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.
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?
NZEI President Louise Green says the biggest issues impacting on children’s learning are poverty and inequality, and there has been little serious progress on these issues.
“The National Standards data released by the Ministry of Education today shows little change in reading, writing and maths results, but has led to teachers wasting valuable teaching time and children losing more learning time in order to meet the Government’s demand for the unreliable data, she says.
“It is even more astonishing that the Government might be considering the use of such poor quality data to determine school funding or the performance of teachers,” Louise Green says.
“Teachers and schools already know which students are under achieving and we know what we can do to help them. The big problem is a lack of resourcing, including the freeze on special education staff and insufficient funding for quality support staff, to ensure children needing the most support get it when they need it.
“New Zealand continues to spend less per student on the primary sector than the OECD average. Meanwhile recent research shows a huge impact on low decile schools of white flight, resulting in smaller schools that lose expert teachers and operational funding.”
“There is no substantive evidence that National Standards have contributed to any significant increase in children’s literacy or numeracy. It’s time to stop this experiment with our children’s learning and focus our attention on the things that will really make a difference.”
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.
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.
Two US organisations are challenging the charter school system, with accusations that it promotes segregation and inequality:
“Charter schools are often promoted as a tool to address educational inequities, but a potential precedent-setting legal case launched earlier this month says the opposite. In filings with the U.S. Department of Education, two Delaware nonprofit groups allege that some of the state’s publicly funded, privately managed schools are actively resegregating the education system — and in a way that violates federal civil rights law.
The complaint, by the Delaware branch of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Community Legal Aid Society, cites data showing that more than three-quarters of Delaware’s charter schools are “racially identifiable” — a term that describes schools whose demographics are substantially different from the surrounding community.
According to the complaint, “High-performing charter schools are almost entirely racially identifiable as white” while “low-income students and students with disabilities are disproportionately relegated to failing charter schools and charter schools that are racially identifiable as African-American or Hispanic….””
Sixty years after the historic Brown v. Topeka Board of Education banned segregated supposedly separate-but-equal schooling, it seems there is still some way to go to achieve equity in education.
by Vicki Carpenter
“There is well-documented concern regarding the links between poverty and education; statistics demonstrate, over many decades, that the economically poorer the New Zealand child’s family, the more likely it is the child will not reach her/his potential.
“The blame for such inequitable outcomes is variously placed on children’s families and communities, on teachers and schools, and on wider structural and system injustices.
“The contributors to this book are key NZ writers and thinkers in the field of education and poverty.
“Reasons for our contemporary schooling’s inequitable outcomes are examined and critiqued.”
by Jonathan Boston and Simon Chapple
“Child poverty could be addressed with help from money freed up by lifting the age of eligibility for NZ Super, a new book, Child Poverty In New Zealand, out this weekend has claimed.
‘The book’s authors, academics Jonathan Boston and Simon Chapple, said progressively deferring NZ Super until age 67 would be a reasonable step to free up money to reduce the blight of child poverty.
“They canvassed various ways to raise the money needed to make inroads into child poverty and therefore lift the trajectory of our economy.”
This book “examines the explosion in the rich-poor divide during the last 30 years, its effects on our society, and how it might be reversed.
“The book has generated widespread discussion and numerous reviews, articles and comments, many of which can be found at www.bwb.co.nz/books/inequality. Since its publication, the rise of interest in inequality has continued, and the issue is becoming one of the defining subjects of the 2014 election campaign.
“In March this year, we published ‘The Inequality Debate: An Introduction‘, a short guide to inequality in New Zealand based on the opening chapters of the 2013 work.”
A summary of the working paper ‘Parents’, Families’ and Whānau Contributions to Educational Success’.
This paper outlines the Children’s Commissioner’s position on partnership schools kura hourua and his views on the key elements that could be implemented to support the education success of all New Zealanders.
This paper reports on an inquiry into the impact being enrolled in formal non-parental early childhood services has on children’s wellbeing and makes recommendations on service delivery.
Inequality – a New Zealand Conversation – http://www.inequality.org.nz/
Office of the Children’s Commissioner – http://www.occ.org.nz/
Child Poverty Action Group – http://www.cpag.org.nz/
Tick For Kids – http://tick4kids.org.nz/
“A strong, progressive education system that acknowledges the beauty of difference in our kids and supports its people on the front line is what I demand from the next government…”
I shared this meme on the SOSNZ Facebook page tonight, and it elicited the response below. The author has given me kind permission to share (bold for emphasis has been added by myself, not by the author):
“Thanks for posting, I was really moved by this tonight. I love my job so much. Every day for the last two months I’ve come home grinning, laughing or feeling really proud of my students. I am so happy to work with my colleagues and be teaching what I really care about. Sure, like any job it can be a pain and Sunday evenings lose their sparkle in the shadow of an impending Monday, but not a day goes by when I’m not laughing or smiling a lot about something in class with the kids or in the office with the staff. I love meeting other teachers, because they’re often interesting and nice people. I’m honoured to be able to proudly say I work in education, I’m a history and social studies teacher, I work here.
