Saturday, March 8, 2014
The Ministry of Education is tightening the National Standards net. Until now it was largely the comprehensive ERO reports that determined the performance or success of a school, now it is mostly about achievement levels in literacy and numeracy.
It was recently revealed that schools have been placed into three categories, those doing particularly well were to be called "no touch" schools, some were going to receive a "light touch" and the worst performing would need a "firm touch" from the Ministry. Principal Pat Newman caused some hilarity when he asked where the touching would happen and who would do it, and "what legal recourse will a touchee have if the touching doesn't come up to expectations".
In reality it is no joke, while the original titles for each group no longer exist, many Principals have discovered (around 800) that they meet the criteria for a firm touch. It became clear that practically all those notified were low decile schools. The key factor, despite all the other triggers listed (ERO reports and Charter compliance), it was the school's National Standards achievement levels that were the main determining factor.
There is a high level of anger and outrage from the recipients of these damning notifications. One principal I know was particularly upset, her Decile 2 school is well regarded and recently received a good ERO report that places it in the normal 3 year cycle. The majority of the pupils in her school are Pasifika and the rest are Maori or recent migrants. For a large proportion English is their second language and some speak up to three languages. The school is a happy, vibrant place, the children are enthusiastic learners, the teachers highly dedicated, but it is unlikely that the literacy and the numeracy achievement targets set by the Minister will ever be reached.
The notifications in many cases have been delivered in an almost apologetic manner, but the message is clear, these narrow, ideological targets (based on ropey assessments) are determining what success looks like in our primary schools. According to this Government socio-economic factors have little bearing on teaching and learning and a child who speaks three languages (but none of them English) cannot be considered competent in literacy. By bulldozing through this highly ideological system we are creating winners and losers and the collateral damage will include many wonderful children and schools.
Metiria Turei was correct, this Government is out of touch and our children deserve better.
Monday, March 3, 2014
This National led Government has seriously mismanaged things and is desperate to hide the true effects of its governance over the last five years. I half suspect many of the retiring National MPs are jumping ship because they don't want to be around when the proverbial hits the fan.
National have carefully constructed showy facades that hide flimsy realities and I have attempted to give some examples below:
The facade: A Rock Star Economy
The Reality: We are enjoying the the dairy commodity boom, another property bubble and the activity generated from the Christchurch rebuild. Agricultural markets fluctuate, all our eggs are in one agricultural basket and all we need is another embarrassing contamination and we could lose markets quickly. Overblown property prices only benefit a few, a later crash is inevitable and Christchurch is a temporary phenomenon. The recovery is an unequal one, only 36% of those participating in a Stuff survey feel that they are better off and for the very wealthy the recession ended three years ago, the trickle down isn't occurring. Research and Development is underfunded as a % of our GDP. Our current account deficit is still one of the highest in the OECD and the use of GDP is not a good measure of general economic performance.
What the Government is doing: Throwing out lots of 'good news' stories and claiming anyone who points out the weaknesses are just party poopers. It is still selling assets (Genesis Energy) and borrowing heavily.
The facade: We're fixing a failing system and we're making good progress.
The Reality: Our once successful public education system didn't need fixing. It is reeling from the forced introduction of the flawed National Standards, the Novopay debacle, the constant blaming of underachievement on teachers (rather than poverty and inequity) and buying into the global eduction reform movement (GERM) that has had a devastating effect on other countries. For the first time in decades we have plummeted in our international ranking. Our teaching has narrowed to literacy and numeracy, constant data collection and our advisors and special education support have been cut. Early childhood centres are no longer funded to employ 100% qualified staff, our teachers are demoralized and our support staff feel undervalued.
What the Government is doing: Using flawed data and misinformation to give the impression of improvements (when there are none) and refusing to allow scrutiny of that data. Parata claims that Level 2 results have seen a remarkable 7% lift in Pasifika pass rates and 4% for Maori, but these statistics are being questioned. Attempts to analyze the data was suddenly blocked by the NZQA, who strangely removed the information from their website (May '13). When the Listener lodged an OIA request to see what prompted this decision, nothing could be found, it had just happened. The $359 million windfall for super teachers and principals will make little difference to achievement but will potentially buy out education leadership and make them compliant to flawed government policy.
