Prime Minister, John Key, today suggested it was too hard to deal with child poverty because it’s not like just counting rodents. I would suggest the issue is not in the counting or even the method of counting, Mr Key, but in the political will to deal with the problem. Policies that exacerbate the wealth gap, homes that are legally be unhealthy, homelessness, poor health care… these are all political decisions.
The way Mr Key faffed around the issue on Radio NZ today showed how little he actually cares about children poverty. I can only hope he is voted out next year and the next government has more compassion and a will to actually get things changed for these kids.
Sometimes – often – a child will say something so perfectly that you wonder why adults, on the whole, don’t get it. This is one of those times.
Royce Mann, 8th grader from Atlanta, Georgia, USA, wrote and performed this slam poem as part of a school competition.
“Dear women, I’m sorry.
Dear black people, I’m sorry.
Dear Asian-Americans, dear Native Americans, dear immigrants who came here seeking a better life, I’m sorry.
Dear everyone who isn’t a middle or upper-class white boy, I’m sorry.
I have started life on the top of the ladder while you were born on the first rung.”
Royce, quite rightly, took first place.
Ka pai, Royce – go change the world one poem at a time.
Ka pai, Royce’s teachers, for having a class on race and gender and helping people understand the issues here.
You all give me hope.
It is a basic fact of schooling worldwide that children from advantaged homes arrive at school education-ready, while the disadvantaged are not. Children from advantaged backgrounds are often able to read and calculate, hold complex conversations and have a grasp of current events. Many children from disadvantaged backgrounds may not know how to hold a book. Good early childhood education can inject a level of school-readiness but cannot entirely overcome the disadvantage. The best estimates of the average learning gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged groups, top to bottom, is about two years of learning at school entry.
Since the school reforms of 1989, school operational funding has included an element of measuring disadvantage, based on census data, to provide additional support for schools and hopefully improve learning outcomes. The model was very simple. Find out where the children from a given school live (in census terms, the ‘mesh blocks’), examine the social characteristics (income, benefit, household crowding etc) of the mesh blocks, calculate the level of disadvantage of that school and provide funding on that basis.
The much maligned ‘decile system’ came about because, in order to simplify funding arrangements, funding was allocated not to the school’s individual situation but on the grouped ranking with other schools. Decile 1, for example, contained the schools with the ten percent of most disadvantaged students.
This system has endured because it is relatively simple, data driven and easily updated every five years. It is hated by the sector because decile has become associated, in the mind of the public, with school quality. This was foreseeable and inevitable, as every single piece of research carried out on the reasons for school choice highlight social characteristics as the main factor influencing choice. Thus, higher decile equates with better children, thus better quality, in the mind of ‘choosers’.
And how could it be otherwise, really, when all our teachers are taught in the same institutions, school upkeep is relatively even, there is a national curriculum and the only significant variation in schools is the children populating the classrooms? As my research found in 2015, there has been massive white flight from the lowest decile schools over 20 years, which has meant that, on average, decile one schools are now 2.5 times smaller than decile 10 schools. This is a problem, of course, that abolishing deciles will not fix, but will simply become invisible and non-measurable.
The myth is that, in getting rid of deciles, the flight from disadvantaged schools would be halted. But it is the school choice system that has facilitated the ethnic/class flight, not the decile labels. In the absence of deciles, parents find other labels to put on schools, such as “gang”, “brown”, “violent”, “not children like ours”. We know this because other countries with choice and no convenient decile labels experience the same population movements.
To get rid of the perceived decile problem, the Ministry could simply fund each school on the census characteristics without doing the ranking and decile-making process. This would involve quite a lot more work with having to consider what each school should get on its own merits and in relation to other schools. It would increase bureaucracy without changing much in terms of actual funding. There would, as ever, be winners and losers in a zero-sum funding system.
However, Ministry eyes are now set on a richer prize. The census is about old technology. It only happens every five years and is based on paper and pencil. In the new technological world, there must be a better way!
And there is. The generic term is called data-sharing. It comes in two types. The first would be a direct comparison between other agency records ( in the current budget proposal, MSD benefit records) and school enrolments. As far as I can tell, no such data-sharing agreement exists, and it would arguably constitute a major potential breach of privacy to allow such databases to be matched. This probably is not the route intended by the budget announcement.
Second, is the relatively new ability to anonymously match data from different administrative systems, for example tax records, educational enrolment or outcomes, benefit records, student loans, ACC and health through a personal unique identifier (UID). The system, called the IDI, is administered by Statistics New Zealand and provides exciting opportunities for researchers and others to answer key population-based questions.
