School Deciles Cause Racial Divide

In the early 1990s schools were provided with a decile ranking based on the socio-economic data on the school community. The intention was to provide more funding to schools where communities lacked financial resources, the lower the decile, the greater the funding. The intention of the ranking was to create greater equity across schools by targeting funding to schools with greater needs, however, it has had the opposite affect.

Recent Ministry of education figures have revealed that low decile schools now have half the number of pakeha children attending them than in 2000, revealing a growing racial divide between high and low decile schools. The reasons are many and cannot simply be described as "white flight", as many have labeled the movement, but has more to do with income and perceptions of quality.

Maori and Pacifica families dominate the numbers of families on the lowest incomes and tend to live in areas of cheaper housing. Most of our cities have seen greater definition between suburban areas over the last twenty years, where those who have certain incomes and cultural backgrounds tend to live in communities that reflect them. We even have examples of the Government shifting state and low income housing from areas that are becoming more affluent, mixed income communities are not encouraged.

My own experience supports what has happened to New Zealand society, my parents bought a house in south Invercargill in the 1970's and I attended the local secondary school. The community we lived in was a mixed community with professional people and unqualified workers living beside each other. My secondary school was well regarded for both sporting and academic achievement and a had good mix of cultural backgrounds. Almost forty years later and, after schooling reviews, reorganizations and two name changes, it has become a predominantly Maori/Pacifika school with a declining roll. It is now regarded as the last option for many parents.

School decile rankings have been mistakingly used as an indication of quality and this has been supported by the real estate industry where a quick search will find advertisements that promote areas for their proximity to "top schools". The 1991 National Government removed zoning to allow parents to shift their children to the schools perceived as better than others and schools had the ability to skew enrollments to suit themselves. Since the return of zoning "popular" schools have the ability to ballot spaces for children outside their zone but they tend to use discriminating criteria, like a past family connection, that is able to exclude many children according to their family background.

The quality of teaching in low decile schools is generally very high as their teachers need to be highly skilled to meet a range of needs and accommodate diverse cultural backgrounds. Low decile schools offer rich and stimulating learning environments but do have many challenges to overcome. Boards of Trustees in in less affluent communities do not have the same levels of expertise as more affluent communities where those with professional skills can oversee the likes of building maintenance and finance.

Although low decile schools receive greater funding, affluent schools have more effective fundraising and expect parents to provide larger donations. Although public schools cannot charge fees there is much pressure placed on families to pay the donations and children are sometimes excluded from activities or trips if the "donations" haven't been paid. I know of struggling parents who have automatic payments going to their schools to minimize the stress of large bills and some struggling families even end up shifting their children to a lower decile school because the level of donations are beyond their means.

The current Government talks about the need to raise achievement in our Maori and Pasifika children and have implied that poor teaching is a major factor in underachievement. When many of our low decile schools are predominantly Maori or Pasifika this creates an impression that such schools are plagued by poor teaching. In reality many of these schools have great ERO reports and provide excellent learning environments. The fact that this Government is targeting low decile communities for their flawed Charter Schools and learn in the job teacher training schemes is concerning when neither experiment would be contemplated for an affluent community.

While the decile system was an attempt to create greater equity across poor and affluent communities it has instead highlighted differences and has made them more pronounced. Our urban communities are becoming less diverse and we now see communities divided and informally segregated according to income and race. The Spirit Level provided evidence to show that the more economically divided a nation is, the greater the likelihood of negative social and economic outcomes. We need to address the growing disparities between our communities and a review of our school decile ranking system should be part of that.


Doug Ewing said…
As a teacher with 25 years experience in the secondary sector and having lived through the "Tomorrow Fools" reforms, I am pleased that someone in the media understands what the actual situation in NZ is. We have become a country with large white flight schools and small satellite brown schools and finally there is actual public data that proves it.
bsprout said…
Doug-it's sad that people haven't recognized the value of a culturally diverse society. Segregating our children into "us and them" schools will only continue if league tables are established.
rumpelsnorcack said…
I grew up in Invercargill and suspect I know which school you're talking about. Friends of my parents' taught there and it has changed a huge amount even since their retirement.

As to the rest of it, it is unfortunately true I think. I was going to write a massive comment about the issues I have with league tables and the way the decile system is used by parents to profile schools but it mostly boiled down to -- I agree with what you're saying here and the whole thing (National Standards included) is just so depressing.
Anonymous said…
Funny how it's always the welfare parasites complaining about a lack of equity:

In outcomes.

How about a little bit of *actual* equity? I don't want my kids' education impaired by association through sharing a classroom with the offspring of the indolent.

