Tuesday 12 January 2016

Please struggle through this contribution from Martin Thrupp who is head of Te Whiringa School of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Waikato.

It was published in the NZ Herald today.

We have made some comments

Recently a group that brings together various organisations concerned with poverty and inequality in New Zealand society sent out an invitation.

The Equality Network announced a day hui in March on the theme "Talking so that people will listen". Some of New Zealand's most indefatigable campaigners against poverty and injustice have issued the invitation.

The Equality Network http://www.equalitynetwork.org.nz/members/ All the usual moaners lots of hui and not much doey

What struck me about the planning is that it involves "a draft communications resource that will draw on the latest research about framing, political communication, and what works and what doesn't when it comes to changing people's minds".

What changes people's minds are incentives, goals and encouragement not constant negative stereotyping

In a country that once prided itself on social mobility for ordinary people, it is telling that we now need such concerted efforts to get the public to care enough about inequality. Yet as the invitation explained, "we've convinced a growing number of people that income inequality is one of New Zealand's biggest problems. But if we're going to turn that concern into the momentum for real change, we're going to have to persuade a whole lot more people".

The public don't care about income poverty because NZ has a world class safety net which tax payers are happy to pay to support those in genuine need.

So what has caused today's hard-heartedness?

Three decades of neo-liberal politics has changed Kiwi outlooks. There is also the greed and fear of the housing market, distractions like the flag campaign and Mr Key's personal life, compassion fatigue brought on by 24/7 media and probably many other factors as well.

Oh dear, now come the labels, words that are meaningless "neo liberal politics". Let's not forget the usual academic rigour expected from Waikato University with the closing line "probably many other factors as well" what are the other factors? where is the documented research?

Nevertheless responsible political leadership could make a big difference. Education provides a good illustration. It's a middle class strategy to buy houses in suburbs that will provide advantaged life-chances for our offspring in high decile state or state-integrated schools. Others prefer to send their children to exclusive private schools.

Our view is that ALL parents seek to provide advantaged life-chances for their children. The problem is that we continue to accept poor performing schools and thus disadvantage our children. Essentially the state education system is teacher centric rather than pupil centric.

There's not much point blaming individual parents for their choice of schools. As Steve Braunias recently wrote about the relationship between parents and children, "We serve to protect them. They become the central fact of our existence. Food, warmth, love, junk from Smiggle - we break our backs to shovel it their way, and hope they say nice things about us after we're gone".

Nevertheless when parents cluster their children together in advantaged settings, there are costs borne by the lower socio-economic students left behind. They miss out on many of the resources, experiences, outlooks and networks that help to successfully propel the middle classes through the school system and into tertiary education.

So, why not let high performing state schools take over neighbouring poor performing schools so as to lift achievement levels?

A responsible government would recognise that the aspirations of individual parents for their children need to be tempered by the common good. As John Dewey famously said, what the best and wisest parent wants for their own child, that must the community want for all of its children.

And here is the nub, aspirations of parents need to be lowered for the "common good" What is the "common good"? Perhaps Mr. Thrupp should read Animal Farm??

For this reason, governments should be interested in reducing residential and school segregation through housing policy, restricting "choosing up" into higher socio-economic schools and curtailing the growth of exclusive schools whether public or private.

Now comes the true left wing agenda "private" is bad.

Unfortunately the Key Government has been unable or unwilling to take strong action in any of these areas. Housing segregation has been left largely uncontained and schools in the most popular areas are overwhelmed with enrolments.

It must really trouble Mr. Thrupp that the National led Government continues to win elections, continues to dominate the polls and his brand of socialism (which is in effect communism by stealth) just does not resonate with voters.

The Government has always emphasised the right of parents to choose schools, regardless of the outcome. When socially-exclusive private schools started to struggle after the GFC, they often got converted to socially-exclusive state-integrated schools.

And where is the evidence of this? An integrated school actually saves the tax payer money as opposed to those pupils otherwise being fully funded by the tax payer.

All this has limited Ministers Tolley and Parata to banging on about standards of teaching in disadvantaged schools, ramping up assessment and setting targets for improvement. None of these policy directions will make any significant difference because they ignore the central problem, the social polarisation that continues to overtake our school system.

Well given the poor performance of a large number of state schools why would one not want to lift standards and set targets for improvement? Or is it that the teacher unions cannot accept accountability?

Charter schools won't help either, and for the same reason. They provide much hyped alternative provision for the poor but leave untouched the great social divide in education.

Again using Charter Schools (which account for less than 1% of the student population) as an augment just shows how flawed Mr. Thrupp's contribution is.

Yet if schools could be made less socially polarised, those schools currently disregarded by the middle classes would become more acceptable to them. And once the children of professional parents began attending less elite schools, many of the financial, reputational and other problems of those schools would get sorted out quite quickly too.

One could possibly agree with Mr. Thrupp here if indeed professional parents were able to exert real influence on School Boards of Trustees and be able to quickly remove non performing teachers.

Overall it does come back to the understanding and outlooks of the public, both because our political leaders are elected and because today's governments are so poll-driven. So let's hope the Equality Network gets real traction.

The understanding and outlooks of the public are not in doubt given election and poll results, the only thing that is in doubt is Mr. Thrupp's socialist agenda.