Saturday, 5 October 2013

World Teachers' Day - why I am a teacher.

Today is World Teachers' Day.

The launch of World Teachers' Day in Gisborne 5th October 2013.
The launch of a year of promoting teaching as a profession and quality public education (that hasn't been affected by GERM) happened this morning on the beach in Gisborne, on the east coast of the North Island in New Zealand, with launches to happen, as October 5th dawns around the world, in Paris and New York as well.

A teacher friend yesterday posted on Facebook to have a Happy Teachers' Day (Hallmark: cue new card/money making opportunity) and try to mark anything.

That got me thinking, because between two conferences and car maintenance and a planning day with my fellow staff members, I don't have many opportunities to either relax and recharge or get organised in my class during this term break for the upcoming term four.  So instead of marking or photocopying or whatever, I am choosing to blog about why I am a teacher.

I decided to become a teacher when I was about 15 or 16.  Before that, in my very formative years, I had ideas of being Wonder Woman, a doctor or a fireman (gender issues weren't high in my thoughts then), or even the fifth member of ABBA!!!  Later on as I left primary school and was making my subject choices for high school, being a lawyer was my goal.  Thankfully I changed my mind from that, decided that being a teacher was a much better option, and here follows the list of why:
  • I like children.  They are usually a lot of fun to hang out with.  They are funny and get pleasure out of the most unexpected things.
  • I never wanted to fully grow up.  I reckon the best teachers are the ones that still have something childlike about them.  We don't all have the same childlike 'thing' as each other, because we are all individuals after all, and if we all have different childlike qualities it gives each teacher that 'thing' that will connect with the individual children we teach who need that 'thing'.
  • I love learning.  Teachers don't know everything - yet.  Sometimes we decide to teach a unit we know stuff all about, so it sends us off on our own learning, doing research.  Sometimes we learn beside the children, discover new things as they are discovering.  Even with units that I have done for years, like my Anzac Day unit, I learn something new each and every year.
  • I love being creative.  It's more that doing things like art or music or dance or drama.  You can be creative with how you display things in the class.  You can be creative with the activities the children do before, during and after their reading.  You can be creative with ICT.  You can even be creative in mathematics!!  Listening to Prof Yong Zhao this week reinforced my belief that teachers are creative people.
  • I love seeing the children get that "a-ha" moment and to celebrate their progress.  For most children they make good, steady progress and that gives me a great sense of achievement.  For some others a switch is flicked because things finally click.  Love it.
  • I love introducing ICT into the classroom and seeing how the children take it on board as a learning tool and a way to create new things.
  • I love seeing how the children grow and develop and change.  I'm lucky enough to still be in contact with some previous students or to bump into them when I am out and about and I am in awe of what they have done.  Some have gone to the USA on scholarships for tennis, golf and volleyball.  One has become a radio DJ (apt, as he talked an awful lot).  Some have followed their parents into farming.  Some have become parents.  Some are at university or tech.  Some have represented their province in a variety of sports or joined the National Secondary School Band.  If they have made it through to adulthood in one piece I am extremely proud of them, whatever they have done or where ever they are - once a kid in my class, always one of my kids.
  • I love meeting with other teachers and sharing about what amazing things our children have done, said, learned or created; talking about the challenging children and sharing ideas on how to help them; sharing about the great learning we have, are or are about to do.  Then there is are also the professional, theoretical and industrial discussions we have as well.
So on World Teachers' Day, I want you as a teacher to reflect on why you are a teacher; and if you aren't a teacher, please reflect on your favourite teachers and why they were your favourite teachers.

You know, when I come to think about it, some days being a teacher is like being like Wonder Woman.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Prof Yong Zhao speaks to NZEI Annual Conference

On Monday 30 September, the NZEI Te Riu Roa Annual Conference 2013 welcomed Prof Yong Zhao who spoke to us about quality education, national testing, GERM and creativity (as an overview).  He was insightful and funny, giving the meeting food for thought.

Prof Zhao has been in New Zealand for about a week.  He has been visiting schools and meeting with educationalists and business leaders.  He has also met with Education Minister Hekia Parata last Tuesday afternoon.  Prof Zhao has said, "I want to warn the New Zealand Government - you may be raising your test scores, but you may be losing something else, and that might be very important for the future."  (NZ Herald 25 September 2013)

Professor Yong Zhao, the presidential chair at the University of Oregon's College of Education, said a focus on measuring traditional success risked producing homogenous, compliant workers ill-suited for a modern economy - and he explained this in his presentation to the NZEI Annual Conference.