But, and it is a huge but, the wonderful indicators able to be compared for research purposes lie under an immoveable blanket of confidentiality. Were the data to be identifiable, it would be Orwell’s ‘Big Brother’ come to life. The question is whether using the IDI for funding purposes is a bridge too far in terms of preserving the utter confidentiality of the system. There is also a second question, given that many disadvantaged children are not cared for by their own parent/s, but by grandparents and other carers, as to whether the IDI is up to the challenge. However, we will put that aside for the moment. People who want to read up on the use of IDI data to identify disadvantage should refer to Treasury report 16/1.
The data that would need to be matched would be in three databases (at least) – parent to child (such as birth data, but this would exclude children born out of NZ), school attendance for the children (by school name) and length of time on benefit for the parent. In statistical terms it is a pretty simple match. The Ministry would not know exactly who would be receiving the funding, so basic confidentiality could be maintained.
But, at the margins two very worrying elements emerge. The first is the inaccuracies caused by post-birth migrants, unusual family formations, foster families and so on, that probably make up 10% of all students and a larger share of the disadvantaged. It would take a lot more work to count them (you would need to also look at immigration data and CYF data, for example).
The second concern is that there would be plenty of schools in the higher deciles where only a handful of children come from long-term benefit led families. If funding were received, for example for five children in a school, you might as well put a rubber stamp on their head reading ”I am from a long term benefit dependent family”. Also, as the IDI scheme does not allow data for less than 3 cases (for obvious reasons), there would be a necessary marginal error in smaller groups.
My first concern as a researcher on school funding is to try and find out exactly how the scheme is going to work. I suspect that it has essentially been designed as a test case or pilot scheme in using administrative data for funding purposes, and I am sure there will be widespread interest in how it works, and how much it will cost to implement. Then they will need to work through the ethical implications of such models. I have begun by asking a series of OIA questions which have been put to the Ministry. These are below.
There are also some policy issues to be sorted out. For example, the IDI provides the possibility that each child could become a walking voucher offering schools a certain amount of funding for education based on personal and familial characteristics. There is certainly ongoing interest in school voucher systems by some groups, and the IDI would provide a finely tuned ability to cost out each person according to their individual disadvantage. But the social and ethical questions this would raise hopefully put it beyond any serious scope.
The important implication would be that a ranking of school characteristics for funding purposes would be replaced with a ranking of individual characteristics.
I have sent to following OIA request to the Ministry of Education to attempt to better understand the scheme as announced.
Please provide the following information under the OIA 1982. In the Minister’s published speech to the National Cross-Sectional forum on 27 May this year, she noted:
To this end, Budget 2016 targets an additional $43.2 million over four years to state and state-integrated schools educating up to 150,000 students from long-term welfare-dependent families.
These students are one of the largest identifiable groups within our education system that is most at risk of educational underachievement.
Please answer the following questions related to this announcement:
1. Please provide copies of any briefing papers, policy papers or cabinet papers related to this announcement.
2. What data matching approach will be used to discover how many students from long term welfare dependent families attend each school, so that the funding can be allocated?
3. How is ‘long term welfare dependent families’ to be defined?
4. What legal basis allows for data-matching for such a purpose?
5. We gather from the Minister’s statement that the $42.1 million (as it shows later in the Minister’s speech) includes: “$15.3 million for an extra 1250 students to access in-class support.”
6. This leaves a net $26.8 million for allocation to the long term welfare dependent families over four years. Is that figure roughly correct?
7. This then indicates an annual sum of around $6.7 million available for allocation. Is that figure roughly correct?
8. This appears to translate to an annual sum per long term welfare dependent student (if there are 150,000) of just under $45. Is that figure roughly correct?
9. What is the total estimated cost to the Ministry of Education in developing, testing, implementing and administering this scheme over the four years of its life?
10. What are the next steps in developing and implementing the programme?
– Liz Gordon, Pukeko Research
This from Bryan Bruce:
The day after the budget is announced there is always a blizzard of big dollar numbers that often blind us to the underlining moral decisions that went into producing it.
(Because make no mistake in the end all economic decisions are moral decisions.)
So what moral decisions did our government make this particular budget?
Well, here’s a few.
It’s really their own fault that they are poor. So let’s progressively give less money to them through Working for Families,let’s deny our poorest families the in-work tax credit of $72.50 a week and let’s not increase the maximum rates of accommodation subsidies.
You can read more about this in an analysis by Associate Minister of Economics Susan St John here.
Commissioner for Children Russell Wills reminds us in the article below that in 1993, New Zealand ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child one of which is the right to an adequate standard of living, including a home.
Yet “50 per cent of Pasifika children and 25 per cent of Maori children live in crowded homes. Forty per cent of families on low incomes spend more than 30 per cent of their weekly income on rent. In South Auckland, rents have increased 25 per cent since 2010, so typical rents for a three-bedroom house are about $400 a week.. and …..The Salvation Army estimates around 10 per cent of garages in South Auckland are being used as a residence.”
You can read more of what Dr Wills has to say here.
