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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Student achievement

Billionaire Steven Jennings has blamed teachers as the cause of lower rates of achievement in low decile schools. Not only is the whole education system ‘failing’ according to Mr Jennings, but poor teaching and nasty unions are entrenching inequality for (predominantly) Maori and Pasifika students.

Of course, the facts suggest otherwise. Participation, retention and achievement for Maori and Pasifika learners is improving every year, while international surveys show that New Zealand teachers rate amongst the highest in the world. Further, Ministry of Education statistics actually show that when socioeconomic factors are controlled for, the achievement of students in lower deciles is comparable to those in higher decile schools.

While nobody would suggest that everything is rosy for all Maori and Pasifika learners (or, for that matter, all low decile, alternative education and special education students), a blanket pillorying of teachers because statistics show a percentage of these learners aren’t achieving at the same level as kids in higher decile schools is not only unjustified – it is deliberately misleading.

Prior to New Zealand’s entry into the ‘free market’ (where Mr Jennings began accumulating his massive wealth through his involvement in the selling down of state assets), 50% of secondary school students failed their national examinations. That was how the system worked. Nevertheless, many of these students had access into trades and employment in local industries which are now largely gone (a result of the deregulated ‘global market’ which moved manufacturing to the lowest wage economies in order to return the greatest profit). The greatest impact of such ‘free market reforms’ were of course on those groups who had previously worked in these industries – predominantly those who had not been on the right side of the bell curve at school.

While an education system that provided pathways into the types of work the society needed probably made some sense – sadly, the deregulation and competition that these reforms engendered saw a massive increase in inequality. That is, those who benefitted (such as Mr Jennings) did so at a time where the employment of ‘lower status’ workers became much more precarious.

Where were teachers in all of this? They, (through their unions), worked to change the system.

The development of a broader Curriculum in the early 2000s (with a focus on students being able to demonstrate their competencies against a range of objectives across and within curriculum areas rather than in a high stakes exam) paved the way for more students to achieve – (However, no assumption was made that this would mean all students would subsequently achieve all of them: The strengths and interests of learners are of course diverse). Sadly, the great strides taken by ‘lower decile’ students since this change have not yet been able to offset the entrenched deprivation of those communities whose jobs have been moved offshore because the labour is cheaper or who have found themselves victims of casualised and unsavoury employment practices.

The impacts of entrenched poverty should need little explanation: students whose families cannot afford food, uniforms, access to technological devices, students who arrive at school carrying the burden of stressed and at times help-less parents who exist from week to week and are afraid to check the letterbox for fear of the next bill - preparing these students for assessment is often not the same job.

Despite this, teachers are having an impact: the engagement and achievement of many of these students is increasing at a time where house prices make it difficult for even white collar workers to get on the ladder, by individualising learning programmes, building culturally responsive pedagogy and sharing best practice. And largely, they are doing it themselves (continuing with strategies to meet the needs of groups of learners even when the Ministry of Education stops funding proven programmes such as Te Kotahitanga).

Sadly, when billionaires are given a soapbox these facts don’t seem to be examined too closely. Instead, Mr Jennings suggests that 10% of teachers are failing (likely a calculation based on the fact that a tenth of teachers are in the lowest decile schools) and has even taken aim at teacher appraisal, saying 99% of teachers are promoted every year – a figure he appears to have plucked out of the air.

Here again Mr Jennings seems happy not to let the facts get in the way of a good time. Teachers are appraised against the 12 Professional Teacher Criteria every year (which involves classroom observations of their practice and providing evidence of their competency against these criteria), they undertake Professional Inquiry, must participate in Professional Development (which they often have to find and fund themselves – in their term breaks) and are increasingly held to account for the achievement rates of their akonga. In fact, the steadily increasing bureaucracy involved in teaching is causing some teachers to leave the profession – because it takes them away from teaching, exponentially increases the scope of their professional role (without providing access to professional support) and increasingly holds them accountable for redressing factors outside their control.