And I *demand* that no more of my tax dollars are spent educating the no-hoper progeny of the indolent than are spent on the education of my children.

Fuck all of you for inordinately overtaxing the productive in order to finance the lifestyle choices of the parasites. I want to see those of you flushing our money down the welfare toilet swinging from lamposts.
bsprout said…
Anonymous, I find your comments offensive and ignorant. I won't remove it because it represents the kind of thinking that helps ensure that the growth of inequality in New Zealand continues at a faster rate than the rest of the OECD.

I know people like you exist but it still shocks me when I am confronted with such ignorance and bigotry. 50% of our children experience poverty at some stage in their lives and the majority of them have parents who are employed, work hard and care about their kids.
Anonymous said…
I live in a low decile zone and when the time comes I will move to a better area where there are more caucasians and less Maori. Why? Because every weekend I hear my benefit subsidised Maori neighbours talk to their children thus.. 'I f*cken told you to stop that you little c*nt. F*cken listen to me you f*cken c*nt'

I don't want my children to have to hear that, nor go to the same schools where these children go
bsprout said…
Judging by your original comment and manner of communication, Anonymous, I struggle to see a difference between yourself and the family you describe. Having taught in low decile communities I know that dysfunctional families are a symptom of generational poverty and loss of culture and values. This is not only a "Maori" issue and to break the cycle of parental neglect we need to do more than herd such families into segregated communities to fester and brew.

I recommend that you read Celia Lashie's book, The Power of Mothers to understand how society has failed to deal with generational family dysfunction.
Anonymous said…
oops, different anonymous, should have said that in the body of the text, mine is the 2nd not the first
bsprout said…
Thanks for the clarification, 2nd Anonymous. My reply would probably be the same apart from my judgement on your character. I would still say that the issue with dysfunctional families is not a cultural or racial issue as there are many Maori families who don't exhibit the behaviour your describe.

As a nation we need to deal with the problem of abusive families because our child health and welfare statistics are one of the poorest in the OECD and as you describe we all suffer the consequences. Celia Lashie suggests a way of stopping the cycle of poor parenting and repairing families by providing more support to mothers.

We now live in a society that devalues parenting and now we have one of the largest percentages of working mothers of children younger than a year old (65%). I will never defend poor parenting but if we lift minimum wages, provide more employment flexibility for parents and perhaps the stress on families would be less.
Towack said…
What a load of bollocks. I lived on the minimum wage with my wife and two kids, I had to work damn hard to increase my earning potential and had a 3rd child whilst doing so. We lived in a very average area and experience similar to mr anon above. Now on a better wage we shifted to where people see their families as worthy of respect.
Helen Clarke encouraged mothers to get out and work and turned all those children into 'keychain' kids. Coming home to cold and empty houses and getting up to who knows what.
Stuff the social support, get people working for a living with less tax and more personal vision.
We all know that when a mammal baby is weaned off the boob it quickly learns to survive, we need to cut back the welfare and cause people to develop a personal vision.
bsprout said…
Mixed messages, Towack. Are you saying that Mothers going to work and leaving their kids unsupervised is a good thing?

New Zealand has one of the highest levels of working mothers for children under the age of 1 year in the OECD (61%). We also have one of the worst records for the health and safety of our children. Perhaps there's a relationship?
Towack said…
You know there is, but it all the PC bollocks that stops any normal person from saying it.
Mothers are best at nurturing and our children darn well need it.
Having the highest levels of working mothers is just a sad indicment of the country we have.
1 - Jobs are more important than happy healthy kids.
2 - Consumerisim is such that both parents work to pay for shit they dont need.
3 - Kids need love and support and the almighty dollar is too important for that
4 - Governments seeing that it their responsibility to provide social need when it really belongs to the community and individual families

I could go on for hours
bsprout said…
I agree that parenting needs to be valued more but I have difficulties with your welfare argument. It is not that we have too much welfare support, it is that we have too few jobs. We also have a low paid workforce that are on unlivable wages who need welfare support to survive. I don't think those who are living on the lowest wages are necessarily wasting their money either. Many have little left after paying even the rent.

When the median income in NZ is only $27,000 it means half of us earn that or less.
Towack said…
I have lived on far less than that. I just chose not to have sky, not to drink or smoke, not to have a flatscreen tv, not to replace my car, not to buy label clothing and learnt to budget.
My wife is in a job where she visits all the low income families. She always talks about their huge tv's, late model import cars, smokes on the table, on on it goes.

You can earn over 100k, have a few kids and still get welfare in the form of working for families. Thanks Helen, your a real winner

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