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?
The soft, stupid, naive West:
49 minutes ago