2014 NZ Council Financial Sustainability League Table

May 20th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Larry Mitchell has published his 2014 Council Financial Sustainability  League Table. The key summary from his analysis is:

Best in Class
Clutha District Council
Southland District Council and
Rangitikei District Council

Worst in Class
Kaipara District Council
Kawerau District Council
Horowhenua District Council

Highly Commended
Stratford District Council
Selwyn District Council
Wellington City Council
Marlborough (Unitary) District Council

The number of Councils in each category are:

  • 5/5 – 7
  • 4/5 – 18
  • 3/5 – 19
  • 2/5 – 15
  • 1/5 – 8

Ratepayers who fund one of the Councils at the bottom of the table should be asking hard questions to their elected representatives.

The prison league table

March 27th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Anne Tolley has released what is effectively a league table of our 17 prisons. It’s great to have such transparency on how our prisons are doing on various criteria.

All 17 prisons are now measured on their performance against each other in a range of areas including security, assaults, drug tests and rehabilitation programmes. They are then categorised in four performance grades, with the resulting tables released quarterly.

The information is used by Corrections and prison managers to identify and share successful practices, and focus on areas which need improvement.

The table has six prisons in the “exceeding” category, eight in “effective” and three “needs improvement”.

Mount Eden is the privately run prison. In the first half of 2012 it was in the “needs improvement” category, then in Q3 went to “effective” and in Q4 is “exceeding”.  It is the most improved prison.

Of course Labour and Greens are vowing to close it down.


Labour supports league tables

December 7th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Isaac Davison at NZ Herald reports:

Taxpayer-funded prisons should be ranked in league tables so the performance of private and public prisons can be accurately compared, the Labour Party says.

I agree. If only Labour could be consistent on league tables.

Justice spokesman Charles Chauvel said it was difficult to understand how well private prison operator Serco was performing in its management of Mt Eden Correctional Facility because it was not known how it measured up against public prisons.

He felt the public needed a better measure of the company’s achievements, especially given the cost of the Government’s contract with Serco – $300 million over six years.

The Department of Corrections published the overall performance of its 19 prisons, but did not divide up the results by facility. Serco’s report cards were released every three months.

Mr Chauvel’s comments came after Corrections deputy chief executive Christine Stevenson revealed Serco had vastly improved its performance at the 966-bed Mt Eden prison in 2012.

She said the British-based Serco had a “tough” first year in charge of the facility, failing nearly half of its targets. But it had turned itself around in its second year and was meeting 95 per cent of its targets.

Excellent. It is good to see a prison operator have clear targets to meet, be reported against, and be held accountable for.

Mr Chauvel said this claim was hard to evaluate without knowing the percentage of targets that taxpayer-funded prisons were passing.

Ms Stevenson confirmed the department was collecting performance measures for individual prisons and would publish report cards next year.

Good – the comparison will be interesting.

But she warned the information could present a misleading picture.

“It’s quite a tricky thing to do. Our prisons … are all a bit different. You have Rolleston Prison, which is low-security, doesn’t have a fence, through to Auckland [Prison], which is maximum security.”

Which is not a reason to not have the individual data, but to possibly have categories within the table

Is this the real agenda?

August 16th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Nanaia Mahuta blogged:

I asked a question in the House yesterday on the Government’s quest to embed National Standards based on ‘ropey’ data. I received criticism that Labour’s position on National Standards and League Tables was sounding fuzzy. A prod and a poke led to this post from that criticism.

Just so I am clear from the outset, Labour does not support National Standards and League Tables.

I asked in the comments:

Nanaia – you’ve said Labour does not support league tables. Does that mean Labour supports an amendment to the Official Information Act to prevent the public and media from being able to access school assessment data? Because unless you are not prepared to change the law, I’m not sure your opposition will have any impact.

Then Bill Courtney said:

First of all, a change to the Official Information Act could be one way of keeping the data from public view. This is what Finland does, as Finland has no form of national testing or school ranking lists. In fact, they have abolished the equivalent of ERO and school inspection systems simply do not exist. In simple terms, they don’t need them, as all their schools are excellent! But I doubt that any NZ government would be enlightened enough – unfortunately – to follow the Finnish model .

Now Courtney does not speak for Labour, but he is a prominent opponent of national standards, is often quoted by the education unions and recently a spokesperson for the John Minto led Quality Public Education Coaliton.

So it is good to realise what Courtney actually wants. Parents to have no information at all. No national standards, no NCEA data, no educational data, no ERO reports, no ER) – in fact no school inspections at all.

Herald on school data

August 10th, 2012 at 2:05 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

According to Waikato University education professor Martin Thrupp, schools will use tricks to portray themselves in the best possible light in National Standards results that will be published next month. He is probably right. The opportunity for varnishing has been apparent since the Government decided late in the piece to allow schools to set their own goals and measure their pupils against them. That was a major mistake which has resulted in information from primary and intermediate schools that the Education Minister describes as “variable” and the Prime Minister as “ropey”. It is not, however, as Professor Thrupp believes, a reason to withhold the data.

Most parents want their children in schools where they have the best chance of achieving well. Whatever its flaws, the information to be provided on the Government’s Education Counts website will be keenly read and of some use. The site will not rank schools in league-table fashion, but will show achievement data in regions and how individual schools are performing against National Standards in reading, writing and mathematics in each region and nationally.

I’ve said this before – the answer to poor data, is better data – not some sort of totalitarian supression of public information.

Almost all data has flaws. GDP data is often revised in later quarters. Does that mean we should ban GDP data?

GDP is measured slightly differently by other countries. Should league tables of GDP growth be banned?

Opinion polls can have different methodologies. Should all polls be banned?

