Teacher Unions against achievement

February 3rd, 2010 at 5:04 pm by David Farrar

I blogged yesterday on Maria English’s world beating achievement of topping the world two years in a row in the Cambridge International English exams. She was marked higher than 90,000 students from 100 countries.

What was really nice in the comments is that almost everyone put politics aside, and was genuinely pleased and admiring of such a wonderful achievement for a New Zealand student.

Now you would think the PPTA would also be pleased that a New Zealand secondary school student has done so well. But, instead this is what they twittered:

Government ministers show support for private businesses involved in education

with a link to the TV3 story on Maria and another story.

Isn’t that just such an appalling and small minded sneer. They don’t care at all about a student being top of the world. They just hate the fact she is at a private school, or took part in a private exam.

I think it is useful that the PPTA reminds us of what matters to teacher unions, because Colin Espiner has written a blog where he basically calls for the NZEI to have a veto over education policy on NZ.

But you can’t bulldoze your way through a sector as highly unionised as teaching without taking the unions with you. …

I’d be happy for the Government to explore the idea further, but only in conjunction with the actual practitioners in the classrooms. Ramming policy through in spite of their strenuous objections makes me uneasy. After all, this isn’t a fight over wages and conditions. Teachers’ objections are based on educational reasons, and while there may be some vested self-interest involved, I’m prepared to accept the NZEI has some valid concerns.

I don’t even know where to start. How about with an analogy. Would Colin advocate that the Government should not make any changes to economic policy unless Treasury agrees?

Should there be no change to telecommunications policy unless Telecom agrees?

As the PPTA shows, they are not concerned about educational outcomes. They are concerned about their members. Their objections are not based on education reasons. The NZEI President has said that if the Government removed school achievement data from the Official Information Act, their opposition to national standards would disappear. This is a battle about league tables, or in other words freedom of information.

I would have thought if the Government was really serious about improving the quality of primary schools, it might be pumping money into cutting class sizes. Curiously, however, it’s done the opposite, and teacher/pupil ratios are increasing.

Colin must have missed the Hattle report which concluded that class size is not a major factor – it is the quality of the teacher.

Even putting the educational arguments aside, however, buying a fight with the teacher unions is bad politics. Key seems to think he can turn public opinion against the NZEI on this one but I think this is unlikely. Far better to take the union with him than try to bash it into submission.

Colin makes the mistake of thinking there is a choice. Unless the Government amends the OIA to restrict access to school achievement data, then the union will never ever back national standards. The call for trials is a red herring designed to delay.  I would bet several billion dollars that at the end of any trials the NZEI would declare that the standards can not be implemented.

It’s almost as if Key is tired of playing Mr Nice Guy and wants to show the steel behind the “relaxed” Prime Minister.

That’s his call, but I think he’s picked the wrong issue and the wrong target. The NZEI is a formidable foe.

Colin has it the wrong way around. It is not the Government picking a fight. A group of taxpayer funded staff are refusing to implement the legal requirements of the Government. They are the ones picking the fight.

Colin thinks the standards are abotu assessment, but for most schools there will be no change in assessment. They are about plain English reporting. Colin said:

Are national standards a good idea? I admit I’m not sure. As a parent, I would like more information about how my child’s doing. But I don’t need to see primary schools ranked in league tables. I accept that a school in Khandallah or Fendalton or Parnell is going to do better in such rankings than those in Naenae, or Aranui, or Penrose.

That says more about simple demography and socioeconomic status than it does about the quality of its teachers.

But I’ve yet to be convinced that introducing more assessment is going to somehow magically improve the quality of our school system, or make us better at maths.

Colin confuses league tables (that the Government has no intention of publishing – it is Colin’s fellow journalists who produce league tables) with national standards and reporting. And it is not about more assessment, it is about clear data.

There are two major benefits from the national standards – individual data and group data. Let me explain.

