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Insights 30: 14 August 2020
BusinessDesk: Eric Crampton says better border practices are our best line of defence
Podcast: Joel Hernandez on why state-integrated schools doing so well
New Report: The State of Schooling - state, state-integrated and private school performance

Learning to live with Covid-19?
Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
At the end of this week, New Zealand is back in a situation we hoped to have left behind. With Auckland in lockdown and the country on alert, Covid-19 is back.

Perhaps the virus entered on some refrigerated goods. However, the Director-General of Health believes this to be highly unlikely.

This means the virus came in through the border. Indeed, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said so on Australian TV last night. But that means, the outbreak was preventable.

New Zealand has always been in a lucky position when it comes to Covid-19. As a low-density island nation, it is much easier to combat an infectious disease than, say, in a high-density East Asian country or in a landlocked European one.

But for New Zealand to use its geography to its advantage, it had to handle the border and quarantine practices well. Without proper processes, the Government’s elimination goal is unachievable.

Over the past months, we observed the flaws in handling international arrivals. As a reminder, people in managed isolation initially were not routinely tested before being released into the community.

Before the two sisters’ famous Auckland to Wellington road trip became known in mid-June, there had been weeks of no cases caught at the border. After that, there were new cases almost every day. What changed was that new arrivals were finally being tested.

And remember how people in managed isolation facilities were at first allowed to leave on compassionate grounds without prior tests. After that, several people absconded, sometimes for hours.

At the same time, there were reports of managed isolation facilities allowing arrivals from different flights to mingle at different stages of their isolation. We read of aircrew complaints about returning Kiwis flying from Auckland to Wellington without wearing protective equipment.

We then learnt that those working at the border or quarantine facilities were not regularly and frequently tested. Earlier this month, Newshub reported that authorities did not know how many bus drivers ferrying international passengers around ever had a test. Last night, Newshub revealed that about two thirds of staff around the border had not had a single test.

Having previously eliminated the virus domestically, the border is the only way it could return. Yet all these incidents over the past months show remarkable sloppiness.

The handling of the border has been so amateurish that it was only a matter of time until we got a new outbreak.

If the Government does not urgently improve its border handling capacity, there is no point pursuing elimination in New Zealand. We cannot afford to put our largest city into lockdown every few months because the border practices are not virus-tight.

The lesson from this outbreak and lockdown is clear: The Government must sort out the border – or prepare Kiwis for learning to live with the virus as most of the world now does.

Rethink needed for Level 3 rules
Roger Partridge | Chairman |
With the number of Auckland’s Covid cases increasing exponentially, there is every chance the Government will extend the city’s Alert Level 3 lockdown for several weeks.

How we got here and the lessons we can learn are questions for another day. For now, the Government must urgently rethink the extent of the restrictions imposed at Alert Level 3.

Auckland’s streets are already deathly quiet. The prospect of another month in lockdown threatens to keep them that way. After being flattened twice, who knows how long it will take for the country’s largest city to get back on its feet.

Fortunately, the Government has options to relax the chokehold over Auckland’s economic activity without compromising its eradication objectives. The Alert Level 3 rules that permit dairies to stay open, but not greengrocers, butchers or bakers are unnecessarily restrictive.

Back in April when the country was emerging from Alert Level 4, the Initiative outlined a risk-based approach to deciding which businesses can operate at Alert Level 3.

The Initiative submitted to both officials and the Minister of Finance that the Health and Safety at Work Act has the necessary framework to evaluate how all types of work can be carried out safely.

Relying on this principles-based approach would avoid the blunt, bureaucratic and hard-to-understand limitations of the “essential/non-essential” labelling applied during Alert Level 4.

Unfortunately, the Government chose not to follow this approach. When announcing the rules for Alert Level 3 the Prime Minister claimed the Government was abandoning the “essential services” approach for Alert Level 3 in favour of a "safety-based" methodology.

But by prohibiting shops other than supermarkets, dairies and garages to open, the new rules retained a good dose of Alert Level 4’s blunt approach. As the Initiative asked at the time, why is the local butcher, baker or clothes shop less safe than the local dairy?

A week ago, both the Prime Minister and the Director General of Health advised Kiwis that further outbreaks of Covid-19 are inevitable. Their timing in doing so was remarkably prescient.

Unfortunately, there are no signs they have applied their foresight to prepare a fit-for-purpose set of rules for any extended period of Alert Level 3 lockdown.

For the sake of firms and workers they must do better.

The State of Schooling
Joel Hernandez | Policy Analyst |
Every parent wants to give their child the best start in life – but when it comes to schooling, does money buy success?

In the latest New Zealand Initiative report, we show state-integrated schools may be the best value for money, at least when it comes to University Entrance (UE) attainment.

State-integrated schools are defined by their special character (for instance, religious or special teaching method such as Montessori). Compared to private schools they have significantly lower fees, around $1500 per year rather than $20,000.

Using our school performance tool built in Statistics NZ’s Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI), we reveal that on average state-integrated schools marginally outperform private schools after adjusting for family socioeconomic background. We also show that both state-integrated and private schools tend to outperform state schools.

In practice, this means the average student attending a state school is estimated to have a 30.5% chance of attaining UE. But at a state-integrated school, this improves to 38.8% or 37.4% in a private school.

Our data cannot show why state-integrated schools are so successful. It may be the more traditional teaching methods, better classroom discipline, more knowledge-rich curriculums – or something else entirely.

But knowing which schools perform well would let the Education Review Office (ERO) find the answer.

In addition to showing average school performance, our tool identified (anonymously) which schools perform in the top quarter of all secondary schools. These schools outperformed expectations given the unique characteristics of their students.

A total of 51 out of 330 (15.5%) state, 42 out of 93 (45.2%) state-integrated and 24 out 36 (66.7%) private schools made it into our top-performing category.

Using a combination of ERO, our tool and permission from a range of top, middle and low-performing schools the Ministry of Education could identify which practices lead to the best outcomes for students.

Since 2000, educational standards in New Zealand have dropped dramatically. The OECD once found Kiwi 15-year-olds leading the world but they have now slipped to the middle of the pack. New Zealand also has the strongest relationship between socioeconomic background and education performance of its English-speaking peers.

The Ministry should be beating down the Initiative’s door to identify these outlier schools so every kid in New Zealand can benefit from best practice teaching.

To read more about The State of Schooling, click here.

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