Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Briefing, blaming, backing down

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  • Tom Semmens,

    …Will someone please rid us of these Treasury priests..?

    I would love to see Treasury gutted of its policy advice role and that function moved to a contestable, external tendering process where the government can ensure it gets top advice with contractual SLA's as an incentive to get it right. Even Treasury would have to approve of that, surely?

    But a left wing government moving against Treasury would be dangerous, since it would an effective assault on the one of the foundation blocks of the neo-liberal hegemony and would be seen as so. Such a move could spark a full scale capitalist revolt. In 2000 a change of government and some mild reform of employment law saw the last Labour administration given a glimpse in the "winter of discontent" of what the neo-liberal business establishment would do if even slightly threatened. And Labour was elected then with a clear mandate to raise taxes and generally put a stop to the radicalism and vandalism of the Richardson/Birch era.

    That is not to mean I don't think a Labour/Greens government should do away with Treasury policy advice role. Treasury, together with the colonisation by its acolytes of the senior civil service, has made a mockery of the idea that our senior civil service is non-political. But the left has to be cleared eyed about the possible political and economic consequences of moving against such a fundamental pillar of neo-liberalism in this country.

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2217 posts Report Reply

  • 81stcolumn,

    I think I understand this to mean, leaving to one side the data, your concern is what specific factors are measured? I agree. I'm also concerned that, so far as I can tell, the research focuses only on assessments against standard curriculum (I think). This doesn't capture nearly enough about the experience of education for me.

    Agreed. I don't have said book to hand but I don't think the criteria for all the analyses were anything like as stringent as to be placed against standard curriculum.

    ... If you don't understand that most teachers are motivated differently (and often work best cooperatively) you're very unlikely to ever push the right buttons.

    Oooh yes performance related pay would certainy break the collegial staffroom. The solution as you imply is to return ownership to teachers rather than testers, but there are no political points in that is there.

    Nawthshaw • Since Nov 2006 • 790 posts Report Reply

  • merc, in reply to Tom Semmens,

    I would love to see Treasury gutted of its policy advice role and that function moved to a contestable, external tendering process where the government can ensure it gets top advice with contractual SLA's as an incentive to get it right.

    I agree. I think Treasury is the main ingredient in our democracy that isn't. As for Treasury power, it speaks volumes of those in power.

    Since Dec 2006 • 2471 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    Rapid and relevant individual feedback (1) and direct instruction (2) ... are both dependent, to some degree, on class size....

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2110 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    A fundamental issue so far that seems to have escaped commentators: regardless of its deficiencies, Treasury's advice was about what to do with extra funding, not about where to cut current spending. As Key puts it:

    "In terms of education, fundamentally there that is a debate about what is the right step forward to produce the best outcome for our kids. What the general advice that we've had has been that after a long build-up of more teachers, the question is whether the next best dollar can be spent improving the quality of the 52,000 teachers and principals."

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19740 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Rob Stowell,

    +1

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19740 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    Treasury is also incompetent if the best they can offer to improve NZ's economic performance is to tackle one of the few things we consistently do better than all but a handful of other nations - education.

    Improving the performance of senior managers and governors across the economy (including Treasury's own) would have a bigger impact.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19740 posts Report Reply

  • David Chittenden,

    On Treasury's role:

    The three Treasury outcomes represent areas over which the Treasury has the greatest influence towards achieving the Government's goals. These outcomes are:
    - Improved Economic Performance
    - A Stable and Sustainable Macroeconomic Environment
    - A More Effective and Efficient State Sector

    Each of these outcomes reflects - and gives effect to - the Treasury's roles as an organisation.

    In my opinion, because of this dual 'economic - state sector' adviser role they tend to feel that they have a valid opinion on pretty much everything. This isn't helped by the culture of 'contestable policy advice' that was set up in the late 80s (I think) where basically ministries are in competition with each other. It's a huge problem when we need policies to produce sound economic, social, environmental, educational etc outcomes at the same time rather than one policy area 'winning' and others 'losing'.

    Government ministries are always looking for Treasury's support when developing policy advice because it is much easier getting their advice accepted. This is even more the case when the non-Treasury minister (in this case the education minister) is relatively weak around the Cabinet table.