Unemployment data is based on a survey of 30,000 households and has a some quality issues with it. Let’s ban releasing unemployment data shall we?

NCEA results are not consistent data, due to internal assessment. Some say NCEA data should also be supressed by the state.

I’ve highlighted how some universities rort their PBRF data. But the answer to that was improving the PBRF data, not banning publication of the information.

Let us not treat parents as moronic simpletons who can not be trusted to make decisions about their children’s education. Parents, like all of us, will take the national standards data as one of many inputs into their decision.

Ombudsman tells schools to release the data

August 8th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Schools have been told to disregard the advice of a primary teachers’ union and instead release controversial National Standards performance information.

Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem has written to all schools after some brushed off requests for the data with a pro-forma response provided by the New Zealand Educational Institute.

Dame Beverley said the advice NZEI had offered “conflicted” with that provided by the New Zealand School Trustees Association.

“In my view boards of trustees are entitled to rely on the advice conveyed by the NZSTA. However, boards that rely on the advice conveyed by the NZEI risk an adverse finding being made against them by an Ombudsman under the [law],” she said.

Schools that had acted, or were considering acting, “in accordance with the NZEI advice” should reconsider, she said.

Those that continued to refuse or extend release of information would face an investigation, which “may find that a board has acted unreasonably or contrary to the law”.

Schools are publicly funded and must obey the law around public entities – simple.

Wiggs on League Tables

July 20th, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Lance Wiggs blogs:

A group of academics signed off on a letter against school league tables. The stated logic may work in an academic research setting but is inappropriate to apply to the real world. We should instead publish the measurements, improve the measurements and their context over time and, most importantly, focus energy and resources on understanding the issues and helping the schools at the bottom of the league.

Exactly. If data is not perfect, them people with a genuine interest in giving parents information and choice will focus on how to improve the data, not call for it to be suppressed.

Some of the more detailed responses:

The argument is that schools have high variability between each other and across years. It’s a combination of measurement error based on inconsistent and low samples and the national standards only measuring numeracy and literacy and not more holistic skills.

However to improve something we first need to measure it, and if we can’t measure it accurately then an approximation will do. In business that means using surveys of customers that have clear sampling bias, reacting more to customers who complain and even believing what we read in the papers. We know all of these sources are incomplete and have bias, but we can account for it somewhat, and are much improved by using the input. The online advertising industry is a lovely example, using a system for measurement that is clearly wrong to measure traffic, but while it is wrong, it is wrong for everyone, and it’s only the starting point for a conversation.

It’s far easier to start a conversation about the quality of a school when confronted with a combination of the socieoeconomic data about the catchment area and the National Standards results over time.

Exactly. Parents are not morons. Few are going to just look at a league table and say we’re going to decide solely on that. Information on how schools are doing with national standards will be just one of many inputs.

I understand the natural academic reluctance to never release data that is potentially wrong, and I see that in business sometimes where companies do not want to release an imperfect product. But while they are polishing the bezels yet again competitors are releasing their inferior but higher selling versions. Similarly we should release the data, and call on the power of academics, hundreds of thousands of parents and even students to provide both sunlight as a disinfectant and the right context.

The answer to bad data is good data, not suppressing all data.

While even a small minority, and this is not a small minority, wants access to our data, New Zealand has a policy and obligation to provide it. Arguing against releasing data is quite remarkable for a group of academics. It should be easier to understand school performance than to read about individual student’s private lives on Facebook.

Most academics support the Official Information Act as a wonderful thing. Educational academics seem to regard it as a bad thing.

Auckland school

July 16th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Marika Hill at Stuff reports:

Auckland’s Catholic schools ruled in Metro magazine’s annual school league tables, but an education expert has warned parents the rankings are too “crude” to take seriously.

Each year Metro rates the best and worst schools in Auckland based on academic results, adjusted according to a school’s decile rating.

McAuley High School, a Catholic school for girls in the lower socio-economic area of Otahuhu, topped the rankings based on the past three years’ NCEA results.

So league tables do not necessairly discriminate against schools in lower socio-economic areas.

Catholic schools took eight of the top 10 positions in a table comparing year 11 NCEA results earlier this month.

Metro editor Simon Wilson suggested Catholic school principals should be giving a hand-up to principals of low-decile schools.

“If this country is really going to get serious about eliminating the long tail of failure in our schools, it’s possible the single most valuable thing we could do is shoulder-tap the key Catholic educators and gives them a free hand in low-decile schools that are not doing well.”

Not a bad idea. Or allow them to set up more schools.

Waikato University education professor Martin Thrupp said it was misleading to assume Catholic schools are better.

State-integrated religious schools have more flexible enrolment schemes compared to state schools.

While state schools must give priority to local students, a state-integrated school can give preference to Catholic students from a wider catchment area.

Thrupp said this effectively means Catholic school principals can be more selective when accepting students.

That’s a fair point, but it would be useful to know to what extent principals do accept from outside their area. I’m doubtful it would be enough to invalidate the fact Catholic schools took up eight out of the top 10 spots.

“Just because the school is top of the pops in the league tables doesn’t necessarily mean it will be right for your child. They might not fit the culture of the school,” he said.

“I wouldn’t pay it too much attention myself, there’s other more rounded forms of information like ERO reports.”

Absolutely one should not decide on a school just because it is top of a league table. And yes one should read ERO reports, talk to current students, former students, staff etc at a school. But comparative data on academic achievements can be a useful part of the mix.

Metro magazine looked at the last three years’ worth of NCEA results to create the tables.

The writers attempted to create a level-playing field by taking into account decile rating, which denote the socio-economic area the school is situated in.

