Dipping my Hands into the Elephantshit

This morning started off well. An early wake up followed by a smartly consumed breakfast and I was ready for a morning jog (I was going to say “run” then, but that’s not really an accurate description).

Unfortunately, halfway through my run jog my aged right calf (slightly younger than my left) decided it no longer wished to take part in the exercise and firstly tightened before it, for want of a better description, twanged. The run jog was over and a long hobble home was commenced.

Now I am positioned on the couch with the frozen block from a chilly-bin affixed firmly to my leg via a fairly clean tea towel. An ideal position to listen to the reaction to John Key’s latest edu-nonsense announced yesterday and, it seems, trumpeted by every single person that works in the New Zealand media. The sycophantic reaction from the primary and secondary principal’s associations have been quite revolting (for more read this commentary showing, among many, many other insights, where the loyalties of the principals really lie).

If you want to read the entire speech from John Key, click here.

When you read the speech, it does read very well. The intentions are there – improve teacher quality and you improve outcomes for students. They are correct. Teacher quality is hugely important.

The elephant in the room country the government is refusing to answer, even though the media keep mentioning it, is the impact of child poverty on learning and achievement. This government doesn’t care about this issue because either a) it would be far too expensive to remedy the situation and they have their precious surplus to consider, or b) they don’t actually get many votes from the parents of those quarter of a million kids, so what’s really the point, or c) nah-nah-nah-nah not listening not listening nah-nah-naaaaaaaaaaaaah.

So I will also leave this poverty elephant outside and move on to the elephant of how – how will they actually decide which teachers around New Zealand are so highly skilled at lifting student achievement they deserve to be removed from the very students they are assisting and given thousands more dollars to brandish their skills on others?

Have you heard of value-added analysis? I have blogged about this previously when I discovered this part of the LA Times website where they let the general public view teacher “ratings” based on this analysis. Value-added analysis allows teachers to be rated for performance based on how well their students achieve in the class when compared with how the students are expected to achieve based on a statistical model. In short, if kids in your class do better than expected then you are rated (and paid) more highly. Or, more accurately, we are going to GUESS how well children in your class might do against a set standard, and if they don’t do that well then you are a useless teacher.

Here’s the explanation from the LA Times website:

What is value-added analysis?

Value-added is a statistical approach that estimates a teacher’s effectiveness at raising student performance on standardized tests. In essence, it projects a child’s future performance by using past scores — in this case, on math and English tests. That projection is then compared to the student’s actual results. The difference is the “value” that the teacher added or subtracted. Comparing each student to him or herself in the past largely controls for differences in students’ backgrounds.


Let us not delve into the narrowing of the curriculum and the pressure this places on schools and teachers that can lead to them trying to game the system to either teach kids how to do tests or to completely fake test results.  That discussion is for another time.

It is my belief that if the National government return to power later this year then they will use this model to decide which teachers are the “experts” and therefore better than their colleagues. It will have everything to do with how well students are performing against National Standards and absolutely nothing to do with the amazing classroom programmes and brilliant pedagogical knowledge seen across the country.

Let’s whip back outside and check out the poverty elephant. Yup, still there. Apart from the fact that students spend MOST OF THEIR LIVES outside of school and so their home life has much more of an impact than . I don’t need to do any research to know that. It’s just common bloody sense.

To ignore the impact of poverty when developing your education policy smacks of ignorance, sheer pig-headedness or total ideological blindness – all of which we have come to expect from this current National regime.

Although, as Hekia Parata said on Nine to Noon this morning, any changes to remuneration will have to be part of the collective contract discussions when they are next held. This, coupled with the fact that a National-led junta continuing after this election later this year is seeming less likely by the day, these changes may never actually eventuate.

Who knows… we could finally start getting education policy being collaboratively developed by government and practitioners based on the best research available and for the benefit of all New Zealand children.

That is if the media will let us.

Mr B.


John Key Speech: National Party website – 23 January, 2014.

Pennies from heaven – or, a ‘Corpse’ Flower by any other name: The Political Scientist – 24 January, 2014

Los Angeles Teacher Ratings FAQs: LA Times website.

Cheating Probe Roils Philadelphia School System:

Education Minister on how the new roles in schools will work: Radio New Zealand Nine to Noon – 24 January, 2014.


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