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Insights 25: 7 July 2017
The Project: Martine Udahemuka discusses her report, Amplifying Excellence
RadioLIVE: Dr Eric Crampton on inequality and housing
Amplifying Excellence: Promoting transparency, professionalism and support in schools

Beautiful friendships in education
Martine Udahemuka | Research Fellow |
On Wednesday evening, Oliver summed up our event à la Casablanca. Thanking our guest speakers, he rightly said ‘I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship’.

Discussing our latest education report, we were joined by Education Minister Nikki Kaye; Post-Primary Teachers’ Association President, Jack Boyle; and Forsyth Barr Managing Director, Neil Paviour-Smith.

Speakers commented on the findings and conclusions of the report Amplifying Excellence, the final in a trilogy analysing the performance of New Zealand’s education system.

The report responds to four concerns: poor provision of information to parents and schools, weak teacher appraisal systems, limited leadership autonomy, and weak incentives for schools to improve.

Our proposed first step is to redefine what school success looks like.

The current government barometer neglects the starting points of students and is unfair for students and their educators. It is also unhelpful for the parents who care about their child’s achievement and want to choose the school that would work best for their child.

A school with a majority of students from affluent backgrounds whose parents read to them every night necessarily faces different challenges than a school with students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Our proposed measure takes into account factors that contribute to student achievement in order to compare like with like.

There seemed little disagreement that empowering parents, school leaders, and teachers with better information on school performance is key.

It was great to hear from the Minister that Cabinet and her Ministry share many of our concerns and are already working on a measure of learner progress.

Where we would have expected the union president to disagree with teachers needing better information about their impact, instead he said better data is the starting point.

Paviour-Smith, who also serves on a school board, explained how much value they would get from comparative performance information. It would help them determine if their school is performing to its potential when compared to schools serving similar communities.

The most effective principals will have a decent hunch that what they are doing works. But we propose to go a bit further and in fact faster.

The data needed to build a fairer measure of success already exists. It just needs to be put to better use.

We hope this is the start of many dialogues with the Minister and teacher unions about how to harness this opportunity.

Jamie Oliver is a bloody disgrace
Jenesa Jeram | Policy Analyst |
I thought that having a UK celebrity chef tell us that our kids are too fat and that anyone against a sugar tax deserves a slap would have gone down as well as a sous vide burger.

I was wrong.

Celebrity chef and sugar tax activist Jamie Oliver reckons it is a ‘bloody disgrace’ no one from National turned up to a conference advocating for a sugar tax. And he has been applauded by some New Zealanders for giving us the kick-up-the-backside we all needed.

“This is not regressive this is progressive,” he says of the tax. Why? Because you can spend the money on kids for sport and food education.

Here, Jamie Oliver sounds a bit like a Nigerian prince email scam: “Politicians in the room, activists, come together. Come together, this is new money! This is new money for the children of New Zealand.”

After all, what monster would be against new money for children?

Here is the problem: the tax is still regressive. Taking money out of poor peoples’ pockets to spend on kids does not change the fact they will spend more of their incomes on the tax than richer people.

Besides, if investing in sports and food education were really such important initiatives, the government could do so without raising extra revenue. But when there are families struggling to keep a roof over their heads and their bellies full, teaching kids that cake is a ‘sometimes food’ hardly seems like the most pressing issue.

And then comes the kicker.

Jamie Oliver proudly announces: “And here is the genius, it was never about the sugary drinks tax, it is not just about that.” A sugar tax is purely a symbol “that government will step in when things go wrong.”

I suppose that is genius if you have never heard of a Trojan horse or Overton window before.

And I guess that is genius if you believe people should get a pat on the back for fat shaming and making poor people poorer. Simply as a symbolic gesture that the government cares.

While I can hardly admonish a celebrity chef for not understanding economics and public policy when I can barely poach an egg, it would be a bloody disgrace to let his thinking influence our policy.

Like an email scam, if it sounds too good to be true (health and prosperity for all at a low cost), then it probably is.

For effective competition
Dr Eric Crampton | Chief Economist |
The Commerce Commission now has more powers to investigate competition issues in any area where it thinks there might be a problem.

In this week’s National Business Review, the Initiative’s Chair, Roger Partridge, argues this was a bad idea.

I, for one, welcome the Commerce Commission’s new powers to encourage more competition. Why? The Prime Minister this week reminded us that government is the country’s biggest monopoly. And the more powers the Commerce Commission has for dealing with this monopolist, the better.

This week, I joined in panel discussion session at Parliament on getting more consumer-driven government services.

Presenters went through a raft of ways that government services fail to live up to the expectations we have in normal consumer markets.

Prime Minister Bill English’s closing address helped explain why things are as they are.

He said that government is the land of perpetual, eternal monopoly. The Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Social Development – none of them face any real competitive threat. And we get the kind of customer service that we expect from monopolists.

The Prime Minister – the Chair of the great New Zealand government conglomerate – admitted that Ministries have eternal monopolies. That should provide a prima facie case for the Commerce Commission to use its new powers to investigate the government.

When it comes to private business, there is at least the threat of competitive entry to discipline the New Zealand market. But even there, government policy works to stifle competition. And things are worse when we look at government-provided services.

A few starting questions for the newly empowered Commerce Commission:
  • How much harm do New Zealand consumers suffer because of restrictions on foreign entrants?
  • How much room do regulations, from the RMA through to liquor licensing, give for anticompetitive behaviour through objections and appeals processes?
  • Do occupational licencing restrictions protect consumers, or harm them through higher costs?
  • How much damage is done to competition, and to consumer welfare, when government uses sole-provider, non-competitive contracts with Ministries to provide most government services?
Any reasonable investigation would result in substantial liberalisation of regulations. And it would also open the Ministries up to more competition from NGOs for service provision.

It is high time to investigate, and to break up, the government’s monopolies.
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