    Back to their role on 'A More Effective and Efficient State Sector'. As most Treasury types are economists (and a particular flavour of economist) they seem to just skip over the word 'effective' and focus on 'efficient' - which should mean 'economically efficient' but usually seems to mean 'cheaper'. I think this economic efficiency fixation which, btw, is much more prevalent in NZ than in Europe and possibly elsewhere, is quite destructive to the real outcomes we care about - decent jobs, clean air, a good education etc.

    I don't have any idea about the differing policy advice between the Education Ministry and the Treasury in this instance, but in my opinion Treasury should largely defer to the Education Ministry's advice on education and focus on the efficiency and effectiveness of various policy options, within the direction of the government of the day.

    (Btw, the other central agencies are the State Services Commission and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.)

    Since May 2011 • 31 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to David Chittenden,

    Great explanation, thanks.

    the other central agencies are the State Services Commission and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet

    which the current govt wanted to merge with, you guessed it, Treasury.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19740 posts Report Reply

  • Nat, in reply to Ross Mason,

    Thanks for that Ross. I am waiting for Hattie's book, which I have reserved from the library. I would like to understand effect size better. I am hoping he thoroughly defines it in the book. Or perhaps someone else can elucidate?

    I think it's really important that the debate around class sizes includes the assumptions and context of this research. Otherwise we just end up in a "Research says class size doesn't matter" vs "It is obvious class size matters" stalemate.

    Seattle • Since Jun 2011 • 52 posts Report Reply

  • merc, in reply to David Chittenden,

    Yes thank you, very concise.

    Since Dec 2006 • 2471 posts Report Reply

  • linger, in reply to Ross Mason,

    Actually, it’s not much of a conundrum: “class size” most likely shows a small independent effect because most of its actual effect lies in facilitating many of the higher-ranked factors (such as “feedback” and “direct instruction”). Which is to say, the listed items are not independent.

    [Edit: as also pointed out by Rob Stowell above.]

    Hattie’s substantive point, that smaller class sizes do not necessarily mean that teachers change their teaching styles, is possibly true – but when they do, the effect is huge. The problem is that Hattie’s methodology must statistically link any increase in performance to the more specific changes in teaching, rather than the more general decrease in size that makes these changes possible.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1942 posts Report Reply

  • 81stcolumn,

    Ross -

    Ta for the list. Interestingly it was the feedback study I had the most issue with as Hattie lumps Motor-skill research in with Ed research. I seem to also recall that he makes no distiction between long/short term effects and concepts such as task transfer.

    Nawthshaw • Since Nov 2006 • 790 posts Report Reply

  • David Chittenden, in reply to Sacha,

    which the current govt wanted to merge with, you guessed it, Treasury.

    Ha! I must have missed that (having been out of the country for a few years). If we want to preserve any semblance of an apolitical public service, the State Service Commission's functions would seem to not quite fit (to put it mildly).

    PS - living now in Mexico really puts political 'influence' into perspective ...

    Since May 2011 • 31 posts Report Reply

  • merc, in reply to linger,

    Oh dear, http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10812213

    He said the Government was advised that money would be better spent on improving the quality of teaching and not raising the number of teaching beyond the 52,000 teachers and principals currently employed.
    "In the end the advice we had was having built up the stock considerably, it's better to spend it on the teaching quality, and that's a fair enough argument."

    Just wow.

    Since Dec 2006 • 2471 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to David Chittenden,

    On the other hand, Treasury has shot down some harebrained socialism-for-the-rich schemes, such as tax breaks for private health insurance, and bigger still, the PM’s pet project to turn Auckland into a South Seas Wall Street.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5441 posts Report Reply

  • linger, in reply to merc,

    built up the stock

    baaaaa!
    wow indeed.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1942 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    Attachment

    Not sure where this came from- but it captures that ‘never say sorry’ attitude…

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2110 posts Report Reply

  • John Holley,

    National Standards and NCEA are modifying behaviour of school management across the country. Here is an OIA for someone to make of secondary schools in relation to NCEA achievement rates:

    How many students, and why, do you exclude from your NCEA results at levels 1, 2 and 3?

