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Insights 24: 1 July 2016
Signal Loss: What we know about school performance
Everything you wanted to know about housing but didn't dare ask
Dr Oliver Hartwich: A mess of its own making

Gambling on your child's education
Martine Udahemuka | Research Fellow |
Imagine if you were buying your first home and the only information you had was what you could see from the outside and through the windows.

It may seem odd, but this is largely what happens in our public schools.

Our newest education report, Signal Loss: What we know about school performance, argues that the information used to identify good and bad school performance are problematic as they fail to acknowledge the backgrounds of students.

Parents lucky enough to have a choice of schools are left to rely on nationally set yardsticks to judge academic performance. 

Schools are expected to have 85% of their students meeting year-level achievement targets. However, what this goal does not consider is that teachers and schools teach very different students. A school serving more disadvantaged students that gets 60% of them meeting proficiency targets may have done a stellar job and seen their students grow, even if not meeting the 85% goal. By contrast, a school whose students were proficient before even stepping through the door could have failed its students if only 90% met the target.

Developments in the types of individual assessment and administrative data available to the Ministry of Education offer opportunities for better ways to grade schools.

At the moment it is difficult for parents to know how their children would do academically in one school when compared to another school. Teachers and schools also face similar challenges as it is harder to tell if they are doing the best for their students when compared to similar students elsewhere.

Consequently, parents judging schools have to revert back to available, albeit poor, indicators: either decile ratings, or performance against yardsticks that may not suit their school's circumstances.

As it stands, because school quality is harder to pinpoint, best practice is equally harder to share. By the same token, underperformance is more difficult to detect and to manage.

Signal Loss finds that though the system serves the majority of students well, thousands still leave school without attaining basic educational qualifications. Even more worryingly, some students may spend their entire schooling career in a poorly performing school.

Many of us would not want to gamble when making a significant investment decision such as buying a new home. Should choosing a school be any different?

Martine talks more about Signal Loss in this video.

A Good Catch - Better Fishing For Kiwis
Dr Randall Bess | Research Fellow |
‘Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for life. Give him someone else’s fish, and he’ll vote for you.’ Politicians obviously know about this saying.

Over the next year or so, The New Zealand Initiative will look at why many New Zealanders consider their recreational fishing experience is not what it used to be.

We will look at the current state of recreational fisheries and identify what needs to be fixed, so that our children and grandchildren are able to grow up enjoying a pastime that is an integral part of the Kiwi way of life.

If New Zealanders do not earnestly look at this issue now, then there may well be fewer and fewer fish to catch. Daily bag limits will continue to decrease while minimum legal sizes increase. Going down this path does not look good for the future of recreational fishing.

We will examine the issues that affect the recreational fishing experience. These include the way fishstocks are allocated between fishing sectors; the highly controversial practices of discarding, high grading and misreporting of commercial catches that have been in the media recently; and, the drivers of increasing demand for recreational fishing, such as growth in population and tourism. 

It is important that we find solutions that improve the abundance of fishstocks and their sustainability. These solutions must also uphold the rights associated with commercial quota ownership and Maori customary food gathering.

Our work will engage widely with fishers, recreational fishing representatives, iwi leaders, and government officials, as well as opposition parties.

It will produce a series of reports to promote public debates about what is possible. We are approaching this work with an open mind about what will be acceptable to the wider public. This is an opportunity for bold and creative discovery of what will work best.

We want to hear from you, so make sure you connect with us on our fisheries Facebook page and on the New Zealand Initiative website for updates.

Wealth inequality a national disgrace
Dr Bryce Wilkinson | Senior Fellow |
If you are above 40, I hope you would have built some financial net worth through hard work and thrift.  And if you are under 40, I hope that at least you aspire to build up some savings for a more comfortable retirement.
But perhaps like me, you did not realise that by working hard, paying off your mortgages and saving, you are depriving 15-19 year olds of a fair share of your wealth?  Every dollar you save relative to someone with no savings increases wealth inequality.
At least some might draw that conclusion from the way Sue Bradford and Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei have commented on New Zealand’s alleged inequality crisis this week.
Statistics New Zealand just released a report on the distribution of household and individual wealth in New Zealand in 2015. On Wednesday morning, Sue Bradford was on breakfast TV decrying the shamefully unequal distribution. (I was kindly allowed to say a few words between her monologues – you can watch the interview here)
Meanwhile, Metiria Turei was quoted in the Dominion Post as claiming that wealth inequality was driving the housing crisis. It was causing over 40,000 children’s hospital visits every year because of cold, damp and mouldy homes, Turei said.
Well, that’s trivially true. If the middle-aged and elderly were no wealthier than teenagers, then obviously there would be vastly less wealth inequality. But sadly that would not mean that no kids would be living in cold, damp and mouldy homes.
It gets worse. There is also major inequality within each stage of the life cycle. Take households with dependent children. The median net worth of such a two adult household is around $250,000; for a one adult household it is $26,000. But is this the fault of two-adult households?
And let’s not get started on education-related inequality. Those who worked hard to get post-school qualifications, and subsequently, obviously earn more and own more. The median net worth of those with a master’s degree or a doctorate is $195,000; it is only $49,000 for those with no school qualification. But does that mean we need to blame academics for inequality?
On TV, Sue Bradford blamed the lamentably unresponsive major political parties for inequality. Decent political parties would force you all to do the decent thing.
But the real question is this: If age, education, and hard work are the most important factors for some people being wealthier than others, is there anything that could or should be done about it? And would anyone vote for it?
On The Record
All Things Considered
  • Graph(s) of the week: The definitions, relationships and sub-genres of the last 146 years of pop music.
  • The magic age: When are Kiwis at their smartest?
  • The chosen ones: How the Iceland National Football Team was selected
  • Democrats vs.Republicans: How US politics are driving neighbourhoods apart.
  • Can you have too many: Why flash drives are still everywhere.
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