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World class education

Written By: - Date published: 10:41 am, October 31st, 2012 - 34 comments
Categories: class war, education, Maori Issues, poverty, schools - Tags: , ,

The comments of Secretary for Education Lesley Longstone, have provoked some discussion recently:

“The system is still underperforming for Maori learners and Pasifika learners, and learners from communities with significant social and economic challenges. While our education system continues to underperform for these learners, we are not entitled to call ourselves world class.”

Commentators have been quick to defend or criticise the “education system” – a storm in a teacup that probably would have received much more attention without the somewhat bigger storm going on elsewhere.

Some of the commentary has been nonsense, and this anonymous editorial in The Herald is particularly egregious:

Educators exposed as guilty of complacency

Secretary for Education’s comments must be heard.

Education commentators have been aghast this week that the Secretary for Education does not consider our education system “world class”. .. When she signed off those bloated sentences she might not have foreseen the fury they would arouse. After all, it is hardly news that Maori and Pacific Island children are not doing well enough. And the idea that this means the system is less than “world class” is not entirely hers. It reflects the ministry’s stated goal: “A world-leading education system that equips all New Zealanders with the knowledge, skills, and values to be successful citizens in the 21st century.”

But it is refreshing to have a recruit from England in charge.

“Refreshing”? Huh?

Ms Longstone will know our education establishment regards itself as second to none in the world. The practitioners pride themselves on the equity of the system, its flexible, non-prescriptive curriculum, its examinations that let pupils advance at their own pace and give them second chances.

They tell us our system is admired worldwide for these features and that our catch-up programmes such as reading recovery are particularly envied and copied. If these programmes have not improved the performance of some groups sufficiently, that must be a measure of the disadvantage these children have to overcome, not a failure of the education system.

Yes, the anonymous author’s dripping sarcasm aside, that is the case. Poverty and educational under-achievement go hand in hand the world over (much as the Nats would like to deny it). Here in NZ report after report after report – not from educators but from those concerned with child welfare – have all made the same points. Here’s one from the Children’s Commissioner, which begins its “executive summary” as follows:

Children have the right to a decent standard of living; a standard of living that allows them to live healthy lives free of hardship, to achieve their full potential and to participate fully in society. Poverty limits children’s daily lives and their opportunities and exposes them to the risks of illness, social and emotional damage, and poor educational attainment. Poverty experienced in the early years or for long periods casts a shadow over the future …

The sad fact of the matter is that educational achievement in NZ is very much a matter of race / socioeconomic status:

We come seventh in the world in the PISA (Programme for International Student Achievement) rankings that compare national performance in reading, science and maths. But Parata says that once you disaggregate the PISA scores, Pakeha students are second in the world and Maori are 34th and Pasifika are 44th.

It isn’t the education system that is failing Maori and Pasifika kids – it is society, it is politics, it is all of us. It is idiot commentators who would rather scapegoat “complacent” teachers than confront the real issues. We certainly have a world class education system. The fact that not every child can take advantage of it is our real failing and our shame.


34 comments on “World class education”

  1. ianmac 1

    Our tail is 5% smaller than the OECD average.
    But let’s accept that we have this tail. 2 or 3 years ago Tolley promised $50million to spend on improving the lot of those in the tail.
    “Show us the money honey!”
    Parata, Longstone, Tolley have whipped the teachers but have offered no solutions.
    So, “Show us the money honey!”

  2. One Tāne Huna 2

    Longstone is a political refugee, reliant on right wing governments to provide her with asylum.

    • Jim Nald 2.1

      That is correct.

      I have had a few UK visitors in recent months who have asked why the NZ government puts into the most senior and high-paying offices of the NZ public service such kinds of UK neolib, right-wing rejects.

      Has someone done a roll of dishonour for these kinds of appointments?
      A few names come to mind.

      Re “But it is refreshing to have a recruit from England in charge” –

      this should read: But it is reprehensible to have a reject from England in charge.

      • insider 2.1.1

        Brits in the civil service is not a new thing. There was a general love-in under Labour with the British civil service. Their research, models and reforms were hugely influential on NZ policy analysis and politicians. So it’s plus ca change (as we say in English).