Prof Zhao calls schools traditional sausage factories.  Children come in with their individual differences, their multiple intelligences, their cultural diversity, full of curiosity, passion and creativity, go through the sausage factory of schooling and pop out the other end with "employable skills".   He used the graphic below to illustrate this.
This is the traditional model of schooling since schooling began.  The idea originally was to teach the peasants enough literacy and literacy skills to enable them to perform tasks for the employer and follow instructions.  Some tolerant societies, or economic classes, added singing, dance, music, art to their schooling -  what we can call the sauce on the sausage.
Prof Zhao calls National Standards a competition for making sausages, in the sausage making machine that is the schooling system.  National Standards, or national testing in any other country, aims for all the sausages to be made the same at the same time.  But what if we want more for our children?  What if we want bacon?
Prof Zhao went onto to discuss the great civilisation Easter Island had 1000 years ago.  Thirteen tribes lived in this civilisation doing all the things they needed to do to ensure their civilisation survived and flourished.  But then the thirteen tribes decided they needed to have a competition to get the favour of the gods.  The Easter Islanders abandoned their farming, fishing, etc. to carve giant stones - their version of National Standards.  The Easter Island society fell over because they became so focused on carving the best stones to gain the gods' favour. They took their eye off the ball.
So what do we lose by concentrating on National Standards?
We now have too many sausages coming out of universities and schools.  We tell our children and young people that the measure of success is a tertiary education, a degree.  So they come out of the compulsory sausage factories and enter into the ultimate sausage factories, universities and polytechnics.  They finish up with a shiny qualification and then discover that there are few jobs for them to go in.
We need to expand how our youth are educated, how they become qualified or skilled to enter the work place.  We need to instil creativity.
Creativity as concept was only written about after 1920s.  Prof Zhao used the following passage as an example of how creativity was not valued or talked about until the 1920s.

Deuteronomy 21:18-21

New International Version (NIV)

A Rebellious Son

18 If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, 19 his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. 20 They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” 21 Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.
Creativity is not mentioned in Bible at all.  In fact, the passage above refers to stubborn and rebellious individuals - demanding that all should obey and fit into the expectations of their parents.  Creative people would have been rebellious in Biblical times. 
The new middle class of today is the creative class. We are in the creative economy. But National Standards is crushing that.  Without the creative economy there would be no use for Kim Kardashian.  She exists to entertain at a low level.  But how many people does she employ?  How does she improve the economy?  What qualifications does she bring? 
An interesting fact to consider is that Facebook only has 6,000 employees.  Are we trying to create workers to work at Facebook where jobs are limited?  Or should we be looking to ways in which we develop the creative people of the future who in turn employ others?
If you are not creative, there is no job for you in today's society.  However all skills have uses - even Lady Gaga can be useful.  Children need to develop an entrepreneurial spirit, to become social activists, to be able to take action.  They do need some "sausage"  -  but with more sauce  -  the creativity.  Our children should not just be consumers of knowledge, but they need to be able to take action, pursue their passion and create.
The graphic above illustrates creativity at age 5 through to age 10.  At age 5, 98% of children entering a sausage factory (school) are creative.  By age 10, the proportion of creative children has dropped to 32%.
Children need these qualities listed in the picture below:  confidence, friends, risk-taking, passion, creativity, alertness to opportunity, global competency, uniqueness and empathy.  But if we squeeze them out of the sausage maker they lose these qualities.
However they can not create without confidence.  When children have low interest/confidence in maths or science you are less likely to develop scientists and mathematicians.  Surprisingly, countries with high test scores usually have students with lower confidence in their abilities; and countries with low test scores then to have students with a higher level of confidence in their abilities.  Below are two graphics used by Prof Zhao to illustrate this research.
We now live in an age of abundance.  We live in the age of consumerism.  Necessity is no longer the mother of invention.  In the age of abundance there is waste.  We spend too much money on convincing people to eat.  Prof Zhao pointed out that research shows that there is an average of 120 varieties of cereals on the average supermarket shelf, that Nutrigrain for example is really only for ironmen competitors but that it is being marketed to you and I, the average "not ironman competitor".  Nutrigrain does not have a lot of nutritional value, it is so processed, and is full of sugar  -  it is not a whole food.  But the more money you pay, the less food you actually get.
This photo shows how through the years the category of employment has changed.  One hundred years ago the largest employer was farming, fishing and forestry, followed by, what was most likely, factory work.  The service and creative industries were small fry.  But the graphic Prof Zhao used shows that farming, fishing and forestry, as advances were made and they became less labour intensive, has had a steady drop off.  Factory work was very consistent until the 1960s and then, possibly again because of technical advances, those jobs have dropped off consistently.  However, service and creative industry positions have continued to rise.  And I guess that is why we now have people like Lady Gaga and Kim Kadashian....
Therefore the future of our children relies on them to have a job in the creative fields.  We need to give children in our education system room to develop their passions and creativity - we need to empower our children to drive their education journey.  The above graphic was used by Prof Zhao to illustrate how learning goes back and forth between these three concepts that a the corner points of effective modern learning.
Professor Zhao has children.  As they have grown he has changed his view on educational success.  And this is his conclusion:  educational success is not living in your parent's basement or attic or garage. 
To protect children's future we can't produce homogenous sausages. We need resilient, independent, creative young adults who can go out into the world and make it their own.
At this point people were able to submit and ask questions to Professor Zhao.  My notes are not a full description of the answers, but my quick interpretation.
How do we help parents see value of creativity?
Teachers are creators of the future society. It's about how we view our minorities.  Teachers set the standards and expectations and provide the structure for learning.
How do we close the sausage factory?
We have to resist national testing and how it is used.  We have to prove the alternative is better.
We are benchmarking to the best of the past by using national testing regimes. We need to be the benchmark of the future. We need to make bacon.
How do we empower teachers?
One of biggest problems for teachers is isolation.  We live in the Google age  -  you don't know something, Google it.  Teachers need to do what technology can't.  Teachers are the reason children Google.  We inspire them.  We teach then the skills to find the answers and to critically review the information, process and shape and present it.  Teachers create discovery opportunities.
How do we start to shift the thinking?
We teachers are also products of the sausage factory.  So we need to recognise it and drive the conversation.  If Lady Gaga is useful, everyone is useful.
Professor Zhao then went on with the following:  Dyslexics have trouble with reading. We treat it as a deficit. But the dyslexic tendencies are great for 3-D art.  Yet we put so much emphasis on being able to read, write and do maths.
Do we need to read?  Prof Zhao asked this question of Hekia Parata when he met her last week - I wonder what she answered.
We live in an age of outsourcing - if you don't know how to read, hire someone to read for you.  Prof Zhao outsourced when he was a child.  He was bullied.  He did not have a brother to defend him.  So in order to have others protect him, outsourcing, he provided a service to those who did protect him - the ability to copy him in tests!!
Prof Zhao created food for thought throughout his presentation.  He brought another angle to the antidote to the GERM infecting our education system.  He validated our New Zealand Curriculum as the tool to empower our young learners and relegated National Standards as a benchmark of the past.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Who will go to these Charter/Partnership Schools? And other questions...

