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.