The government knows that around 42,000 children a year end up in hospital with chest infections and respiratory illnesses caused by bad housing and that it’s estimated 15 kids a year die as a result .(See article by Dr Wills)
The answer to this on going tragedy is to provide warm dry affordable homes.
Do I see a determined effort to do that in this budget? I do not.
The top 10% of New Zealanders now own over 52% of the Nation’s wealth. We are no longer a fair society yet we know that countries where the gap between the rich and the poor is narrower than our do better in all sorts of areas from lower crimes rates to better education outcomes.
Did this budget do anything to redistribute the nation’s wealth more fairly by making the rich pay their fair share of taxes ? No it did not.
At the beginning of his third term in government Prime Minister John Key said he would make addressing Child Poverty issues a priority .
Well I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen much of an effort being made to address the Child Poverty issues he says he now knows exist in our country.
Truth to tell – this is yet another budget that won’t help poor families break out of the cycle of poverty.
by Bryan Bruce (Source)
NOTE: Bryan Bruce will be on the panel at Waatea 5th Estate at 7pm, 27th May 2016 on Face TV (Sky Channel 083) along with Andrew Little , Helen Kelly and Oscar Knightly talking about events this week. You can watch the live stream here http://www.waateanews.com/Waatea+TV.html
Bryan’s Facebook page is here.
Reading comments below an article on education reformer, Michelle Rhee, I found what might be the best explanation of the connundrum facing education systems worldwide:
“… I have experienced teaching in two environments, the low-performing classroom and the high-achieving classroom.
In the former, much of my energy, both emotionally and intellectually, is spent on so-called classroom management. In the latter, the lesson plan itself takes care of classroom management, as higher-achieving students demonstrate initiative, creativity and academic skills during the 42 minutes or so of classroom instruction.
As a teacher, I try my utmost to educate all kids in my classroom; what I cannot do is change the culture of negativity and failure that seems to permeate all non-performing schools.
In other words, trying to change the culture of poverty, and all that goes along with it, is truly a quixotic task.
I am not fatalistic. Educational reformers must realize that in order to achieve true reform, the inequalities of our broader society must be alleviated, if not eliminated. Otherwise, educators will be caught in a surreal merry- go-round of failed reforms.”
Ignoring what the student does or doesn’t bring to the classroom is to fail to properly evaluate educational achievement issues. Yet education reforms continue to do just that. So what’s the answer?
It is worrying that in today’s NZ Herald Hekia Parata again conflates poverty and socio-economic status, and to further confuse matters throws in decile ratings as if the three things are the same. They are not.
Either she doesn’t know the differences or she chooses to ignore them, and I’m not sure which. Either way, she continues to mislead to public.
The Difference Between Socio-Economic Status and Poverty
Socio-economic status is far more complex than poverty. SES takes into consideration a far wider set of factors such as parents’ education achievements, occupation, social status, neighbourhood and so on.
Researchers looking at the impact of SES on student achievement will look at such things as how many books a home has in it, what art work it has, whether there is a desk to work at, how many parents there are, even considering matters such as mental health, birth weight and drug habits.
SES is not merely about income. SES is not the same as poverty.
Expert Opinion on the Impact of Socio Economic Status on a Student’s Educational Success
The 18% in the early part of the PISA report that Parata likes to quote actually refers to the effects of poverty alone – not socio-economic status. Remember, they are not the same thing. The same report she misquotes goes on to say that the impact of socio-economic status is around 75%. That is in stark contrast to Parata’s assertions, is it not?
Stephen Machin, in his 2006 OECD report on Social Disadvantage and Educational Experiences, notes:
“The evidence from empirical research is that education and social disadvantage are closely connected and that people from less advantaged family backgrounds acquire significantly less education than their more advantaged counterparts.
This translates into significantly reduced life chances as individuals’ economic and social outcomes as adults are significantly hampered by lower education levels owing to social disadvantage.”
The fact is, whilst teacher quality is a big *in-school* factor for student success, the out-of-school factors – the socio-economic factors impacting the student every single day – have by far the biggest impact overall.
And if we are not addressing those adequately, we are merely tinkering at the edges.
~ Dianne Khan, SOSNZ
Sources and further reading:
Hekia Parata: Socio-economic factors are often overstated, NZ Herald, 6/11/15
Hekia Parata today wheeled out her favourite trope “decile is not destiny” in a bid to convince us that poverty has little to no impact on a student’s educational and life success. She quoted (or misquotes or misrepresents, take your pick) OECD research, saying poverty only has an 18% impact on students. Source
Whether the Minister truly believes her own rhetoric, one can only guess, but it is safe to say that for most students the socio-economic background in which they grow up has a life-long impact on their chances of success.
And whilst we disagree on many things, I believe Ms Parata and I agree on this: the current situation isn’t good enough and needs to change. So here’s some further research for her to consider:
And a final sage word from David Berliner:
“People with strong faith in public schools are to be cherished and the same is true of each example of schools that have overcome enormous odds. The methods of those schools need to be studied, promoted and replicated so that more educators will be influenced by their success.
