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Data Mining, Education, GERM (Global Education Reform Movement), Government Policy, League Tables, National Party, National Standards, National Student Numbers (NSN), New Zealand, Opt Out, Parents Fight Back, Standardised Tests

Not choice, bro – I want to opt out

I am a mother.  My banshee is 5.  He just started school.  He was excited – I was excited – school is fabulous.  We both knew he would have a ball, learning new things, meeting new friends, having super experiences – and indeed he is.  He loves it.

Thankfully has no idea of the GERMy things infecting his happy world of learning:


He has been allocated a National Student Number to track him throughout his education.  His results, standards, and lord knows what else is being stored against this number. I can’t opt him out of this – trust me I have asked.  He and every child in or entering the system as of the 2014 school year has an NSN, and god only knows what they are recording about him.

The data can be passed on by government to anyone they deem suitable.  See that little bit there on the Ministry page that says the “National Student Number (NSN) is a unique identifier that can be used by authorised users for .. research purposes.”  Yes, about that..

barcode freedomJust who decides who is authorised and what constitutes research?

Because given this government’s record with our private data, and given its record on favouring business over academics, I have to say I worry. In the USA, student data is given to private companies and the likes of The Gates Foundation without any permission sought from or given by parents.  And Mr Gates has his own agenda.

But it’s okay, because “The Education Act 1989 includes an offence provision, with a penalty up to a maximum of $15,000, for a conviction of misuse of the National Student Number (NSN).”  Oh that’s fine then – a hefty fine like that is sure to scare off your average education reformer billionaire.

So, should we worry?  Well, hell yes.

Of student data collection,  Diane Ravitch said “If anyone thinks for one New York minute that the purpose of creating this database is simply for the good of teachers and students then that person is credulous in the extreme.”

My child and yours are now a government commodity.


labelled national standardSoon, he will be deemed well above, above, at or below standard for numeracy, reading and writing.  Those labels will be added to the above data set. They are not there for him or for his teacher (who is marvellous, I might add).  They are there for politicians.  Make no bones about that.

And what joy for those students in small communities where they are easily identifiable, who find themselves highlighted in the national press as failing.  What a treat when a student’s results are displayed in the classroom for all to see.

That must be a real inspiration for them.

Because nothing motivates someone to improve more than telling them they are below standard and then sharing that information far and wide.


Sooner or later, there will be pressure for the banshee to get up to speed with anything he is “behind” with.  I don’t mean encouragement – I mean pressure.  The majority of teachers will resist political pressure and carry on teaching to his interests and strengths, moving him forward appropriately from where he is to the next level.  But when the message teachers are getting is that all that matters is National Standards levels, eventually pressures come to bear:

“So a couple of weeks ago when his new teacher told me he had to stay in at lunchtime to complete his writing, I was shocked. I understand he is a dreamy and imaginative child, and that he needs supervision to complete tasks sometimes (which drives me mad), but I have no idea how any teacher EVER thinks it’s ok to keep a five year old in at lunchtime. Really, what kind of system thinks punishment is a motivator?” Source

These are children, not robots.  They learn like they grow – in fits and bursts, not on an easily measured path.  Of course their learning needs to be tracked – in fact teachers always have tested in-class and tracked growth, so that students and teachers know what the next goals will be. But to be pushed to learn at a certain speed, as if all kids should hit targets at the same time, is not sound practice.

jump through hoop of fireSadly, National Standards is encouraging just that, and this is the type of thing we will see more and more of: Whether his teacher or school tries to mitigate it or not, education establishments are under pressure to hit politically-motivated targets, and this will inevitably filter down.  Most schools do a great job of not letting students see the pressures on the school to hoop jump, but if things carry on the way they are going, teachers may not find it so easy to keep that pressure out of the classroom, even for new entrants.

The USA is years down this data-obsessed, privatisation-motivated path of lunacy, and this is what successive reforms have reduced them to:

“My kindergarteners had their standardized computerized test today. There were over 100 questions. Answers were selected by drop and drag with a trackpad, no mouse is available. One class took five hours to finish. Kids crying in 4 of 5 classes.” Source

How long until this is the fate of Kiwi kids?

Choice, bro

You might be thinking “Oh, well, it sounds dodgy, but you can always opt out of the National Student Number and/or National Standards if you dislike them so much.”

Well, you would think so, eh?  The child being mine, and all.

But no, you cannot opt out.

No, You Can't.

No, You Can’t.

Just let me say that again – you, the parent, or you the student cannot opt out of having a National Student Number and having your data collected and stored and shared around by the government with whoever they see fit without your permission.

You the parent or you the student cannot refuse to be part of National Standards.

So, next time government tell you all of these changes are about parental choice, ask them about your choice to opt out.  Where did that go? **

Possibly the same place it went for these US children who were pulled out of classrooms by CPS investigators for individual interviews about this month’s test boycott —  without teacher or parental permission.

Intimidating children?  Ignoring parents?  This is where 20 years of reforms has got the USA.  New Zealand is only a few years down the line of the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM), but already we are seeing the same disregard for what parents want.

I ask again, where is my choice to opt out?

The GERM is upon us, New Zealand

There is a good reason this post listing the things this government has imposed on the New Zealand education sector is going viral.

People – many for the first time – are joining the dots and seeing that it’s not a few little things here and there but a concerted plan to change the face of our education system to an increasingly privatised one.

A crisis is being manufactured that just does not exist.

You want to now who’s pulling the global strings behind the GERM?  You could start by reading this to see Bill Gates’ part in it all.