Schools are compared against other schools in their deciles, and they determine what schools added the most value to the student intake.

It would be interesting to know their exact formula.

Lumley on League Tables

July 3rd, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Thomas Lumley at Stats Chat blogs:

League tables work well in sports.  The way the competition is defined means that ‘games won’ really is the dominant factor in ordering teams,  it matters who is at the top, and people don’t try to use the table for inappropriate purposes such as deciding which team to support.  For schools and hospitals, not so much.

The main problems with league tables for schools (as proposed in NZ) or hospitals (as implemented in the UK) are, first, that a ranking requires you to choose a way of collapsing multidimensional information into a rank, and second, that there is usually massive uncertainty in the ranking, which is hard to convey.   There doesn’t have to be one school in NZ that is better than all the others, but there does have to be one school at the top of the table.  …

This isn’t to say that school performance data shouldn’t be used.  Reporting back to schools how they are doing, and how it compares to other similar schools, is valuable.  …

While it’s easy to see why teachers might be suspicious of the government’s intentions, the rationale given by John Key for exploring some form of official league table is sensible.  It’s definitely better not to have a simple ranking, and it might arguably be better not to have a set of official comparative reports, but the data are available under the Official Information Act.  The media may currently be shocked and appalled at the idea of league tables, but does anyone really believe this would stop a plague of incomplete, badly-analyzed, sensationally-reported exposés of “New Zealand’s Worst Schools!!”?

The data that I think would be most valuable is the “value add” over time for each school, moderatd by decile.

Does NZEI want to ban calorie labels?

June 30th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Audrey Young at NZ Herald reports:

Almost 59 per cent of DigiPoll respondents approve of publishing of the material, either by the Ministry of Education or the media or both. But 36.4 per cent believe comparisons between schools are unfair.

That’s a useful finding, but is also somewhat beside the point. Even if the majority did not support league tables, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t happen. The majority do not get to decide what information the minority are allowed to have. We live in a free and open society where all government data can be accessed by citizens, except for a few exceptions such as security issues.

But NZEI president Ian Leckie confirmed last night he had written to schools advising them not to release the information to the news media under the Official Information Act.

“It is unreliable information, it potentially disadvantages the education system.”

Any country that used league tables had gone backwards, he said.

He likened ranking schools by league tables to ranking the value of food by calories.

Now let us take that comparison. Let’s say it is true. That it is just as silly to rank schools by league tables as it is to rank food by their calories, rather than taste and protein also.

Now what Leckie is effectively saying that the Government should ban the publication of calorie values on all food. He is saying that because some people will make inappropriate food decisions based on the calorie values, then everyone must be denied information on the calorie value of different foods.

Now that is insanely stupid right? Of course it is. But that is the exact argument he is making with school assessment data. He is saying that no parent should ever be allowed to know a school’s assessment data, because some parents may make inappropriate decisions on them.

Kelvin Davis on Education

June 26th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Former Labour MP and principal Kelvin Davis blogs at Maui Street:

When the government says that national standards, charter schools, league tables, performance pay, quality vs quantity of teachers will all raise achievement, they might be right.

That’s because there are very few strategies that teachers (or governments) can implement that actually make students dumber. Teachers can rightly put their hands on their hearts and swear that what they do in class lifts achievement. Just about everything has some positive effect, but some have a large positive effect while others barely register. It would make sense to develop policy based on those strategies that have the greatest positive effect.

The much quoted Professor John Hattie’s research lists, from most effective to least ffective, 138 different ‘things’ that may be implemented in education, and all but five have a positive effect on learning. The five strategies with a negative effect are: Summer vacation (-0.09), Welfare Policies (-0.12) Retention (Holding kids back a year, -0.16), Television (-0.18) and Mobility (-0.34). So unless we prescribe longer Christmas holidays, keep kids back a year or two, or force students to watch an extra 8 hours of TV a day, almost everything else will have SOME positive effect on learning.

That’s quite interesting. I wasn’t aware of that.

Any ‘strategy’ with an effect size of 0.40 or less is practically pointless. Which makes sense. 

In Hattie’s list the strategy with an effect size of 0.40 (Reducing Anxiety) is exactly halfway through the list of possible strategies. Hattie is saying if any particular strategy is to be used it should at least be in the top 50% of strategies.

Also interesting, and I agree you want to focus on those most effective. In fact that was what the Budget announcement was meant to be about.

Charter Schools have an effect size of 0.20, or the 107th out of the 133 strategies that have some positive effect. Charter Schools are therefore an extremely pointless and expensive strategy. 

That’s a fair point the charter schools are not deemed significantly effective. But charter schools are being trialled only. They are not the major focus for the Government. They are something agreed to with ACT, and their future will depend on the outcomes. Davis certainly makes a valid point that charter schools should not be the major focus in education. I agree. But that is not to say I don’t think they should be trialled.

What does the research say about League Tables and Performance Pay? 

Nothing. They don’t rate or feature in any way in Hattie’s research. 

What then is the basis for League Tables and Performance Pay if there is no research evidence to show these two ‘things’ will make a difference? How does the government know these two ‘strategies’ won’t have to be included alongside the five already proven to make students dumber?

Here though Davis is not comparing apples and oranges. As far as I know no one in Government is saying league tables are being done to lift achievement. The reality is that assessment data of schools is public information, and league tables will be done by the media regardless of what the Government does. The issue for the Government is simply given the reality of the media and others doing their own league tables, is there merit in the Government setting up some sort of database or tables of its own which will give more meaningful tables and comparisons than what the media may compile. The Government could do nothing at all, but you will still have league tables – media ones. Unless Davis still subscribes to Labour’s line that school data should be classified as top secret and not made available to the public.

