How the Kiwi Standards were defeated – and what is happening next

Year: 2018

Author: Thrupp, Martin

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In October 2017 a newly-elected Labour-led Government threw out New Zealand’s National Standards system for assessing primary children in reading, writing and maths - ‘Kiwi Standards’. The Kiwi Standards policy had been in place since 2008 and its demise is noteworthy because Diane Ravitch has suggested “New Zealand is one of the few - perhaps the only - nation that abandoned national standards” (Ravitch 2017). This development also represented a sharp change in policy direction because the previous National-led Government had dismissed all criticisms of the policy and its pre-election announcements were about further reinforcing the Kiwi Standards if returned to power. This paper reviews the years of strong contestation of the Kiwi Standards policy by educators that helped the three newly-elected coalition parties quickly agree to end the policy. There was a feisty campaign by principals, teachers and academics against both the introduction of the Kiwi Standards and the subsequent public release of data (Thrupp with Lingard, Maguire & Hursh, 2017). A focus of the paper is the alliances built between teacher organisations and academics. In the absence of good government-funded research, the NZEI education union decided to fund research on the Kiwi Standards, the Research, Analysis and Insight into National Standards (RAINS) project. While this funding arrangement caused difficulties around public perceptions of the research, the RAINS findings nevertheless highlighted multiple concerns around the impact of the Kiwi Standards system in schools and whether the data could be used to judge school performance. With criticisms based partly on research being aired every time the Kiwi Standards data was released, the National-led Government did not get as much electoral traction with the policy as anticipated. It became increasingly feasible for the Labour Party and coalition partners to firm up their opposition to Kiwi Standards. The Labour-led Government now has a Ministerial Advisory Group on Curriculum, Progress and Achievement charting a different approach for the future. Overall the case of the Kiwi Standards speaks to the potential for academics to impact on neo-liberal education policy. Although it was a change of government that brought the Kiwi Standards to an end, academics working alongside teacher organisations had a considerable role in creating the pre-conditions for change.Ravitch, D. (2017, 29 October) New Zealand: How Researchers Helped to Kill National Standards. Diane Ravitch’s blog, M. with Lingard, B. Maguire, M. & Hursh, D. (2017). The Search for Better Educational Standards: A Cautionary Tale. Gewerbestrasse: Springer.