Armstrong on Shearer

March 17th, 2012 at 10:44 am by David Farrar

writes in NZ Herald:

But Thursday’s speech contained enough hints of a change in the party’s direction to put several feral cats among Labour’s pigeons.

It made it clear Shearer will ditch policies that made Labour feel good about itself but which left voters cold – policies like Goff’s “tax-free zone” for the first $5000 of income, the promise to remove GST from fresh fruit and vegetables and the manifesto commitment to introduce a new top tax rate on income above $150,000.

That is the first suggestion I have seen that Shearer is also looking to dump the proposed rich prick tax. I hope they do. The top tax rate was dropped to 33% by Labour in the 1980s in return for bringing in a 10% GST and getting rid of tax loopholes. There is no need to raise it, except envy.

Perhaps most significant of all was the speech’s incursion into what has been an effective no-go area – the seemingly unfettered power of the teacher unions to run a ruler over the party’s education policy.,

However, education is central to Shearer’s plan to build the “new New Zealand”. It was here the speech was at its most blunt in putting bad teachers and badly run schools on notice. He later acknowledged it might be necessary to pay teachers more. It can only be assumed he was reserving any such salary increases for the good ones despite performance pay being viewed with intense suspicion by the teacher unions.

Shearer can leave National behind here. National has not committed to performance pay. If Labour does, that would make National look a follower not a leader.

Shearer intends shifting Labour’s mind-set away from not upsetting the practitioners of policy – be they teachers, public servants or whomever – to satisfying the consumers of policy, parents in this case.

I look forward to this being applied to industrial relations also.

30 Responses to “Armstrong on Shearer”

  1. adamsmith1922 (1,034 comments) says:

    Will not believe it until I see firm policy, hints are not enough – furthermore if to govern he needed the Greens bet these policies are first to go

    As for staring down the teachers, given his performance and his MPs re MUNZ, forget it

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  2. mikenmild (24,109 comments) says:

    No need to stare down the teachers; just adopt their policies.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  3. Nostalgia-NZ (6,470 comments) says:

    I think DPF is right on the Shearer’s position on the teachers – that it is likely to make Labour a leader rather than a follower on this issue. It’s clear that Shearer recognizes an economy must be based on getting paid for what you achieve or earn for your employer. Fairly bold move by Shearer, maybe as bold as JK’s original overtures to the MP but without the fish hooks presumably.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  4. Tauhei Notts (2,399 comments) says:

    I have been described as a right wing reactionary, but I do like the idea of a 39% envy tax rate on incomes in excess of, say, $200,000 with one BUT.
    “The Income Equalisation account be extended to all New Zealand residents who are citizens of New Zealand.” It is presently restricted to farmers.
    Such a move would bring fairness to the person who is on, say, $75,000 but in one year their taxable income spikes to $550,000. The government would get the use of that $350,000 deposit to the Income Equalisation scheme.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  5. Paulus (3,588 comments) says:

    Look forward to firm election promise on teachers – but will all be forgotten when Labour Greens Coalition comes in.
    In reality Labour cannot afford to upset teachers – they are one of Labours mainstay providers.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  6. mikenmild (24,109 comments) says:

    Yeah, I’m sure Labour’s recipe for success would be to fight the teachers over education policy…

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  7. Nostalgia-NZ (6,470 comments) says:

    So performing teachers who would receive incentive based performance pay would be against that?

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  8. burt (11,789 comments) says:

    So Shearer is going to out national National. Fantastic.. I guess he figures if Key can slide in on a platform of ‘steady as she goes’ so can he.

    I can’t help but agree with Paulus on the teachers issue, I’ll believe it when I see it. Imagine though, all the one eyed Labour blogs will be rich fodder when his supporters back him. But then so will be this blog if National oppose it.

    Tauhei Notts

    I think the income equalization act is ably implemented in personal behaviours. If for example I was earning $75k and it spiked to $550,00 one year then most people would laugh at me if 5 years later I was broke having lost my job only months ago. I don’t see what role tax legislation plays in protecting individuals from their own circumstances any more than I see it being valid for farmers in todays environment. Probably justifiable when the majority of farms really were family concerns rather than a business.

