Herald on the need to improve education

The Herald editorial:

When bad news is delivered, there is always a temptation to shoot the messenger. Thankfully, that, by and large, has not been the case with this country’s sharp drop in international rankings in an OECD survey that assesses the knowledge and skills of 15-year-old pupils in mathematics, reading and science in 65 countries. In maths, New Zealand dropped from 13th three years ago to 23rd, while in science the fall was from seventh to 18th. In reading, where this country also ranked seventh in 2009, there was a slide to 13th.

To her credit, the Education Minister, Hekia Parata, did not attempt to discredit the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) rankings. She chose instead to depict them as confirmation of the challenge ahead. It fell to think-tank the New Zealand Initiative to underline the rankings’ serious implications. This “Pisa shock” should, it said, be a catalyst to change education for the better. The institute pointed to the example provided by Germany, which in little more than a decade had achieved the sort of improvement that must now be sought by this country.

Hopefully those who resist change will now concede there is a need for change.

Broadly, the Pisa assessment identifies the lifting of teacher quality as the key to such a turnaround. The best-performing countries, it says, put a special emphasis on teacher selection, training, career incentives, and innovative teaching. When deciding where to invest, they prioritise the quality of teachers over classroom sizes.

Crucial.

The importance of excellent teaching comes as no surprise. People have become increasingly aware of this, and are keen to see high-quality teachers acknowledged and rewarded appropriately. Ms Parata has proposed the development of a new teacher appraisal system, a requirement for all trainee teachers to have a postgraduate qualification and, potentially, performance pay. The latest Pisa rankings confirm all would be welcome. It can be no coincidence that in world-leading Shanghai, performance-related pay for teachers is normal.

The time has come for it. Top teachers should be able to earn over $100,000 a year, just for being great teachers.

But implementing their findings on what works will require political will. The teacher unions will resist any change to a national bargaining system that rewards experience rather than excellence. 

The first thing that should go is the national bargaining system. Let each school pay its teachers what they want to. Let them compete for the best teachers!

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