I believe education is the key to everything.
“And yet we lag behind countries like Finland because, for some reason I just can’t find logic in, our government has latched onto other countries as examples to follow, such as the United States (!!!)… countries whose education systems we can be quite critical about. Their policies are regressive and we are too happily taking them on, without much if any consultation with a range of the professionals (You’d think that would be a good idea right?).
“The result is that it is the most vulnerable in our society who get often left behind. This is NOT because the teachers in low decile schools are worse or their management is under par, but because the government does things like bring in National Standards and slash funding to integral and creative areas. They are not just perpetuating this system of inequality, they are worsening it.
“There isn’t enough room in here to explain all I would like to with this, but it’s possible to sum up this much quickly: kids that go to school hungry will not learn easily because they will not be able to concentrate. They are being set up for struggle and failure. They are the future, they are our future. This should not even be a political issue – Feed the Kids!
“Our kids are leveled against all other children in standardised tests that only measure intelligence, competence, knowledge and development in one pretty narrow way. Their background, family life, artistic strengths, personality, challenges, ability to empathise etc. are not acknowledged. Kids develop at different levels at different ages in different ways. Now a lot of our kids are labeled as failures because they are below the expected or average, and they have to feel that. At age seven. What does that do to a generation? We’ve seen it in our older generations to realise that we don’t want that for our tamariki and mokopuna. Do we?
“From a number of things that Education Minister Hekia Parata has said, National looks like it would like to change the zoning system of funding school budgets (which granted isn’t perfect) to performance funding. For schools maybe at first, and then perhaps for teachers themselves.
“How insulting to pitch us against each other on a very unequal playing field, and worse, how rudely ignorant of what it is actually like to work in schools, to teach, to manage, to aid. There are far too many factors at play that make it almost impossible to make those funding decisions really fairly.
“It wouldn’t be fair for me at a high decile school to get paid more than my mates teaching out west or down south, just because my kids are doing better in the exams. I know that I worked equally hard at a decile 4 whose students aren’t at the top of the tables like ours. I know that the kids there are just as deserving of a good education, and that they’re not necessarily less able or studious than mine. There are different parts about each, some that are harder and some that are easier, but it all levels out. My friends and colleagues at lower decile schools work hard and they have many difficult, often poverty-related external factors to deal with at the same time as the teaching. They are great and their students are great, but they would be punished with less money. Again it’s the poor who lose out. We cannot move ahead when we leave so many behind.
“The current government makes it harder for us to do our jobs really well and to live up to the potential of our profession.
“The next Minister for Education must talk to the professionals and experts, and make their decisions on that advice.
“A strong, progressive education system that acknowledges the beauty of difference in our kids and supports its people on the front line is what I demand from the next government, however it is made up.
by Miriam Pierard
The Green Party have unveiled their education proposals, and they clearly aim to address head on the issues facing those students living in poverty.
Metiria Turei stressed that “10 per cent of New Zealand children were living in poverty, poorer kids had three times the rate of hospital admissions from preventable illnesses and were up to 50 per cent more likely to become a poor adult and perpetuate the poverty cycle” and that this needs to be addressed in order for children to have the best chance of success.
This view is upheld by the OECD, and the latest PISA study made clear that equality, health care and safety were the hugest factors in a child’s chance of future success. Having good quality teachers a big factor in the classroom, but is not the greatest factor overall.
John Key fudged that point in his speech last week. He acknowledged that quality teachers a big factor in the classroom (but without any stress on “in the classroom” so that it was read by many to mean that teachers have the biggest influence on success full stop), and he then went on to say that we don’t have increasing poverty and inequality in NZ, refusing to accept that there is any link between poverty and lower educational success.
This is rubbish, and he knows it. There is a mountain of research and analysis that shows the link very clearly. *
It’s good to know that the Greens acknowledge the link and intend to do something concrete to address it. This is the Greens’ plan, as reported at Stuff:
The Greens have unveiled a new policy which would see schools in lower income areas turned into hubs which would meet all the health, social and welfare needs of poor families.
Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei announced the policy in a speech to party faithful at Waitangi Park in Wellington this afternoon, saying inequality was increasing in New Zealand and the best way for people to escape the poverty trap was through education.