But these successes should not be used as a cudgel to attack other educators and schools. And they should certainly never be used to excuse societal neglect of the very causes of the obstacles that extraordinary educators must overcome.
It is poor policy indeed that erects huge barriers to the success of millions of students, cherrypicks and praises a few schools that appear to clear these barriers, and then blames the other schools for their failure to do so.”
If we truly want to improve the chances for those with lower socio-economic backgrounds, we must stop the soundbites, blaming and ideology and turn our minds to the wealth of quality research, which must then be read without agenda and applied honestly. Our students deserve nothing less.
Sources and Further Reading
The Gap – EXCUSES, EXCUSES: SOCIAL CLASS AND EDUCATIONAL ACHIEVEMENT, by Massey University Emeritus Professor Ivan Snook
Berliner, David C. (2009). Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. http://epicpolicy.org/publication/poverty-and-potential.
Chenoweth,Karin. (2007). It’s Being Done: Academic Success in Unexpected Schools. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Ministry of Education (2009). National Standards and Reporting to Parents. Wellington: NZ Government.
Lemke,M et al (2002). Outcomes of Learning:Results from the 2000 Program for International Student Assessment of 15-year-olds in Reading, Mathematics and Science Literacy. Washington: US Office of Education
OECD (2005). Teachers matter: Attracting, developing and retaining effective teachers. Overview. Paris: OECD. http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/39/47/34990905.pd
Rothstein, Richard (2004). Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic, and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap. Economic Policy Institute, Teachers’College, Columbia University.
Tunmer, W. and J. Prochnow (in press). Cultural Relativism and Literacy Education: Explicit Teaching based on Specific Learning Needs is not Deficit Theory.
Wilkinson,R. and K.Pickett (2009). The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always do Better. Allen Lane, an Imprint of Penguin Books, London.
SOCIAL CLASS AND EDUCATIONAL ACHIEVEMENT: BEYOND IDEOLOGY. Ivan Snook Massey University, October 2009
“The Minister uses the figure that 18% of the achievement gap is caused by socio-economic background”, says Dr Gordon.
“That figure came from a wrongly calculated OECD report, and is significantly out of kilter with the overwhelming evidence by the OECD itself that social factors are the key determinant of educational outcomes, across nations, across cultures, across schooling systems, public or private, large or small.”
Dr Gordon says that she does not know why the Minister continues to use a discredited figure.
“What does the research say? It says that children from high-education homes with more than 500 books, a bedroom for every child, a computer for learning and a range of other factors start school around two years ahead of those in the poorest, education-poor areas. Not only that, but the kids who are ahead in the race have all their ducks in a row to spring ahead even further.
“By age 15, the average literacy and numeracy gap between the 500- plus book group, and the fewer-than-10 book families, is over three years of learning using the OECD’s own index of learning.
“Those at the lower end have more barriers to learning than those at the top, and this is made worse by harder lives, worse conditions and fewer resources.
“In an NCEA system, where there are multiple routes and a number of pathways to achieving qualifications, the numbers of children from poor families achieving NCEA at levels 1 and 2 has expanded. This is because the changed system allows people with different abilities to turn these into qualifications. It does not mean that the wealth and resource gap has closed”.
“External factors such as high levels of child poverty (nearly every child in each decile 1-3 school, plus others, now lives in a family where there are never enough resources to meet all the family needs) and the flight from low decile schools (making those schools smaller and removing economies of scale) make these gaps worse.
“School resources and programmes, such as health-promoting schools, social workers, PB4L and other schemes work the other way, to close the gap.
QPEC wishes the Minister to accept the evidence for the huge socio-economic barriers to learning and work to design a system that will properly overcome these.
A little light anecdote…
About 25 years ago, back in the UK, I attended a fairly high level training course on embryonic ideas of value-added, measuring performance of students and schools.
The keynote speaker was from National Foundation for Educational Research and was the guru at the time.
In the Q+A session afterwards he was asked a simple question:
“What do you think is the single most reliable measure of a student’s or schools’ performance?”
To which he replied “Postcode”.
Has anything changed in 25 years?
~ Roy Barton
I think this analogy to capitalism pretty much applies to education, too.
Student A is given a healthy home, good food, adequate medical care, a computer, internet access, books galore from birth, educational games, trips, plenty of discussion and questioning with adults, educational TV programmes, museum visits, art gallery visits, pencils, paper, felts, toys that encourage creativity and experimentation, and more.
Student B has poor housing, inadequate health care, few if any books, few if any educational toys, few if any educational visits, little if any discussion and questioning with adults, non-educational TV programmes, few if any visits to museums or galleries, and little chance to explore, create and experiment.
