) national standards don’t stay as one thing, they are a ‘moveable wasteland’.

The really important point is that league tables are the least of the threats to children’s welfare (‘Tomorrow’s Schools’ having already done most of the damage there); they are more a concern for principals – making life uncomfortable for them. It is not the labelling of schools that is the threat to children’s welfare; it is the labelling of the children themselves, and the narrowing and impoverishment of the curriculum.

‘While the next step is to work with government on the areas of National Standards that our members believe are most flawed, we have not ruled out any options for future activity.’

Oh Pollyanna! Principals Federation to the rescue. That which was irreconcilable is now susceptible to the ministrations of the Principals Federation. A tweak here, a push there, and bingo – nice, friendly national standards. What a merry chase the bureaucracies will lead the Federation, promising them the world, massaging their egos, playing them off against the NZEI, undermining those principals who have taken a stand of one sort or another. Oh brave new world!

But hold all tickets, the Federation has not ‘ruled out any options for future activity’. The government and the bureaucracies quail at the prospect.

Did you note the media relations ploy of depoliticising the text by referring to ‘government’ in the abstract not ‘the government’ in particular?

‘One of the clear messages from the moot was that members need support and materials to help them get the message across to boards of trustees, parents, and their communities.’

What clear message was that? That the irreconcilable can be reconciled and a better kind of national standards developed?

In tortuous and sly manner, having got across the policy point that the Federation was now intending to work with the government to implement national standards, the Flyer proceeds to cover its tracks – no doubt to culminate in a restatement of the policy change.

‘Principals can’t – and shouldn’t stand alone on this issue. We know from experience over the past few months that, when we do, it is all to easy for the profession to be labelled in a negative, self-interested light, for the focus to be diverted away from what matters for our children and schools, and for our motives to be questioned.’

Oh diddums!

So give into the government, go back on your principled opposition to national standards, betray principals who have taken a stand, betray children, then sleep easy.

Is a Greek approaching?

‘When we visit in Term 2 we’d like to talk to you about ways we can all be more effective in expressing our concerns about National Standards to parents, the media, communities and others.’

Yes – without a doubt one is. (The effect is patronising humbug, taking principals for fools.)

‘Our aim, on your behalf, is to effect real change by limiting the damage National Standards can do to our children and schools.’ 

And there it is, the gift of oleaginous capitulation.

There’s a policy for you: don’t oppose something that will damage children because that isn’t real; to be real, participate in implementing the policy that will do the damage as a way of limiting it.

How much more comfortable it will be, working with the government to implement a kinder form of national standards.

The only thing is that it won’t make a damn bit of difference to the children, and it will ensure the policy is in place for a generation.

‘We remain committed to this goal and look forward to sharing more with you in the new term.’

Did you pick up Orwell again? ‘Remain committed to this goal’? Which goal is that? Is it the goal of opposing national standards or participating in them? The word ‘remain’ suggests that it is the goal of opposing national standards, but when words are meant to conceal more that they reveal, clarity is always an early casualty.

I’m holding back from a full, searching, and contextual analysis of the Federation’s change of policy until I see what happens in practice.

My view remains that principals’ response to national standards is one for individual principals and their community. The Principals Federation policy should be to make a clear stand on principle and to accommodate the outcome with courage and sympathy.

The education perniciousness that is national standards allows no play with amelioration.

Meanwhile, back at his school, the Koutouzow-like principal has a hint of a smile. His strategy of delay is working. He just wishes the Federation would keep their noses out of the heartening disarray at the centre, and his business at the local.

I commend the principal on the sentiments expressed in his weekly report; my strongest words for the Principals Federation are yet to be conveyed.

This is just a preliminary dust up.