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Insights 23: 30 June 2023
The Post: Eric Crampton on compensating blood and plasma donors
Podcast: Eric Crampton, Michael Johnston and Arthur Grimes on the economics of free speech
NZ Herald: Michael Johnston on the absurdity of the draft science curriculum

Modern Learning Environments have exit doors after all
Dr Michael Johnston | Senior Fellow |
For most of the 2010s, if schools wanted funding for new classrooms, the Ministry of Education insisted that they build Modern Learning Environments (MLEs). These are large, open-plan classrooms, sometimes housing more than a hundred children and their teachers.

In 2022, The New Zealand Initiative published a report on MLEs. Its title was No Evidence, No Evaluation, No Exit, and that seemed to sum it up.

Well, the first two were right, anyway.

The main take-away from the report was that the Ministry pushed MLEs onto schools without a shred of evidence that they would improve education. Officials insisted that these shiny new classrooms would serve ‘student-led learning’ – another educational doctrine with little evidence in its favour.

Having forced schools to accept MLEs, the Ministry conducted no follow-up evaluation to see how they were being used. It undertook no study to find out whether students were really learning better than they had in traditional classrooms. Perhaps the officials didn’t want to know.

But, contrary to the title of the report, it seems that Modern Learning Environments do have exit doors after all.

On the day the report was released, in parliamentary question time, ACT MP Chris Baillie asked then- Education Minister, Chris Hipkins, why schools had to build them. Hipkins responded that they didn’t. And – just like that, it seemed – schools were suddenly free to replace their aging classrooms with new designs of their choice.

To be fair, it seems likely that Hipkins ended the requirement to establish Modern Learning Environments shortly after he became Minister in 2017. But Baillie’s question, prompted by the report, drew a definitive statement from the Minister, that schools could have traditional classrooms if they wanted.

But what of the many MLEs already established, having cost billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money?

Writing in the Waikato Times last weekend, journalist Bridie Witton reported that many schools are putting up walls to reestablish cellular classrooms. “A chorus of teachers assert [the MLE project] was an ill-informed gamble with young people's education”, she wrote.

Yet no mea culpa has come forth from the Ministry. Just a bland assertion that, “We don’t impose … spatial plans on schools.” Not anymore, that is.

What a waste. And the expense of building unsuitable classrooms isn’t even the worst of it. The most outrageous cost has been to children’s educational opportunities.

When a Bill’s objective is vague, its provisions are rudderless
Dr Bryce Wilkinson | Senior Fellow |
Parliament’s Environment Committee released its reports on the Natural and Built Environment and Spatial Planning Bills this week.

The (Labour) majority recommends that modified Bills be enacted.

But the recommended NBE Bill looks as unworkable and misguided as its earlier version. It has 12 parts, 861 sections, and 15 Schedules. The problems start with the NBE Bill’s purpose statement. It does not identify any problem in the community for which the Bill is the remedy.

Its stated purpose, “to uphold te Oranga o te Taiao”, is unfathomable. We are not told who is not upholding it, why not, or why it matters.

The meanings it is given are as all-encompassing as motherhood and apple pie.

Who decides what is the “health of the environment”, meaning everything inside and outside our homes and all our relationships with each other? And how does it help to say its meanings include “the interconnectedness of all parts of the environment”?

The courts will likely spend a decade fathoming the unfathomable.

National, ACT and the Greens each have their own opposing minority recommendations.

In the words of ACT’s minority view:
At the highest level, the bill’s purpose is to “to uphold te Oranga o te Taiao”. This is given a list of vague definitions with completely new terminology without any hierarchy. The bill throws in vague and puzzling concepts without any definition. How courts will interpret such confusing statements is unknown. This is a recipe for judicial mayhem.

Judicial mayhem is not the rule of law.

National promised to repeal the Bill, if elected. Its forthright objections are summarised in this extract from its concluding comment:
The bills fail on almost every front. They are anti-democratic. They disregard fundamental property rights. They will lead to extensive, time-consuming and costly litigation. They will increase bureaucracy. They put at risk our climate goals. They will likely increase the costs, time, and uncertainty of resource consents. We cannot support these bills.

Meanwhile, the Green Party objected that the Bill is too supportive of the provision of infrastructure – roads, wind farms, housing – to adequately reduce “environmental harm”.

The RMA failed in good part because its prime objective -- “sustainable management” -- was not a solution to any identified problem. Labour’s Bill has the same fundamental flaw, while likely throwing consenting into turmoil for years.

It should not pass.

Submission: The Natural and Built Environment Bill and Spatial Planning Bill

Solving the Mystery
Dr James Kierstead | Research Fellow |
Victoria University of WELLINGTON has announced a new $30-million research project to figure out how the university managed to dig itself a $30 million financial hole.

‘Some have suggested that spending more than you take in can have that effect over the long run,’ said Associate-Assistant Vice-Dean Barbara Boffin, ‘But it’s obviously something we need to investigate further.’

The losses were definitely not due to a new AI programme designed to find every instance of the university’s name anywhere in the world and capitalize every letter of the word WELLINGTON, said Super-Pro-Vice-Chancellor Tom Toady. ‘At only half a million dollars, WellBot was a deal! Plus it’s important people know we’re Victoria University of WELLINGTON.’

The university’s financial position was completely unaffected by the inability of international students to get into the country for almost two years, Super-Anti-Vice-Chancellor Rob Rebel said. ‘New Zealand is only second in the world for the number of international students per capita, so it’s unlikely to have affected us much.’

Nor was there any evidence that a censorious atmosphere was turning people off university study. ‘Besides all the deplatformings and ritual shamings,’ Ad-Hoc Associate Chancellor Tim D. Nigher said, ‘The only evidence for that is two or three surveys in which large numbers of students and academics literally told us that they found the atmosphere stifling and repressive.’

The new research project will be housed in the Living Pa, which aims to ‘transform the way we realise our culture and values,’ as Ex-Nihilo Pro-Provost Rawiri Falasi told us. ‘It will also make mythology and science one, produce more energy than it uses, and re-orient our civilization towards ending climate change…At $45 million, that represents outstanding value.’

It was not entirely clear as we went to press who else would inhabit the building, with Victoria University of WELLINGTON recently deciding to consciously uncouple from up to a quarter of its humanities staff. But ‘this new research project will have everything appropriate to the modern university environment,’ Ex-Ante Post-President Belinda Bloat assured us, ‘and that obviously includes 50% more administrators than researchers.’

When we asked what other factors might have contributed towards the university’s poor financial position, Associate-Assistant Vice-Dean Boffin, Super-Pro-Vice-Chancellor Toady, Super-Anti-Vice-Chancellor Rebel, Ad-Hoc Associate Chancellor Nigher, Ex-Nihilo Pro-Provost Falasi, and Ex-Ante Post-President Bloat said they would constitute a new research institute to look into the question and get back to us.

On The Record

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