Stunning success from education reforms

August 2nd, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

I grab a Washington Post in a bar last night, and the front page has a story about the huge improvements in educational outcomes in DC schools since 2007.

The District, which initiated major school reforms in 2007, has served as a test case for often controversial policies — such as expanding school choice, eliminating teacher tenure and tying evaluations to test scores — which have since been adopted by a growing number of states.

The city has had persistently low test scores and lags behind most of the rest of the country on many academic measures. But between 2007 and 2013, proficiency rates in math and reading increased 18 percentage points on the D.C. tests, including a four point gain in the past year, to 51 percent.

In just six years the number of students who gain proficiency in maths and reading has gone up 18%. That is huge. NZ has around 750,000 students at school. An 18% increase would mean around 140,000 students would gain proficiency in maths and reading. Think of the huge benefits that would bring to them, their families, their futures – let alone the country as a whole.

w-DCSchools31

 

The great thing about the DC reforms, of which are a massive part, is they have improved student outcomes in public schools also. The “competition” from has benefited public schools.

The District’s push to identify and remove poor teachers, and to reward effective ones, is paying off, Henderson said. She also cited as successful a series of new initiatives, including experiments with longer school days and home visits by teachers.

What we need to do in NZ. I can’t recall the last time a teacher was sacked for incompetence.

Here’s some data from the 2013 report:

  • Overall proficiency up 18% since 2007
  • Maths proficiency up 22%
  • Reading proficiency up 13%
  • Charter school overall proficiency is 56%, up 15%
  • Public school overall proficiency is 48%, up 17%
  • The percentage of black students who are proficient in maths has gone from around 22% to 40%.

The Washington Post (a left leaning newspaper) has an editorial that should be read by Labour in NZ. Sadly David Shearer has vowed that the first thing a Labour/Green Govt will do is to abolish charter schools – regardless of how successful they are. It is an awful policy that puts placating unions ahead of helping struggling students.

It was a reaffirmation of the reform of public education launched in 2007, a rebuke to the naysayers who want us to believe reform has failed and a warning to those who would interfere with policies that are clearly gaining traction.

Labour wants to kill of charter schools before they can gain traction. It seems their worst fear is that they will be both popular and successful – and then unable to be killed off.

D.C. Public Schools students improved their proficiency in math and reading by 3.6 percentage points and 3.9 percent percentage points respectively over the previous year, bringing proficiency rates (49.5 percent for math and 47.4 percent for reading) to the highest level in memory. All subgroups — black, Hispanic, white, special education and others — improved in math and most improved in reading; students in every ward and students in every grade improved their performance over 2012, and rates of advanced proficiency were up while rates for below proficiency were down in both subjects.

It doesn’t get much better than that in terms of improvements.

Charter schools, which enroll 43 percent of public school students, had even more impressive results, posting slightly higher average scores than their traditional counterparts and showing a 58.6 percent proficiency rate in math and 53 percent proficiency rate in reading. Particularly noteworthy were the gains made by English- language learners and economically disadvantaged students attending charter schools.

Labour should be the champion of charter schools, if they really cared about income inequality.

Public education in D.C. is on a healthy trajectory, thanks to the growth of quality charters and reforms that are taking root in the traditional system. These include weeding out ineffective teachers, overhauling teacher evaluations and pay, putting new curricula in place, supporting good teachers and measuring results.

As I said the Washington Post is a left-leaning newspaper. It used to be called “Pravda on the Potomac”. The editorial shows that you can’t dispute facts – well unless you are captured by the unions.

Here’s a challenge for Labour. Why don’t they amend their policy to say charter schools will be scrapped if within five years they haven’t shown at least a 5% gain in student proficiency? Instead, they are saying we will scrap charter schools even if they are as successful as in DC where 18% more students can now read and do maths.

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52 Responses to “Stunning success from education reforms”

  1. wat dabney (3,755 comments) says:

    To the Labour Party (aka the Teachers Unions) schoolchildren make the perfect hostages, to be used and sacrificed in the quest for rent-seeking benefits for themselves. Why would they let them go?

    You could add an extra zero to those percentage gains and it still wouldn’t make any difference.

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  2. eziryder (15 comments) says:

    No mystery, David is an amiable fool, whose thinking is sooo last century.

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  3. Mr Nobody NZ (397 comments) says:

    I personally believe the main reason Labour is opposed to Charter Schools is that in areas like South Auckland (where I live) they will make a real impact on the future prospects of students who attend them. As a result Labour worry long term that their strangle hold on these communities will be jeopardised.

