Walking the talk in education

February 14th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

An interesting article at CIS:

Jennifer Buckingham is a prominent advocate of school choice. She’s middle class and strongly believes parents should be able to choose where they send their children to school. So which primary school did she choose for her two daughters? ­Raymond Terrace Public School, located in the low-income town of the same name, just north of Newcastle in NSW.

More than half its students are from the bottom quartile of socio-economic rankings and about a fifth are indigenous, both indicators that are statistically linked to lower academic outcomes. Buckingham says that when her eldest daughter, who has just graduated from year six, started at Raymond Terrace in kindergarten it was perceived by many in the town “as a school people wouldn’t deliberately send their children to”.

What makes her choice of school all the more interesting is that Buckingham is an education policy specialist and research ­fellow at a right-wing think tank, the Centre of Independent Studies (CIS). From her perch at the CIS, Buckingham is a strong advocate of private schools and their role in providing wider choice to parents.

Yet she chose a struggling public primary school for her daughters. Why? “I could see the potential at Raymond Terrace Public School, and thought that I had something to contribute,” she says.

And how did she contribute:

But along with the right to choose, another part of Buckingham’s education credo is that parents should be able to be influential in their children’s schools – and that is exactly what she has done.

With Picton at the helm, and plenty of input from Buckingham, Raymond Terrace has seen a remarkable lift in performance. In 2008, Raymond Terrace’s Naplan results were level-pegging with similar schools in the area. The latest available 2013 figures show it is significantly ahead of its peers. It is also well ahead of the three other primary schools in the town – two public, one Catholic.

At a time when Australia’s schools are seen to be failing – with literacy and ­numeracy standards falling against ­comparable countries, and a sharp ­ideological divide over the Gonski funding scheme and the national curriculum – ­Raymond Terrace stands out as an example of what can be achieved in an individual school by a ­committed principal who has solid support.

The Raymond Terrace story is also notable on another level. ­Buckingham is an education commentator who walked the talk and enrolled her own children in a failing school she intended to help improve.

So school success is not predetermined by socio-economic status.

One key development was a visit from noted educational reformer John Fleming in 2010. Fleming’s 10 years in charge of Bellfield Primary School in Melbourne is one of the celebrated success stories of turning around a failing school, and last year Fleming was appointed by federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne to be deputy chair of the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership. Fleming came to Raymond ­Terrace to offer his advice.

It was a turning point in Picton’s ­willingness to engage with Buckingham.

“Had John Fleming been a waste of time, I probably wouldn’t be here talking to ­Jennifer today,” says Picton.

It led to three “pillars” – principles set then which the school still operates by.

One is explicit teaching, where the key skills of reading, writing and maths are taught explicitly and directly to students and then practised repeatedly until testing shows they have got it. This is in contrast to still-popular education theories in which children are expected to master these ­fundamental building blocks of knowledge by exploring for themselves.

Another is building a relationship with the children, and expecting teachers to get to know each child well and understand what they are capable of, with the aim of boosting self-esteem.

Last, there is creating high expectations, in which children and parents are ­encouraged to aim for the best.

The three pillars seem very sound.

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NCEA achievement increasing

January 29th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Hekia Parata announced:

The provisional results, released by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA), show the achievement rate for NCEA Level 2 increased from 85.7 percent in 2013 to 86.8 percent in 2014. Since 2010, Year 12 achievement rates have risen by 7 percentage points.

The same data shows that the 2014 Level 1 rate is up by a hefty 7.6 percentage points since 2010 and the Level 3 rate is up 4.4 percentage points over the same period

So Level 1 achievement rates are up 7.6%, Level 2 7% and Level 3 4.4%. Good to see them all heading in the right direction.

Level 2 is regarded as the minimum necessary for school leavers so having that almost hit 87% is welcome. The more we can do to reduce the under-achieving the tail, the better.

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Education and profit

January 8th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Jamie Whyte writes in the NZ Herald:

On these pages late last year, Linda Mitchell, an education lecturer at Waikato University

I tend to stop reading when I see the phrase “education lecturer at Waikato”! But Jamie did read it.