We were told that we would know in July who the successful organisations were that would "win"
the right to start a Charter/Partnership  School/Kura Hourua.  Then we were told it would be in August.  We're close to half way through September and the lucky winners still have not been announced.

But with the timeline being somewhat dragged out and a bit secretive until an official information request was enforced by the Ombudsman, I started considering the following questions:

  • Who will go to these Charter/Partnership Schools?  It seems they are only being opened in Auckland.  We have yet to see which parts of Auckland. 
  • Will they be where the so called "failing" kids are?  
  • What if the kids don't want to go? 
  • Who's going to make them? 
  • What if their parents really don't give a rats that their kid is "failing" or that a Charter School is available to apparently improve their lot?
  • Where are the rights of the parents in all this?
  • Will kids, who were never at risk of failing in the first place, enrol and dominate the schools?
  • How will untrained/unregistered teachers succeed where trained/registered teachers have "failed"?  (Looking forward to the answer to this one!)
  • What are these schools going to teach these kids?
  • What if on day one not one kid enrolled in one of these Charter Schools?  (Wouldn't that be a crack up!!)

So here is a little timeline of links of the last few months that have teased the left and the right wings of the political and educational spectrums:

New charter schools to be announced 'in weeks'  -  TVNZ  -  5 June 2013 8:03am  -  Gee, that was over three months ago and they still aren't announced.  I guess they are still going through that "a thorough and robust evaluation process".
Charter school applicants turned down  -  Radio New Zealand  -  25 July 2013 5:44pm (updated)  -  this was when we found out that  the Destiny Church, Nga Kakano, a private Maori Christian school in the Auckland suburb of Te Atatu, and digital learning company SchoolSims had all been turned down to open a charter school in 2014.  It really would have been political suicide to grant a charter school to Destiny Church, so that one makes sense at least.
Charter schools: Govt negotiates with final four  -  New Zealand Herald  -  31 July 2013 7:03pm  -  the Herald reported that the military prep school, Advance Training Centres Ltd, which John Banks' son attended was one of the schools in negotiation to set up a Charter School.  The other three in negotiations are  C-Me Mentoring Foundation Trust, Rise Up Trust and Villa Education Trust.  Many names were released for those organisations who had at least expressed an interest as well as those which applied because the Ombudsman ordered that these names should be released.
Just who are the NZ charter school hopefuls?  -  Save Our Schools NZ blog  -  31 July 2013  -  A list of the organisations in full.  And then we find out that only five actually applied, and we know for sure that Destiny Church was turned down.
List of organisations interested in charter schools released  -  Newstalk ZB  -  1 August 2013 9:45am  -  comments that the list of interested parties has been released, quotes NZEI president Judith Nowotarski "welcoming the publication of the list - but says it should have been done months ago.  She says New Zealanders and communities should have been able to have some discussion before final decisions were made."  Provides some links to related stories.
First Charter Schools Likely in Auckland Only  -  The Press (Stuff)  -  5 August 2013 5:00am  -  The Press reveal that no Christchurch/Canterbury Charter Schools will open in 2014.  Although two Canterbury organisations expressed interest, neither took it to the application stage.  PPTA president Angela Roberts expressed relief as the implementation of Charter Schools on hurricane devastated New Orleans had been horrendous.  She indicated that putting Charter Schools into damaged Christchurch communities currently would have been political suicide, and I'm guessing that's why Hekia and her friends haven't pushed it there.
Charter School Applicants Lack 'Calibre'  -  Stuff  -  20 August 2013 5:00am  -  and here we strike gold!!  Apparently at a meeting in May the Partnership Schools Authorisation Board said it was disappointed by the standard of applications and "work needed to be done to lift the calibre".  Yet in June Education Minister Hekia Parata was hailing the "impressive" range of charter school applications.  Then on 19 August Hekia defended her comments, saying they were related to the "broad range of applicants, not their calibre".  Yeah.  Right.  Tui anyone?  Just love how this one has played out.
Charter Schools To Be Unveiled  -  Stuff  -  9 September 2013 5:00am  -  the opening line says that details about the opening of controversial charter schools will be announced by the end of this month.  Well excuse me, I won't be holding my breath. 

Apparently since those organisations, who expressed interest in starting a Charter School and/or applied, have received so called threatening letters from teacher unions stating that they were undermining state schools by making their applications.  Now I have not been able to find a credible news source to confirm this, only two blog sites, one being an oily one, and since these blog sites tend to lean to the right I'm inclined to think it is scare mongering.  It wouldn't surprise me if one of the unions has written to the applicants to argue their case.  But that is quite normal and healthy in a democracy to encourage free speech, exchange of views and to engage in a debate with those on the opposite end of the spectrum (hence we blog).

