Thanks to a combination of events, a rare window of opportunity exists to engineer a rapprochement between the Government and teachers. Education Minister Hekia Parata and teacher unions should seize it.
Each wants something from the other. Ms Parata and her Cabinet colleagues want an end to the foot-dragging and guerrilla warfare that soured her predecessor Anne Tolley's attempts to introduce national standards. The teacher unions want the Government to scrap national standards and prevent the publication of school league tables based on standards data.
With a little goodwill and some common sense, the Government could get what it wants. The unions will not get everything they want. National standards are here to stay. The Government is committed to them and parents want more information about the performance of their children. League tables are also a certainty. There are no reasonable grounds for denying the public comparative information about how schools are performing.
However, if the teacher unions lay down their megaphones and work with a newly chastened minister, they can ensure that the tables that emerge reflect their expertise and effort, not the socio-economic status of the neighbourhoods in which they happen to teach.
That should be welcomed by every good teacher, particularly given the present concern that some parents are steering their children away from low-decile schools in the mistaken belief that decile ratings indicate the quality of education on offer. They do not. They are simply a measure of the socio-economic status of the communities in which schools are based.
In its raw form, national standards data might well reflect the same bias. The evidence from here and overseas shows that children from well-to-do backgrounds tend to perform better than children from poorer backgrounds. Middle-class families know the value of education and are prepared to make considerable sacrifices to foster it.
Comparing the performance of a school in Khandallah with a school in Cannons Creek tells parents little, but comparing the performances of schools that draw their students from similar environments tells more and comparing progress within schools should tell the most of all. The schools that should be rated the highest are those that make the greatest difference to the pupils who enter their gates.
National standards are not the answer to all the education system's problems. For one thing, they measure only literacy and numeracy. As well as children being taught to read and write, parents want them introduced to the wonders of science, the joy of music and the satisfaction that comes from making things with their own hands.
However, used sensibly, standards will help identify the 20 per cent of pupils who never learn to read and write, many of whom wind up in prison. Teachers should welcome the development of a tool that will help them do their jobs better. Their unions and Ms Parata should stop shouting and start talking.
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