She claimed the quest for profits damages the service provided. Or, as she put it, an interest “in making profits for owners or shareholders positions Evolve Education Group at odds with more community spirited aims to invest fully in the service itself”.

That profits injure consumers is a familiar idea. But this should not blind readers to its absurdity.

Kindergartens, like most enterprises, need capital and labour. The capital pays for the buildings, equipment and so on, and provides cover for “rainy days” when costs exceed revenue. The labour at a kindergarten is mainly teaching but people also work on administration, cleaning and maintenance.

Ms Mitchell is right that if the people who contributed capital were not paid for it then more could be spent on educating the children.

Yet the same is true of those who provide labour. Imagine a kindergarten with four teachers. If they all took a 20 per cent pay cut, they could hire a fifth teacher on the same pay and give more attention to each child. If they worked for nothing, they could hire even more extra teachers and pay for all sorts of other services that might benefit the children.

Why does Ms Mitchell not lament the fact that teachers are paid for supplying labour? Why is paying teachers not also “at odds with more community spirited aims to invest fully in the service itself”?

Excellent points by Dr Whyte.  Why do they argue against a return on capital, yet for a return on labour.

Second, eliminating profit harms the intended beneficiaries: in this case, children receiving preschool education. A kindergarten that gets its capital from profit-seeking investors must provide a good service. If it doesn’t, parents will take their children elsewhere and profits will decline. If the kindergarten performs very poorly, it may even go out of business and lose its shareholders the money they invested. A privately owned kindergarten, like any privately owned enterprise, has a powerful commercial incentive to provide a good product or service.

Yep. Unlike at school level, pupils are not forced into their nearest school.

Ms Mitchell pointed to the insolvency of ABC, an Australian preschool company, as evidence against private ownership. This is the crowning glory of her confusion. That underperforming private firms are subject to insolvency is a virtue of private ownership, not a vice.

The same applies to charter schools. A charter school that fails will be closed down. State schools that fail get given more money.


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Improving teaching

December 16th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

An interesting interview in the NZ Herald with Bali Haque. His background is:

Bali Haque is well known in education, having headed schools, a principals’ association and as the former deputy chief executive of the Qualifications Authority.


Mr Haque – a former executive member of the PPTA

So what does he see as a problem:

Mr Haque stresses that most teachers do a great job and that socio-economic factors are most important when looking at the “tail” of student underachievement.

But he doesn’t shy away from what he sees as problems within the profession. A big one is teachers he terms “free riders” – those he says refuse to work past 3.30pm, do nothing during their holidays and the very minimum required in class.

The collective agreement has provisions for incompetence – themselves often not acted upon – but not for the relatively few teachers who “hover in the only-just-competent area”, Mr Haque says. In the book, Changing our Secondary Schools, he argues that under the current collective such “free riders” will be paid much the same as those who go above and beyond.

We need to better reward the great teachers, motivate the mediocre teachers to improve, and weed out the teachers who are just not able to connect with students.

He says this should be addressed through a version of performance pay – not linked to one measure such as student achievement, but likely judged by the principal and possibly paid as an end-of-year bonus.

Principals should have more flexibility in how they pay their teachers.

also believes that teachers, through their unions, should look at reducing their holidays from 12 weeks to four or five.

The workload pressures that some teachers complain about are often self-inflicted, he says, and other professions work more flexibly to cope. Because most of the workload happens during the 38 weeks of term time, many teachers cope by working evenings and weekends, leading to stress.

Using some of the current holiday time to call all teachers in to school to carry out tasks such as planning meetings and professional development could go a long way to reducing the overall stress levels in most staffrooms, Mr Haque argues.

I can’t see the unions or teachers agreeing to giving up eight weeks holiday!

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The lack of male teachers

November 17th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Students are now less likely to have a male teacher, with many going through their early education years without ever encountering a male role model.

Ministry of Education figures show fewer than one-in-five primary school teachers are male.

Principals want more research on what is putting men off the profession, but fear pay and high-profile sexual abuse cases are to blame.

