The power of educational leadership

April 5th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reported:

A little over six years ago, Selwyn College in Auckland was struggling.

The Government took over its governance after poor student achievement results, a bitter fight for control by opposing parent groups and the resignation of its long-serving principal.

This week, the decile 4 school, which has long had a multicultural roll and special emphasis on the arts, is celebrating the release of stellar NCEA results that underline a remarkable transformation.

Last year, 93 per cent of Selwyn students sitting NCEA Level 1 passed. Pass rates at Level 2 were 94 per cent, and 90 per cent at Level 3.

Compare that with the 2006 pass rates: 39 per cent at Level 1, 47 per cent at Level 2 and 49 per cent at Level 3.

That is an incredible change, and a great one.

Leading education expert Professor John Hattie has described the progress as some of the most marked he had seen.

“It is the evidence that leads to these comments. And it is stunning. And that this was achieved in such a short time shows what can happen with inspired, passionate leadership with a laser focus on students.”

This must be one of the more successful interventions, and shows what great leadership can achieve from the commissioner and principal.

Many parents used to avoid Selwyn College like the plague. Now it’s role is growing.

Better use of each student’s achievement data, new and renovated buildings, improved teaching practices and a central focus on academic performance were cited as reasons for the improvement.

Selwyn now assigns each student a teacher to act as a mentor to help make sure their study will open doors to university or the workplace.

Selwyn is only a decile 4 school. Some claim that socio-economic background of students is the main determinant and use that as an excuse for poor performance. This shows what you can achieve when you stop making excuses.

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Fewer students leaving school unqualified

February 18th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Hekia Parata announced:

The number of students leaving school with an NCEA Level 2 qualification has seen a significant increase across the board in 2013, says Education Minister Hekia Parata.

The provisional results for 2013 show that 76.8 per cent of students left school with at least NCEA Level 2, compared with just over 74.3 per cent in 2012.

That’s an increase of 10.3 percentage points since 2008.

10% more students leaving school with a basic qualification is a great result. Students who leave with no qualification have a very dim future. If you want to make a difference to poverty and inequality, then having fewer students leave school without NCEA Level 2 is an important step along the way.

The change for Maori and Pasifika students is pronounced:

  • Maori students achieving NCEA Level 2 has increased 14.2% from 44.4% to 58.6%
  • Pasifika students achieving NCEA Level 2 has increased 16.5% from 55.3% to 71.8%

Parata notes:

“Over the past five years we’ve focused on collecting data from across the whole education system so we can see how it’s performing at every level and where we need to target resources.

“It has helped us identify which students need what kind of support through programmes such as Pasifika Power Up, Youth Guarantee, Achievement 2013-17, and Trade Academies.

“As part of our Better Public Service Targets, we are focussed on 85 per cent of all 18 year-olds achieving NCEA Level 2 or an equivalent qualification in 2017. This target has encouraged schools and their communities to set their own targets and work towards achieving them.

Using data to target resources is sensible. Scary how so many people oppose the Government collecting any data on school and student achievement. Great to see so many schools successfully working to lift achievement rates.

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More on poverty and school results

January 30th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Amanda Ripley at Talking Points Memo writes:

There is just one valid way to compare how students from different socio-economic backgrounds do on this same international test. And that’s to look at the scores for kids at different income levels, data the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) routinely collects. What we see from the data is that our poorest kids perform worse than their peers in other countries—and so do our richest kids. Even our middle-class kids score worse than middle-class kids in Germany, Finland, New Zealand and Korea, among other places. Our kids do better in reading than in math or science—but they don’t tend to score at the very top of the world in any subject.

Countries with significant levels of child poverty now outperform the U.S. on international tests (Canada, Estonia, Poland and Vietnam, for example). So the urgent question is not whether we must fix poverty before we fix schools (or fix schools before we fix poverty). The question is, What did these other countries do to help mitigate against the toxic effects of poverty? And what can we learn from them?

Poverty is a factor, but as the US results show it is not a determining one.

To me, the value of the international educational comparisons is not to prove who is right or wrong; it is to see what is possible, to find the outliers and try to learn from them. Poland, which has a 16 percent child-poverty rate and spends dramatically less than we do per pupil, had worse PISA scores than we did in 2000. Today, Polish 15-year-olds outscore their American peers in math, reading and science. Poland has more teenagers performing at an advanced level in math than Finland (which has a mere 4 percent child poverty rate). Meanwhile, other countries have very low levels of child poverty but end up with worse education outcomes than Poland (Norway and Sweden come to mind).


The Huffington Post also reports:

The data was provided to The WorldPost by Pablo Zoido, an analyst at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the group behind PISA. It shows that students’ wealth does not necessarily make them more competitive on an international scale. In the United States, for example, the poorest kids scored around a 433 out of 700 on the math portion of PISA, while the wealthiest ones netted about a 547. The lower score comes in just below the OECD average for the bottom decile (436), but the higher score also comes in below the OECD average for the top decile (554).

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Why not free dinners also?

January 26th, 2014 at 2:41 pm by David Farrar

Claire Trevett at NZ Herald writes:

The Green Party has launched its election year today by announcing the $90 million a year package for low decile schools, including free after school care and holiday programmes, free lunches, and school nurses in every decile 1-4 primary and intermediate school.

So the Greens want schools to provide free breakfasts to all kids, free lunches also, and free after school care. Why stop there? Surely schools should also be required to provide free dinners also? And look by 7 pm, the kids are tired, so maybe look after them for the night also – as well as for the holidays.


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Educational Reaction

January 24th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Generally excellent reactions to the major educational reforms announced yesterday. First the positives starting with the PPTA (a phrase not uttered often):

Government plans to put resources into teaching and learning rather than finance and administration are being greeted with optimism by PPTA.