The facade: Our environment is better than most and looks great in movies.
The Reality: 80% of our lowland rivers polluted, our wetlands and estuaries are experiencing eutrophication and 50% of our native species are heading for extinction. The growing intensification of dairying and the expansion of coal mining, fracking and deep sea oil drilling will see our greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow. Our clean green, 100% pure branding is being questioned internationally.
What the Government is doing: The RMA is being weakened and public input into consents for potentially polluting industries like deep sea oil drilling is being blocked. The Government has cut funding to an already struggling DoC and is determined to push through irrigation schemes, despite concerns, to further intensify dairying. The Government is still pursuing the mining of conservation areas. The Government stopped the comprehensive State of the Environment reporting and all reporting will now be limited to what they want the public to know. Independent scientific assessments from the likes of scientist Mike Joy have been actively discouraged.
The facade: poverty has flatlined, the Government has increased immunisations, is insulating homes and getting people into work.
The Reality: At least 20% of children live in poverty where their basic daily needs are not met (food, clothing, sleeping arrangements) and it has been estimated that around 50% of all children will experience poverty at some time. Maori and Pasifika families have suffered more than others with the median household incomes dropping considerably over the last few years. Inequality is growing faster in New Zealand than most OECD countries. New Zealand has amongst the worst statistics (29th out of 30) for the health and welfare of children.
What the Government is doing: Lifting demands and expectations that parents should be in work (no matter the pay, hours and conditions) and encouraging growth of early childhood centres but not funding above 80% qualified staff. Keeping the minimum wage low so that we have growing numbers of working poor. No expectation that rental homes meet minimum standards. Knowingly misrepresenting poverty statistics and refusing to measure child poverty or follow the advice of the Children's Commissioner and the Salvation Army.
The facade: The Government is creating more jobs and unemployment is dropping (now 6%)
The Reality: We still have almost double the levels of unemployment that existed when National came to power in 2008 (3.9 unemployment) and we now have one of the largest percentages of those under-employed in the OECD. Roy Morgan has assessed our unemployment as actually 2.5% above official statistics and has unemployment at 8.5% and a further 11.3% are looking for more work or are under-employed. This means that almost 20% of our workers are either unemployed or under-employed and this is equal to 519,000 people. This number has increased by 69,000 since the last quarter estimates. The working poor are being seen in growing numbers at food banks. Many manufacturers are struggling with the value of our dollar and the high costs of rental property and power. Our wealthiest business people have seen huge increases in wealth (much due to property investment) since 2011 but this has not translated to higher wages or greater investment in jobs. New Zealand is now regarded as lower wage economy with flexible employment law that is suitable for setting up call centres.
I intend to use future posts to describe how the Green Party would do things differently and put in place sustainable alternatives that will allow more New Zealanders to prosper. I haven't covered other secrets that are of concern, like the real truth behind GCSB operations and the secret TTPA negotiations, but this will do as a start I guess.
Sunday, March 2, 2014
The Sunday Times printed an interesting article about the dropping numbers of teenage driving licenses in New Zealand. Since 2008 there has been a 10% decrease in 19 year olds holding a licence, almost 20% for 18 year olds, about 25% for 17 year olds and 50% for 16 year olds. It is very clear that there is a steadily growing increase in young people not wanting to drive.
When I was young most of my peers had their driver's licence by the age of 16 and when I was a second year university student I owned my first car. Both of my children have Learners Licenses, yet they have had little interest in following through to get their Restricted. My son is now 20 and my daughter is 18, both are attending university in Wellington and find walking and public transport works well for them.
