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Tag: post secondary education

There’s more than one way to reach the stars!

Rather than let off a few sky rockets on yet another silly day we remember, hard on the heels of that even sillier day called Halloween, I thought I would throw a few ideas up in the air as we head towards the end of the year. These are called game-changers. They would lift educational performance in New Zealand. We have known most of these for a long time but other things get in the way. On Thursday I will give a complementary list of show-stoppers.

Principals of secondary schools are welcome to use these lists as they put the final touches to their prize-giving addresses.

The “Game Changers” List

1. Access to early childhood education

It astounds me that in this rich country we still have uneven distribution of opportunity for early childhood education. I do not need to repeat the evidence, it is over whelming. And the lack of equity in the area is hidden by two factors – quirky gatherings of information about actual participation (likely to be lower than reported) and the evening out of statistics into regional and national figures.

A stark statistic: In the Tamaki suburb in Auckland there are 7,000 youngsters under the age of five and there are 2,000early childhood education places.

A quick but excellent fix: In areas of low participation, add an early childhood facility to each primary school – same Board, same management, shared outdoor facilities, great savings. Best of all, it would be goodbye to the entangling bureaucracy that surrounds the development of conventional centres.

2 Greater attention to basic skills in primary schools

I might be naïve but it is bizarre that in the country that led the world not only in reading performance but also in the teaching of reading that so many children fail to reach a safe standard in the eight years of primary schooling. The same can be said of mathematics (sometimes called numeracy). Add to the list the development of knowledge, social skills, preparedness for further education, and exposure to arts and practical skills all in a context of new technologies and you would have not only an interesting programme but one which didn’t place so many students on a trajectory of failure.

A stark fact: Students show a decline in learning in key areas between Year 4 and Year 8.

A quick but excellent fix: Demand that primary schools do less but that they do it to higher standards. The foundation skills are taught in primary schools. Isn’t it ironic that the term “foundation skills” has been transferred to the first several years of post-secondary education and training for those who have failed to accrue such skills and this is clearly too late.

3. See a clear distinction between junior and senior secondary schools.

Education systems that we admire and would wish to emulate invariably have a clear distinction between what is in New Zealand Year 10 and Year 11. The first two years of high school are years of finishing off the processes started in primary school and the preparation for discipline focussed study that is in a context of future employment. Years 11 and 13 in these overseas systems are clearly differentiated with the availability of clear vocational technical opportunities emerging to complement the university track (which is working well in New Zealand). In other words, young students have choices about their futures.

Another shared feature is that at that age students are credited with much greater maturity but also supported to a much greater degree. The style and organisation of schooling is more akin to a tertiary institution than to the primary schools from which the secondary schools evolved.

A stark statistic: By age 16 years 21% of 16 year olds have dropped out of New Zealand schooling system.

A quick but excellent fix:  Sorry folks, but there isn’t one. This area is where the most comprehensive reforms are needed. Put simply, apart from the track to university, the New Zealand senior secondary school is broken. That style of education no longer suits too many of our young people. Don’t despair – we share this with our sibling systems in Australia, the United States, the UK and most of Canada. WE need to look elsewhere for evidence of what works and then craft our own responses for our particular circumstances.

4 Cement the output of graduates from tertiary education to employment.

There needs to be a clear line of sight between tertiary programmes and employment. I know that the universities resist any such notion – I have been told by those who know that such a connection is not helpful – “We do not train people, we educate them.” Just think of it, all those untrained doctors, ophthalmologists, engineers, lawyers – what rubbish such a claim is.  And in light of the unrelenting marketing of universities as the place to secure a future, to get high earning powered positions it is simply not sense.

Tertiary education is expensive both for the taxpayer and for the students who are the sons and daughters of taxpayers. They have a right to know that their investment in education at a tertiary level be it at a university, an ITP, a PTE a Wananga or wherever will lead to a job. If a degree in business has prepared you to look after the valet parking desk at the airport (as was a case I came across recently) then it can only be concluded that the programme offered little in the way of access.