President Angela Roberts said Prime Minister John Key’s announcement that $359 million would be invested in teaching and school leadership over the next four years was a positive one.

She praised his commitment to ““support a culture of collaboration within and across schools” and said the creation of principal and teacher positions to provide leadership and support across communities of schools marked the beginning of a collaborative approach long sought by PPTA.

The Principals’ Federation were almost gushing:

Principals’ Federation President Phil Harding said the announcements were significant for both principals and teachers.

“It’s hard for me to say it but I’m pretty damned impressed. It is a huge amount of new money and I have never seen such a transformation of ideas and discussion into policy and money in my life. It has gone from a theoretical discussion about how the system needed to evolve and change just last year to the appropriation of significant resource.”

The Secondary Principals Association were even more positive:

Secondary Principals’ Association president Tom Parsons called it a “wonderful initiative”.

“It’s super, what a game changer, what a tremendous thing.

“They’ve taken the politics out of this and are just looking at the welfare and the benefits for every New Zealander at school now, and in the future.”

Parsons, who is principal of Queen Charlotte College in Picton, has been a critic of many Government policies in the past two years, including the introduction of national standards.

But he joined the PPTA in its view that industry involvement was crucial and the new policies would lift student achievement.

The only union which couldn’t overcome its political antipathy to National was the NZEI:

Creating a new elite group of “change principals” and “expert teachers” misses the biggest reason children do not succeed at school – New Zealand’s high rate of child poverty and deprivation.

With “change principals” the government is again imposing a failed overseas experiment and putting ideology ahead of what will really work for children’s education.”

The NZEI couldn’t bring themselves to saying one good thing about the announcement. This speaks volumes about their motivations.

Meanwhile the school Trustees are excited:

It is good to hear the commitment to working through the practicalities through consultation with the sector, and NZSTA is looking forward to playing a constructive part in those discussions. We have all shown a lot of good faith over the last year or so, including principals’ groups and teacher unions, by engaging in open discussions with Minister Parata. The Ministerial Cross-Sector Forum is a good example. It hasn’t always been easy, so it’s good to see that investment in relationship-building bearing fruit.

If we do this right, there is potential for these new positions to make excellence contagious through all our schools. That will be our opportunity for 2014.

I like the phrase “to make excellence contagious”.

Also in support. The NZ Initiative:

The New Zealand Initiative has welcomed the introduction of a four new tiers of teaching positions as a huge step toward lifting the educational performance of New Zealand’s schools.

The think tank has long been a strong advocate for such a policy

The Canterbury Education Pro Vice-Chancellor:

A University of Canterbury (UC) education expert has endorsed the Government’s focus on quality teaching and strong school leadership.

Professor Gail Gillon, UC’s College of Education Pro-Vice Chancellor, says the Government has accurately identified one of the key challenges in the New Zealand schooling system.

“Closing the academic achievement gap between our high achieving students and our struggling learners must be a priority for New Zealand.

“Resourcing Expert and Lead Teachers, as well as Change and Executive Principals to help support a substantial shift in academic achievement in areas such as literacy maths and science education is a very positive step in the right direction.’’

Business NZ:

Targeted investment in principals and teachers is a strategic move that could significantly improve student skill levels, says BusinessNZ.

Chief Executive Phil O’Reilly said funding for leadership and expert teaching in schools would be well placed, as research shows the quality of school leaders and teachers has a big impact on student achievement.

An Auckland University Education Professor:

Professor Graeme Aitken, the University of Auckland’s dean of education, said those in and considering the teaching profession had been given an “inspiring message” about career progression. They would be energised because of the prospect of not having to leave the classroom to progress their career.

And high-quality school leavers would have more reason to choose teaching as a career choice, he said.

The NZ Secondary Principals Council:

Allan Vester, chairman of the NZ Secondary Principals Council and head of Edgewater College in Pakuranga, said the sharing of knowledge and ideas between schools was crucial.

Vernon Small:

Ask anyone which party is most likely to boost the pay of more than one in ten of the country’s 50,000 teachers by $10,000 a year, no wage wrangling needed, and it’s a fair bet National would not be top of mind.

But that is exactly what John Key did with his education announcement yesterday in a cheeky foray into Labour’s heartland.

It was the latest example of National’s election year plan to trash suggestions it is inflexible, doctrinaire or plum out of new ideas.

Tracy Watkins:

As Key observed after this morning’s announcement, there wasn’t a parent in New Zealand whose heart would not sink if they found out next week their child’s new teacher was a dud – or in Key’s words, “not that great”.

That is why today’s plan will resonate not just with National’s core constituency but also with Labour’s.

National’s plan is to give teachers a reason to stay in front of the classroom rather than move up into management positions in pursuit of better pay.

The Dom Post editorial:

Debates over education tend to be dust-ups in the desert: hot, dry, and futile. John Key’s new proposals are welcome because they are fresh and do not simply cover old ground. They try to build on the strengths of the system and they offer co-operation with the workforce. These are welcome ideas and worth serious discussion. …

Rewarding teachers and principals for sharing their knowledge fits well into the cooperative style of the workforce. And who could object to the sharing of that talent with the more deprived schools? It is the long tail of underachievement, as everyone knows, that is the weak point of our school system. We need to use our inevitably small pool of talent to help kids in poor areas. The new scheme will help with this.

The NZ Herald editorial:

The Government’s bold overhaul of the teaching system presents a challenge to any opponents. How can you be highly critical of steps to lift schools’ performance that have been recommended by the OECD’s leading educationalist and are backed by a large body of international research?

