Monday, April 23, 2012

Logical Fallacy-Based Reform

A particularly stupid opinion piece endorsed by DPF reminded me that I'd meant to blog more on this subject, having read attempts by Gabriel Makhlouf and Hekia Parata to make some kind of argument for the govt's attacks on the education system.

Makhlouf's arguments in an interview for the NZ Listener are so poor it hurts.  I can't imagine he's got that job through being a simpleton, so can only assume he thinks the rest of us are simpletons.  Let's look at his points:

1. "The current system is failing."  His evidence for this is that "three out of 10 people leave school without NCEA level 2."  However, this is actually evidence the system works, if it's evidence of anything. If we had a high school qualification that 10 out of 10 pupils achieved, it would be a completely worthless qualification that no-one anywhere would take seriously.  NCEA gets enough flak already, without making it achievable by 100% of the school population. 

2. The cause of this supposed "failure" is as follows: "I think all the evidence that we've got is that there is actually a teacher-quality issue."  Well, this would come as a great surprise to experts in the field, who've found that factors external to the school have by far the biggest impact on pupil performance.  Amazingly, given this assertion is the whole basis for the advice Makhlouf is offering the government, the Listener doesn't get him to describe all this "evidence" that contradicts the experts.  The only hint given is a sidebar that mentions "...we have the largest variation in student achievement within schools, suggesting it isn’t just the poorest schools that have a problem."  The variation within schools is minimal compared to the variation between deciles, so if that really is Makhlouf's "evidence," cabinet ministers would be wise to get a second opinion on all his advice.

3.  We should increase class sizes to reduce the number of teachers, thus freeing up money to pay the best teachers more. Evidence for this is that research shows teacher quality is more important than class size in determining how well the pupils do. This one's a classic logical fallacy, ie "teacher quality is more important than class size" does not equal "class size doesn't matter." It also leaves a very big question unanswered:  how the "low quality" teachers to be dismissed, and the "high quality" teachers to be rewarded out of the cash saved, are yet to be identified.

That big question is more Hekia Parata's territory, so the Listener interviews her too.  Being a politician, Parata offers nothing concrete the way Makhlouf does, just an airy confidence that performance pay and charter schools will make things better.  After all, with powerful arguments like Gabriel Makhlouf's for logical-fallacy-based reform, how could it possibly fail?

14 comments:

gravedodger said...

Regarding "teacher qaulity", Milt, for me it is the elephant in the room.
Yes class sizes matter for some marginal teacher abilities but I have known and experienced some teachers who would struggle to reach a student's potential in a one on one situation.
That there is no system to weed out such incompetents if they choose to stay in the sector is an indictment on the current system.

Anonymous said...

Crap gravedoger. When did you last look at the range of performance criteria in the collective agreements. If you are too lazy to check your facts you really should shut it. You once knew a teacher who... Last century was it? And that makes you an expert on schools?

Anonymous said...

Well anonymous, when was the last time a teacher was sacked for incompetence? It doesn’t matter what educational qualifications the teacher has, if they are unable to engage with my child that is the most important issue. Sadly, as a parent of primary and intermediate aged children I can safely say there are still too high a number of teachers that should not be in the profession.

PM - if those three out of ten students leaving without NCEA are also unable to read and write then the system is broken. Blaming parents for the failure to teach someone the basics, and after 10 years in the schools failing to recognise & address the systems failure, means the system is definitly broken.

Paranormal

Judge Holden said...

"Well anonymous, when was the last time a teacher was sacked for incompetence?"

Are you saying that doesn't happen? Are you for real?

Please name the last time an engineer was sacked for incompetence. Retard.

Anonymous said...

Actually - it happens reasonably often but schools probably don't think to send an email informing you. More commonly, teachers just leave because it's no picnic facing 30 adolescents every hour, if you are not up to the job. Also competence is never that clear-cut - genuises like you and gravedodger can assess performance instinctively but for mere mortals - including high court judges - it is a somewhat more complex process.

Exclamation Mark said...

"Actually - it happens reasonably often but schools probably don't think to send an email informing you."

Really? How often is reasonably often? I'd love to see some figures on this.

Psycho Milt said...

That there is no system to weed out such incompetents if they choose to stay in the sector is an indictment on the current system.

There is a system in place for it. The govt's view is that not enough use is being made of it, but that's really a matter for them and the teachers' associations to sort out between them.

PM - if those three out of ten students leaving without NCEA are also unable to read and write then the system is broken.