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  4. Nigel Kearney (968 comments) says:

    >Why don’t they amend their policy to say charter schools will be scrapped if within
    >five years they haven’t shown at least a 5% gain in student proficiency?

    Because their dislike of measuring peformance is just as strong as their dislike of the private sector.

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  5. vibenna (305 comments) says:

    But what about NZ schools? If NZ is already beating those proficiency numbers, shouldn’t Washington be copying us?

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  6. Simon (727 comments) says:

    Charter schools represents smaller and a more accountable government which of course isn’t National’s policy but ACT policy. Small government means better outcomes for society.

    Charter schools are just another reminder of how damaging the National party is when they refuse to shrink the size of government. Instead waiting to hand everything over to the Lenin Marxists in due course.

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  7. Mark (1,471 comments) says:

    DPF the way you are cheer leading for Charter Schools makes us think it was a national party idea.

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  8. Keeping Stock (10,264 comments) says:

    Earlier in the week Chris Hipkins referred to Charter Schools as “ghetto schools”. Yet this man aspires to be Minister of Education, whilst he is not prepared to take a chance that charter schools might actually HELP the 20% of kids that fall through the cracks of the current system. More than anything, that is a reason NOT to vote Labour in 2014.

    http://keepingstock.blogspot.co.nz/2013/07/what-labour-thinks-of-charter-schools.html

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  9. Bob (496 comments) says:

    I was surprised to hear Shearer say he would scrap charter schools without giving them a chance. Ordinarily the party taking over government keeps good policies initiated by it’s predecessor. For instance National approves of Labour’s Kiwisaver. Declaring charter schools to be scrapped immediately reeks of bloody mindedness. It’s another example of Labour being in the pockets of the unions.

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  10. wat dabney (3,755 comments) says:

    If NZ is already beating those proficiency numbers, shouldn’t Washington be copying us?

    They were “copying us”: operating a state monopoly for the benefit of teachers and the corrupt political mechanism they control (the Democrats in their case; Labour in ours.)

    It’s when they stopped “copying us” that they achieved these superb outcomes for the children.

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  11. RRM (9,769 comments) says:

    I agree totally, except am puzzled by this bit:

    DPF:
    What we need to do in NZ. I can’t recall the last time a teacher was sacked for incompetence.

    To be fair, can you recall the last time a plumber was sacked for incompetence? Or a librarian?

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  12. YesWeDid (1,048 comments) says:

    Your so naive about our education system DPF it’s almost laughable.

    New Zealand primary schools have around 70% achievement in national standards and your crowing about a system with less that 60%.

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  13. Keeping Stock (10,264 comments) says:

    Your so naive about our education system DPF it’s almost laughable.

    New Zealand primary schools have around 70% achievement in national standards and your crowing about a system with less that 60%.

    YesWeDid demonstrates the need for improved standards in literacy; try “you’re so naive…” and “you’re crowing about a system…” :D

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  14. YesWeDid (1,048 comments) says:

    You’re my hero Keeping Stock.

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  15. David in Chch (512 comments) says:

    I have given up on Labour. I have decided that they are a party of their vested interests, especially the unions.

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  16. Short Shriveled and Slightly to the Left (784 comments) says:

    These tests have only be conducted for the same period as the reforms……… there is no before result to compare to, and any improvements could actually be down to getting past the ‘teething issues’
    Note: I don’t care one way or another on charter schools

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  17. frankdb (150 comments) says:

    I bet those DC charter schools are open to some sort of scrutiny and accountability unlike what is being proposed in NZ (for some strange reason)

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  18. swan (659 comments) says:

    YesWeDid:

    Do they use NZ national standards in DC?

    Also, lets forget about the NZ average for a sec. Some areas/schools have far lower achievement than 70%. Does that mean the current system doesn’t work well in those areas?

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  19. Psycho Milt (2,404 comments) says:

    You keep writing posts in which a country with an education system unlike ours achieves improvements to that poorly-performing system by making it slightly less unlike ours. I agree there are conclusions we can draw from this for our own education system – for example, “Things could be worse,” or “Gee, those changes we made a good 25 years ago now really did turn out to be for the best” – but those aren’t really conclusions that Russel Norman or David Shearer need to pay close attention to.

    It seems to me that if you’re looking for international examples of how we might improve our education system, it would make sense to look at systems that are currently performing better than ours, rather than ones that are performing worse. Just a thought…

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  20. Black with a Vengeance (1,769 comments) says:

    Think of the huge benefits that would bring to them, their families, their futures – let alone the country as a whole.