Parents will benefit from individual data. They will have a clear report card that informs them if their child is achieving at the minimum level necessary to be on track to leave school able to read and write and do maths. If their child is not performing to that level, it means they and the school can discuss what steps can be taken to try and lift the performance.

The Government’s election policy also made it clear that there will be additional resources dedicated to students not making the standards, so that they chances of improving are enhanced.

From 2012, the Government will also start collecting group data – by that I mean data on each school, and maybe even teacher. Not to publish league tables with, but to analyse. Now you may wonder what is the use of this data.

Well the Dim Post had a link to this article in The Atlantic about research into what makes a great teacher. They have collected masses of data on teachers and achievement to try and isolate the major factors. I highly recommend people read the entire article.

At present, there is no useful comparable data at primary school level. National standards will provide information which will allow comparisons to be done. I don’t mean comparisons between schools, but dozens or hundreds of variables can be analysed.

That is how you then raise educational standards. Not by giving a policy veto to unions that see it as a bad thing that a New Zealand student tops the world!

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I’m starting to think this girl is quite smart

February 2nd, 2010 at 9:39 pm by David Farrar

NZPA report:

A Wellington student who twice topped the world in an international English exam couldn’t have a more fitting name — she’s Maria English …

The 18-year-old Samuel Marsden Collegiate graduate this year came top in the Cambridge International A-level English exams, a feat mirroring last year’s result, when she topped the AS-level exams in the same subject.

Although she is “stoked” with her 99 percent grade, she did not expect to get the top honour a second time.

She’s probably upset about the missing 1%!

“I thought I’d done quite badly, I felt pretty bad about the exam,” she told Campbell Live.

99% is bad for Maria I’d say!

She plans to study law at the University of Otago this year.

More than 90,000 students from more than 100 countries take part in the Cambridge exams every year.

Yeah I’m definitely starting to think she may be quite smart. I credit her mother’s genes :-)

From all accounts Maria is one of those students that everyone should hate for giving them an inferiority complex. A quick Google refreshes my memory that her recent achievements are:

But even worse Maria is not hated by all her peers for making them feel like stupid mortals, but from all accounts is incredibly popular and pretty much universally liked.

I see Maria is going to study law. I don’t know what area she plans to specialise in, but if she does go into criminal law I know who I’ll be calling to be my defence lawyer if I am ever up before the High Court!

Maria’s interview on Campbell Live is here, for those interested.

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Another debating win

August 17th, 2009 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Was pleased to see in Stuff last week:

The deputy prime minister’s daughter was in the Wellington team that won the New Zealand schools’ debating championship final in Parliament today, arguing for a motion that goes against politicians’ instincts.

The Wellington Black team of Carlos Bowkett (Wellington College), Maria English (Samuel Marsden Collegiate School), and Jodie O’Neil (Chilton St James School) won the national final in a unanimous decision over Wellington Gold, affirming the topic “That citizens initiated referenda should be binding on government”.

I commented to Bill a few months back that one day it won’t be Maria getting described as Bill English’s daughter, but Bill getting described as Maria’s father.

Maria English, who was in the New Zealand schools’ debating team that won the 2009 world championships in Athens this year, was named as captain of the New Zealand team to contest the 2010 world schools championships in Qatar.

Also in the team are Nick Cross (Scots College), Jasmin Moran (Chilton St James School), Josh Baxter (Auckland Grammar) and Aria Newfield (St Cuthbert’s College).

Congrats to them all, and good luck.

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Schools Debating

August 7th, 2009 at 9:04 pm by David Farrar

The National Finals of the New Zealand Schools’ Debating Champs are this weekend. The Grand Final is at 10 am on Monday in the Legislatuve Council Chamber at Parliament.

The Wellington team includes Maria English and the Canterbury team Robert Brownlee. Good luck to all participants.

New Zealand are the current world champions and this competition will help determine who will defend the title in 2010 at Doha, Qatar.