It’s difficult, but the Greens have managed it! They just ignore the research. I’ll come to them.

The cost will not be cheap. A sum of $359 million will be allocated over four years with an ongoing cost of more than $150 million annually. But astutely targeted investment is always worthwhile. And teachers will not be the only winners. Ultimately, children, and especially those in poor socio-economic areas, will benefit. So, too, as performance lifts, will the reputation of this country’s education system.

A worthwhile investment.

Audrey Young:

Prime Minister John Key is on to a winner with his big plans to financially reward excellent teachers and principals.

Key has identified an age-old problem in schools that really good teachers often leave the classroom to progress their careers.

Credible research over the years has linked good teaching to good results by pupils.

Most of us know that anecdotally because we’ve experienced it.

Indeed we have.

So who is against. Matthew Hooton calls it a bold step left and giving into the unions.

Labour can’t really find anything to attack, so merely say we’ll do something like it also and have the normal blame it all on inequality:

National’s underwhelming announcement fails to address the real cause of poor educational performance, which is growing inequality, Labour Leader David Cunliffe says.

NZ First is mainly supportive:

New Zealand First has commended the extra $359 million the Government is investing in education, but has pointed out that there is no extra funding to get more teachers in our schools.

The most hysterical (not in a good way) reaction was on Twitter. The level of Key Derangement Syndrome there is so great that National could announce free tertiary education for every New Zealanders and many of the normal suspects will decry it as a right wing policy designed to enrich Merrill Lynch. Bryce Edwards has a summary of the tweets, and it is a good reminder of how deranged so many people there are with one labelling it “corporatisation of the education system” which is hilarious considering it is all about sharing and collaboration.

The most negative of all was the Green Party:

National’s announcement of four additional teacher roles won’t address the key reason for our decline in education performance, growing inequality, says the Green Party.

“Growing inequality in New Zealand is negatively impacting on our kids learning. Sick and hungry kids can’t learn. This policy does nothing for kids and families living in poverty.

Let’s put this one to bed. Even if this was true (it is not), this is an announcement on education, not welfare. Turei seems to say we should do nothing to improve the education system while some families are poorer than others. How depressing. I want to see more families doing better, but there is no magic wand. Getting people out of poverty is often a generational thing as you have to confront parenting skills, welfare dependency, employment, drug and alcohol issues, and oh yeah education.

But let’s deal with the big lie. I call it a lie, because the amount of research on what influences educational outcomes is massive. There have been over 50,000 studies. Over 800 meta-analysis done involving 200 million students. Professor John Hattie has done a meta meta analysis of all these studies and identified 138 factors that influence educational outcomes. Not one factor, but 138. Greens think there is just one.

Now socio-economic status is important. It definitely is an influence. There have been 499 studies that looked at its effect. But is it the biggest influence. No. Is it second? No. Third? No. Top 10? Still no. Top 20? Still a no. It is No 32 and home environment by the way is No 31.

So the next time the Greens say the key reason for educational decline is poverty or income inequality, don’t beat around the bush. Call them a liar.

I’m delighted though the Greens have condemned the plans. Parents deserve a choice about the future for their kids, and it looks like they will get one. Bring on the election.



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Absolutely brilliant!

January 23rd, 2014 at 11:52 am by David Farrar

I absolutely love the announcements made today by the Prime Minister around education. There are a lot of things that I have to fund as a taxpayer that I resent. But paying top teachers and top principals more is not one of them. The international research is crystal clear that the biggest single factor in a child’s educational sucess is the quality of their teacher. Rewarding top principals and teachers with new roles that can pay between $10,000 and $50,000 more in an excellent investment.

The details announced by the PM are:

So today I am announcing four new roles for principals and teachers in New Zealand schools, and investing an extra $359 million into teaching and school leadership over the next four years.

These are changes that will benefit kids across New Zealand, because high-quality teaching leads to better achievement at school.

The first new role is an Executive Principal.

Executive Principals will be the top principals from across the country.

They will provide leadership across communities of schools, supporting other principals to raise student achievement.

We envisage there will be around 250 Executive Principals, or about one for every 10 schools, on average.

An Executive Principal will remain in charge of their own school but be released for two days a week to work across a grouping of schools, which will include primary and secondary schools.

Executive Principals will have a proven track record in raising achievement and they will pass on their knowledge and expertise to other principals.

They will be appointed by an external panel, for up to four years. Executive Principals will be paid an annual allowance of $40,000 on top of their existing salary, and they will be judged on their results.

So that’s the first new role.

The second is a similar sort of position, again working across a group of schools, but at the teacher level.

These teachers we are calling Expert Teachers, and we intend to establish around 1,000 of these new positions.

Expert Teachers will have a proven track record in raising the performance of their students, particularly in maths, science, technology and literacy.

Expert Teachers will be based in their usual school, but will be released for two days a week to work across their school grouping, under the guidance of their Executive Principal.

They will get alongside other teachers, working with them to develop and improve classroom practice and raise student achievement.

Executive Principals will oversee the appointment of Expert Teachers and the appointment will be for up to four years. They will be paid an annual allowance of $20,000 on top of their usual salary.

Executive Principals and Expert Teachers will drive a whole new level of collaboration between schools and between teachers, with best practice becoming widespread across school communities.

The third new role we are going to introduce is for the top teachers in schools.

We want the best teachers to be recognised for improving student achievement and to act, in a formal sense, as role models for other teachers.

So we are going to introduce a new role – a Lead Teacher. There will be around 5,000 Lead Teacher positions across the country.

Lead Teachers will be high-performing teachers who can demonstrate the best classroom practice.