    Feeling lazy today so I’ll let you do the thinking.

    Please outline the huge benefits to them, their families, their futures and country if there’s still no jobs to go to?

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  21. thedavincimode (6,606 comments) says:

    Milt, to be fair, labour has been skewing overseas outcomes as support for not having charter schools.

    I agree with you re setting our aspirational goals for improvement. But it’s a bit tragic that we always seem to look elsewhere because vested interests preclude rational debate around what works elsewhere and how it can be properly tailored for our own social/ethnic environment.

    It is also tragic that debate around charter schools never seems to accommodate the prospect that charter schools should be viewed as a starting point rather something of an end in themselves.

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  22. nasska (11,095 comments) says:

    Sooty

    It is true that there are a finite number of low skilled jobs available but I would note that fruit picking seems to be beneath the bludging class.

    If however, charter schools managed to ignite a desire to learn in kids otherwise condemned to illiteracy by their pig ignorant peers & guardians we are not talking about more cleaners or factory hands.

    Why couldn’t they be the builders, engineers & leaders of tomorrow?

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  23. Black with a Vengeance (1,769 comments) says:

    I would note that fruit picking seems to be beneath the bludging class.

    True…When’s the last time you seen the ruling elite out in the orchards ?

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  24. nasska (11,095 comments) says:

    ….”True…When’s the last time you seen the ruling elite out in the orchards “….

    It’s been a while but then again most of them can read & write so they probably have an advantage over the welfare set. When the Marxist teachers’ unions have finally been broken & the kids get the educational opportunities they deserve the roles may be reversed.

    But still you stick your fingers in your ears & yell leftist slogans.

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  25. Black with a Vengeance (1,769 comments) says:

    The education system ain’t broke dude…why try fixing it!

    Seems middle management is where all the job losses are coming from lately.

    Whats your bright ideas to fix that…Charter crony capitalist schools ?

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  26. Bob (496 comments) says:

    To RRM: plumbers have been sacked for incompetence but we don’t hear about it because they are privately employed. We have however heard of gas fitters being sacked and prosecuted because public safety is involved.

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  27. nasska (11,095 comments) says:

    Middle management have been the victims of IT & restructuring but I wouldn’t have thought that they were the people you would have been crying for. As for….”The education system ain’t broke dude…why try fixing it”….surely even the most dedicated socialist wouldn’t be so venal as to promote a system where one in five kids leaves school functionally illiterate just to ensure that there’s a never ending pool of disaffected people for the political Left to cater for.

    You have agreed in the past on these forums that education is the key & opined that the “pacifica” way of learning would advantage Maori & PI kids who form a large part of the present “tail”.

    Charter schools are a chance to prove you’re on the right track. Think of the kids rather than a bunch of cloth capped, over unionised teachers.

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  28. Mark (1,471 comments) says:

    I can live with charter schools but if anyone thinks they are some sort of panacea for the bottom 20% of student performance they are going to be somewhat disappointed. The concerns raised by the education profession are valid and have yet to be answered by the government. I am all for any initiative that will give kids a leg up but not if it is going to harm the opportunities for kids going to low decile state schools because resources are diverted for a selected few.

    If the time effort and financial resources being given to a tiny number of Charter schools that may emerge from this was spent on helping improve the performance of low decile state schools and their students would we get the same or an even better result. I suspect we will never know. I guess still remain concerned that this focus on Charter schools will divert attention and resource away from kids who remain in low decile state schools. I will follow with interest the government $$ per student invested in Charter schools compared to their neighbouring state schools and whether Charter schools for example will take on the same percentage of children with behavioural and learning difficulties or will they be kept in or relocated back to the state school system and excluded from the Charter schools programme.

    Lets hope it works, i guess time will tell

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  29. Black with a Vengeance (1,769 comments) says:

    one in five kids leaves school functionally illiterate just to ensure that there’s a never ending pool of disaffected people for the political Left to cater for.

    Is that a fact or are you just making shit up again ?

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  30. doggone7 (769 comments) says:

    It is so nice that we look far away from our cruisy high performing limo and praise those who have getting their Lada to go faster!
    Weird that we want to trade ours in for their model though.

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  31. nasska (11,095 comments) says:

    ….”Is that a fact or are you just making shit up again ?”….

    Never make shit up Sooty….there’s no need to when the facts speak for themselves. Have a decko at this article: http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/7159927/Writing-on-the-wall-for-illiterate-Kiwis

    No amount of political jiggery pokery is going to magic away the problem….high wages are delivered by productivity which is driven by investment & an educated workforce.

