Educational inequality

June 26th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Fraser Nelson writes at The Spectator:

I often think of the Kinnock speech when I hear someone like Blower saying that poor kids can’t be expected to do so well. These (stunning, sickening) examples of how the poor are systematically failed by our system really does call for the kind of anger that Kinnock envinced in 1987. It was a conservative, George W Bush, who updated Kinnock’s point for the 21st century. “Some say it is unfair to hold disadvantaged children to rigorous standards,” he said in 13 years ago. ” I say it is discrimination to require anything less–-the soft bigotry of low expectations”.

The bigotry of low expectations is alive today. If someone lives in a decile 1 area, then they are not expected to do well.

This is what separates British left and right now. The left, in its post-Blair phase, no longer very worked up about the poor doing badly at school. (“It may matter or it may not,” Blower said about poor children going to top universities). The standard left response is to talk philosophically about inequality in society, as if this has the slightest bearing on whether the sink schools ought to be tolerated in this day and age.

By contrast, the right are hopping mad about educational inequality. When the subject is raised in front of Michael Gove, it’s like flicking a switch. He blows his top.

Gove is doing an excellent job.

The difference between left and right, now, is that you will seldom hear a left-winger getting Kinnock-style (or Gove-style) angry about educational inequality. The right are so angry about educational inequality that they want to tear up the whole system. Now that Labour takes 80pc of its funds from the union, it seems to be on the side of the system, no longer on the side of those failed by the system. As Iargued in the Telegraph on Friday, the Conservatives can now claim to become the party of the working class.

Our school system is good for most students. But the bottom 20% or tail do worse than most other countries. We need to do what we can to lift their expectations and results.

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16 Responses to “Educational inequality”

  1. mandk (993 comments) says:

    Bush was spot on – having low expectations for any kid is a betrayal.

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  2. queenstfarmer (782 comments) says:

    A good description of NZ Labour’s (and the unions’) education priorities: they are the side of the system, not those failed by the system.

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  3. doggone7 (801 comments) says:

    “Our school system is good for most students. But the bottom 20% or tail do worse than most other countries. We need to do what we can to lift their expectations and results.”

    Quite simply the much quoted “20%” is a political cliche. Next, it seems impossible, but there needs to be rational, intelligent discussion about who the ones at the bottom are and why they are there. “Lifting their expectations” has some interesting connotations.

    The loudest, most common response to the challenges posed in the quoted statements about the tail is to blame teachers and say they are not doing enough or doing it well. Those responses expose lack of familiarity with what happens in schools and sometimes, rabid personal and political agendas.

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  4. Nigel (514 comments) says:

    Well my daughters both went a decile 1 high school, one’s doing honors at Auckland Uni, the other 1/2 way through a double degree at Canterbury.
    From the talks we had you are right about expectations to a degree, though don’t underestimate the impact dope has on the kids either, most children who’d kept up with my kids until 10-12 fell away once they started smoking.
    Also the difference a few key people can make is huge, the environment Kelvin Davis created was absolutely crucial factor in allowing them to achieve what they have ( there were others, but his contribution stands out ).
    The real drivers of expectation are those school leaders & local politicians IMHO, get that working & the results will follow, certainly an excuses mentality doesn’t do it.

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  5. kowtow (8,463 comments) says:

    ‘We need to do what we can to lift their expectations and results”

    No ,they need to lift their expectations and results.It’s all about personal choices. That 20% are failing themselves.And then the 80% are expected to carry them for the rest of their lives.

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  6. Manolo (13,765 comments) says:

    Long live inequality, the spice of life!

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  7. doggone7 (801 comments) says:

    Well done to you and your family Nigel (and Kelvin and others like him.)

    It sounds as if you have exposure of some of those who are in our ‘long tail” of underachievers. You might be surprised like me at the amount of blame given to teachers and teacher unions about those underachievers who were in the same classes as your kids. Should your daughters have been ignored and all attention been given to those strugglers because, for whatever reason, they were less likely to succeed? Should your kids have been sacrificed by most teacher and school attention being focussed on the ones with the recalcitrant behaviour issues?

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  8. greenjacket (465 comments) says:

    doggone7 wrote: “Quite simply the much quoted “20%” is a political cliche.”

    But derived from a reputable ERO report on the subject, and accepted by a Labour-dominated select committee in 2008 on the long tail of under-achievement.
    But let’s agree that the figureof 20% is uncertain. Isn’t the answer to collect national data on students’ achievement of nationally consistent standards so we know what the situation is?

    doggone7 wrote: “The loudest, most common response to the challenges posed in the quoted statements about the tail is to blame teachers and say they are not doing enough or doing it well. Those responses expose lack of familiarity with what happens in schools and sometimes, rabid personal and political agendas.”

    Err no. Educational research shows overwhelmingly that the biggest single factor in the education system in explaining educational achievement is the quality of the teacher.

