Labour and education

September 10th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

David Shearer’s full speech on education yesterday is here.

I previously blogged I was supportive of a focus on reading recovery. Other issues Shearer touched on are:

I want to tell you about a school in my electorate.

It takes in a large number of migrant children every year.

When these kids start school most of them have an English comprehension age at the level of a 3 year old.

By the time they finish Year 6, they leave where they should be for their age. In six years, that school has lifted their reading age by eight years.

That school is doing a great job. They are exceeding expectations for their kids.

Yet that school, its teachers and its kids are stamped as failures because for most of their time at school their children’s results fall below the National Standard.

This is in fact an argument absolutely in favour of national standards. Sure if you look at one year’s static results that school doesn’t compare well. But over time national standards will show that they improve the performance of their kids massively. That is exactly the sort of data we will be able to get from national standards. It is all about progression, not labels.

I want to see a school report card. And, if the school is falling short in any area, I want to know what is being done to remedy that.

Another argument for national standards. Parents love the fact that they finally have report cards that tell them in plain English how their kids are doing. Labour have spent four years fighting against meaningful report cards, yet now say they will insist on them. Yeah, right.

If kids turn up to school not having eaten breakfast, without shoes, or sick because their house is cold and damp, it’s obvious they won’t get the best start.

I hear people argue that this is the responsibility of parents.

We can debate that endlessly but it won’t change this reality: tomorrow morning kids will still turn up to school hungry.

And a hungry kid is a distracted kid who can disrupt an entire classroom.

I’m not prepared to sit on the sidelines and hope this problem goes away.

We need to offer these kids a chance, not an excuse.

Labour will be more hands-on, partnering with communities and voluntary organizations to put free food in all decile 1 to 3 schools that want and need it.

A lot of low decile schools are already having this done. While I do worry about the state stepping in for parents, I am pragmatic enough to say it is important that kids are not hungry at school as it does impact their learning. I don’t have a great problem with this proposal as it is targeted towards low decile schools. I believe in targeting.

So overall a couple of good things in the speech, but a couple of areas where the rhetoric is in conflict with the reality of their political stance. Shearer also spoke about teacher quality but of course they fight against any performance pay for good teachers. Their problem is they are captured by the education unions.

There is an article in The Atlantic about how some in the Democrats in the US are breaking free of the education unions.

In a major shift, education reformers are now influential at the highest levels of the party once dominated by the teachers unions.

Michelle Rhee is accustomed to having to insist she’s a Democrat. “It’s funny,” she tells me, “I’m not just a Democrat — I feel like I’m a pretty lefty Democrat, and it is somewhat disappointing when I hear some people saying, ‘She’s not a real Democrat.'”

Rhee, the controversial former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor known for her hard-charging style, has worked with Republican governors to push her reform ideas in states across the country. Her ongoing pitched battle with the teachers unions has put her at odds with one of the Democratic Party’s most important traditional constituencies.

Yet there are signs that Rhee’s persona non grata status in her party is beginning to wane — starting with the fact that the chairman of the Democratic convention, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, spoke at the movie screening Rhee hosted at the convention earlier this week. Another Democratic star, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, spoke at the cocktails-and-canapes reception afterward. Across the country, Democratic officials from governors like Colorado’s John Hickenlooper to former President Clinton — buoyed by the well-funded encouragement of the hedge-fund bigwigs behind much of the charter-school movement — are shifting the party’s consensus away from the union-dictated terms to which it has long been loyal. Instead, they’re moving the party toward a full-fledged embrace of the twin pillars of the reform movement: performance-based incentives for teachers, and increased options, including charter schools, for parents.

If David Shearer can do the same for Labour, that would be a superb thing. Labour once was the party of reform. But in this area they are too often the party of entrenched interests.  Unions are important stakeholders, but they should not get to dictate policy.


Sounds great not controversial to me

September 7th, 2009 at 8:13 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

Prospective teachers could skip specialist university training and be fast-tracked into the classroom under a plan to cope with an ageing workforce.

Under the scheme, anyone who already has a master’s degree could bypass teacher’s college and learn on the job.

The suggestion follows a high-level meeting between Education Minister Anne Tolley and controversial United States schools leader Michelle Rhee.

Controversial is often applied by the media as a label for someone with views that journalists disagree with. It is a way of saying “Do not listen to this person”.

So before we look at what Rhee said, who is she. Is she some sort of academic whose has controversial theories never actually trialled?

Michelle Rhee is a 39 year old Korean-American who is the Chancellor of the DC Public Schools system. She is also the founder of The New Teacher Project that has recruited 10,000 teachers in the last ten years.

As Chancellor she is responsible for 168 schools, with around 58,000 students. 84% of her students are black.

So this “controversial” woman is in charge of the public schools of one of the poorest areas in America, and in an overwhelmingly Democratic area.

So what does she recommend:

The Washington DC schools chancellor has caused debate with proposals to give star teachers huge pay rises, fire ineffective ones and introduce a voucher system that gives pupils from low-income families thousands of dollars to attend private schools.

That sounds pretty good to me I have to say. The article actually has it wrong thought. She did not introduce the voucher system A voucher system for 1,900 low income families has been operating since 2004 (before she was appointed). She just does not oppose it.

Does she see it as undermining public education?

The five-year pilot program is up for renewal next year, but Ms. Rhee doesn’t see school choice as a threat to her mission in the public schools. She shakes her head. “I would never, as long as I am in this role, do anything to limit another parent’s ability to make a choice for their child. Ever.” Instead, she sees the competition presented by school choice and charter schools as part of the process of raising standards in the public school system at large. “We have an excellent choice dynamic for parents here… I’m a huge proponent of choice…” People have tried to get her to commit to a ratio of public schools to charter schools. Ms. Rhee won’t play that game. “I don’t enter this with defensiveness, about protecting [D.C. public schools’] share of the market. I believe we should proliferate what’s working and close down what’s not. Period

She doesn’t say that vouchers are the remedy for repairing public schools, she just says that choice is good and the answer to failing public schools is to close down the bad ones, and pay great teachers heaps more money.

I’ll be delighted if Anne Tolley moves in this direction. I’ll also be very surprised.