That's not what Makhlouf's claiming though. Also, the proportion of kids leaving school unable to read and write due to poor teacher quality would be tiny. Mostly it's down to home environment, ie foetal alcohol syndrome kids with a home life consisting of hunger, neglect and abuse aren't good readers. Same for kids who never see a book outside of school, those whose parents model anti-intellectualism for them, those whose parents ambitions for them centre around church, sports, kapa haka etc. Some are also just not very bright. If you want to get kids in those situations to be fluent readers and writers at an adult level, it takes huge amounts of teaching time and effort because the teacher's shouldering alone a burden that's usually shared with the child and the parents. Schools generally aren't in a position to provide that intensive level of support - and will be even less so if Makhlouf has his way.

Psycho Milt said...

From the Listener interview with Hekia Parata:

If a teacher is sacked by a school or is being performance-managed because of incompetence, he or she can be referred to the Teachers Council for deregistration. But since 2000, of 223 teachers referred for competency issues, only four have been deregistered by the Teachers Council.

Unfortunately, it doesn't say how many were sacked. Only four were deregistered, but that's more serious than being sacked.

Exclamation Mark said...

So in 12 years only 223 teachers from NZ's 2000+ schools have been referred to the Teachers Council for Competency issues?

That sounds incredibly low.

"Also competence is never that clear-cut - genuises like you and gravedodger can assess performance instinctively but for mere mortals - including high court judges - it is a somewhat more complex process."

I'm pretty sure that no one is claiming that measuring teaching competence is going to be a matter of ticking a few boxes but making out that it can't be effectively done and that we should just abandon the idea is ridiculous.

Psycho Milt said...

The number's low due to the factor Anonymous mentioned above:

More commonly, teachers just leave because it's no picnic facing 30 adolescents every hour, if you are not up to the job.

If you lack aptitude for teaching, every day in front of a class provides strong incentive to find a less humiliating line of work. Only the completely insensitive or those unable to find other work endure it long enough to end up with a process against them.

Exclamation Mark said...

That may be a factor but there's no way you can say it is the factor, surely you don’t think it’s that simple?

Do you really think that that many people who have teaching degrees (which aren't worth much outside of their profession) and have trained for couple of years on top of that are really just going to chuck in a reasonably well paid job with the best holiday scheme anywhere, that easily?

The teachers I have spoken to say that referring a teacher to the Teachers Council for incompetence is very tricky - it requires the Principal or senior management to have a LOT of evidence, months of paper work showing why this person is incompetent and how every effort has been made by the school to help the teacher. Many schools don't have the time or don't do it right and when they do the teacher in question has a few months warning that this is coming. Rather than just quit the profession they are able to seek work at another school. Once this happens it is easier for principals to drop the matter and let it become someone else’s problem.

From what I have been told this is particularly bad in maths and science departments in secondary schools as there has been a big shortage in this area - better to put up with semi competent teachers than go through the rigmarole of trying to poach one from another school.

Another common story I have heard is of foreign teachers - usually Indian, Chinese or South African - who are very well qualified but simply cannot manage a New Zealand class room. Having come from countries where education is seen as a privilege rather than a right (or a pain in the arse), with pupils who would never dream of questioning someone in authority, they just can’t handle the standard of behavior of NZ teenagers. This isn’t a condemnation of NZ teenagers, it’s just the way it is – many foreign teachers just aren’t equipped or trained to handle them.

Psycho Milt said...

Having a trained professional charged with incompetence should be tricky - it's a good thing. Having spent years training for what's meant to become your life-long career, you don't want to have it wrecked just because the boss doesn't like you or because you're a troublesome union delegate.

What we have is some anecdotal accounts of bad teachers remaining in the system, and certainly the govt believes not enough use is being made of the system for weeding out incompetents. What we don't have is anything we could call "evidence" to back up Makhlouf's assertion that pupil under-performance is due to poor teacher quality. There's also little reason to give him the benefit of the doubt on it, as researchers are in agreement that things external to the school are the biggest factors in pupil under-performance.

Anonymous said...

Paranormal says (April 23, 2012 2:02 PM)
"PM - if those three out of ten students leaving without NCEA are also unable to read and write then the system is broken. Blaming parents for the failure to teach someone the basics, and after 10 years in the schools failing to recognise & address the systems failure, means the system is definitly broken.

Not passing NCEA L2 is not the same as not being able to read and write. As PM says if everyone could achieve L2 it would be a worthless qualification. The fact is some people are too lazy to achieve it and some are just not capable (they do not have the ability). Most of those who leave without L2 DID achieve L1. To achieve L1 you need literacy and numeracy credits (you need to be able to read and write).

Anonymous said...

oh - also - the biggest factor I address at school in dealing with students who are not achieving is truancy.
Unfortunately there are parents who collude with their children. If their attendance is less than 90% (one day off every fortnight!)their learning is severely impacted. We can send letters quoting the Education Act, ring Truancy services, make phone calls requesting meetings etc but the process takes much time. CYFS are worse than useless and are letting children down horribly. I see the effects of this on a daily basis. It makes me sick.
We correspond with CYFS but they change case workers, have poor record keeping and fail to keep children safe.