“Education remains the most effective route out of poverty. But school only works for children if they are in a position to be able to learn,” the party’s policy statement reads.
“Many kids come with a complicated mix of social, health and family issues, often related to low income, that need to be addressed before they can get the most out of school.” Read more here.
And this is the NZEI’s response to the proposals:
Green Party education proposals will make a big difference for children
NZEI Te Riu Roa says it welcomes the Green Party’s proposals to tackle the impact of growing inequality on children’s education.
National President, Judith Nowotarski says the proposal to develop health, welfare and support service hubs in lower decile schools goes right to the heart of tackling the biggest problem we face in our education system – poverty and inequity.
“International evidence clearly shows that poverty and inequality are by far the biggest obstacles that children face in education.
“This proposal directly targets these real issues and, if adopted, would make a big difference to the education outcome of thousands of children in this country.
“Policies such as this would ensure that many more children in this country get the opportunity for a good education – something that teachers and school support staff have been calling for, for a long time.”
However, Ms Nowotarski says inequality and poverty are now much more spread throughout the community so NZEI wants to see policies that target children from financially disadvantaged backgrounds at all schools – not just lower decile schools.
She says the education sector looks forward to working with the Greens in further design and implementation of the policy.
NZEI Te Riu Roa National President Judith Nowotarski says this is a view shared by many international education experts attending a major education conference in Wellington this week.
The Prime Minister is expected to focus on education in a speech tomorrow.
Mrs Nowotarski says international evidence is clear. Inequity equates to poorer outcomes for students while systems with high levels of equity have better student learning results.
“The government’s education, economic and social policies have resulted in greater inequity and this has done nothing to improve teaching and learning.”
She says there are a number of important policy changes the government could make if it is serious about improving opportunities and education for all children.
“We see the results of unfair policies and inequity every day in schools. For instance, school support staff are vital to the running of schools and education of students. Not only does poverty affect children’s learning directly, many support staff working in schools are not paid a living wage. In fact, many are paid little more than the minimum wage of $13.75 an hour.
“Cuts to professional development for teachers and early childhood teacher-student ratios, along with National Standards and poorly paid support staff have clearly done nothing to improve educational outcomes for students.
“It’s time to take a different path – one of fairness and equity for children and their families – to get a lasting improvement in children’s educational success.”
Fair enough, I understand that – I am passionate too, and immediately want to know what the results do or do not tell us about how NZ is doing, educationally.
But surely it’s a time to read, reflect, research, and discuss the findings and the study itself, and try to eke out something meaningful form it, rather than just jump in and score Brownie points?
The goal is to see where we can improve things for our learners, after all.
Below are the Ministry’s main take away points from the study, copied verbatim from their web site.
I am going to refrain from commenting or adding my own observations or thoughts for now, as I would rather people read them with an open mind and ask questions of them.
Here goes – get your thinking caps on:
In New Zealand, over 5,000 students (4,291 for core PISA subjects, 958 for financial literacy) from 177 schools took part in the study, in July 2012.
I’d love to hear others’ observations, in the comments below or on the Facebook page.
This is how it goes: the government trumpets a new-fangled fabulous school system, throw money at it, the schools themself say how great they are, and then they are found to be failing. Not just doing okay, but failing.
This is what people are fearful will happen in New Zealand, with charter schools,
The South Leeds Academy in England is an example of where it can all go wrong. The charity running the school says it has “a proven track record of securing transformational change and sustainable school improvement”. However, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools Lord Nash lambasted the school for its “unacceptably low standards of performance of pupils”.
But maybe they are going to up their game?
Well it’s not looking promising, because to add insult to injury, after they were found to be failing, they advertised for two new maths teachers with this as their criteria:
Yes, that’s right – apparently all you need to teach maths to high school students is a GCSE (equivalent to NCEA1). This is to teach students who you would hope to gain higher than NCEA1 in maths. Huh?
Those pushing to allow unqualified teachers argue they are for the benefit of students. Yet the Stanford University report Inequality in Teaching and Learning states that “The fact that the least-qualified teachers typically end up teaching the least-advantaged students is particularly problematic.”
Observers note that allowing unqualified staff is not about getting “top professionals such as engineers to become teachers [but] about teaching on the cheap.”
Now tell me again we have nothing to worry about…
Funny how on one hand we’ve got Hekia Parata having a pink fit that 1 in 5 leaves school without NCEA2 in maths and English….
and on the other hand Paula Bennett saying 1 in 5 children in poverty ain’t so bad….
and both insisting there is no link between the two….
Might want to read some actual research on that, ladies….
Child Poverty Expert Goes it Alone – Children’s Commissioner Dr Russell Wills has decided to publish his own annual stock take of child poverty after the Government spurned his call to publish official measures and targets.