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  32. queenstfarmer (769 comments) says:

    Black with a Vengeance, you’ve already declared that you were happy for Labour to gouge even the poorest families on power prices (as they presumably will again), and now you claim “The education system ain’t broke dude…why try fixing it!”

    Which means you see no problem with thousands of kids (disproportionately Maori & PI) leaving school each year illiterate and in all likelihood condemned for life as a result.

    What wonderful aspirations you must hold for all those children entering the system each year – not only do you want to refuse to even try to do anything about it, you even wish to deny their existence.

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  33. Black with a Vengeance (1,769 comments) says:

    Swt…so you made shit up nasska!

    Glad we cleared that one up…

    Wheres the high wages and jobs if the productivity gains go to the executives to then invest in the property market ?

    So who needs educating again ?

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  34. Black with a Vengeance (1,769 comments) says:

    Which means you see no problem with thousands of kids (disproportionately Maori & PI) leaving school each year illiterate and in all likelihood condemned for life as a result.

    What wonderful aspirations you must hold for all those children entering the system each year – not only do you want to refuse to even try to do anything about it, you even wish to deny their existence.

    Comes a time when those kids need to take some personal responsibility and right the wrongs of their childhood.

    My hope is they aspire to resolve the conflicting philosophies of their parents and elders so as not to pass them on to their progeny.

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  35. nasska (11,095 comments) says:

    The high wages & jobs will come because someone actually has to do the work before the executives get the dollar to spend or invest. Presently growth is held back by the lack of skills within the workforce….tried to get a tradesman in a hurry lately or worse, a structural engineer?

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  36. queenstfarmer (769 comments) says:

    I agree, BwaV. But the first step to fixing any problem is admitting that the problem exists – something you, and the Labour Party / teachers’ unions vested interests, refuse to do. Why?

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  37. Adolf Fiinkensein (2,874 comments) says:

    Here you see all that is dumb about Labour. Labour is desperate for the votes of the teachers while National courts the future votes of the pupils. Considers the numbers and you’ll see what I mean. Kinda says it all, really.

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  38. Black with a Vengeance (1,769 comments) says:

    The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem. Do you understand ? – Captain Jack Sparrow

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  39. Black with a Vengeance (1,769 comments) says:

    The high wages & jobs will come because someone actually has to do the work before the executives get the dollar to spend or invest. Presently growth is held back by the lack of skills within the workforce…

    Workforce Terminator 3…rise of the machines!

    Executives aren’t investing in jobs except ones to clean and maintain the properties they spend on.

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  40. Mr Nobody NZ (397 comments) says:

    BWV – I would suggest that you go and actually spend some time in places like South Auckland and see first hand a) The level of quality of education that children in those areas receive and b) the affects of the current education system has had on the adults who reside in them.

    As somebody who lives there, and was knows the level of education provided in that area from first hand experience quite simply the system is crap, the quality of teachers are crap and if you say otherwise you’re either blind to ideology or have your head buried in the sand.

    I don’t know whether or not Charter schools will improve the situation but they definitely can’t make it any worse so why not give them a go.

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  41. Black with a Vengeance (1,769 comments) says:

    Been there, done that…moved away. Far too depressing!

    …but it’s more than just the education system that trapped them isn’t it ?

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  42. nasska (11,095 comments) says:

    Sooty

    …..”but it’s more than just the education system that trapped them isn’t it ?”…..

    Yes…but it’s only the education they are prepared to accept that will move them out of the crap. South Auckland like the Hutt Valley & Porirua is full of generations of people who did all right when there was an abundance of factory work. Once NZ moved into the real world & became a trading nation most menial work became redundant. To find out what putting together widgets on an assembly line is worth look to the pay received in the factories located in the slums of Puerto Rico or India.

    No one in NZ or the rest of the world will pay $20 for an item now in a $2 shop….not me, not you, not the rich & certainly not the poor. If those you weep for want to improve their lot they have to face up to the cruel hard world & accept that it is skills in physics & IT that employers want rather than those of mat weaving & bone carving.

    You are sufficiently educated & intelligent to know this, yet you let the people you want to assist off the hook by tolerating their ignorance.

    Why?

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  43. F E Smith (3,324 comments) says:

    NZ has around 750,000 students at school.

    Odd.  I have always referred to the children who attend primary and secondary schools as ‘pupils’, and those adults who attend university as ‘students’.  

    Have we changed?  I note that in Australia school pupils appear now to be called students, but I thought that was simply because they were becoming more American than English (plus, the standard of spoken and written English in Australia is generally appalling). 

