Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: From soundbite to policy

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  • Ross Mason,

    One week. Umm... Lets ignore some good scientific analysis of the efficacy of drugs and the expected bang for the buck. Umm...Lets try and outdo the Climate Change Brigade and declare war on the science behind it. Ummm...Our kids are the highest acheivers of the ENGLISH speaking countries in science. Umm.. The Minister of Ed will now tell us what our kids will learn.

    Golly...I DO hope he is not a Baptist! That makes it just a signiture away from looney Intelligent Design into the schools.

    There has to be a connection.

    Are the NAtS young enough to go through school when they were teaching astrology in the science curriculum? Or maybe they ARE 9 years old and have no clue what the subject can tell them.

    Political expediency 4. Science 0.

    Would all the goalkeepers in the country stand in front and stop the score getting any worse. PLEASE!

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1590 posts Report Reply

  • Kerry Weston,

    newsflash - Jim Moira and the Panel are going to discuss truancy this arvo.

    Manawatu • Since Jan 2008 • 494 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Martin,

    Political expediency 4. Science 0.

    The climate change stance is just fucking embarrassing. *sigh*

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 187 posts Report Reply

  • Jan Farr,

    I think the Nats are rushing all this stuff through to stop half the country rushing out onto the streets. We're all so mad about so many things we don't know which one to focus on first.

    I suspect that the really dangerous thing for them will be their playing around with climate change. Even education pales when compared to the loss of the planet.

    Carterton • Since Apr 2008 • 395 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    Even education pales when compared to the loss of the planet.

    Ah, but not when you're Fran O'Sillivan:

    No one is focused on climate change when the very issue of the survival of the world's financial system predominates.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19743 posts Report Reply

  • Mike Graham,

    Well done Air NZ on the Kiwisaver front! from the Herald:

    The airline said today that it was staying at 4 per cent even though the Government this week reduced the compulsory company contribution to 2 per cent.
    ...
    However, employees needed stability in the scheme to allow them to plan their retirement savings with confidence, she said.
    ...
    We would like to see the tax exemption on employer contributions restored to 4 per cent, to encourage more employees and employers to maintain their contribution at this higher level.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 206 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Litterick,

    Re Fran O'Sullivan, I recall that Protect And Survive, the Thatcher Government's pamphlet on what to do in a nuclear war, said that a nuclear attack may cause disruption to the banking system.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1000 posts Report Reply

  • simon g,

    MMP flexibility ... here's the latest twist.

    The Bail Amendment Bill has passed its first reading. The Labour opposition voted in favour (not that unusual), but - here's the thing - the Maori Party voted against.

    The Associate Minister of Corrections is co-leader of the Maori Party. So Dr Pita Sharples is responsible for - and must publicly support - government policy on prisons, but is opposed to the government's policy on who has to be in them.

    It's Winston's China FTA contortions, all over again.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1332 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    Ah yes, climate change. Let's stop and have another look at the ETS, but in the meantime we'll remove every other carbon-reducing initiative we can think of.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1115 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    My son has recently got very keen on Parliament tv (channel 94). They are now doing the Bail Bill clause by clause and seem completely tied up in knots. Some of the government MPs are looking distinctly uncomfortable.

    I was wondering why this new government has rushed into this undemocratic urgency stuff for so much legislation so early in its term when there is really no hurry and it is very risky tactics.

    But then I considered who is running this government. If you believe the Hollow Men theory that Steven Joyce is Key's main advisor - a man with no previous parliamentary experience - and even Key's expertise is limited, as was shown by some of his hiccups during the campaign such as his non-disclosure of share holdings, then it makes more sense. This behaviour is typical of high powered corporate players - quick firm decisions, don't give the opposition time to draw breath, act, and move on. Hesitation or consulting others risks losing your advantage.

    Trouble is, this job is actually governing the country for all citizens. We are all shareholders here. This is not NZ Inc.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3227 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    in the meantime we'll remove every other carbon-reducing initiative we can think of.

    To be fair that isn't too hard, there weren't too many of them.

    What they do with EECA will be the litmus test between being merely maladvised ideologues and complete idiots. That agency is one that saves both business and individuals hundreds of millions of dollars every year, and has a large number of benefits even before climate change is even considered.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    Meanwhile at education HQ the folk are now busy deciding teachers will weigh the cow rather than feed it...

    Ah, No Child Left Behind, or No Child Left Alone...don't get me started. OK, you started me. Here's how it works round our parts - a purely anecdotal and highly individual account to supplement the excellent links upthread.