Their classrooms will be open to other teachers almost all the time, so teachers can observe and discuss classroom practice with a model professional.

Lead Teachers will be paid an annual allowance of $10,000 on top of their existing salary. That allowance is in recognition of their status and their new responsibility in helping other teachers to raise achievement.

These new roles of Expert Teachers and Lead Teachers means more good teachers will stay in a teaching role, because they can see a career path that keeps them in the classroom where they are so effective. And that has huge benefits for the children they teach.

We are going to give extra funding to schools so teachers can take time out of their normal classroom to work with Expert Teachers and Lead Teachers.

And we are also going to establish a $10 million fund for schools and teachers to develop and research effective teaching practice in areas such as writing, maths, science and digital literacy.

The final change I want to announce today is that we are also going to better match up schools that are really struggling, with really excellent principals.

To do this we are going to establish a new role of Change Principal.

Change Principals will be top principals who are paid an additional allowance of $50,000 a year to go to a struggling school and turn it around.

Around 20 Change Principals will be appointed each year, for up to five years.

At the moment, the incentive is for principals to go to larger schools, where the salary is higher, rather than to schools that are the most challenging.

We are going to change that.

So those are the four new roles we are creating – Executive Principals, Change Principals, Expert Teachers and Lead Teachers.

So that is $10,000 more for 5,000 Lead Teachers, $20,000 more for 1,000 Expert Teachers, $40,000 more for 250 Executive Principals and $50,000 more for 20 Change Principals – and most of them having a focus on not just helping their school, but helping their neighbouring schools also.

What is great is good teachers can earn more just by being good at their job, without having to move from the classroom into administration.

I’ve been waiting almost decades for a Government to do something like this, and reward top teachers with more pay. It should both lead to better recruitment and retention, but also should lead to teaching being seen as just as professional and important a vocation to go into, as medicine and law. The NZ Initiative reports on education nightlight how important it is to have teaching seen as an esteemed profession.

Some of the international research around the importance of teacher quality is:

The 2009 report by the international McKinsey agency, shows that over three years, learning with a high performing teacher rather than a low performing teacher can make a 53-percentage point difference for two students who start at the same achievement level.

There is also a quote from Andreas Schleicher, Deputy Director for Education and Skills for the OECD, January 2014 about the proposed changes.

 “Top school systems pay attention to how they select and train their staff, they watch how they improve the performance of teachers who are struggling and how to structure teachers’ pay and career. They provide intelligent pathways for teachers to grow in their careers with an environment in which teachers work together to frame good practice.

“The reforms now being introduced (in New Zealand), with real career paths, support and evaluation, and recognition including monetary rewards, hold the promise for New Zealand to join that group of countries.”

 I hope all stakeholders in the education sector will welcome this investment. They’d be mad not to.

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PPTA finds five good things in education in 2013

January 20th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The PPTA goes to battle a lot against the Government on educational issues. However they have done a blog post highlighting five good things the Government did in education in 2013. They are:

  1. Continued investment in and support for the Positive Behaviour for Learning Action Plan. Started in 2009, many schools involved are reporting fewer behaviour problems.
  2. The response to the report on twenty-first century learning and the Network for Learning. They praise the minister’s reference group as dynamic and credible and say the Network for Learning has huge promise.
  3. The Ministry of Education’s new approach to consultation. Peter Hughes is making a difference.
  4. The Aranui cluster and the secondary sector in Christchurch. They say there has been massive improvement in communication over Canterbury schools, and genuine consultation.
  5. The property announcements in response to the Beca review. They praise the option for schools to be able to hand back property management to the ministry.

Good on the PPTA for highlighting the areas where they are agreeing with the Government, while continuing to oppose in the areas where they do not agree. Politics is about being able to work constructively in some areas, while disagreeing in other.s

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NZ Initiative on improving teacher quality

December 11th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The NZ Initiative have released a report called “Around the World: The Evolution of Teaching as a Profession” which is a comparative study of Singapore, Germany, Finland, England, Canada and Australia focused on improving teacher quality to deliver better educational outcomes.

Almost all respected research has concluded teacher quality is the most important factor in lifting achievement levels for students. It dwards ither factors such as socio-economic background, location, class size, principal, school size etc.

Four things the Initiative found that were important in the countries studied were:

Recruiting the best teachers: Finland, Germany and Singapore place strict quality controls on who gets admitted to teaching, ensuring that only the most dedicated, motivated, and academically talented people who have rapport with children become teachers.

Teaching how to teach: The best education systems encourage, or require, would-be teachers to have a master’s degree before entering the classroom. Even with the strong focus on the theoretical foundations of teaching, there is now more emphasis worldwide on practical training in learning on the job. 

Career progression: Many other countries recognise remuneration is important for retaining talent. Singapore offers teachers the ability to progress up a career path for teachers to retain the best teachers in the classroom.  England has disbanded step-lock pay increases, and Finnish teachers with exceptional skills are offered bonuses.

Develop teacher capacity: Career structures that encourage teachers to lead other teachers are increasingly being adopted internationally. This lateral capacity building is seen in Singapore, and in the way England’s schools are ‘chaining’ together. Ontario’s leading schools also pair up with other schools that serve a similar profile of students to help them raise student achievement. 

So in essence they are saying make teacher training more practical, have much higher entry standards for teacher training, pay good teachers more just for being good teachers and develop better teacher capacity.

These would cost money to do, but would be a worthwhile investment.

The report says at one point:

In England, school principals are being given a lot more autonomy to pay their staff as they wish within minimum and maximum salary bands. The potential benefits include placing a premium on subject-teachers high in demand. 

