january 2021

Racism at Mt Albert Grammar School

my shadow is black

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battling racism
at MAGS
 
 
 
 
 
 
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professional
development
at MAGS

beating head against brick wall

Mt Albert Grammar School (MAGS) is a racist institution. It would be very surprising if it were not, given the school's age and history. MAGS was established in 1922 as a satellite to Auckland Grammar School, with all the elitist ideas of a Grammar School. For many years it was a 'whites only' school. Few Maori lived in the area, and very few of those qualified for entry to secondary school. It was only in the years following World War II, with the urban drift of Maori to the cities and the migration of Pacific people to New Zealand that there was any browning of Mt Albert Grammar School. By that time the traditions of the school had been set, and brown boys were to fit in with these. Mt Albert Grammar School is a racist institution because it has structures which disadvantage one or more ethnic groups (structural racism). The school motto for Maori and Pacific could read "Per MAGS ad fossae"

Maori and Pacific disadvantage at MAGS is evident in a number of areas including

This piece is concerned with the impact of one structure, the school's prerequisite and streaming system on the academic achievement of Maori and Pacific at MAGS. There is no real debate that streaming disadvantages Pacific and Maori students. Streaming tells students that they are dumb. It results in lower expectations from teachers, students, and parents. Most important, it results in lower levels of Maori and Pacific achievement. MAGS, as a matter of school policy and tradition, does not permit many Maori and Pacific students to realise their academic potential. It does this by refusing them entry to academic courses and classes at senior school level.

In December 2019 the Ministry of Education produced a report, "Best Practice for Teaching Pacific Learners". On page 4 of that report is the comment that schools "direct[ing] many Pacific learners into courses that don’t align with their goals and aspirations, for instance, a learner who aspires to go to university being directed into a course that does not enable them to meet the University Entrance requirements, or a learner being channelled into a poorer quality course (due to low expectations)." The report recognises (p6) that streaming is an example of structural discrimination.

On page 24 the report comments "[Pacific learners] are also over-represented in streamed low achievement groups in secondary school, where they may also be disproportionately advised to aim for more technical unit standards-based coursework rather than academic-focussed achievement standards, thus limiting their future options. This differential means that inequitable opportunities accumulate across the school years for Pacific learners"

On page 27 the report quotes a 2017 study from Hattie and others "Effects [of streaming] on minority students are much more serious, with more minority students likely to be in lower ability classes, destined to low performance based on low expectations, and often with the least effective teachers."

The report (p46) describes low expectations as an insidous form of racism "limiting opportunities to access the full curriculum and build the critical thinking skills required for advanced learned and academic achievement directing many Pacific learners into unit standard courses, rather than those that will prepare them to achieve their aspirations, especially where this is likely to require a tertiary education."

In preparing this piece I was struck by the defensiveness of the school and its staff. When I emailed a deputy principal, T. Rex, after she made an unfortunate comment to one of our boys and said she did not realize how racist her comment was. The deputy responded by blocking further emails from me. The principal, Pat Drumm, has not replied to a letter from me. Paul Pa'u, a lawyer-consultant who acts for the school wrote suggesting that the boys I tutor should enrol at another school if they thought there was racism at MAGS. The school responded late to my first Official Information Act request, and Mr Pa'u dismissed the request as 'frivolous and vexatious'. The school did not respond at all to a second OIA request.

The school is well aware that it has a problem with Pacific student achievement at senior level, especially at year 13. The school knows this because the Education Review Office has noticed, has mentioned it in its 2018 report, and has asked the school why, and what the school intends to do about the achievement gap. I know this because of information supplied by ERO following an Official Information Act request. The figures in Table 1 were supplied by ERO.

According to the school the achievement gap is because of deficits in Pacific students. They choose vocational courses. The school disclosed a number of planned initiatives to ERO. These included setting up a Pacific Forum Group, building partnerships, and involving parents in course selection. Amazingly, the school made the point that 5-6 Maori and Pacific students each year are on a professional sporting pathway and that is why they did not achieve UE. MAGS associates sporting ability with lower academic achievement.

Table 1 below shows the percentage of year 13 students at MAGS who gained NCEA Level 3 or University Entrance (UE) in 2020, stratified by ethnicity

Table 1

 NCEA L3UE
Asian94.5% 84.4%
European92.3% 83.5%
Maori88.7% 62%
Pacific79.8% 38.8%

The figures were obtained from the NZQA.