And reflecting on the four organisations that are currently in negotiations with the MOE to open their Charter Schools in 2014:
Advance Training Centres Ltd  -  a military prep school  -  John Banks' son went there... ok, I'm picking right wing and staunch.  Some kids might respond well, but the hard core will give these guys the finger and be out the door before lunch time.
C-Me Mentoring Foundation Trust  -  these guys seem to have built up a good thing with young people leaving school.  That's great.  But there are many schools already doing a similar thing through Gateway programmes, and the Otorohanga District Council has a successful programme that gets alongside young people before they leave school and helps focus them on their training and employment goals (after achieving zero youth unemployment in Otorohanga, the government took away their funding for being too successful).
Rise Up Trust  -  started after the death of the founder's cousin during a turbulent time in Otara, this trust aims to improve outcomes for Maori and Pasifica youth in education and their parents in their role as parents.  This has included a home schooling initiative set up in 2006 and they are still doing great things in their community.  But I'm sure that these successes are because there are young people participating with family support behind them as well as the trust.
Villa Education Trust  -  have read a bit about this organisation already they do have a great model set up that is working for their students.  However, I suspect their existing students come from homes with great parental/family support (even if they are not financially buoyant) and this will contrast starkly with the kids the MOE and Hekia and John Banks talk about with they talk about Charter Schools.

And for those of you who do not know much about the history or the debate of Charter Schools click here to go to the "Research on Charter Schools QPEC Inc".

To be frank, I consider that the whole process has lacked robustness, clarity and purpose.  I declare that Charter Schools so far have not met the standard, and I'll be surprised if they do met the standard of our existing quality public education system at all.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Hekia is reviewing the decile system... ohhh oh.

So Hekia is reviewing the decile system.  We all know it is clumsy as a form of funding and that it is also not an accurate reflection on individual schools at times, but how should funding be allocated to schools?  How was it done pre 1995 (anyone remember)?  Was the system better then, or better with the decile rating?

This announcement on Sunday will cause a flurry of concern.

School decile ratings could be scrapped by Education Minister Hekia Parata, who says they are sometimes used "to explain or excuse everything".

Deciles represent the average number of socially and economically disadvantaged students at a school, with decile 1 being the most disadvantaged and decile 10 the least. Low-decile schools receive more government funding.

Parata said the ratings, introduced in 1995, were well intentioned, but also "really clumsy". She has asked the ministry to explore new options for funding because, at present, deciles did not account for differentiation within schools.

"There are some significantly disadvantaged kids and families in deciles seven, eight, nine and 10 schools, but overall the average masks that," she said.

"Deciles one, two and three are where the economic disadvantage is used to explain or excuse everything."

The ministry is expected to report back in the next couple of months. (Stuff, 8/8/13)

Comments on forums are already flowing in from concerned teachers, principals and parents.  One teacher has the following to say:

Sadly this has little or nothing to do about improving the funding system, this is simply a cost cutting measure.  Education has been identified as a area which needs major trimmings, so Hekia would have been told by cabinet to find areas   Looking more carefully at the issue is the governments focus on reviewing the governance of schools   I would suggest at times the government's senior ministers have not been impressed how schools - including BOT's - have stood up to current policy.

Concerns are mounting that the changes will be at the expense of children, vulnerable children in particular.

One wonders how they will decide the new model will work and who will make the decisions about allocating the funding.

Consider this idea:  with PaCT (Progress and Consistency Tool to "help" teachers make "better OTJs" about childrens' National Standards levels) the MOE will be able to access the data of each class who uses it, trace each child, trace each teacher.  It is proposed that local bodies (city and district councils) will also have access (and who knows who else!).

The idea that PaCT information will be available to councils and the review of the decile funding system and the rumours around the future of BOTs makes me wonder if this government is looking to put councils in charge of education for their localities. 

This is what happens in countries like the UK and the USA.  Now consider the wider implications of this:  many schools have been shut by American city leaders in poor "underachieving" neighbourhoods; many English schools that are seen as failing have been closed by Mr Gove, the British Secretary of Education, or local councils.  So what happens then?  American and British councils have devolved local schooling to charter schools and academies.  Charter schools and academies are seen by the right in politics to be an effective way to control the burgeoning education budget, bring in free market philosophies to education and abdicate responsibility for social spending to the private/business sector.

So what is the background to decile funding?  According to a definition from WikipediaSocio-economic decile (also known as Socio-economic decile band or simply decile) is a widely used measure of socioeconomic status in New Zealand education, primarily used to target funding and support to more needy schools.

A school's socio-economic decile is recalculated every five years, after each Census of Population and Dwellings using data collected during the census. Current deciles came into force in 2008 following the 2006 census.

Before the deciles are calculated, Statistics New Zealand calculates the following factors in each individual meshblock (the smallest census unit, consisting of about 50 households each), disregarding any household in the meshblock that does not have school-aged children:[1]
  • Household income: the proportion of households whose total income, adjusted for householder composition, is in the bottom 20 percent nationally.
  • Occupation: the proportion of employed parents who work in low skilled or unskilled occupations, specifically those that are skill levels 4 and 5 on the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO)
  • Household crowding: the proportion of households in which the number of householders exceeds the number of bedrooms, adjusting for couples and children under 10.
  • Educational qualifications: the proportion of parents who have no formal qualifications.
  • Income support: the proportion of parents who receive the Domestic Purposes Benefit, Unemployment Benefit, Sickness Benefit or Invalid's Benefit.
So why do some schools, communities, parents, teachers and principals and the Minister of Education have issues with the current funding through decile ratings for schools?

First let's start with Hekia's point of view.  She sees (because Bill and Steven told her so) that the education budget is huge and needs some trimming and the best place to do that (apart from cutting the cost of salaries for teachers) is to severely trim the money that goes into the Operations Grants for schools.... and so getting rid of deciles and funding schools the same across the board would fix her little financial dilemma.

Also, decile ratings of schools are a blatant acknowledgement of how poor some communities are and that poverty is alive and raging in New Zealand, child poverty in particular.  If one was to get rid of the decile ratings for schools, one wouldn't have to acknowledge that poverty exists in certain communities.  Therefore poverty and low decile ratings can be eliminated (cough, cough, choke, choke) as an excuse for schools not meeting the standards and teachers can truly be blamed as awful.

Communities and parents don't want to be seen as living in a poor neighbourhood, with their child attending a school that only has poor people, most likely brown people (low decile schools tend to have a higher proportion of Maori and Pasifica students than high decile schools) and who don't meet the standards.  These things colour how a school is seen by its community, alas.

Schools, teachers and principals have a variety of concerns and things to value due to decile ratings. 

If you have a high decile school, your school is seen as desirable, more likely to meet the standards, have a better class of children (darling, another latte!!), have better teachers, have better facilities.  The reality of a high decile school is that it is so popular it has larger class sizes and often not enough classes to fit all the children in physically and teachablely; they tend to have less access to ICT equipment unless the school has a BYOD policy and capacity in place; swimming pools and other facilities are unlikely to meet the demands of the size of the school; the kids do better because they tend to come from warm homes, with full bellies, appropriate clothing and footware, access to good health support and if they need help with their learning their parents are very likely to be able to afford to pay for it; parents are usually very financially supportive and do well with fundraisers for the school.  Higher decile schools also get the opportunity to have BOT members that may have greater financial literacy and influence in fundraising.  The big kicker from decile ratings though is the higher the decile the less funding your school gets.

If you have a low decile school, your school is not seen as desirable. 

The decile system has come in for criticism from teacher and principal associations in recent years for fomenting destructive competition between schools and the exacerbation of white flight. Data from the Ministry of Education indicated that 60,000 Pakeha/NZ European students attended low-decile schools in 2000, but that number had halved by 2010, while high-decile schools had a corresponding increase in Pakeha students.  The Ministry claimed demographic changes were behind the shifts, but the Secondary Principals Association and PPTA have attributed white flight to racial and class stigmas of low-decile schools, which commonly have majority Maori and Pacific Islander rolls.

So consequently white flight from low decile schools has occurred, and a significant number of Maori and Pacific families, with the means, have also enabled their children to attend schools with higher deciles.

And while the lower the decile you are, the more funding you get in your operation the less benefit you will get from fundraising.  Children are less likely to have access to ICT and internet at home, so the school needs to provide it (making the school a target for burglaries), are more likely to have poverty issues (hence lower decile schools have food in schools programmes, social workers, more likely to have the public health nurse involved....), are more likely to live in an overcrowded home, are more likely to have parents that work in low income jobs (often more that one job) and have limited time to spend with their families.  Lower decile schools often struggle to get people with the skills and experience to serve on their BOTs.

But those schools in the middle of the deciles have issues too that vary.  Mercury Bay Area School, the largest area school in New Zealand, serves a community that has a wide range of families in their community:  farmers, fish factory workers, service and food workers, orchardists, hippies..... however their decile rating is influenced by the people who do not live in the district or send children to the school.  How?  MBAS is situated in Whitianga on the Coromandel.  This town is the home of many holiday homes and baches, some of these houses well into the million dollar mark or more.  Absentee holiday home owners have influenced the decile of the school as well as the rates being charged by the Thames Coromandel District Council.  A couple of years ago, in an attempt to have their decile rating put at a more realistic rate to the families the school serves, MBAS embarked on a massive survey of families to present a truer picture of their school community to the MOE.

MBAS is not alone in this quandary.  Many rural primary schools are also affected by who their neighbours are.  Farm owners, who may not necessarily have children at the school anymore if they did, influence the decile of the school by simply owning the farms in the district.

What is the funding difference between deciles currently?

Decile ratings account for about 13 per cent of all operational funding. The decile funding examples below are based on a secondary school with a roll of 1000.  Does anyone know how it works for primary/intermediate schools?  Is it different?

Decile 1: $979,884.69 of decile-based funding
Decile 2: $699,354.69
Decile 3: $435,034.69
Decile 4: $266,984.69
Decile 8: $107,354.69
Decile 9: $85,324.69
Decile 10: $52,734.69
As you can see, a decile 10 school gets considerably less than a decile 1 school.  There are considerable reasons why.

If you would like to see a more detailed break down of how the Operations Grant is worked out in 2013, click here to go to the MOE page that lays it all out.

So what may be ahead for school funding?

Hekia's officials may report back that the current system is the fairest system and it just needs a tweak or two.  But don't hold your breath.  I won't be.

Another possibility that has just been floated today is that the new Secretary for Education, Peter Hughes, is in the midst of preparing a proposal for bulk funding of primary school....  Yes, back to the 1990s.  When will the Nats realise that model didn't work then and won't work now.