Excellent teachers stay in the system. But it also relies on having highly effective school leadership so that remuneration is fair.  Singapore aligns remuneration with career progression, and Finnish principals pay bonuses to high performing teachers. 

I think this is essential.

Also of note:

Governments that work with teacher unions have seen more success, particularly when strong accountability mechanisms and regulation is already in place. While in England, unions are striking against reforms, Germany’s teacher unions recognised after their poor results in PISA that they needed to get out in front of educational reforms. Ontario has managed peaceful relations with teacher unions over the last 10 years, and started with the assumption that teachers want to do the right thing. 

I think this report is an opportunity for both the Government and the teacher unions.

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Herald on the need to improve education

December 6th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

When bad news is delivered, there is always a temptation to shoot the messenger. Thankfully, that, by and large, has not been the case with this country’s sharp drop in international education rankings in an OECD survey that assesses the knowledge and skills of 15-year-old pupils in mathematics, reading and science in 65 countries. In maths, New Zealand dropped from 13th three years ago to 23rd, while in science the fall was from seventh to 18th. In reading, where this country also ranked seventh in 2009, there was a slide to 13th.

To her credit, the Education Minister, Hekia Parata, did not attempt to discredit the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) rankings. She chose instead to depict them as confirmation of the challenge ahead. It fell to think-tank the New Zealand Initiative to underline the rankings’ serious implications. This “Pisa shock” should, it said, be a catalyst to change education for the better. The institute pointed to the example provided by Germany, which in little more than a decade had achieved the sort of improvement that must now be sought by this country.

Hopefully those who resist change will now concede there is a need for change.

Broadly, the Pisa assessment identifies the lifting of teacher quality as the key to such a turnaround. The best-performing countries, it says, put a special emphasis on teacher selection, training, career incentives, and innovative teaching. When deciding where to invest, they prioritise the quality of teachers over classroom sizes.


The importance of excellent teaching comes as no surprise. People have become increasingly aware of this, and are keen to see high-quality teachers acknowledged and rewarded appropriately. Ms Parata has proposed the development of a new teacher appraisal system, a requirement for all trainee teachers to have a postgraduate qualification and, potentially, performance pay. The latest Pisa rankings confirm all would be welcome. It can be no coincidence that in world-leading Shanghai, performance-related pay for teachers is normal.

The time has come for it. Top teachers should be able to earn over $100,000 a year, just for being great teachers.

But implementing their findings on what works will require political will. The teacher unions will resist any change to a national bargaining system that rewards experience rather than excellence. 

The first thing that should go is the national bargaining system. Let each school pay its teachers what they want to. Let them compete for the best teachers!

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No room for complacency

December 4th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Kiwi students are falling behind the rest of the world in reading, maths and science, a global education report has revealed.

New Zealand’s education ranking has fallen from seventh to 18th in science, from 12th to 23rd in maths, and from seventh to 13th in reading, according to a report released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) last night.

Just over 4000 15-year-old Kiwi students took part in the assessment, which is done every three years.

Opposition MPs say students are falling behind because teachers are too busy filling in government forms to concentrate on teaching.

But Education Minister Hekia Parata pointed the finger at issues to which the study group has been exposed, including the bedding-in of a new curriculum, under-investment in teachers, and a poor culture of behaviour in some schools.

“This Government is addressing all of these long-standing issues,” she said.

The students measured by the report were in the education system from 2001 to 2012, which meant they had never been caught by the national standards system, Parata said.

This should be a wake up call for those who resist change in the education system. Stagnation and decline is not acceptable. If you talk to secondary teachers, you’ll know that it is too late for them to do much with a student if they get to secondary school with inadequate literacy and numeracy schools.

We’ve had the bigotry of low expectations for too long, where the 15% tail are allowed to fail. Not everyone will be able to get good qualifications, but everyone must leave school with functional literacy and numeracy.

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Effective schools

October 16th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

A Harvard University study finds:

Charter schools were developed, in part, to serve as an R&D engine for traditional public schools, resulting in a wide variety of school strategies and outcomes. In this paper, we collect data on the inner-workings of 39 charter schools and correlate these data with credible estimates of each school’s effectiveness. We find that traditionally collected input measures – class size, per pupil expenditure, the fraction of teachers with no certification, and the fraction of teachers with an advanced degree – are not correlated with school effectiveness. In stark contrast, we show that an index of five policies suggested by over forty years of qualitative research – frequent teacher feedback, the use of data to guide instruction, high-dosage tutoring, increased instructional time, and high expectations – explains approximately 45 percent of the variation in school effectiveness. 

Teacher quality and use of data are the most effective.

In our empirical analysis, we find that input measures associated with a traditional resource-based model of education – class size, per pupil expenditure, the fraction of teachers with no teaching certification, and the fraction of teachers with an advanced degree – are not correlated with school effectiveness in our sample. Indeed, our data suggest that increasing resource-based inputs may actually lower school effectiveness.

Yet this is what the educational establishment for many years have said is the answer.

Using observational estimates of school effectiveness, we find that schools with more certified teachers have annual math gains that are 0.041 (0.023) standard 2 deviations lower than other schools. Schools with more teachers with a masters degree have annual ELA gains that are 0.032 (0.020) standard deviations lower. An index of class size, per pupil expenditure, the fraction of teachers with no teaching certification, and the fraction of teachers with an advanced degree, explains about 15 percent of the variance in charter school effectiveness, but in the unexpected direction.

So the fact charter schools may have a couple of unregistered teachers is no bad thing, and may even be a good thing.

In stark contrast, an index of five policies suggested by forty years of qualitative case-studies – frequent teacher feedback, data driven instruction, high-dosage tutoring, increased instructional time, and a relentless focus on academic achievement – explains roughly half of the variation in school effectiveness.