    Kid #1 has just turned 7, and is officially a few months into 2nd grade. (He's in a mixed-age class and is doing 3rd grade maths and reading with the older kids). The first set of NCLB tests happen in 3rd grade, so the 2nd graders are being trained up for the tests already, and the 3rd graders will be taking them in the new year.

    I dunno what the NZ translation would be, age and class-wise, but these are children who've been in school for two or three years. Some can read Harry Potter unassisted; some are still working on picture books. All are being extensively trained in how to succeed in next year's tests.

    Just yesterday, homework was two hours of tears, groans, muttered imprecations, and fistfuls of hair. And that was just me.

    A typical week's reading comprehension homework includes bringing home a 4-page Scholastic newsletter on some supposedly riveting topic, like the election, or animal conservation, or self-starting child philanthropists, or life on Mars. Pretty basic stuff - toilet reading, basically, like Time or Reader's Digest for the 6-9 age group.

    And then the fun-killing begins, with an accompanying sheet of questions that mimic the language of the tests as closely as possible, e.g.: "Use information from the text to explain why the Wuhan Zoo feeds the pandas chicken soup." or "In your own words, explain two facts from the article on page one."

    Which is the bit where my literal-lateral thinker starts banging his head on the table, slipping off his chair onto the floor, drilling holes in the paper with his pencil, and, if it's a really bad day, talking about how he wishes he wasn't even born. Because sometimes there are only 1.5 facts in the paragraph. And only one way to say each of them.

    It's so dull, so pointless! So trivialising, so excruciating, and so entirely unrelated to how kids think, how they learn, how they are engaged, what they need to know, what they want to know.

    But the bit that makes him really flip out is when, after asking the same stupid comprehension question several times from several different angles, the final question is always: "What was the most important thing you learned from reading this article? And why is it important?"

    He routinely answers "Nothing" and "It's not, really." Because he doesn't like to lie. I've nudged him towards "[Totally random fact]" and "Because I didn't know that," just to halfway meet expectations. (He's going to have to answer dumbly phrased questions in his life, and I sort of want him to get used to that, depressing as it is.)

    Maths is no easier. Many questions come in two parts: the question, and then "How do you know your answer is correct?" Again, he writes "I just do." [His physicist father assures me that "By inspection" is a perfectly respectable equivalent for this at the professional level].

    So, yeah. Not a big fan of standards-based testing. Did I also mention that the kids get recess (i.e. outside play) only twice a week, so as to fit in all the test-prep? That the (generally fantastic and committed) teachers hate it as much as the kids do? That the schools live or die by the results, and the schools doing the most innovative pedagogical work -- this is a school whose catchment is city-wide, but would average out at decile 5 if lucky, and its multi-age classrooms are super kid-friendly in most other respects -- are still bound and constrained by the all-powerful test results?

    We're thinking of pulling our boy out of school for a day or two a week, just to give him some head-space to be a reading-addict, blueprint-designing, novel-writing mad genius typical 7 year old. We're also thinking of opting out of the testing, although obviously the school is not entirely into this, as it would affect their ranking in an infinitesimal way -- and may become contagious. (It would also disqualify him from future participation in the Talented and Gifted program, a princely one hour a week, but a cherished breathing space).

    His teacher is incredibly accommodating, letting him write "book reviews" in paragraph form rather than churning his way through the bean-counting questions that will eventually constitute the test and that, in his own words, weaken him and destroy the happiness of reading... but that's because of our special pleading. Meanwhile, the other children in the class are stoically ticking the boxes and obediently assuming the Foucauldian task of proving that the only thing that tests test is how good you are at taking the test.

    I can't imagine why I've got Pink Floyd stuck in my head now...

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic,

    What'll be next? Gakushū juku?

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5442 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Williams,

    MMP flexibility ... here's the latest twist.

    The Bail Amendment Bill has passed its first reading. The Labour opposition voted in favour (not that unusual), but - here's the thing - the Maori Party voted against.

    The Associate Minister of Corrections is co-leader of the Maori Party. So Dr Pita Sharples is responsible for - and must publicly support - government policy on prisons, but is opposed to the government's policy on who has to be in them.

    It's Winston's China FTA contortions, all over again.

    Couldn't be, could it? Surely then, the sky must be falling?

    Sydney • Since Nov 2006 • 2273 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Wow so much in this thread already.

    I wish I could be as nice as Emma, really.

    Sorry crazily long post, the comment on Pharmac is the one that hurts the most to write.