A stark statistic:  About one half of those who start a post-secondary qualification actually complete it.

A quick but excellent fix:  it seems as if we are drifting towards a situation where tertiary providers are to be held accountable for the progress into employment of their graduates. If this were applied to all levels and types of tertiary education it might well be a good thing. Of course it would have to be first accepted that a key purpose of post-secondary education and training is to get the appropriate job. This might also require a better connection between demand and supply in the labour market. Consideration of these a matters need to be sped up.

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Pathways-ED: Bridging the Divides with Pathways



Over the past two days 260 educators have been meeting in Auckland at the third National Conference on Pathways and Transitions – Bridging the Divides : Secondary-Tertiary-Employment Transitions for Learner Success.

The conference was organised by the Manukau Institute of Technology Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways in association with Ako Aotearoa, the University of Auckland, the Ministry of Education, Cognition Education and Cyclone Computers. This “family of six” reflects the importance given to the topic and the extent to which it has moved more and more towards centre stage in the awareness of those who care about improving students outcomes.

There are two key concepts – the notion of “transitions” and that of “pathways”. We know that the transitions between and within the different parts of the education system are choke points in the journey students face as they pursue an education. The shift from ECE to primary, primary to intermediate and subsequently for all, into secondary, then on into some postsecondary education which finally move into employment is a reflection of a system that is built for the adults that survived rather than the learner/student.

Dr Joel Vargas from the Jobs for the Future Foundation in Boston U.S. showed that the loss of students at transition points was an issue that went well beyond our shores. We know that we “lose” over 4,000 students between primary and secondary, that 20% of students drop out, that half of those starting a postsecondary qualification do not complete. Much of this waste of talent and potential is the result of the issues surrounding transitions. And there is that transition form the stages of education into employment.

Associate Professor Leesa Wheelahan (University of Melbourne) reminded the conference of the weak link between education and employment, a point reinforced by business leaders who addressed the conference.

Transitions need to have “pathways” if they are to lead to the levels of seamlessness that will address the issues of the dysfunctional transitions which might more correctly be thought of as fractures.

Pathways are seamless, start somewhere and arrive somewhere else. In themselves they are an organising principle that calls for connection and quirks each of those who work on each side of the crevasse to work together. It is interesting that some of the systems we admire have solved this issue through looking to sector reform to shape a system based around the needs of young people rather than around the sensitivities of adults.

260 educators working to address these issues simply have to make a difference. There is developing a community of practice that is seeking to construct new pathways and transitions with a more seamless approach to create increased likelihood of more positive educational outcomes for more students.

This was a clear message of the Minister of Education Hon Hekia Parata who in addressing the conference emphasised the Better Public Service goals as clear markers for outcomes which the system must work towards.

This will require us to work differently but this will not always require us to embrace startling and new or radical ideas. As has been a theme of recent EDTalkNZ pieces, some of the ideas have moved across the education stage before. The notion of a “jagged edge”, even “seamlessness” and the reforms of Post Compulsory Education and Training in the 1980s had canvased many of the changes now being seriously considered – a point made elegantly by Professor Gary Hawke who led the reforms back then. Professor Hawke made an interesting point in his reminder that we need to focus on post compulsory rather than postsecondary.

So it was an exciting gathering where ideas surfaced and were considered, where for two days there was a coming together of people working towards shared goals. The things that divide us in education were parked at the door and students were considered. Many were impressed by the eloquence and directed energy of the students, especially one who had gone through the MIT Tertiary High School.  He had made the transition from risk to reward, from being given no hope in school to seeing a pathway that would take him into a job he loves and which opens up a big wide world.

It is early days but directions are emerging that hold the promise of an education system that will deliver pathways to students that see them college (postsecondary) ready and career ready. If we can achieve this we will perhaps avoid the demographic time bomb that ticks away and was so clearly described by Sir Mark Solomon.


It could be that in time is not on our side in these issues.


