Pigeonhole

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Posted by on in Uncategorized

It’s fair to say that most people in New Zealand and indeed most of the world at least pay lip service to human rights. The best and most widely known expression of human rights is of course the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which most countries have signed up to, and we were one of the first.

Of course many people in positions of power violate these rights, while at the same time claiming to uphold them – everyone from Putin and the Saudi government to Tony Abbot, and arguably at times the NZ government too. But generally speaking, there aren’t many people who outright deny or repudiate them.

People who do straight up deny human rights tend to be extremists on the marginal fringe of established belief systems, the types of people who don’t generally get invited to dinner parties or sporting events.

Except that there’s one human right that a bunch of apparently ‘regular’ people do straight up deny – and that’s the right to belong to a trade union – article 23 (4) of the UDHR.

Belonging to a trade union means organising, and negotiating en masse with an employer rather than individually.

If you don’t think that people should be able to bargain collectively with their employer, you’re a human rights denier.

And yet we give plenty of people like this voices in the media, positions of influence, and even seats in parliament. (Scroll down to Seymour’s speech).

I’m definitely not saying that we shouldn’t allow this radical fringe opinion to be expressed, or that any human rights deniers shouldn’t be allowed to (generally speaking) say whatever they want.

 

Simply, they should be subjected to the same incredulity and public odium as we give people who deny others the right to change religion, or marry who they want, or not be a slave.  

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Posted by on in Education

b2ap3_thumbnail_Housing_and_Development_Board_flats_near_Woodlands_Avenue_7_Singapore.jpg

 

Lack of trust of ‘punters in punterland’ (as Don Brash put it so elegantly) is a common trait in a certain breed of politician.

So it’s no great surprise to see democratic institutions undermined by this current lot. And it’s not just Educanz, the shortcomings of which readers of this blog will be familiar with. ECan (what’s with those letters?) saw elected representatives dumped in 2010, (seemingly, because they weren’t doling out water rights to dairy farmers efficiently enough). And now they’re replacing it with a partly elected and partly appointed body. Nick Smith, the Minister in charge’s line is that a fully democratic body is too risky.

But hold the phone – even ECan gets a majority of members who are elected (seven to six), unlike Educanz.

Minister Parata’s response to the critics seems to be to simply wag her finger and sigh, with the superiority of someone who’s in their office thanks to elections but doesn’t really trust the people who put her there.

We don’t need elections, she says, because the ‘skill set’ that the people on the new Educanz council will have must be ‘transparent, and she will appoint people who meet the skill set (around the 14.40 mark, here ). Right oh then. She decides what is valued in that ‘skill set’ and then gets to decide who meets it. It’s a technocrat’s wet dream – no messy elections and contest of ideas, just the ‘best people for the job’.

Of course, low voter turn-out for the Teachers Council elections hasn’t helped our case. But the same argument could apply elected reps on a whole bunch of institutions from school boards of trustees to local authorities (and university councils, which are getting the Educanz treatment right now). No doubt there are people around the cabinet table with Parata who’d be dead keen to do that.  

What’s really ‘too risky’ is allowing this gradual erosion of democracy and public accountability. Even corporate boards of publicly listed companies are elected by shareholders. And if teachers aren’t ‘shareholders’ in the regulation and status of the profession, I don’t know who is. 

 

(The image is of Singapore - appropriate because it's a technocrat's paradise, where democratic institutions are so weak that newspapers regularly print Minister's announcements verbatim without any critique.)

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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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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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Ngāi Tahu announced today that they are considering a 1900s business model.  The model is not unfamiliar to New Zealanders, definitely not unfamiliar to Māori.

This is the model where a person supposedly representing the collective - in the interests of a business opportunity - sells something sacred to a 'rich' white man.

Because the man - from across the water - knows better than those who are tāngata whenua. Otherwise 'the man' wouldn't be so rich.

In this case Ngāi Tahu are thinking about importing an American model of education - they are putting education Aotearoa on the auction block to be stripped, sold, badly used and then discarded.

