Teacher Unions against achievement

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 from the Official Information Act, their opposition to 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 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 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 standards and reporting. And it is not about more assessment, it is about clear data.

There are two major benefits from the standards – individual 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 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 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. 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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