So here is my prediction:  I think that after the review is done, Hekia will recommend that all schools be funded the same, possibly at the rate for a decile 5 or 6 school, with say a 3% increase to make her look generous.  At this rate it looks good for parents in previously decile 10 schools in the blue belt of National voting territory... but in the formerly known low decile communities... well, does National really care about them?

My next prediction is that this will be rushed through without due consideration to actual facts and the people it will affect.  The decision will be made (by Hekia) with her personal opinions, bias and gut feeling driving it, along with the fact that Bill and Steven told her to do it.  How do I know this?  Sir Peter Gluckman, the Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor, has just released a report where he summarised: "Government policy-makers are using gut instincts instead of hard evidence to make decisions that influence New Zealanders' lives, the prime minister's chief science adviser warns."  (Dominion Post, 9/9/13).

I can not pronounce that Hekia has failed the standard on this yet, however, I predict she will.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Leadership... a tale of two leaders: Helen Clark & David Shearer

Being a leader is not something everyone is born too.  Sometimes people have natural leadership ability by nature.  Others are nurtured into the role as people around them see their potential.  Some try bloody hard to be a leader, but are dismal.  Some are thrust into the role unexpectedly due to turns of events and are surprised by what they can achieve.

On Thursday evening I attended the Inaugural Dr Rufus Rogers Lecture, at the University of Waikato, that featured Rt. Hon Helen Clark, the former Prime Minister of New Zealand (1999-2008) and current United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) head (since 2009).

I have to say that at the beginning of the night that the ladies and I that I attended with were like a bunch of groupies buying the book, getting Helen's autograph and attempting to get the perfect photo.  Helen, if you're ever reading this, my apologies!

But in our defence, Helen is truly a leader we admire.  The first elected female Prime Minister of New Zealand (remember that though Jenny Shipley was the first female PM, she was not elected in the role, but pushed Jim Bolger out of his) despite rocky times in her six years as the leader of Labour as the leader of the opposition, she held on for grim death; she was a solid Prime Minister during her time in the office; and she is genuinely interested in people and engages with them at the most interesting levels.

This I know personally.  The first time I met Helen was in a lift of a hotel in Wellington in the holidays prior to the 1999 election.  The NZEI president had instructed us not to be late back from lunch as Helen Clark and Trevor Mallard were arriving as our guests straight away.  I was born late, and have been late ever since, so it was kind of inevitable that I would be that day, and that I would share a lift with Helen and Trevor.  To make matters worse, I name dropped Helen's sister Sandra, as I worked with her in my first year as a beginning teacher.  Helen was extremely gracious.

The next time I met Helen was during our school camp in 2004.  We were booked to do the education visit at Martha Mine as part of our camp.  We had no idea that the Prime Minister that day was also visiting, along with Basil Morrison (then mayor of  the Hauraki district) and Helen's parents (among others).  The children and their parents were very excited when Helen and her entourage came into the education centre.  It was a big surprise.  Helen went around the room and talked to the children about what they were doing, signed autographs, and agreed to one girl's request for a photograph together.  It turned out, after all the fun things we had done, to be the highlight of the camp for many of the children.

Recently there was a two part documentary about Helen Clark screened on TV3 as part of their Inside New Zealand season.  It talked about the struggles she had in the initial years with low polling for both Helen and the Labour party, but it explained how she held onto the leadership (by releasing her "inner farmgirl") and built the party back up to almost winning the 1996 election, and more so to win in 1999 (by forming a coalition).  Essentially, after surviving a coup from some of her closest friends in Labour, she put most of them in front bench roles, and kept them very busy and very close.

Tonight Helen discussed how she got the role of head of the UNDP, what the role entails and the challenges of the role.  A friend in London had suggested that she apply.  Helen scoffed at first, not believing that she had the required experience... but her friend then pointed out all the skills she had used as the Prime Minister and how those were similar skills to the job available.

Inequality has increased significantly in the last thirty years, and Helen commented that it is a huge issue in addressing poverty and environmental issues.  If you do not address inequality, you can not minimise or eliminate poverty.  The UN had developed the Millennium goals in 2000, one of which was to halve poverty.  This goal has been achieved, but Helen pointed out that was fine if you were in the half that had risen out of poverty, not so if you were in the halve still in poverty.

Unstable nations that have difficulties in maintaining stable government or exist in Helen Clark's agenda.  She made comments on the situation in the Central African Republic (which I had to google as I wasn't sure where it was - it's between Cameroon and South Sudan), Mali, Egypt and Syria.  She talked about the impact of climate change with the increase of extreme weather events, the impact of natural disasters and how as an international community we help with this.

And this is where Helen believes that resilience is a vital value and trait for people to have.  She said that it starts with having strong families and consequently strong communities.  Helen credited her loving parents and family for her values and community involvement, and that helped shape what she has achieved.

Helen set the standard for being the leader of the Labour party.

Thursday was also the day that David Shearer announced his resignation as the leader of the Labour party.  He had been in the job since December 2011 after being elected by the Labour caucus of MPs.

David Shearer came into parliament by winning the by-election for the Mt Albert seat vacated by Helen Clark when she took up her new role with the UN.  Shearer had been working with the UN for the previous twenty years give or take.  Shearer had been "working for the UN, managing the provision of aid to countries including Somalia, Rwanda, Liberia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Iraq."  (Wikipedia)

Shearer came into the leadership as a "clean skin" so to speak.  He was not tainted with the Rogernomics era of Labour or known for being part of the Clark era.  Due to his background of working in some of the most challenging hotspots in the world, it was hoped that he would bring strong leadership and challenge John Key in the leadership stakes.

