New Zealand is one of the few—perhaps the only—nation that abandoned national standards.

As Professor Martin Thrupp Explains here, scholars and researchers helped to expose the flaws of national standards.

The national standards were driven by political, not educational, purposes. The ruling party pushed them and couldn’t stop pushing them, ignoring all criticism.

Thrupp’s book, co-edited with Bob Lingard, Meg Maguire, and David Hursh, “The Search for Better Educational Standards: A Cautionary Tale” teaches us that concerted efforts by educators, scholars, and parents can roll back ruinous education policy.

He writes:

“The National-led Government had become fully invested in the National Standards policy. When it was first announced in 2007, it was National’s big idea for education – the ‘cornerstone’ of its education policy. Over the 10 years that followed, the Government had dismissed all criticisms. Any late turning back would be a sign of weakness, and instead the National party wanted to plough on with this truly awful project that had already became a world-class example of how not to make education policy….

“Despite the National-led Government’s adherence to the National Standards, researchers and academics certainly pushed back against the policy…In fact, researchers and academics did a great deal in this space! A particular highlight for me was the 2012 open letter signed by over 100 education academics against the public release of the National Standards data. But there were countless other instances of academics and researchers opposing the National Standards, either publicly or more behind the scenes. Opinion pieces, articles, TV debates, radio, public meetings, meetings behind closed doors – and all the rest of it. Chapter 8 of A Cautionary Tale, about the politics of research, gives numerous examples.

“A number of us also did empirical research that helped to explain how the National Standards were a problem (see A Cautionary Tale, especially chapters 3, 5 and 7). And, of course, New Zealand researchers are part of international networks that are working on the same concerns about high-stakes assessment in other countries (see A Cautionary Tale, especially chapters 2 and 10). Note to Cullen: without doubt, some of the best work in this area is coming from Australian academics.

“It is true that some researchers and academics chose to support the National-led Government’s National Standards policies (A Cautionary Tale, chapter 8). This happened for various reasons that may have included the researchers’ educational views, their political beliefs, the political pressures that were upon them or their organisations, and the advantages that came with supporting the policy. It may have also involved a judgement that it was better to be ‘inside the tent’ and have influence than be on the outside.

“But this range of viewpoints among researchers and academics is no different than was seen within the teaching profession and amongst principals, where National Standards also had supporters. Indeed, a central problem that the new Labour-led Government will have to grapple with, having removed the National Standards policy, is doing away with the data-driven disposition amongst teachers and principals that grew along with the policy under the previous Government.

“Looking ahead

“Even though most teachers and principals did not like the impact of the National Standards policy, after a decade of its influence New Zealand primary schools are now marinated in the thinking, language, and expectations of the National Standards. This has also had wider impacts, for instance on early childhood education. It will all take a little while to undo.

“It’s great, though, that New Zealand primary schools will now be able to spend less time shoring up judgements about children – judgements that have often been pointless or harmful – and instead spend more time making learning relevant and interesting for each child. Removing National Standards should also allow teachers to be less burdened, contributing to making teaching a more attractive career again.”