Academic journal article Curriculum Matters

Caught in Between: How the Scientific Management of Education in New Zealand Made History History

Academic journal article Curriculum Matters

Caught in Between: How the Scientific Management of Education in New Zealand Made History History

Article excerpt


Scientific management theory (SMT) is based on state legislation to control education. It usually involves an outcomes-based curriculum, standards-based assessment, audit mechanisms, and an unquestioned commitment to "evidence-based" practice. This approach has been detrimental to the study of history, where a student's progress depends on the depth and breadth of their knowledge about the past rather than isolated, measurable, and transferable skills. History's predicament has been compounded by the way in which the SMT model has been implemented in New Zealand. Particular difficulties have arisen from the organisation of the curriculum around learning areas rather than subjects, as well as the development of standards-based assessment for history without an outcomes-based curriculum to work from. The revised New Zealand curriculum provides a small window of opportunity for history teachers to undermine the scientific management of their subject and to reintegrate curriculum, assessment, and evaluation.


In 2002, the Labour-led government implemented the final aspect of the scientific management model of educational control in New Zealand. After several false starts, the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) was finally rolled out over three years. It was heralded as a seamless qualification through which students would be recognised for their performance against predetermined standards. Scaled percentages and bell curves were a thing of the past. Despite the three levels of achievement (Achieved, Achieved with Merit, and Achieved with Excellence) that could be awarded in order to distinguish levels of achievement against each standard, the NCEA was a relatively pure form of standards-based assessment.

Philosophically, it appeared to sit comfortably with the outcomes-based New Zealand curriculum that had been introduced for seven essential learning areas from 1992. The curriculum, which specified outcomes for student attainment at each curriculum level, could now be summatively assessed, with national qualifications awarded accordingly. The Tomorrow's Schools reforms, energetically championed by the Prime Minister and Minister of Education, David Lange, between 1987 and 1989, had led to a vastly reduced educational bureaucracy. The Picot Report argued that many educational decisions should be made at the level that was most affected by them--the school (Wood, 1993). The state would maintain control of the curriculum and set National Educational Guidelines and National Administrative Guidelines (NEGs and NAGs) to point schools in the right direction. School inspectors were replaced with reviewers from the Education Review Office (ERO), who were to perform audits, ensuring that the boards of trustees were doing their job and that the government was getting value for its money. An era of "evidence-based" research about teaching and learning began and has escalated ever since. Boards of trustees and teachers were required to explain how they knew they were "adding value" to the education of each student. To this day there is an unquestioned commitment throughout the education sector to the idea that we need evidence to justify what we do.

Since the second term of the Fourth Labour Government (1987-1990) until the launch of the revised New Zealand curriculum, there has effectively been a bipartisan commitment to the scientific management of education by New Zealand's political parties. The political debate around NCEA has focused largely on problems with student motivation and the quality of examination papers, marking, and moderation rather than the legitimacy of standards-based assessment for high-stakes qualifications. Public debate about the revised New Zealand curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2007), and the draft curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2006) which preceded it, largely centred on its content and omissions rather than the philosophical underpinnings of an outcomes-based document. …

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