Some argue that it is all about the socio-economic rating of the local neigbourhood. This research shows it is not. How schools teach can and does make a difference.


NZ Initiative on teacher quality

October 9th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The NZ Initiative has released the first of three reports on improving teacher quality. The first one is mainly setting out where we are at, and later reports will look at potential improvements. Some highlighted facts:

NZ is a top-performing system

  • NZ’s 15-year-olds rank among the top performing countries in reading (7th), science (7th) and mathematics (13th)
  • NZ (along with Shanghai and Singapore) has the highest proportion of top readers (one in six)

But the system is not reaching everyone

  • NZ has one of the largest gaps in the world between high- and low-performing students
  • The 2009 PISA study of 15-year-olds showed NZ has one of the widest ranges of reading scores in the OECD
  • Māori and Pasifika students are consistently less successful than Pakeha and Asian students at all three levels of NCEA and they do not perform as well in international tests of achievement

 Teachers are the education system’s most valuable asset

  • A meta-analysis of half a million studies found teachers were the most important in-school factor for student achievement
  • Teacher salaries make up 61% of the education budget

NZ has good quality teachers, but we can improve in key areas

  • Our teachers are highly qualified – 86% hold a bachelor’s degree
  • But one-third of year nine mathematics teachers do not have a mathematics qualification
  • 18% of schools say a lack of mathematics teachers hinders the ability to teach the subjectThe quality of teacher education is variable – only 57% of schools are satisfied with the quality of teacher graduates
  • Low expectations of Māori and Pasifika students are partly to blame for low achievement

 We struggle to attract and retain talent

  • Despite the importance of teachers, their status in NZ is low, and has been eroded by top-down changes
  • Teacher morale in secondary schools slipped from 70% in 2009 to 57% in 2012
  • Teacher appraisal is a ‘tick the box’ exercise. It is rarely used as a tool for development and only 5% of teacher goals are related to student outcomes
  • There is a lack of career structure and recognition of excellence. The pay scale sends a signal that teachers have reached their maximum capability after eight years

It’s a good area for focusing on, as teacher quality is almost beyond dispute the most important factor in educational outcomes.

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Point England School

September 25th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Canadian Globe & Mail writes:

One reason students phone in their school assignments – and only halfheartedly copy edit and research them – is that they’re keenly aware that there’s no “authentic audience.” Only the teacher is reading it. In contrast, academic studies have found that whenever students write for other actual, live people, they throw their back into the work – producing stuff with better organization and content, and nearly 40 per cent longer than when they write for just their instructor.

Smart teachers have begun to realize they can bring this magic into the classroom. In Point England, New Zealand – a low-income area with high illiteracy rates – the educators had long struggled to get students writing more than a few sentences. So they set up blogs, had the students post there and, crucially, invited far-flung family and friends to comment. At first, the students grumbled. But once they started getting comments from Germany and New York, they snapped to attention.

“They realized they were writing for a global audience,” one of the educators, Colleen Gleeson, told me. They began closely critiquing each other’s writing, finessing it for the folks abroad, such as pondering which local references a foreigner would not understand. By the second year, this explosion of writing was evident in their test scores, some of the schools that had adopted the blogging experiment – schools that had long lagged behind the country – were making advances 10 to 13 times larger than the national average, and some had risen all way to the average.

Good to see the great advances being made by Point England getting global attention. And really smart to use blogs as a way to get feedback for students and involve extended family.


Maths and Teach for America

September 15th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Atlantic reports:

How effective are Teach for America teachers? It’s a question that the organization’s critics and fans alike have been trying to answer for years. 

A new study by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (a part of the United States Department of Education) will encourage TFA supporters. The first large-scale random assignment study of TFA secondary math teachers, it found that the TFA teachers were more effective than other instructors at their schools.

Teach for America is a great initiative.

The study included 4,573 students at middle and high schools across the country. In the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years, researchers randomly assigned the students in each school to similar math courses–some were taught by TFA teachers, and others or by teachers who entered teaching through traditional or other, less selective alternative programs. The students with TFA teachers performed better on end-of-year exams than their peers in similar courses taught by other teachers. The bump in their test scores is equivalent to an additional 2.6 months of school for the average student nationwide.

That’s pretty significant for an average difference.

The study also seemed to disprove the common criticism that, because TFA teachers only sign on for two years of teaching, they do not gain the experience necessary to become effective teachers. The study found that TFA teachers were more effective than both novice and experienced teachers from other certification programs. Students of TFA teachers in their first three years of teaching scored 0.08 standard deviations higher than students of other teachers in their first three years of teaching and 0.07 standard deviations higher than students of other teachers with more than three years of experience teaching.

Experience does not necessarily equal effectiveness.


Free foundation education for under 25s

September 5th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Steven Joyce has announced:

All foundation education (Level 1 and 2 courses) will be fees-free for 20-24 year-olds from 2014, Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Minister Steven Joyce announced today.

At the same time the government will extend the Youth Guarantee Scheme to 18 and 19 year-olds, meaning that all New Zealanders below the age of 25 will be able to access fees-free level 1 and 2 education courses.

“Level 1 and 2 courses deliver core foundational skills required for success in life. They provide students with the skills required for higher level vocational study, training and employment,” says Mr Joyce.

“Most students gain these skills and qualifications (such as NCEA Level 2) in a school setting, but too many New Zealanders don’t have these skills at age 18, or older.

“The government will focus funding on those who have previously not achieved a level 1 or 2 qualification, including beneficiaries referred by the Ministry of Social Development where level 1 and 2 study meets their needs.