As for performance pay, I presume that is not assessed by Hattie as it is an input. Hattie has found improving teacher quality is the most important factor. Performance pay might help improve teacher quality. As far as I know the Government has not said it is going to implement performance pay. It has said it is one option it is looking at.

I’d be interested in hearing Kelvin’s view on whether he agrees with Hattie that teacher quality or their ability to connect with students is the most important factor, and what measures would he advocate to support and retain the best teachers, improve the performance of the average teachers and get rid of the bad teachers. As a former principal he would have first hand experience, and now he is no longer an MP he doesn’t have to follow the party line.

The Press on league tables

June 22nd, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press reports:

There is a tinge of alarmism, even something slightly hysterical, in the opposition of the education establishment to the publication of the performance of primary schools as measured by national standards.

Unions, teachers and principals have been united for some time in trying to have such information withheld from public scrutiny. …

The answer to all the argument over national standards information is not to try to suppress it, but rather to release it along with as much other information as possible to try to give an accurate assessment of schools’ performance on which parents can safely rely.

Information about secondary schools’ National Certificate of Educational Achievement performance has been made public and the media have made league tables of them for several years now without any serious adverse consequences.

There is no reason why statistics on national standards should be treated any differently.

The response to “bad data” should be “good data” not censorship. Ideally we should have an online schools database like in Australia, where parents can look up and compare schools over a range of data.


An independent expert

June 20th, 2012 at 1:51 pm by David Farrar

The Herald proclaims:

 An expert on school league tables says introducing the system here would lead to schools narrowing their teaching focus, competing for the “best” students and rejecting those who fall behind in order to reach national targets.

Professor Martin Thrupp, of Waikato University, spent six years in Britain researching education markets and accountability in schools.

The name of that expert sounds familiar. As it happens, I have blogged previously on him:

A teacher union is fund­ing inde­pen­dent research into the impact of the new National Stan­dards in schools. …

“Given the absence of a trial of National Stan­dards and the deep con­cerns the pro­fes­sion and school com­mu­ni­ties have, NZEI has decided to fund this research in a bid to get robust evi­dence about the impact of National Stan­dards on teach­ing and learn­ing,” he said.

The project is being run through the Wilf Mal­colm Insti­tute for Edu­ca­tional Research at the Uni­ver­sity of Waikato and is headed by Prof Mar­tin Thrupp.

It may just be me, but I think readers would have found it useful to know he is being funded by the NZEI.

Hmmm… I won­der if this is the same “inde­pen­dent Mar­tin Thrupp that has railed against national stan­dards in March 2010, and is it the same Mar­tin Thrupp who is very active on the national Stan­dards protest site, includ­ing this blog post about how to get trac­tion in the media against National Stan­dards and the same mar­tin Thrupp who sent an email of sup­port to the NZPF for their action against National Stan­dards?

The fact that he is also a persistent activist and campaigner against the Government, might also be something readers would want to know. But alas, they are just told he is an “expert” and nothing more.

In no way do I suggest Professor Thrupp should not be quoted. But I think media do the public a dis-service when they do not report he is funded by NZEI and a prominent campaigner against the Government on education policy.

School League Tables

June 19th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Prime Minister John Key has signalled his support for a form of league tables for primary and intermediate schools.

Unions argued that rankings of school performances was inevitable once the controversial national standards policy was introduced in 2010.

Last week it emerged the Education Ministry was working on a report based on data received from schools last month. All schools were required to send in information about the performance of pupils against national standards in literacy and numeracy. It is due to be finished in September.

Mr Key yesterday defended the move as the information could now be discovered under the Official Information Act and media could put together their own rankings. “Some sort of coherent league table makes sense,” he said.

“I’ve always had a view that somehow this information is going to be in the public domain. The question is what form is it going to take and what’s it going to look like. What I don’t want to see is schools actually damaged by the information being presented in the wrong way.”

The ministry has turned down requests to release the information from more than 2000 schools because it is working on its own report.

Education Minister Hekia Parata said a series of meetings would be held with parents and teachers next month to determine what information should be made available.

Mr Key said there must be buy-in from the education sector. “If we … get agreement from the sector, we may well be in a position where we’d provide much more understandable and, actually, relevant information than some league table that is constructed … poorly put together.”

Presenting the data was complex, he said.

“It’s complicated as hell, because it’s not just a matter of who’s at the standard, above the standard or below the standard. It’s the progress that is made during the year, by different subject types, by different age groups.”

Ultimately he wanted parents to be able to access information on a school “and see the progress that they are achieving in lifting literacy and numeracy overall”.

League tables are inevitable in a free and open society. School assessment data is not a state secret. With the tables being inevitable, it seems sensible for the Government to compile the data in a way which is as useful as possible (as highlighted above, rather than have a league table just on percentage at or over the standard.

Yesterday schools called for a review after it emerged the number of Pakeha attending low-decile schools has halved in the past decade – but argued the funding should remain.

I discussed this issue on RNZ Panel yesterday with the head of the Secondary Principals Association. He made the valid point that many parents treat the decile ranking as a proxy for quality, and this is a bad thing as there are some high quality schools with low decile rankings. I suggested that one solution to this is to do what the Gillard Government does in Australia and have a schools database which allows parents to easily compare schools in their area, so that parents have more information than just the decile ranking. He agreed that such a database could be useful.

A schools database

February 2nd, 2012 at 9:50 am by David Farrar

John Hartevelt at Stuff reports:

The Government appears set on publishing primary school performance data, criticised by a teacher union as “junk information”.

Education Minister Hekia Parata yesterday said she would consider setting up a website similar to the MySchool resource that operates in Australia.