The ethnic gap within the school is huge. Asian and European students are twice as likely as Pacific to leave school with University Entrance.

Taking the table above a step further, Table 2 below shows the proportion of level three (final high school year) credits gained by unit standards, internally assessed achievement standards, and externally assessed achievement standards by Mt Albert Grammar School students in 2019. The data are stratified by ethnicity and were obtained from the New Zealand Qualifications Authority through an Official Information Act request. In New Zealand there are three ways of gaining credits towards high school (NCEA) qualifications. Unit standards focus on employment skills or general lifeskills. They are for things like "demonstrate the safe use of..." or "Develop a plan for your own future direction". Achievement standards are of two types. Some are internally assessed (by the school). Others are externally assessed as the result of national examinations. "Demonstrate knowledge of time management" is a unit standard. It has a much lower academic rating than a pass in a calculus external examination.

Table 2

 Total CreditsUnit Standards Internal ASExternal AS
Asian2,789 9.3%52.7%38.0%
European4,430 7.0%57.8%35.2%
Maori900 25.3%51.6%23.1%
Pacific1,707 36.9%45.8%17.3%

The table shows that by year 13 Pacific students at Mt Albert Grammar School are more likely to be in vocational (unit standard) rather than academic (external assessment) courses than are Asian and European students. The MAGS data are consistent with the nationwide figures. I hope to show this another way by comparing the ethnic composition of the 2020 year 12 calculus, physics, and chemistry classes to the ethnic makeup of the 2019 year 11 cohort at MAGS. Unfortunately, the school has declined my Official Information Act request declaring it to be frivolous and vexatious with Mr Paul Pau, a lawyer-consultant who acts for the school, writing 'feel free to complain to the Ombudsman', which I have done. Should the Ombudsman recommend that the school provide the information sought I will be able to complete Table 3

Table 3

YearPercentage of students who are Maori or Pacific in
 Year 11 Y12 Calculus Y12 PhysicsY12 Chemistry Y12 Biology
2020       
2019       
2018       
2017       

The structure that leads to this disadvantage seems to be the school's prerequisite system. In order to advance to year 12 study of academic subjects students have to meet prerequisites set by the teaching staff at MAGS. The Board is not involved in this process. The bar to study calculus, physics, chemistry, biology, and even physical education in year 12 is set much higher at MAGS than at other schools with a large Pacific student base. Table 4 below compares the prerequisites to study these subjects at MAGS compared to those at Kelston Boys High School

Table 4

 Mt Albert Grammar School Kelston Boys' High School
Calculus 12MA1 : At least Merit in AS91035 (Multivariate data), AS91027 (Algebra) and AS91028 (Graphs) PLUS at least 60% in the MAGS Algebra Skills Test
 
no set prerequisites
Physics 12PY2: From 11SI1: Gained Merit of above in the Mechanics External AS90940 and at least Achieved in one other Level 1 Science External standard AND if in 11MA1 - at least Achieved in 91027 (Algebra MCAT External)
 
12PHY: A minimum of 10 credits from Level 1 Science
Chemistry 12CM2: A student coming from the 11SI1 course must have gained at least a Merit grade in the Science Achievement Standard (Acids and Bases standard) paper and an Achieved in one other Science standard.
 
12CHE: A minimum of 12 credits from Level 1 Science.
Biology 12BI2: A student coming from the 11SI1 course must have gained at least a ‘Achieved’ grade in AS90948 Genetics and Achieved in one other science external paper
 
12BIO: A minimum of 12 credits from Level 1 Science.
Physical Education 12PF1 : At least 16 credits in Level 1 Performance (11PF1 & 11PF2 & 11PFR & 11OE1) including Merit or better in AS90963 12PED : Achieved 14+ credits in Level 1 PE and achieved standard 90963 (1.2)

Why does MAGS set higher prerequisites for entry into academic year 12 courses? At Kelston it seems that a student can 'change lanes' and study physics, for example, at year 12 level even if he has gained no credits in physics at year 11. By year 12 a number of Pacific students at MAGS have been excluded from academic streams, and the unnecessarily high barrier set by the prerequisite system is possibly an important reason for this.