    Arguably the people who need income equalisation the most are the people who earn minimum-average wage that have the occasional period of long hours every now and then.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  9. burt (11,789 comments) says:


    So performing teachers who would receive incentive based performance pay would be against that?

    The union, don’t forget the union. It’s not about the teachers, it’s about the collective.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  10. burt (11,789 comments) says:

    Tauhei Notts

    Additionally, automagically implementing income equalisation either imposes complicated tax record keeping on the earners or the IRD. Farmers already have a ‘level of accounting going on’, it’s not so hard for them but would be a nightmare for someone normally earning say $75. Especially if they were blissfully unaware of tax compliance via having PAYE deducted for them.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  11. Nick K (2,078 comments) says:

    Meanwhile, over on Red Alert, one of its economic spokespersons (and former Treasury wonk), David Clark, is saying the tax cuts have led to a worsening deficit, with the clear implication the top rate should be raised:

    Oh dear.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  12. Nostalgia-NZ (6,470 comments) says:


    Wouldn’t Shearer expect to pick up votes from the broader electorate if his policy was performance-pay in education? I don’t like the idea of all teachers being paid the same regardless of their performance, and I think there is a note of that in the public mind. I also add that I’m highly sceptical of the ease of any efficient monitoring that doesn’t bring with it considerable costs, I don’t know what the suggestions are but it would have to be a pretty lean model in my opinion to ensure available money was spent on teacher and therefore pupil performance rather than an expensive watchdog. It’s all hypothetical but as the 2 parties get closer with similar policies. Key could change direction on performance pay if Shearer looked to be running away with it. Fairly evident that Shearer is dropping the ‘lolly bag’ option that Goff used late in the election.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  13. mikenmild (24,109 comments) says:

    ‘Performance pay’ for teachers is a huge red herring. Funnily enough, we never hear demand for performance pay for doctors, nurses, police or the military. I wonder why?

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  14. Johnboy (21,104 comments) says:

    “for doctors, nurses, police”

    The Cops who shot the darkie yesterday should have their performance pay docked for missing a vital organ Milkey.

    Back to the range with a couple of packets of ammo and a lifesize image of the human anatomy I say! 🙂

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  15. mikenmild (24,109 comments) says:

    Would larger calibre weapons, flamethrowers or rocket launchers give them a better chance of hitting?

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  16. Johnboy (21,104 comments) says:

    Not at all Milky. The test of a true marksman is using the minimal sized round to do the deed with the least possible collateral damage.

    However, of course, a five megaton airburst at say 1500m AGL definitely takes care of most uncertainties in the calculations. 🙂

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  17. burt (11,789 comments) says:


    I think the broader community agrees the idea is good, probably many teachers do as well. However that ‘many’ has to be, or get past, the tyranny of the majority. The collective and the best interests of the union.

    This direction from Labour is unusually not slanted in favour of unionism. So I say keep Shearer on 😉

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  18. Richard Hurst (1,247 comments) says:

    “It can only be assumed….” Sigh. Two words: Window Dressing.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  19. Nostalgia-NZ (6,470 comments) says:


    It’s directed toward improving education and therefore the benefits to the next generation, I thought that was at least ‘part’ of the union interest and the ‘whole’ for the public in general. Seems to me Shearer is refreshed from ideas otherwise and that’s where he starts.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  20. mavxp (505 comments) says:

    If he can pull it off (without leaving too much of his ‘base’ behind) it will be a good strategy for Shearer and Labour.

    By appealing to the middle ground of public opinion (which is to the right of Labour on many issues), they can appeal to many more voters than in the previous election, and by taking the leadership on such issues, push National to the right in their response, or be left playing ‘me too’ and looking old and tired and out of fresh ideas.

    This is ‘positive’ politics and is a welcome sign from Labour, too often seen as the negative nasty party. The nasty stuff will most likely be delegated exclusively to the senior MP’s, leaving the public with the impression David Shearer is a really nice bloke.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  21. Rightandleft (784 comments) says:

    There is no research that shows performance pay for teachers has any positive effect on student outcomes. There are only a few developed world nations with systems using versions of performance pay, mostly in the US and UK. Both countries perform much worse on the OECD league tables than NZ, so why copy them? That being said, the performance pay created in the UK actually was a failure in most conservatives’ eyes because it was a pay rise given for meeting a certain skill standard that could not be taken away once earned and the standard ended up getting set by the union, so nearly all teachers got it. In the US only a few school systems have instituted performance pay because it had tended to be a very difficult system to administer. There’s been lots of talk about it in the US, but even where the unions aren’t hostile to the idea it has rarely been implemented.

