Yesterday's Dominion-Post and today's NZ Herald editorials have good news and bad news for Education Minister Hekia Parata. Both lambast her management of the policy announcements in the Budget, but both endorse the intent of the policies themselves.
Let's deal with the bad news first; the Dom-Post put it plainly in a leader entitled Minister needs to do her homework:
The difference a good teacher makes to a classroom is obvious to every student and most parents.Why, then, is the Government having so much difficulty convincing the public of the wisdom of investing more in teacher quality and slightly less in teacher numbers?On the evidence of the past few days, the answer is that the mediocrity in some of the nation's classrooms is matched only by the mediocrity within the Education Ministry and the Beehive.
It's hard to argue with that assessment. The Herald's leader writer makes a similar observation in a piece entitled Parents should see past mess over class sizes:
For the teacher unions, there was a manna-like quality to the Government's bungling over class sizes this week. Over the past few years, despite their best efforts, they have failed to stir public discontent over policies such as the introduction of national standards.Whatever the unions argued, parents showed themselves, by and large, to be only too keen to know more about their children's progress at school. The Government had good reason to be confident this support would continue as it sought to implement further aspects of its education policy. Now, however, one mishap has brought that expectation crashing down.In reality, it was always going to be somewhat difficult to sell the concept of slightly bigger class sizes in return for a higher quality of teaching. This went against the classroom trend over the past few decades. It was also easy to argue, with some justification, that the initiative would limit the potential for the one-on-one tuition provided by smaller classes.Parents were always going to take some convincing even if, as the Government initially suggested, the policy would involve the vast majority of schools gaining or having a net loss of less than one fulltime equivalent teacher.But any explanation became altogether more difficult when, after the Budget, it was revealed that, because of flawed modelling, some intermediate schools faced losing up to seven teachers. The Prime Minister's subsequent assurance that these schools would not lose more than two teachers over the next three years averted an immediate public relations disaster. It is, however, far from the end of the story.
We do not disagree with this view either. Hekia Parata has made her job and that of her government far more difficult than it ought to have been.
But both editorials contain some encouraging news for the embattled Minister; firstly the Dom-Post:
The case for spending more on training should be incontrovertible. Over the past decade, teacher numbers have increased by about 6000 while student numbers have barely changed. However, as Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf pointed out earlier this year, results have stagnated. On average, New Zealand students compare favourably with their peers internationally, but the system is still failing three out of every 10 students. That is the number who leave school without NCEA level 2 the minimum qualification considered necessary for the modern world. As he also pointed out, parental wealth continues to be a bigger determinant of student performance here than elsewhere. In other words, our teachers are good at educating children from well-to-do families, but not as good as their counterparts overseas at educating children from poorer backgrounds.
We paid close attention to our children's education, and it's fair to say that they received teaching from the full spectrum of teachers. They were inspired by some wonderful teachers, and bored to tears by others who were less than wonderful. Surely, the biggest challenge for schools and for the government is to provide the resources to upskill those teachers who are less competent, whilst continuing to motivate and reward those who excel.
And the Herald also has some encouragement for Ms Parata:
Indeed, most parents could probably finally be persuaded to accept slightly larger class sizes in exchange for higher-quality teaching if it was clear this would not be detrimental to pupil achievement. This is surely achievable, even though the strident talk of teacher unions will seek to convince the public otherwise.First, however, the Government must win back public confidence for its policies. Education groups will ensure the case is rigorously tested. But for the sake of parents, their children and the implementation of policies promoting excellence in education, it is important that it is achieved.
We agree. The teacher unions will fight this tooth and nail, and already the usual NZEI and NZPF suspects have made the usual appearances on the usual television programmes. In one of those interviews, the prinicipal of a school in south Wellington was introduced as just that, without any disclosure that said principla had been one of the most vocal activists against National Standards.