Student B usually loses the testing and exam race compared with Student A.
At which point student B and his teachers are deemed to have been lazy. Or useless. Or both.
At this point, those in Student A’s world push for more tests. Tests that their companies will benefit from but which do nothing to help the student B.
And the cycle continues.
Rigged game, much?
Make no mistake about it – education is absolutely one of the most important tools for rescuing lifestyles that are drowning in the oceans of poverty crashing over the country.
French economist Thomas Pikketty, whose book Capital in the Twenty-First Century has been praised as the most important economics book of the decade, writes that ‘historically the main mechanism to reduce inequality has been the diffusion of knowledge, skills and education. This is the most powerful force to reduce inequality between countries…this can also work within countries if we have sufficiently inclusive educational and social institutions which allow large segments of the population to access the right skills and the right jobs’. Simply put, education and upskilling works.
“In 2015 New Zealand the relevant questions that need to be asked are not about whether or not education is inherently unequal based on socioeconomic background but rather; how severe this inequality is, and how badly this trend is accelerating?”
However there is of course a proviso to this. Education can only be this catalyst for change if there is equality of accessibility and quality. Without this accessibility the education system is just a tool in cementing class social structures and systems (think of education in Victorian England for example). In New Zealand the notion that educational access should be equal across the financial spectrum has traditionally been an idea that has been put in the ‘well fucking duh’ basket, and has been about as controversial an idea as separating the drinking water from the sewerage system. Astonishingly though this has changed. In 2015 New Zealand the relevant questions that need to be asked are not about whether or not education is inherently unequal based on socioeconomic background but rather; how severe this inequality is, and how badly this trend is accelerating?
There are reams of data that demonstrate how dramatically economic inequality has taken a sledgehammer to education here. A working paper released by the Children’s Commissioner in July 2013 found that 89% of school leavers from schools rated decile 9 and 10 (10 is the wealthiest, 1 is the least wealthy category) achieved NCEA Level 2 or above. Comparatively the figure was an astonishing 32% lower in decile 1 and 2 schools. There was also the absurd example of 2169 students in decile 8, 9, and 10 schools receiving additional assistance with NCEA exams while there was only an inexplicable 73 students receiving equal assistance in decile 1 and 2 schools.
The OECD readings are particularly grim to look at. A 2009 OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study examining reading, mathematics, and science stated ‘countries exhibiting the widest distribution of performance in reading are the OECD countries Israel, Belgium, Austria, and New Zealand – all of which have a gap of at least 15 points between their top quarter and bottom quarter of students wider than the average gap. The difference in performance between the top and bottom quarters in these countries is in the order of, or more than, two full proficiency levels’.
When PISA brought out a new report in 2012 examining the educational ability of 15 year-olds internationally, the slide had continued for New Zealand. This examination of the mathematics performance of 15 year-olds as inequality increases makes for some particularly depressing viewing:
It is easy for people to see how well New Zealand does educationally as a whole and ignore the growing problem of inequality within the sector. But as well as New Zealand does, just taking that fact in isolation ignores the remarkable tumble the sector has taken. It is well known for example that in the 1970s New Zealand was ranked first in the world for reading, whereas today we are down somewhere in the 20s. Taking the fact that we have reasonable education in isolation also ignores just how much effect inequality is having on this performance and in education’s ability to allow those at the bottom of our socio-economic well to successfully climb out.
HOW LIFE INSIDE THE CLASSROOM IS EFFECTED BY INEQUALITY
In New Zealand, schools are funded according to their decile – a crude system that divides the schools of the country into tenth percentiles based around samples of income in the surrounding community. In theory the lower the decile the school is, the more funding it should get. The decile system though is tainted by its association to neo-liberal policy, and the accompanying neo-liberal perspective that sees no social ill that can’t be fixed by tweaking a formula in Excel. Therefore, while this system is admirable in intentions, it is depressingly predictable in its lack of efficacy when it comes to the more complex nuances of funding. If every school had the same number of students from the same percentage of different socio-economic backgrounds, with the exact same learning requirements then using the decile as the sole funding yardstick might actually work. But this isn’t reality sadly. Schools vary wildly, but the decile system implies that the socioeconomic situation of the community surrounding the school has no further impact on the financial operations of the school, other than as a classification tool. Thus the funding is well off where it needs to be and schools are becoming ever more reliant on donations and contributions that are understandably harder to accrue in lower socio-economic regions.
As far back as 2003 this was painfully obvious. In that year an annual conference paper from the Post Primary Teacher’s Association (PPTA) found that secondary schools were becoming increasingly dependent on locally raised funds to meet their funding shortfalls which had the following consequences:
• A trend of rising parental expenditure on education and considerable differences between schools based on the communities they serve;
• “User pays” reinforcing institutionalised inequity between well-off schools and those which were struggling;
• School leaders assuming financial/managerial roles rather than educational leadership;
• Some schools simply accepting the inevitability of a budget deficit, regarding it as one way of letting the government know there is insufficient money.