What followed was one step forward, two steps back.  Shearer would make a speech or policy announcement that would be greeted favourably (one step forward), but then not follow up, muff a sound bite for the news, be ineffective in the house (two steps backward).  The polls went up and down each time for Labour, but were never convincing, and Shearer's personal polling as preferred prime minister was always dismal.

Rumours abounded frequently about how stable his leadership was, who was about to challenge him and that he was on notice from senior MPs.  Before the annual conference in 2012 the rumour mill was in overdrive that David Cunliffe (who lost out to Shearer in December 2011) would be challenging Shearer for the leadership.  He denied it and pledged his allegiance to Shearer, only to be outted for how far his challenge had proceeded, be lambasted by Shearer and fellow colleagues, and then be relegated to the back benches by Shearer.

However decisive this move by Shearer appeared, his position still did not look solid.  He did not seem to have that "inner farmgirl" to unleash and bring the party in behind him in a united fashion.  In fact the party appeared to have no unity.  Last month when Duncan Garner tweeted that a colleague of his had a letter from an anonymous party source claiming Shearer was on notice was big news.  Everybody across the political spectrum had something to say, including Shearer who told reporters to "read my lips" and "I will be the Labour leader in 2014".  The letter did not materialise and Garner was rubbished as scare mongering and criticised for leaving a colleague hanging.

Yet a month later, it appears that a delegation of senior MPs visited Shearer and let him know that things were not good at all, and please do the decent thing.  Consequently we had Shearer's resignation.  He did it with dignity and it demonstrated that he has humility.

"I have been privileged to lead the Labour team for the past 20 months and I'm proud of the gains we have made in that time.
"But we need to do more. So the time has come for me to hand over to a new leader who can take Labour through to 2014.
"There was no letter, there was no ultimatum, there was no vote. But from the soundings I've taken from colleagues I realise I no longer enjoy the confidence of a number of my caucus colleagues,'' Mr Shearer said.
"After spending the last 20 years of my life leading humanitarian and reconstruction projects overseas, I came home to New Zealand because I'm passionate about this country.
"We have a history to be proud of, but I believe our best years lie in front of us. But to really take this country forward, we need a change of government. We need a progressive government with fresh ideas.''  (NZ Herald 22/8/13)

What followed were wonderful endorsements of his character and humility from across the house, more so from his own MPs who were not united behind him after all.  The compliments about Shearer being a great guy with humility and compassion and a hard worker are all true.  However,  Te Ururoa Flavell of the Maori Party said it aptly when he said it was probably inevitable.  And Hone Harawira (Mana) said he always found Mr Shearer to be "very very friendly and very open''... "I think that was probably his downfall - nice guys don't last long in this game.''

Unfortunately, David Shearer has failed to meet the standard

Now Labour is about to vote in a new leader, using a new system.  The caucus will make up 40% of the votes, party members 40% of the vote and affiliated unions will make up the remaining 20% of the vote.

As I write this, Grant Robertson has put his hat in the ring, as has Shane Jones (according to Twitter), and it is highly expected that David Cunliffe will do the same.  They have until Monday 26 August 10:00pm to put their names forward for contention.  It will be mid September before we have a result.

Grant Robertson is the current deputy leader and has be accused, by John Key, as undermining Shearer throughout their tenure as the leadership team.  Robertson has been the MP for Central Wellington since the 2008 election.  He has worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the New Zealand Overseas Aid Programme.  He then became an advisor to the Labour government from the early 2000s.  Robertson has seemed a very solid party man in his time in the house.

Shane Jones is a list MP for Labour who has been in parliament since 2005 and was the Minister for Building and Construction from October 2007 till the 2008 election.  He has had a couple of controversies, but is considered to be an articulate and knowledgeable MP.

David Cunliffe is the MP for New Lynn and has been in parliament since 1999 and was the Minister of Communications and Information Technology from 2002-2008 and Health Minister from October 2007-2008.  Since December 2011 he has been considered at possible leader, but has also been a divisive figure in the party, with some colleagues apparently starting a club called The ABC Club (Anyone But Cunliffe).  Since his demotion to the back benches in November 2012 he has been seen to be playing the party line.

While Andrew Little (list MP since 2011) and Jacinda Adern (list MP since 2008) have said they won't be entering the leadership race despite a poll showing that they were on the radar of the voting public as a potential Labour leader.  Whether or not they consider themselves too young in parliament experience or life in general, it is probably a wise move at this point.

All the people above have excellent education and credentials.  They all make great politicians and have leadership qualities, but the question is, "Who has the X-Factor?"