Many reasons are given for not having a drivers licence: the tests are much harder than before; the responsibility of driving is perceived to be much greater; the cost of owning and running a car are seen to be prohibitive (when many are lumbered with student loans); the efficiency of public transport is improving; some have even decided not to drive for environmental reasons. The fact that young people can now communicate using diverse social media has also changed the need to use cars to connect up with friends.
Traffic volumes have leveled off over the past 10 years and the demand for public transport in our largest city is growing steadily. One would assume that with fewer people wanting to drive cars and no increase in traffic volumes, that a substantial investment in new motorways is nonsensical and yet that is exactly what this current Government is determined to do. $12 billion worth of bitumen based on deliberately skewed analysis. This Government's major investment and gift to the next generations is a whole lot of unnecessary roads.
That $12 billion would make a huge difference to the housing shortage, child poverty, education, health... instead we get some roads. What a sad legacy!
Friday, February 28, 2014
At a personal level I have got much to celebrate, I have been selected as the Green Party candidate for Invercargill and I have had a steady stream of support for our local campaign. A number of people who I haven't heard from since the last election have been getting in contact and are offering their services again. We also have a wonderful French wwoofer who has brought order back to my wild and neglected vege garden and I have been enjoying delicious cooking smells as she prepares this evening's meal.
The despair comes from a series of recent news items that epitomises this John Key led government's approach to governance.
1) Oil exploration consents will be non notifiable, which means that the public will have no involvement in the approval process. While the consents will be considered under "discretionary" activity rather than "permitted" the Environmental Protection Agency will now be the sole environmental watchdog for future consents. While the government claims that environmental controls over oil and gas exploration are much stronger than under previous governments we also need to consider the fact that we have never had drilling in our waters at such great depths before. Taranaki drilling occurs at a depth of 100 meters while the drilling in the Great South Basin will be at a depth of 1,500 metres or over. The EPA hardly provided much reassurance recently (regarding due diligence) when they signed off Anadarko's response plan by only looking at the summary.
The preferential support and subsidies that the oil industry gets from the New Zealand government are extraordinary. They introduced a bill in December that extends the tax exemption for non-resident oil rig and seismic vessel operators (worth around $5 million a year) and have provided them with $25 million worth of free seismic surveys.
Combine all of the above with the legislation to limit protests at sea and we have high levels of corporate welfare and heavy handed limits to democratic process.
2) Pike River is continuing to cause grief for the families of the deceased miners. It is fairly clear from a recently revealed letter from Whittall's lawyer that he was able to buy his way out of a conviction. Anyone who has read Rebecca Macfie's thoroughly researched book on the disaster will know that it was Whittall's leadership that was the constant thread throughout the development of this highly flawed mine. To claim that it would have been difficult to achieve a conviction against Whittall defies belief and even if a few of the 25 charges were made to stick it would have brought some sense of closure for the families. I'm sure that the $100,000 or so that each family would have received from the $3.4 million that was offered would have been given up if the main person responsible had been convicted for his part in the deaths.
It is clear with this Government that those in CEO roles should have greater advantages and protections than ordinary citizens, especially as regards the fossil fuel industry. While Don Elder was not immediately responsible for the deaths of many miners, his inept management of Solid Energy saw many mining families seriously affected when mines were closed and jobs lost with little warning. Elder received no disciplinary action for the $400,000 million debt incurred from the company's collapse and instead he was allowed to go on gardening leave while still receiving his $1.3 million salary.
3) New Zealand's involvement in the Five Eyes surveillance alliance has been under scrutiny since it was revealed that it had been spying illegally against Kim Dotcom and number of other New Zealand citizens. Again there appears to be little that we can do to ensure the agency operates transparently and within the law, we have assurances that this has to occur but no way of knowing if it really will. There is also the very real concern that US influence may be over-riding the sovereignty we should have over our own spies, especially if the GCSB refuse to divulge whether they receive funding from the NSA, (like occurred with the British spy agency). Not only can't our spies accurately report details that involve single digits, but yet another Edward Snowden leak revealed that our spies have been trained in a variety of dirty tricks to entrap targets.