    The school I am the board chair for takes the view that all students, including those with special needs, should be included in our NCEA achievement statistics. Our view is that we are a school community and every student matters. I know that other schools in Auckland exclude certain students to bolster their achievement rates.

    Why? Well whether you like it or not, the media (and often schools themselves) create league tables and a few special needs students can have quite an impact on your achievement levels.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 142 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Rob Stowell,

    Rapid and relevant individual feedback (1) and direct instruction (2) … are both dependent, to some degree, on class size….

    And that is the problem with such studies. For most of the factors listed there are strong interdependencies. Any statistician will tell you that the moment you have variables that depend on each other you have a statistical nightmare in the making.

    That's why a huge amount of effort is spent in science to isolate a variable before you even do the experiment, let alone analyse the data.

    But in the real world and particularly in experiments with humans it can get a tensy bit tricky to do proper controlled experiments. And for some reason it's even worse with immature humans. I don't know ... the life of a scientist is rough when the public won't let you deliberately harm some children for the benefit of science. How's a scientist going to get a proper evil reputation, I've even practiced the laugh ...

    Hence meta analysis. Where data from many different studies with many different aims and many different controls and many different measures all get added together in one big dataset and then squished under the weight of ever more MATHS until something gets squeezed out. Sadly the history of meta analyses is that what gets squeezed out is usually less than savory. But we keep trying because if we could just get the math right then we could make better use of all that data.

    Sarcasm aside. One thing that is really clear from education studies is that spending money on training teachers throughout their career (not just at the start) really makes a difference to students. OMG! See science is useful. It's also clear that a bunch of other things help too, many of which are easier to achieve in a smaller class size but do not specifically require a smaller class size.

    What is interesting is that class size has such a small effect when many of the things that arise from small class sizes have a greater effect, eg one-on-one attention. What this strongly suggests is that the MATH used in this analysis might have been a bit buggered up. But, thank god, I'm not a statistician and so I don't have to try and figure out where they went wrong. I can just go to the individual studies themselves, or better yet take the advice of the experts in the field - ya know the ones with genuine degrees in education - and accept their conclusions.

    Which are: Smaller class sizes are good for students; teacher training is good for students; both of these together are even better for students. Do both.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Allan Moyle, in reply to Kumara Republic,

    Does John Roughan live in a gated community by any chance?

    Yes The "his fevered imagination" Gardens

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 103 posts Report Reply

  • David Chittenden, in reply to Kumara Republic,

    On the other hand, Treasury has shot down some harebrained socialism-for-the-rich schemes, such as tax breaks for private health insurance, and bigger still, the PM’s pet project to turn Auckland into a South Seas Wall Street.

    Sure! I don't think the Treasury is quite as political as some here have suggested. They are certainly rather neo-liberal economically ideological but their overarching (unstated) ideology is to stop the stupid politicians from doing anything too excessive ...

    Since May 2011 • 31 posts Report Reply

  • Scott Chris, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Roughan is one of the stable of editorial writers. Working out out which ones are by him is a game I like to play at home.

    Like shooting fish in a barrel. You simply pick the rough un.

    Regarding class size – well, the evidence appears to show that smaller classes do lead to better learning outcomes, but only if the teacher is competent and properly trained. Problem is, we have no reliable method of assessing teacher competency in our public schools.

    Reducing class size to increase student achievement is an approach that has been tried, debated, and analyzed for several decades. The premise seems logical: with fewer students to teach, teachers can coax better performance from each of them. But what does the research show?

    Some researchers have not found a connection between smaller classes and higher student achievement, but most of the research shows that when class size reduction programs are well-designed and implemented in the primary grades (K-3), student achievement rises as class size drops.

    Auckland • Since Feb 2012 • 167 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Scott Chris,

    we have no reliable method of assessing teacher competency

    Are you sure? My guess is that such measures exist, they may not be simplistic enough for politicians or herald editors though.

    Kind of question it might be worth asking a graduate with a degree in education.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    when the public won't let you deliberately harm some children for the benefit of science

    That's what charter schools are for. In poor areas only, of course.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19740 posts Report Reply

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