You really have to wonder what’s going on. Here we are, 90 days out from an election and Labour at last releases some of its education policy. It’s a grab bag of unusual ideas at this stage – a copy-cat, a bribe to be good and a return to the scene of the accident.
The Manaiakalani copy of the digital device for all students in Years 5 – 13 is the best of the policies they have announced to this point. But the real challenge is not to see if the idea will work – they have shown that it will in Tamaki. It is not to see if parents and caregivers will stump up – they do in Tamaki. It is not to see if it has a beneficial impact on achievement – it seems to be worthwhile in Tamaki. The real challenge is to see if an idea that works well within a defined project can actually be scaled up to be the normal way of working across the whole country.
There is no need for them to take this risk. The middle classes, the employed and medium and high earning parents are already giving these advantages to students. Many schools in middle and high decile areas are already asking students to bring devices to school. Again, and this is something of a repeated pattern for Labour, the policy is very poorly targeted. In seeking but not being seen to do something for its bedrock support it sprays the resource across everyone at wide groups of students both vertically (5-13) and horizontally (all schools) and while everyone is slightly better off, the key groups to whom priority should be given remain at a relative disadvantage.
Have they forgotten their classically un-targeted approach taken with the 20 hours free pre-school resource?
Then we have the “We’ll-Pay-You-To-Stop-Acting-Illegally-But-It-Is-OK-For-the-Rich-To-Carry-On-with-Gay-Abandon” Policy related to school donations. Schools that are Decile 1 – 8 will receive $100 per student if they agree to not ask for school donations. Yes, it will help low decile schools, no doubt about it, but remember that they are generally smaller than higher decile schools. And don’t forget that the $100 a student payment will be made to Decile 1 – Decile 7 schools. That is another “spray and walk away” approach to policy. the differences between Decile 1 and Decile 7 are huge, the differences between Decile 7 and Decile 8 are negligible.
The fact remains – demanding school donations is not allowed in neither law nor regulation. But Labour has said in almost conciliatory tones that it will not ask Decile 8 – 10 schools to take part in the scheme. Why would a Decile 10 school of 2,000 students forgo $1.8m in order to show solidarity with the low decile community? And why would a political party dare to take them on as a matter of principle?
I celebrate the extra cash that low deciles schools will get but this approach to deal with a reprehensible practice does not bring credit to those promoting it. Let’s have the financing of a few beers for those who don’t drink and drive, petrol vouchers for those who agree not to flee from the police when asked to stop, Countdown cards for those who agree not to shop lift.
This is bizarre!!!
Then we have the “Lower the Teacher/Student Ratio” policy. It is almost a case of “Let’s-have-a-policy-that-denies-the-evidence” approach. The evidence is overwhelming – lowering the student/teacher ratio will have a low impact, if any, on student achievement. New Zealand’s pre-eminent researcher John Hattie has provided plenty of evidence that the effect size of lowering teacher / student ratios, especially the negligible -2 students impact of the policy will be not worth the effort. The scuffle with Minister Parata on the question of a couple of years ago saw the system lose some real potential gains (but not in the intermediate schools) and so we have the teacher union and principal associations appeasing policy back on the list.
And how much will this cost? Surprise surprise! About the same as the Government’s “Investing in Educational Success” policy will cost! Actually a key factor that will improve student achievement is the use of our most talented teachers and principals in spreading best practice. Is that not what Labour wants?
Elections are always fraught. Perhaps the issue is whether they are fought or taught!