This is good. Few people can contribute to the country and economy without at least NCEA Level 2. It is the minimum in terms of literacy and numeracy that students should have. Allowing people to gain those skills post-school for the same cost (free) as if they were still at school is very welcome.

That is how you help the more disadvantaged in society. Giving them the skills they need.


Superannuation vs Education

August 28th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Mr Parker said Mr Key’s position, including his pledge to resign rather than increase the age of eligibility was “just populism” intended as a vote catcher.

“We know that it’s wrong to be spending more on super than education, that it comes at the cost of caring for children, and yet he has got his head in the sand.

Vote Education is $12.4 billion.

Vote Superannuation is $10.9 billion.

I would have though a Finance Spokesperson would know this.

I of course do support increasing the age of eligibility for superannuation, and delinking it from the average wage.

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July 15th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Nicola Ngarewa is all about the solution rather than the problem.

The 39-year-old is the principal at Tamatea College, Hawkes Bay, where she has been for a little more than two years.

What is her attitude to education and achievement?

“I don’t like deciles, at all. It labels kids and it’s not fair on them.

“For me, there are no excuses. No matter where you come from, what language you speak or what your socio-economic status is, achieving is within your reach.”

It is this philosophy and strong mindset that has seen Ms Ngarewa’s popularity soar within the school community. The school’s academic results have also improved.

Participation in sports has sky-rocketed at the school, where there are about 300 students – 45 per cent Maori and the rest a mix of Asian, Iraqi, European and Pacific Island.

That’s a very diverse school. And for those wondering, it is decile 3.

NCEA achievement rates have doubled in the past two years; with 91 per cent of achievement at Level 1, 94 per cent in Level 2 and 95 per cent at Level 3.

“Now the kids are saying: ‘Oh, we’ve got to make 100 per cent this year’. That’s exactly the kind of attitude you want to see and hear in the playground.”

That’s an incredible turn-around and achievement. Can we clone her?

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Hard data for education

July 14th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reported:

New Zealand’s education system has been treading water and its students will lose out in the global race for the best jobs unless change is embraced, a visiting expert warns.

Andreas Schleicher has been dubbed “the world’s schoolmaster” by international media – and he advises a shake-up of New Zealand’s system.

The German scientist and statistician is a pioneer of using hard data to analyse what was traditionally thought of as a “soft” subject, previously dominated by tradition, theories and ideology.

The change in approach helped him become one of the world’s most influential education experts.

It’s depressing that some parties and unions spend so much energy fighting against the Government and parents having some standard data. There is huge power in data. Even more depressing that they are now boycotting a tool that will help improve moderation and consistency.

A parent questionnaire which ran with the PISA test was used to see what factors were most important in terms of test results.

It found that parents showing a consistent interest in a child’s education is the most important factor in raising his or her achievement.

“It is not the hours of homework that you spend with your children, it is not about the degree that you have,” Mr Schleicher says. “It is simple things – when parents ask them every day at the dinner table, ‘How was school? What went well? Did you have any difficulties?”‘

Good advice.

New Zealand must deploy its best teachers to the most challenging classrooms, Mr Schleicher says. Data clearly show the highest performing countries prioritise and target the quality of teaching.

Overseas examples include Shanghai, which topped the 2009 results, where vice-principals at successful schools can only become principals if they show they can turn around one of the lowest-performing schools.

What a great idea.

Mr Schleicher supports National Standards data as a way for educators to identify success and failure.

The standards are descriptions of what students should be able to do in reading, writing and mathematics as they progress through levels 1 to 8, the primary and intermediate years.

Their introduction has been controversial, with opponents saying they will lead to “league tables” of schools, and give parents the false impression that a school can be judged by its results alone. “I can see the challenges,” Mr Schleicher says.

“But in the dark all schools look the same, and all students look the same.

“Unless you have some light to illuminate the differences, there is very little you can do about it.”

Absolutely. Some data is better than no data.

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One in seven, not one in five?

July 9th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The Post Primary Teachers Association have released research which they believe shows that it is inaccurate and simplistic to say that one in five New Zealand students is failing in education.

Independent researchers Liz Gordon, who was a former member of Parliament for Alliance, and Brian Easton who is an economist and columnist for the Listener, were given access to the Education Ministry’s 2009 OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) database.

They found 14.3 per cent of students failed to achieve proficiency level 2 on PISA reading.

Which would be one in seven, not one in five.

They also found 74 per cent of those who failed were male, and that socio-economic factors such as parental income and the number of books in the home were contributing issues.

Boys are doing far worse than girls at pretty much all levels of education. That’s a gender gap which should be a priority to close.

The spokeswoman for Ms Parata said ‘one in five’ was an estimate which reflected the fact that not every person is leaving school with the qualifications and skills they needed to succeed.

“It reflects the fact that 15 per cent of school leavers do not have an NCEA Level 1 qualification and the basic literacy and numeracy skills required to attain it, and that around 30 per cent of students leave school without an NCEA Level 2 qualification – the minimum level of competency required to train for a basic apprenticeship.

“The one out of five reference also drew on ERO research and reading recovery data which indicated that up to one in five young people are leaving school without the skills needed for modern jobs.

The report is here.

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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 education 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.


Education at a glance

June 26th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The OECD has published its 2013 Education at a glance book of OECD educational statistics. The report has around 400 tables in it.