Ngāi Tahu are thinking of shunning kōhanga, kura, wharekura, models like Te Kōtahitanga, all the work of tāngata whenua in education - for a rich man from across the water, one whose political hero and pen-pal was Ronald Reagan

 

 

 

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The Ministry of Education put out a bit of propaganda a few months back that Cam Slater and his cronies seized on with glee. It tried to prove that charter schools aren’t really all that expensive, and that they actually are funded less than public schools.

It ignores a whole bunch of inconvenient facts.

1. When the state invests millions of dollars in a new school, it’s getting an asset that it owns. The school property portfolio is worth over $10 billion. Unused school sites are regularly sold. A charter school, if it buys its property, like the Whangaruru one, owns the assets themselves, and if they go belly-up, can walk away with whatever they’ve bought, paid for by the taxpayer. Funnily enough, I haven’t heard Jordan Williams or David Farrar making a fuss about this.

2. New schools cost a lot, whether they’re charter schools or public schools. However, before any new public school is opened there’s a thorough analysis which has to show that there will be significant roll-growth, above the capacity of existing schools to manage. Part of this involves talking with other local schools – like in this example of Hobsonville Point.  This is absolutely not the case with charters – see Whangarei in particular, or Alwyn’s middle school in West Auckland where there are hundreds of spare places at the year levels he’s teaching.  Hekia acknowledged this by making ‘in areas of roll growth’ one of the potential priorities for the second round – but it was a ‘nice to have’ priority, rather than a must have – and has been ignored.

3. The massive costs for new public schools, such as for example the millions on Hobsonville Point Secondary School, are almost all tied up in property and plant. In regards to teaching staff and operational funding, they receive the same as any other school of a similar size. The charters can, on the other hand, spend their money which in theory should be going on plant directly on the students, in small class sizes and free uniforms, or on executive salaries or whatever.  The best example of this is the Whangarei charter that opened last year. Its lease is $60,000 per year for property – which means that property costs only one and a half students.  It has a vastly disproportionate amount of resource available to spend compared to local public schools – and when you talk to Ministry of Ed staff, they’re well aware of this.

4. The most extravagant funding, for example for the aforementioned Whangarei charter, was based on the school’s assertion that they would be starting very small, and growing to a larger number of students (from 70 to around 300) – and property funding was based on the target roll rather than the actual roll. What a surprise – the roll doesn’t seem to be growing at the rate projected. But funding is still based on what they are aiming for.  And don’t forget, it’s highly unlikely that a new secondary would be approved that only promised to get to 300 students, simply because that’s always going to be a very costly school (compare to, e.g Hobsonville Point again – target roll, 1500 students).

5. One of the premises of charters was that private sectors would ‘partner’ with the state to provide education –and provision of property was supposed to be one of the ways in which this would happen. Unsurprisingly, the outfits that want to operate them haven’t brought anything to the table at all, and have needed the state to fund them entirely.

6. How much is spent on instruction makes a difference to achievement. See, for example, this research on ‘low ability’ students receiving significant extra funding. Comparing the learning outcomes of charter and public schools is unfair. Any good scientific test needs clarity about what the variables are that are being tested. If charters get better achievement results than their local public schools which variable is making the difference? Massively more resourcing for instruction would be a pretty decent candidate – but is that the point that charter school advocates wanted to prove?

 

Anyway – don’t take my word on the costs of charter schools. This MoE document spells it out – see sections 35- 38.

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Posted by on in Uncategorized

Sean Plunkett’s mouth-frothing misogyny on Radio Live this morning has been well covered and deservedly so.

Another bizarre angle to his ‘argument’, that hasn’t had much attention, was that Catton shouldn’t be allowed to criticise New Zealand because she has a publicly funded job, working as an academic at AUT.

Last year I sat in on a bunch of Education and Science Select Committee hearings on the Education Amendment Bill. That’s the Bill which introduces Educanz, and also, will turn university councils into ‘slimmed down’ corporate boards rather than the broadly representative and democratic institutions they are now.