It is possible that the teaching staff at MAGS accept the quality of their teaching is poor, and so in order to have a reasonable prospect of success MAGS students need to be much better prepared than students at Kelston Boys'. However, this is an unlikely explanation. It would be interesting to see the results of reviews into the prerequisite system at MAGS. I made an Official Information Act request for these reviews. Unfortunately, the school has declined my Official Information Act request declaring it to be frivolous and vexatious with Mr Paul Pau, a lawyer-consultant who acts for the school, writing 'feel free to complain to the Ombudsman', which I have done.

One lad who wants to study engineering at university had his choices of calculus, physics, and chemistry declined, and he was placed in “gateway” ( a work experience course), learning support, and Hospitality and Cooking. The difference in lifetime earnings between an engineer and an average Pacific male is around two million dollars.

I complained to the Board about the treatment of another of the boys I tutor. After drifting through his first few years at MAGS he has decided that he wants to try to get University Entrance. He has met the requirements of NCEA Level 1 and at the end of year 11 has 63 of the 80 credits he needs for NCEA Level 2. This lad is not going to be Dux, but he is sharp enough to get University Entrance. I wrote "My complaint is that, against his wishes, the school has removed him from courses which might result in his achieving University Entrance and placed him in unit standard based or terminating courses. This is the result of the rigid application of the school’s prerequisite system". For whatever reason, my complaint to the Board finished up with Paul Pa'u who said that if we thought there was racism at MAGS the best outcome would be for this boy to enrol at another school. He described the complaint as 'frivolous and vexatious', and said the complaint was an attempt to bully the school. Once again, UE would make a huge difference (around one million dollars in lifetime earnings) for this young man in his preferred career.

How the prerequisite system works to disadvantage Maori and Pacific students at MAGS

The MAGS prerequisite system has four parts.

The first, and most important part sets a cap on the number of students who can study calculus, physics, chemistry, and biology in year 12. Everything else is about ensuring that Asian and European students get the lion's share of places on these courses.

The second step is to persuade brown kids that subjects like calculus and physics are too hard, while persuading European and Asian students that these subjects are essential. The school does this very well. When I talked to one of the year 11 boys I tutor about studying calculus next year he said "calculus is not for coconuts".

The third step, and this is openly racist, is to establish a prerequisite system and to set the prerequisites unnecessarily high, knowing that European and Asian students are much more likely to get "merit" and "excellence" endorsements than are Maori and Polynesian students. At most schools, if you pass year 11 external examinations, then there is no problem studying the subject at year 12. That's the way the system is designed. But at MAGS to study a science at year 12 students need a merit level pass in that year 11 external examination, and a pass in the external examination for another science as well. In maths, well this is brilliant, the school requires merit level passes in standards that most Pacific students don't study, so they have no chance of being accepted into year 12 calculus. Someone at the school knows their Joseph Heller.

The fourth step, and it's just the icing really, is to offer places in courses as prerequisites are met. European and Asian students tend to meet the prerequisites early, so should a brown kid reach the arbitrary prerequisites set by the school he or she can be told the course is full.

MAGS does not allow all students who have reasonable prospects of success to study academic, particularly STEM, subjects at year 12 and year 13. MAGS has restricted the number of places available in these subjects and uses the prerequisite system as an ethnic filter to ensure that European and Asian students (the 'best' students) have preferential entry.

There are two alternatives to the current system that would increase the number of Maori and Pacific students studying STEM subjects at senior level. The first is to increase the number of STEM classes, while lowering the prerequisites. This would allow all students with reasonable prospects of success to study calculus, physics, chemistry, and biology in years 12 and 13.

The second is to adopt a policy that the ethnic composition of STEM subject classes should reflect the ethnic composition of year 12. So, if 20% of year 12 are Pacific, then 20% of places in year 12 calculus are reserved for Pacific students.

Four of the year 11 students I tutor applied to study calculus at year 12 level. All were declined entry to the course. These boys have been receiving some tutoring in calculus and, right now, before the school year begins three have been assessed by a mathematics teacher with 15 years experience as being at 'achieved' level.

The MAGS prerequisite system is racist because it acts as an ethnic filter, blocking students with reasonable chances of success from studying academic subjects at year 12 level. In my first Official Information Act request I asked for copies of "all reviews of the school’s prerequisite policy made since 2015" as well as "copies of all reports since 2015 to the Board relating to the academic performance of Pacific and Maori students, as well of copies on all internal and external correspondence relating to those reports". That request was refused by the principal, through Mr Pa'u, on the ground that it was "frivolous and vexatious".

