Kiwis don’t like corporations telling them what to do.
Especially when it comes to educating their children.
That’s why this week, New Zealand’s Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced that schools in the pacific island nation would no longer need to use the national academic standards mandated by the government for the last decade.
“I don’t think anyone will be surprised that we are ditching a failed experiment,” he said.
“We want teachers focused on less testing and more teaching because that’s the way we’re going to improve students’ progress.”
I pause at this point for American readers to catch their breath.
But now they see the results have been less than expected and they’re changing their collective minds.
Shocking, I know.
If only we still did things like that in THIS country.
But wait, there’s more.
Why exactly did New Zealand turn against its national standards?
All things that could be said of our own Common Core. But was there more to it?
In short, New Zealand’s national standards weren’t helping kids learn. In fact, they appeared to have the exact opposite effect.
New Zealand children’s performance on international tests dropped significantly since the standards were introduced in 2010.
New Zealand’s average score on the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) had been steady for 15 years, but fell dramatically at the end of 2015. In short, New Zealand went from 23rd to 33rd out of 50 countries.
The US has had a strikingly similar result on the same test with the same age children since the mandate to use the Common Core.
The PIRLS is an assessment given to fourth-graders in schools around the world every five years. In 2016, the average score for US students dropped from fifth in the world in 2011 to 13th. And the drop wasn’t merely perfunctory. It was “statistically significant” according to test organizers.
The biggest drop was for the lowest-performing students, what the organizers considered a sign that we’re providing much greater support for economically advantaged children than for underprivileged ones.
Why is this important?
Because Common Core was introduced across the nation in 2010-11. These fourth grade students were the first to be educated using the Core since Kindergarten, and far from creating a boost in achievement, it opened a chasm.
Reading scores went down just as they consistently have done time-and-time-again since we started using the standards.
Scores go down on state tests. National tests. International tests.
Meanwhile the test makers and their proxies keep telling us the problem is that the standards are simply more rigorous and it just will take time for our children to get up to speed. Meanwhile their publishing and software subsidiaries sell us hundreds of millions of dollars worth of new text books, new computer programs, new devices, new apps, new “specialists” and consultants offering professional developments, etc.
Keep in mind, this is the same international test and the same age group of children that caused a revolution in New Zealand.
Will our response be the same?
New Zealand’s authentic reform resulted from a political change. The National Party was replaced by the Labour Party, and repealing national academic standards was part of their platform.
It marked a sharp divide between the philosophies of both groups.
The National Party wanted more testing, more data, more standardization, more holding funding hostage to test scores – just like both Republicans and Democrats in the US.
However, the New Zealand Labour Party ran on significant reductions to standardized education, substantial cuts to standardized testing, repealing national standards and considerable investment in students, schools and teachers.
We in the US simply have no political equivalent.
Both the left and right take billions of dollars in campaign contributions from the testing and privatization industries and thus support policies that serve the interest of their donors over their constituents.
There is a tremendous political opportunity here for one party to change course and support a winning strategy.
Admittedly their education policy is incoherent since they support every standardization and privatization initiative on record so long as a black President didn’t touch it. And even then their opposition melts away when they have the power to do something about it but no one’s looking because the President is too busy playing nuclear chicken with North Korea on Twitter.
It worked in New Zealand.
It’s worked in many places all over the world.
Why can’t it work here?