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GERM (Global Education Reform Movement), Research on Education

Report on maths teaching not all it appears to be

smoke nad mirrorsMost seem unaware that the much discussed report on maths teaching, Un(ac)countable, was commissioned and undertaken by the New Zealand Initiative (NZI), a business think tank.

The NZI used to be the New Zealand Business Roundtable before changing their name to this seemingly more innocuous one. They are business people, bankers, economists – a market-driven bunch.*

The Un(ac)countable report, says “The lesson from the Numeracy Project is that top down change is inappropriate in the New Zealand context”. (1)  This is particularly intriguing given NZI support Investing in Educational Success (IES), which is floundering in no small part due to its top down hierarchical nature.

The NZI also advocates performance pay for teachers, despite it failing disastrously elsewhere, and despite research showing that performance pay does not improve student outcomes.

In other words, NZI’s output is very typical of the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM).

Go figure.

So, watching the NZI’s online video presentation accompanying Un(ac)countable, I pondered not only the information, but also how the messages were delivered.

The video presentation shows little understanding of what goes on in schools and why. In fact, the first minute or so is simplistic and at times downright patronising, seemingly aiming to rile parents into a “it wasn’t like that in my day” rant and garner media attention more than explaining any in-depth research findings.

The accompanying fact-sheet for parents is not much better, using emotive language and cunning linguistic devices throughout.  It begins with the words “Confused? Maybe your kids are too” – as if parents not understanding the Numeracy Project equates to it being poor. That is disingenuous and worthy more of a political PR firm than of decent research.

The fact that the parent fact-sheet then waxes lyrical with “In 2013, a friend explained to me that her 10-year-old daughter was learning several different ways of working out her timestables, and that she was confused, losing confidence, and falling behind. When I was at school, we just learned them off by heart” is just embarrassing. Is this what passes for NZI research? An anecdote from one parent and a “it wasn’t like that in my day” comment from the researcher?

I wonder how many parents would be able to explain for me what transactional writing is, or the features of inquiry learning, or how to set up a blog page and add text and videos to it?  Yet we teach those things, too. Parents not knowing the technical language of some learning or not knowing how to do some of the things their children are doing does not equate to those learning experiences being valueless.

It’s almost like there’s another agenda at play in the whole song and dance.

And it’s a shame that the good messages of better maths education for teachers and a decent emphasis on basic facts are lost within.

To close, let’s take a closer look at just one of the New Zealand Initiative’s ideas from Un(ac)countable. NZI says:

“The new professional body for teachers – Educanz – should develop an optional certificate of maths teaching proficiency for teachers to work towards.” It should be optional but parents should check that teachers have it when considering what school to send their child to, says the NZI.  (2)

My questions would be:

  • Who pays for the tests?
  • Who ensures the tests are fair and adequate?
  • How often would teachers might have to resit the certificate?
  • How optional it will really be if one’s employer insists staff have it.
  • Whether there would be accompanying good quality professional development for teachers.
  • What happens if a teacher sits the certificate and fails?
  • Would unqualified teachers be able to take the certificate and use it to bolster the notion they are qualified teachers?

It seems to me that a close look at the NZI report and the accompanying hoohah around it raises far more questions than it answers.


* For fun, why not play NZI bingo – just go to their website staff page and see how many times you can count the words economist and business…




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"One needs to be slow to form convictions, but once formed they must be defended against the heaviest odds." Gandhi


5 thoughts on “Report on maths teaching not all it appears to be

  1. Well spotted folks – yes, these people are a right-wing neo-liberal think tank.
    Google …….
    The Executive Director (Oliver Hartwich) whose main claims to fame seem to be membership of various Right wing/neo-liberal think tanks such as Policy Exchange (London) and Centre for Independent Studies (Sydney). He is also a member of the Mont Pelerin Society identified by David Harvey as one of the key driving forces of neo-liberalism.
    The Head of Research, Eric Crampton, whose main academic background is as Lecturer then Senior Lecturer in Economics at the University of Canterbury from 2003-14 during which his substantive publications consisted of ….absolutely nothing that I can find online.
    Research Fellow, Rose Patterson (who doesn’t appear on the NZI staff list but is cited as the author of the report) does not to me have any serious research background, though she did teach English in a Japanese school (see and make up your own mind as to what this researcher’s credibility is.


    Posted by Roy | June 5, 2015, 3:06 am
  2. Along the same lines, someone needs to explain the meaning of irony to NZI Director Oliver Hartwich who criticised current practice as “an experimental approach” ( in the very same week as he was encouraging the explicitly experimental Social Bonds.


    Posted by John Small (@smalltorquer) | June 5, 2015, 7:51 am
  3. I am astounded yet not surprised about how much traction this ‘story’ had gained in just 24 hours. The whole education sector in NZ is immersed in a battle of political philosophy, not an educational one. The tendrils of the world-wide neo-liberal agenda creep into every facet of our society, including education, quietly and largely unremarked on. Can it be possible that a NZ government is actually contemplating devolving itself of social housing now? It has hived of prisons and social services and is considering ‘taxing’ the Reserve Bank, ACC as well as the NZ Superannuation Scheme. It is simply businessmen, impersonating politicians, looking after businesses. That is how reports such as this can appear.

    I believe this can only be countered by remaining faithful to strong values and ethical educational principles. Whilst there are still a few voices that speak out to counter drivel such as this report they are few in number. It is up to teachers and there leaders to ‘do the right thing’ not just ‘do things right’.


    Posted by Steve Dunsmore | June 5, 2015, 8:16 am
  4. Hmm, sounds like someone is setting up more reasons for introducing a “more testing” regime…


    Posted by NZJon | June 5, 2015, 11:39 am
  5. Most interesting aspect to all this was the way the media responded. The report is a muddled, mish mash of opinion and manipulated data apparently trying to work out whether The Numeracy Project is the reason we have plummeted down the PISA ratings during John Key’s reign. Because the facts say that for the first 3 years of the project results improved, they had to revert to quoting Allyson Gofton to support their assertion that teaching “creative strategies” is failing our children. We have seen so many nightmares in education since the 90s, NCEA, National’s vacuuming money from the PD budget in 2008, National’s December gutting of the schooling department of the Min Ed, funding children in charter schools up to $92,301 per pupil(Michael Jones’ Pacific Advance), Novopay destroying morale, etc, is it any wonder learning is suffering and who could definitively state why?


    Posted by Greg Patel | June 5, 2015, 9:38 pm

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