Taking the PISA

Well, friends, today was PISA day. The day when all media outlets around the world breathlessly pronounce their education system is either “plummeting” down the tables, or, through some miraculous miracle, soaring to new educational heights.

Three years ago I ranted about this nonsensical test, run by the OECD, which tests hundreds of thousands of 15 year olds around the world on reading, maths and science. I’m listening to Garbage on the Spotify at the moment and that is an incredibly apt word.

Despite what the OECD and various governing governments say, PISA does absolutely nothing for teaching and learning around the world. It has been hijacked by the media in order to either hammer the education system of whichever country they are reporting from OR it has been hijacked by those wealthy billionaires who love to take over public education systems to make billions more via a range of government subsidies their charter school model siphoning from the public purse. “I don’t pay tax and I want to take your tax to make more income, which I won’t pay tax on.”

American billionaires suck the Federal Reserve dry
American billionaires suck the Federal Reserve dry

Either way, the OECD spends millions per year allowing countries like China to enter various cities (Hong Kong, Shanghai, & Macau) into the competition because China knows that those wealthy areas are likely to do very, very well. Presumably the authorities there are proactive in preparing the students of those cities for the tests. This happens in many jurisdictions around the world where high-stakes standardised testing rules the waves.

If you want to see the results for yourself you can do what I did and check out the Wikipedia page* on which some nice person has put all the results into nice tables so you can make your own comparisons. If you want gallons more statistical juice, then scroll to the bottom of the page for all the references to previous PISA results. It really can be an exciting evening trawling through tables of data to make a couple of points on an angry blog post.

Comparing the 2000 results to 2015 is like comparing apples with something that is the complete opposite of apples – sausages perhaps… or gardening gloves. In 2002 there were only 32 countries taking part. All the OECD members and 4 “partner” countries. In 2015 72 countries took part. New Zealand came 4th in Maths, 7th in Science and 3rd in Reading. Now we sit 22nd in Maths, 13th in Science, and 12th in Reading.

If you want to compare apples with apples by taking out all of the countries who’ve muscled in on the PISA party the figures are a bit different. in 2015 New Zealand sit 7th in Science, 16th in Maths and 9th in Reading.

To quote our retiring king John Key, at the end of the day, PISA doesn’t test anything important. All it tests is a student’s ability to score a certain number of marks on one exam on one day in 2015.

Exams are rubbish for testing all those important things like collaboration, problem solving, trial and error and innovation – all those important things that all employers are looking for. Don’t take my word for it, The Economist surveyed employers. Here are the results:


Sure Literacy and Numeracy are on the list, but way down the bottom and Science doesn’t even get a mention. All those wonderful key competencies our New Zealand Curriculum published back in 2007 are way up there at the top. And their ain’t no way yous are gonna test for that. **

Remember: millions of dollars are spent on PISA to make governments feel good about themselves, not to improve educational outcomes for our learners, no matter what the politicians or our beloved media owners.

I’ll leave the final quote to Radio New Zealand who disappointed me with their headline this morning. “NZ Scores Drop but Rankings Rise in International Test” it said. Later on in the article, however, the article admitted:

The falls were small – three to five points in scores of 495 to 513 points – and were not regarded as statistically significant.

Why didn’t they lead with the statistically significant stuff? Because that doesn’t make a good headline. Falling education numbers is the headline. We are falling!! Arrrghghghgh!!!! That’s the same kind of fervor Patrick Gower works up every time Winston Peters rises one percentage point in a survey with a margin of error of 3.5%. It’s utter bollocks.

Just like PISA.


2015 PISA results

PISA Wikipedia results page

The Economist Skills of the Future Report

Radio New Zealand: PISA test report 7 Dec, 2016

* I am aware how lame it is to reference Wikipedia in a blog post about education, but the PISA reports are hundreds of pages long and I want to remain angry rather than being bored to death by tables and tables and tables and tables of data and statistical methodology. Even writing that sentence killed me a little inside.

** That sentence has terrible grammar on purpose. Deals with it.



OECD and PISA – some twitter thoughts

Last night this tweet appeared in my feed…


So, of course, I replied…

And I replied to that one as well…


…because we all know what’s going to happen. Either we will go up or go down depending on who else goes up or down and where we are on the table. Certain countries will remain at the top because of top-loading their students for the testing season (except Finland, who will remain high despite their total rejection of the reformy types leading the educational charge across Western civilisation).