  3. Matthew 3

    Honestly, as a secondary teacher in a decile one school, I can tell you the main reason for the continued failure of Maori & PI students. It is attendance & attitude. They simply dont see education as important, their parents dont push them to succeed, they see the likes of Longstone & Parata slagging off teachers & they bring that attitude to school. I had a student quote me, almost word for word, Anne Tolley’s statement that teachers were greedy, lazy, & the cause of all ills. Needless to say, I didnt get much work out of that student that day. Tolley also vowed to do something about poor attendance in lower socio-economic areas with a hiss & a roar & so far absolutely nothibg has been done about that.

    • One Tāne Huna 3.1

      Try and look beyond your ethnic blinkers, Matthew. “Attendance and attitude” – and what is it that drives these qualities?

      Get a clue: it isn’t skin colour.

      • insider 3.1.1

        you should tell Anthony Robins that too. From the above post: “The sad fact of the matter is that educational achievement in NZ is very much a matter of race / socioeconomic status”

        Matthew said that the issue affecting his M&PI students was attendance and attitude, not that that was the result of their skin colour.

        • r0b

          In NZ race and socioeconmic status are closely intertwined. It is poverty that does the damage, not race, but because the educational data are about “Maori and Pasifika” not “the poor” I needed to make that connection.

          • BM

            A lot of Maori and Polynesian parents see no value in education, it’s a sad fact.

          • insider

            Don’t disagree about the entwining but there is debate about the linkages.


            “It is clear from the data presented here that any uni-causal explanation based on socio-economic circumstances is inadequate to explain ethnic differences, thus supporting the caution
            expressed in the Biddulph BES. The most likely explanation would seem to lie in the interaction between school environments and the values, attitudes, motivations that under-pin the school “culture”, and the culture of home and community environments and the values, attitudes and motivations on which they are based.”

            For the PI group I wonder if there is a growing cultural element because other equally poor immigrant groups don’t seem have the same entrenched underachievement. And I wonder if it is increasingly cultural for some parts of the Maori community too

            • r0b

              Valid questions, but it’s never going to be easy to separate out “cultural elements” from a long history of poverty and disadvantage.

              • insider

                And as a result debates either become frustratingly circular or we retreat into our predefined analytical framework corners 🙂

                Me, I blame the parents.

                • One Tāne Huna

                  Perhaps you meant that as a joke, but it pretty much sums up the right wing response.

                  Family income is the largest single determining factor in how children perform at school; the left wing response to this is coherent and effective, if anathema to those who prefer to maintain their privilege.

                  Where is the equivalent from the right? Blame the parents? Is that it?

                  Blame is useless and prejudice is stupid and both are toxic.

                  • insider

                    But you are solely blaming income, and expressing toxic prejudice. Yet immediately below you quote that income only explains some of the gap.

                    We can see daily vastly differing outcomes for families with very similar backgrounds, particularly in the immigrant communities. The proportion of reecent Asian migrants on low family incomes is much higher than any group in NZ yet their educational outcomes are far from determined by that – just go to a school prize giving or look at the annual top scholars list in your local paper.

                    Poverty alone does not prevent you reading to your kids (unless illiterate as result) or encouraging them to go to a library or do better than you do. So I don’t blame the parents, but it would be foolish to ignore the significant role they can play.

                  • M Steinberg

                    ***Family income is the largest single determining factor in how***

                    That isn’t the case in the US.


            • One Tāne Huna

              Insider: this from the summary of the paper you cite:

              It is clear that relatively crude measures of socio-economic status such as family income or parent occupation, considered along with ethnicity, can account for some of the variance found in an ethnicity-only explanatory model. However much remains to be accounted for. The addition of more educationally relevant variables (such as level of parents’ education (Wylie, 2001), literacy related practices within families and communities (Nash, 2004)) reduces the explanatory power of ethnicity as a direct effect to very low levels or eliminates it entirely.

              Research from overseas strongly supports these conclusions.

              Our baseline estimates imply that a $1,000 increase in income raises math test scores by 2.1 percent and reading test scores by 3.6 percent of a standard deviation. The results are even stronger when looking at children from disadvantaged families who are affected most by the large changes in the EITC(Earned Income Tax Credit), and are robust to a variety of alternative specifications.

              BM: in short, ethnicity has nothing to do with it.

      • Matthew 3.1.2

        I never said it was exclusive to those ethnic groups. We have pakeha kids whos attitude is the same, & they are failing too.

        • One Tāne Huna

          “…relatively small estimated income effects can lead to large amounts of educational inequality when income inequalities are wide…”

          Blanden & Gregg, London School of Economics, 2004

          “family income has roughly similarly sized effects on economic inactivity, early parenthood and leaving education without a formal qualification.”

          Ministry of Social Development NZ quoting Tim Maloney, Associate Professor, Economics Department, The University of Auckland.

          In an international analysis published in Lancet, and an analysis of the 50 US states published in Social Science and Medicine, we have shown that scores in maths and reading are related to inequality. In addition, the percentage of children dropping out of high school in each of the 50 states of the USA is…also linked to inequality.

          R Wilkinson, K Pickett, quoted by the Equality Trust.

          Attempts to address the “tail” that do nothing to reverse the current trend towards greater economic inequality are doomed to failure.

    • Zorr 3.2

      I would say the issue is proving to these children that education will change their lives for the better because the current societal situation is such that they can’t expect social mobility in exchange for blood, sweat and toil. When you feel that the ceiling to your career achievement might be making manager level at The Warehouse on, at best, $15 per hour, then where is the impetus to strive? At that point, you’re just making things harder on yourself…

  4. Peter Martin 4

    Perhaps if ‘World class education’ was defined, we would be in a position to assess if NZ indeed did measure up.And the English.
    As for the tail …I’m pretty sure when there where a few more jobs around, folk didn’t worry quite so much about the fifty percent tail School Certificate caused…of those kids who stayed that long at school of course…nor the growth of the tail in the UE exam…

    • Draco T Bastard 4.1

      As for the tail …I’m pretty sure when there where a few more jobs around, folk didn’t worry quite so much about the fifty percent tail School Certificate caused…of those kids who stayed that long at school of course…nor the growth of the tail in the UE exam…

      Actually, that was back when people could get a good paying job without having an education. This is effectively impossible today.

  5. Dv 5

    So what was Langstone’s solution?
    Did she have one?

    Descriptions of the problem are NOT solutions. They certainly are the first step.
    Was there ANY analysis of what the tail of achievement appart from Maori and PI.
    Was there any analysis on how the tail was measured?

    AND how does her ministry measure up?
    Wasn’t it named as one of the worst recently?

    Lets look at their “successes” this year
    Class sizes
    National Standards
    Closure of special schools
    Christchurch Restructure

  6. Mike Steinberg 6

    The US has the same issue. People should be a bit more realistic.

    Gottfredson, L. S. (2005). Implications of cognitive differences for schooling within diverse societies. Pages 517-554 in C. L. Frisby & C. R. Reynolds (Eds.), Comprehensive Handbook of Multicultural School Psychology. New York: Wiley.


  7. irascible 7

    I seem to recall that Parrotta had gone on the defensive over the socio-economic issues affecting educational outcomes and the need for adequate nutrition of the students by releasing some research that demonstrated there was no correlation between lack of good nutrition (regular meals) and educational achievement. She or her minion was responding to the concerns raised by David Shearer and the follow up Campbell Live stories about the issue.
    The NACT spin machine will, in well proven KeY fashion, find a talking head that will disagree with any accepted and evidential viewpoint and promote that as gospel. I’m waiting for Parrotta to use Ken Ring as a reliable source to support Longstone et alia.

  8. irascible 8

    Here are some of the articles that appear to support the NACT anti-poverty/poor nutrition affects education outcomes spin:
    It was the Australian paper that was seized on by the spinners.

  9. tracey 9

    I think what she has said has been blown out of proportion. I believe she is on the same side as those criticising her (Principals/teachers). I took her to be saying we can’t sit back and brag about a world class education system when certain folks are being let down badly by it.

    Surely this was an opportunity for teachers/principals to take her statement and demand better resourcing etc to bring those particular kids up to world class standard?