The Ministry of Education is “very conscious” of the gender imbalance, but says with no shortage of teachers there are no recruitment drives aimed at men.

“Evidence tells us that the most important factor in lifting achievement is the quality of teaching, not the gender of the teacher,” said Dr Graham Stoop, the ministry’s head of student achievement.

But that doesn’t mean the gender is insignificant. There is a wide and growing disparity between the achievements levels of boys and girls at school. Girls on average are doing significantly better. It should be a priority to close this gap by improving the outcomes for male students, and I would not dismiss the possibility that the lack of male teachers is a significant factor.

9% more female students achieve NCEA Level 1 in Year 11, 8% more achieve NCEA Level 2 and 13% more achieve NCEA Level 3. These gender gaps are larger than the gaps between decile 4 to 7 schools and decile 8 to 10 schools.


NZ 6th for education efficiency

September 15th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

A report assessing 30 OECD countries for their educational efficiency (results vs money spent) has New Zealand as 6th best. The top 10 are:

  1. Finland 87.8%
  2. Korea 86.7%
  3. Czech Republic 84.4%
  4. Hungary 84.1%
  5. Japan 83.9%
  6. New Zealand 83.3%
  7. Slovenia 83.3%
  8. Australia 81.2%
  9. Sweden 80.6%
  10. Iceland 79.4%

Of interest the two most efficient systems have relatively large class sizes. Finland averages 1:16.5 and NZ 1:13.5.  Greece by the way has a 1:9.7 ratio!

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Issues that matter – education

September 15th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Another series of graphs for those who think the election should be focused on policy. All data is from data.govt.nz and compiled by me.

I thought we should look at all four sectors from pre-school to tertiary.


The proportion of new school entrants who did not have early childhood education has halved from 6.4% to 3.1%.



And where have the greatest gains been made? The ECE non participation rate for decile 1 school students was 19.2% in 2010 and has dropped to 12.5%. That is what makes a difference to equality of opportunity.

The Maori non participation rate has dropped from 10.7% to 7.1% ad for Pasifika from 14.1% to 9.7%. Real gains there.

nat standards


In just two years, there have been significant increases in the number of primary students making the national standards for reading, maths and writing. National standards have allowed schools to better identify which students are struggling, allow the Government to give more assistance to schools that are struggling, and given parents much clearer information on how their kids are doing.



If someone leaves school without at least NCEA Level 2, their future employment and income prospects are bleak. National has lifted the achievement rate from 68% to 79%. The gain is even greater for Maori and Pasfika students. The Maori achievement rate is up from 45% to 63% and Pasifika from 51% to 71%. Not bad for just five years.

Maori tert


Then at tertiary level, we have almost 50% more Maori gaining a tertiary qualification than in 2008. Again this is how you reduce inequality – rather than increasing taxes.



And in case you think not enough people are graduating at the top end, the number of doctorates granted has increased from around 800 to 1,100.



And possibly the most important tertiary indicator – the completion rates. This has gone up from 75.6% in 2008 to 82.95 in 2014. The tertiary system is now better incentivised for people to actually complete their degrees and diplomas.

All these improvements despite inheriting an economy rocked by the Global Financial Crisis, and serious funding constraints.


Voters reject Labour’s class size policy as best use of money

July 23rd, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

New Zealanders would rather money was spent on improving teaching standards than on reducing class sizes, a Herald-DigiPoll survey reveals.

Education has become a political battleground before September’s election, with both major parties promising to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on it.

Asked about their priorities, more than 60 per cent of those polled said they would spend money on trying to improve teaching standards rather than cutting class sizes.

Labour has included reducing class sizes in its election policies.

Another of its policies, a promise to pay schools which do not ask parents for donations, gained support in the poll.

National has pledged $359 million for a scheme that would pay the best teachers and principals more.

Labour countered by promising to use that money to instead hire 2000 more teachers and reduce class sizes.

Asked about those policies, 61 per cent of those polled said the money was better spent on trying to improve teaching standards.

Thirty-five per cent thought it should be used to cut class sizes.

Excellent. Voters understand quality is more important than quantity.