One of the submitters I heard there was Dr Phillip Catton, Eleanor Catton’s dad. He argued, like many other academics, that universities’ role as critic and conscience of society was going to be undermined by making their governance structures more corporate. Focussing academics on work that grows the economy and that’s readily quantifiable rather than more social or esoteric ends is exactly the purpose of this Bill.

Plunkett’s labelling Catton a ‘traitor’, as well as vilifying other academics who dare to criticise government policy, like Massey University scientist Mike Joy, is consistent with this. This is the authoritarian streak in NZ politics, with its implied message to public servants to shut up and get to work growing the economy and doing the government’s bidding.

But it’s more than just the university council section of the Bill that expresses this distressing view. Educanz, and its Code of Conduct for teachers, written by a group that’s accountable to no-one but the Minister is completely consistent. Teachers are public servants too remember, so what’s the chance we’ll be labelled traitors by Plunkett and his ilk, next time we disagree with the government in anything but the mildest terms. 

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Thanks to Kim Campbell from the Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) for the cheery welcome back to the school year.

I’m sure he feels he has something valuable to contribute, but frankly it’s the same tired narrative that is trotted out ad nauseam by similar groups - that teachers are failing to prepare school leavers for the world of work.  And of course this is simply another version of the “hopeless young people are going to hell in a hand cart” story that grumpy old buggers have always banged on about.

Credit to RNZ for getting former principal Prue Kelly’s response, which is a good one, that school’s about much more than simply about preparing young people for the workforce.

Another response can be found in the Productivity Commission’s research on why our GDP growth is slower than many similar countries. Their answers have nothing to do with schooling. Two major reasons they put forward are employers’ unwillingness to invest in growing the knowledge based capital of employees, and the low quality of management.

And looking further into the press release from the EMA, here’s another purler: “Overall employers tended to rate the skill levels of tertiary graduates higher than those of secondary schools.

Quelle surprise.  The implication here seems to be that they would like young people straight out of school to come with tertiary level skills – presumably so employers can pay them school-leaver wages. 

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To make any reasonably legitimate claim about whether charter schools have been worth it or not, two basic questions need to be answered.

First – how well have these students done compared to how well they would have done if they hadn’t been in charter schools?

Second – what’s the impact been on other schools in the areas where the charters opened?

If we only answer the first part of question one (how well they have done) without any comparison to how well they may have done otherwise, we’re not getting useful information. Sure some of them might get good results at NCEA or in their National Standards, but without knowing (with some certainty) how these students would have done if they hadn’t been at a charter school, it’s meaningless.

How could an evaluation work this out? Well, there are quite a few different methods that could be useful. One is to look at how comparable cohorts of students do at regular schools. The crucial word here is ‘comparable’. I’ve no doubt that the MoE is already comparing the charter school results to data from other schools with similar profiles of students in terms of ethnic make- up, and the national and regional data for the groups of students in the charter schools. But is this really a comparable group of students?  For one thing, these students and their parents have chosen a charter school. Perhaps then a comparison with students in other ‘schools of choice’ such as state integrated or special character schools would be fairer. Ideally, the best ‘control’ group to compare to would be students who applied to the charter schools but didn’t get in on a ballot – this won’t happen because so far the charter schools have been able to take everyone who has applied.

The second question, about impact on other schools matters because this is supposed to be a policy about addressing student underachievement as a whole. If the charter schools are getting great results, but the schools that the charter students are leaving are seeing their results slide (perhaps as a result of losing the more motivated students, or the impact of falling rolls meaning they can’t offer the educational options they could before) then it can’t be said to be an effective policy.

Anyway, neither of these questions will be answered by the charter school evaluation that the Ministry has contracted, nor by the reports that the Ministry and the schools themselves release trumpeting their successes.

The evaluation will no doubt provide interesting insights into how they operate, which is mostly what it is designed to do, but based on the proposal the Ministry put out for the research, is going to go nowhere near these difficult questions.

Finally, a question that won’t be answered by evaluation or research, that certainly is worth considering in any broad and honest appraisal of the policy is, could we have got something better if the money had been spent another way?

