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Insights 47: 14 December 2018
Read: Roger Partridge writes in NBR about the age of unreason
Listen: Oliver Hartwich discusses on Newstalk ZB how Theresa May survived a vote of no-confidence
New report: Embracing a Super model: The superannuation sky is not falling

Centralism attacks Tomorrow’s Schools
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
Few countries centralise government power as much as New Zealand. In most areas of public life, Wellington calls the shots, makes the rules, and holds the purse strings.

Yet, at least in one area of public policy, New Zealand is much devolved: education. Since the rollout of Tomorrow’s Schools in 1989, our schools have enjoyed relative autonomy and self-governance.

That may end if the Government implements recommendations from the Tomorrow's Schools Review taskforce.

The taskforce’s starting point is a sobering stock-take of New Zealand’s education performance. It states that our performance in international education rankings has declined. It notes the large gaps between students from different socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds. It reminds us that school attendance varies between schools of different deciles.

All these issues are real and deeply concerning.

The problem with the taskforce’s report is not the description of the deplorable status quo but its recommendations.

The taskforce proposes to take powers away from schools’ boards of trustees. It wants to shift them to regional ‘education hubs’ and reduce competition between schools. It also wants to move principals between schools and allow them to run multiple schools at once.

How such measures would fix the identified problems is unclear.

Over the past six years, the Initiative has identified serious issues in our education system and believes bold reform is needed to fix them. We have also made recommendations to improve assessment practices and the curriculum.

New Zealand needs to make teaching a more attractive career. We must develop better ways to measure, monitor and manage school performance. We must create an assessment regime that holds all students, regardless of background, to high expectations.

We must also encourage schools to ignore Ministry advice where it is not backed by robust evidence. For example, the Ministry’s Numeracy Project, its predilection for ‘innovative’ learning environments, and its support of Reading Recovery.

The Initiative will present further proposals next year using the Integrated Data Infrastructure. IDI is giving us new tools to more accurately measure school performance and evaluate education policies.

New Zealand’s decentralised education system has issues. But they are caused by those elements of our system still controlled by the centre: teacher career paths, NCEA, funding and the curriculum.

Yes, New Zealand needs education reform. But reform does not equal greater central control. Instead, reforms should better empower parents, boards and principals.

Sadly, the taskforce recommends the opposite.

Data driving education change
Joel Hernandez | Policy Analyst |
New Zealand is world leading in many aspects, most notably for Sir Edmund Hillary’s triumph on Mt Everest, Ernest Rutherford’s breakthrough in nuclear physics, and women’s suffrage.

We can also be proud of leading the world in integrated data, a process that combines data from different sources and displays results in a unified view to users.

Statistics New Zealand (SNZ) in 2011 started integrating data from all government agencies in New Zealand in what is now called the Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI).

Today, the IDI is New Zealand’s largest research database. It contains data on more than 5 million Kiwis covering information from education, health, tax and income, social services, housing and many other aspects.

Researchers use this data to study populations and investigate the impact of social services and programmes on people’s lives. Insights gained from the IDI are then used to inform policy, including health interventions, social services and education reform. Projects in the IDI are strictly limited to studies that will benefit the public and have no commercial gain.

Integrated data – and the IDI – is unique because data on individuals is de-identified while also linkable across different ministries, social surveys and censuses. This means Joe’s income can be linked to his education, his health, and his household during the last census. It also means Joe’s data is completely confidential; researchers can only see a unique ID number, never Joe’s name or address.

Because of the sensitive and personal data in the IDI, SNZ highly prioritises confidentiality. To safeguard against any misuse of data, only qualified and vetted individuals and organisations are granted access to the data. Access is granted on a project-by-project basis and only to the specific databases the project requires. Research is typically conducted by government agencies, universities and think tanks such as The New Zealand Initiative.

The Initiative was privileged to be granted access to the IDI this year to conduct research for our upcoming report on education evaluation.

This project aims to find out how much value a school adds to its students after adjusting for each student’s background characteristics. By creating New Zealand’s first contextualised value-added model, we will determine how much variation there is in secondary school quality in New Zealand. We are also examining the factors that contribute to a student’s success at school and later in life.

We look forward to sharing our findings in 2019 made possible only due to New Zealand’s world leading data resource.

Expurgating our inner animal
Dr Bryce Wilkinson | Senior Fellow |
We have to take the flower by the thorns and cut the animalism out of our everyday language.

That is the message this week from PETA, or the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Good on them. More ethical treatment of millions of humans in totalitarian countries would be a good thing, too.

So when you want to motivate your colleagues to real action, PETA does not want you to talk about taking the bull by the horns. It is advocating the not-so-stirring flower and thorn metaphor.

While this particular suggestion does not strike me as motivational, the anti-animalism concept has motivated much wise-cracking in the blogosphere.

PETA has long been a busy publicity-seeking bee. It doesn’t monkey around with half measures. It really pins the tail on the donkey.

A bull in a china shop doesn’t muck around, either.

When there is an elephant in the room, it calls a spade a spade.

It attacks carnivores with the courage of a lion. They are like snakes in the grass who want to bring home the bacon. Vegan is good.

Instead of pointing out the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, we should be telling our colleagues they could be feeding two birds with one scone. (I kid you not, that one is true and it is not the only one that is.)

Don’t tell a Machiavellian politician he is like a wolf in sheep’s clothing; tell him he is like an elf wearing a flax mat.

Don’t tell him he has a face like a frog; tell him he has a face like a log.

And don’t tell anyone that curiosity killed the cat; the cat probably ran out of its nine lives.

PETA is clearly flogging a dead horse on this one – sorry, a dead lettuce leaf.
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