Better’s better than more

July 23, 2014

National’s policy of improving teaching quality has more support than Labour’s plan to increase the number of teachers.

New Zealanders would rather money was spent on improving teaching standards than on reducing class sizes, a Herald-DigiPoll survey reveals.

Education has become a political battleground before September’s election, with both major parties promising to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on it.

Asked about their priorities, more than 60 per cent of those polled said they would spend money on trying to improve teaching standards rather than cutting class sizes.

Labour has included reducing class sizes in its election policies.

Another of its policies, a promise to pay schools which do not ask parents for donations, gained support in the poll.

National has pledged $359 million for a scheme that would pay the best teachers and principals more.

Labour countered by promising to use that money to instead hire 2000 more teachers and reduce class sizes.

Asked about those policies, 61 per cent of those polled said the money was better spent on trying to improve teaching standards.

Thirty-five per cent thought it should be used to cut class sizes. . .

Education Minister Hekia Parata said the survey showed parents recognised the worth in the initiative.

“Parents have great knowledge about what makes a difference for their kids’ learning, and it is about the quality of learning that happens in their child’s classroom.”

If there was enough money for both better teachers and smaller classes that would be ideal.

But while we have to make a choice, it’s better to have better teachers than more.

National’s policy was designed to get the best educational outcome. Labour’s was written by the unions who put themselves and teachers ahead of education.

Labour’s policy would make a very small difference in class size, National’s would make a significant difference to the quality of teaching and that will make the most positive difference to pupils.


BPS working for NZ

July 22, 2014

National set targets for its Better Public Services programme which are showing positive results.

Long-term welfare dependency is reducing and more young people are achieving higher qualifications under the Government’s Better Public Services initiative, Deputy Prime Minister Bill English and State Services Minister Jonathan Coleman say.

The Government today published the July update of BPS targets, which confirms more good progress in tackling some of the most challenging issues facing New Zealanders, however making headway in other areas is slower, Mr English says.

“The Government is committed to making progress on the really difficult issues that affect our communities and families, and particularly the most vulnerable,” he says.

“Taxpayers spend billions of dollars a year on public services to help their fellow New Zealanders and this Government is determined to ensure they get what they pay for. Our focus on reducing welfare dependency, increasing achievement in schools and reducing crime require government agencies to find better solutions and to work with others to implement them.

“We are prepared to spend money on effective programmes which change lives, because what works for the community also works for the Government’s books.”

Dr Coleman says the ambitious goals set by the BPS initiative were chosen to make a real difference to the lives of New Zealanders.

“We have always said some of the targets will be challenging and require determination and teamwork to achieve, and it’s pleasing to see agencies working co-operatively.

“The latest update shows we are making good progress overall. We have now met the targets for reducing total crime and youth crime. There has been good progress in reducing long-term welfare dependency, increasing Level 2 NCEA pass rates and those with New Zealand Qualifications Framework Level 4.

“Progress in the past 12 months towards our target of reducing long-term welfare dependency is encouraging, with 6434 (8.5 per cent) fewer people continuously receiving jobseeker support for more than one year. We are also seeing people stay in employment for longer.

“In other result areas, more work is being done to reduce rheumatic fever, reduce assaults on children, and improve online business transactions.”

Dr Coleman says that because of the BPS programme, agencies are working together more effectively and delivering results through collaboration and innovation.

“Agencies are making better use of data to drive better services and to meet the needs of local communities. Agencies are also learning about what works through research and evaluation,” he says.

“There is a greater focus on chief executives doing what is best for the system as a whole, rather than just looking at the short term interests of their department, and that is supporting the changes needed to achieve results.”

The BPS programme began in 2012 when the Prime Minister announced goals and measurable targets in 10 challenging areas, including reducing long-term welfare dependency, supporting vulnerable children, boosting skills and employment, reducing crime, and improving interaction with Government.

The Better Public Service Results July update is here.

Money is being spent where it will have a positive impact.

This is often more expensive in the short term but it will pay off with both social and financial dividends in the medium to longer term.

Behind these numbers are individuals whose lives and outlook are better than they would have been had National not introduced targets and policies that are working for New Zealand.

We’re committed to tackling some of the most challenging issues facing New Zealanders. You can check out our good progress here: national.org.nz/better-public-services #Working4NZ


Blanket policy blunt tool

July 13, 2014

Labour’s blanket class size policy won’t address inequality, according to Rose Patterson of the New Zealand Initiative.

The biggest and most important resource in education is not school donations or digital devices. It is teachers. And while Labour’s policy to reduce class sizes, at face value, addresses this most important resource, the class size debate is a nuanced one.   

There are two important caveats with Labour’s policy. The first is that a blanket class size policy to increase the quantity of teachers may not be the most effective tool in the policymaker’s toolbox.  The second is that it does nothing to address something dear to the heart of Labour – inequality.   

Quantity versus quality
National’s $359 million Investing in Educational Success (IES) policy announced at the beginning of this year is a deliberate attempt to improve the quality of teaching. The IES is a game changer, designed to provide clear career structure for teachers. The idea is that exemplary teachers share their skills with others to lift the game for all.

Labour’s class size policy is in blatant opposition to that. They want to scrap the IES and reduce class sizes by injecting an extra 2,000 teachers into schools. If elected, they would gradually reduce class sizes for year 4-8 students from 29 to 26, and reduce secondary school class sizes to a maximum of 23. 

It appears National wants to improve the quality of teaching and Labour wants to increase the quantity of teachers; both believe that their policy will improve the quality of schooling. . .

More teachers where there are more vulnerable pupils could help those who need it most.

But National’s policy of better teachers will do more to left education standards than Labour’s blanket policy of less than one more teacher for every school regardless of their needs.

But what does the evidence on class sizes say? Primary teachers’ union (New Zealand Educational Institute) head Judith Nowotarski quotes research to show smaller class sizes have benefits for learning and life success “beyond the school gate”. Other research shows that on balance, for the same level of resource, more could be achieved by lifting quality, assuming of course the IES policy is effective.

Blanket policy too blunt 
While lifting the quality of teaching might be more effective on balance than reducing class sizes, that’s not to say that class size doesn’t matter. The impact of class sizes depends on a number of factors, like the stage of schooling, the subject being taught, and the background of students.  . .

As Ms Nowotarski says, smaller class sizes are “particularly important for vulnerable children, those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and those who start school behind their peers”. And Associate Professor John O’Neill of Massey University’s Institute of Education says the class size policy could be more effective if it targeted lower decile schools.

Both hit the nail on the head.

While there is a lot of lip service paid to the decile system, where lower decile schools receive targeted funding, let’s not forget this is only for a school’s operational fund. To put the figures into context, the total operational spend last year was $1.23 billion, and 13% of this fund is decile based. Funding for teachers, which racked up to $3.44 billion last year, is not at all decile targetted.

In other words, while funding is targeted to even out the disadvantages that children from poorer backgrounds start off with, it doesn’t specifically provide more of the most important educational resource: teachers.  

Teacher numbers
Perhaps the question of whether class sizes matter for children of different socio-economic backgrounds is evident in how schools actually use their resources in practice.

The New Zealand Initiative will release a research note on this very issue next month. And one of the surprising findings is that although schools are entitled to the same number of teachers regardless of decile, somehow, lower decile schools employ more teachers. And it’s a stark difference: decile one schools employ one teacher for every 20.6 students, while decile 10 schools employ one per 30.1 students on average.

As schools can use their operational fund to employ extra teachers over and above what they are entitled to under the formula that Labour is proposing to tweak, it seems lower decile schools are using their discretionary funding to employ more teachers. In other words, in the absence of targeted funding to provide smaller class sizes to lower decile schools, schools figure out a way to do it anyway. They recognise the importance of smaller class sizes for their students. But this is not recognised when resources are divvied out from Wellington. 

Low decile schools are already providing smaller classes themselves.

Despite all this, reducing class sizes without improving the quality of teaching is unlikely to lift student learning. Lower decile schools are employing more teachers for their students, but another question still is whether they have the ability to attract highly effective teachers.

The blanket class size policy is an easy vote winner, but it’s a blunt tool.

It might be an easy vote winner but it’s up against a policy to improve the quality of teaching and that will have more appeal to voters – especially parents and prospective employers – than the blanket approach that will give schools less than one extra teacher each.


What do others at school think?

July 11, 2014

A Hastings school which lost a High Court battle over suspending a student for refusing to cut his hair has been ordered to pay more than $24,000 in costs.

Last month Justice David Collins ruled in favour of 16-year-old St John’s College student Lucan Battison, who successfully fought to keep his locks after being suspended.. .

The Battisons’ lawyer, Jol Bates, said costs of $24,159 had been awarded, which were a contribution towards the family’s legal expenses – about two-thirds of actual costs. . . .

I wonder what the other pupils, their parents, the school board and staff think of that?


Labour’s numbers don’t add up

July 8, 2014

Labour has left lots of unanswered questions about the costs of its policies.

Two and a half months out from this year’s election and already Labour cannot answer basic questions about the details and fiscal costs of its expensive early promises, Associate Finance Minister Steven Joyce says.

“David Cunliffe, David Parker and Chris Hipkins had a ‘hey Clint’ moment on TV last night, when all three of them failed to answer a simple question about the total cost of their grab-bag of education announcements,” Mr Joyce says.

Labour has rejected having a Treasury analyst in its office, and it really is showing.”

Talking to media yesterday after announcing it would spend $403 million over four years to employ more teachers, neither David Cunliffe, nor David Parker nor Chris Hipkins could do the simple maths on how much their other promises would cost.

“That’s because their numbers don’t add up and their claims are misleading,” Mr Joyce says.

“For a start, the Government currently funds secondary schools for an average 20 students per classroom, well below Labour’s ‘new’ target of 23 students per classroom.

“When it comes to their costings, Labour’s figures include only the cost of the extra teachers’ salaries. They need to come clean on what the total costs would be including ACC, training, support superannuation, and all the other overheads involved in supporting more teachers.”

Mr Joyce says this is not the first time in recent days that Labour has undercooked its costings and exaggerated its promises to New Zealanders.

“Last week their press release clearly said they were going to end voluntary school donations – yet they put up only half the money needed to cover existing donations and none of the school activity fees parents pay.

And on Saturday they claimed they would provide every student between years five and 13 with a digital device worth $600 by providing a $100 subsidy and having parents pay $3.50 a week for 18 months. This will be news to Labour, but this adds up to only $373 per device.

“And just to top it all off, David Cunliffe yesterday confirmed he would look at buying back shares in mixed ownership model companies – even though he’s committed to spend all the money raised by the share offer programme and then some.

“After nearly six years in opposition, Labour has learned nothing about responsible economic and fiscal management. They really do need to start showing New Zealanders the money,” Mr Joyce says. “Labour 2014 is already starting to look a lot like the 2011 version, only trickier.”

If Labour’s policy was being marked it might get a pass for rhetoric but it would get a not-achieved for costings.

The party’s got the words but it hasn’t got the numbers to back them up.


Quality beats quantity

July 7, 2014

National’s Better Public Service targets has aimed at improving the quality of spending rather than simply increasing the quantity as Labour did.

Policies announced by both parties clearly show the contrast between quality from National and quantity from Labour.

In education, National is firmly focussed on improving outcomes for children which relies on raising the standard of teaching.

Labour’s policy looks like it has been written by the unions – it will increase the number of teachers but do nothing to improve their teaching.

Education Minister Hekia Parata sums it up: Labour is out of their ideas and out of their depth:

Education Minister Hekia Parata says that Labour’s “new” education announcement today shows once again that they are a party out of ideas and out of their depth.

“Labour’s ‘back to the future’ idea of reducing class sizes at the margin is proven to achieve very little in terms of better results for Kiwi kids.  We know that because that was their policy last time they were in government and student achievement flat-lined at best.

“If you really want to improve success at school the answer is to help all teachers be better teachers, and invest strongly in principals.  That’s clear from evidence across the developed world and that is what our Investing in Educational Success initiative does.

“Investing in the quality of all teachers is more important than just adding more teachers.”

More isn’t necessarily better if the quantity is increased without improving the quality.

Ms Parata says Labour’s approach on teacher ratios is similar to their other policies for education where they do not appear to have done their homework.

“Labour are taking a real lolly scramble approach to education, and they are seriously understating the costs of what they are suggesting.

“Last week, and again today, they said they were going to end voluntary school donations.  However they have only put up enough money for half the current amount of donations, and none of the school activity fees that parents pay.

“Also yesterday, they said they were going to provide every student between years five and thirteen with a digital device worth $600, by providing a $100 subsidy and having parents pay $3.50 a week for 18 months.”

“Well, that only adds up to $373 per device.  So there is a big shortfall there too.”

“And on top of that they want to cancel National Standards which is helping more Kiwi kids learn and succeed.

“Labour’s approach is to go back to the old ways of doing things and throw lots of entitlements around in an attempt to win votes.

“Kiwi kids can’t afford to go backwards with Labour’s confused and muddled approach.

“Under this Government more kids are starting earlier, staying longer, and leaving better qualified.

“This Government is ensuring that our education system is working for all New Zealanders,” Ms Parata says.

 There is very good evidence that class size isn’t nearly as important as the standard of the teacher.

Treasury’s Briefing to Incoming Minister in 2011 showed the shortcomings of Labour’s prescription:

. . .New Zealand’s compulsory education system produces good outcomes for most students, as evidenced by our strong performance in international tests. However, despite large funding increases, achievement levels remain unacceptably low for some groups. Student achievement can be raised by improving the quality of teaching, which the evidence shows is the largest in-school influence on student outcomes.  . .

What happens at home has the biggest impact on achievement but within schools, teachers have the greatest influence on student learning.

Research on student learning consistently shows that the largest source of variation in student learning is attributable to differences in what students bring to school – their abilities and attitudes, and family and community background – factors that difficult for policy makers to influence, at least in the short-run.

Of those variables which are potentially open to influence in educational settings, factors to do with teachers and teaching are the most important influences on student learning (Alton-Lee, 2003; Hattie 2009). For example, research suggests that teachers at the top of the quality distribution can get up to a year’s worth of additional learning from students, compared to those who are at the bottom of the quality distribution (Hanushek and Rivkin, 2006). Chetty et al (2011) find that students assigned to high quality teachers (determined by test score- based value-add measures) are more likely to attend college and earn higher salaries, and are less likely to have children as teenagers, suggesting policies to raise the quality of teaching are likely to have substantial economic and social benefits in the long run.

Research shows class size influences achievement, but not always, and not for all students.

Overall, the evidence suggests that the effect of class size on academic outcomes varies depending on the characteristics of students (e.g. age, prior attainment, socio- economic disadvantage). For example, a consistent finding from the research is that smaller class size has a positive impact on t he achievement of students in the initial years of schooling, and that some students – particularly lower achieving and disadvantaged students – benefit more than others. The evidence for the effect of class size on achievement is limited beyond these first few years, and little is known about the effects of class size on secondary age students (Blatchford and Lai, 2010).

The research also identifies large differences in the extent to which the potential benefits of smaller class sizes are realised. For example, one of the most well-known studies of class size effects – Project Star in the US – found a small positive effect on student achievement in about half the clas ses where student numbers were reduced, while in the other half, smaller class size had no effect on student achievement (Hanushek and Rivkin, 2006).

One reason for these different effects is that some teachers adapt their teaching to take advantage of smaller class size, while others do not. The research provides little guidance on the optimal class size, or the lower or upper thresholds at which class size starts to have a positive or negative impact on educational outcomes. For example, some US studies suggest that classes of 20 or fewer students are necessary to have an effect on achievement, while English research has suggested that a class size of 25 or fewer is important (Blatchford and Lai, 2010).

Reducing class size is expensive 3 – it requires more teachers and more classrooms. Policy makers need to know not only that it works, but that it is the most cost-effective approach to lifting student achievement. Studies that provide comparative cost-benefit analyses of different interventions to lifting student achievement are not readily available, but other evidence suggests a focus on teaching quality over class size. For example, research suggests that the impact on student learning of moving from a class with an average teacher to one with a high performing teacher is roughly equivalent to the effect of a ten student decrease in class size (Rivkin, Hanushek and Kain, 2005). Hattie (2005) notes that the typical effect size of smaller classes could be considered ‘small’ or even ‘tiny’ relative to other educational interventions. Further, the OECD has identified that high-income countries which prioritise the quality of teachers over smaller classes tend to show better performance (OECD, 2012).  . .

Labour, almost certainly at the behest of their friends in the teacher unions, have ignored the research and taken the expensive and least effective option of promising to fund 2000 new teachers (which equates to less than one a school) without paying any attention to the imperative to improve the performance of teachers.

The key to improving student outcomes is to ensure consistently high quality teaching for all students, in all schools Treasury’s position is not that class size doesn’t matter. Our concern is to ensure that resources are directed to where they will have the greatest impact on student achievement. In our view, this is best done through a focus on ensuring effective teaching across the system. Although we have almost no information about the quality of teaching 4 in New Zealand, there is no reason why we would not have the wide variation in teaching quality that is observed in other countries. The strong impact of teachers on student learning, the large within-school variance in student achievement, low equity, and relatively high proportion of low achievers, all suggest that New Zealand should turn its attention to ensuring there is consistently high quality teaching practice in all schools.

The OECD’s work suggests that a high quality teaching workforce is a result of deliberate policy choices, carefully implemented over time (Schleicher, 2011). It suggests that making teaching an attractive and effective profession requires support for continuous learning, career structures that give new roles to teachers, engagement of teachers as active agents in school reform, and fair and effective teacher evaluation systems. A recent report by Australia’s Grattan Institute highlights how four East Asian countries have achieved significant improvements in the performance and equity of their schooling systems by building teacher capacity. They have done so via a focus on high quality initial teacher education, improved feedback and mentoring, and career structures that value good teaching (Jensen, 2012).

A recently released OECD report on evaluation and assessment in New Zealand education highlighted issues across a number of these areas, including: variable teacher appraisal; poor linkages between appraisal, professional development and school development; and an apparent lack of a formalised career path for effective teachers (Nusche et al, 2012).The OECD made recommendations to address these issues, in order to strengthen the quality of teaching in New Zealand.

Finally, a growing body of evidence has highlighted the importance of using data to inform teaching practice and decision-making in schools (Faubert, 2012). This includes gathering and analysing data to assess individual student progress and identify who is falling behind. It also includes aggregating data and using it to inform school and teacher self-review processes, help allocate resources, and facilitate conversations about effective teaching strategies and possible development needs. The OECD has recommended that New Zealand needs to do more to ensure teachers and schools have the skills to collect, analyse and interpret data, in order to support improved outcomes for learners (Nushe et al, 2012).

Most of this is anathema to teacher unions and Labour.

National is not beholden to the unions and therefore focuses on what’s best for the children and that is the quality of teachers rather than the quantity.

It is also addressing problems at home which contribute to poor educational outcomes including benefit dependency.


21st century education that’s #working4NZ

July 6, 2014

In contrast to Labour’s policy, National is already delivering 21st education that’s working for New Zealand’s young people.

 

Photo: We’re committed to giving children the best possible start in life. http://ntnl.org.nz/1lAsat6 #Working4NZ
Photo: I’m proud of our record of lifting achievement in education. #TeamKey #Working4NZ http://ntnl.org.nz/1lYaAnw

 

And National judges success by the quality of its spending while Labour measures success by quantity.

 

Photo: In 2013 a record 25,800 bachelor's degrees were awarded. Since 2008, the number of degrees earned by Maori students has increased 62%. The number for Pasifika students has increased 56%.


Free computers? Yeah Nah

July 6, 2014

You’d think a party with so many teacher-union friends would know what’s happening in today’s schools, but no, Labour’s playing catch-up on 21st century schools:

Associate Education Minister Nikki Kaye says Labour has clearly not done its homework in the education area and is promoting “new ideas” that have already been put in place by National.

“Most of what Labour has announced today is already being delivered by the Government through its 21st century schools programme. We have a massive build plan underway to modernise school facilities, upgrade school broadband networks and partner with communities to provide digital hubs through those networks. Our Ultrafast broadband and rural broadband initiatives are delivering fibre broadband with uncapped data to nearly every school in New Zealand.

“Labour’s announcements today prove they have no idea what is already going on.”

Labour want to put money into professional learning development for ICT over the next few years. National has already invested $35 million in Professional Learning and Development, specifically targeted at learning with digital technologies.

Labour want to build an unspecified number of new schools and classrooms by 2030. Under the National government, hundreds of millions of dollars has been spent building new classrooms and upgrading older schools with the help of the Future Investment Fund, which Labour opposes. National has opened 12 new schools in the past three years in areas of growth.

And Labour wants to enable students to access the internet at home. Last year, National announced a change in policy to enable schools to extend their school internet to the surrounding area so students and families can access the internet from home.

Ms Kaye said the device subsidy programme also did not appear to have been thought through.

“There is an amazing lack of detail. Are they really going to make the subsidy available to every one of the 580,000 children in years 4 to 13? How do they plan to deal with rapid changes in technology? Is the plan limited to one device throughout the period of the student’s time in school? If not, how many devices? How are they planning to deal with the interest costs? All these questions must be answered.

“Labour has simply not done their homework. It really does make you wonder what they have been doing over the past six years.

“Our Future Focussed Learning report, sets out the direction the National government is going.

“Labour really needs to research what’s happening and catch up,” Ms Kaye says.

This ignorance of 21st century education schools isn’t surprising when Labour spends more time looking backwards than forwards and appears to be stuck in the 20th century, fighting old battles.

But that isn’t the only problem with the policy announcement, it’s yet another yeah nah one.

It sounds like every child would be given a computer but that’s not the story in the fine-print:

. . . For those schools that opt in, the policy would require parents to pay about $3.50 a week to pay off the cost of the device, estimated at about $600 each – and the Government would put in a $100 kickstart payments. The device would belong to the child after it was paid off.

For the poorest families which could not afford the payments there would be a $5 million hardship fund to call on. Teachers would also be given training in how to get most use out of the devices through a $25 million programme in 2016 and 2017. . .

The party that thinks parents can’t afford a $100 donation a year now want them to pay six times more than that.

The policy is based on the Manaiakalani Trust programme in Tamaki, which works with 12 lower decile schools to provide students with a netbook and 24/7 access to the internet.

Keeping Stock points out that is essentially a public-private partnership.

But Labour would rather spend taxpayers’ money on an initiative when there’s already a very good model supported by sponsors and trusts they could use.

Is it any wonder even they don’t expect to be in government for another 27 years.

 

Maybe they'll have their shit together by then. #Labour2041


Which rules are lawful?

June 27, 2014

Lucan Battison has won his court case against St John’s College over his suspension for having long hair:

Today Justice David Collins ruled in favour of Lucan, stating the suspension was unlawful, as was the hair rule set out by the school. . .

St John’s College principal Paul Melloy said the school was “disappointed” by the decision.

He said the school board would consider the judgment “in terms of its impact, both on our school and on other schools”.

“It is not about the individual student but being able to manage our school in a positive equitable environment, this includes compliance with our rules,” he said in a statement. . .

Suspension was the nuclear option and other consequences could have been imposed first.

But all schools and other organisations are now going to be faced with the potential for the questioning of their rules because this ruling calls into question which rules are lawful and which are not.

I wonder what the school’s teachers, board and other parents think of the rule, the court case and the verdict?

Life isn’t always fair or reasonable but surely a school has the right to set its own rules and interpret them as it sees fit?

 


Rules, rights, responsiblities

June 25, 2014

Where the right of a school to set, and enforce, its rules stands in relation to a pupil’s right to long hair is being addressed by the high court.

I was siding with the school and the boy’s lawyer likening his cause to that of human rights defenders  Martin Luther King and Kate Sheppard reinforced my view.

Fighting against racial and gender discrimination is light-years away from flouting school rules.

As Nigel Latta says:

Haircuts and ‘human rights’.

I just have to say that I am appalled at the behavior of the father who took a school to the High Court to ‘defend’ his son’s ‘right’ to have long hair – in direct violation of an existing school rule. It seems clear from the newspaper reports that, despite the family’s lawyer presenting the young man as somehow being a human rights crusader on a par with historical figures like Martin Luther King, the young person in question doesn’t see himself like that.

The boy’s father is quoted as saying: “It was about Lucan’s right to express himself”.

In my opinion it wasn’t about that at all… it was about that individual father’s total loss of perspective. This Court action is, in my view, completely irresponsible, and may end up hurting us all.

It’s a very simple issue really. If we expect schools to look after our children then we need to support them and we need to make sure our children follow the school rules… even the ones we may not necessarily like. If you decide to join the school then you sign up to their school rules. If you don’t like the rules then go to another school.

Giving your kids the message that they only need to obey the school rules they like is dumb.

If this legal action opens the door to kids/parents taking schools to Court whenever they don’t like some school rule then we’re all in trouble. The money we should be spending educating kids will get spent on lawyers. Teachers should be in classrooms, not Court rooms.

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

One of our most important responsibilities as parents, I believe, is to support the schools our children attend. If I expect my kids’ schools to be responsible them during the day, and to provide them with a high standard of education, then their schools should also be able to expect that I will support their right to set rules.

It’s a shame this father didn’t think a little more about the larger ramifications of his actions. His boy isn’t Martin Luther King, he’s just a kid with long hair.

POSTSCRIPT IN LIGHT OF SOME COMMENTS BELOW:

Just to be clear… my issue is not about the boy’s hair per se. I’m sure he’s a fine young man, and if he wants to have long hair then good for him. My point is that if we expect schools to look after our children (and educate them) in our absence, then they need to be able to set rules, and we need to make sure our kids know they have to follow all the rules and can’t pick and choose the ones they like. If you don’t like the rules then go to a new school where you do like the rules. Don’t go to Court. That is a dangerous precedent that has the potential to impact on all of our children’s education. This is about far more than one boy’s haircut.

This is about a lot more than one boy’s haircut.

It’s about rules, rights and responsibilities.

If a pupil and his father have a problem with the rules they should take their case to the board which sets them, not force the school to waste its time and money in court.


St Paul’s prepares teens for ag careers

June 17, 2014

An independent school in Hamilton is responding to the needs of the agricultural sector by pioneering courses specifically designed for careers in agri-business.

St Paul’s Collegiate School is running agribusiness courses at NCEA level 2 and level 3.

The assistant headmaster responsible for academic programmes, Peter Hampton, says these will be the first structured programmes in New Zealand secondary schools that promote careers in agribusiness.

He says the courses are designed to attract students capable of going on to tertiary study.

“There’s a gap at the senior level where the tertiary capable students are and figures that we have done in conjunction with DairyNZ and Beef and Lamb show there are round about 1200 graduates are required for the sector each year and currently there are about 250 coming out of our universities”. . .

This is a brilliant idea and well over-due.

Agribusiness – farming and the businesses which service and supply them, are already finding it difficult to recruit good staff.

One reason for that is because since the ag-sag of the 80s agribusiness in general and agriculture in particular, weren’t seen as good career options.

That was wrong then and is even more so now.

But if agriculture is to reach its potential it needs good staff and St Paul’s’ programmes will make its pupils aware of the options and prepare them for careers in jobs which are waiting for them.


Labour prioritises luxury education

June 7, 2014

I used to teach Spanish night classes, with the very necessary help of a Uruguayan friend.

We had fun, so did the pupils but even the best learned little more than the absolute basics.

The classes ended when funding was cut and I couldn’t argue against that.

There might have been some social benefit to the ACE – Adult and Continuing Education – classes, but using scarce taxpayers’ dollars for what was a luxury wasn’t sensible.

Labour railed against the cuts and is now promising to reinstate funding.

There is a case for public funding of numeracy and literacy classes and ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages).

But reinstating funding for hobby classes is wasting money on luxury education – mostly for upper and middle income people – when it would be far better used for those requiring necessities.

The PWC study which Labour uses to justify this spending has been discredited.

And Matthew Beveridge spotted that  Labour also scored another SMOG (Social Media Own Goal) with its announcement:

. . . Now you will notice that the graphic claims that they will increase funding to community education  TO $13million. Now there are two issues with that claim. Firstly, the funding for ACE this year is already $71million. (ref page 173) . . .

So as you can see, non literacy and numeracy programs already get $22.89mil allocated for them in the coming financial year. So Labour’s graphic is claiming to increase ACE funding to a level that is around 45% lower than the current appropriation.

The bigger issue is that their graphic doesn’t agree with their policy documents. . .

So Labour are promising in their policy documents to restore the nominal value of funding, with no inflation adjustment. This is a HUGE difference from what their graphic says. Their graphic implies a total funding of $13million next year, but their policy documents indicate a funding of around $36million. That means the funding difference between “graphic policy” and actual policy is around $23million.

 

How did no one in the whole Labour leaders office pick up this issue? I am not sure what would be worse, over selling a policy, or underselling it. One makes you look like you lied, the other makes you look inept. Neither of which is going to help an opposition party win.

Once more, Labour shows it’s the one in need of education on how to develop policy and deliver its announcement without contradiction and confusion.

 


Don’t need the government to tell you

May 27, 2014

Stephen Balme, is begging – please government tax me more:

I’m writing here today with a most unusual of requests: Can those in charge please charge me more tax? . . .

We didn’t have much in the way of direct tax cuts this budget, but we did have them earlier on during what was frequently referred to as a global financial crisis.

So, please, charge me more tax.

Who am I to make such a bold, selfless declaration?

I’m a male. I’m 28. I rent. I have a car. I have been in the workforce for three years. Prior to that I attended Otago University where I earned two degrees and a student loan of $37,000.

And finally we get to the crux of my submission.

When I graduated university, my income more than tripled over the money provided to me by my weekly student loan payments, but expenses remained exactly the same.

I have no family to support, very few bills to pay, and ultimately am in a golden age of disposable income that cannot possibly last.

This comfortable life I currently have is only made possible through the generosity of a student loan.

So, please, please start charging interest on my loan.

It’s basic economics to see that the longer I drag out my repayments the less the loan costs in real world terms (thank you inflation).

It seems fairly clear to me that this is an unsustainable cost. You could charge a set fee every year so the mental picture of free money in the eyes of new students is gone.

Adding interest at the rate of inflation is just too obvious to bother discussing all the pros, but once again, I would be willing to pay more than that to assist the future. . .

Interest-free student loans do provide an incentive for people to pay them off no faster than the minimum required, but there is no upper limit on the amount anyone can pay off a student loan.

He could pay his off much faster, he could pay it all off at once if he had enough money.

What’s stopping him?

He doesn’t need to wait for the government to take more from him.

 


Budget works for women

May 23, 2014

A few decades ago James K. Baxter wrote about National Mum and Labour Dad.

Things went downhill after that and until recently national has found it harder to win women’s support.

The good news is that has been changing and the Budget has helped to woo women:

The Key Govt, which is fighting to keep its support base around the 46% mark, got an unexpected bonus from the budget last week, with what could be a decisive shift in support from women voters. Trans-Tasman understands private polling showed women reacted positively to the measures announced in the budget for free GP visits and free prescriptions for children under 13, improvements to paid parental leave, a lift in the parental tax credit from $150 a week to $220 a week, and the move to make early childhood centres more accessible and affordable. In reporting their feedback from the budget National backbenchers also noted the intense response from women to measures which were seen to be directing some of the fruits of economic success to where support is most needed. Traditionally National’s support base has been weakest among women voters, especially in the 20-to-40 age group, and in this election it may be more vital than previously to ensure it maximises its vote in this segment.

It was a family-friendly Budget.
Maggie Barry MP's photo.

But it wasn’t just family-friendly, it was also business-friendly.

There has also been a positive reaction from the business sector whose priority is for the Govt to deliver on the basics and ensure the economy is moving in the right direction. This is particularly important where business is moving through the phase of investing in new plant and machinery. The interesting new feature in budgetary responses is coming from iwi leaders who seek dialogue with the Govt, as they plan developments in the wake of major Treaty settlements.

That last point is a welcome sign of what happens when iwi move from grievance to growth.


Surplus albeit small

May 15, 2014

It might be small, but Finance Minister Bill English has delivered on his promise to return the government accounts to surplus:

. . . It’s a privilege to deliver the National-led Government’s sixth Budget.

It’s a particular privilege because this is the first Budget in six years to focus on managing a growing economy rather than recovering from a domestic recession and then the global financial crisis.

A growing economy supports employment and higher wages. It provides opportunities for families. And it pays for public services that New Zealanders rely on.

Budget 2014 looks ahead to build on the hard work done by every New Zealand household and business over the past five years.

New Zealand is in a good position.

We’ve made significant progress in recent years to deliver more jobs and higher incomes.

New Zealand is one of the first developed countries to return to normal economic conditions, with a recovery led by the private sector.

Businesses are investing, wages are rising faster than inflation and our export sector is posting record results despite the headwinds of disruption in international markets and a high exchange rate.

Public agencies are working better for New Zealanders and getting better results.

On most indicators that matter, we’re moving forward as a country.

If we lock in the hard-won gains we’ve made, there’ll be many opportunities over the next decade to improve our economic fortunes and secure a brighter future for New Zealand families.

Each year, millions more consumers in the Asia-Pacific region are becoming affluent enough to want, and afford, the goods and services New Zealand produces.

Mr Speaker,

Our challenge is to muster the capital, the people and the skills to take advantage of this historic change in our prospects and lift the aspirations and prospects of every New Zealander.

That requires sticking to our course, with careful stewardship of public money, with sound, proven economic policies and with a determined focus on results from public services.

Budget 2014 shows a return to fiscal surpluses.

There will be a small surplus next year, and increasing surpluses are forecast over time. The Budget also shows the economy continuing to build momentum, with employment continuing to grow and wages continuing to rise.

But these are just forecasts and there is a lot of work to do to make them a reality.

What matters to people and families across New Zealand are the opportunities created by a sustainable economic recovery.

So an important part of this Budget is lifting New Zealand’s capacity to sustain higher levels of economic growth for longer, grow incomes and support jobs.

And what also matters to people and families is that the Government will support them when they need assistance. . . .

Other Budget highlights include:

Photo: Investing almost $500 million more in the well-being of New Zealand's children and families is at the heart of new spending in the Budget. http://ntnl.org.nz/1sPTNUX
Details of that are here and more Budget details are here


Boost to apprenticeships

May 8, 2014

A generation ago thousands of people left school and took up apprenticeships.

In the intervening years changes to the system led to a drop in numbers of apprentices which has led to a shortage of skilled trades people.

A pre-Budget announcement provides a welcome boost to help solve that problem:

Continuing high demand for the Apprenticeship Reboot means the Government has decided to spend up to $20 million in Budget 2014 for an extra 6,000 places as part of its Business Growth Agenda, Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Minister Steven Joyce says.

The Apprenticeship Reboot was announced in January 2013 by Prime Minister John Key alongside an overhaul of the apprenticeship scheme to get more apprentices qualified, especially in construction trades.

Eligible apprentices or trainees who sign up for training have been able to apply for a subsidy of $1,000 towards the cost of tools and off-job course costs, or $2,000 for those in priority trades. Employers are also eligible for an equal payment.

“The Government extended the available places from 10,000 to 14,000 in December last year to keep up with demand,” Mr Joyce says.

”We’re now committing additional funding in Budget 2014 of up to $20 million for 6,000 more places. That brings total funding for the scheme to $69.4 million and the total number of places to 20,000.

“The Apprenticeship Reboot is proving very successful in getting more apprentices underway, especially in the priority trades we need for the rebuilding of Christchurch and the housing construction boom in Auckland. It is giving more Kiwis vital vocational skills that will set them up for their working lives, while meeting the needs of the growing economy.

“When we introduced the Reboot and New Zealand Apprenticeships, we anticipated that a total of 14,000 new apprentices would start training over the following five years, over and above the 7,000 who would normally enrol. However, demand for places continues to outpace this forecast.

“The Government’s ongoing investment in the Apprenticeship Reboot will benefit Christchurch, the wider economy, and thousands of New Zealanders whose training will lead to higher wages and better living standards for them and their families.”

More training opportunities will contribute to higher wages and better living standards: http://bit.ly/1ikno5l


Purpose of schools is education

April 13, 2014

Phillipstown School took the government to court and won.

The lengthy process over whether or not it was to merge with neighbouring Woolston School had to be gone through again and the same concussion was reached.

It was in the best interests of the schools, and the taxpayers who fund them, to merge.

The principal hasn’t accepted that:

. . . Phillipstown School principal Tony Simpson said the school would be consulting lawyers over next steps.

The process had been flawed and stressful leaving him feeling “at times bullied”.

He said he not had a satisfactory response from the Ministry as to why the school was the one to close and looked forward to the release of an Ombudsman report into the schools’ reshuffle.

“The public of New Zealand have not been presented with all the facts.” .

The public have their own lives and concerns. If they have any about this it will be that what is in the best outcome for the children and the best use of public money.

With that in mind and without the emotion of those closely involved, the Ministry’s decision is right.

People closer to the action share that view.

The grapevine tells me that other schools in Christchurch have lost patience with Phillipstown and resent the money and energy the Ministry has to expend on this fight when it could be directed more positively elsewhere.

However, Simpson said his main priority was the children. “We’ve got to make sure the children are catered for.” . .

That won’t be achieved by more legal action and delaying tactics.

Board chairwoman Alicia Ward said the school was “not dead yet” and would fight to the death.

Without the school the community risked “fizzing and dying” she said. . .

Schools do form a hub for communities but that isn’t their purpose. It’s to educate children.

That will happen at the Woolston site where $11.8 million is to be spent on development and the community can be involved in that.

Schools leaders have wasted far too much money and time fighting the inevitable already, it’s time for them to stop the emoting and, as Tahu Potiki writes,  start leading:

Dear Phillipstown School, please get a grip. Fight to the death? Really?

I can understand that a decision such as a school closing is an emotional one and pushes buttons at a number of levels but, as an outsider, I have to say that the appearance of the key players advocating for the school is petulant, irrational and pointless.

We have kids that attend a local school and it does play an important part in our community but we are predicting changes some time in the near future. There are three schools between here and Dunedin and only about 300 pupils with the spread being far from even. We have always expected that the ministry will eventually step in and make a call. When it does I certainly hope our communities will act with a little more balance and perspective than we have seen from Phillipstown.

The Minister of Education does not have a bottomless pit of money to simply let schools with diminishing rolls and depreciating assets carry on existing regardless. There are serious responsibilities to take in to consideration as post-earthquake Christchurch reconstructs and reconfigures and all the social institutions and community infrastructure clearly need to reposition themselves.

There are a few things that flabbergast me about this reasonably minor storm in a teacup.

Firstly the fact that Mai Chen has been engaged again for further court action. I have worked with Mai before and she is certainly a force to be reckoned with and I rate her highly but she does not come without a cost. . .

The second thing is that the ministry is proposing that the new school the Phillipstown children would be relocated to would benefit from an $11.3 million investment. This is a glorious opportunity and I would have expected community leaders to be working furiously to have some influence over how that investment might work in the best interests of the newly configured school. I would not have expected a complete denial that an investment of this magnitude is a huge opportunity. . .

Thirdly it has been very disappointing to see the Labour Party playing politics and attempting to manipulate emotions. If they really have said that they would keep the school open then they have dropped pretty low in my estimation.

David Cunliffe is already looking like a desperate character after his comments on the royal tour but this is, quite frankly, adding to the embarrassment. It has the appearance of vote buying without any of the analysis and objective assessment of the community’s situation. They may as well be promising a $100 increase in the dole for all the unemployed that vote for Labour. Ultimately it cannot be delivered.

This is cynical and unprincipled vote buying in one small area that will lose far more in others who know there are far better ways to spend scarce public money.

Fourthly it is highly questionable in terms of role modelling. Trotting your kids out to cry in front of the cameras to make your point makes me wince. A group of parents that weren’t moaning about dumb people making dumb decisions may well have aided their transition in a much more positive fashion. Instead the children have been drawn in to dramatics and will experience a degree of trauma that could probably have been avoided.

Children take their lead from adults. they have been let down by those who should be showing leadership.

Finally, community is much more than a school. If there is a collective view that the community will die because the school has been merged with a boost of $11m then there are some seriously confused people in that community. Real community will be looking for opportunity and growth. Instead the blinkers are on and one has to question the sincerity of those in key roles and their agenda. I do wonder if the principal lives in Phillipstown or if his personal residence is in some other suburb. . .

It’s time for the adults to act like grown-ups, take some deep breaths and do what’s best for the children.

That’s accept the decision and work to ensure the transition to the new school is as seamless as possible.