To give you an idea of just how different community contributions are you just need to examine the numbers. In 2012 decile 1 schools were able to get an average donation of $53.00 from anywhere between 30 and 100 students. For decile 2 students the figures were better – $92.00 on average from between 50 and 120 students. But these pale in comparison to what the higher decile schools could collect. Decile 9 schools were able to get an average of $379.00 from between 125 and 740 students while decile 10 schools were able to harvest $423.00 from between 250 and an astonishing 900 pupils. In essence the schools that have the pupils that probably need the least financial help from the community get well and truly the most, while the students that could benefit hugely from this extra generosity tend to be located in the poorest regions of the country, where social conditions are so bad at present, that just looking after your own family is troubling enough.
Additionally today’s educational costs have risen dramatically as we understand more about how to utilise non-teaching staff within the environment, particularly in administration, compliance, social work, and medical assistance. And that is not even bringing up the fact that technology, while no doubt being an invaluable tool for the sector, has brought up the cost of operating a classroom significantly.
But funding is only one issue when it comes to inequality. Cathy Wylie, a chief researcher at the New Zealand Centre for Educational Research has incredible insight about how the inequality of status in schools is crippling the ability of those in the lower deciles to improve. In the 2013 book Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis, Wylie points out that because New Zealand has a policy emphasis on parental choice, coupled with stand-alone, self-managing schools that compete for students ‘many low decile schools are smaller than they were and less able to attract their community’s higher performing students who migrate to higher decile schools’.
And inequality is not just erecting hurdles that block retention of students – because of inequality lower decile schools also face enormous obstacles to recruit and retain an experienced faculty. Wylie demonstrates that even in 2012, during the economic downturn 20% of decile 1-2 secondary school principals had difficulty finding suitable teachers, while comparatively only 3% of the decile 9-10 secondary schools did. Compounding this issue further though is the fact that teaching in lower decile schools has become brutally hard due to the nature of the schools being under resourced, and the litany of issues caused by poverty. Inevitably this leads to a higher burnout rate amongst these already over-burdened teachers who often have to implement social development programmes (that are admittedly well-meaning and often effective), without any administrative support– to the point where lower decile teachers rank 31.8 on a scale measuring indicators of work related burnout compared to 24.2 for their upper decile colleagues.
HOW OUTSIDE INEQUALITY COMPOUNDS THE ISSUE IN THE CLASSROOM
Hekia Parata, the current National Party hack that has been awarded the poisoned chalice that is the education portfolio, goes to great lengths to actively alienate school faculty by placing the blame for New Zealand’s slide in education quality squarely at their feet. By misusing OECD data, Parata has repeatedly made the idiotic claim that socio-economic background accounts for only 18% of student achievement. Martin Thrupp, a professor of Education at the University of Waikato (and one of the most respected and influential voices on education in New Zealand) has slammed this notion, pointing out that if you take into consideration neighbourhood and school socio-economic factors the figure skyrockets to 78%. In other words, Hekia only considers what is literally inside a family’s four walls as being an indicator of their socio-economic standing. Which for want of a better term, is fucking stupid.
Thrupp has made repeated calls for policy makers to acknowledge the role of ‘middle class advantage’ in perverting the equality of accessibility in education. Thrupp is so aware of this ‘middle class advantage’ that he has been happy to highlight the gains his own family have made thanks to it. In a New Zealand Herald column Thrupp asked himself the question of what worked for his daughter (who had just graduated University) and answered ‘I think it has mostly been general middle class advantage. Two professional parents and the language environment that goes with that. Being read to frequently as a small child and access to good early childhood education. Living and holidaying overseas for several years. Attending schools with mainly advantaged peers and whose teachers were able to capitalise on all the advantages those children and young people were bringing to school’. Thrupp is adamant that the question of middle class advantage is crucial to understanding why we have such massive disparities in our education sector, and he argues in another paper entitled Some Inconvenient Truths About Education in Aotearoa/New Zealand that ‘it appears education policy is shaped and bounded by electoral pressures and doing anything to assist children from low-income families and neighbourhoods is regarded as politically risky’.
Extrapolating on the long term effects of this political viewpoint Thrupp then points out that ‘failing to raise middle class advantage in education as an issue, politicians and policymakers imply that it is a natural part of the world order over which they have no control. And so we have a society where most people see putting their child into a high socio-economic school as value free’. What this simply means is that due to a cynical political strategy of avoidance, we have a situation in New Zealand where certain people cannot actually even conceptualise the reality of poverty, and thus simply assume that the inequality we have must be natural. By extension then, there are many middle New Zealanders who simply can’t conceive of the fact that those whose schooling life is conducted in lower decile schools are punished right from the start of their lives.