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Talk-ED: Same dream, same nightmare

Stuart Middleton
16 May 2011

There is quite a lot of current interest in transitions from the K-16 education system and postsecondary education. This is a complex area and among other things there is a focus on careers education and the kinds of advice that students seek and receive. 

A report[1] completed in 2003 challenged the extent to which the USA education systems had met their end of the bargain in helping students manage that transition. In fact the report’s title makes clear how the authors concluded that they had not – “Betraying the dream.” One interesting table catalogues some common misconceptions about preparing for and attending postsecondary institutions especially university. The myths that might well apply to our education system are: 

            I can’t afford to go to university 

The report found that US students regularly overestimated the cost of going to university. 

            I have to be a stellar athlete or student to get financial aid 

This has a particular US flavour to it with the extensive sports programmes that tertiary institutions have. In fact there is a wide range of financial aid available to students. Do students in New Zealand have accurate information about the costs, the costs of borrowing through student loans and the assistance available through allowances? Do students understand these to such an extent that they can explain them to their caregivers? 

            Meeting high school graduation requirements will prepare me for university  

There is generally a discrepancy between high school graduation levels and the entry requirements into tertiary institutions and into some programmes within them. In New Zealand it seems as is NCEA Level 2 is emerging as a “School Leaving Standard” which would equate to the US high school graduation (a term not used in this country). 

            Getting into college is the hardest part 

Have we got news for you! For most students the hardest part will be completing the tertiary course – many don’t! 

            Community colleges don’t have academic standards 

Is this a perception that New Zealand students have of, say, polytechnics? The community college has similarities to our polytechnics (although the NZ institutions offer a more extensive set of qualifications that are longer and at a higher level than the typical two year qualifications of the US community college – but the open access is common to both. Is this part of the process that sees some New Zealand students ostensibly headed towards a university programme for which they are ill-prepared? 

            It’s better to take easier classes in high school and get better grades 

Success in taking tougher courses in high school is a constant predictor of success later – merely harvesting credit is no substitute for a sound academic preparation for higher and further education. 

            My senior year in high school doesn’t matter 

You would think sometimes, what with balls of both the sporting and the dancing kind that this myth is well and truly alive in New Zealand! Should some students be moving through the senior school more quickly? 

            I can take whatever classes I want when I get to university 

It is all a little bit tighter than students understand. Some universities have lifted their general entry standard so that it is higher than the plain “University Entrance”, many courses have particular requirements. These should be known by students well in advance of course selection in the final two years of school. 

And this raises an important question. Are students encouraged to think about the detail of their future pathway, especially those who are headed towards university? Do they understand the detail of it all? Is the importance of those last two years at school in terms of future success at university well understood? Or do too many students simply drift toward their postsecondary futures? 

[1] Andrea Venezia,  Michael W. Kirst, and Anthony L. Antonio (2003) Betraying the college dream: How disconnected K-12 systems undermine student aspirations, The Standford Institute for Higher Education Research.

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You are invited to a National Symposium


You are invited to a National Symposium

The interface between secondary school and tertiary has become a focus as New Zealand seeks to extend educational success to a wider group and to higher levels. This has led to the policies and developments which are exploring new ways of working. This symposium will offer an opportunity for educators to get up-to-date information about developments such as trades academies and service academies, other successful programmes such as tertiary high schools and Trades in School, and policies such as Youth Guarantee. 

  • What is possible within existing frameworks?
  • How can secondary schools and tertiary providers work together?
  • What will bring more success to increased numbers of young people?

The symposium will give participants an opportunity to meet and hear from those actually delivering innovative programmes at the interface between secondary and tertiary education, leaders in the fields of engagement and multiple pathways and from those at the leading edge of future development. It will also provide opportunities to consider the barriers, the issues and the changes posed by innovation in this area.

We are pleased to announce the following Keynote Speakers:

Hon Anne Tolley                      Minister of Education

Minister Anne Tolley has responsibility within the New Zealand Government for the schools sector and she has been a key force behind the Youth Guarantee policy which seeks to provide a wider range of opportunity for students who would benefit from alternative pathways through their senior secondary school years.