The Australian example “deals with a number of the concerns that have been rumoured” about the risks of league tables, Ms Parata said.

Comparisons between schools on MySchool were only between “statistically similar schools,” giving a fairer picture of performance.

“I think that parents vest a lot of trust in the principals and teachers of the education sector – and so they should – and that trust should be returned by letting parents know accurate information about what’s happening,” she said.

I think it is far better to have a database which allows parents to do “smart” comparisons, such as between schools with the same decile rankings, rather than just leave it to the media to compile their own tables.

The solution to bad data is good data – not banning the publication of data.

Labour’s national standard policy

September 15th, 2011 at 9:45 am by David Farrar

Sue Moroney announced for Labour:

Labour will require schools to use recognised assessment tools and teacher judgement to:

1. Determine the New Zealand Curriculum level a child is achieving.

Sounds like saying will determine how a child is doing against a national standard.

2. Show a child’s rate of progress between reports over the course of a year.

Sounds like the current requirement to report to parents against a national standard

3. Identify children not achieving within the curriculum level appropriate to their year at school.

Oh my God, that’s labelling them failures.

4. Decide and report the next learning steps.

5. Report this information in plain language to parents at least twice a year.

Wow almost identical to the current requirement to report progress against a national standard for their year twice a year to parents.

So what is the major difference between Labour and National’s policies?

Basically it is just that Labour will not have schools send their assessment data into the Government, hence preventing the media from being able to report on the number of students at a school who are meeting the national standard. That way those evil league tables are prevented.

And that is what this whole fuss has always been about. Opponents of national standards have been intellectually dishonest because the unions have always made clear that if the Government changed the law to remove school assessment data from the Official Information Act, then opposition to national standards would cease.

So Labour’s policy is effectively to keep national standards but to not have the Government have any idea of how well a school is doing, in case that information got made public. God forbid prospective parents know how well a school is doing.

UK to get better league tables

March 14th, 2011 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Telegraph reports:

Parents will get powers to rank local schools using a series of new-style measures under Government plans to stop schools massaging their results.

They will be able to sort primaries and secondaries based on results in any subject to find out which schools are best for sciences, languages, history, geography, music, drama or even PE.

Families can also find out which schools have the worst attendance records and the highest number of exclusions.

Currently, schools are principally ranked by the number of pupils gaining five good GCSEs in almost any subject.

But critics claim the measure is too crude and schools can inflate their positions by moving pupils onto “soft” subjects or prioritising vocational courses that are often worth the equivalent of five GCSEs.

A Coalition source said the move would boost transparency following attempts by Labour to hide the “shocking performance of some of our schools”.

This is what we should be getting in New Zealand. What I especially like is that having realised the existing league tables are crude, the response is to improve the league tables by providing more data.

I agree with critics of league tables that a league table that merely ranks school on the basis of the percentage of students who make a particular grade, doesn’t provide a fair comparison.

But the answer is not to ban the publication of educational data as the teacher unions want. It is to provide better data.

So rather than have a league table just of achievement, have a league table which compares schools in the same decile and which measures the average improvement in students from the time they enter – now that would be really useful.

Even better, do what they did in LA – rate teachers (I would remove names for privacy reasons but have them known to school boards) by their effectiveness at lifting student achievement. Because almost all the research tells us the quality of an individual teacher is what makes the biggest difference to learning.

Editorials 16 March 2010

March 16th, 2010 at 10:24 am by David Farrar

The Herald looks at the Iraqi elections:

Iraq’s national elections were some distance removed from the type of poll associated with a smoothly functioning democracy. They were conducted amid an intimidating campaign of violence, and in the aftermath there have been accusations of fraud.

Even now, only partial results are available because of disorderly vote-counting. Yet the pluses of the election far outweigh the negatives, especially in indicating that Iraq may be ready to turn its back on years of sectarian strife.

The results announced so far show the Prime Minister, Nouri Maliki, edging ahead. His State of Law coalition leads in seven of the country’s 18 provinces. …

If a coalition is cobbled together relatively quickly, it will clear the way for the smooth pull-out of more American troops by the end of August, and a final exit by the end of next year.

The new government will have its hands full preserving Iraq’s fragile security, continuing to resolve its sectarian tensions and repairing shattered public services.

But, at the very least, this election marks a promising start. Iraq has defied the many doomsayers by moving further along the road to democracy and reconciliation.

It is going to be fascinating to see what Iraq is like in 2020. Will it still have major sectarian violence and terrorism, or will it be a relatively well functioning democratic state?

The Press talks football:

The Wellington Phoenix football team has provided one of the sporting highlights of the past year. For the club to have made the A-League playoffs for the first time, and to have got within one match of the grand final, was an achievement all New Zealanders can be proud of. As Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert has noted, this has been a breakthrough season for the club. It also augurs well for the 2010-11 season.

Although the dream run ended on Saturday night, thanks partly to a handball goal by a Sydney player, the Phoenix’s successful season helped to heighten public interest in football, as shown by the crowds of up to 33,000 that the team attracted.

Maybe the Warriors would do better if they were Wellington based also 🙂

The Dominion Post talks league tables:

One thing is for sure in the wake of the publication of Health Ministry statistics comparing the performances of 80 primary health organisations.

Total Healthcare Otara, the PHO with the poorest record of immunising two-year-olds, will be taking immediate steps to improve its performance. Public ignominy is a powerful motivating tool.

So it should be. The release of the data highlights yet again the benefits of comparing the performance of organisations doing essentially the same job, whether they operate in the health sector, the education sector or any other area. Not only is the information useful to decision-makers and the public, it is also useful to the organisations themselves. As Helen Rodenburg, the chairwoman of a clinical quality board that oversees four PHOs in Wellington, told Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report yesterday, before the publication of the data, PHOs did not know how their performance compared with those of similar organisations in other parts of the country.