While those of us in the bottom 90% of earners might see it as pretty cynical to interpret high rates of promotion as suggesting we need more appraisal to weed out more teachers - it appears Mr Jennings has no such scruples. He, and other ‘educational experts’ such as Mainfreight Chairman Bruce Plested, suggest that Performance Pay for teachers is the answer. (One wonders how much extra teachers might be offered. Starting salaries are in the $40,000s -no wonder teachers can’t afford to live in Auckland). Ironically, if a Performance Pay model was implemented in New Zealand that took account of the additional hours teachers put in to provide education to students from diverse, impoverished and challenging backgrounds it would bankrupt the country. (An alternative economic model would be bulk funding where you cap how much $ there is and take the extra for the crème de la crème from those at ‘the bottom’: not so helpful in generating collaboration or retaining new grads one would imagine).

In contrast, Teachers and unions want all teachers to be supported to be great teachers. We take the view that this requires professional development and collaboration.

Even if you could create a set of criteria to gauge top performance that took account of the complexities of the job and the variance in what learners from different backgrounds bring, without access to mentoring, professional development, a significant reduction in bureaucracy and space to collaborate and share best practice the idea is fraught.

Where highly paid ‘expert’ teachers have been marketed in other countries they have failed spectacularly to bootstrap professional practice. Borrowing a model that says you rain money onto the top echelons at the expense of those at the bottom simply doesn’t work – it means you have less teachers willing or able to put themselves through the ringer, lower trust and a pecking order that erodes collective endeavour. Mssrs
Plested and Jennings need only look around to see what happens when you run this market ideology – you end up in precisely the situation they decry as our nation’s shame: massive inequality.

If you summarily dismiss 10% of the workforce as Mr Jennings does, or implement a more competitive model as Mr Plested sees fit to endorse, you increase class sizes for everyone left, create barriers (on top of the financial ones that currently exist) for our brightest and best to consider teaching as a career and continue the precedent of blaming teachers for things outside their control.

Of course, vilifying teachers as the cause of inequality and suggesting they need to be held to account with more draconian appraisal (for the princely sums they receive) is unlikely to help recruit and retain good teachers – there is already a supply crisis for teachers who can’t afford to live in Auckland and it appears that the Education Council are bumbling their way to erecting further barriers for relievers, itinerant teachers and new grads who can’t get permanent employment.

Surely as someone who has benefitted from deregulation, Mr Jennings’ can understand that increasing bureaucracy, demanding additional barriers to advancement and blaming teachers for social ills is unlikely to improve recruitment and retention of high quality teachers.
Unfortunately, this understanding is missing from his oligarchic pronouncements to our nation.

While it is acceptable for a man who surfed the wave of privatisation in the 1980s to have a personal view of the power of the market, perhaps he should turn his focus to ‘fixing’ Auckland housing – and let teachers teach.


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Posted by on in Education

President Angela Roberts submitted the following letter to The Listener, in response to its editorial of 15 October.  The Listener, in its usual biased fashion, slashed it to pieces, taking out all the arguments in favour of NCEA being a multi-field qualification, providing choice for students and valid assessment in subjects that don’t lend themselves to written exams, etc.  They removed all the words from “PPTA has argued since the 85% Level 2 goal was set…” right through to “instead of standards that stretch them”. 

At the same time, they published a letter from Professor Warwick Elley which argued that New Zealand should go the English way and cut back internal assessment dramatically, get rid of modular assessment, and abolish re-submission.   Elley also supported the Listener’s recommendation to reduce internal to no more than half the credits as “a good start”.   They also awarded it “Letter of the Week” – I hope he enjoys his copy of Nadia Lim’s Fresh Start Cookbook! 

Elley’s letter was at least as many words as Angela originally submitted, if not more!  That’s really partial editing of letters that are over the recommended length.   Don’t tell me that Listener Editor Pamela Stirling isn’t biased! 

The original letter

Dear Editor

Your editorial in the 15 October edition was mostly right on the nail, but it’s a pity you drew the wrong conclusion. 

Panning the government’s “bullish pressure on pass rates” was absolutely right.  PPTA has argued since the 85% Level 2 goal was set that a target like this is dangerous in the context of a standards-based qualifications system that contains significant amounts of internal assessment.

Your claim that there has been a “gradual makeover of NCEA into an extraordinarily permissive regime”, however, is nonsense.  NCEA has always been a “multi-field qualification”.  This means that students can enter standards from right across the Qualifications Framework to gain a certificate at a particular level. 