Also later that day on Monday the 10th is a public debate on the moot “This House believes that parents have the right to smack their kids”. It is hosted by Vic DebSoc and starts at 6.30 in Rutherford House Lecture Theatre.

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NZ wins world school debating champs

February 19th, 2009 at 2:06 pm by David Farrar

The Russell McVeagh New Zealand Schools’ Debating Team has won the World Schools’ Debating Championships after defeating England in the Grand Final, in Athens.

The Kiwis beat England by a 6-1 margin, proposing the motion “That all illegal immigrants should receive amnesty”.

New Zealand were runners-up at the 2008 Championships, losing on a 4-5 decision to England, so this is great utu!

It is the first time since 1995 that New Zealand has won the Championships, and the fourth time since 1988, making New Zealand the second most successful country ever to compete in the tournament.

The team comprised Maria English (Captain, Samuel Marsden Collegiate), Holly Jenkins (Sacred Heart College), Jennifer Savage (Wanganui Collegiate), Tom Chen (Hillcrest High School) and Ben Kornfeld (King’s College).

Maria English was also ranked as the world’s second best student debater – a great achievement as she has only just finished Year 12/6th form.

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Top Debater

September 16th, 2008 at 6:48 am by David Farrar

Congratulations to Jennifer (Jen) Savage from Wanganui Collegiate who won best overall speaker at the NZ Secondary Schools World Debating Champs.

Fellow New Zealanders Ben Kornfeld was 2nd and Holly Jenkins 4th.

As reported yesterday the team got all the way to the grand final and lost with the closest possible margin of 4-5.  The team captain is Maria English, and Stephen Franks points out (Stephen is on the board of Samuel Marsden – Maria’s school) that Maria has also a member of the N.Z. Secondary Schools Choir and was the winner of the 2008 Rodney Walshe Essay Competiton – the Ireland essay competition.

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Go NZ Go

September 14th, 2008 at 3:21 pm by David Farrar

The New Zealand Secondary Schools Debating Team (supported by Russell McVeagh) have just won the world champs semi-final against Scotland and are through to the final.

This is the first time since 1995, NZ has made it through to the grand final. 39 teams have been competing from all over the world.

The team is:

  1. Maria English (Captain, Samuel Marsden)
  2. Holly Jenkins (Sacred Heart)
  3. Jennifer Savage (Wanganui Collegiate)
  4. Tom Chen (Hillcrest High)
  5. Ben Kornfield (King’s College)

Their topics to date have been:

  1. This house supports military intervention to deliver emergency aid in humanitarian crises’ – beat Greece 2-1 opposing
  2. This House would ban strikes by workers in essential state services – beat Estonia 3-0 proposing
  3. This house would ban the use of unethically obtained data in scientific research – beat Bangladesh 3-0 proposing
  4. This House would make humanities subjects compulsory at undergraduate level – beat Japan 3-0 opposing
  5. This house would make the directors of multinational companies personally liable for environmental abuses committed by their companies in the developing world – beat Scotland 3-0
  6. A debates I don’t know topic for won 3-0 against Singapore
  7. This house believes that governments have a duty to bail out failing financial institutions – beat Slovakia 3-0
  8. A debates I don’t know topic for won 3-0 against Indonesia
  9. This House believes that heads of government should be required to have a parliamentary majority to govern – - beat Netherlands 5-0 (octo-final)
  10. This House regrets the holding of the 2008 Beijing Olympics – beat Ireland 4-1 (quarter-final)
  11. This house would drop all US sanctions on Cuba – beat Scotland 7-0 proposing (semi-final)
    The final motion is:

This House would expand the permanent membership of the UN Security Council

NZ goes up agains England in the final. It is being held at the Reagan Centre in Washington DC and will commence at 6.30 am NZST on Monday.

Winning 11 debates in a row is an incredible result. Best of luck to all of the team and support crew for the final.

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