I hope to be able to show how the prequisite system acts an ethnic filter to exclude Maori and Pacific students from STEM subjects at year 12 level, but am reliant on the Ombudsman recommending that the school provide information requested under the Official Information Act in order that Table 5 below can be completed.

Table 5

 Total Pacific Maori Asian European
Number of Y11 students who applied to study Y12 calculus, physics, chemistry, or biology in 2021         
Number of students accepted into the course prior to the school’s internal (prerequisite) exams         
Number of students accepted into the course following the school’s internal exams and prior to November 9, 2020         
Number of students accepted into the course following the release of external examination results         
Number of students declined entry to the course         

I expect the data to show that Maori and Pacific students are less likely to apply to study calculus and science at year 12 level, and if they do apply they are more likely to be declined entry.

the pillars of structural racism at MAGS

Structures are supported by pillars. The structural racism in academic achievement is supported by a number of pillars. From the top down they are

MAGS Board of Trustees The Board of Trustees The seating structure in this photo says it all. The front row is middle aged male, Pakeha and Asian. Women are in the second row. Maori are at the back and on the edges. Pacific aren't in the frame. This is not a Board that can either recognise or confront racism. The Board declined my Official Information Act request for a copy of the minutes of its 2019 and 2020 meetings. Several requests to the Board secretary as to the time, date, and place of the next Board meeting have not been answered,
Patrick Drumm The Headmaster Patrick Drumm has declined to engage in a discussion about racism at MAGS. He did not reply to my letter, and through Mr Pa'u recommended that any student who felt there was racism at MAGS should enrol at another school. He rejected, once again through Mr Pa'u, my first Official Information Act request as 'frivolous and vexatious' and ignored my second. Unfortunately for Mr Drumm this is not an issue that will go away if he ignores it. The school is racist, and if Mr Drumm will not confront the issue Pacific and Maori students will continue to incur lifetime economic costs until he moves on. I love Mr Drumm's hypocrisy. He expects students to obey school rules, all of them, but he can decide which of the country's laws he obeys, and the timeframes in the OIA do not apply to him.
Tanya Rose The Principal's Nominee T. Rex, a deputy principal, finds the suggestion that she is racist, or could make a racist comment, offensive. It's odd that she sees herself, a middle aged white woman, as a better judge of whether her comment was racist, than the 15 year old Samoan boy who received that comment. T. Rex oversees the prerequisite system at MAGS. She has done an enormous amount of damage over the last few years in excluding Maori and Pacific students from academic courses where they had reasonable prospects of success and overseeing their placement in terminating or vocational courses. The effect has been to ensure that many Pacific students who could have owned their own home, for example, will now never earn enough to do so.

Structural Racism as a cloak for individual racism

Structural racism flourishes in the presence of individual racism. MAGS is an environment where racism by teachers and staff is enabled. By racism, I don't mean notions of white superiority. I do mean notions like "Asians are better at maths", "Pacific boys are better at sports", which lead directly to the "soft bigotry of low expectations". If one takes a walk through MAGS, the first XV (rugby) is brown, the scholarship classes are European and Asian. The message is clear, and the school does nothing to dispel the notion that Maori and Pacific boys, well, they're just not as bright as European and Asian students. That message pervades the school, all the way from the Board to the students. This is why the Board accepts lower levels of academic achievement by Maori and Pacific students, and this is why the Pacific boys I tutor think calculus is not for coconuts.

The staff just do not understand what we mean today by racism. We no longer mean comments like "you dumb black B@%^!". We mean comments that are perceived as racist by the person who receives them, regardless of the intent of the teacher. When T. Rex made her odd comment to one of my students I asked him why she said that. He replied "Because she thinks I cheated. She thinks I'm too dumb to have done that by myself". When I asked why she would think that he said "Because I'm Samoan". Yes, T. Rex, your comment was racist because it was perceived as racist.

Staying with T. Rex for a little longer. One of the year 11 boys I tutor has set his sights on getting University Entrance in two years time. He was in the bottom maths stream and needs to go up a class, but is blocked by the prerequisite system. He needs to pass three Achievement Standards but has only passed two. We entered him in two maths external exams in September. Both covered material he had not been taught at MAGS. T. Rex was his maths teacher. She knew he had passed the unit standard numeracy bundle (through a non-MAGS provider), and was entered into the external examinations, but spent the last four weeks of class covering the unit standard material he had already passed, not the external exams. T Rex's expectations were self-fulfilling. The lad did not achieve either of his maths external examinations, but enrolled at the tekura summer school in a mathematics achievement standard which he achieved with merit. If this had been an Asian student making a late entry into scholarship I believe T Rex would have covered scholarship material. But for a 'dumb Samoan', nah. Yes, T. Rex,I think your actions show that you have lower academic expectations of Maori and Pacific students. If that is true, you are a racist.