In the absence of a percentage target, this works fine.  Students, in consultation with their families and teachers, assemble assessment programmes that match their aspirations and abilities.  A student who is aiming for a career in the primary industries can assemble a programme made up of relevant curriculum subjects such as English, Maths and Science and also more applied study such as unit standards related to farming skills.  A student aiming for a career as a civil engineer, on the other hand, will do a programme focusing largely on Maths and Sciences. 

This kind of choice is what people from the pre-NCEA generations wish they had had, instead of the heavy academic focus and built-in 50% failure rates that left many people with no recognition at all for what they could do. 

However, pressure on schools to ensure that all of their students achieve NCEA Level 2 incentivises school leaders the wrong way.  It encourages them to demand that teachers find standards that students can be guaranteed to achieve, instead of standards that stretch them.  

The answer is not to cap the number of credits that come from internal assessment.  Our robust moderation system which produces teacher/moderator agreement rates at a level envied by the rest of the world means that internal assessment is just as reliable as external assessment.  Exams are often not a valid way of assessing the much wider range of learning that can be recognised through NCEA, and which a modern school system should be promoting.   How much of subjects like Horticulture or Drama, for example, can be validly assessed through written exams?  Very little. 

The solution is instead to stop measuring the system’s success through a percentage target.  We should focus instead on how well students do when they leave our schools.  That’s the true test of a successful school system.


Angela Roberts


PPTA President

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Posted by on in Teaching Profession

What teachers do

Nearly everyone has been to school so nearly everyone is an expert on schools and expert on the subject of  teachers and teaching.

So they say.

And while we grump about that saying and love Taylor Mali for his rebuttal  - we just sigh and flip the page or move on from the person trying to “bait the teacher.”  

It is incredibly important that we start and join conversations about our schools – about teaching and learning - and that we start doing this right away. 

We must not assume that people know what our secondary schools do. 

We must identify the strengths of our local secondary schools. 

We must identify the strengths of our teachers and of our students.

We should know the whakapapa of our school.

We should be able to explain how important our school  is to our community and explain what secondary schools do. 

We must be able to explain about teacher training – why teachers are expert in their fields and why they are expert in understanding how learning happens.

We must know what teacher registration requires and what it means.

We should also be clear that being expert in a subject isn't enough, caring about children isn't enough – you need to be a qualified teacher to be teaching our tamariki in our schools every day.

We should be uncompromising on the subject of teaching as a profession - and that we have the absolute right to be treated as trusted  and respected professionals.

We should expect no less for our students.

We should expect no less a valuing of our own work as secondary teachers. 

Leave no room for myths and anecdote, no longer remain silent, amenable and imply consent. Then we will see what value the government places on teachers, students, teaching and learning.


(with thanks to Edward Berger for his post "Saving community schools" http://edwardfberger.com/)


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Posted by on in Education

Our current Government loves to use words like 'efficiency' to mask its user-pays philosophy.

Hence, the current imbroglio around cutting the funding for curation services at the National Library can be laughed off as a necessary 'efficiency' - the resources are still there after all.

However, a more honest way of framing this sleight of hand is to say that the National Library is shifting the cost of bringing a collection of appropriate and engaging books directly to a student's lap, to schools.

There is, of course, a problem with this. In a highly-devolved system, such as we have in New Zealand, every time you remove a centrally-provided resource or support mechanism, you increase inequity of access to quality learning resources and experiences for our kids. When the National Library stops supporting schools in finding the most appropriate books in the collection for students, schools are left to do it for themselves.

This is most difficult for our poor, small, and rural schools.

They are the ones least likely to be able to find the cash or expertise to pick up yet another job being dumped by the government.

Efficient? Maybe.  Equitable? Not at all.


(Jack Boyle is the PPTA Executive member for Hutt Valley/Wairarapa. Letter published in Dominion Post 10 March 2015)


Library students WHS



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A tall tale? Jet Star needs pilots in order to cover their flights – they overpromised and are unable to operate without these pilots. They have approached Air NZ requesting Air NZ pilots fly Jet Star planes - at Air NZ's expense.  This  means Air NZ will have to reduce both domestic and international flights.

Air NZ has refused.

Jet Star managers are up in arms at Air NZ's refusal to cover.  They are encouraging their passengers to write opinion pieces to the papers and to comment in social media damning this divisive approach.