    It seems to me that most people who really push performance pay do so based on personal experience of having had some useless teacher or teachers while they were at school themselves. They think if it was obvious to them and all their mates who the good teachers were and who the terrible ones were, it must also be obvious to everyone else and they shouldn’t all get paid the same amount. But we can’t make policy based on anecdotal evidence. The teacher one group of students think is terrible another group may think is the best one in the school. Clash of personalities, different learning styles, all sorts of issues lead to students disliking a teacher who actually produces good results.

    Another group argues that something must be done because our system is aparently failing. They say 20% of our kids leave school unable to read or write. That simply isn’t true. The 20% number is those who fail to gain “literacy” as defined by the NCEA system as earning a certain number of credits in reading/writing heavy subjects like English, History, Art History, Classics etc. Failing to gain “literacy” at college does not mean they are unable to read and write. It means their reading and writing might be at a Year 10 level when they get to Year 13, or they failed to complete their assignments or wagged class too much for any number of reasons and so they failed to get the credits. More students pass Level 1 NCEA than gain literacy, and I can guarantee you it would be impossible to pass Level 1 if you couldn’t read or write.

    I had a student a couple years ago who failed to gain “Literacy” despite passing Level 3 NCEA and one of the toughest and most writing intensive courses in school, Level 3 History. She may have been slightly dyslexic, but if so it had been undiagnosed. Her main problem was wagging classes when there were problems at home or there were teachers she disliked. She had to come back an extra half a year to earn her final literacy credits, then went on to a good university. So some of those 20% finishing Year 13 without ‘literacy’ are actually university level students.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  22. Joseph Carpenter (215 comments) says:

    Rightandleft I will refute your rubbish with the facts. I’ll also repeat a comment I made earlier (ironically in DPF’s pre-election post about “ACT on Education” which signaled exactly the charter schools idea).

    “I’ve been checking the figures on illiteracy, these are from the Min of Ed for the international PISA results for 2009. The NZ results are very good on AVERAGE, ranked 5th in world for reading, 12th for numeracy and 7th for science. Generally it appears our average is high because we have a very good top end performance. The bottom end is terrible:
    Reading Ability = 14% at Level-1a or lower (note: literacy and communication is not tested, this is reading comprehension only, Level-1a is extremely basic “Jack and Jill went up the hill” stuff).
    Numeracy = 17% at Level-1 or lower.
    Scientitific literacy = 13% at Level-1 or lower.
    (Note level ratings are 1b-lowest/very minimal to 6-most advanced).
    Also note PISA only includes those 15 year olds in school and willing to take the tests.
    Given that in 2009 8% of 15 year olds weren’t even in any school/formal education or home schooling I would think we could be hitting 20% only achieving level-1a or lower easily (i.e. unable to extract the key idea from a very simple short written passage or a list) and 10% at level-1b (struggles/fails with “A cat sat on the mat.”).

    The other problem is “functional literacy” (= the literacy skills necessary to function within today’s economic market for that country). I would make this equivalent to Level-2+ at least for reading in PISA. Here it’s bad news: PISA 2009 reading at Level-2 or lower results for NZ = 33%. Also from the Min of Ed 2005 for the IALS (International Adult Literacy Survey), results for NZ (of all adults 16-65):
    Prose literacy = 45% at Levels 1 & 2 or lower.
    Document literacy = 50% L1 & 2.
    Quantative literacy = 49% L1 & L2.
    The IALS also rank Level-1 (lowest) to Level-6 (highest) and is more comprehensive. For the current NZ situation Level-3 is considered the minimum to be functionally literate. I would say we have a huge problem here, this backed anecdotally by tertiary educators and employers.