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Teacher unions at war with Obama

July 17th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Hill reports:

Teachers unions have turned on Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Obama administration, creating a major divide in the Democratic Party coalition.

The largest teachers union in the country, the National Education Association (NEA), called for Duncan to resign at its convention on July 4, arguing his policies on testing have failed the nation’s schools.

Tensions between Duncan and the unions had been building for some time.

The administration’s Race to the Top program, which has provided $4.35 billion to states, incentivized changes that unions strongly oppose. One of the most controversial policies backed by Duncan is using students’ improvement on standardized tests to help evaluate teachers and make pay and tenure decisions.

“Our members are frustrated and angry,” said NEA president Dennis Van Roekel. “Number one is the toxic testing. There is too much.”

An added spark came on June 10, when a California judge ruled the state’s teacher tenure laws are unconstitutional because they keep ineffective teachers in the classroom and deprive poor and minority students of their right to an equal education.

Teachers unions, which are strong defenders of tenure, expressed outrage when Duncan said the plaintiffs in the case were just some of millions of students disadvantaged by tenure laws. He called the decision “a mandate to fix these problems.”

Heh if Chris Christie becomes President, then they’ll really have something to complain about.

According to a report from the National Council on Teacher Quality, at the beginning of the administration, in 2009, no states had clear policies that ineffective teaching was grounds for dismissal. By 2013, 29 states did. 

You can’t sack teachers for incompetence. That’s heresy.


Slippery on education

July 10th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

On The Nation:

In principle, do you like super teachers as an idea, good teachers getting paid more?

In principle I agree that having excellent teachers is really important but it’s not the only thing we have to do and you’ll find out more tomorrow.

In principle, do you agree with them being paid more though?

In principal I agree with great teachers and great schools. And you’ll find out more tomorrow.

Because will there be a choice here between having an iPad and no donations or having your good teachers paid more?

No, we can do both.

Will parents face a choice?

No, they won’t.

That was on Saturday. And then on Sunday they announced they will not pay good teachers more, as they will use the money elsewhere. So Cunliffe’s answer on Saturday was very misleading. He should have said “Yes, they will face a choice, but we think our priorities are better” – but he gave the very misleading impression that they will fund both.

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Modern classrooms

July 8th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Convincing parents their children learn better in open-plan classrooms with dozens of pupils and multiple teachers can be a tough sell for schools, a Christchurch principal says.

At Pegasus Bay Primary School all 420 pupils were part of shared teaching and learning spaces and principal Roger Hornblow said about 80 per cent of parents understood it.

The school’s new approach to teaching has been heralded as the way of the future by the Government – in direct contrast to the Labour Party’s education policy announcement at the weekend of smaller class sizes.

“The same skills are still being taught but the way they’re being taught is different,” Hornblow said.

“Bringing ratios down to one teacher to 23 kids would be great but it’s not the world we’re working in.”

He said it was more than just three teachers working with 75 kids.

“It’s three sets of eyes picking up on any negative or off-task behaviour. It’s more help to answer questions, and the collaboration between staff is going on 24/7.”

This is very true. The future will not be one teacher with one class. It is about shared teaching and learning spaces. Teaching will be very different in the future to how we traditionally knew it. That is why the focus should be on training teachers better.

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Experts say class size has little impact

July 7th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Labour’s proposal to reduce class sizes at schools has failed to win a universal gold star, with experts saying the small cuts without improving teaching would do little to raise the bar of student achievement.

Associate Professor John O’Neill, of Massey University’s Institute of Education, said the Labour Party’s proposal to cut school class sizes if elected in September would not achieve much without changes to teaching itself.

At the Labour election-year congress yesterday, leader David Cunliffe announced the party would fund an extra 2000 teachers, which would see primary and secondary school classes shrink by an average of three students by 2018.

But O’Neill said recent research suggested making classes slightly larger or smaller did not greatly alter the achievement levels for average students.

Indeed. Here’s a list of the 105 things which have been found to have a larger impact on student achievement than class size.