It seems that ACT supporters who encouraged the development of charter schools - an apparently different, new, innovative and exciting model of education  (and a well funded education model with - because charter schools can afford it - small class sizes) are now upset that local public schools (not as well funded) are saying they are not prepared to teach the charter school students.

Hang on a minute - isn't this supposed to be a new model of education? One that doesn't require qualified registered teachers? A model outside the state system - doing it differently.

Seems that for charter schools 'doing it differently' means - the ability to access and use for  free the teaching resources of state schools - so that the charter school extra funding  can be used elsewhere. The state schools are expected to juggle their resources for the benefit of the charter school.

Go figure.

If the charter school students will "miss out on opportunities" because they can't be taught in the state schools - then why was it we needed charter schools?

The NZ model of charter schools isn't about students. The NZ model of charter schools is about opening up the education market.

Lets close these schools before they open - stop the division - and resource all our state schools appropriately in order to support all our students.

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It's no surprise that a political spinmeister like Matthew Hooton would be so quick to leap to the defence of charter schools.American experience shows it is exactly people like himself, along with developers, consulting companies and of course, the self-styled "CEOs" of charter schools who make the big money and will be the real winners out of this political scam.

It's not about the kids. If it were, instead of parroting the minister's simplistic platitude about "the tail", Hooton would make an effort to understand the cause of under achievement and what might constitute a real solution to the problem.For a start, the 20% who are the cause of our concern happen to constitute the same 20% who grow up in extreme poverty, who are more likely to live in overcrowded dwellings, more likely to suffer from preventable health problems and more likely to live in families blighted by drug and alcohol dependency and mental health problems.As the Prime Minister's science advisor Sir Peter Gluckman has observed, there are no "quick fixes" to these problems; solutions, such as there are, will be multi-systemic and long term

Trumpeting charter schools then, as the answer to this complex array of problems is the educational equivalent of colour therapy.According to Hooton, it's ok to conduct educational experiments on other peoples' children because will lead to "new ideas".Sure Matthew; service academies, teaching creationism, and class sizes of 15 were all unknown until charter schools discovered them!One of the new charter schools has even announced it will be relying on local high schools for the delivery of core curriculum subjects "“ nothing new there.

Considering we are now pretty sure about what features of schooling make the difference for kids, such a level of ignorance is unforgiveable.The best education systems in the world don't go near charter schools instead they do some or all of the following. Firstly, politicians of all parties work together to develop and fund an education system that works for learners not the favoured few; political stunts designed to shore up coalition agreements rather than genuinely address under achievement would have no place in such regimes. Two, teachers are valued, well qualified, have good access to professional learning and work collaboratively. There is none of the denigration of teachers that is implied in the charter school agenda.Interestingly, the OECD has noted that a feature of top performing countries is a positive and consultative relationship with teacher unions.Three,the curriculum and assessment systemencourages innovation,flexibility and deep learningnot the anti-science mind control that is being proposed in some charter schools or the teach by numbers rote-learning advocated in others.Lastly, attention is paid to inequality.Schools are funded to address the range of health and welfare needs these students have rather than developing policy based on a belief in miracles.

Of course, these initiatives cost money; predictably the people who are the strongest supporters of charter schools are also most hostile to taxpayer money being spent on welfare and outrageous indulgences like ensuring students are healthy and well-fed.The existence of charter schools allows them to feel smug and satisfied by the glory of their own charitable instincts (paid for by the taxpayer what's more) while ensuring that the financial privileges their own offspring enjoy in schools such as Whanganui Collegiate, avoid scrutiny.

If PPTA members, having considered the case against charter schools, choose not to expend the professional capital they have acquired at great cost and over many years, providing succour to a political experiment in privatised education, that is their business.All these activities are, after all, done in their own time and out of their own good will.

As a cheerleader for competition and as an advocate for the promotion of self-interest above everything else, surely Hooton is not telling teachers that they should put extra time and effort into students in schools other than their own, given the risk that the external students could do better in league tables than the students for whom the teachers are directly responsible?

Make up your mind Matthew. Either we have a system that works cooperatively and collegially for the benefit of all students or we run our schools as profit-making, balkanised warring states and accept that a proportion of kids will lose out.We know what we side we are on and we are not about to apologise for that.

Angela Roberts PPTA presidentb2ap3_thumbnail_charterschools_advert_PPTA2013.jpg

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