Information is power

February 3, 2012

Information is power and one of the criticisms of the education system is that too much information isn’t shared with parents.

Education Minister Hekia Parata is considering addressing that:

The Government appears set on publishing primary school performance data, criticised by a teacher union as “junk information”.

Education Minister Hekia Parata yesterday said she would consider setting up a website similar to the MySchool resource that operates in Australia.

The Australian example “deals with a number of the concerns that have been rumoured” about the risks of league tables, Ms Parata said.

Comparisons between schools on MySchool were only between “statistically similar schools,” giving a fairer picture of performance.

“I think that parents vest a lot of trust in the principals and teachers of the education sector – and so they should – and that trust should be returned by letting parents know accurate information about what’s happening,” she said.

Teachers – or at least their union – are opposed to the very idea of giving this information to parents but as Maxim researcher Steve Thomas points out the data has the potential to be very useful:

“. . .  Information about schools is a precious commodity and the reason it is so highly sought is simple—people want to know what goes on in classrooms and how well children are learning at school. This can help us understand which schools need the most assistance, and can help parents make informed choices about their children’s education. As long as the data is reported well and with sufficient detail,there is absolutely no need for alarm,” says Thomas.

It is better that the Ministry releases the data in a way that gives the most helpful and accurate indication about how school’s are performing, rather than leaving others to crudely interpret the data or to speculate with inadequate information,” says Thomas. . . 

The key is good data which compares like with like and gives parents all the information they need to understand how well their children are learning and the quality of the teaching they’re receiving.

At the moment parents have to rely on their own observations and the grapevine which are not necessarily reliable.


The case for SM

October 28, 2011

Next month’s election will decide who governs for the next three years.

The referendum on the electoral system which is to be held the same day could determine how we’re governed for decades.

The anti-change movement has been more vocal until now but people encouraging a vote for change are beginning to speak out.

Jane Clifton has an MMP guide in this week’s Listener  (it included a an error which Graeme Edgler corrected). Sir Geoffrey Palmer put the case for MMP and Roger Kerr put the case for change.

The Maxim Institute which published Kicking The Tyres Choosing a Voting System for New Zealand last month has today issued two more papers.

The first is “A Better Mix: Why SM strikes the best balance and should be New Zealand’s voting system.”

The second is   “Enhancing MMP: How to improve New Zealand’s current voting system.”

They correctly point out all systems have their faults:

“There is no perfect voting system. Deciding which system is best for New Zealand involves making trade-offs among a whole range of criteria—local and interest group representation, legitimacy, accountability and stability of government being just a few of those criteria. After evaluating all the systems on offer at this year’s voting systems referendum, we believe the system that strikes the best balance is SM (Supplementary Member),” says Steve Thomas, Researcher at Maxim Institute. “We also believe that if MMP is kept it could be improved in several ways.”

“There are two broad types of voting systems: majoritarian systems and proportional systems. SM, like MMP, mixes elements of both majoritarian and proportional voting systems. But where MMP is designed to be more proportional, SM is the opposite—it generally produces majoritarian outcomes,” says Thomas.“Mixed systems are a good option for New Zealand, as they allow people to vote for both a candidate and a party to represent them, but we think that SM is the better option.”

“Majoritarian systems sometimes get a bad name, with a perception that proportional systems produce‘fairer’ outcomes. This argument sounds intuitively right, but it does not actually stack up. Majoritarian systems, like SM, can produce a ‘fair’ outcome because the result is representative of which parties most people voted for in their electorates—it all depends on what is meant by ‘fair.’”

“We also think that SM would be beneficial for representation. There would be 90 electorate MPs if SM were used in New Zealand, so it would be weighted more towards electorate representation than MMP is. We think that electorate representation is important for providing a direct relational connection between parliament and local communities. Parties and list MPs can only provide for this kind of representation indirectly. The 30 list MPs that there would be under SM would still enable various non-geographic communities, such as ethnic, minority and interest groups, to be represented in parliament.”

“Under SM, it would also be more likely that single-party majority governments would form. This would provide for stable government and bring clarity of focus to government policy, as the major parties would not have to make policy concessions to the minor parties in return for their support. The reduced influence of the minor parties would decrease the instances of interest group politics unduly influencing parliament and the government’s agenda. Obviously this has other negative trade-offs but we believe that, on balance, this is the best way to go.”

“Proportional representation is not the only factor that should be considered in choosing a voting system. When all factors, like legitimacy; effectiveness and stability of government; representation; accountability; and the need for opposition and oversight are taken into account, we believe that SM strikes the best balance.”

I voted against MMP and opted for FPP in previous referenda.

I don’t want a return to FPP but I do want change from MMP and agree with the points made above.

Electorates are far too big under MMP, reducing representation for people under a system which increases the power of parties.

SM gives, more and therefore smaller, electorates while still allowing for an element of proportionality and a better chance for the wee parties to be represented than FPP.


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