Then, when I awoke this morning, I started thinking about the time they released the last PISA results three years ago. Other thinks popped into my head…


Yes… Plausible Values… those values that replace missing values in a plausible way… that’s right… completely made up values that go in places where values should be but aren’t (for whatever reason).


Turns out, it’s a legit statistical thing (click pic for link).


I decided it was time to point out we were in the 21st century (click tweet pic for the full report from The Economist).


I thought I’d better back myself up, so I tweeted…


Then, bordering on trolling, I finished with:


As an educational thinker / ranter from way back, I will be very interested in how the National Party spin the New Zealand results in PISA when they are released (in 2012, the report was released in December, so it shouldn’t be too far away).

Remember… I called it first. If we drop in any way, the National Party will call this “just one result” or say things like “we have plenty of things in place blah blah etc.” But if we rise by the slightest amount, listen to them crow like a drunk All Black fan. There will be much back patting and high-fiving in the Beehive and I’m certain Hekia will trumpet her success from the ninth floor with a grand fanfare.

My final thinks: I doubt very much we will rise. The United Kingdom, the US and Sweden, all proponents of the global reform movement currently sit 23rd, 24th and 36th in reading respectively. In 2000 they were 8th, 16th and 10th. They will argue that “more needs to be done” – that is, the reforms haven’t worked so let’s continue with the same reforms and do them some more!

Only a genius tries to get rid of a headache by smashing their face with a cricket bat.

Time will tell.

It’s been a tough week for me

Kia ora everyone. Hekia speaking.

It’s been a rough week for me. In between consulting relevant stakeholders and going through the latest chartnership school applications, I’ve had to spend a lot of time batting off questions about the education policy released by the Labour Party last weekend.

I don’t want to get into the ins and outs of the education policy because there are so many things wrong with it they would be too numerous to mention and the Internet is only a finite resource. In saying that, however, there are a few things that I’d like to put straight.

The National Party of Aotearoa New Zealand do not believe in bigger class sizes. You can tell from our education policy. We quite clearly state in our policy that we are building a better education system. Of course, this implies (and quite rightly in my opinion), that our education system is not currently as good as it could be.

There are many, many things wrong with our education system. Take, for example, our international rankings using the fabled PISA rankings from the OECD. New Zealand are currently 16th in OECD for Maths, 11th in Science and 9th in Reading. This is just not good enough. What is even worse is that we are going backwards. When the first OECD rankings were released in 2000, when Labour were in power, New Zealand were 3rd in Maths, 6th in Science and 3rd in Reading.

The blame for this fall in performance can be squarely laid at the food of the Labour Party and their current policy of bigger class sizes. That’s had a massive impact on all our current students. All their parents and the media are talking about is class sizes.

What is clear to me as a minister of the crown with many years of experience in letting PR consultants develop my education policy on behalf of several well-respected party donors, this is having a retrospective impact on student learning in this country. Our students are getting stupider because they think Labour is going to make their lives better by getting rid of National’s Standards, reducing class sizes, increasing device uptake and reducing school reliance on ‘donations.’

This couldn’t be further from the truth. If you read Labour’s policy it doesn’t say anything of the sort. In fact, and I’ve read the summary of the PDF my press secretary gave me, it clearly states how the party is going to syphon off the most successful students and put them to work in the salt pits of Lake Grassmere chipping salt to export to Russia for use in the infamous sauerkraut and turnip bottling factories of Siberia. If my press secretary says it’s true, then it definitely is. I wouldn’t just be getting any old advice to make me feel better about myself.

The other thing to remember about the National Party is how committed we are to each other. Check out this picture:

#TeamKey is the best policy National has ever had.
#TeamKey is the best policy National has ever had.

Aren’t we a happy team? Look how engaged we all are with John and his amazing ideas (I think he had drawn a cartoon depicting something derogatory about the Greens or beneficiaries or women (or all three) and was pointing it out to Bill. It was really quite hilarious). Yes, I’m not in the picture. There was only a certain amount of room available in the picture otherwise it wouldn’t have fitted on the #TeamKey website. You’ll also notice that other National Party people aren’t in that picture as well. But look at all the women! There are over one women!! That shows how diverse we are – particularly when you look at Ms Bennett’s ethnically inclusive spray tan.

I’ve been speaking for too long. Suffice it to say the National Party of Aotearoa New Zealand is so confident of winning the election against a hapless Labour / Green / ManaInternetMana / NZ First / Others coalition that we are betting all our money on John Key.

We are the first party in the history of New Zealand to go into an election without a single policy. Look at our website. I challenge you to find a single policy ANYWHERE. Yes, we have ‘plans’ and ‘ideas,’ but there are no policies. None at all. Just bullet points.