  1. Self-reported grades
  2. Piagetian programs
  3. Providing formative evaluation
  4. Micro teaching
  5. Acceleration
  6. Classroom behavioral
  7. Comprehensive interventions for learning disabled students
  8. Teacher clarity
  9. Reciprocal teaching
  10. Feedback
  11. Teacher-Student relationships
  12. Spaced vs. Mass Practice
  13. Meta-cognitive strategies
  14. Prior achievement
  15. Vocabulary programs
  16. Repeated Reading programs
  17. Creativity Programs
  18. Self-verbalization & Self-questioning
  19. Professional development
  20. Problem solving teaching
  21. Not labeling students
  22. Teaching strategies
  23. Cooperative vs. individualistic learning
  24. Study skills
  25. Direct Instruction
  26. Tactile stimulation programs
  27. Phonics instruction
  28. Comprehension programs
  29. Mastery learning
  30. Worked examples
  31. Home environment
  32. Socioeconomic status
  33. Concept mapping
  34. Challenging Goals
  35. Visual-Perception programs
  36. Peer tutoring
  37. Cooperative vs. competitive learning
  38. Pre-term birth weight
  39. Classroom cohesion
  40. Keller’s PIS
  41. Peer influences
  42. Classroom management
  43. Outdoor/Adventure Programs
  44. Interactive video method
  45. Parental Involvement
  46. Play Programs
  47. Second/Third chance programs
  48. Small group learning
  49. Concentration/Persistence/Engagement
  50. missing
  51. Motivation
  52. Early Intervention
  53. Questioning
  54. Pre school programs
  55. Quality of Teaching
  56. Writing Programs
  57. Expectations
  58. School size
  59. Self-concept
  60. Mathematics programs
  61. Behavioral organizers/Adjunct questions
  62. missing
  63. Cooperative learning
  64. Science
  65. Social skills programs
  66. Reducing anxiety
  67. Integrated Curricula Programs
  68. Enrichment
  69. Career Interventions
  70. Time on Task
  71. Computer assisted instruction
  72. Adjunct aids
  73. Bilingual Programs
  74. Principals/School leaders
  75. Attitude to Mathematics/Science
  76. Exposure to Reading
  77. Drama/Arts Programs
  78. Creativity
  79. Frequent/Effects of testing
  80. Decreasing disruptive behavior
  81. Drugs
  82. Simulations
  83. Inductive teaching
  84. Ethnicity
  85. Teacher effects
  86. Inquiry based teaching
  87. Ability grouping for gifted students
  88. Homework
  89. Home visiting
  90. Exercise/Relaxation programs
  91. Desegregation
  92. Mainstreaming
  93. Teaching test taking & coaching
  94. Use of calculators
  95. Values/Moral Education Programs
  96. Competitive vs. individualistic learning
  97. Special College Programs
  98. Programmed instruction
  99. Summer school
  100. Finances
  101. Illness (Lack of)
  102. Religious Schools
  103. Individualised instruction
  104. Visual/Audio-visual methods
  105. Comprehensive Teaching Reforms
  106. Class size

Now remember this doesn’t come from one study. This is a from a meta-analysis of 50,000 different studies. There have been 96 studies just on class size, and they have found the impact on learning is quite minor.

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Labour schools policy

July 6th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Labour’s 21st century schools policy is here. The summary:

  • put in place a programme that provides an affordable option, available to all schools, for Year 5-13 students to have access to a portable digital device, in the classroom and at home.
  • commit $25 million to provide teachers with professional development during the 2016 and 2017 school years to assist them to make the most effective use of digital devices in the classroom.
  • partner with schools, local government and communities to put in place infrastructure that will allow students, particularly those from low-decile schools, who do not currently have internet connections to use their portable devices to access the internet at home.
  • develop a comprehensive plan for rebuilding out-dated and worn-out school buildings, so that every school has access to modern learning environments by 2030.

This looks a very sound policy. It is very much in line with the unanimous recommendations of the Education and Science Select Committee inquiry into 21st century schools, that was chaired by Nikki Kaye a couple of years ago.

Nikki points out that most of this policy is already underway:

Associate Education Minister Nikki Kaye says Labour has clearly not done its homework in the education area and is promoting “new ideas” that have already been put in place by National.

“Most of what Labour has announced today is already being delivered by the Government through its 21st century schools programme. We have a massive build plan underway to modernise school facilities, upgrade school broadband networks and partner with communities to provide digital hubs through those networks. Our Ultrafast broadband and rural broadband initiatives are delivering fibre broadband with uncapped data to nearly every school in New Zealand.

“Labour’s announcements today prove they have no idea what is already going on.”

Labour want to put money into professional learning development for ICT over the next few years. National has already invested $35 million in Professional Learning and Development, specifically targeted at learning with digital technologies.

Labour want to build an unspecified number of new schools and classrooms by 2030. Under the National government, hundreds of millions of dollars has been spent building new classrooms and upgrading older schools with the help of the Future Investment Fund, which Labour opposes. National has opened 12 new schools in the past three years in areas of growth.

And Labour wants to enable students to access the internet at home. Last year, National announced a change in policy to enable schools to extend their school internet to the surrounding area so students and families can access the internet from home.

It’s not a bad thing that National and Labour are broadly in agreement on steps to modernise our schools to take best account of the opportunities for  learning.

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We need better teachers, not more teachers

July 6th, 2014 at 2:43 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Labour will fund an extra 2000 teachers under its policy to reduce primary class sizes to 26 students by 2016 and secondary schools to an average of 23 by 2018 – a step expected to cost $350 million over the next three years.

Labour leader David Cunliffe has announced the policy at Labour’s Congress alongside a suite of associated education policies.

It will pay by scrapping National’s $359 million ‘Investing in Educational Success’ scheme, under which the best teachers and principals are paid more and used to help work with other teachers and schools.

This is a bad and disapponting policy, that flies in the face of reams and reams of international and national evidence.

Hundreds of studies have concluded that the quality of a teacher is the biggest influence on a child’s learning. The same studies have also concluded that the impact of class size is quite minor in comparison.

Labour’s policy is about politics, not education. Again there are hundreds of studies that confirm teacher quality is far more important than class size. There are meta-studies of meta-studies. This is not an issue there is serious dispute over.

Basically Labour has gone for quantity over quality, It’s one of their worst policies. Some of their stuff on 21st century schools is very good, but this aspect is basically appalling. Not the reducing class sizes in itself – but choosing to do that rather than fund an initiative to have great teachers share their success with other teachers.

Here’s what global expert John Hattie said on Q+A on this issue in 2012:

Well, we’ve certainly done many many studies looking at the effects when we reduce class sizes, certainly by the one or two that were suggested in New Zealand, and it’s very very hard to find that they make that much of a difference. The major question is why is it that a seemingly obvious thing that should make a difference doesn’t make a difference, and that’s what’s beguiled a lot of people over the last many decades. I think we have some good answers for that, but the bottom line is it hardly makes a difference.

SHANE Why is that?

PROF HATTIE Well, I think the major argument seems to be when you have teachers in class sizes, like, of 26, 27, 30 and you put them in the class sizes of, say, 18 to 23, and they don’t change what they do, that seems to be the reason why it doesn’t make a difference. So could it make a difference? Yeah, it probably could if we changed how we went about our teaching. But that doesn’t seem to happen. When the many many thousands, tens of thousands of teachers have gone from one size to another, they don’t change how they teach. So, no, that’s why it doesn’t make much of a difference.

A presentation by Professor Hattie here, find’s class size is ranked only the 106th most powerful influence on learning.  That’s 106th out of 130. Labour are putting  Now this is not his personal view. This is a summary of 50,000 individual studies and 800+ meta-studies.

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Cunliffe being tricky with figures again

July 4th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

3 News reports:

“Would slippery John like to confirm why the education budget is 2.3 percent lower today when he took office?” rebuts Mr Cunliffe.

I thought this couldn’t be right, so I checked.

In 2008 Vote Education was $10.78 billion.

In 2014 Vote Education was $10.12 billion.