We know that programmes that cost less than charter schools ($15 mil in 2015), like Te Kotahitanga, can make a significant difference to large numbers of students.  So what is the opportunity cost of the charter school policy? And on one side of the ledger has to sit the damage that this policy has done to the relationship between teachers and the government.

 

 

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Posted by on in Uncategorized

Yesterday's story about quarter of a charter school’s students leaving in the course of a year throws into relief some of the inconsistencies between the way the government treats charters and regular public schools.

Charter school operator Nick Hyde has said that students leaving during the year , supposedly having finished their qualifications, is something to be celebrated*.  I’m sure that plenty of secondary school principals would like to be able to agree – but that’s not the way they are supposed to operate.

In 2011 the government introduced a new funding regime to try and make schools keep students all year - by penalising those that don’t. Quarterly funding means that if students leave (for any reason) during the year, their school loses funding. Here’s the Minister at the time explaining the new policy:

Education Minister Anne Tolley said quarterly roll counts were introduced to ensure funding was more accurate, and directed to where it was needed.

"I'm sure taxpayers will be astonished to find out that schools have previously received funding for students who are no longer attending.

"This change provides an incentive for schools to retain students. If students are at school and engaged in learning they have a much higher chance of gaining qualifications and skills.

Contrast this to charter school funding – guaranteed for a minimum roll for the whole year, however many students leave during that time (not to mention the generous funding rates…)

Currently three of the five charter schools are below their minimum roll (down 29, down 21 and down 2), and two above (up 2 and up 17). I wonder how many students who were enrolled at charters are now at other educational institutions, receiving more state funding there?

And while I’m on inconsistent funding regimes, the MoE will be shortly calculating the automatic inflation adjustments to next year’s charter school resourcing. This is something people in public schools can only dream of.  Schools’ operational funding is adjusted during the Budget round at the Minister’s discretion (and admittedly has generally kept pretty close to inflation in recent years) but the largest part of school funding is salaries. Teachers’ salaries have fallen around 5% behind inflation over the last six years.

 

*Of course he claims that these students have done well – maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not. Later this week I’ll post about how we’ll never know the actual impact of charter schools on students’ results, because the Minister and Ministry are designing the evaluation to make sure we don’t.

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Apparently  "The Treasury is looking to "crowd source" policy ideas about how to improve the effectiveness of welfare spending." 

The request for information is titled "How can government improve results for our most vulnerable (at-risk) children and their families?"

It states:

"We want to focus on how to get better results for children and their families at most risk of poor education, criminal justice and employment outcomes. They will probably have multiple risk factors, including being:

School building, students, black and white, •children vulnerable to abuse or neglect

•unsupported/vulnerable teen parents

•children and young people with conduct problems

•children needing a range of services to succeed in school 

•people not in safe, secure housing

•children in families with gang connections

•children in families with prison connections

•violent families, including victims and perpetrators."   

This is ground already well traveled.

Treasury seems loathe to review or take on any advice, analysis, or research that may be available from other government departments or published in other studies and reports.

Let's see what has there been lately - and maybe we can save Treasury just a little time by providing the crowd without reinventing the wheel:

Submissions were called for the Inquiry into Engaging Parents in the Education of their Children - and there is a select committee report (of sorts).

Submissions were called for the Vulnerable Children Bill - now an Act.

There's the Children's Action Plan - and there were submissions called for the Green Paper for Vulnerable Children.

The Children's Commissioner has a number of reports and briefing papers - including 

Solutions to Child Poverty - Evidence for Action and

Preventing Child Neglect in New Zealand 

Families Commission work - the Families and Whanau Status Report 2014   oh and the Review of the New Zealand Longitudinal Studies.

Treasury you should take a look at the actual longitudinal studies.  

Then there is the sterling work done by such groups as the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) - Our Children, Our Choice: Priorities for Policy should be essential reading for Treasury, among other documents.

The Unicef Report - Kids Missing Out

The Youth 2000 publications 

I have missed many reports and studies but I think you should get the picture.  There are similar themes in the reports. There are similar recommendations.