The primary teachers’ union, the New Zealand Educational Institute, should take note.

This is exactly why the NZEI is so opposed.

Of course there are limitations associated with the way the data is collected. Of course it is important to compare like with like and, of course, it is important to consider the different environments in which schools operate. Just as a PHO in Wellington City could be expected to outperform a PHO in Porirua on many measures, so children at a decile 10 primary school in Khandallah could be expected to perform better in tests than children at a decile 1 school in Cannons Creek. The children in wealthier neighbourhoods are more likely to come from homes in which English is the first language, there is space for a dedicated homework area and the shelves are stacked with books.

But instead of flatly rejecting the introduction of national standards as the NZEI is doing, it should be devoting its energies to ensuring the tests measure something useful.

NZEI be constructive? Sure, and Satan has this nice little ski chalet for sale.

The ODT focuses on investor migrants:

The Government is rightly taking a hard-headed look at the domain – New Zealand is not so wealthy as to be able to offer refuge to thousands of migrants who bring little other than “diversity” to their new country, but neither should it push these policies so far that, in effect, the prize of New Zealand citizenship is being sold to the highest bidder.

There are, after all, many values – honesty, pride, diligence, community-mindedness, intelligence, aspiration, entrepreneurialism among them – besides an already accumulated wealth that will colour the future contribution of any migrant, including those in the new parent and temporary retirement categories, to his or her adopted country.

Dr Coleman and the National-led Government are evidently determined to implement immigration policies that pay.

The ambition is laudable, but wealth is relatively easy to measure, other desirable qualities less so.

Health League Tables

March 16th, 2010 at 9:13 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

League tables showing which primary health organisations (PHOs) are doing best – and worst – at meeting community health needs have been released by the Ministry of Health for the first time.

The tables, to June 2009, ranked how well general practices are doing at immunising 2-year-olds, detecting and following up diabetes patients, assessing the risk of heart disease, breast and cervical cancer screening, flu vaccinations and other key health indicators.

Information ranking the top and bottom five PHOs for meeting targets across the health indicators were released to Radio New Zealand under the Official Information Act.

One league table showed PHOs in the Hutt Valley, Wairarapa, Wellington and Hawke’s Bay at the top for immunisation, exceeding the target of an 85 per cent immunisation rate with rates of up to 93 per cent.

The bottom of the table were PHOs in Counties-Manukau, Northland, Bay of Plenty and Waikato with rates as low as 32 per cent.

This got me thinking that if the health sector unions had the same ethics as the education unions, they would be out there encouraging doctors and nurses to refuse to immunise children, unless the Government promised not to collate the data on immunisation rates.

Fight bad info with good info

February 8th, 2010 at 3:51 pm by David Farrar

I’ve often said in the debate about league tables that the solution is not to ban the media from obtaining school achievement data under the Official Information Act, or even more ridiculously not having the Government even collate the data itself.

The solution is to provide good and useful information, to counter any league tables done in a simplistic fashion by the media. You fight bad information with good information 0- not by banning all information about primary school achievement.

The Herald reported at the weekend:

The education expert who first advised the Government on school standards is about to start work on plans for a national league table system, which he hopes will satisfy parents and teachers.

Professor John Hattie, who was called to Wellington last month by Prime Minister John Key to explain his concerns about national standards in primary schools, said the Government’s “wait and see” approach to league tables wasn’t good enough.

He did not support league tables, but the introduction of national standards in reading, writing and maths made them inevitable, so it was important to work out a fair solution.

He planned to work with other researchers to produce an independent paper on school league tables this year, suggesting what information parents could reasonably expect.

Professor Hattie, of Auckland University, said results could be shown in context, such as how a school compared with others in its decile. For instance, he helped Metro magazine devise fairer comparisons between NCEA results in its annual survey of Auckland secondary schools.

Superb. This is exactly the right answer. What I would do is plug all the data into a database that will allow people to get decile comparisons and the like.

Last year, the top school on test results alone was the $16,000-a-year private girls’ college St Cuthbert’s, but the best school on improved student achievement was decile 4 Mt Roskill Grammar.

And that is the data which would be really interesting. We’ll see what level pupils are at when they first enter primary school. What I want to know is which schools start with a majority of kids below the national standards for their age, but by the time they leave that school they are above the national standards. Because they are the schools who make the biggest difference.

Principals Federation president Ernie Buutveld said Professor Hattie’s idea was worth exploring and he believed many teachers and principals would like to be involved.

Much better attitude than trying to ban publication or refuse to even let the Government have data on how schools are doing.

League Tables

January 29th, 2010 at 7:52 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Australian parents yesterday overwhelmed a new federal school rating website, causing it to crash as they ignored teachers’ warnings that they would be misled by data that matched literacy and numeracy with social indicators.

As repairs were made to myschool.edu.au – a site designed to take 2350 hits a second – Education Minister Julia Gillard said My School’s problems had confirmed that parents wanted to be able to compare the performance of schools across the country.

Parents care about the quality of their kids education – this is no surprise.

But opponents continued to criticise the site, warning that it would lead to inaccurate “league tables” that would hit struggling schools in disadvantaged areas.

The Australian Education Union, which represents the nation’s public school teachers, will refuse to do the next round of national testing that provides the raw data for the system unless the Government ensures it does not lead to discriminatory tables.

“Teachers, parents and principals are united in their opposition to damaging league tables which rank schools according to their test results,” New South Wales Teachers Federation president Bob Lipscombe warned before the site went online.

This was introduced by a Labor Government. It is nice to have a labour party that is not captured by the union movement.

