Saturday, May 12, 2007

What opposition to NCEA is about

Sexism. What else can you say when an exclusive boy's school principal withdraws from the system because it "tends to favour girls"? And it looks even worse when he explains himself:

Headmaster Graeme Yule said NCEA lent itself to the girls, who tended to be more diligent with the internal assessment aspects of NCEA.

Otherwise known as hard work and academic merit. Clearly we can't have an education system which rewards that!

Such anti-meritocratic attitudes aren't uncommon in elite educational institutions. Reading this reminded me of an article I read a while ago about the history of the US S.A.T, which mentioned in passing the use of aptitude tests to keep Jews out of Ivy League universities. The theory behind this was that Jewish students were "grinds", who excelled simply because they worked hard, as opposed to having the "innate ability" of, say, the scion of an inbred New England dynasty. The use of an aptitude test (which nowadays we would recognise as being significantly culturally biased) allowed the colleges to weed out the (mainly Jewish) students who were "achieving beyond their ability" in favour of the (mainly white) students who were "naturals" (as shown by their ability to achieve a gentleman's C). Unfortunately, it seems that this attitude is alive and well in the principal of Scots College.


It's fascinating -- but depressing for progressives -- how right wingers have by and large hijacked the language of progressivism to portray themselves as ever the victims.

Instead to working towards a level playing field, they take that as a given and then use that rhetorical sleight of hand to oppose any improvement for marginalised groups. (Of course, they fancy themselves to be the true marginalised group.)

I wish this tendency were more extreme than it is.

Posted by Tony Lee : 5/12/2007 12:14:00 PM

I didn't think that was the most important part of Yule's remarks. He said that NCEA wasn't good for boys because the literary standard was TOO HIGH. The man is supposed to be an educationalist.

Posted by Anonymous : 5/12/2007 12:43:00 PM

You have to be exceptionally lazy or unusually incompetent to fail literacy - it's only eight credits. If he thinks too many people are failing it, maybe he should look into teaching them to read and write.

Posted by Anonymous : 5/12/2007 01:39:00 PM

Christopher: But if you look at his school profile (you'll need to switch to percentages), you'll see that 98% of his students pass the literacy requirement - substanially more than the national average. So what's his problem? That the poor wee darlings actually have to work a little rather than having their ability taken for granted?

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 5/12/2007 01:49:00 PM

The literacy requirement actually isn't what he's talking about. He's saying that all subjects require a high standard of literacy for students to be successful. That he is arguing these are too high only exmplefies the fact that Scots teaches for statistics.

I wrote a letter to the DomPost earlier which miht make more sense.

Posted by Anonymous : 5/12/2007 03:00:00 PM

That is possibly the stupidest remark on the subject I've ever come across. How does he expect anybody to pass a written examination of any sort without being literate?

Furthermore, having done four years of NCEA, it's just not true, excepting the case where somebody genuinely doesn't know how to read and write.

Posted by Anonymous : 5/12/2007 03:16:00 PM

Well, you could say they oppose sexism.

Perhaps they consider that the IB favours neither girls, nor boys, but is neutral (as opposed to the NCEA with favours girls).

Why support a system that only tests time spent doing something (and favours those who spend more time), rather than skills or knowledge learned (which favours those who've mastered skills or acquired knowledge?

Why is a system that lends itself to girls (with a lot of internal assessment) better than a system that lends itself to everyone - perhaps because boys and girls are equally diligent with external assessment through norm-referenced exams?

Perhaps NCEA doesn't reward hard work and academic merit, but rather just hard work (or even quantity of work). Maybe Graeme Yule has looked at a number of alternative systems and decided "hey, I/S is right! We should have a system that rewards hard work and academic merit, and NCEA just isn't doing it - and certainly isn't recognising the types of hard work boys do better. The best system of those I've looked at - which requires and rewards both hard work and academic merit is the IB".

Me? I don't know - but the views expressed here mostly seem reactionary.

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 5/12/2007 04:20:00 PM

Agree with Graeme.

Yet another utterly question-begging display of high pontification from i/s I'm afraid.

Posted by plague : 5/12/2007 04:45:00 PM

"Perhaps NCEA doesn't reward hard work and academic merit, but rather just hard work". Bollocks. Like I said, I did it for four years, and that just isn't true.

It does seem that single-sex girls' schools are more inclined to scam the system by stuffing it with unit standards, but I've only got anecdotal evidence of that.

Posted by Anonymous : 5/12/2007 06:58:00 PM

I personally think that I coasted through school and would have benefited from being asked to work harder, but I never found internal assessment a useful tool in that regard. If anything, internally assessed sections of courses tended to be easier, because I could usually do most of them in class.

But as to whether it's a good idea to reward hard work rather than ability, I'm not so sure. Perhaps because I work in IT where natural ability is such a strong part of the job, I don't have much regard for systems that reward the hard-working but merely competent. Certainly, the great bulk of jobs today require those attributes, but is that really what we want our elite schools doing? I think elite schools should be selecting the better students and pushing them hard.

Now, Scots has issues in that regard, but at least it does push students academically. When I was paying attention to such things, their more academic students did an extra couple of subjects every year. So assessment that assumes that each student is only doing (say) 6 or 7 subjects will set out internal assessment on that basis, and student who want to do well will have to spend a lot of their "spare" time doing the assessment. But for students at Scots who are doing 10 subjects instead as well as compulsory sport and extra-cirricular activities, there may not be time in the week to do it all. For Scots, I suspect that releasing the swots from sport is not an option that appeals, not is lowering their standards to match the NECA expectations of how much time students have available.

Posted by Moz : 5/12/2007 06:58:00 PM

Frankly, any school that excludes Jews by any means is stupid, and I seriously wonder how any sort of academic ability test would do that.

I have heard a certain academic (who is the top man in the country in his field) state repeatedly that a hard-working student will do better than a brainy student any day - and I agree with him. Brains are a good way to end up on the scrapheap as people with them expect to do well and don't do the base work that more average people have to.

Putting that point aside, the problem with NCEA literacy has been missed by pretty much all the previous commenters.

The problem is that previously, woodwork involved taking a bit of wood and doing something to it. You were marked on how well you did the work with the wood.

Now, it's "wood technology" and students must write up their work and are marked by what they write about the work.

This literacy-first approach has also been pushed into several other subjects.

This means that excellent students in areas other than literacy now receive bad marks for stuff they should be good at. These people are known as boys.

This is very, very bad as it does nothing for the boys, and nothing for employers who just want people who can cut wood straight.

For those that think this doesn't "favor" girls let me ask: how well would a girl do if she had to present every written assignment in a wood box she created - and be judged on the quality of the box?

Posted by Anonymous : 5/12/2007 07:40:00 PM

I thought NCEA was supposed to be about what you could DO. This discussion suggests it is about how hard you work.

Which is it?

Posted by Anonymous : 5/13/2007 07:34:00 AM

I too agree with Graeme and as I have four boys I can say (with complete bias) I want an academic system that helps my boys achieve.

Education as a field is dominated by women, and (whether people want to believe it or not) men and women are different. It makes sense to me that a system designed by women is likely to appeal to girls more than boys, especially when taught by women.

Posted by Muerk : 5/13/2007 10:16:00 AM

I/S, I think you need to also consider the school and why people send their children to the school. His comments make sense in teh fact that teh school is trying to provide a more well rounded education and therefore has far stronger expectations in terms of sporting and extra-cirricular activities. If the boys at scots dont have so much time to devote to internal assessment as they are busy with other school related activities, and assessment by IB is more appropriate then going to IB makes sense.

Posted by Anonymous : 5/14/2007 12:46:00 PM