At least the three protesters who damaged the Waihopai spy base in 2008 had their damages action dropped, we now know much more about the spy base activities and few people will see justice being served if the actioned had continued.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
It doesn't seem like three years ago when I first stood as a Green Party candidate in Invercargill, however a lot of water (much of it full of sediments and nitrogen) has flowed under the bridge since then. I am a older, wiser, possibly a little leaner and the Green Party is much stronger.
I noticed it was May in 2011 when I was selected last time and I am three months ahead this time round. In fact I am the first of any party to announce my candidacy for Invercargill (I have heard that the National Party are selecting theirs this weekend).
Lesley Soper was actually selected for the Labour Party in December of 2013, but when the sitting National MP Eric Roy announced his retirement the Labour Party strangely opened nominations again. Lesley, a seasoned campaigner (with past experience as an MP) is being challenged by Michael Gibson, an ACC advocate.
Two weeks ago I attended the Green Party Campaign Conference in Auckland, one of the best managed and professional conferences that I have attended. This is where all those who have been selected for the candidates pool (a prerequisite for later selection as an electorate candidate) perform a number of tasks in front of delegates and fellow candidates to inform the initial list ranking. Fifty of us put ourselves through this grueling process and I was personally impressed by the diversity of backgrounds and consistently strong performances. We had farmers, bankers and scientists, the youngest was 20 and the oldest 67 and 8 identified as Maori. The Greens have developed into a mature party with an increasingly diverse membership.
The draft list ranking will be established by the votes of delegates and candidates attending the conference and then this goes out to the wider membership so that they can have their input. Under this democratic process current MPs are not guaranteed a high ranking and all of us will be judged on the value we can bring to the next Green caucus.
Hearing the announcement today of the last asset sale and realizing that around 1/2 a billion dollars of taxpayers money has been spent on progressing them all, makes me even more determined that we can remove this dangerous government and replace it with a truly progressive one.
Saturday, February 22, 2014
We have a number of polls that regularly inform us of the level of support for each of our political parties. Most people accept them as being impartially and honestly managed and as there is reasonably close similarity between them it appears to confirm their legitimacy. However, if I said that almost 20% of potential voters are excluded from being able to participate in the polls most people would cry foul, and yet that is most likely the case.
Almost all polls are conducted through telephone landlines and yet there are rapidly growing numbers of people who have ditched landlines completely. Halfway through 2013 almost 17% of those who participated in a Stuff poll didn't have a landline and another 24% were contemplating dumping theirs. Since it is largely those on minimal incomes or younger people who have opted for only having mobile phones, I think we can safely assume at least 20% of potential voters would currently be excluded from participating in most political polls.
The guidelines that are being developed for political polling make no reference to the fact that using landlines will skew any sample by excluding significant demographics. A large percentages of poor families and many of our Maori and Pacifika people will not have a landline and I think it would be safe to say that the majority of 18-28 year olds would only use a mobile. Roy Morgan does claim to also call mobile phones (and I thank Keeping Stock for pointing this out) but, as most are unlisted, it is unlikely that they would be calling many.
I believe that if polling did accurately cover all demographics of age, ethnicity and wealth (through greater use of mobile phones) we would get much different results. Obviously there is also the reasonable concern that if one party is perceived as more popular, it would cause some people to shift their support and become like a self fulfilling prophecy.
The crucial polls in any election are those close to election day. When we compare the average polling percentage for the National Party over the crucial week before the 2011 election we find some interesting data. The National Party averaged 51.4% over the five preceding polls which was 3.7% above their election result. We all know that many potential Labour voters didn't vote because there was a perception, based on polling, that National's support may even have allowed them to govern alone (a Fairfax poll even had them at 54%). Obviously anything above 50% creates a psychological advantage and if the polls had recorded their actual support in the upper 40s then many more may have felt encouraged to vote. As it turned out National ended up with a very slim majority and the 25% who didn't vote were most likely many of those who were also absent from polling.