  10. fabregas4 10

    Tracy, the point is it is not the education system that they are being let down by (in the main) but THE SYSTEM. Parata acknowledges that poverty and inequity influences learning but instead of this causing her to do something about these things her response is usually to say “yes it does, but its no excuse for kids failing” as though teachers and schools can make all this stuff go away.

    Look when NZ was the world leader in egalitatrianism we didn’t have this problem to teh same extent (Yes, the world was different I know). We didn’t have so much murder either, nor crime, people leant over the fence and helped each other because their livelihoods didnt depend on them beating the others. The Spirit Level is right – everyone suceeding is best for us all. Simply cutting up the pie so most of us don’t get much is sure as hell going to make many of us hungry, and angry and unable to learn, and eventually give up trying.

    In education the mantra has been from the top that teachers must have high expectations for the children- my experience is that they do and that often it is the folk closest to them that doesn’t.

    This though too isn’t where it stops. Because the live that many of our mums and dads live now isnt that crash hot. They are working too long and too hard to make ends meet to give adequate time to their kids. They see the unfairness of the world and spend their lives pissed off.

    We need systematic change to bring fairness back to our country- give everyone a chance at a happy decent dignified life then maybe things would change.

    rant Over.

  11. Don’t dare mention the heresy that ‘free education works’, it is the nations with free education that have the highest rates of educational achievement; but the Herald and other papers refuse to stand up for a decent Education system because they believe the mantra ‘it is too expensive’.

    It is too expensive to wait and do nothing about the quality of Education, it is that ‘leave it to the market’ mentality that has loaded students with debt, kept people out of higher Education; and forced New Zealand students overseas to pay back their loans. With Free Education New Zealanders would stay here and contribute to the economy, right now Education is a business rather than a human right or a social responsibility.

    Imagine a New Zealand where everyone gets a fair go, where New Zealanders don’t get Education based on how much their parents earn, where everyone can get a good paying job and where everyone succeeds.

  12. karl sinclair 12

    Its all based on relativity my friends.

    If you wake up and really take a look at the countries with the best education systems in the world you need to compare and contrast to the elite/private school systems around the world. The real ones, were the 1% of the worlds richest go… then youll work out how average the status quo is in NZ….That does not even include the old boys/girls clubs that are created.

    Isnt insulting that even in Finland the best teachers are paid crap compared to their businessmen budiies. Alturisim… so useful when wanting cheap, but really qualified labour…..

    All the best…..

  13. millsy 13

    Of course, it doesnt help that the Tomorrow’s School reforms, and the opening up of education to international students, and the overriding belief that schools must compete with each other for students, all reinforce a system where the so-called tail of underachivers are ever so subtly pushed into the shadows and in some cases, out the door. I saw it all the time, with a select group of students dumped into dead end ‘alternative’ subjects and then shunted out the door.

    • karl sinclair 13.1

      Makhlouf (The Carpenter) aka Secretary to the Treasury NZ may have point about teachers not being good enough… but this is no more than a witch hunt. From an intelligent man, rather dissapointing no?

      Note the way Treasurey dodge the class size debate and go for the quality debate. A bit like Bill Hicks on Marketers….

      God these people are average….. Nationals Research supposedly says that increased classs size does not effect educational outcome…. No crap… if you have a class size of 25 and increase it to 30… I suspect not much diffference. If you decresase the class size to say 10-15, then yeah maybe you would. Also provide poor performing teachers with mentors and actual time and practice and pragmatic method to get bettter, reduce lessons to the key subjects aka maths english (not god dam kiwiana or the olympics)… but hey… cant do that… The Treasury and NZ co aka Nats want to FOG your brain with crap…. essentailly privatise and make money…. produce an ‘average kiwi’ that does has he/she is told…

      Dull, Dull, Dumb and dumber… John you know what your up to… keep your god dam hands off my kids…..