The reforms in NZ are more modest. There will be no Government run database of school statistics (even though I think there should be). Any league tables will be because media organisations have gained infromation under the Official Information Act.

NZ Labour wants to amend the OIA so that educational results from schools are more tightly restricted than security and defence information. The public need to be protected from themselves!

In the Press we read:

League tables that rate schools’ performances are inevitable once national standards are introduced, a teachers’ union says.

Three union groups raised fresh fears yesterday that the new national standards will lead to league tables. Education Minister Anne Tolley said she was waiting for answers from a working party set up to look at the matter.

The fear of league tables is what lies at the heart of the unions opposition.

Frankly they need to get over themselves and understand the realities of the Internet age.

First of all there have always been league tables of sorts. For decades newspapers publishes tables of pass marks in School Cert, or number of A bursaries or whatever. Sure, the tables may be misleading, but the answer is not to ban information, but to counter it with more information. We spend billions of dollars on our schools and teachers and parents should be able to access information on said schools.

There are other so called league tables that the media could publish. The number of suspensions. The average experience level of teachers. The proportion of students who stay on to seventh form. The level of “donation” requested. Do the unions want all information on schools made secret?

More on league tables

October 15th, 2009 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Firstly the unions are back to squabbling with the Minister, and it is unsure how sifnificant the agreement trumpeted yesterday is. I have asked the Minister’s Office whether or not the actions planned to make it difficult for media to report league tables includes any changes to the Official Information Act.

So long as the OIA is unchanged, I don’t see how one can stop people compiling whatever tables they want. Hell, I might even help set up a wiki where parents can report the data for their local schools 🙂

So for me I don’t care too much what the Govt does, so long as they do not touch the OIA.

But on the subject of the education unions loathing for any sort of comparison of school achievement, I have to quote this wonderful note placed on Facebook yesterday by Mark Unsworth:

I totally support the teacher unions right to protest against being able to rank schools according to how well they perform. This cuts across the hunt for mediocrity which is so important to some in NZ .How dare some parents who want to know how good an education their children are getting.!! And as for the media having access to the information !Bloody hell what would Stalin have thought about that?

I would like to see this move taken further however.
I would start with Fair-Go, Target and the Consumers Institute and that dreadful Consumer magazine that tells us which products and companies and service providers are dodgy or unreliable. Who needs that useless information?

Magazines that reviewed and ( gasp) rated cars ,electronic goods, and new technology need to be ditched as does LINZ which tells us which suburbs are considered desirable. Imagine what would happen if that information got out? Wine, beer and restaurant reviews and rankings, what a waste of effort .Do we really need to know how good a wine is before we drink it? Doesn’t that take the fun away. The same goes for those silly websites travelers use to check out accommodation. A bed is a bed no matter whether its 1 or 5 star, you still fall asleep.
Next on the bonfire would be rankings of investment returns for Kiwisaver and other super schemes. People who can find out who is performing well poorly will only go and move their money and we don’t want that do we. Best we protect those who are not up to the job just like we do with teachers and schools.

NZ will obviously need to pull out of any agencies such as the UN ,WHO,OECD,ILO etc that rates how we compare with other countries on a wide range of indices. That material would be dangerous in the hands of taxpayers wouldn’t it ?

The media need to have a jolly good look at the way they report sport as well. Do we really need league tables for rugby, football netball etc? Surely it’s the taking part that matters. Who really cares about “Top 4 finishes” and semi-finals? It’s all too elitist .I can imagine the TAB may struggle paying out bets when all horses are deemed to have crossed the line together but they will cope .

Last and not least we need to ensure that some of the dangerous new Apps available on i-phones overseas are permanently banned .They allow phones to scan barcodes and customers can find out how one retailer’s price compares with others around the country. That would cause mayhem and only encourage consumer choice. Who needs that in NZ?

I have huge respect for the hard and often unrewarding job that teachers do. However the blinkered view that the teacher unions have that says neither individual teacher or school performance can be measured can only ever be detrimental to our future .They need to move into the real world .


A good editorial from The Press also.

A deal on league tables

October 14th, 2009 at 9:26 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

After months of disputes, Education Minister Anne Tolley has struck a deal with primary school unions that will see them work together on its controversial national standards policy.

Under the agreement, the Government has confirmed it will make it as difficult as possible for the media to produce league tables that rank schools.

It’s good that the unions will not try and boycott the national standards (as they are important), but I’d like some more details on how exactly the Government plans to make it difficult for the media to produce league tables. I sure hope they are not talking a law change.

It follows a threat from hundreds of primary school principals to boycott the policy unless changes were made to limit public access to performance data.

The peace deal with NZEI, the Principals Federation and the School Trustees Association follows months of disagreements between the groups over the introduction of the policy, which will see pupils from years 1 to 8 assessed in numeracy and literacy against national academic standards from next year.

Mrs Tolley told The Dominion Post the deal was a “a momentous occasion”.

“I can’t stress enough that it took my breath away that we have all for the first time sat round the table and said, ‘Yes, we are going to make this work together.’ That is fantastic.”

She said she told the groups she was prepared to work with them to stop the use of league tables. “We want to make it as difficult for you [media] as possible. It will be too hard and too much work and not worth it in the end. There are a few ideas we will discuss as to how we can do that.”

I’m fascinated as to what these ideas might be, because I can’t see what will stop media requesting achievement info for a school under the OIA, and then using that to compile a league table – should they so wish. Personally league tables have limited value and are overly simplistic, but I don’t believe you stop the media from publishing them, if they decide to.

Union says supression of school information a bottom line

July 4th, 2009 at 1:20 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

Federation president Ernie Buutveld warned league tables would create a “blame and shame” culture, which could lead to schools being shunned and children feeling inadequate.

Principals wanted the performance data exempt from the OIA. The issue was a bottom line, he said. “This can only impact negatively on our children.”

A bottom line. That’s fighting talk.

The more the education unions demand that school assessment data be made more secret than SIS data, the more I want to see that data.

It is very sad that this is now the unions’ top priority in education – hiding assessment data from parents. I think it explains a lot of the problem we have in the education sector.

Trans-Tasman had a very witty peice on this on Thursday also:

Education Minister Anne Tolley has an intriguing battle on her hands – one which is going to make or break her as Minister, and possibly make or break the Govt. The battle over centralised reporting of school results, and the scare campaign over “league tables” has probably only just begun. The Principals Association, the Post Primary Teachers Association and the primary schools union, the NZEI, all came out bitterly against the proposals, as did the provisional wing of the teacher unions, the Labour Party.

The provisional wing of the teacher unions – that is so damn apt.

The Government should stay absolutely firm on this. Certainly I hope the teacher unions see sense, but if they don’t – then Labour and the teacher unions have just handed National a battleground issue which will be hugely popular. Those on the side of suppressing school information will be amazed at how out of step they are with most New Zealanders on this issue.

What is most disturbing is the profound contempt it shows for parents and the public. Yes a league table can be a dodgy statistic. But hello there are many dodgy statistics out there. The job of Government is not to suppress information because it thinks people are too stupid to understand its limitations. You explain it. You put it into context. You provide further information.

John Key is a nice man, who would rather everyone compromise and stay happy. He doesn’t go picking fights to make himself look good.

In a way, it is a pity. Labour and the teacher unions seem to be auditioning for the role of Mrs Thatcher’s National Union of Mineworkers with their threats of refusing to report information, and that suppression of assessment information is a bottom line.

If I was a political Machiavelli I could think of nothing better than a year long stand-off against the teacher unions, and making the next election a referendum on whether or not teacher unions or the democratically elected Government gets to run the school system.

It is an issue on which you are guaranteed the support of every media outlet in New Zealand – except the education reporter for Radio New Zealand. This suppression of assessment data is primarily aimed at stopping the media accessing it.

More on Education and OIA

June 30th, 2009 at 1:19 pm by David Farrar

NZPA reports:

Mr Mallard today suggested a change could be made to the Education Amendment Bill currently before a select committee , or a separate bill could be drafted.

“I see it as a really good way of unblocking a problem that we’ve got,” Mr Mallard said this morning.

Quality information was important, he said, but it did not all need to be made public.

He did not think individual school information needed to be published.

“At the moment privacy reasons means that individual children or individual teachers information can’t be made public but school information could be.

“I think if we restricted that that would mean only national information was published so that we could test the system.”

The school information would be available for the Education Ministry and Education Review Office.

“So if there were major anomalies of schools going off the rails educationally that information would be easily available.”

This is such a wonderful idea by Trevor, I think we should take it further. We spend $6 billion in schools yet the rationale is that only the Education Ministry and ERA need to be able to access information on individual schools.

So lets extend this to the entire Government. It is unfair that the media sometimes publish unhelpful stories about a Government agency based on information released under the OIA. This can lead to undermining confidence in that agency.

So using Labour’s logic, I propose that only national information for the entire Government be published in future. Only Treasury and Ministers need to know individual agencies information.

So if you ask under the OIA how many staff at your agency earn over $100,000 – then the only response will be “The Government in total employs 7,201 staff who earn over $100,000” rather than listing it for each agency.

There is no need for us, according to Labour’s logic, to know the details of each agency. We can trust Treasury and the Government to take action if there is a problem.

There are other ways Labour’s new principle can be implemented. It is unfair that death rates in hospitals can be compared. This is unfair to larger hospitals that take on the more critical cases. So in future it will be illegal to publish information about deaths in individual hospitals. The Ministry of Health will collect this data and they will act on it if any hospital goes off the rails.

It also seems to me it is unfair that people can compare the levels of rates between different local authorities. A simplistic comparison is bad as different Councils provide different facilities. So again taking Labour’s principle forward, Councils will no longer reveal what their level of rates are. The Department of Internal Affairs will monitor Councils and let us know fi any go off the rails.

There are so many examples. It is also unfair to prison guards at a particular prison that their escape rate can be compared to other prisons. After all it does not take into account different security classifications.  To prevent the public from making an ill informed comparison on a league table, we will not publish individual prison escape levels.

Readers might like to post in the comments more examples of what should be removed from the OIA under Labour’s new principle that the publci are too stupid to know and compare, and that the important thing is the Government Departments have the information for their use.

UPDATE: Someone has emailed me a copy of Labour’s OIA Bill. It only allows schools to share information with the Ministry of Education and the ERO. This means that schools would not be able to give NCEA information to the NZQA!

Also Labour’s bill bans schools from voluntarily releasing their overall achievement data. It is a giant Orwellian step backwards and reminds us all that Labour is concerned about the teachers unions, and not parents or students. The bill says:

Despite any other provision of this Act, organisations including, but not limited to schools, the Ministry of Education and the Education Review Office, must not publicly release school level assessment information.

This makes school level assessment information more secretive than security information held by the SIS. You see the SIS are allowed to decide what information they release. Labour’s bill would see the Government and schools lose any discretion over publishing assessment information.

National should run full page advertisements in every newspaper with copies of Labour’s bill, explaining how Labour wants to ban the publishing of school assessment information. I’m seriously – they should hit some donors up for $100K and it will knock Labour down a good 5% or so. I suppose there is no need when they are 20% ahead, but this is a huge blunder by Labour.