Interestingly if we were to look at the averages over recent polls and compare them with just before the last election, National is averaging about 5% behind the polls taken before the 2011 election, Labour is around 6% higher and the Greens are about the same. Despite this, and the obvious advantage National has with polling, the Party is still being talked up by the media as possibly being able to govern alone. Based on the likely margin of error their real support would probably be around 46% and with no likely coalition partner.
Obviously I can't just blame the polls for the last election result, political parties still need to have smart campaigns and credible candidates but it would be fairer if skewed polls didn't have the influence that they do.
(The graph featured above is sourced from Wikipedia and uses averages across polls to track support.)
Friday, February 21, 2014
If you asked teachers and school communities what would make the most difference in helping their kids and lifting achievement, especially in lower decile communities, I know what the responses would be. They would ask for greater access to special education services and RTLBs, more teacher aids to provide support for their high needs children and have our once amazing advisory services reinstated. They would ask for more time to organise high interest programmes and less time on data collection and report writing. Teachers would also like to have their professional knowledge respected and greater autonomy to decide themselves how to meet the needs of those in their class. Having nurses and social workers available to deal with the constant health and welfare issues that confront many teachers as they try to teach would also be useful.
When John Key announced the Government's plan of spending a whopping $359 million on education it was received with a sort of stunned incredulity. For years there was never enough money to pay support staff a living wage or fund our special education services fully and suddenly we were presented with a significant windfall.
Elements of what Key presented were similar to what the profession had been wanting for a number of years, recognition of great teachers, greater collaboration and career pathways, but the government's version was a little different to the profession's. This wasn't a comprehensive policy that also addressed the complexities of teaching and learning across different communities but a model of a new leadership structure and one that gave huge financial rewards to an elite few.
What the National led Government proposes is a shift away from the self managed Tommorrow's Schools to Ministry led 'Executive Principals' selected to do their bidding. These principal's (most likely drawn from the secondary sector) will oversee clusters of around ten schools and will appoint expert and lead teachers to work in those schools under their direction. Ministry selection panels will be appointing these principals who have a commitment to the Government's data driven National Standards and as such will be under the same gagging clause as others who work for government ministries. This will effectively shut down much of the professional opposition to future changes and will separate school leadership even more from their teaching colleagues.
There is some vague semblance of consultation with the profession around these new roles but when you consider that it generally takes many years of collaboration, research and trials to develop sound educational change, the ten weeks that the Government has allowed in this case is laughable. I am guessing there will be few changes allowed to the actual roles but some input will be grudgingly accepted to the manner of implementation, as occurred with the introduction of National Standards.
There will be an even greater distinction between public and private education from now on. Private schools will continue to receive even greater funding and support for their elite students and will enjoy a high level of autonomy (as will the newly introduced Charter Schools). Public Schools, on the other hand, will become data driven institutions where their leadership will be expected to deliver Ministry driven programmes centered on literacy and numeracy. I can predict that once the Executive Principals (EPs) are appointed the Government will eventually save money from the initial investment by applying a business model to schooling. The EPs will most likely develop into CEOs and all other principals in their cluster will lose their management roles and become lead teachers. The many school boards will probably become merged into one governance body that will oversee all the schools in the cluster. The savings will be considerable but each school will lose their identity as they will have to conform to the vision of each EP, a little like franchised businesses.
You may think that this is a cynical exaggeration of what the government has presented but we only need to look at how National Standards and Charter Schools were introduced, with the total disregard of professional advice, to see the logic of what I have described. This Government clearly supports the GERM agenda that has corrupted public education in Australia, England and the US and we are only experiencing what has already happened there.
Few conservative governments understand education and the value of professional knowledge and the treatment of the Christchurch schools revealed a total disregard of the importance of communities. The complexities of natural human development and the flexibility necessary to meet the individual needs of children is also completely beyond them. They do understand inputs and outputs, spreadsheets of data and commercial competition. Applying this thinking and understanding to education is a logical outcome and the proliferation of 'one size fits all' models. Sadly, once again, our most vulnerable children will not receive the sort of support they really need and inequalities will continue to grow.