To not take those recommendations, to not support the work that has been done, seems counterproductive.

It seems, to me, that rather than taking action - it is much easier to be seen to be doing 'something' by a 'consultation' process that you can call 'crowd sourcing' just to make it sound better. 

And you never know - someone might come up with the answer Treasury wanted, presumably one that doesn't cost much, doesn't require long term commitment, and puts some money in private pockets.

 

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As is often the case, a recent PPTA conference paper helped set the agenda - with headlines in newspapers up and down the country in recent times about ‘white flight’ and the increasing segregation of our schools. And they’re right to be concerned.

We identified a real problem in that paper, one that is widely agreed upon, but as is so often the way, the solutions to it are not straight forward at all.  

NZ has entrenched school choice– and many people on both side of the political spectrum would be loath to reverse it entirely and insist on strict zoning, and the complete removal of schools of choice (like kura a iwi, Catholic integrated, Steiner schools etc…). But even with a (probably impossible) return to strict zoning, as a result of the economic and social divisions within cities we would still to a large extent have segregated schools.  

So, what can be done? Probably the best answer, and certainly the one that would contribute most to equity, is to make the schools that are currently the least desirable for aspirational families much more so – and without a doubt this involves resourcing. Even the inequity in school buildings and grounds contributes – Auckland Grammar’s plan to raise millions from their exclusive network to build a new block that will cost around double what a regular school would spend on a similar space is a classic example – at the same time as half empty schools to the south struggle with outdated and run-down buildings and grounds.

In the US they have been struggling with desegregating schools for decades. In a system where school choice is generally less entrenched (except in charter school districts, which brings in rafts of other problems) options such as mass busing of students from one area to another has been a common place practice – similar in some ways to what happens in Auckland already, but for the opposite purpose (mixing schools up instead of making them more homogenous). This can happen because of local school boards controlling entry to schools.

I recently read a response to the awful Time Magazine cover story on teacher tenure and in there was an interesting answer. Recognising the importance of schools as a place for students to mix with, and learn from, students of different ethnicities and cultures, some districts deliberately set up their school rolls to reflect the make-up of their wider community. (There also is an element of choice in the example discussed here, as families can rank their preferred schools, and are then placed by the district.)

Thinking about this then – perhaps something that schools could aim for, and talk to parents about is reflecting the cultural makeup of their community – not just the suburb they are in (as it’s unlikely students will spend their whole lives in their little suburb) – but at least the wider area that they are in- say the local authority area, or the Ministry of Education region? Maybe even, at a smaller scale, Communities of Schools could work on this goal – to be reflective of the community. Is this something that the Ministry’s regional offices or ERO talks to schools about? I’ve never heard of it – and in our devolved system, many principals would probably take affront.

 

I’d be interested to know which schools are around that already reflect this – noting that the demographics of young people are different from the whole population. At least it might be something that the journalists busy ranking schools by their results could helpfully consider doing.

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Posted by on in Uncategorized

A fairly common response to Investing in Educational Success has been ‘I’d prefer the money to be spent on…(fill in the blank)…”. Fair enough. In my ideal scenario I’d rather that the money was spent differently too. Some options would include:

·         Equipping schools to provide social and health services to their students and communities (schools as hubs – unsure of cost as would depend on how comprehensive).

·         Reducing overly large class sizes (implementing the SSSG, costs around half the IES spend)

·         Across the board pay rises for secondary teachers (we could get around 10% for the cost of the IES, enabling us to get ahead of inflation after years of real terms pay cuts)

·         Or possibly a direct $520 per child annual payment to the families of the 285,000 children living in poverty (close to $150,000,000)

And so forth. But there are two problems with this response.

1. Saying you’d prefer the money be spent elsewhere isn’t the same as saying the policy is bad. Just because you choose a chocolate cake for your birthday doesn’t mean that there’s something fundamentally wrong with carrot cake. If you are allergic to carrots, or have reason to suspect the carrot cake is poisoned, that’s a different matter.  More on that later.

2. It doesn’t look at what the policy is aiming to do. Let’s tease this one out.

The aim of the policy is raising student achievement.  Now there are a few ways that this could be approached. One is to look at the very significant out of school factors that affect learning – this would lead to a cross-sector child poverty approach, and would be certainly a good idea. But admittedly, at $500 per year per child, this isn’t going to go very far. What the government decided on was to focus was on what happens in schools. Now, this is arguably less effective (that gap between in school and out of school effects), but on the other hand, it should be a bit easier for them to have an impact on.

So the choice was to work on the in school factors to raise achievement and equity of achievement in schools. So the question here is – what’s the best way to spend $150,000,000 per year in schools on raising student achievement? This is, hopefully, where policy makers turn to the evidence. Unfortunately the reality of ‘evidence based’ policy is that it’s almost never going to be so clear cut and incontrovertible that a single answer jumps out as the way to go. But what we do have is a clearly emerging picture that:

1. what teachers do really matters, and that different ways of teaching have different results

2. teachers can learn and improve in their practice, and there are good ways (working with peers and experts for extended periods of time) and bad, or ineffective, ways (one off whizz-bang PD sessions, being given targets and held to account with high stakes testing) to make this happen

3. school systems that foster collaboration (between teachers and schools) and mutual responsibility for students do better than those that compete

 

 And it seems that it’s an evidence base along these lines which is informing IES. Of course there are other things which work to make a difference in schools too – there are lots of possible ways to make cakes, but these three are common elements of recipes that work.

What I haven’t seen from the ‘I’d prefer…’ crowd is any evidence that their recipe is necessarily going to make a tastier cake than this one.  Decreasing class sizes in years 4 to 6, more teacher aides, 100% registered ECE teachers may all be worthwhile things to do, but they haven’t made the case for them being better ways to achieve the aim of the policy. And as for the the claim that these would cost the same – wildly wrong, and oddly enough, would entirely benefit the members of the organisation that is advocating for it.

Of course the stark reality is that whoever’s in charge gets to decide what sort of cake it is, and while we can encourage them to use a good recipe rather than the one with baking soda and zucchini in it, the government of the day gets to decide on policy, and final accountability for that is at the ballot box.

And to go back to the ‘poisoned cake’ scenario – this is a different objection some people have raised – i.e. it might look delicious, but it can’t be trusted. All we can do then is try to ensure it isn’t- keeping an eye on the ingredients as they’re put in (i.e. our engagement with negotiating it into the collective agreement) and then not everyone chowing down at once (i.e. it’s rolled our gradually, and voluntarily). We’ve achieved both of those things. 

So yes, you may prefer a different cake. But get your arguments right. Is this a bad cake? How do we know your one will be better? And is your solution a cake, or is it a sausage roll?

 

 

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Posted by on in Uncategorized

Noob National MP Chris Bishop has already had plenty of attention; for the scare he gave Trevor Mallard in Hutt South, for being one of two former tobacco lobbyists that entered parliament this term, and not least, for being a smart chap with a clever turn of phrase who will probably go far.

But there’s one little phrase that he used recently he should expunge if he wants to continue his stellar trajectory.

In his maiden speech he busted out the line “…the soft bigotry of low expectations…” (See here, from 14.30). He was talking about Investing in Educational Success.

Not only is it wrong (see the link and compare home effects and teacher effects), it’s not original, nor is it in step with his Minister of Education’s position.

Parata’s been careful recently to make clear that Investing in Educational Success is not about fixing bad teachers, but about sharing good practice.  She has made a concerted effort to be seen celebrating teaching, not blaming bad teachers.  

 

Bishop doesn’t need George Bush’s help to come up with memorable lines. And, he, and all National MPs, should read up on Investing in Educational Success and how it’s changed since Key’s speech in January before they chuck more rocks into already murky waters.

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Posted by on in Career pathways

They said they didn’t want it.

 

The govt said 

– OK you don’t have to take it.

 

And they’ve been whinging and moaning about what they didn’t want 

- ever since.

 

Go figure.

 

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Posted by on in Charter schools

Act’s fresh-faced MP for the rotten-borough of Epsom wants a cabinet post, and John Key thinks it’s a good idea so he can get the extra funding.

 

David Seymour has his eyes on the education portfolio, on the basis of his work developing, in his words “the best charter school policy in the world”. These are the schools that are costing three times as much per student as public schools. In Whangarei two new ones opened in an area with 900 spare school places already.

 

Act’s education policy, as Jamie Whyte described it, is to make schools like supermarkets. I guess teachers can kiss goodbye to the idea of ever belonging to a respected, reasonably paid profession in that scenario.

 

Showing unusual self-awareness, Act also writes that “many in the educational establishment express intense hostility” to their policies.

 

Key assures New Zealand that his third term isn’t going to see a radical step to the right.  Appointing Seymour would put this under doubt.

 

What’s worse, it would antagonise a sector that the government is working with on the delicately balanced, but potentially very positive Investing in Educational Success initiative.

 

(An abbreviated version of this post appeared as a letter to the Dominion Post on 29/9). 

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Charter schools the future of education?

"Did you know what a charter school was?" a parent is asked.
No - she responds.

Maybe she doesn’t know because the NZ difference is not educational. The difference is one of ideology and, in order to encourage the development of this privatisation model, these schools get greater resourcing and support which in turn allows for smaller class sizes (1:15) and more attention to the child’s learning needs.

Resourcing and support that all schools would love to have access to. Smaller class sizes would provide a learning opportunity that all NZ children deserve – however children also deserve the safeguards that are in the (non-privatised) state system too, for their health, safety and education.

The question must be this - why are local and foreign entities - including trusts, profiteers, religious outliers, the mad, the bad, the disenchanted, the wheeler-dealers, the self-important, the rich, (or a combination of) - being encouraged to sign up for this.

Why does such an entity have to opt out of the NZ education system, and all the associated safeguards, to get the charter school level of resourcing and support? They opt into a business contracting model and, for higher dosh, have a lower level of responsibility for students and less accountability to the NZ public.

Why are models such as the South Auckland Middle School and Mt Hobson Middle School not OK for integration into the state school system but are OK as charter schools?
It seems that Mt Hobson Middle School (aka Alwyn Poole’s model) was operating successfully in Remuera without public funding. So why is the state (aka taxpayer) funding what is effectively the franchising of a private school model?

Is it because the authorisation board needs a charter school flag flyer  - a safe pair of hands and one that can be rolled out as a benign face and the reason for the scheme’s existence - regardless of the risk that the model poses to our education system.

It is not educationally innovative.

The expansion of the scheme does make it sound ripe for the picking ... especially if you are a wheeler-dealer.

Oh wait a minute - it was a wheeler-dealer or two that created imported the model in the first place.

 

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Students on Act’s Aspire scholarship cost the taxpayer twice as much to educate as students in the public system, yet results for these students are only marginally better than their publicly educated peers. 

The 250 students on these scholarships, who receive a public funding to attend private schools, cost on average $15,600 each year. Students in the public system are funded at around $7000 a year.

This programme is another example of Act’s bankrupt educational vision. Their only plan is to wildly over-fund private outfits, while somehow promising to shrink government spending.

In an NZ Herald story today David Seymour claimed "We are taking students who we know are disadvantaged and put them into independent schools and they have dramatically outperformed the New Zealand average."

This is bizarre. To get on the Aspire Scholarship students need to be from low income families (below $56,000) – but this does not necessarily equate to being disadvantaged. Having a family that will seek out the opportunity to apply for a scholarship to a private school is a likely indicator that this student comes from a background that values educational achievement. To a large extent, the most disadvantaged students are those whose families, for whatever reasons, are completely disengaged with education.

To be fair, this is complex, as incomes are a feature of disadvantage. But they’re certainly not the only one, and if Seymour thinks that being on less than $56,000 a year is disadvantaged, one has to ask – what’s his plan for the hundreds of thousands of other students in the same situation? If he really is proposing doubling the government spend on them, well, that’s great – but it might be a bit hard to do that while introducing that flat tax rate. Or does disadvantage only need to be addressed if your parents can be bothered to apply for this scholarship –i.e. they are the ‘worthy poor’ who will ‘do something about it’ – presumably kids whose parents aren’t doing something about it don’t deserve this massive extra resource.

And to claim ‘dramatic outperformance’ takes some dramatic license. 20 percent of the students on the scholarship who finished school in 2013 did not achieve the government’s bench-mark of Level 2 NCEA or equivalent. This rate was worse in 2012 and 2011.  In the state system in 2013 the achievement rate was 74%. There was a higher rate of Aspire Scholarship students achieving Level 3 than the average, but if there is still 1 in 5 not getting the bottom benchmark, that is a problem.

Furthermore, the Aspire Scholarships programme is not being evaluated. A high quality evaluation of a programme like this would involve tracking a matched group of students and comparing outcomes.  This would be easily achieved, by tracking the results of students on the programme with students who applied but didn’t get on. 

OECD research backs up the fact that the Aspire programme is a waste of money.  A PISA in focus report states that almost all of the advantage that private schools seem to have academically over public schools is a result of the socio-economic status of the students who attend.  Because of this, it states “…there is no evidence to suggest that private schools help raise the level of performance of the school system as a whole.”

Between charter schools, including the new ones, and this programme, Act’s educational programme gives almost $15 million a year to private providers for the education of around 800 students. A large secondary of double this size would be cheaper than that to run.

 

 

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The Minister of Education wants it both ways. One hand  she says that teachers use out of school factors “as an excuse and an explanation” for everything bad that happens in schools, and then says a charter school losing students and falling apart is okay because they’re dealing with kids who have drug problems and tough lives.

What grates even more is that while these kids at the failing charter school are no doubt doing it tough, the resources that they have available to help are vastly more than similar kids get in public schools – around 3  to four times more.  Even students in Alternative Education centres receive far less government funding than charter school students. And these are ones that genuinely do have it tough - we don't have to rely on charter school operators to tell us. (Who knows how the kids at any of the charter would be doing at public school - there is no matched evaluation,  and we rely on self-reporting to know the demographics/baselines of their students.) 

Sure, these are new schools and the funding for new schools is always high. But they’re tiny, which makes them  particularly pricey, and the almost all the funds that the schools receive can be spent directly on the students as the overheads are so low. A new school like Hobsonville Point is also very expensive on a per student basis –but almost all of that cost is tied up in buildings. These schools don’t have that at all. The fact is, they have far more to spend on each student than any other school in the country. This should be making a difference.

 

To be charitable, maybe this is a ‘road to Damascus’ moment for Parata. Perhaps the lives of these kids at Whangaruru have made her realise the error of her ways and she’s now going to be more understanding of the realities of students and teachers in all schools. I’m not holding my breath. 

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There’s a lot of fear in the education sector that many of the big decisions that affect schools, teachers and students are not made by educators but economists.  That, to put it simply, Treasury is setting the agenda.

It’s clear that there are instances of this – the attempt in 2012 to increase class sizes for example.  And it’s fair to say that charter schools have been enthusiastically embraced by them and no doubt encouraged from that quarter.

But documents released recently show that the big policy of 2014, Investing in Educational Success didn’t emerge from number 1 The Terrace. Indeed, it seemed to surprise them as much as it did most teachers. And probably freaked them out even more - as they're the ones who are supposed to be balancing the books. 

Papers from November 2013 show that up to then, not long before Key’s big reveal, Treasury knew nothing about it, and had 'given' Minister Parata an envelope of $50million to spend on new education initiatives.

And after Key’s speech in January, the next meeting between Treasury and the Minister of Ed, the finance wallahs were scrambling to work out how make this new spending fit their cap.

This doesn’t prove that the motivation behind IES was as totally educationally pure and evidence based. There was no-doubt a large measure of real-politik in spending this amount on a sector that had caused such grief for the government over the last 5 years.  But it could put to rest some of the wilder speculation about IES being part of a performance pay agenda driven by econometrists  under the influence of people like Hanushek or Chetty.

 

 

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