Ministers Parata and Joyce highlight NZ is :

  • Investing 7.3 per cent of its GDP in education – the seventh highest in the OECD
  • Investing 20 per cent of all public expenditure in education, which is the second highest percentage in the OECD
  • In the top third of countries for participation in early childhood education  – 95 per cent of four year olds enrolled in 2011
  • In the top seven countries for the percentage of public expenditure allocated to early childhood education
  • In the top 10 of the OECD for the highest proportion of tertiary qualified adults, with 39 per cent of 25 to 64 year-olds and 47 per cent of 25 to 34 year-olds in New Zealand having a diploma or higher qualification
  • Increasing significantly the number of 15 to 19 year olds enrolled in study –81.5 per cent in 2011, up from 74 per cent in 2008

So let no one say the issue for education is not enough money being spent by taxpayers.


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Education Amendment Bill changes

April 13th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Select Committee has reported back the Education Amendment Bill, with some changes.

The majority of us recommend inserting new section 139AAAB, in clause 28, to allow a teacher or staff member to require that a student remove their jacket or outer clothing so that it can be searched, and to require the search to comply with the safeguards detailed in new section 139AAAC. The removal of outer clothing would not be permitted if the student had no other clothing, or only underclothes, under the outer clothing. Students might be suspected of having harmful or illegal items in the pockets of their jackets or outerwear, and the new section proposed would make it clear for teachers how they would be permitted to search for such items.

There was concern, which I had previously blogged on, that the original bill made it impossible for teachers to do any sort of checking of students without their consent.

The recommended new section 139AAAB would allow a teacher or other staff member to require a student to hand over a bag or other container and allow it to be searched, if they believed the student is inpossession of a harmful item. The majority of us are con

cerned that the legislation as introduced would prohibit a teacher from requiring a student to hand over a bag containing a harmful item, leaving the teacher unable to take this step to provide a safe learning environment.

Also sensible. So who would be against teachers being able to check for weapons or drugs?

The Greens of course:

While we agree that a school must be a safe place for students and teachers we do not believe the additional powers in the bill can be justified.


We considered whether partnership schools should be subject to the same oversight as existing state schools, for example via the Ombudsman. On balance it is our view that the Ombudsmen Act 1975 should apply to the exercise of discipline powers relating to suspensions, expulsions, stand-downs, and exclusions, and we therefore recommend amending clause 31, new section 158X, and inserting new clause 43. This provision would have the effect of ensuring that all children and their families would have access to the Ombudsman.

That is a sensible and welcome move.

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Why we need to improve the school system

March 28th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Sue Fea at Stuff reports:

New Zealand needs to raise the academic achievement of its Maori and Pacific Island students to match those of Pakeha students, Education Minister Hekia Parata said in Queenstown yesterday.

New Zealand had made significant gains, now ranked seventh internationally in Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) reading and literacy proficiency levels.

However, while Pakeha were ranked second in the world, Maori were 34th equal and Pacific students were ranked 44th, Ms Parata said.

As has been said before, our averages are good, but our tail is unacceptably low.

The Government was aiming to get 85 per cent of primary and intermediate school students at, or above, the national standards by 2017.

At the moment 76 per cent of children reached or exceeded the national standard for reading, 72 per cent of learners for mathematics, and 68 per cent for writing.

While some parties think the best way to lift achievement is not to monitor student achievement at all!

Ms Parata said she had told various iwi groups, “good on you, guys” for coming to Wellington to talk about land issues and fisheries, but invited them to come to talk about the education of their children or stay in their area and help support them in the education opportunities available.

“I say the same to Pacific churches and they are all responding.

Maybe we’ll see some Iwi invest in a charter school or two!

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Please tell me this isn’t true

March 4th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Rodney Hide writes in the HoS:

I know I would have a lot to learn if I wanted to teach in a school. But I don’t understand why the Teachers Council gets to demand that prospective teachers attend Auckland University for a full year to get a Graduate Diploma in Teaching before doing so.

I already have three degrees, have taught science and economics at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, have worked in a successful merchant bank and have some knowledge of government and its operation.

In some capacity I would have something to teach students. But I can’t. The Teachers Council declares I must complete a diploma that includes a course called EDPROFST 612, which “explores questions relating to … the Treaty of Waitangi and the socio-political influences that shape the interconnections between learning and context”.

This might explain a lot!

I am amazed we have the many good teachers that we do. But I wonder how many potentially good teachers the Teachers Council and their asinine courses and processes have driven away.

I like the Teach for America programme where top graduates spend two years or more working as teachers, after a five week summer training course.

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Editorial misses the alternate costs

January 31st, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

 If saving Wanganui Collegiate is a priority for the cash-strapped Government, the education system must be in very fine health indeed.

At a time when schools across the country have to ask parents to help fund vital learning tools, National has found more than $3 million a year to prop up an institution that is not needed.

Falling rolls meant Wanganui Collegiate was expected to close at the end of last year, but it was thrown a lifeline when the Government agreed to let it integrate into the state system. …

Why would they do that you may wonder?

There is no denying the college has done a superb job in educating its pupils, with a 96 per cent pass rate for NCEA level 2 in 2011.

That’s one reason.

What Ms Parata failed to mention was that the school’s integration flew in the face of sound advice from the Education Ministry and Treasury.

That advice pointed out that there were already more than 1400 unfilled places in secondary schools across the Whanganui-Rangitikei region, a figure that was expected to rise by 50 each year for the next decade.

Many who attend Collegiate are not even from the region.

Meanwhile, the more than $3m the Government will pay to keep it open is money that cannot go towards improving literacy and numeracy for the thousands of pupils who lack the basic skills needed for a good education.

It is also funding that could have gone towards the Government’s aim for 85 per cent of 18-year-olds to have NCEA level 2 or its equivalent by 2017.

This editorial gets a fail in basic literacy and numeracy.

If Wanganui Collegiate closes, then their pupils will all enrol in other schools, which will also cost the taxpayer $3 million. Trying to say that you would save this money if the school closed is absolutely misleading.

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