Maori and Pacific students do less well academically at year 13 level than European and Asian students at MAGS. In education, teacher expectations are self-fulfilling. If a teacher expects less from a Maori or Pacific student he or she will get less from that student. This is well established. MAGS could learn a lot from Hastings Boys High School, a Maori majority school, where there are high expectations of all students and where 90% of Maori in year 13 gain NCEA level 3 and 54% leave school with UE. That headmaster writes "We have in place an expectation of Maori achievement based on potential, not deficit."

One more example. Another of our Pacific boys decided during the year that he would like to be an engineer, and set his sights on studying engineering at Auckland University. He had not taken general science as a year 11 subject at MAGS and so was declined entry to the three science subjects he applied to study at year 12. Instead, a dean, knowing this boy was aiming for university placed him in Hospitality and Cooking, Gateway (a pre-employment course) and Learning Support (for students who really, really struggle in the classroom). This is a golden example of MAGS "directing ... Pacific learners into unit standard courses, rather than those that will prepare them to achieve their aspirations." Once again, I don't think the teacher would have done this for a European or Asian student aiming for university. You Andy, you are a racist. I tutored this young man in the three externally assessed science standards in the period August-November and he achieved all three.

Empowering students to confront racism from teachers - "that's a bit racist, eh Miss"

Students recognise racism from teachers. They recognise hypocrisy, and they recognise bullying. However, programmes to address these only deal with peer to peer racism and bullying.

We aim to empower youth to say "that's a bit racist, eh" to teachers and staff at MAGS. The trick then is to teach students how to avoid being drawn into a discussion or argument. When challenged by the teacher to justify their opinion the response must be along the lines of "I'm not going to argue with you, but I think that's a bit racist". If matters get tense, we would love the student to be able to 'phone a friend' and have an advocate talk to the staff member.

But Mr Drumm says there is no evidence of racism at MAGS

In one of his early emails to me, Paul Pa'u wrote "there is absolutely no evidence of racism at MAGS." Mr Pa'u is just wrong. I know he's a lawyer so the truth is whatever he is paid to say it is, but this lie is egregious. The evidence is there and Mr Drumm simply refuses to acknowledge it. I don't want to make a better argument for the school than Mr Drumm could do himself, but here's one approach.

Mr Drumm could argue that there is an achievement gap between Maori and Pacific students on the one hand and European and Asian students on the other when students commence at MAGS in year 9. He could go on to say that the school has devoted considerable resource to closing that gap, with the formation of the runanga and the establishment of Pacific Deans, among other things. The school offers additional tutoring aimed specifically at Maori and Pacific students (e.g the Pacific science club). The school has been more succesful at closing the gap than most schools and it is now only evident at year 13 level.

Mr Drumm could say that the reason Pacific students are more likely to be placed in vocational rather than academic courses at year 13 is because they choose those courses. He could go on to say that the prerequisites are high for calculus and for science courses at senior level because students taking these courses intend to study them at university and an 'achieved' grade is not adequate preparation for university level study.

Mr Drumm could also say that the school has zero tolerance for racism, at any level in the school, and has policies to this effect (except it has no such policies). He could say that complaints of racism are taken seriously by the school, except they are not. Mine was dismissed as 'frivolous and vexatious'.

But Mr Drumm has not said any of these things. He has not attempted to defend the school. He has chosen to ignore the criticism.

What do the students think?

The programme I am involved in has recently been subject to peer review. The reviewer has written (with reference to MAGS)

"As evidenced by the young men’s eager engagement with learning in this programme, which contrasted their feelings of discrimination and marginalisation in the classroom at their respective schools, there are significant learnings that the formal education system can take from this programme. Greater academic gains could definitely be made if the boys’ secondary schools were more receptive and supportive of the work being done within and by this programme."

Ending Racism at MAGS

The goal, of course, is the removal of structural racism at MAGS. My experience is that this can't be driven from outside the school, although external advice and professional development will be required. There needs to be an internal champion, and the pillars of structural racism need to be addressed.