So maybe David Cunliffe is right. Has National cut education spending?


A bit of detective work determines that in 2008, Vote Education includes tertiary education. In 2014, it is a separate vote. Very tricky, eh.

So what is Vote Education in 2014, if you include tertiary education, as was done in 2008.

That adds on $3.04 billion to make it $13.16 billion. That is not 2.3% lower. That’s 22.1% higher!!

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Sounds like a good Labour policy

July 4th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Labour is planning two major education announcements, expected to include a plan to provide iPads or laptops to school students, at its three-day congress starting in Wellington today.

In 2011 Labour said it would spend $75 million over four years to put laptops into the hands of 31,000 year 7 to year 13 students in low-decile schools, but it is expected to drop the plan to target the policy and make it universal at a much higher cost.

This sounds like it could be quite a good policy. I think we should be aiming for every student to have an Internet capable device they can learn on.

Labour is also tipped to announce plans to upgrade schools and reallocate the $359m that the Government earmarked in January for specialist teachers and principals.

But I don’t want it either or. Paying out best teachers more, to share their success is also vital.

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Boys do much better at single sex schools

June 19th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Boys in single-sex education are performing better than in co-educational and appear to be ditching the sporty stereotype for one where it is “cool to achieve”, an education researcher says.

Forty-two per cent of boys-only school leavers between 2010 and 2012 attained University Entrance, 83 per cent at least NCEA Level 2, and 8 per cent gained no qualification.

This compared with 23 per cent of male co-educational school leavers attaining University Entrance, 69 per cent with at least NCEA Level 2, and 17 per cent without any qualification.

But a Canterbury co-educational school principal argues the quality of the school is more important than gender variables.

The research clearly shows that single sex schools do better overall.

Of course an individual co-educational school may do better than a particular single sex school, but 42% gaining UE compared to 23% is a very significant difference.

This makes you wonder why (off memory) successive governments have had a policy that new schools must be co-educational. A while back I read there had been no new single sex boys school for over 25 years.



June 13th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

New Zealand spends millions of dollars on software to work out what and when to feed cows to maximise the yield from dairy herds.

But Chris South, team leader at Ministry of Education spinoff N4L, says that if you asked five history teachers at schools that were in the same deciles and areas, and had the same-sized rolls, what they used in their classrooms to help with their lessons, “you would probably get five different answers”.

“There is not just a disparity in knowing what resources are out there, but also in knowing how to use them,” he said.

“There are lots people getting totally different results from the same things.”

That could all change with Pond, a portal being developed by N4L.

It is designed to be the place in cyberspace that teachers will visit to find, use, adapt and comment on educational content uploaded by fellow teachers, professional providers of educational resources and useful material available on the wider internet.

Next year, the portal will also be opened up to students.

It could transform education or turn into an unholy mess. Failure won’t be through a lack of resourcing.

With a total cost of about $3.5 billion, the ultrafast broadband initiative is one of the country’s biggest infrastructure investments, and the priority is to hook up schools.

On top of its $1.35b contribution to the UFB initiative, the Government has committed a further $211m to pay for a managed network offering uncapped broadband to schools.

A big reason for all this spending is to provide better access to the content in Pond, which, like the managed network, is the responsibility of N4L, which has been set up as an independent Crown entity.

“The problems Pond solves are the difficulties of accessing fantastic content,” marketing manager Andy Schick said.

“We all know there is no such thing as page 2 on Google. You just look at page 1 and if it’s on page 2 it may as well not exist.”

So true.

I think the high speed Internet has huge potential for the education sector, It is potentially transformative. The investment in N4L could be one of the most important the Government has done – if it is managed well.

A few hundred teachers gathered in Wellington last month to get some hands-on time with the portal, which N4L is intentionally opening up only slowly to schools.

N4L is recruiting about 500 teachers to become “pioneer educators” in Pond.

Their job is to help N4L knock the portal into shape, so when N4L opens up Pond to the other 64,500 teachers this year there should be less chance of them navigating away forever in horror.

Trialling and testing is vital. 500 is a decent number to trial.