    Most teachers are really good at teaching 80% of kids (so please don’t say that I am bashing teachers for a political agenda – far from it – I am very sympathetic to most teacher concerns). But:

    (1) there is a disturbingly high proportion of teachers who are incapable of their jobs (check out some of the ERO reports on the percentages of teachers unable to teach the writing or maths curriculum), and

    (2) teachers are failing to teach roughly 20% of kids (who are overwhelmingly Maori and Pacifika). But let’s accept that th efigure is possibly not accurate. We know that a lot of kids leave school illiterate and innumerate. Surely, doggone7, you must agree that it is imperative that we have the statistics to know this. But we don’t because, ironically, the teacher unions oppose accurate reporting of data!

    Discussing the fact that a lot of kids leave schools without basic reading, writing and maths skills is not a matter of political agendas, doggone7 – it is a national disgrace.

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  9. trout (939 comments) says:

    Some time ago a study was done is South Auckland comparing teacher’s expectations of the capability of new entrants (how to hold a pencil, writing own name etc. etc.) with the actual capability of the same students. Without exception the teachers underrated the students who were generally capable of more than the teacher expected. Of course with this mindset the teacher can give up teaching in a way that extends the kids’ individual abilities, and teach to the lowest common denominator.

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  10. wf (441 comments) says:

    kowtow (4,625) Says:
    June 26th, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    ‘We need to do what we can to lift their expectations and results”

    No ,they need to lift their expectations and results.It’s all about personal choices. That 20% are failing themselves.And then the 80% are expected to carry them for the rest of their lives.

    ********************
    I disagree. Learning is not ‘all about personal choice’ when you are a child. Children largely absorb what they see their significant adults doing, and follow suit. Monkey see, monkey do.

    Parenting is hard work, it requires thought, and a certain amount of self denial if one is to set a good example to the kids.
    Walk the talk, in other words.

    A lot of parents take the line of least resistance and don’t realise that they are NOT reinforcing desirable lifestyle choices, work ethics (like completing the job you started, doing what you agreed to do, earning your pay, and so on). Children are not taught to recognise the inner satisfaction of doing something well. They reap what their parents have sown.
    It’s not the teachers job to do the parent’s work.

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  11. burt (8,269 comments) says:

    It’s all irrelevant – the only question and concern is why we don’t have 100% of teachers in the teachers union… Everything else is simply the environment needed to make sure the donations to the Labour party are as large as possible.

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  12. Bill Courtney (161 comments) says:

    As usual, the misinformation on Kiwiblog flows freely.

    First, is the false claim that “the bottom 20% or tail do worse than most other countries.” My reading of the 2009 PISA Reading Literacy assessments does not support this conclusion. Perhaps David Farrar would be good enough to publish the figures that support his claim, so we can see how many countries are ahead and behind our bottom 20% – on a like for like basis.

    Second, the nonsense claim of George W Bush needs to be knocked back – and hard.

    It is never acceptable for a teacher or school to fail to challenge all students to achieve to the best of their ability – regardless of their home background. But neither is it acceptable to fail to acknowledge that the strongest influence on student achievement is socio-economic background.

    Even Treasury has acknowledged this and in its writing has reproduced this quote from the 2005 OECD study “Teachers Matter”:
    “The first and most solidly based finding is 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.”

    Again, the PISA results confirm this observation time and time again. But the most obvious and most reliable data observation of all is routinely ignored by governments and policy makers. Why?

    Teachers and schools try to overcome these differences and are part of the solution – not the cause of the problem.

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  13. Shunda barunda (2,983 comments) says:

    Welcome to feelings based human rights/education.

    This ideology advances through our society through the continuing redefinition of longstanding traditions and forced modification of legitimate parental responsibility and an increasing deference to the state for our morality.

    If you raise your kids well, expect a teacher near you to take advantage of your parenting success by pulling your kid down to lift another kid up.

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  14. doggone7 (801 comments) says:

    Shunda barunda

    Your kids may be in classes with kids who were born with foetal alcohol syndrome, some who arrive at school hungry and steal food, some who have been abused and bullied and so treat classmates the way they have learned to treat people. Some may have witnessed violence between the adults in their home the night before or that morning. There are kids who have been to seven schools in five years.

    The school is taking seriously the calls to do something about the “underachievers.” Most of the kids mentioned are getting a massive proportion of teacher time simply to have their behaviour managed but they also need massive individual learning help because they are the under achievers who are dragging the school stats down.

    You have raised your kids well and they are not getting their fair share because they are coping, they have learned so much out of school. What do you do? What should the teachers do?

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  15. OneTrack (3,092 comments) says:

    “What should the teachers do?” – Give up on their failed ideology that every child is “equal” and embrace streaming so they can focus the relevnt educational resources on solving the individual problems instead of every class being a behaviour management nightmare with actual education becoming a poor second. And the poor kids in the middle miss out badly because their teacher cant give them any real time and we will never know how high they could have flown.

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  16. doggone7 (801 comments) says:

    I hadn’t heard that teachers had an ideology that every child is equal. Does that mean equal in terms of getting what they need or equal in ability to learn and reach certain levels like National Standards?

    That’s a good notion to put about though – every child isn’t equal. Maybe we should expect that some kids because of some of the limitations they have will be most unlikely, even from being in streamed classes, to be able to achieve at academic levels we would want.
    Accept there will be an “underachieving tail.” Or accept they might be underachieving compared to some but actually achieving at a reasonable level for their ability and potential.

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