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Insights 37: 4 October 2019
Joel Hernandez discusses in the NZ Herald, the innovative new tool that provides a better measure of school performance.
Roger Partridge explains in NBR why the Policy Statement for Highly Productive Land threatens to cripple the housing crisis.
New Report - In fairness to our schools: Better measures for better outcomes.

Dr Eric Crampton | Chief Economist |
This week, the Chinese government celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party’s 1949 takeover of the country.

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s letter to Premier Li Keqiang noted the opportunity to reflect on China’s transformation over the past 70 years, and on how China “lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, raised their living standards, and created new opportunities for them to fulfil their aspirations.”

The only problem is that everyone might be celebrating the wrong anniversary.

Last December, we had the opportunity to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 3rd Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. Deng Xiaoping’s leadership was there firmly established, and China’s period of “Reform and opening up” began. China’s remarkable economic progress over the past four decades stems from that meeting.

We might have marked the 40th anniversary of Guangdong’s proposal to become a Special Economic Zone in April, the 40th anniversary of the approval of the SEZs in July, and of their official establishment at the end of August. The SEZs demonstrated that economic liberalisation vastly improved economic outcomes. They also demonstrated that economic growth did not threaten the Party’s political hold on the country, so the Party felt safer in extending the benefits of economic liberalisation.

The set of reforms that began in 1978 and 1979 are well deserving of celebration.

The economic growth enabled by those reforms has made China a world leader – in economic power, in political influence, and in technological development.

More importantly, the reforms led to the achievements celebrated by Prime Minister Lee in vastly reducing poverty for hundreds of millions.

But much of that poverty was directly caused by the Communist takeover of the country in 1949, and the horrors of Mao’s rule are systematically being forgotten.

Fewer than half of Kiwis know that Hitler killed about 6 million Jews in the Holocaust. I wonder how many know that Mao’s Great Leap Forward from 1958 to 1962 killed between 30 million and 45 million people through starvation, torture and execution. And while Germans remember their past with anguish, the Chinese government has buried its own.

So this week I will raise a glass in celebration of the reforms of 1979, in hope but with concern for China’s future, and in mourning for the path from 1949 to 1979.

Happy 40th Anniversary.

Tiptoeing towards a truly national curriculum
Briar Lipson | Research Fellow |
In his speech last week at the NZEI conference, Education Minister Hipkins reminded the audience of primary school teachers that he had scrapped national standards because he was listening, and because the standards were neither national nor standard.

It was catchy rhetoric that, if we follow his logic, has implications for our national curriculum, too.

New Zealand’s national curriculum is neither national nor a curriculum. Rather, it is localised and a framework. Beyond some high-level principles, values and objectives, it is teachers who decide what their students learn.

This makes schooling too much of a lottery. Depending on which school you attend, you may experience a coherent, well-designed, knowledge-rich curriculum, or a misguided, knowledge-lite alternative.

This discrepancy cultivates educational inequity because children from disadvantaged backgrounds rely entirely on their teachers to expose them to academic knowledge. Children from ‘pro-education’ homes may get at least some of it from museum visits, reading and dinner-table discussions. But for others, school is their only chance.

New Zealand needs a national curriculum that ensures all children encounter rich academic knowledge in school. Teachers can still have flexibility but within a minimum constraint.

In the past fortnight, two glimmers of hope have emerged in the maturation towards a true national curriculum. The Prime Minister announced that New Zealand history will be compulsory in all schools by 2022. This will necessitate a national curriculum review which, once completed, should leave the subject standing out like a sore thumb because it prescribes specific knowledge. Similar clarification of the basic knowledge all children should learn in subjects from science to art ought to logically follow.

The other muted but encouraging acknowledgement came in the report of the Ministerial Advisory Group on Curriculum Progress and Achievement. Released last week, it says:

Flexible curriculum frameworks require those implementing them to be clear about the learning outcomes that cannot be left to chance to avoid local decisions leading to inequitable learning opportunities. We need more clarity about the National Curriculum, local curricula, and how they relate to one another.

If ‘learning outcomes’ means knowledge (words can be slippery in education!), then once we are clear about what ‘cannot be left to chance’ our curriculum will be national and will be a curriculum too. Minister Hipkins can then think again about national standards and decide what he must do.

Take Back The Clocks
Joel Hernandez | Policy Analyst |
Some call it jet lag without the duty-free, others call it a government time heist. Most people just call it daylight savings.

Yes, that’s right! It’s that time of the year again when Kiwis “lose an hour of sleep”.

Every year on the last Sunday of September, clocks are put forward one hour at 1 am. The rationale is to extend the number of daylight hours after work or school during spring and summer.

While most people only grumble about the loss of sleep for a couple of days, or at least until the next sunny evening good enough for a barbeque, there is a small movement in New Zealand fighting against the long-standing practice.

“Take Back The Clocks” is a small group lobbying for the abolition of daylight savings through legislative change.

Followers of the group’s Twitter account have tweeted clever hashtags, including #Cloxit, #TimeStrike, and #HandsOffOurClocks. One tweet asserted that the only hands that belong on a clock are big, small and second – never politicians.

Proponents such as farmers claim dark winter mornings would make milking cows extremely difficult. On the other hand, detractors such as the cows argue that they experience the same jet lag as humans when they are milked one hour earlier.

There is some conflicting evidence that the transition to daylight saving time is associated with an increase in car crashes and workplace accidents, as well as decreased productivity. There are even claims it increases the risk of heart attack.

In response to this heated debate, I suggest a fun experiment. A willing government could easily test the effects of daylight savings.

Instead of daylight savings ending in April across all of New Zealand, it would simply only be implemented in the North Island while the South Island would remain on summertime hours.

Over the year life will go on as usual, except New Zealand will have two time zones.

Yes, this would be inconvenient, but in the pursuit of settling the debate sacrifices must be made. The United States has six time zones; New Zealand can deal with two for just one year.

After a year, the results from the wellbeing surveys would finally settle the debate. My prediction is the South Island would have the highest absolute level of wellbeing.

Like many other serious debates in New Zealand, ideology and anecdotal evidence should not be how we determine policy. The only way forward is evidence-based policy.

On The Record
All Things Considered
  • Graph of the week: : The University of British Columbia has opened trading on its election stock market.
  • Science, economics and innovation are key to environmental targets.
  • Why the 70th Anniversary of the Establishment of the People's Republic of China should be a day of mourning.
  • Central Bank paper: 'We have responsibility to ensure cash available'.
  • The ungameable game.
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