Like Monkeys at a Tea Party

Whanau and Educationalists want to improve our education system.  It’s good but it could be better, and they recognise that. They do not want it to stand still.

  • They want to help groups that they system has not best-served by finding sound ways to give them their best chance.
  • They want students with special needs to have access to appropriate assistance, to give them their best chance, too.
  • They want all children, of all skills, interests and abilities, to have quality teachers and useful resources.
  • They want all students to become life-long learners with a sound ability to adapt to changes.
  • They want to be able to use innovative methods and resources in their teaching.
  • They want to learn from each other and share best practice.
  • And they don’t just want to teach – they want to carry on learning, so they grow as professionals and serve students well.

Students and teachers have much in common: they do their best work when supported, encouraged and know that what they are doing is of value. And neither achieves their best when pressured, bullied and given unsound hoops to jump through, like monkeys at a tea party.

who benefits


So, when next Hekia Parata tells you that what she is doing is in the interests of the children, ask yourself this:

Is it really for the children?  

Who else stands to benefit? 


** NOTE:  “”Differences from state schools:
Private schools are not required to follow the Government’s National Education Guidelines. This means that they do not have to follow the New Zealand Curriculum or comply with the National Standards’ requirements.”” – which rather begs the question of why not, if they are meant to be sooooo darned useful?



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6 thoughts on “Not choice, bro – I want to opt out

  1. . We need a body of philosophers/ teachers parents selected for a substantial time and charged with curriculum for Education. Something similar to the jewish Sanhedren completely removed from Government EducationMUST be removed from being used as a vote catcher by zombies who have no interest beyond keeping their seat in parliament


    Posted by Barry Ashby | March 24, 2014, 3:04 pm
  2. Insightful as ever Di.


    Posted by sera | March 25, 2014, 11:28 am
  3. I wish to let you know that if little Banshee had attended ECE in the last 6 months a NSN would have been allocated. Our wee babes are now allocated with a NSN. We in ECE are under no illusions about what that really means. We HAVE to comply, we cannot opt of having to undertake this process!!! It is scary.


    Posted by Wendy ure | March 25, 2014, 12:22 pm
  4. How on earth is a NSN scary? This reeks of paranoia.

    NSNs, unless they’ve undergone a radical and fundamental change since 2011, are one way that a candidate can log on to check their NCEA results. This was updated in 2013 (I think) so that you could create a username to use an alternative (numbers are rather hard to remember when they are as long as NSNs).

    NSNs also appear on the cover of NCEA externals. That’s right, you don’t write your names. That’s a very, very good thing. How many studies have you seen where having identifying information (e.g. stereotypically “black” or “female” names lead to people being less likely to get, say, job offers despite the information being identical?). How can you facilitate that gain without something which is completely unique? Call every possible student some variant of John Smith?

    As to data extraction? Ever watched something based in the US which goes on about social security numbers? Ever wondered why we’ve got IRD numbers, NSNs and whatever else? That variety is a good thing. That means that some villain must first obtain a number of different identifiers before they can go about doing nefarious things with your information. New Zealand, furthermore, has legislation governing how government departments can share information around. I realise this probably just sounds even scarier but it really isn’t. What should scare you is that places like the US have a fundamentally different attitude and approach, and those places have clout in New Zealand. Basically, though, the point is that you shouldn’t be worrying so much because not only are there restrictions around using it within one context, sharing information with other contexts is also restricted.

    Think of an NSN as a way of uniquely identifying someone whilst simultaneously maintaining their anonymity. For instance, if one wanted to look at whether or not there was a relationship between student gender and subject choice in NCEA, how would you go about that?

    Well, we’re going to have an absolutely massive data set (at least 143,000 observations and several variables for each) and because we want to avoid Simpson’s Paradox we’ll need to think about exploring relationships with as many variables as possible. Now, that probably means we’re going to want to include (in addition to subjects studied and gender, obviously) ethnicity, (if we can) immigration status (first, second, etc. a la PISA), school status (private/state/state-integrated), school type (single-sex, co-ed), academic performance (so we’ll include how well the candidate did in the subjects studied… after all, we’d imagine that more academically able pupils are more inclined to study “hard” subjects), school location (Auckland, Christchurch, Otago etc. … but if possible a more specific location), school age (probably affects the subjects offered), and probably some other things as well (e.g. pupil age, year level). All this added up means that we need to be able to identify each pupil uniquely when we store the data because this sort of analysis could well prove impossible to group (a pity as grouped data would result in our big data not being quite so big). And what do you prefer, your Banshee’s name or some NSN?

    NSNs are not just useful for the individual pupil but they’re an identifier that helps us know a lot more about the broader situation and could well, in the case of a study like the one we’ve imagined above, demonstrate unconscious issues (imagine, for instance, if we found a relationship between subjects studied and gender and/or ethnicity after allowing for everything else that could be affecting this: see the famous UC Berkley example of what happens if you just tried to investigate the question without doing this).

    NSNs are a good thing. We’re not the US. Our government, even this one, is quite different in large part because we have a much better attitude to how information of this kind works. In the above example, I’m pretty sure that database would be unable to be just generated. You’d have to work to get all the variables you’d need. And you can do things like school age as a factor so you can’t uniquely identify the school, which in combination with the student’s own information could lead to identification as an individual if you know the pupils that the school had that did those subjects. As a factor probably makes more sense anyway.


    Posted by whirlsler | October 26, 2015, 11:28 am

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