Foxes Running Hen Houses

If this were not so serious, it would be hilarious.  Years back the standard example of an oxymoron was “government worker”.  Now it deserves to be replaced with “government educator”.  We have published a couple of articles on the falling maths competency of New Zealand children being taught in monopolist government schools.  The NZ Herald has carried a follow-up piece pointing out that the current bizarre approach to teaching mathematics in our government schools has come about because of a former “national taskforce to improve maths and science teaching”.

Now, it goes without saying that the “national taskforce” consisted of the foxes that were already running the henhouse.  The foxes got to confabulate, and hey presto they came up with something even worse.

Schoolchildren have gotten worse at basic arithmetic skills since the introduction of new teaching methods designed to lift the country’s poor performance in maths.  The Ministry of Education figures show the number of Year 8 (12-year-old) children who could answer a series of simple multiplication questions correctly within four seconds dropped from 47 per cent in 2001 – the year new maths teaching methods were introduced – to 37 per cent in 2009. . . . Our 9-year-olds finished bottom equal among developed countries in the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) published last December, with half the students unable to add 218 and 191.

Something is rotten in the State of Denmark.  Well, actually it was malodorous way back in 2001.

The changes were introduced after a political outcry at New Zealand’s poor performance in the 1995 TIMSS test and the creation of a national taskforce to improve maths and science teaching.  The ministry’s 2001 response, known as the Numeracy Development Project, was supposed to lift student performance by giving primary teachers more confidence in maths. (Emphasis, ours.)

So the experts got together and decided that rote learning and memory work was destructive.  What was needed was a more conceptual and theoretical approach to mathematics.  This would reflect the vaunted flexibility of the new national curriculum.  The upshot was predictable, but these folk knew what they were doing didn’t they.  After all, the educrats, the unionists, the professionals all embraced the output of the Numeracy Development Project with great enthusiasm, even while telling everyone that New Zealand has a world class education system.

Private maths tutor Huw (sic) Wainwright of Can Do Maths said the ministry’s own figures from the National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP) showed “about one-third of students hitting high school not knowing their times table, with division knowledge even worse”. . . . Critics say [the Numeracy Development Project] has instead confused teachers, children and parents by presenting multiple alternative problem-solving strategies but neglecting basic knowledge.

Margi Leech, director of maths tutoring company Numicon NZ, said the new approach had many good points but was too abstract for many children and teachers.  She was not surprised that research at one Auckland school found 90 per cent of 9- and 10-year-olds were at risk of failing.

How will the government education system respond?  Our expectation is that it will deliver a full throated Oliver Twist.  More, please.  More task forces populated by the same educrats and oxymoronic “government educators”, more failed pedagogical theories, more vague theoretical abstractions, more “enlightened” educational approaches, and, yes, more failure.  Foxes when in the henhouse will continue to be foxes.  “Government education” is the oxymoron of our times.

How will the government respond?  It’s a question of no relevance or importance.  The government education system is a system.  It controls all governments, and has done for the past thirty years.  Changes in government merely represent one ministerial deck chair being replaced by another as the Titanic goes down. 

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