“Amanda illuminated the idiocy of claiming to want more kids in school, while then shooting down the most cost effective and beneficial method of guaranteeing that children would actually show up”
I recently spoke to a former Primary School teacher named Amanda who worked in decile 1A School and some of what she told me was sickening. The reality of the poverty she dealt with would seem implausible to those that have never conceptualised poverty in New Zealand and the brutality of it is neutered by trying to compress it into a few sentences. Amanda told me about the never ending cycles of violence, hunger, and sickness that she encountered while working. She told me about how she spent at least half of her salary buying things like equipment and food for the classroom, because often the only time the children ate was when they were at school. The homes of many of her students didn’t have luxuries like pens and balls that could be found at school. When I asked her about the recent decision to not fund ‘breakfast in schools’ she brought a perspective to the issue that is sorely lacking from the ministerial hacks that currently occupy our debating chamber. She pointed out that for some of the parents in her school it was too embarrassing to send the kids to school without food, so they wouldn’t send the children at all. Amanda illuminated the idiocy of claiming to want more kids in school, while then shooting down the most cost effective and beneficial method of guaranteeing that children would actually show up.
The government seemed blissfully oblivious to the plight of the ‘wonderful’ children that Amanda adored, and one of the breaking points for her came when the charity KidsCan came into her school, but couldn’t provide enough shoes for everyone. She was forced to choose amongst a whole classroom of children that needed shoes, who would actually get them. The next day as the lucky few who couldn’t believe how fortunate they were to have a pair of shoes came to school excited, the other children were broken-hearted and couldn’t understand why their shoes that were falling apart were considered adequate footwear in the eyes of the staff. Amanda loved these children and spent at least 80 hours a week doing everything she could to protect them and help them. Understandably, recapping this anecdote to me was emotional and tough going for her.
Educationally, the issues only added to the toll. It was not uncommon to encounter students from different cultural backgrounds who not only had no concept of reading, but had no concept of a book or what words were. Rather than being able to simply launch into the basic elements of how to read and write, she found herself in the unenviable task of having to help five year olds conceptualise the very notion of reading. When Thrupp points out that the value of reading in the home is one of those things that middle class families often forget about when they ignore their advantage, it is exactly these kinds of fundamentally abstract issues that he was referring to. Again – this is how schooling in the lower decile communities starts. The schools have the most challenges to face, the most work to do, and the most disadvantaged members of the electorate are underfunded, ignored, and blamed for the very problems that they are trying to fix. These issues don’t simply stop once the students get to High School – they carry on, morphing into further issues that of course occur when you add hormonal changes and puberty into the mix.
Due to a variety of historical systemic factors Maori and Pacific students are well and truly over represented in the lower socio-economic areas of New Zealand and face the consequences of being in this group. Education is one of the most notable of these areas, and one of the most distressing as education should be the main force to counteract this inequality. According to statistics from Victoria University there is only a 50.6% retention rate for Maori students in High School (to age 17) compared to 75.4% for non-Maori, and only half the number of Maori students will achieve NCEA level 2 in comparison to their non-Maori counterparts. This has inevitably helped create a situation where youth unemployment for Maori in New Zealand is at a woeful 22.4%, compared to just over 9% for non-Maori. The cycle of poverty in inequality only gets entrenched and strengthened by these figures.
“We are currently at a crossroads in New Zealand.
Everything that was good about our education system is being rapidly pissed away by ideologues who received the gift of a free world class education when they were younger but don’t think today’s young people deserve the same opportunity.”
We are currently at a crossroads in New Zealand. Everything that was good about our education system is being rapidly pissed away by ideologues who received the gift of a free world class education when they were younger but don’t think today’s young people deserve the same opportunity. We still have a better education than a lot of countries, but it is quickly deteriorating because of the rampant inequality that has been sewn into it through thirty plus years of devotion to an economic religion that is starting to collapse. We can either choose to acknowledge that there is something very wrong with our system, and stop blaming the overworked, overburdened, underpaid, and under-resourced staff that do this work because they love the children they teach – or alternatively we can let the whole thing get to the point where only the rich can get a decent education, and the poor will simply go to school to have their spirits crushed, and to learn how to do menial labour. You might not think that’s your problem right now – but unless you’re currently sitting in the top 10% of earners in this country, it will become your problem very, very soon.
By Bevan Morgan.
Read more from Bevan here.
Bevan Morgan writes:
“I’ve written a lot recently about our government’s pathetic effort last week in shutting down the food in schools legislation. And I’ve learned a few things since then.
“The biggest takeaway has been that we have a major problem with how people conceptualise issues. Listening to people’s attitudes about poverty in New Zealand it is clear that it’s not simply a case of people not knowing about poverty – it is that that they don’t actually understand the very concept at its core foundation. Describing the reality and impact of poverty to people from middle NZ is like trying to explain string theory to someone who has never even heard of the term ‘physics’. You may as well be speaking Cantonese.