 

 

 


NZEI tramples on mana

March 28, 2014

Iwi leaders are incensed by NZEI’s latest publicity stunt:

The proposed protest by the Primary School Teachers Union (NZEI) to deliberately coincide with the International Summit on the Teaching Profession to be hosted by Aotearoa New Zealand will not be tolerated and left unchallenged, say prominent iwi leaders from throughout the country.

We as iwi leaders stand together in strongly condemning the NZEI. We call on them to cancel their protest for the greater good of Aotearoa New Zealand. We also issue a strong call to all Maori members of the NZEI to withdraw their membership at once. Their mana as Tangata Whenua must surely count for something and take precedence over their unionship.

The tikanga of mana is at stake. We will not stand idly by and allow the mana of the Minister of Education, the Honourable Hekia Parata, her people, our people to be manipulated and trampled on. We, Dr Apirana Mahuika, Sir Toby Curtis, Sir Mark Solomon, Raniera Tau, Willie Te Aho, Awanuiarangi Black, Tiwha Puketapu, Naida Glavish, Sir Tamati Reedy and Pem Bird caution NZEI that they are putting their hard earned excellent reputation earned over a sustained period of time on the line and for what purpose?

The International Summit is the most prestigious educational event on the world calendar, a huge coup for our Minister of Education, Hekia Parata. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Aotearoa New Zealand to showcase all aspects of our fabulous education system to renowned educational leaders from throughout the OECD community of nations.

It should be an occasion when all diverse sectors of Aotearoa New Zealand, our cities, our towns, rural communities, whanau, hapu and iwi join together as one, putting any differences we may have aside and focus instead on the positives that make us a great nation in which to bring up our children. We have much to be proud of, indeed we have much to celebrate and share.

Ideas and innovations will be discussed. Inspirational addresses will be delivered and all for the express purpose of advancing not only our national educational interests but also those of the global community. And yet despite all of this, we are going to have to witness the deeply offensive and cynical spectacle of a once honourable union exploiting this event for their own selfish needs, whatever they are.

It is not to late to exit with dignity. NZEI we urge you to come into the whare.

I presume the protest being referred to is the rally in Queen Street this Saturday.

The teaching summit is being held in Wellington so it is unlikely anyone going to it will be troubled by or even know anything about the rally.

However, the timing is a coincidence which suggests a deliberate attempt by NZEI to emphasise the negative while the positive is being celebrated at the other end of the island.

It also suggests they are more interested in politics than education.

UPDATE – one rally is going to be marching on parliament.

Education Minister Hekia Parata said she was disappointed with the protest timing, especially given NZEI’s involvement in the organisation of the summit and being part of previous delegations to New York and Amsterdam.

She would continue to have a relationship with the union, which was one of the objectives of the cross-sector forum that was set up following the first summit.

“We will continue to try to work together but it does take two.” . . .

Nga Kura-a-Iwi, a federation representing Maori schools, has also spoken out against the NZEI and the “disrespect” it has shown the summit.

Co-chairwoman Arihia Stirling said it was an “inappropriate time to be airing dirty linen”.

“It’s wrong to do this now, we don’t have people dying in the street, we don’t have people bleeding at the hands of the education sector . . . it’s poor judgment of the leadership of the union to do this at this time.

“Why would you air your dirty linen in front of the world when it’s imperative we get the rest of the world down here to learn and strengthen our education system?” . . .

The timing and venue mean it’s not less about education and more about politics.

It’s far less about making a point about poverty, it’s directly aimed at embarrassing the Minister while she’s hosting an international event.

 


If you have to teach appropriate . . .

March 14, 2014

Teachers’ Council’s disciplinary tribunal member and principal of John Paul College in Rotorua, Patrick Walsh, wants appropriate behaviour with pupils to be a mandatory part of teacher training.

. . . Mr Walsh says there are basic rules to guide teachers’ behaviour.

“They don’t need to be a friend of a student – and there’s a distinction between that and being friendly. Secondly, use of social media: it’s not appropriate for a student to join your Facebook page, to text students late at night in the weekends, to accept gifts and whether it’s a good idea to attend a 16th or 18th birthday party of a student.” . . .

This has been prompted by a blurring of lines between what was acceptable between teachers and pupils.

Teachers have accepted gifts of underwear, and invitations to students’ birthday parties – and later claimed to be unaware such actions were inappropriate. . .

Good grief – aren’t teachers supposed to be responsible adults and role models to their pupils?

If you have to teach them what’s appropriate in teacher-pupil relationships are they the appropriate people to be teachers?


Waging war on success

March 6, 2014

Why would anyone oppose schools which are proven to be successful?

. . . All four Harlem Success Academy charters serve primarily minority student populations (all are 93.5 to 97.1% black and Hispanic) and low-income households (75 to 80% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch), and yet all are ranked academically higher than about 97% of all schools in New York state based on standardized test assessments in math and reading.

What a truly amazing academic success story!

Q: With those kinds of impressive results for some of the city’s most at-risk student populations in Harlem, couldn’t that proven record of academic success be replicated in all public schools? Wouldn’t you think that these Harlem charter schools would be recognized as academic models for the rest of the city and the state?

A: In a more sane world where students and learning are the No. 1 priority, the educational establishment would be “falling all over itself” to copy the proven educational success of charter schools like the ones in Harlem profiled above. But in the insane world of New York City, the liberal mayor and liberal teacher unions are waging a war on the city’s successful charter schools like the ones operated by Success Academy Charter Schools. Preservation of the status quo and a continuation of the current failed public school model, and preserving its power, are the primary concerns of the teachers unions and their administrative enablers, which now includes the new New York mayor. . .

This sounds familiar.

New Zealand’s first partnership schools have only recently been established but unions and opposition MPs aren’t giving them a chance.

Opposition parties and unions have already damned charter schools here.

Conventional schools work well for most pupils but they don’t work well for all..

Those young people who for a myriad of reasons fail in, or are failed by, conventional schools should be given a chance to succeed in partnership schools.

Damning them before they’ve had a chance to show what they can do is playing politics with pupils most in need of something more than business as usual in conventional schools is offering.


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