    Perhaps it is one of those changes that I missed, like that every occupation is now apparently a ‘profession’.

    It puts me in mind of Humpty Dumpty:

    …There’s glory for you!’

    ‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory”,’ Alice said.

    Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘

    ‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.

    ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

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  44. Rightandleft (662 comments) says:

    I lived in Washington DC and it was a terrible place to go to school, worse than anything NZ has to offer. Again this post makes is comparing America to NZ when they are totally different systems. NZ already has made the reforms passed in DC when we changed to Tomorrow’s Schools in 1989. Teachers are in fact dismissed for incompetence regularly. DPF doesn’t know any because he doesn’t work in education and it isn’t publicised. Being fired for incompetence does not result in deregistration by the Teachers Council. They deal with discipline issues, not plain incompetence. I think that is where the confusion is and people think teachers are getting away with everything because they aren’t losing registration.

    By decentralising their system and removing tenure DC schools are copying NZ schools. That is why they are showing improvements.

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  45. Bill Courtney (161 comments) says:

    Another piece of propaganda from the “reformers” in the USA.

    Two useful links to follow to get other angles on one of the supposed “miracles” of American style education reform. First is a quick insight from the blog of G F Brandenbug, a retired Maths teacher:
    http://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/2013-dc-cas-scores-released-sort-of/

    He makes some good points about the data, especially whether the alignment now to the Common Core (as the USA is calling their newly developed version of National Standards) might explain at least some of the apparent “gains”. Note also his remark about how the test manufacturer keeps every item secret, so almost no-one knows how hard or easy the tests are becoming!

    On the broader subject of the Washington DC “miracle”, which started under highly controversial former Chancellor, Michelle Rhee, the best insights are coming from the work of investigative reporter, John Merrow. He has been instrumental in uncovering the truth about Michelle Rhee’s knowledge of the cheating scandal in DC that helped propel some of the early gains in student test scores during her reign.

    He has just published an op-ed piece that he says has been turned down by several major newspapers:
    http://takingnote.learningmatters.tv/?p=6490

    Why? Because just like here in NZ, with the likes of the NZ Herald and the Dominion Post, the editorial writers are very pro-reform and will not tolerate any criticism of the anti-teacher / anti-public school mentality of the “reformers”.

    Thank goodness for new media, which allows the truth to emerge.

    Finally, as means of disclosure, DPF should have stated that the Washington Post Company earns a significant proportion of its revenue and net profit from its education arm, known as Kaplan Inc. It is therefore a major beneficiary of the education reform agenda and the increasing privatisation of public education.

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  46. mikenmild (11,246 comments) says:

    To summarise the last two comments:
    1. Some of the Washington DC data looks dodgy
    2. The US reforms are making education there more like the highly successful NZ system.

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  47. Wayne91 (143 comments) says:

    Lies – Damn Lies – and statistics

    Enough to do your head.

    What I dont understand is regardless of what it is.

    If something new is tried and is proven to be successful why would you be scared to at least try it,

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  48. Wayne91 (143 comments) says:

    Re my 109 4.21 – pushed enter to soon!

    Lies – Damn Lies – and statistics

    Enough to do your head in

    What I dont understand is, if it has the potential to benefit people – why not at least give it a go, and why promise to scrap it regardless of how successful it may be?

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  49. RightNow (6,966 comments) says:

    F E Smith, you left out the best part:

    ‘When I make a word do a lot of work like that,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘I always pay it extra.’
    ‘Oh!’ said Alice. She was too much puzzled to make any other remark.
    ‘Ah, you should see ‘em come round me of a Saturday night,’ Humpty Dumpty went on, wagging his head gravely from side to side, ‘for to get their wages, you know.’

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  50. Psycho Milt (2,404 comments) says:

    I have always referred to the children who attend primary and secondary schools as ‘pupils’, and those adults who attend university as ‘students’.

    In that case, I expect you’re educated and most of your reading isn’t of the witterings of semi-literates on the web. That seems to be becoming a rarity.

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  51. mikenmild (11,246 comments) says:

    This thread seemd to die quite quickly after Rightandleft and Bill Courtney injected some reality.

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  52. Tauhei Notts (1,677 comments) says:

    Thank you DPF for bringing this thread to my attention.
    I put Larry King on mysky and watched his interview with Michelle Rhee from the Washington DC education sector. I had not realised that Russian Tv had grabbed him from CNN. The interview made so much more sense after reading this blog site earlier.
    It is posts like this one that make this blogsite one of, if not, the best.

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