That is how awesome we are.

By releasing a whole bunch of education policies this week, Labour have proved just how out of touch they are with the New Zealand I believe in.

National – working for a brighter future for New Zealand learners and their parent voters.

Hekia x

When PISA meets politics – a lesson from New Zealand

A great summary of the government’s misuse of PISA.

Save Our Schools NZ

by Martin Thrupp,first published in The Conversation


“PISA shock” is the term that has been coined for the sense of political crisis and knee-jerk policy reaction that typically occurs when a country drops in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s international education rankings.

Almost 100 education experts, including several of us from New Zealand, recently sent an open letter to the OECD’s chief education spokesperson, Andreas Schleicher, pointing out that the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings have become more of a problem than a solution.

In many ways the concern of New Zealand educators is also around the wider influence of the OECD education programme on New Zealand educational politics and policy – perhaps as much “OECD hangover” as “PISA shock”.

New Zealand’s government led by prime minister John Key often draws on the authority of the OECD to endorse its policy direction, using both PISA…

View original post 740 more words


As the curtain comes down on 2013 I have just a few questions:

  1. If it took a new school in Wellington a year to set up (principal and teachers working behind the scenes for 12 months before a student set foot in the place – heard them speak at a conference), how can the 5 new charter schools the government issued licences to just a few months back be ready for the 2014 school year with a school that will successfully deliver education to kiwi learners?
  2. Why won’t the government accept that the under-achieving 20% tail they keep talking about is actually the same 20% of kiwi kids living in poverty (according to the report by the Children’s Commissioner that figure is now 25%)?
  3. How can the government reconcile its continued calls for improved teacher quality with the regulation allowing charter schools to hire unregistered, unqualified staff to teach in their classrooms?
  4. Will the New Zealand public drop their love-affair with the bafoonering of John Key and vote in a Labour/Green government this time next year?

Here are the (my) answers:

  1. The current crop of charter schools will probably struggle in their first year. With only six months to set up all the systems required to run a school I doubt they will be able to deliver. Of course, the government will not allow them to fail as the UK government has just down with a free school in Crawley. They will either, a) throw money at them, or b) increase funding, or c) increase deliveries of brown paper bags filled with non-sequential $5 notes.
  2. It’s a lot easier for the government to vilify teachers and teacher unions for under-achievement. It’s far harder for them accept the socio-economic factors that even the OECD accept play a huge part in any under-achievement. If they accepted socio-economic influences on educational performance then they’d have do something like transferring the money they spend on universal superannuation for people who have saved for their retirement (and have extra houses, baches and cars and/or motorbikes and other houses) to making all rental homes healthy and dry. Or what about providing school meals or putting social workers and health nurses into every school under a certain decile to deal with the multitude of problems associated with (sometimes very extreme) poverty?
  3. The government can’t reconcile its call for improved teacher quality when it will allow any old Thomas, Richard and Harold to turn up off the street to teach in one of its flagship “partnership” schools. It is one of the many nonsense contradictions that permeates the hypocrisy of modern politics.
  4. You would hope that the 800,000 people who have been marginalised by said modern politics will turn out to vote next November. If David Cunliffe and the Labour machine can get out there and door knock and enthuse people about their vision for New Zealand, then people will be motivated to get off their chuffs and vote. I don’t know a single person who endorses John Key and his brand of uncoordinated triple-handshakes to disguise his government’s far right agenda using the decomposing carcass of ACT to sell the policies too unpalatable for the electorate.

Anyway you look at it, this government is a dog that needs to be euthanased.

On a brighter note, I only have one day left at school until my Christmas break. We are doing IVF (again) in the holidays so my time will be taken up preparing for that, preparing for the 2014 school year and, very hopefully, doting on a newly pregnant wife.

Of course, I’ll be attacked for having a thousand weeks holiday a year and only working 2 hours a day (see comments section of this post).

Mr B.


Amesbury School Website

Child poverty report applauded: NZ Herald, Monday December 9 2013.

Speech to the Iwi Leaders forum: Hekia Parata, 28 November 2013.

Free school with ‘no workable plan to improve’ is first to be closed by DfE: The Guardian, 13 December 2013.

PISA 2012 Results: Excellence Through Equity: Giving Every Student the Chance to Succeed (Volume II)[Preliminary Version]: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, December 2013.

Utter nonsense spouted by idiots who know nothing about education: Whale Oil, 2 July, 2013.