External pressure is important, and posts like this are useful. My role is to widen that external pressure, and the Ombudsman's investigation (yes, the Ombudsman has decided to investigate) may be very influential if it enables staff and the Board to escape from the shackles imposed by Mr Drumm.

There is the outside possibility that the Education Review Office might be helpful. Its 2018 report was glowing but did contain “Some ethnic and gender disparities are evident in NCEA Level 3 and in University Entrance data. These outcomes are affected to some extent by senior students’ pathways decisions. School leaders are implementing systems that are now trialled and proven to attain greater parity for all Year 13 students” and went on to recommend “For sustained improvement and future learner success, priorities for further development are in…leadership inquiry into NCEA Level 3 achievement for Māori and Pacific students.” The good thing is that once ERO identifies an issue, it doesn't let go. However, it can take a decade for ERO to criticise a school (look at how long ERO let Papakura High perform poorly).

At this stage it is probably too much to expect any of the brown faces on the Board or senior staff to speak up. They may genuinely believe that Maori and Pacific students just aren't as clever as Asian and Europeans. Staff can't be expected to put their jobs at risk, and Board members may have other priorities. It is very clear that Mr Drumm won't permit a conversation about racism at MAGS to begin. He is secure in his position and to a large extent that is the end of the matter unless the Ministry responds to external pressure, or the Board decides to intervene. However, racism will persist at MAGS for as long as the staff and Board do nothing.

If it took place, professional development may take a route something like this. Attendees will be presented with the data which shows that fewer Maori and Pacific students meet the preresquisites for studying STEM subjects at year 12 level, and there will be two main responses, both denying that racism is in play here. The first response will be that Pacific students don't choose these subjects. No-one will go so far as to say that Pacific students aren't "suited" for mathematics and the sciences. The second response will be that the prerequisites are there to save students from themselves. Students who aren't accepted into these subjects don't have reasonable prospects of success. Their academic preparation is inadequate. If the school allowed poorly prepared students to take these subjects it would be setting them up to fail. Someone might go so far as to say that it would be unethical to let a student choose these courses and fail when the same student could have passed if other courses had been chosen.

There is not a lot to be gained by engaging with these comments. In my experience, a better next question is to ask staff whether the ethnic composition of year 12 'academic' classes should, maybe not today but at some stage, mirror the ethnic composition of the year 12 cohort. If the New Zealand population is 20% Maori or Pacific then shouldn't 20% of doctors, of engineers, of teachers, also be Maori or Pacific? This is a complex issue, and most of the time workshops draw a distinction between customer facing and behind the scenes roles.

The third part of the session asks the question "If we did want to get more Pacific students achieving University Entrance in STEM subjects what would we do?" This workshop can be greatly assisted by student quotes, ideally but not necessarily, from students at the school.

Some Background

MAGS is not the only racist school in New Zealand. Racism is recognised as being present throughout our education system and one of the goals of the Action Plan for Pacific Education 2020-2030 involves confronting racism in the sector.

Streaming, way back in the early 1900s, was seen as a way of providing for the needs of children with greater future potential. At that time the notion of IQ had been developed and it made sense that more intelligent kids could learn faster and should be taught together. That was the thinking when MAGS was founded in 1922. Unfortunately, there is no simple test of 'future potential'. What streaming does is select children with 'past advantage' and provide them with a better education. In the UK streaming reinforces and perpetuates that society's class structure (as Grammar schools have always done). In the USA streaming segregates on the basis of race, so although black Americans are no longer taught in separate schools they are taught in different classrooms. This is what happens at MAGS. One effect of this, well recognised in the North American literature, is that streaming promotes ideas of racial superiority. If white and Asian students predominate in the top classes, white and Asian students will tend to think that they are better, or at least cleverer, than Maori and Pacific students.

It has been shown that NZ teachers, certainly in secondary school mathematics, have lower expectations of brown students, and that those expectations are self-fulfilling. It's not that teachers are good at predicting how well students will do. The truth is that students from whom the teacher expects little, receive little from the teacher and receive fewer opportunities. As a result their achievement is lower. Low expectations are a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Prerequisites are of limited relevance to academic success. It has been shown time and time again that students without the prerequisites for a course do at least as well as students with the prerequisites. There is just no doubt that at MAGS the prerequisite system acts as an ethnic filter to exclude Maori and Pacific students with reasonable prospects of success from academic courses or streams that lead to university study. Mr Drumm and the school refuse to discuss why the prerequisites are set so high, and why students who aren't so well prepared could not be assisted by extra tutoring during the year. By refusing to engage, Mr Drumm leaves open the inference that the purpose of the prerequisite system is to exclude Maori and Pacific students from university.

