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.

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