    Re Democracy:
    New Zealand still hasn't got the hang of MMP and governments still try and obtain a majority that will allow them to pass legislation without compromise. IMO the point of MMP is to allow minority views to have an impact on society. Just under 50% of kiwis want National to represent their views in parliament That does not make representation of the views of the others wrong or irrelevant.

    Compromise frequently results in better more carefully thought out law. Urgency would seem to limit any compromise.

    Re ETS:
    As far as I can tell the actual legislation for the ETS under Labour was crap, full of stupidity and lacking in the kind of compromise and input from others that could/should have created a good law.

    That said, politicians arguing over weather climate change is real is not what anyone voted for. I really really want an ETS (or something) in place soon, so that NZ can be seen to be trying to do something sensible. BUT and it's a huge BUT. Nothing NZ does has any impact on climate change, we are simply too small. Oddly enough on this issue our international relationships are more important than the actually changes we make to our law or to our carbon emissions. Hopefully we get something good to replace the ETS and soon.

    Re Education:
    I grew up with exams and standards. I also grew up during a time of abject failure of the education system to engage Maori, which were ~20% of the students depending on how you counted. As far as I can see the current system is doing a whole lot better at including more minorities and improving their educations than the system used to. So why mess with something that is demonstrably improving? And it is improving, the comparisons with the other OECDs countries prove it.

    Cynical nasty answer is, the business round table wants standard exam grades so they can exclude people from the workforce based on those grades.

    Re Fire at will:
    Um guys this is actually one of the few pieces of legislation in this batch that actually has been through "the system". It's stupid because any competent business could hire on probation anyway and providing they wrote a letter at month one and month two they could fire any new employee at month three. So the new law does nothing really that wasn't already available. So this isn't the worst law, just unnecessary given what we already had.

    Re Biofuels:
    Nasty answer is someone took a nice fat bribe from the oil companies to get this condition removed. No local suppliers of biofuels the problem???? If that's true then removing any local market is NOT going to help. This gets my vote for surest sign of corruption in the new government.

    Finally Pharmac:
    Sitting on a committee whose job it is to decide who will die and who will live is NOT a fun job.
    Let me be really clear, Pharmac came to the conclusion that more people will die if they spent the money on 12 month Herceptin treatment than if they spent the money elsewhere.
    Even IF it is true that longer treatment with Herceptin would save some lives, then the job of those poor people on that committee is to decide whether more people would live if they spent the money elsewhere.

    Do you really think they made that decision easily?

    So by reversing Pharmac's informed considered decision this government is choosing to (maybe) save the lives of a few breast cancer sufferers and sacrifice the lives of... who??? We'll never know, statistics will hide us from the gory personal details.

    I'm happy for those lives that will be saved from this treatment. I'm deeply saddened that more lives will be lost because of this treatment. And I'm not sure if I know what it must feel like for the folks on Pharmac, who using all their knowledge and experience tried to do the best for everyone involved and ended up being shafted by politics. One wonders why they would continue to do such a job.

    cheers
    Bart

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    Oh dear. I've just read on Thestandard site that Steven Joyce doesn't like being ciriticised, and used his maiden speech to attack a person who had challenged him in a letter to the editor of the Dompost.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3227 posts Report Reply

  • simon g,

    Paul W

    Don't worry. It happened on a Friday afternoon. Sky safe.

    (still, at least Winston waited over two years before inventing the elastic portfolio, whereas poor old Pita couldn't get through the first week).

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1332 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    Maths is no easier. Many questions come in two parts: the question, and then "How do you know your answer is correct?" Again, he writes "I just do." [His physicist father assures me that "By inspection" is a perfectly respectable equivalent for this at the professional level].

    I hated that about maths (I see you still use the anglicised spelling). I was homeschooled, and maths was an entirely intuitive thing. That was until I got to high school, and had to explain they whys, and every single step, and then they lost my attention completely for a few years.

    The amendment is so short its ridiculous. No doubt it seems very straightforward for National MPs, but it gives carte blanche to the Minister to set whatever system makes most sense to her. It also comes off the back of a dubious speaking tour from a so-called "expert" and without any due consideration of how these similar systems have worked elsewhere. As Russell has said, this is the absolute epitomy of soundbite policy.

    If we had more than a soundbite media (Radio NZ and TVNZ 7, notable exceptions) we might have had these policies examined properly before the election (or god forbid, demanded more than a few days out from election day). We might even have them properly critiqued and criticised where appropriate now. From what I've seen from the "90 day bill", where very few of the arguments for and against have actually been examined in detail, any detail whatsoever, we don't have much to go on.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Williams,

    It's so dull, so pointless! So trivialising, so excruciating, and so entirely unrelated to how kids think, how they learn, how they are engaged, what they need to know, what they want to know.