MAGS has put in place a number of prerequisites which put year 12 calculus out of reach of the vast majority of Pacific and Maori students. Those prerequisites include a requirement that students have a 'merit' endorsement in the level 1 Achievement Standard AS91027 (Algebra) as well as a 'merit' endorsement in the Level 1 Achievement Standard AS91028 (equations and graphs). Table 6 below records the results of students in the Level 2 calculus exam in 2019, stratified by their results in the Level 1 algebra standard. The figures were provided by the NZQA.

Table 6

  NA A M E
Level 2 Calculus Grade 29.9% 30.7% 24.4% 15%
Level 1 Algebra Not Taught (NT) 34.9% 28.7% 22.2% 14.2%
Level 1 Algebra Not Achieved (NA) 76.9% 20.0% 2.9% 0.2%
Level 1 Algebra Achieved (A) 47.5% 37.7% 13.0% 1.8%
Level 1 Algebra Merit (M) 19.9% 35.9% 31.8% 12.5%
Level 1 Algebra Excellence (E) 5.2% 15.6% 35.4% 43.8%

The table shows that the level 1 algebra standard is not required for success at level 2 calculus. Students who had not been taught this standard were as likely to get merit and excellence endorsements in calculus as students who had been levle 1 algebra. By requiring a merit grade in the level 1 algebra standard MAGS excludes, at year 10 level, Maori and Pacific students from engineering and other careers where calculus is required. It does this through streaming, as only the top maths stream is taught the algebra standard and that stream is established in year 10.

So what difference can an out of school programme make?

The eleven year 11 MAGS boys I was involved with in 2020 gained credits both from MAGS and through PAMT, the organisation Tamaki Sports Academy works with. They also gained 1 Covid credit (learning recognition credit) for every four earned credits.

Table 7 records the sources of credits for these 11 youth

Table 7

  MAGS PAMT  
Student Internal External Internal External Covid Total
AL 32 12 61 0 16 121
BJ 80 8 35 0 16 139
FL 72 12 0 0 16 100
FM 83 4 23 0 16 126
HD 47 8 35 0 16 106
KS 70 20 35 16 16 157
LT 80 0 35 0 16 131
PA 67 16 45 4 16 148
TC 56 4 33 0 16 109
TH 55 44 23 4 16 142
TL 73 12 20 0 16 121
TOTAL 715 140 345 24 176 1400

All 11 gained NCEA Level 1 but three of the 11 (AL, HD, and TC) needed credits from outside MAGS to get them over the line. One of the 11 (AL) gained the majority of his credits from outside MAGS.

In order to gain entry into year 12 maths and/or science classes four of the 11 sat external examinations in subject areas they were not taught at MAGS and had reasonable success. Table 8 below provides more detail about these four.

Table 8

Only one of the four boys who wished to pursue science at year 12 level studied general science, or a specific science, in year 11. He obtained "Not Achieved" grades in all three papers (Mechanics, Acids & Bases, Genetics) in the school's internal exams. Two of the students (KS and TH) were in the top non-Asian (their words) Level 1 maths stream.

Achievement Standard Internal Exam Result External Exam Result
student AL KS PA TH AL KS PA TH
Maths AS91031 Apply Geometric Reasoning NT NA NT NA NT A NT NA
Maths AS91027 Equations and Graphs NT A NT NA NA NA NA A
Maths AS91037 Chance and Data NT NT NA NT NA A A A
Science AS90940 Mechanics NT NT NT NA NA A NA A
Science AS90944 Acids & Bases NT NT NT NA NA A A A
Science AS90948 Genetics NT NT NT NA NA A NA A

"NT" = Not Taught at MAGS
"NA" = Not Achieved
"A" = Achieved

MAGS operates a streaming system. Classes which end in a '1' are endorsable (i.e students can obtain a merit or excellence endorsement in the subject at that level). Classes which end in a '2' meet the minimum requirements for endorsement. Classes which end in a 3 are not endorsable (usually as these do not include any externally assessed standards) while those which end in a '4' are fully assessed through unit standards.

In mathematics none of these four students met the prerequsities for entry to calculus. We have decided that 12MA2 will be fine for all four, with our programme providing tutoring for the calculus and algebra external standards which will not be taught through MAGS.