Whoever does have the X-Factor to win the race to being the Labour leader will need to have and do the following in my opinion:
  • unite the party - Labour doesn't need to be squabbling amongst themselves for the next year; we need them to show that they can beat John Key and National at their own game.
  • be able to do a sound bite with confidence for the 6 o'clock news - it's all about looks in this game.
  • be a good debater in the house - put John Key, Steven Joyce, Judith Collins and the rest back in their box please!!
  • keep your friends close and your enemies closer - keep your enemies very busy in key jobs so they don't have time to mischief make.  It worked for Helen Clark, and maybe that's why Steven Joyce has so many ministerial responsibilities (just throwing that out there in case JK and Joyce aren't as close as everyone says).
  • keep close tabs on what everyone is doing - Helen did, that way she minimised surprises and everyone kept on top of things.
  • put out good policy (especially dumping National Standards and getting rid of Charter Schools) and back it throughout the party - you need to show that you can be the next government.
  • connect to the New Zealand public at many levels - get out there and meet the people and be involved in as many events as possible.  Shearer did do this, but it has to also mesh with how people see you on the tv fronting issues.
  • everytime National does something dumb, use it - honestly, National has had some right regular stuff ups in the last year, but no hay has been made while the sun shines for Labour when these stuff ups happen.  You should be all over those stuff ups like shit on a blanket (to be blunt).
  • watch that doco about Helen and learn from her example of how to stick to it, unite the party, and get the public onside.  Pay particular attention to the part about when there was almost a coup against her before the 1999 election.
  • meet the standard of being a leader - we need you to do your job because this is a democracy.

Monday, 12 August 2013

First Home Buyers are the Political Football.

I think almost everyone can agree that New Zealand has a housing crisis.  In Auckland housing affordability and supply is an issue.  In Christchurch supply is in hot demand, and this also affects affordability.  But for many first home buyers it is being able to get onto the home ownership bandwagon that is difficult.  The above barriers are part of the problem, and saving for a deposit is the third barrier.
I am a first home buyer. I've been looking properly since January in a rural Waikato town.  The limit, if you are accessing KiwiSaver funds and Housing New Zealand's as part of your deposit, is a house costing $300,000 in the Waikato outside of Hamilton city.
I admit I am picky.  I want at least a 700m2+ section so I can have a vege garden and fruit trees (sustainability and knowing where your food comes from springs to mind).  I want a house at least 120m2 (I hate small spaces and I'm thinking to the future).  I want a house with indoor/outdoor flow (or at least the potential).  I want a kitchen with generous bench space, a good oven (preferably with fanbake) and a dishwasher space (I have my own). I want a wicked shower (long hair needs good pressure).  I want a safe place for my cats, free of mean dogs and vehicles that will squash them.
If I'm going to spend in the high $200s I don't want there to be things that still need doing that cost lots.  If it's going to be in the low $200s it has to have location and great bones.  I want a house with the X factor. Hardiplank properties need not apply.
I don't want much (ha ha), but I do want a house I'll love living in, because once I have mortgage, I won't have a life, so I'd better like like hanging out at home!  But finding the right house at the right price - that is the challenge!!
It concerns me greatly that my pre-approved mortgage term is rapidly coming to an end.  It worries me that I haven't found a house and that the Reserve Bank is beating its chest repeatedly over an over inflated housing market.  The Reserve Bank wants banks to cut back on lending to people like me who do not have a 20% deposit.
On Sunday John Key announced National's new housing policy.  It comes into action on 1 October.  In some cities and regions they have upped the top cost of a house for those buying using their KiwiSaver and HNZ subsidy.  But not in the Waikato (outside of Hamilton).
They expect you to have a 10% deposit.  For a $300,000 house that means I'd need a $30,000 deposit.  I'll be at least $7,000 short currently. 
The newspapers claim that Auckland is the big winner out of National's latest housing policy.
But I feel for those purchasing in the Auckland market.  While it is great news that they are pushing the house cost up from $400,000 to $485,000 for Auckland first timers, the government (typically) has moved the deposit goal posts, because an Aucklander will need $48,500 at least for their deposit.
Labour of course have said that the government has come up short with its tweaking without addressing the drivers of the housing problem.  The Greens are calling the policy "poly filler".  Even first home buyers are saying that they doubt the changes John Key is bringing in will make any difference to the situation.
There are some good reasons for that.
Currently Auckland needs 30,000 new homes built each year to keep up with the population that requires housing in Auckland.  However, only 4,000 houses annually are currently being built.  That's well short of what is required.
In Australia they give each new first home buyer (on application according to criteria like here) $7,000 to put towards paying for their new home.  In some states they offer an additional $4,000-$8,000 if it is a new build.
Is anyone actively encouraging new builds in New Zealand?
It is a bit hard with developers land banking and councils dragging the chain on consents for new housing developments (which National has announced changes to combat this).
Then there are the supposed overseas buyers coming in and buying up our housing stock to rent out, or the property "mum and dad" investors that have been encouraged to build up their "housing portfolio" who snap up house after house.
We have a shortage of state houses.  Once upon a time a state house was usually accessible for the average family.  Not now.  It is well documented in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch (especially since the earthquake) the number of families double bunking with other families, living in garages or living in one room at a boarding house due to the high cost of market rents and availability of rental accommodation. 
Recently David Shearer and several Labour colleagues did a tour of empty state houses in the wider Wellington city region.  There has been a 40% increase in vacant state houses since the beginning of the year.  Yes some are damaged, some don't meet the earthquake code... but maybe these should be a priority to be fixed.  It seems that Housing New Zealand and the government are dragging the chain on ensuring there is sufficient housing for those in need of it.
National's Amy Adams announced as part of the budget an injection into social housing of $16.4 million.  However when we have councils selling their social housing stock it negates any gains and causes bigger problems.
I think what we have here is a lot of chest puffing over how to solve the housing problems we have in New Zealand, but no one has hit on the silver bullet. 

But as a first time buyer, what I would like to see is that we are treated fairly and not as the political football we are currently.  But right now it is just a cloud dream for too many of us first time buyers.