    Jolisa, I'm really saddened by the story you've just recounted. I despair of the testing obession for all the reasons you've just listed. There's more than enough of it in NSW, but fortunately not as much as you've just described.

    The testing is displacing teaching; the creative, spontaneous stuff that flows from working out a kid's interests and constructing learning opportunities around them. It's why Steiner schools are so popular, despite being quite structured in their own ways. The centrality of curriculum and assessment have ceased to be proxy measures and become absolute ones - standard, normative benchmarks that kids must meet at specific ages.

    I fear National will disappoint their supporters. I agree we ought to be worried about the "significant minority of kids" who leave school without NCEA 1, but I note the MoE BIM focused on improved and more innovative teaching, not more testing.

    Sydney • Since Nov 2006 • 2273 posts Report Reply

  • Caleb D'Anvers,

    Another interesting detail is: who gets to design and administer the new educational testing regime. Presumably, they will be contracted from the private sector. Might they even be some of the same companies that are doing such a poor job of applying No Child Left Behind in the US?

    London SE16 • Since Mar 2008 • 482 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Williams,

    Bart said:

    Cynical nasty answer is, the business round table wants standard exam grades so they can exclude people from the workforce based on those grades.

    I don't know what the NZBR want, but BusinessNZ is a strong supporter of NCEA. I can't recall NZBR saying much about assessment recently, Norman LaRocque (who used to be their adviser) was big on vouchers, but I can't recall his views about assessment. I can't see the point in excluding lots of folk, until recently there was a major skill shortage so having 'competent' workers was pretty important.

    Sydney • Since Nov 2006 • 2273 posts Report Reply

  • Caleb D'Anvers,

    *Advisory: linked article fails basic paragraphing standards.

    London SE16 • Since Mar 2008 • 482 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    What'll be next? Gakushū juku?

    Oh god. I used to teach in a juku. Eleven year olds. It was a weirdly interesting job, in its own way. I'll never forget the time I asked if the midnight earthquake the night before had woken them up, and they were all "Nah, I was doing my homework, so I just got under the desk" except for the kid who said "Nah, I was watching TV because I'd finished my homework early, so I got under the desk too."

    But I don't see juku catching on in NZ, if only because those who can afford them won't need them, and those who would need them can't afford them. The only thing test scores reliably correlate with is parental income (excluding the occasional boot-strapping Ramanujan). One might almost wonder if school was a sort of mass workforce stratification replication and pacification machine... nah, that would be too obvious.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock,

    I can't imagine why I've got Pink Floyd stuck in my head now...

    Really glad someone else mentioned Pink Floyd.

    I can't see the youtube clip (lousy firewall....), but I've had this scenethis scene from 'The Wall' running through my head all afternoon.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    Forgot to mention my juku teaching hours: 7.30 - 9.30.

    p.m.

    Twice a week.

    That was just English; the other nights of the week were given over to Maths and other subjects. Eleven year olds. But Japan is a whole other story.

    The testing is displacing teaching

    Exactly. I didn't realise what "teaching to the test" meant until this year. Last year (the K-1 class) was still relatively freewheeling, albeit heavy on the task of disciplining kids to sit still, walk quietly, raise their hands, etc etc. This year, all teaching is oriented to the impending tests, and anything else that can be squeezed in is gravy (and, incidentally, is lapped up by the kids as if it were genuinely gravy).

    The teachers are quite honest about the fact that this is pointless, tiresome hoop-jumping: there are the practise tests, and then the real tests, and it's all a performance. But it does the kids no favours at all.

    We'd love to send our little freethinker to a more kid-centred school, if only a) we could afford it and b) I wasn't heavily swayed by Sandra Tsing Loh's eloquent argument that the only thing that can save public schools is an army of pissed off, mouthy, professional-class parents who are mad as hell and won't take it any more.

    Another interesting detail is: who gets to design and administer the new educational testing regime.

    Caleb, you're so right to be worried. You should see us sitting around the dinner table trying to parse some of the prose on these mass-produced homework worksheets. Two PhDs and a smart cookie, and half the time we still can't figure out what the &^%$ the question is asking. I despair for the kids who are coming at this from other languages, or without parents who can read. It's disempowering and frustrating enough for us, and we've got cultural capital out the wazoo.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

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