The Ministry of Education is brushing off a new report which claims to have uncovered a "rot at the core of schooling in New Zealand".
The New Zealand Initiative says Kiwi kids' declining success in literacy and maths is down to a focus on the "flawed philosophy" of "child-centred learning".
"We used to be the envy of the world," report author Briar Lipson told The AM Show on Wednesday.
"Just 20 years ago we were third in the whole world for reading and maths for 15-year-olds, and since then we've done nothing but decline. In reading we're now sixth, and 19th for maths."
At the same time as NCEA pass rates have climbed, our students have dropped in the international rankings.
"We follow what's called child-centred learning - that sounds like a no-brainer," said Lipson, who's behind the new report New Zealand's Education Delusion: How bad ideas ruined a once world-leading school system.
"Who doesn't want their child at the centre of decision-making about schooling? We don't want to have an old-fashioned schooling model where children are petrified of their teachers, sitting rows, rote-learning. But we've taken child-centred learning too far."
Lipson, who has frequently written and talked about perceived flaws in the NCEA qualification system introduced in the early 2000s, said children have too much freedom in class in how they learn.
The report "exposes how parts of the research community confuse evidence with values. It uncovers how curriculum and assessment policy rest on a flawed philosophy," she says.
"Though we want [students] to be independent ultimately, the route to independence is not to practise being independent. The route to creativity and independence is to do things like learning your times tables, construct a sentence, grammar, do your spellings. We've just got the balance wrong."
The New Zealand Initiative wants "mandatory standardised national assessments" and charter schools brought back, the curriculum to focus on "disciplinary knowledge, not competencies", and funding for "quantitative and generalisable research that rigorously tests properly formulated hypotheses about what might raise attainment".
The Ministry of Education told Newshub the international rankings Lipson quotes to show an apparent decline in education achievement measure "students' competencies towards the end of their compulsory education, and a great many factors influence their progress and learning during this time".
"NCEA is a measure of student attainment against curriculum expectations," said associate deputy secretary Pauline Cleaver.
"Since 2009, there has been an 11 per cent increase in those attaining at least NCEA Level 2 or equivalent, and this improvement is even more significant for Māori and Pacific students.
"New Zealand already has an evidence-based approach to teaching and improving literacy learning, and the New Zealand Curriculum already includes both knowledge and competencies.
"We are listening to and working with New Zealand teachers and leaders around what they need to implement the National curriculum to ensure equitable educational outcomes for all students."