Also the Herald reports on a modern Christchurch school:

A high-tech new Canterbury school, which produces all of its own power and even boasts an internal radio station, was today described by the Prime Minister as a “window into the future” of what all New Zealand schools will eventually look like.

Pegasus Bay School, 30km north of Christchurch, is the first major school project completed as part of the Government’s $1.137 billion shake-up of greater Christchurch’s schools after the devastating earthquakes.

With solar panels on its roof, it is the first net-zero energy school in New Zealand.

It has ultra-fast broadband, its own radio station, and large, open classrooms — without any desks.

“It’s probably vastly different from what many people will have experienced in their own education but it’s the modern face of the future, and it’s what will be the hallmark of Christchurch as we build 21 of these schools as a result of the rebuild of Christchurch schools,” said Prime Minister John Key as he officially opened it today.

“This is a window into the future. All of the academic research shows you that these open, modern learning environments, with bigger classrooms, but with shared teachers, they are the way of the future, the way of making sure we life the professional development of teaching, but also doing the very best for our kids.”

The Herald has a photo. Looks great.

Ms Parata and Mr Key said that while Christchurch “went through a lot” while the government unveiled its education shake-up for the region, Pegasus Bay School has set the example for other schools as to what can be achieved.

“In the end, it’s like all of those things — people often resist change, but when they actually get to see the new product — as we said at the time of the debate — parents will be flocking to bring their [children] here,” Mr Key said.

I think parents and kids will e pretty happy.

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High performing low decile schools

May 30th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The secrets of some of the highest-performing lower decile schools have been unlocked in an attempt to address one of the biggest problems in New Zealand education.

Seven schools that draw their students from relatively poor areas have been visited by the Education Review Office (ERO), in an effort to find out what they are doing well. …

A study of high-performing lower decile schools cited numerous reasons for their success. Here are some of them.

Trident High School, Whakatane, decile 5:

Induction for new staff includes a trip from Ruatoki to Whakatane, hosted at several marae en route. This enables staff to fully appreciate where many of the students come from.

Mt Roskill Grammar School, Auckland, decile 4:

Staff are encouraged to trial and use new practices, including “flipped classrooms” – where teachers use videos to pre-teach ideas before class, then use lessons for collaborative work and individual tutoring.

Otaki College, Kapiti, decile 4:

Phone calls from parents are returned with urgency, and responses to situations are rapid and often involve the community beyond the college.

Naenae College, Lower Hutt, decile 2:

Timetable changes include a 100 minute period every day – which means staff can be more flexible in teaching, and work more with students one-on-one.

Gisborne Boys’ High School, decile 3:

A Tu Tane programme helps boys develop with a strong sense of themselves and their place in the community. Based around celebrating manhood, it is run with support from Gisborne Police.

McAuley High School, Otahuhu, South Auckland, decile 1:

Considerable sums are raised to pay for uniforms, trips and lunches so girls from the most disadvantaged backgrounds can participate in school on an equal footing.

Opotiki College, decile 1:

A morning tea group of students identified as at-risk makes it more likely they will attend school, and is a time for staff to mentor them.

There’s nothing as good as sharing success – which is why the Government’s plans to pay the best teachers and principals more to share their success is an excellent idea.


Education and Earnings

May 28th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Some interesting data from a Ministry of Education report.

Here’s the median earnings for different levels of education, five years after study concludes:

  • Level 4 Certificate $35,713
  • Diploma $39,307
  • Bachelors $51,627
  • Honours $60,612
  • Masters $59,584
  • Doctorate $71,317

Also of interest are the median earnings five years after study for different bachelors degrees:

  • Medical Studies $110,324
  • Pharmacy $72,963
  • Dental Studies $67,600
  • Civil Engineering $66,787
  • Computer Science $62,059
  • Accountancy $58,361
  • Economics $58,357
  • Maths $57,469
  • Law $57,213
  • Nursing $57,022
  • Teaching $52,403
  • Political Science $50,876
  • Agriculture $48,554
  • Architecture $46,014
  • Comms and Media Studies $44,927
  • Performing Arts $37,229

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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