ACT on Education

Don Brash said in a speech yesterday:

For the most part, my were outstanding, giving me a strong love of learning and a strong grounding in the basics. This was the era – in the late forties and fifties – when still taught grammar, and that means that to this day still know when to use “I” and “me,” “who” and “whom” and where to put commas and apostrophes – knowledge which seems totally beyond more recent school graduates! (And yes, I’m fluent in text-ese as well! I can butcher words with the worst of them!)

In fact when Reserve Bank Governor, Don e-mailed all the staff a grammar guide, as so many staff were making basic mistakes!

We have some outstanding schools – primary, secondary, and tertiary – and some extremely well-educated people. But far too many people are coming out of 11 or even 13 years of schooling without even the rudiments of literacy or numeracy, while even those come out with good qualifications are too often unable to write grammatical English: an inability reinforced, would suggest, by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority’s position that in NCEA assessments, “any spelling, punctuation and/or grammar errors that do not appreciably affect the intended message” don’t matter.

Sigh. So sad

And this leads on naturally to my main concern about the educational system in its entirety – the fact that education in New Zealand is effectively a one-size-fits-all state monopoly.

The overwhelming majority of New Zealand children attend state-owned or state-controlled (integrated) schools – fewer than 4 percent attend independent schools. Not only that, but many children also have no choice over the particular state school they attend, thanks to rigid zoning laws. The remuneration of is highly centralised, and is determined as a result of negotiations between a bureaucratic and two powerful teacher unions, one covering primary schools and the other covering secondary schools. There is little scope to reward good teaching performance, and almost no scope to dismiss teachers for poor performance.

Absolutely correct. And ACT’s policy proposals:

Have state funding for primary and secondary schools “follow the child” – to any school, state or private, meeting basic standards, including standards of literacy and numeracy. In other words, you’d get to decide which school you’d send your child to with the money the state now spends on his or her education – currently some $80,000 over the 12 or 13 years of primary and secondary schooling.

There’d be no quicker way of incentivising existing schools to lift their game.  Schools that once had guaranteed state funding would now have to answer to the parents instead. And if they didn’t respond to their children’s needs, these parents could take their money to a school that would. Free schools, such as Tū Toa, would be opened to respond to children’s needs. Bad schools would close because their once captive audience would have been freed.

You may even have good schools take over bad schools, and turn them around.

*ACT would allow and require popular schools to expand to meet demand, including by taking over the land and buildings of failing schools. Massey University has campuses in Albany and Wellington as well as Palmerston North; why couldn’t secondary schools do the same? Could you imagine the demand for places if, for example, Auckland Grammar established a Porirua campus?

Exactly. They would be flooded with applications.

We would ensure the best teachers, and principals, are the highest-paid. Boards of Trustees would be allowed to negotiate directly with staff and be able to offer performance pay and incentives. The national award system between the government and the Council of Unions was dismantled in the late 1980s because it was outdated and inefficient. It is long past time we abolished it in education.

This is so important. Good should be earning over $100,000 a year, but bad teachers should not even be earning $50,000 a year.

ACT should campaign to parents up and down New Zealand on this policy. Many parents would welcome choice.

And if ACT get a decent enough proportion of the vote, this should be their primary policy demand of National. They should say we don’t want want any portfolios, we don’t want any baubles of office, we just want you to implement our education policy because it is so important to the future of New Zealand.

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