KS is the student who wants to study engineering at Auckland University. He was declined entry to calculus, physics, chemistry, and space and earth science at MAGS, instead being placed in 12FH4, 12GW4, and 12LF4 by the school. It's possible the school also placed a number of Asian and European students who, before the commencement of external examinations, had achieved NCEA Level 1 and had achieved 20 credits at level 3 in these cabbage courses. It's possible. More likely though this is a straightforward example of racism overseen by T Rex.

What subjects did our boys finish up studying in 2021?

AL is the youth who wants to have a go at obtaining UE. The school had placed him in one '1' stream (photography), one '2' stream (English) three '3' streams and a '4' stream. This was not a UE pathway. Although AL had no success in the external exams he did well at summer school gaining an 'excellence' and a 'merit' grade. These were enough to lift him out of the terminating level 2 maths course the school had placed him in, but he was still denied entry to level 2 Physical Education (despite gaining a 'merit' and an 'excellence' endorsement in standards in this subject). Ah well, we wait on the Ombudsman to look at how MAGS streams Pacific boys away from academic achievement. He will be receiving calculus and algebra tutoring outside MAGS in my 'Calculus for Coconuts' class and will sit these two additional external exams

KS is the young man who developed engineering ambitions during 2020. Before the external examinations results were known he had been accepted into the top ('1') stream for two subjects, and had one subject in the '2' stream (maths, but he will be receiving calculus and algebra tutoring outside MAGS in my 'Calculus for Coconuts' class and will sit these two additional external exams). When he wasn't allowed entry into science classes and declined to choose replacement subjects the dean placed him in three '4' streams. KS is already a national sporting representative. Perhaps the dean wasn't just being racist. Maybe there was an element of 'UE is not for Pacific students on a pathway to professional sport' in the decision making as well. KS has been taken out of the '4' streams and placed in physics, chemistry, and earth science.

PA didn't seek to change any of the courses he had been accepted into by MAGS. In 2021 he will be studying three subjects in the top '1' stream, one subject in the '2' stream (maths, but he will be receiving calculus and algebra tutoring outside MAGS in my 'Calculus for Coconuts' class and will sit these two additional external exams), one subject in the '3' stream and a trade course (a '4' stream subject). At the beginning of 2020 this young man had no intention of going to university. Now, he is keeping that door open.

TH was declined entry to chemistry and placed in Health Education. The school had placed him in six top ('1') streams. After the external exam results came out he reapplied to chemistry and applied to move from his maths with statistics class (MS1) to a lower stream maths class (MA2) where there was only one achievement standard difference in the curriculum for the year - MA2 has a trigonometry standard in place of the 'design a questionnairre' in MS1. He will be receiving calculus and algebra tutoring outside MAGS in my 'Calculus for Coconuts' class and will sit these two additional external exams. TH's requested course changes were accepted.

Us and MAGS in 2021

In 2019 one of our students left MAGS with NCEA Level 2 and advice from a Pasifika teacher that if he wished to pursue a career in sport and recreation he could enrol in a certificate course for 2020. We encouraged this young man to enrol in summer school at tekura where completed the requirements of NCEA Level 3 and of University Entrance. In 2020 he completed two semesters of university study towards a degree in sport and recreation. We improved MAGS stats for the year, with an additional Pacific student credited with both NCEA Level 3 and UE.

In 2020, three of the boys we are involved with achieved NCEA Level 1 because of the additional credits obtained through us. As there are about 120 Pacific students in year 11, we have once again made MAGS look better. This time by lifting the NCEA pass rates for this group by 2.5% We have also increased the number of Pacific students aiming to leave school with University Entrance.

We have done these things in the face of active opposition from MAGS. Our peer reviewer is no doubt correct to say that the gains in student achievement would be greater if our relationship with the school was better, but improvement seems unlikely when the school refuses to meet or to talk with us. We would be quite happy if MAGS just got out of the way, and let those Pacific and Maori youth who want to do well academically get on with doing so.

It would be very helpful if the Ministry of Education relaxed the dual enrolment gateways so that students streamed out of academic courses could study those at correspondence school. Asian and European students, those with wealthy parents, are able to study courses at Crimson Global Academy as well as courses at their main 'school'. The government, despite accepting that racism is widespread in secondary schools, has not funded this simple measure to enable students a possible way to avoid racism at schools such as Mt Albert Grammar.


 
 
 
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