Saturday, 19 March 2016

Picking Apples

One Bad Apple: Between them, the Education Minister, Hekia Parata, and the Finance Minister, Bill English, hope to develop a government-wide data-capture system which will allow schools to identify the "at-risk" apples in their catchment area and prevent them from turning bad. At-risk identifiers include: families in which at least one parent has been to prison; the child, or a sibling, have suffered abuse; the family has been supported by social welfare benefits for a prolonged period; and the mother has no formal educational qualifications.

ROOT-AND-BRANCH RADICALISM is not something we tend to associate with the National Party. But, Education Minister, Hekia Parata, is ready to change all that. Her review of education funding promises to lead New Zealand towards a radically new way of allocating resources for our children’s education. Some of the ideas under consideration will leave the world gasping.
 
That the Minister has her heart set upon something truly radical is confirmed by her treatment of professional educationalists.
 
When it became clear that the Minister was ‘thinking big’ in relation to education funding reform, NELP, the National Educational Leadership Partnership (an umbrella group encompassing school trustees, the teacher unions, principals’ representatives, parent-teacher associations and special-needs students’ advocates) eagerly offered to help.
 
Ms Parata was having none of it. Before you could say “provider capture” she’d informed NELP that the “consultation phase” would come later. That would be the proper time for people like themselves to get involved.
 
Now, some might argue that any government intent on making its policy innovations stick wouldn’t dream of embarking on a programme of radical reform without the sector’s enthusiastic support and participation.
 
And, let’s be clear, NELP did offer. In a statement of principles to the Ministry of Education its members declared:
 
“NELP is proposing that it work with the Ministry to co-construct the principles and terms of reference of the resourcing review, and be part of the review process, including the analysis of the research and data, and in the subsequent development, testing and implementation of promising model(s).”
 
The radical solutions being contemplated by Ms Parata, however, are not the sort that lend themselves to indulging such airy-fairy participatory notions as “co-construction”.
 
Like her colleague, Finance Minister, Bill English, Ms Parata has been seized by the notion of using “government-wide data” manipulation to identify all those very young citizens unfortunate enough to have been born into inadequate and/or under-performing families. Statistically-speaking, these are the apples most likely to turn bad and spoil the whole bunch.
 
Who are these “at risk” citizens? According to advice supplied to Ms Parata by the Ministry of Education, they are the pre-school offspring of families in which at least one parent has been to prison; either themselves, or a sibling, have suffered child abuse; their mum and/or dad have been supported by social welfare benefits for a prolonged period; and if their mother has no formal educational qualifications.
 
The Ministry argues that if resources could be directed specifically to those schools preparing to enrol these potentially ‘bad apples’ – thereby dramatically improving their chances of remaining fresh and wholesome – then the outcomes, both educationally and socially, would be far superior to those achieved by the present, statistical scatter-gun approach of decile funding.
 
In those suburbs of our major cities where “concentrations” of these bad-apples-in-waiting are detected, the local school (using a yet-to-be-devised formula) would find itself in the running for an extra-specially thick wad of additional cash.
 
Radical stuff! But why stop there? If it is possible to identify early these bad-apples-in-waiting, and if the key factors in their breaking bad are all related to domestic dysfunction and family failure, then why not remove the children from that environment altogether? Why not set up special schools for the children of inadequate families and break the cycles of failure and dysfunction once and for all?
 
And if acting on government-wide data works for the bad apples, why not develop a statistical profile for families likely to produce exceptional children?
 
These would be the families in which no one had ever been sent to prison; there was no history of child abuse; no record of a relationship with the Ministry of Social Development; and in which both Mum and Dad had gone to university. The statistical likelihood of above average success would be further boosted if the family income was sufficient to endow the children with truly massive lump-sums of cultural capital.
 
In suburbs where there were concentrations of these potentially ‘super apples’, the state could facilitate the setting-up of special schools where their particular talents could be identified early and fully extended in an environment free from family distractions.
 
Ms Parata could call the schools for fixing bad apples “Borstals”, and those for producing upper-middle-class super-apples, “Private Schools”. National would be lionised for instigating an educational revolution. What could possibly go wrong?
 
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 18 March 2016.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Changing funding formula is rearranging deckchairs on Titanic. Guess what? Current decile 1 and 2s have the bad apples. What we need is MORE funding in deprived schools. Current decile funding is not enough. I would say 1/3 of year 9s in low decile high schools need intensive reading recovery. Fund that. That would make a difference.

Anonymous said...

Despite what critics say off Hekia Parata, I believe she is determined more than anybody in parliament to try and help our most vulnerable children.
She suffers mindless tall poppy attacks from Labour the Greens and teacher unions but still pushes for our unfortunates in education.
Vested interests have control at all levels of education and will stop at nothing to de-stabilise her.

Anonymous said...

The Perry High Quality Pre-school study carried out in impoverished suburban southern USA proved that quality pre-schooling where the parents were involved in the process had much better out comes for the children This study was done 50 YEARS ago! So that is what we need a inclusive preschool system that involves the parents in the daily pre-schooling process. That's going to be expensive? No not at all. Because we already have such a system in place, Its the New Zealand Play Centre parent run organisation that this government has starved of funds,and almost succeeded in destroying it after over 70 years of success. If you want good apples you nurture the apple blossom.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

We know what makes kids succeed in school. We've known for a long time. We've also known that it costs money. The problem is that every government since probably the 1950s has wanted a Rolls-Royce education system on a Trabant budget. Funny that instead of copying countries with extremely successful education systems, National wants to copy those like the US – with dysfunctional ones.
It's interesting to look at the hierarchy of the cabinet over the years. Education Minister dropped many places over the years until the 1980s. I haven't looked at it since then, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn that they're still pretty low on the totem pole.

peter petterson said...

