Education Minister picking a fight through the media.

Warning shots have been fired across the bows as Education Minister Hekia Parata talks freely about nothing concrete as reported in the Herald:

Typical Union flashpoint 1. Capping teacher numbers thereby increasing classroom numbers:

“Ms Parata said the Government had continued to invest in the quantity of teachers over the last decade but student achievement had not risen in that time.”

The Government had continued to invest in the quantity of teachers mostly because of the GrandBaby Boomer bubble. There has been a minor baby boom from 2006 through to 2011. The number of births has now dropped off and New Zealand’s population is in terminal decline due to an aging population and an increase in net outward immigration. In this respect it makes sense not to budget for an increase in teachers in 2016 onwards.

Typical Union flashpoint 2. Performance pay:

Parata uses the above “increase in numbers”, non-argument to justify looking at performance pay for teachers:

“That tells us we have to have better quality teaching and better quality professional leadership to get the best possible learning for our young people.”

The government has very cleverly fudged the issue of performance pay with nebulous references to a two year “work programme”, which then takes us past the next election. Parata can now stir the nest of vipers and promise much but deliver little.
Political warfare tactic 101 dictates that you identify an “enemy of success”, (the under-performing teacher) and then you proffer the “solution” to the perceived problem. My concern is with the use of Standards to supposedly identify teaching excellence. With the Standards approach in place you inevitably get this:

This is two weeks worth of homework at my son’s elementary school. He has only recently turned 8. It is a volume of work more appropriate to a Middle School (Intermediate) student. It is pages and pages of worksheets that my son could do blindfolded and upside-down as long as his iPad was surgically removed from his hands.
This is known “Teaching to the Test”. Nothing new is taught to the majority of the class as there is a continual focus on getting the whole class to meet a certain arbitrary level of fitness as measured by ongoing “tests”.
The teacher has a certain quota of worksheets to be filled by each student to meet her performance target so she throws more and more mindless worksheets at the kids. We parents get a gee-up if her performing seals aren’t making the grade. We received this email tonight:

Hi Parents,
I know that it is the end of the year and that the children have been
focusing on their biography reports, but the scores in our timed tests have taken a dramatic decline.
Practicing addition and subtraction facts need to be done nightly, even if its only for 5 min or less.  I know this is a part of homework that gets pushed aside, but it is very important.
Practicing math fact fluency keeps children sharp over the summer and they¬†should continue to practice daily…trust me if will help they start 3rd¬†grade out ahead of the game.
Thanks so much!

1. Never trust a teacher that finishes an email so perkily Рthe claws are inevitably sheathed. 
And any immediate reaction to this email is that any teacher that expects me to focus on formal education through the summer holidays is out of luck.The chances of that happening are either slim, or fuck all.  
Over summer, the kids and I will be focused on actual learning via the outdoors. This is more the Kiwi approach we have taken with us to America. It would be a shame to see this lost from New Zealand classrooms ¬†as many a Kiwi student has been inspired by “unusual lessons”.¬†
My son in recently talking about his old Kiwi teacher in new Zealand, “Miss T taught us that if you stand on one nail it hurts, but if you sit on a bed of nails your force is evenly spread and it doesn’t hurt at all”.¬†
She was a wonderful teacher, here she bought in the concept of force and engendered discussion about basic science concepts, giving the kid’s literacy and maths skills a workout.
To be fair, my son’s American teacher is also giving them material he comes home passionate about but I suspect they are being talked at and bought to task far too often.¬†
One valid point ¬†from Parata’s speech is the need for the delivery of better pay for good teachers without them having to take on a management workload which has the counterproductive effect of taking effective teachers out of the classroom:

“From that a career progression pathway would be developed to allow excellent teachers to stay in classrooms.”
Expect a strong reaction from the Unions.  

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