    And thats for reading (our best subject), in numeracy and science we’re absolutely boned at the bottom end according to PISA 2009, literally 40-50% are little better than an uneducated 13th century worker/peasant believing that “electrickery” is some arcane magical devilry and that long division is only humanly possible with the aid of a computator (another magical box which they have absolutely no clue as to how it functions).”

    If you think thats an acceptable result after 11 years of compulsory state schooling there’s no point even debating this, it’s quite obvious you’re perfectly happy to condemn the 20% tail to the “underclass”. And considering they’re mainly the poorest, most marginalised and ethnic minority children you got to wonder why you want the status quo preserved. To quote a favourite leftism WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  23. E. Campbell (98 comments) says:

    Performance pay is a tough nut. If it is to be based on student achievement, what measure does one use? Bearing in mind that the single most important factor in educational success is not the teacher, but in fact the student’s genetics. The teacher plays the second most important role.

    If it’s a blunt instrument like grades, it ignores value-added achievement by the teacher. E.g. for a struggling student to even pass with the lowest grade, this may be their personal Excellence result that their more gifted friend in the next desk may achieve.

    Performance pay doesn’t work in education as how to judge performance is fraught. Indeed, in the US, in many cases educational attainment has gone down as teachers logically teach to the tests in order to meet their targets and give away the rest, i.e. the real education.

    The issue of performance and teachers is not pay. Rather, the government needs to tackle the issue of the rubbish teachers. It is far too difficult to prise a poor teacher out of a job. It is this that Shearer should tackle and it would be a vote-winner in middle New Zealand. If a teacher isn’t up to the job, they should go. We were all probably taught by one!

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  24. Rightandleft (784 comments) says:

    It isn’t really that difficult to get rid of rubbish teachers. Any teacher can be placed on competency after a single complaint. That could be as small an issue as the principal walking past the classroom and hearing to much commotion and deciding the teacher was failing at behaviour management. Once on competency the teacher is under strict supervision and is required to show measurable, observable improvements over a set period of time. If they do not or cannot make sufficient improvements they get sacked. In addition to this every teacher must have a performance review each year and re-apply for registration every 3 years. During their first 2 years of teaching the rules are even tighter and there are regular observations of their teaching.

    Now, as to the PISA results. Since they do show we are ranked 5th for reading I would have to question just how much improvement on that is possible with our given budget. Given that a large segment of students have poor literacy skills (but are not completely illiterate) there may be ways to improve performance. The reformers would argue the way to rectify this problem is to improve the teacher quality as they hold teachers are the most important factor in student outcomes. I would argue this is the wrong approach. The most important factor is the students’ home environment. Solving child poverty and the associated issues would be a far more effective way of improving student outcomes. A high school teacher sees a student 3-5 hours a week. Compare that to the amount of time spent in the home. Better early childhood education could also make a huge difference. By the time we get them at age 12-13 the damage has largely been done.

    But we also have to acknowledge a good portion of the kids in that low-literacy group are learning disabled. They are dyslexic or suffer from ADHD, dyspraxia or a range of other learning problems. Kids with serious learning difficulties are being lumped into mainstream classes due to a lack of funding for special education. Most teachers are not trained in any way to deal with learning disabilities. I teach a bottom-stream junior class with 18 kids, with the assistance of a teacher aide. Nearly all the kids in that class are learning disabled in one way or another and I don’t have the training or time to give them the one-to-one support they need to really improve their literacy. I have no doubt they are all in the group said to be failed by our schools. One kid can barely stay awake in class because mum doesn’t watch him and he stays up to all hours. Another comes to school late every day because she must care for younger siblings. A couple have serious behavioural disorders which require constant attention. A couple have brain damage from early childhood illnesses and another a genetic disorder with a range of issues. One is high-functioning autistic only just placed in mainstream schooling. They are all in a regular public school and not even the best, most-experienced teacher could work miracles with them, seeing them only 3-5 hours a week. I only have a teacher aide because of the autistic child, the rest don’t qualify for any special ed funding. Slightly smaller class sizes won’t help much. Nor would performance pay or charter schools.