WE used to have special schools, but the Bolger National Govt closed them. Parata is a dangerous idiot.

pat said...

Changing the funding model for schools will have sweet FA impact on outcomes unless the causes of the problems are addressed.The problems our educators are expected to correct/manage are the symptoms of a failing society right across the board and no amount of goodwill within education can solve that on its own, funded or not...it truly is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Jeanette Elley said...

1. No need for a blind data-driven approach. Just ask any teacher, they'll tell you who the problem kids are, probably with more accuracy.
2. Once problem kids are identified, it's not just the school that needs attention and resources, it's their whole family.
3. As other comments have identified, we've known for decades what is needed to help the disadvantaged in society, and it is basically a fairer distribution of income (plus some recovery assistance once that is in place). Unfortunately that seems too hard for those with the decision-making power to grasp, or to implement, so they continue down the complex, penny-pinching, hand-wringing, stigmatising path instead.
4. Public schools need more money. Full stop. While it's good to have a review, if the result is to try to save money on education by using an even more targeted approach then it will ultimately be a self-defeating exercise.

Anonymous said...

Nicely done column Chris. Good to have you back.

greywarbler said...

There have been innovative educational ideas that have worked in small schemes in NZ for decades. Often low achieving children come from homes where the parents when children, haven't been helped with their education.

Here is one model from the 1990s.
Google - Baragwanath and school for teenage mothers
There are many headings there.
THE EDUCATION OF TEENAGE MOTHERS IN NEW ZEALAND:
A POLICY VACUUM AND A PRACTICAL EXAMPLE OF ASSISTANCE
Susan Baragwanath
Principal and Founder
He Huarahi Tamariki - A Chance for Children
(Here are two paragraphs that form the conclusion to the above.)

Four years of secondary education may avoid forty years on a government benefit and save millions of welfare dollars. If schools are not able to establish special classes, centres or units for teenage parents, the continuing educational needs of these young people are unable to be met. The statistics indicate that there have been over 27,000 such mothers since 1990. Some will have finished their basic formal education but the majority have not. Yet, in 1997, there is only one secondary school in New Zealand, Porirua College, which has a dedicated class.
But for the existence of He Huarahi Tamariki, a number of young parents would be out of the education system. The need for policy to encompass students such as these has been clearly identified. Alternative systems of education, if properly monitored and evaluated can and do work. Without schooling the existing pattern of helplessness and hopelessness will be reinforced with the prospect that this cycle will continue. The problem will intensify until a future government is prepared to face and deal with it.


The model has been there for intelligent and focussed Education Ministers and their advisors. That is ones that were focussed on following a practical and effective path to invite and encourage under-educated, untrained, goal-less young people to find their strengths and potential.
For parents, the most important education is how to help their children grow into capable, happy, generous people who can manage their lives successfully, be full citizens adding and being aided by a functoning society, and deal with negative things that come along.

Children from poor homes, will have parents who are stretched by their circumstances, and who have had inadequate education themselves. They would be greatly helped to be paid to do a course in child rearing appropriate for the age of their children. That could be one NCEA certificate, and they would be offered a list of other courses they could do similarly, to build up a good basic background.

It would be an excellent idea as well to have schools where both parent and child are students and get the education suited to their needs. Parents should be paid adequately so they can be students, and get a small raise in benefit, or student allowance when they pass. A different attitude to education would arise, the kids would improve with a parent role model and get help with their homework, and the parent would be guaranteed part-time work when finished. Not full-time though, child-raising is more important than some un- or semi-skilled job.

Setting up a system like this in South Auckland would be efficient for numbers, and the families would be picked up and dropped off by small buses, to ensure that transport costs were not a burden, and to help with regular attendance. That would be a good use of extra spending for educational low achievers. I note that Parata includes in her list of targeted families, those that have been on the benefit for some time. How long I wonder? It should be the case that government and parent work together to achieve good outcomes and not by sending a parent child-carer to fulltime work or even expected to subsist on part-time or zero hours with the irregular hours that companies now choose.

greywarbler said...

Another sort of school that was reaching out to truants and non-achievers some time ago.
google - Four Avenues School in Christcurch.
This was innovative and was a school without walls so without large capital cost and maintenance of buildings. One would think it would have been welcomed and helped, but my observation shows that politicians and planners have little interest in helping those who are struggling. The likelihood is that they get a charitable 'penny' to make do with, and the $Serious go to the more appealing stars of swot and sport.

A lot of the youngsters at Four Avenues had dropped out of the education system and the school was being formed around the needs of the students, to try and retain their interest, provide regular attendance and work patterns, and be meaningful in their lives.

But I think ACT and perkbuster Rodney Hide (the Jackal), interfered here and criticised them going to a golf driving range as unsuitable. Actually it was a good idea, providing a physical, sport activity to make a varied curriculum. In the end it was dropped. The thesis here may cover all its history. There is a difficulty in getting the very superior people with powers in politics and education to stop trying to enforce conformist education on these children, and reach them a different way.

greywarbler said...

Hello anyone. Interested in education?
I saw this while googling and wondered how they have got on since 2003 and what assistance they received. This is the sort of local effort that should be helped, with assistance and some cash for resources available, and the children monitored for attendance, advance (just some would be enough) and enjoyment. And further assistance to continue it if proved efficacious, or for a simpler sounding result, helpful to the child.

Literacy pathway in the Far North - Education Gazette
www.edgazette.govt.nz/Articles/Article.aspx?ArticleId=6427
Jun 16, 2003 - Kaitaia Literacy Pathway aims to raise the level of students' written language. ... only four per cent of students were writing at their chronological age or better. ... development that will carry over to other curriculum areas, he says. ... per cent of Year 8 students will be at level 4, 50 per cent of Year 7 at level 4, ...