New Zealand’s standards history
The current debate over numeracy and literacy standards in New Zealand schools is not a new phenomenon. In fact, concerns over the quality of numeracy and literacy have been robustly debated since at least the 1940s (Openshaw & Walshaw, 2010a).The following section provides an important historical, but also socio-political, context to the most recent of these debates which have culminated in the current National Standards policy, and identifies a number of key themes that emerge from an analysis of literacy and numeracy policy discourse in this post-war period 1945 – 2005
The debate and criticism around falling standards has been robustly contested throughout these 60 years, but there are three noticeable periods during which the criticisms over falling standards have peaked. The current National Standards debate is merely the most recent in a long line of policy debates and initiatives, dating back to at the 1940s, that have been designed to improve numeracy and literacy proficiency (Openshaw and Walshaw, 2010a).
The educational standards debate first peaked during the 1950s over concerns that standards in the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic were slipping, culminating in the Currie Report in 1962. Although this report did not directly address educational standards, it did calm public anxiety by endorsing the direction in which the educational sector was heading.
Walshaw and Openshaw argue that this occurred during a period of comparative prosperity which may well have softened “the political impact of concern over literacy and numeracy basics” at the time (p. 55).
The second period of debate began in the late 1960s and 1970s during a period of increasing economic uncertainty for New Zealand. It led to the release of Educational Standards in State Schools in 1978 (Department of Education, 1978), and following an intensification of this debate in the early 1980s, to the Picot Report of 1988 (Department of Education, 1988). This resulted in far-reaching reforms in the 1990s, including Tomorrow’s Schools and the advent of the self-governing school model. These structural changes to New Zealand’s educational administration system did not, however, end the standards debate. They simply paved the way for an intensification of concerns from the 1990s onwards. National Standards has its political roots in this post-Picot period, a period that put New Zealand educational reform on an increasingly neo-liberal trajectory.
Each of these three cycles of contestation has been characterised by a distinct polarisation of views. These cycles can be seen as “a series of overlapping and cyclical discourses, in which the discourses in one era are seen to have remarkable synergies with the discourses of another time” (Openshaw & Walshaw, 2010a, p. 7). Much of the earlier debate involved a struggle for teacher solidarity in the face of public criticism. More recently, the debate has focused on a struggle for public support for teachers in the face of perceived government hostility. Public criticism stemmed largely from the belief that new teaching methods and curricula were behind the fall in standards, leaving teachers to defend themselves against these allegations.
The discourses were characterised by a closing of ranks of the teaching profession in the face of what were perceived to be unjustified criticisms of the standard of public education. This subsequently evolved into a far more combative and defensive approach taken by teacher nions, which has now led to the notion of “fortress education” (p. 86) that characterises the more recent standards debates.
Numeracy and literacy have been valued, almost universally, as essential skills necessary for students to become effective citizens. It has been commonly accepted that “numeracy + literacy = success” ( Openshaw and Walshaw, 2010a, p. 6). Success has increasingly been defined as the ability to compete in a global, technological world with a literate and numerate workforce needed to drive a successful economy. This has been reflected in the role that international studies have played in assessing countries’ performance in literacy and mathematics. International studies that provide comparative data on New Zealand’s performance in basic literacy and numeracy skills have become increasingly valued by politicians and the media as important measures of student progress. Results from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) studies have dominated much of the political discourse in the last two decades over falling standards. New Zealand has, on average, performed very well in these studies. Indeed, much of the education system now revolves around the identification of students as either successful at literacy and numeracy or not.
CHAPTER ONE: Introduction and methodology
1.1 Dissertation overview
1.2 Introduction to National Standards
1.3 Education policy
1.4 Methodology – Critical Discourse Analysis
CHAPTER TWO: Literature review – context
2.1 New Zealand’s standards history
2.2 Neo-liberal context – standards and accountabilit
2.3 International context – “you don’t fatten a pig by weighing it”
2.4 Locating National Standards
CHAPTER THREE: New Zealand’s National Standards
3.1 Developing the standards
3.2 Policy problems – the publicised rationale ..
CHAPTER FOUR: A closer look at the publicised rationale
4.1 Behind the one-in-five
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NEW ZEALAND’S NATIONAL STANDARDS POLICY: THE GAP BETWEEN RHETORIC AND REALITY