      Treasurey dribble below… what the hell does this mean:

      The Treasury will not ignore the compelling evidence on where we should spend our
      precious educational dollar. That is our knitting. We know class size matters but the
      quality of teaching matters more. We absolutely recognise the significant role education
      plays in the economy and it is for precisely that reason that we want to give teachers
      more support to do their jobs. We will not ignore the role education can play in raising
      all our living standards. We welcome the debate but we want it based on research and
      hard evidence. We are seeking intelligent evidence-based and non-ideological
      progress. We make no apologies for being in the room on education. I urge all
      interested people to check out the Treasury website for more information on our views
      on education.

      Well why don’t you go check out the top 1% of private schools in the world (is it Eaton thats produced more priminsters in the uk?). Duh…..
      Check out this http://www.attainmagazine.co.uk/politics/the-public-school-prime-minister/

      In the first sixty three years of the twentieth century, there were 14 Prime Ministers of Great Britain. Of these, ten had been to public school, five to Eton alone. It was the era of Tory grandees and of well-heeled Labour leaders. Clement Atlee, creator of the New Jerusalem, was at Haileybury. Hugh Gaitskell, whose untimely death prevented him from becoming Prime Minister, was a Wykehamist. Of the Prime Ministers that were not public school educated, they were either exceptional, such as David Lloyd George or Ramsay MacDonald, or came from the Scottish grammar school tradition, like Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman. The figures that bestrode the political world revelled in their social status. Winston Churchill lived at Chartwell, Lord Curzon (that ‘most superior person’) lived at Kedleston.

      Still not seeing a decent distrbution of computers/software supporting kids… yeah… lets blame those pesky teahers… the ones the state (business) created in the first place….

      Makhlouf is currently responsible for the National Infrastructure Unit, the Financial Operations group, the Strategy and Performance team and the Finance team


  14. Karl Sinclair 14

    The Carpenter (Makhlouf) is advocating selling off the green renewable energy Assets. No Science and Technological innovation, no RONs, nothing Mr choice Joyce, no education reforms (in an econmy that is primary industry driven) are even going to come close to the future economic benefits of these renewable assets. Its all about the long game (whoes side are you really on…. )


    Before taking the post of Treasury’s Chief Executive and Secretary, Mr. Makhlouf has worked as Deputy Chief Executive for a year. During the one-year tenure, he worked towards removing the obstacles that where preventing foreign ownership of New Zealand assets and highlighted the difficulty of funding as an ageing population

    So taking this, then relating it to this:

    Treasury secretary Gabriel Makhlouf says Treasury’s evolving to deal with a new world and will become ‘an exciting and energetic hothouse of ideas’


    Naa…. you guys are average, A+++ for financial alchemy, F— for looking out for NZ inc…..

    What half wit couldnt come up with this….. YAAAWWWWWWNNNN….


  15. Karl Sinclair 15

    Sorry one last thing:


    I think Makhlouf’s views on education reflects his British boarding school background

    What boarding school, university did he go to and what family did he come from??????????

    Also to add, remember Robert McNamara (the eighth Secretary of Defense, serving under Presidents John F. Kennedy), a wonderfully intelligent and brialliant numbers man (well abit like Mahlouf). Really he feel in love with the idea that numbers and not an actual understanding of the real data on the ground.

    Makhlouf (aka the Carpenter) is this going to be your legacy to:


    Not long after dawn, Robert S. McNamara set out on a rapid walk through the half-light of Hanoi. A steamy drizzle soon soaked his dark blue jogging shorts and shirt. He stared intently ahead, barely glancing at the Vietnamese along the way as he marched in a loping stride through the city he ordered bombed some 30 years ago. He walked too quickly for the beggars or the barefoot children selling postcards to keep up with him. He did not seem to notice a boy hawking copies of ”The Quiet American.” He raced across currents of whizzing motorbikes and bicycles laden with impossibly huge bundles of fruit and shoes and large tin boxes, balanced as ingeniously as weapons had once been on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

    Peasant women in conical hats crisscrossed in front of him, moving gracefully beneath shoulder poles slung heavily with round baskets of bananas and litchi nuts. One woman squatting at the curb made an enticing gesture toward her pile of reddish litchis but got no reaction.

    He did not look into the faces of the people. He did not linger to gaze at their colorful wares. He was driven by another agenda, a mission he talked about incessantly as he walked.

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