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Insights 8: 10 March 2017
Fair and Frank: Global insights for managing school performance
Why are we afraid to talk about performance pay for teachers?
Dr Eric Crampton on the economics of golf on 'The Panel'

English’s Super reset
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
You have to feel sorry for Prime Minister Bill English. Though he inherited a largely positive legacy from his predecessor, his young premiership is also saddled with the two large failures of the Key era: our out-of-control housing market and Key’s refusal to deal with NZ Super.

To English’s credit, he is showing a willingness to tackle both these issues.

On housing, he has made it clear that he is committed to reforming the supply side of the market (let’s hope he starts with it quickly).

And on Super, English just announced what Key had never dared: an increase in the age of eligibility.

There can be no doubt that such a change is needed. As life expectancy is increasing, of course the retirement age has to reflect this.

Sooner or later, a change in Super had to happen. Unlike Winston Peters’ claims, this is no secret plot by the National government. No, it is worse: it is the brutal logic of demographic arithmetic.

So we can be thankful to the Prime Minister for finally addressing the issue. Such changes are never popular, and the fact that English does not shy away from them deserves praise.

Having said that, English also deserves criticism because his proposal could have been much better.

I have three problems with English’s plans: the government’s lack of communication, the plan’s political probability of survival, and the schedule of the Super changes.

First, the introduction of the Super proposal was politically clumsy. The public was unprepared for the announcement. Even English appeared unaware of the timing of the release and was unwilling to answer simple questions about it just hours before the press conference. With this kind of political management, it is hard to shore up support.

Second, the plans might not survive this year’s election. As an election year announcement, Super has now become a bargaining chip for future coalition talks. In any case, plenty of things can happen between now and 2037.

Third, the phasing in of the eligibility changes should not happen in large chunks between 2037 and 2040. It lets baby-boomers walk off scot-free. Instead, it would be fairer to start the Super changes now and move the retirement age up gradually, say one month each year for the next 25 years.

Despite such criticism, it is still a most welcome move for English to restart the super debate. It had to happen.

Black cats and education
Martine Udahemuka | Research Fellow |
According to Oscar Wilde, “religion is like a blind man looking in a black room for a black cat that isn’t there, and finding it”. Well, in a way that is almost the definition of teacher quality.

Defining, let alone measuring and rewarding teacher quality is notoriously difficult. Anyone who claims the opposite is either naïve or blinded by ideology.

But just because it is hard should not be an excuse for not trying. At least compared to some overseas examples, we are not doing too well on evaluating teacher quality.

In New Zealand, we typically divide teacher performance into just two categories: satisfactory or unsatisfactory. Most teachers are classed into the ‘satisfactory’ group and receive automatic pay increases for the first eight years in the job. That’s basically it.

Now compare this with what is happening in Washington DC schools. In the US capital, they have overhauled their archaic appraisal system for the benefit of students.

The Washington model is based on clear expectations for teachers. It provides regular feedback and support; and it rewards the most effective teachers. So how do they achieve that?

Up to five times a year, a principal and a subject-matter expert observe and grade teachers on multiple aspects. They rate student progress, classroom practice, commitment to the school community, and core professionalism. They also capture the student voice through surveys.

Formal observations are unannounced but teachers can invite principals into their classroom for an informal and unscored evaluation.

At the end of each year, teachers are placed in one of five categories: highly effective, effective, developing, minimally effective, and ineffective. And teachers progress according to these rankings.

The Washington approach is both transparent and fair. Because of the regular feedback provided, teachers cannot be surprised by the final grade.

Designing the Washington system was hard. It took three years and hundreds of consultations with teachers, unions, and academics. But these efforts eventually paid off. Washington’s public school students have gone from some of the lowest performing in America to some of the fastest improving.

If teacher quality was a bit like trying to find a black cat in a black room, the Americans have shown us how to find it. They just switched on the light.

BIM = Baffling inquisitive mandarins
Dr Bryce Wilkinson | Senior Fellow |
Official Briefings for Incoming Ministers should be worth reading.  For a start, they should brief the new Minister about current issues and priorities. And they should be brief.

So if you want to quickly get yourself up to speed on a policy area, you could do worse than start with the latest published BIM.  Right?

Err, not exactly. Don’t forget the power of redaction.

Take the case of the Treasury’s December 2016 briefing for Paul Goldsmith, the Minister for Regulatory Reform.  Now regulatory reform is a far-reaching and complex issue.

You might be encouraged to be told that this BIM is 48 pages long. Think again. Every page beyond page seven is blank. Speed readers gain no advantage.

In each case the redaction is to protect the person supplying the information, or its subject, or to protect the confidentiality of advice. Who said the public sector is too risk averse? Even the page numbers are redacted.

So what did the BIM say about the issues up to page seven?

It reiterated the Productivity Commission’s 2014 finding that two-thirds of regulatory chief executives said they had to work with legislation that was out-dated or not-fit-for purpose. Indeed, look no further than the RMA for an example.

It summarised the government’s July 2015 response as acknowledging the need to do more to improve and update the stock of regulation and announcing a “comprehensive work programme to take forward the opportunities identified by the Commission”. Good, good, good. What bureaucracy would oppose a funded comprehensive work programme?

Our view of the importance the BIM attaches to improving the stock of regulation is that it:

This section is redacted under sections (6)(2) and 7(a)(iii) of the Official Information Act 1982

Our best assessment of the likely outcome from the comprehensive work programme is:

This section is redacted under sections (6)(2) and 7(a)(iii) of the Official Information Act 1982

If you want to know more, the Treasury can surely help - with the page numbers at least.
On The Record
All Things Considered
  • Graphic of the week: The change in house prices in over 400 suburbs in the North Island since 2014
  • 18 to 16: Will lowering the voting age mean more voter engagement?
  • The rush to become an Aussie: Apply now before it's too late.
  • In America: Here's where the affordable housing shortages are.
  • Bubbles and arrows: Causation, correlation and gaps.
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