Arthur Graves                           Deputy CEO, Whitireia Community Polytechnic, ex Principal

Arthur Graves has been a secondary school principal, ius currently Deputy CE of Whitireia Community Polytechnic and recently spent some time in the Ministry of Education working on the Youth Guarantee Policy.  He was also a previous Chair of the New Zealand Principals Council. He brings to his presentation at the symposium a balance of forward thinking and a realistic appreciation of the settings into which change is sought and the difficulties raised for school leaders

Professor David Conley            University of Oregon

David Conley is Director of the Centre for Educational Policy Research (CEPR) at the University of Oregon. His areas of teaching and research include the high school-to-college transition, standards-based education, systemic school reform, educational governance, and adequacy funding models.  In 2003, Dr Conley completed a groundbreaking three-year research project to identify the knowledge and skills necessary for college readiness called Standards for Success. This project analysed course content at a range of American research universities to develop the “Knowledge and Skills for University Success” standards. In 2005, he published College Knowledge: What It Takes for Students to Succeed and What We Can Do to Get Them Ready, based on this research. In 2010 he published College and Career Ready which summarises recent research he has conducted on this topic. 

Dr Conley is a major figure in the field of school to post-secondary transitions. He will be attending the symposium for the two days and looks forward to meeting New Zealand teachers and administrators.

Dr Stuart Middleton                    Director, MIT Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways

Stuart Middleton is well known as an education commentator and his involmenet in the field of transitions from secondary to posy-secondary education has been as a Fulbright New Century Scholar in 2007 – 2008 when he had opportunities to work with an international group in such issues and out of which he developed the principals ands broad outline of a new way of working – the Tertiary High School – which opened at Manukau Institute of Technology in 2010. In 2010 he established the Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways which will develop as a centre of excellent, development and support for initiatives which better link schools to post-secondary education and training and develop pathways for students to head towards and into the world of work.

 Developing Pathways: Leading students to success


Dates:        18th – 19th July 2011

Venue:       Manukau Institute of Technology

Cost:          $295.00 (including Dinner)


Contact:    Colleen Young, Administrator Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways,

                      [email protected] or phone:  09 968 7631


                        Only 150 places available.  To avoid disappointment, please register early.


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Education for productivity

Stuart Middleton
New Zealand Education Review
Vol. 14 No.29, 31 July 2009, p.16
APN Educational Media (NZ) Ltd.

“Thanks a million!” we say when someone deserves our greatest gratitude. Hundred of thousands watch “Who wants to be a millionaire” and when Lotto gets up into the millions, millions flock to the shop to get their ticket.

“Million” has something of a ring to it. So it is little wonder that the firm belief exists that a successful university college education is worth $1 million over a lifetime to those with such qualifications. You perhaps should smell a rat in all this when the figure is constantly $1 million regardless of whether this is referring to the USA or Australia or even New Zealand.

Debate has burst out in the USA this week as this old hardy annual is challenged.

The belief goes like this. Taking a US high school diploma as the base point, a Bachelors degree is worth $0.9m more over a lifetime, a Masters is worth an additional $1.3m while a Doctorate is way out in front with an extra $2.2m. Of course it matters a little in which discipline the qualification is gained – Engineers earn the most while Education majors earn the least (of the group with degree qualifications).

So decisions about which discipline will affect this ability to earn over a lifetime.

Burleson Consulting claims that “everyone who has been to college knows that if you cannot succeed at pre-med or engineering, students fall back into Business Administration or Nursing. If they fail in Business or nursing they pursue liberal arts or social science (i.e. Psychology, Economics), and if they fail all else, students graduate with degrees in Education and Art History.”

Imagine me at this point, sitting at my desk, assessing whether the nib of my fountain pen will pierce the arteries in my wrist – my degrees are in liberal arts and social sciences and predominantly in Education. How did I miss out on Art History?

The debate that has burst out is to challenge the $1 million benefit – clearly a college or university degree makes a difference but different degrees make different differences! It is being argued that the high cost of gaining a degree now is wiping out the advantage of a higher education qualification. But, it is counter-claimed, that is only when the calculations are undertaken in today’s dollar terms. Over a real life time the dollar changes and the advantage is sustained. Back comes the riposte – getting the highest qualifications sometimes takes three or four further years (and they are at a cost not only in tuition fees etc but also in lost income).

But is this a useful argument to have when increasingly financial barriers perhaps lock out so many before they start? Perhaps, but the real benefits of a tertiary qualification cannot be ignored. All the evidence is that the American dream of a college education was founded on a dream of egalitarianism. OK, it didn’t turn out so well for many.

What is the situation in New Zealand? Education Counts, that wonderful Ministry of Education website that is such a store of information has completed a study of the impact of education on income in New Zealand. Some of the findings are interesting.

Education is certainly reflected in the average median weekly wage. No qualifications and school qualifications sit on and just above $300 per week respectively in 2007 income terms. So there is very little difference. A Bachelors degree will bring home $800 on the weekly wage packet, a long way ahead of no qualification and school qualifications. Already the first key point is clear – in terms of income, a post-secondary qualification is critical.

But here is the surprise. Any tertiary qualification other than a degree, that is a certificate or a diploma or some such, will lift weekly earnings to $600 a week!

This is another powerful argument for getting people through school and into a postsecondary qualification without any obsession on making that qualification a degree. There is clear economic gain to the individual in such a qualification. Economic transformation requires increased productivity and economic transformation for the country starts with the economic transformation of the individual through education. The cost to us all of not accepting the prime need to get young people into tertiary, to get those in our community who are unqualified into tertiary, can only be a symptom of a belief in economic degradation.

Some other findings: returns from higher qualifications are greater for Maori largely due to the higher levels of disadvantage within that group – so Maori students are a sounder investment. Maori women are traditionally remunerated at a lower level when compared with non-Maori but that gap closes with higher qualifications until it disappears completely at the postgraduate level.

This trend, the link between educational qualifications and income, is one which is strengthening – so let’s keep the momentum going. Getting out of the recession better than we went into it in terms of productivity would be to see that we increase the trend towards more highly qualified communities. Of course this assumes that those on higher wages are more productive – oops the hornets are stirring.

But certainly we need at this time to be even more determined than ever to increase pathways into or back into postsecondary education and be rightly tough on spending where this is not a clear outcome. So a blunt policy instrument approach to Adult Community Education funding, or a blanket approach to wiping out the Training Incentive Allowance for Level 4 and up, or taking an uncritical approach to tertiary funding caps might in the long run be simply bad economics.

New Zealand needs to be able to point to its education system as one that produces independent citizens rather than dependent people, productive citizens who contribute rather than those who simply take, people of all ages who add value to this blessed country rather than destroy its peace and contaminate its values.

That postsecondary qualification is the marker of such people.

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The answers are obvious

Stuart Middleton
New Zealand Education Review
Vol. 14 No.2, 23 January 2009, p.16
APN Educational Media (NZ) Ltd.

The 1960 Master Plan for postsecondary education in California confirmed the place of the community college in creating pathways that young Californians could trek in the fulfilment of the American Dream – a college education. These postsecondary institutions are somewhat akin to the New Zealand polytechnic but offer a wider range of courses that includes a rich range of personal enrichment courses. Qualifications that theses courses lead to are usually the Associate Degree which allows students to transfer to a university or a General Diploma in Education.

Putting aside the issues of secondary school disengagement – an issue that bedevils the USA as much as it does us here in New Zealand – those who proceed from high school to an undergraduate tertiary programme in a postsecondary institution in California head in three directions. The University of California system (Berkeley, Davis etc) accepts 9% of the undergraduates, 18% are in the State University system (Sacremento, Monterey, etc) while 73% are in the community colleges. So the split is 27% into the universities and 73% into the community college system.

This compares to the picture of New Zealand undergraduates of 49% in the universities and 51% in the polytechnics and wananga. So we have a higher proportion of undergraduates in the university system which could be a reflection of the absence of any historical transfer track between the parts of our system. And we have a much higher proportion of students who enter Private Training Providers than do overseas systems.

All western education systems are struggling with a clear demand for increased numbers of graduates and the persistent difficulty of achieving this through the simple increase in participation remains a puzzle.

California – like New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the USA generally and the UK – has come to realise that the key to this issue is to get increased numbers of graduates from its community college system. This is based on a recognition that if gains are to be made, they will be achieved in the community college system because it is in the non-university tertiary sector that the required scale of increased achievement among traditionally underserved groups will be won.

But a recent report[1] from  the Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy at CSU Sacramento, hit the nail on the head with a major chapter heading We Know What Works But We Don’t Do It. There is a major industry on student retention and success in the USA supported internationally that has clarified clear actions that can easily be taken that will increase student success in undergraduate programmmes. Some of the agreed actions and responses we should be pushing in undergraduate programmes are promoted by this report and come as no surprise.

  • Make sure that students’ are ready for tertiary study. .

 A clear outcome of schooling should be preparation for tertiary education and training. But does school curriculum reflect this? Is there a shared understanding between educators at secondary and tertiary levels as to what readiness would mean?

  • Provide conditions that allow students to achieve success right from the beginning of the programme.

 Enrolling students in the right classes at the beginning of the year is a good place to start. And providing remediation in basic skill areas where it is needed. But do we really take the care we should with enrolment? Do we know clearly whether a student has basic skill weaknesses when they start or do we wait for it to become apparent?

  • Provide clear educational goals and pathways.

 Fortunately we are seeing some progress on individual education plans and personal pathway plans and such approaches that will help.

  • Make clear to students that the best study options are to study full-time and continuously.

The gap year – both the intentional of the moneyed and the accidental of the struggling student – is disruptive and will not increase success. And once they have started they should carry on without breaks. This is easier for the young than for the older after responsibilities have come along that compete for time.

  • Provide intensive support for students.

 This is, as they say, a no-brainer!

The report goes on to highlight other aspects in areas such as finance and institutional culture. For instance in finance, it notes, institutions that have multiple missions created by their relatively heavier load and more demanding tasks of catering for higher numbers of under-prepared students are simply not funded adequately to do the work.

And that old chestnut – funding systems reward enrolment but not success. Are the changed approaches in tertiary funding being worked through in New Zealand going to achieve what the Californian system has not been able to?

But perhaps the biggest challenge in the report is the authors’ assertion that “entrenched assumptions prevent considerations of new approaches” and that “there is a disinclination to consider policy change as the system seeks to improve student success.” 

The world has changed and the communities that we now serve have changed. The challenges of providing success in tertiary education have also changed. Simply increasing participation will not be enough. That must be matched with increased student success and the base on which this increase will be achieved is in the work of the secondary school and in the parts of the tertiary system that serve the under-served communities which represent the future.

If New Zealand does not respond to issues of access to and success in postsecondary qualifications that are industry recognised for these under-served groups then talk of economic transformation is plain nonsense.

In the Californian community college system 14.5% of students succeed in completing a certificate or associate degree or transfer (to a university). Comparisons are difficult, New Zealand Polytechnics offer a wider range of qualifications than does a Californian community college but certainly the comparable figure is under 50% and may even be as low as 40% for fulltime students,

Do we wait until we start getting the levels of achievement in undergraduate postsecondary education that our colleagues in California are faced with before we respond? As they say: “We know what works but we don’t do it.”

[1] Shulock, Moore, Offenstein, Kirlin (2008) It Could Happen: Unleashing the Potential of California’s Community Colleges to help Students Succeed and California Thrive, Sacramento, IHRELP , USC Sacramento

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