Mind The Gap – A documentary about growing inequality and poverty in New Zealand, by Bryan Bruce
Who is to blame that some students achieve less than others?
Is apportioning blame and pointing fingers actually helpful for anything other than head-line grabbing?
Admit it – did you click on this because of the headline, hoping for an easy answer?
Well there isn’t one. It’s a complex issue.
Why we need to consider this
If you see an easy head-line friendly fix for these issues, prepare to sound the alarm.
The truth is, until we put vote-grabbing solutions aside, try to avoid the blame game, and look for genuine research on the issue and unpolitical, unhysterical, practical, research-based solutions, we won’t get very far.
It’s particularly pertinent given some are arguing that there is a long tail of under achievement comprising predominantly Maori and Pasifika students and that schools and teachers are to blame for this. This argument is then used to promote policy changes such as the introduction of National Standards, Charter (Partnership) Schools, and soon to justify performance pay. But whether the original statement has any real basis in fact is debatable. Could other issues be at play as well as teaching?
Until we know what the real issue is, we cannot begin to find good solutions.
So let’s begin to look at what we know.
Disadvantaged from the start
An American study found that “inequalities in children’s cognitive abilities are substantial from the beginning, with disadvantaged children starting kindergarten with significantly lower cognitive skills than their more advantaged counterparts.” Students are arriving at their first place of education, kindy, already on the back foot.
The study argues that the “same disadvantaged children are then placed in low-resource schools, magnifying the initial inequality” which certainly has bearing on New Zealand schools with their un-level playing field in terms of funds.(2)(3)
The report has conclusions relevant to education policy:
This is certainly worth considering carefully.
Decile as an indicator
Do students really achieve lower results at lower deciles? And if so, then why?
Robyn Caygill & Sarah Kirkham looked at mathematics for year 5 Kiwi students, and argue that the decile of the student’s school does indeed correlate to the average level of achievement reached by students. They point out that it “is indicative of a trend demonstrating that students with lower levels of disadvantage in terms of family background and socio-economic background and living in wealthier communities have higher achievement.”(1)
They concluded that, in general, students at lower decile schools tend to have access to fewer resources, stating that “the decile of the school [students] attend, [is] indicative of the level of economic disadvantage in the community in which they live, [and] was positively related to mathematics achievement.”
Does funding also have an impact on achievement? And if it does, does that link to the socioeconomic position of the school’s community in any way?
A book just published looks an inequality in New Zealand. In a survey, it found that decile 10 schools’ total budgets averaged $8,653 per student, whereas it was $7,518 per student in the decile 1 schools. Can wealthier schools afford more teacher aides, more specialists, better resources, small class sizes and so on, all contributing to a slightly better chance for their students? If so, what should this mean for the future funding of schools in poorer socioeconomic areas?
If students achieve less because of the socioeconomic status of their family, then this surely needs to be a focus for future research and action.
Parents as a factor
A Danish study last year found that in that country, a student’s parents are a huge indicator of future achievement, being five times stronger than the effect of teachers. The report was said to”raise questions over the extent to which schools can be expected to make significant improvements to pupils’ results without the necessary backing from mothers and fathers.” It stated that“[h]alf of the variation in test scores is attributable to shared family factors, while schools only account for 10 per cent,” It went on to say that the remaining variation was down to pupils themselves. Notably, researchers said the effect of families on test scores remained the same irrespective of household income. (4)
However, after looking at the research, the headline grabbing here seems to outweigh the scope of the research, which only looked at 16-17 year old students who changed schools at that age. Another case where the headline doesn’t help us learn much at all.
Whilst I am very sure indeed that parents are a factor, this particular paper is not the one to show the link, at least not for NZ and not for primary schools.
My search for more rigorous local research continues. If you know of any, please message me below.
Caygill and Kirkham (1) also noted that for mathematics, “books in the home, items in the home, household size and mobility” were indicators of students’ maths scores.
It will surprise no teacher that the more a child moves school, the lower their achievement is.
And consider the results for books: 34% of students reported having 25 -100 books in their homes while 28% said they have 25 or fewer books in their homes. Guess which group got the higher scores?
In essence, the poorer your family is, the lower your maths score.
So we are back to the socioeconomic status issue again.
For my part, I will continue to search out research that will inform the situation and ponder what it tells us. In this I stand on the shoulders of others, as people wiser and better placed than me are out there researching.
If you are one of those people, I would love to hear from you.
One thing I will leave you with is this – beware easy solutions sold to you in spintastic headlines. They rarely tell the whole story, let alone a fair one.
Sources and further reading: