Science, Data and Decisions in New Zealand’s Education System

Benjamin Riley, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the NewSchools Venture Fund, USA, has just completed a seven month fellowship in New Zealand, visiting schools all over the country. His report is incredibly timely for us, just as we call upon everyone in the education community – teachers, parents and students – to demand better standards and appeal to scientific evidence for improved teaching practices worldwide.

In his report, he describes the Numeracy Project as one of two “vexing” issues. From the section “Suspicions around the Numeracy Project”:

‘At one urban decile 10 school,…the lead teacher responsible for mathematics suspected that the Numeracy Project had “swung the pendulum too far” in teaching strategies to solve maths problems rather than developing mathematical content knowledge and fluency in algorithms. A secondary school mathematics teacher…was even more critical: ‘They can say what they want, but repetition is key [to learning basic maths facts]. We almost need to start from scratch with students, and undo bad practices…Their basic number skills are bad. They come in and cannot divide at all. They do not see multiplication as multiple addition. Kids [are being given] too many strategies, they can’t decide which is better. In maths, there should be freedom…but there is also order.’

There is also a footnote with an enigmatic statement from the Ministry of Education:

‘After reviewing a draft of this report, the Ministry offered the following comment: “There are a number of studies locally which reach similar conclusions to those in the report, and which are consistent with international studies. These conclude that there is a need for more developed and fluent number knowledge in the early years and more systematic teaching in specific areas such as place value and early algebraic knowledge”. Whether this confirms the Numeracy Project is being phased out or not I’m not entirely sure.’

What do you think?