There has been a strong reaction to the suggestion that students as young (or as old) as 10 or 11 be tested for literacy and numeracy and required to show competence at a certain level before advancing through NCEA.
National Radio, using not at all loaded language, described "new high-stakes NCEA tests in literacy and numeracy". "High stakes", as though we're talking about nuclear brinkmanship instead of children's ability to read, write and count.
Opposition has come from teachers, principals and associated trades – those who would have to do the work in other words.
Normally I'm sympathetic to teachers, theirs being one of those rare professions in which you can't please any of the people any of the time. But ...
Literacy and numeracy standards are complex subjects that can't be addressed without looking at, for instance, issues of race and class. Or even nutrition - next year's free school lunches are likely to improve many children's ability to learn.
But, listening to the educators this week, I'm hearing only opposition to the particular solution, when the emphasis should be on the need to do something about the problem. Although, encouragingly, intermediate and middle schools president Sharon Keen confirmed to National Radio that she thought literacy is important.
But not of a universally high level. Unfortunately, by some accounts, 40 per cent of young people who get level 2 NCEA don't meet basic literacy and numeracy standards.
That's one, possibly biased assessment but there's every reason to accept that kids are leaving school and struggling into adulthood unable to read write or do 'rithmetic as well as they could or should be able to.
So, what are those high stakes? If you struggle with literacy and numeracy at an early stage, you won't be forced to struggle even further behind as you advance through the school system without your weaknesses being addressed, which seems fair. Promoting kids ahead of their ability is just as damaging as holding them back to repeat a year, which by all accounts, happens only rarely.
Surely the sooner the problems are identified the better?
But rather than treating this as a case where they might acknowledge the problem and discuss ways to do something about it, educators are digging in their toes.
Kids have enough stresses already, without the pressure of tests, they say. Call them something else then. Call it a survey or assessment. It doesn't need to be stressful for kids. They don't even need to know it's happening.
Intermediate school principal Sharon Keen says there is a risk of schools going back to league tables. But the object is not to categorise kids up or down at the top or bottom of some meaningless list but to find out what they don't know so that can be remedied. Don't like league tables? Prohibit them.
We owe it to kids to check their progress and help them reach a high level of competence. We shouldn't think of this as testing their intelligence – we should think of it as vaccinating them against stupidity.
Principals Federation president Whetu Cormick said the change risked taking the focus away from the wider curriculum. Teachers would have to focus on reading, writing and maths at the expense of other subjects. To which the only reasonable response would be: how soon can they start?
Our education system assumes that literacy can be achieved through means other than reading Shakespeare or understanding poetry; by showing you can read an instruction manual for instance. That's true - but what sort of literacy? Maybe producing generations that have no interest in literature, poetry or drama is partly responsible for the rise of the soulless vulgarians who are now running the world.