“There have been a lot of people tell me various myths, misconceptions, and out right lies about the poor in New Zealand. But even if all of those things were true (which they are not) not one single person has been able to explain to me how anything that poor parents may do wrong is the fault of the children.
“Not one single person.
“Because people are so angry at the poor for being poor, they have no problem with the wealthy ripping us off by $9.5 billion a year. And they have no problem feeding the future generation to the wolves despite the fact that they profess to love kids. That’s insane.
“Even if we look at it selfishly, people are so angry at people for being poor and daring to want assistance that they are literally willing to punish potential future doctors and engineers just to make a point.
In pure dollars and cents terms, our attitude to poor children is an absolute waste of future money: We are throwing away future billions for the cost of some Weetbix.”
“This is so counter-intuitive to human nature it is absolutely staggering. But sadly our leaders have done such a good job of hiding poverty that nothing is going to change any time soon. Unfortunately things will only change when inequality becomes so ridiculous that we have lost our middle class.
“But then again if the USA is anything to go by, this won’t even make a difference.”
– Written by Bevan Morgan and shared with permission. Read more by Bevan, at https://bevan-morgan.squarespace.com/
Auckland parents who want the best education for their children would be better investing in time and support for their child’s learning instead of fretting over real estate, says NZEI Te Riu Roa National President Louise Green.
“Children are successful when parents have the time, energy and focus to support their children’s learning. That starts with a strong partnership between parents and quality early childhood education services and extends into support for children and their learning at school.
She says an article in the NZ Herald today suggesting parents could save money by buying outside so-called elite school zones and instead pay for private education simply perpetuates a very misleading myth about education.
“New Zealand has a high quality public education system. Great teaching and learning happens in schools right across the country – at all deciles. There is no evidence that a child will achieve better educational success at a private or “elite” public school.
“The biggest indicator of a student’s success is their home environment. Children succeed when they have parents who put time, energy and commitment into supporting their learning.
“To suggest that parents stress about either committing huge amounts of money to buy in certain school zones or on private school fees shows a lack of understanding about education. And this could even be damaging to children.
“One of the biggest challenges facing education is anxiety and time-poor parenting. Teachers see this time and again. We also see it in poorer communities where parents often have no choice but to work extremely long hours on very low pay and still struggle to provide basic necessities. That’s why NZEI supports the Living Wage campaign.”
I am sending you on a professional development course next week. The course is residential and you will be supplied with everything you need for the week.
You are in Group A:
There will be no breakfast. You will be provided with chippies and water for break, a small pie for lunch, beans on toast for dinner, and as much water as you want.
A bed is provided, which you will share with one or two others in an unheated room. The room has only a modicum of mould and damp
You should not bring books or a computer.
You should only bring one or two sets of clothes for the week. If you have some, bring a worn pair of shoes with holes in them. Otherwise jandals or bare feet will be fine. It is only a 20 minute walk to the course venue, so a coat or umbrella is not needed.
Should you get ill during the course, you will have to continue, but there is plenty of sympathy on offer. You cannot miss any of the course, even if ill, as there is no-one available to look after you.
Welcome. Your group will get cereal, milk and fruit for breakfast, sandwiches, fruit, a cereal bar, cheese and crackers for lunch, a hot meal of meal and two veg for dinner with dessert on some nights, and hot chocolate and a biscuit for supper. There will be hot drinks, milk and water readily available throughout the week.
Your single occupancy room will be heated and have a bed, books, internet connection and a computer, a TV, and an en suite shower. It is a dry, clean, healthy room.
Bring one or two sets of clothing per day and as many pairs of shoes as fit in your luggage. Please bring a coat and umbrella to keep you dry as you walk to and from the car that will take you to the venue.
Should you get ill during the course, you will have access to a nurse or doctor and suitable medication. Should you be too sick to attend any part of the course, someone will be there to pick you up, take you to your room and watch over you until you are fit to return.
– Please note that both Groups A and B are expected to pass the course with the same high achievement levels.
– If any students do poorly or fail the course, their tutors will be deemed to have failed.
– League tables will be released showing which tutors fared the best/worst.
– Tutors with failing or low achieving students will have their wages docked accordingly.
– Failure of Group A to achieve equal pass rates to Group B will result in workshops for Group A being handed over to the private sector.
“What’s the biggest challenge currently facing New Zealand education?” That’s the question the New Zealand Education Review asked a range of sector leaders, movers and shakers. Their responses are are wide and varied and are shared in a special edition dedicated to the question that can be read here.
This is SOSNZ’s response, by Bill Courtney.
Read the rest of the responses in the New Zealand Education Review publication, Sector Voices: The biggest challenge currently facing New Zealand education: http://www.educationreview.co.nz/assets/EDR-Supplement-2014/EDR-Supplement-2014.pdf