This week Bernard Darnton examines education’s standards.
There’s been screeching recently from people opposed to new national standards in education. Apparently measuring how poorly children perform in maths will create an “education underclass.” And bathroom scales are responsible for the obesity epidemic.
(By the way, that was just the most obvious example that came to mind. All talk of an obesity epidemic and, worse, the idea that “something should be done” is, of course, a load of crap.)
Unnamed “experts” are concerned that having schools concentrating on literacy and numeracy will lead to a narrowing of the curriculum. The purveyors of Dolphin Studies textbooks are said to be mortified.
Teachers unions are terrified of national standards because they encourage the idea that some schools might be better than others. There’s nothing like a complete denial of reality to promote faith in the quality of primary school teachers.
To get the unions on side, or at least to become less obstreperous, Education Minister Anne Tolley claims to have cooked up some arrangement whereby parents will get the performance data but media won’t. As long as no journalists ever procreate that should work a charm. I can only assume that the Minister hasn’t reached the national standard in rational thinking. Or perhaps, far more terrifying, she has.
The other possibility is that Tolley knows perfectly well that her plan is as viable as the Elephant Man’s bid to be America’s next top model but that the New Zealand Educational Institute has been bluffed into submission. The union representatives may not be the sharpest knives in the drawer.
It’s well known that a teachers college education isn’t what it used to be. Learning to count to five in Māori and to play three guitar chords doesn’t cut it in today’s complex world. The quality of the raw material has been declining too.
Economist Steven Levitt suggests that primary teacher standards have dropped because of feminism. In the bad old days the only job open to women that didn’t involve domestic drudgery was teaching. Now that women can become doctors, lawyers, and cabinet ministers the fraction of teachers in the top quintile for IQ has halved and the fraction in the bottom quintile has doubled. If you’re after a smile, the rest is in the recently released SuperFreakonomics, in the chapter on prostitution. (Don’t ask.)
National standards may be even more important if the standard of female teachers is slipping. (There have been no male primary school teachers since Peter Ellis’s 1993 conviction for walking a bit funny.)
An outfit called Parents Against Labelling has been set up to oppose these new standards. Whether this is a genuine grass roots organisation or a front for someone else, I don’t know. They do have a point though. Parents should be able to choose the sort of education their children get, whether it involves the three Rs, thirty hours a week of Dolphin Studies, or just the obedience training and baby-sitting service that too many schools offer.
I think national standards are better than having no standards at all. A whole lot of parents disagree.
As usual, the problem is the state’s one-size-fits-all education system. A bunch of policy analysts in the shambolic Ministry of Education gets to decide how all the country’s children are miseducated. Instead of choosing better schools parents have to form lobby groups and nag, quite likely in futility, for what they believe would be better schools. Rather than trust this crowd to set national standards, why not free the education system and let parents set personal standards?
* * Read Bernard Darnton’s column every Thursday here at NOT PC * *