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Tracking the KPIs of eight-year-olds
Imagine being a great big business success enjoying your lavish Waiheke island property with infinity pool and ballroom and riparian rights and heli-pad. Sweeeet.
But imagine, also, having to take orders from some little bureaucratic oik about how often you can land a chopper on it.
I can’t, really, but it was interesting to learn from news coverage this week that there are something like 68 Waiheke properties with helipads.
My rough guess is that this would be roughly 68 more than there were three decades ago, and to what might we attribute this change, this vaulting prosperity?
Perhaps we might point to the growing popularity of Waiheke as a tourist destination, or the big money to be made in olives or farmers markets, or kayak hire, but I'm going to go with market forces. Rogernomics, neoliberalism, call it what you will, we have embraced a bunch of economic settings that has seen the remaking our society. At one end of the table, fatted calf and foie gras; at the other, crumbs.
What other changes have we noticed over the last three decades? Please sir says C Luxon, I have one: our kids are doing not nearly as well as they used to at reading and writing and maths. Oh and btw, this is a crisis. Write that down, reporters, that means you can tell it as a disaster story rather than contemplate the context that might have produced this problem.
Tell you what, let’s not just talk about a crisis and ask, how will you rescue us from this crisis, O caped crusader in a business suit? Let’s contemplate the context.
If we want to understand falling academic performance, we need to consider underlying issues.
If you live in precarious financial conditions, you are more likely to have trouble learning and achieving in school.
If your housing situation is unstable, you may struggle to attend school regularly.
If you lack access to good healthcare, you are more likely to be ill and miss a school day.
If you experience racism and discrimination, you may struggle with low self-esteem, mental health issues, and poor academic performance.
If your life is precarious, so will be your learning.
If our classes are full of kids with other problems, and the teachers have to take care of them, there’s less time available for instructing in academic excellence.
When Luxon says education is the pathway out, and when he says A world-class education system is essential for driving social mobility, helping break cycles of poverty, and giving every child the chance to live the life they want, it might sound like a rallying call for social rescue. But what I'm hearing mostly is affirmation for the way things are, that all you need is hard work and a hard pull on your own bootstraps.
How about affordable housing and fair pay for all? Because you know those higher reading writing and arithmetic numbers we used to have? They happened in a time where housing was more affordable and even low pay was enough to get by on.
All that stuff about driving social mobility, giving every child the chance to live the life they want? It’s a swizz. In actuality, what that kind of trope actually delivers is simply more cannon fodder, more human capital, for the existing socio-economic arrangements. Which, going by our academic performance data, is turning out to be a bust.
Luxon even identifies the crux of the problem but fails to pick up the dazzle of the lightbulb. He declares: these falling literacy and numeracy numbers are worst in the lowest decile.
Well, turn on the siren, hold all tickets, are you picking up the clue here old mate? It’s not the teaching that’s the problem, it’s the environment they’re growing up in.
And if you’re asking teachers to mend all the problems this environment has yielded, then you’ll be needing to give them way more support and resources than they’re getting right now.
Like what? Glad you asked. I wrote about it here, my fond hope for schools made into community hubs, helping people make new or better lives, and taking that social worker load off the teachers so that they can actually do the teaching.
You use the school grounds and the rooms that sit empty at night and weekend as a kind of village square, just like we once did with night classes, but offering much more: health, budgeting, lifetime learning, a health centre, citizen’s advice, something like WINZ. By amply funding and resourcing these hubs, we could create a safe haven for vulnerable children and young people. When the place they call home isn’t warm or safe or secure, the school could be a haven for them.
As things stand, we have been asking our teachers to not only teach the reading, writing, and maths, we have been asking them to mend damaged lives. It's too much.
And as much as Luxon and Erica Stanford would like us to fantasise, a rigorous regime of assessment and messaging and emphasising the priority subjects will not turn that around if you don't have a plan for the many other large issues. And you won’t mend three decades of free market harm with yet more free market aspirational thinking and marketing flannel like giving every child the chance to live the life they want.
You know who else is performing poorly in international assessments of maths and science and keeps touting targeted performance and testing as the solution? The USA.
You know who is not? Finland. Finland is not. And their results are outstanding.
Finland has no standardised testing. It does make basics a priority, to be fair, but that's in the context of getting everything else right: cooperation instead of competition, starting school at an older age, providing professional options beyond traditional college degrees, starting school later in the day, consistent instruction from the same teachers, a more relaxed atmosphere, less homework and outside work required.
Here's what testing can do: it can provide useful data on student performance.
Here's what testing cannot do: address the social effects of three decades of market forces.
A great education system for our kids would offer imagination, spirit, and humanity.
It would be properly resourced.
It would take the social worker expectation off our teachers.
It would put no undue reliance on tracking the KPIs of eight-year-olds.
These are not labour units we're talking about. Find someone else to fund your helipad.
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