    On a lighter note I have to say it’s funny to think of “Someone think of the children!” as a lefty phrase. I always pictured it being yelled by social conservatives intent on protecting their delicate morality and saving the traditional family.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  25. Nostalgia-NZ (6,470 comments) says:


    Is there any expectation in performance pay to raise lower stream students to a higher academic level across the board, or is it the desire to reward competency and outcomes for teachers recognised as doing their job very well which ever stream they may be teaching?

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  26. Rightandleft (784 comments) says:

    The goal of performance pay is to get teachers to work harder on improving student outcomes so that they can earn more money. It is based on two premises:

    One, that teachers don’t try very hard to do the best for their students right now and more money is what they need to motivate them. Two, that improving teacher motivation in the best way we can spend our money to improve student outcomes.

    I disagree on both accounts. Nobody goes into teaching to get rich. We all have post-graduate qualifications and the potential to earn higher salaries in the private sector. Contrary to popular belief most people don’t go into teaching for the holidays either. We want to improve our students outcomes. I’ve yet to meet a teacher who just didn’t care. The vast majority of teachers take on extra-curriculars, out of their own time, often on weekends, for no extra pay! Most teachers spend their own money for classroom materials or rewards to motivate students.

    More importantly, as I’ve explained above, I don’t think the teacher is the most important factor in student outcomes. I think the extra money could be better spent elsewhere. I’d be happy to accept a payrise pegged to the inflation rate, simply holding my standard of living where it is, and see extra money go to early childhood education or programmes to deal with child poverty, subsidised/free breakfasts for kids, better CYF intervention, better special ed.

    The biggest problem with performance pay is coming up with a fair way to measure it and then ensuring that it doesn’t actually hurt teaching methods. In the US when pay was linked to students’ test results the teachers just started directing all their classroom time to getting kids to pass the standardised test, neglecting everything else. Since we don’t have standardised tests, we have internally assessed NCEA standards, there could easily be a temptation to skew results, meaning the need for more/stricter moderation, requiring still more money.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  27. mikenmild (24,109 comments) says:

    Your reasoned arguments seem a bit out of place here.
    DPF loves performance pay for teacher, even though he has no idea what it means or how to implement it.
    On Kiwiblog we believe that NZ has a bad school system and that the teacher unions have made it that way and oppose any change for selfish reasons.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  28. Nostalgia-NZ (6,470 comments) says:

    So what if you took out for example pass rates, or any false expectation of what outcomes might be for lower stream students academically? Is there no way of recognising a ‘good’ teacher comparable to one who could realistically do better? Also no way for example of recognising financially personal achievement of individual teachers in their work? I did express above the worry that a monitoring system become too unwieldy and expensive and ultimately destructive toward improving outcomes. I guess the running on that is all up to Shearer.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  29. Rightandleft (784 comments) says:

    My expectation from Shearer’s statements is that if he did institute performance pay it would be a system modelled on the one Labour UK brought in over there, one which conservatives and school reformers didn’t like at all. It allowed teachers to get a pay rise if they met certain performance indicators. As it turned out pretty much all teachers were able to qualify and get the performance pay increase, and once earned it could not be revoked. However, I doubt Shearer would actually push performance pay at all, knowing it could cost him votes that would go to the Greens instead, undermining his strength in a coalition deal.

    In some ways we already have a form of performance pay in management units. These are distributed by the principals often without much oversight. Technically they come with responsibilities but generally they are given as higher pay rewards to the teachers seen to be most effective. They have already been in existence for years. The way they are distributed is not always fair and can be a major source of tension in schools.

    What I think would be a good idea is compensating teachers for taking on extra-curriculars. Often it is the most dedicated teachers who give up eight, ten maybe even twelve hours a week to take multiple teams or cultural groups. They are going above and beyond the norm and they deserve to be paid more than teachers who just put in their normal classroom hours and go home. And I don’t say that out of self-interest. I only take two sports teams and one other group over the course of the year while others take multiple teams at one time. I think they should get paid more than me for their extra work.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  30. Nostalgia-NZ (6,470 comments) says:

    My experience with ‘paid’ sports coaches in schools is that the teachers involved are not always committed, something like the American model where teachers were pushing some pupils to higher grades for reward. It could be different in public schools I’d hope. The difference being that some of the coaches are not motivated by the sport but by the sum they’re paid for coaching the team – not in all cases of course.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote