The Dim-Post

May 29, 2012

A teacher rants about class sizes

Filed under: education — danylmc @ 3:44 pm

A teachers’ lament. Forwarded to me for anonymous publication:

Treasury have said that they want to raise class sizes so that they can pay for fewer teachers, so they can allocate that money to other things for education.

For a start, whenever anyone suggests monkeying about with education, the litmus test I use is: what would happen if you did it to doctors? For example: If a hospital had the best and most state-of-the-art equipment but almost no doctors to use it, most people would call that a bad idea. Most people would ask, I imagine, why the hospital couldn’t have the fancy equipment AND a large staff of highly-trained doctors. Actually, a lot of people have been asking that question for a very long time now. Especially those on waiting lists. Of course, the moment it stops being about something important (your health) and starts being about something that doesn’t matter in the slightest (your children) then all of a sudden the stakes don’t seem so high.

The government (you remember those guys) has said that it will not under any circumstances discuss class-size – even on the rare occasion it is willing to offer us more money and non-contact time. They often throw John Hattie’s research on the table; specifically the bit that says class size makes no difference to achievement. What doesn’t get thrown around so freely is how those sorts of statistics get compiled. Here’s a scenario for you…

My school has 75 kids starting this year. (We have many more, but I’m being hypothetical here…) We are going to divide them into three classes, called The Smart Class, The Average Class, and The Dumb Class. (There’s a longer discussion about the fun euphemisms schools use to describe these things – but be honest; whatever they were called, you knew which one you were in when you were in high school, didn’t you? So we’ll be damningly truthful about the titles for now and you can yell at me later.) Each of these three classes should have around 25 students. Except of course, the students in The Dumb Class need more help than their more able counterparts. They need more one-on-one time and more personalised assistance In addition to this being basic common sense, it’s also been proved in studies quoted by the Ministry of Education (which they follow with studies that say increasing class size won’t matter, which is sort of cognitive dissonance, but who am I to judge?). In order to make sure that the lower ability students are properly catered for – and have a chance to achieve at the same level as their peers – we take certain steps, such as giving a teacher-aide to that class. The main step we take is to ensure that the class only has fifteen students in it.

To accomplish this, of course, we have to move the ten most able of the bottom-end up to The Average Class. Which now has 35 students. So we have to move the five most able of them into the Smart Class.

I start the year with The Smart Class and The Dumb Class – The Average Class is taught by some other poor doomed soul, so they leave our narrative for now. I spend all of Monday explaining the work, and they have Tuesday’s period to complete the task.

Here’s how that goes in The Dumb class: Fifteen students in an average period of one hour have myself and the teacher-aide to sit with them, explain the task, help them with it etc. The maths works out as each student having eight minutes of one-on-one time with an adult to assist them with their work. (60÷15×2) Also, if one of the students is disruptive, I can move them away from their peers (probably right up near me – you remember how that works). If they continue to be really disruptive, I can take them out into the corridor for a while, while the teacher-aide watches the rest of the class, and I do my student-whisperer act to calm them down.

Next period, The Smart Class of 30 comes in and I try that again. The absence of a teacher-aide means that this class has only two minutes each of one-on-one time with an educator to help them. (60÷30×1) Of course one hopes that members of The Smart Class need less one-on-one time to understand the work. But 75% less? Sure, they might not need eight minutes, but what if they need three? This is particularly pressing because, you’ll remember, five (at least) of these students aren’t actually high-ability – they are (cue menacing music) Average, but have been shunted uphill to even-out the class numbers. They’ll start drowning if I go too fast, but the rest of class will lose interest if I slow it down too much. If one of the students is disruptive (and yes, The Smart Class has less of this than The Dumb Class, but when you cram 30 teenagers into a stuffy room in the February heat, oddly enough they’re not all on their best behaviour) I can’t easily move them – there are 30 desks in my class and no one is away that day. In order to move the naughty student, I have to look into the eager eyes of the Good Student who volunteered to sit next to my desk and say “Oi you, the hard working one who’s always eager to please and wants to do well academically. Go sit up the back with a pack of hooligans who hate you, because I want their ringleader to sit in your seat. Off you toddle.” Also, if one of them is really disruptive, I have to think long and hard before taking them out of class, because that would mean leaving 29 others (who are all het-up and excited that one of their number is getting in trouble) on the other side of a door without direct supervision for five minutes, which is enough time for some of my students to get into extinction-level trouble.

So, because The Dumb Class are all working at roughly the same level and the school has gone to great efforts to create a positive and constructive learning environment, they all get a grade of Achieved – basically a C in oldspeak. This is a minor miracle, as most of them have never gotten such a high mark in their lives, and proves that I’m a great teacher. Let’s have a look at The Smart Class’ results…

Because at any given point over fifteen percent of the class was struggling to keep up with the work, and the learning environment was one where not only did I have difficulty catching them up, but where I had almost no one-on-one time with the students and where behaviour problems escalated rather than diminished, most of these students do remarkably badly. These top-end, Merit/Excellence students only get grades of Achieved. This means that I – and the school – have failed them. Instead of pushing them to bigger and better things, they have ended Year 9 roughly as clever and with approximately the same amount of knowledge as they began it.

So, after all this has been done, Ministry Faktdrones™ come in and look at one piece of paper that has all of our grades on it. They don’t look at the students as humans, don’t look at any of our processes, and often don’t even look at previous results which would let them know things like value-added results. They look at one sheet of results and say “Look here – the class with 30 all got Achieved, and the class with 15 all got Achieved too. That means, statistically, class size doesn’t make a difference. Let’s cram forty of the little firestarters in there next year!”

Something I constantly and tiresomely have to harp on about when I’m talking to (at?) people about this and other education issues, is that the students are not statistics, and sometimes can’t be pigeonholed to fit a statistically clean model. That means in order to explain the truth behind the “clean” stats presented by the Ministry, I have to ramble on for pages just to get a simplified version out (and let me tell you – the above was a lot of smooth lines compared to the dirty reality of timetabling) but the Ministry can point to one page of clean, fresh statistics and say “Look, it says here they all got the same marks – pay no attention to the raving hippy.” That means – simply in terms of PR and getting the message out – that their job is easier, and their message is more palatable and easy for the public to understand. Doesn’t make it true, though. And it sure as hell doesn’t help the students, which is what they tell me is the point of this whole exercise in the first place…


  1. *applause*

    Comment by Roger Parkinson (@RogerParkinson) — May 29, 2012 @ 4:49 pm

  2. Magnificent.

    Comment by TerryB — May 29, 2012 @ 5:00 pm

  3. Seriously that was superbly written, blazing with passion yet crystal clear in explaning the processes and outcome.

    Comment by TerryB — May 29, 2012 @ 5:02 pm

  4. *applause x2*

    The complexities of teaching as well as the high workload for teachers are hard for others to understand.

    There are not many jobs where you regularly are required to work through your morning tea and lunch hour because you are coaching or on duty or running an activity. The issue of teacher workload and its impact on student achievement could be an area for research!!

    Comment by Mel — May 29, 2012 @ 5:08 pm

  5. In a typically thoughtful post at Public Address about the benefits of MPs undertaking non-parliamentary work, Graham Edgeler quoted an MP commenting on the death on active service of three former MPs “that Parliament would not want ‘to ask anything of the people which Parliament is not willing to undertake itself’.”

    Applying that principle would the Treasury secretary and Cabinet be happy to see this environment for their children? If not why not?

    Comment by TerryB — May 29, 2012 @ 5:09 pm

  6. brilliant – should be tattooed on Hekia’s forehead

    Comment by deemac — May 29, 2012 @ 5:22 pm

  7. On the whole I haven’t been against the govts reprioritising funds within department budgets and, as a believer in that social contract thing, the public service shouldn’t be immune from economic hard times to an extent greater than the private sector but this does not sound like a good idea at all.

    Comment by NeilM — May 29, 2012 @ 6:17 pm

  8. It’s very long.

    Does the author not realise that many readers here are habituated into only processing information in twitter-sized bites? Perhaps she/he could reformat and submit again?

    Comment by Flashing Light — May 29, 2012 @ 6:32 pm

  9. @Flashing Light
    “It’s very long.

    Does the author not realise that many readers here are habituated into only processing information in twitter-sized bites? Perhaps she/he could reformat and submit again?

    Which class were you in? 😉

    Comment by Mel — May 29, 2012 @ 7:24 pm

  10. The author seems to presuppose a very rigid divide of students into three categories – that the gulf between the smartest five students in the average group and the students in the clever group will be very big. I’d assume it’s more of a bell curve, and that the smartest five “average” students won’t “drown” in the clever group.

    Comment by Hugh — May 29, 2012 @ 7:27 pm

  11. The prose reads suspiciously like a regular contributor to the dimpost.

    Comment by doug the bug — May 29, 2012 @ 7:43 pm

  12. unfortunately sir, the length of submission allowable for this select committee permits us to only enter ‘Treasury…’ as your statement for the record.

    thanks, please come again…

    Comment by sheesh — May 29, 2012 @ 7:49 pm

  13. NeilM: if you cut govt spending during a recession it generally deepens and prolongs the recession. If you want a recent example, compare Australia “ooh, GFC, quick, give every tax payer $900” (that’s about $1300 in handfuls of gruel or whatever it is kiwis use) with New Zealand “ooh, recession, quick, slash spending and start demonising people who choose to be unemployed”. Mmmm. So, anyway, how’s that whole Key policy of “catching up with Australia” going anyway? It’s not as though NZ doesn’t have a mining industry that hits the headlines….

    Admittedly I’m one of the New Zealanders who *has* caught up with Australia in the only way that John Key has left us… by moving there.

    Comment by Moz — May 29, 2012 @ 7:58 pm

  14. This is well worth publicising! The ‘facts and figures’ which politicians use to justify their spending are so skewed! One of the few things I remember learning in Maths was how the same ‘facts’ could be presented in wildly different ways, so as to justify anything.

    – An Arts major.

    Comment by kiwimedievalist — May 29, 2012 @ 8:02 pm

  15. Teacher – You have failed two thirds of your students by using socialist principles to resource allocation. By doing that you have done your part to prolong underachievement.

    What you should have done is to provide each student with as near to identical resource as possible rather than sacrificing the smarter for the less smart. That would have been equitable and produced the best long term outcome for society.

    In the fullness of time those who were able to reach their full potential would have helped create more wealth and paid for more teaching resource. Instead you have ensured underachievement continues.

    Comment by Phil Sage — May 29, 2012 @ 8:41 pm

  16. Phil, admit it, you just pretty much stole that from my KP post, didn’t you?


    Comment by Lew (@LewStoddart) — May 29, 2012 @ 8:46 pm

  17. Great rant, thank you. Teaching is one of the most important jobs, and one of the most challenging. Bottom line: let’s support teachers in every way we can.

    Comment by Raymond Huber — May 29, 2012 @ 8:55 pm

  18. The other part of the Hattie research that seems to have been ignored was that the key variable was the quality of feedback that students received. As class size increases there is an inevitable decrease in the specificity and hence quality of the feedback given and received. – so no class size has very little impact on student acheivement…

    Comment by Ia_macd — May 29, 2012 @ 8:59 pm

  19. @Hugh: This high-level piece simplifies, for brevity, concepts that’d take a while to discuss in full detail. Generally, the higher a student’s aptitude is, the less one-on-one support they’ll need to achieve a given level of learning. The high end of your “Average Class” students may only be a bit less capable than the low end of your “Smart Class” students, but they each still need proportionately as much support or more.

    Your Smart Class won’t (or at least shouldn’t) be practising lowest-common-denominator teaching. They will be teaching above the level of those lower-capability students, and using that one-on-one time to scaffold those students up to speed with the rest. Only with the bigger class sizes, there’s less of that time to go around. Teaching standards slip, and student achievement levels slip with it. And if they are practising lowest-common-denominator teaching, then our best and brightest students are missing out on the necessary extension they need to reach their potential.

    A lot of our government’s recent education “reforms” strike me as rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic, where they really need to be investing in more lifeboats. Or, y’know, changing course and avoiding the icebergs entirely.

    Comment by Dr. Curiosity — May 29, 2012 @ 9:18 pm

  20. Ideal class size, scientifically established here

    Comment by Neil — May 29, 2012 @ 9:33 pm

  21. Phil, admit it, you just pretty much stole that from my KP post, didn’t you?

    You’re selling yourself short, Lew. I think it’s more of a demonstration of how accurately you’d judged the right-wingers’ likely take on this…

    Comment by Psycho Milt — May 29, 2012 @ 9:47 pm

  22. Thank You!
    A question – why do maori medium schools not need to change their ratio? – Oh, they are experiencing issues with achievement…But we’ve been told that teacher/student ratio is of no relevance…..

    Comment by Prisca MacDonald — May 29, 2012 @ 9:48 pm

  23. Lew – It certainly looks that way rereading your post. I did read the first half of your post, the difference being that I am serious and you were being sarcastic

    Comment by Phil Sage — May 29, 2012 @ 9:50 pm

  24. Lew – Just to add, your post clearly got through to my subconscious so credit to you. Like the teacher you subtly change the circumstances to suit your argument. I await your rebuttal of the logic of the longer term approach

    Comment by Phil Sage — May 29, 2012 @ 10:03 pm

  25. Yes, I far exceeded my own expectations..

    Phil, the rebuttal, though it’s amazing that I should need to articulate it, is basically: those “Dumb Kids” who you would blithely allow to fail don’t just vanish — they go on to become a drain on society. Not just (or even mostly) in terms of today’s populist scapegoat of the welfare system, but in terms of crime, poor health and social outcomes, and lost potential. That should cost society more than enough to offset any additional wealth generated.


    Comment by Lew (@LewStoddart) — May 29, 2012 @ 10:29 pm

  26. I await your rebuttal of the logic of the longer term approach

    Shirley the logic of the longer term approach demands a triage approach and no resources at all invested in the lower third. The idea of spreading the resources evenly, even though some will benefit from them less, is socialism at its worst. Cost-benefit analysis requires that those resources go to the students who will benefit most, i.e. those at private schools.

    Comment by Smut Clyde — May 29, 2012 @ 10:34 pm

  27. If you TL;DR the above… Treasury is probably not the most qualified department to be advising the government on how best to teach children.

    Comment by Justin Maloney (@hakawaionline) — May 29, 2012 @ 10:36 pm

  28. Nice rant… All true apart from the math… Leave the math out and you is on the moneys… Rich people dont care about public schools because they don’t send thier kids to them… National are clueless in thier thinking… Wait for hekias genius performance pay plans… Oh wait.. She hasn’t thought about it yet… Laughable

    Comment by Geoff — May 29, 2012 @ 10:47 pm

  29. Lew – Perhaps you have not observed the outcome of the socialist approach in Eastern Europe and former Soviet Union. You cannot have a successful society by bringing everyone down to the same level.
    The reason the least smart third are a drain on our modern society is because of failed welfare policies that use the same stupid logic. The least smart third can be focused on productive activity. Witness the America of the fifties and sixties. Paying people to do nothing is criminal. It sabotages their future and keeps them in poverty.

    There are always going to be limited resources and they should be invested optimally and equitably rather than penalising those with a higher potential.

    Comment by Phil Sage — May 30, 2012 @ 12:03 am

  30. Students don’t need a uniform amount of teaching time in order for them to reach their potential, or indeed to reach a similar level of improvement from their baseline. Trying to treat everyone as if their needs are equal and they require equal resource is just as unfair and unrealistic as focusing your resources on making all of your students achieve an equally mediocre standard.

    Comment by Dr. Curiosity — May 30, 2012 @ 12:16 am

  31. Teachers, pffft! What do they know about edumacation? 😉

    @ Phil Sage – I was going to congratulate you on your sublime satire, until you…said…you…were…serious… Oh well. And have you met any scientists from those Soviet countries Phil? I have, and they are frighteningly clever. Perhaps the socialists weren’t trying to ‘bring everyone down to the same level’ after all, hmmm?

    “Treasury have said that they want to raise class sizes so that they can pay for fewer teachers, so they can allocate that money to other things for education.”

    It seems a lot of ‘reallocated funds’ seem to get spent on new technology and buildings, which appears to be just a nice little backhander to private construction companies. Of course new and upgraded buildings and gear are regularly needed, but right-wing politicians seem to solve all problems by throwing big wads of capex cash around – 3 years later there is little evidence of results, just written-off gear and rundown buildings.

    Comment by bob — May 30, 2012 @ 1:27 am

  32. Phil, you seem to be commenting under the impression that the guest author is proudly describing an excellent situation he/she personally helped bring about and thoroughly endorses. Maybe you should try reading it again…

    Comment by Psycho Milt — May 30, 2012 @ 6:30 am

  33. Linkfail. Sorry.


    Comment by Lew (@LewStoddart) — May 30, 2012 @ 8:00 am

  34. I like having Phil here … it gives us someone to pick on.

    He says “You cannot have a successful society by bringing everyone down to the same level.” This may be true. But exactly who is arguing that it is a goal to be pursued? The post instead shows that increasing average class sizes whilst still trying to ensure those at the bottom of the educational curve can have a detrimental consequence for those at the top end. Which it then implies is a bad thing.

    Ah, well, says Phil. The answer then is to stop paying so much attention to those at the bottom, as they aren’t any use anyway. And this will allow those at the top to do better – which will result in better economic outcomes for everyone. Well, is this true? Let’s see what the evidence shows:

    “Which is more important for growth—having a substantial cadre ofhigh performers or bringing everyone up to a basic level of performance? The answer, it seems, is not one or the other but both! When we estimated the importance of each within the same model, we found each of them to be separately important to economic growth. That is, both the performance of countries in ensuring that almost all students achieve at basic levels and their performance in producing high-achieving students seem to matter.”

    Of course, if Phil thinks this focus on the bottom end of educational achievement is misguided socialist nonsense, perhaps he ought to write to Treasury, the National Party and even the Act Party, all of which identify it as the chief problem to be fixed.

    Comment by Jeremy Johnston — May 30, 2012 @ 8:16 am

  35. Oh it gives me so much rage – and I a Kiwi teacher reading from London where it’s the same thing in a different package. One kid stares out the window for a moment and the system brands me “satisfactory” as a teacher, a term soon to be replaced by “needs to improve” or something similarly soul destroying. I teach a mixed ability group for Spanish. 28 kids, some are almost as good as I am, some struggle with basic English literacy. Some just like to throw things and swear at me. If as few as two kids are absent it can make a difference (especially if it’s two of the throwers or swearers). All I can think is – you – Mr Policy Maker – come and last 10 minutes with my bottom set year 9 Spanish on last period Friday and tell me that class size doesn’t matter. If these people have at least tried my job and understood me for a day then I might be willing to imagine they have the slightest idea what the job actually entails, because it sure as hell won’t be what they think.

    Comment by Cathy Fouhy — May 30, 2012 @ 8:22 am

  36. Mr Policy Maker knows that his is the one job safe from someone else assessing his performance.

    Comment by Smut Clyde — May 30, 2012 @ 8:56 am

  37. *standing ovation*

    Comment by seamunchkin — May 30, 2012 @ 9:24 am

  38. Whoa. Back the truck up with an impressive flashing light and an annoying beep beep beep! Phil Sage is being serious? Really? I also thought he was being satirical. He is for real? Wow. I actually truly thought he was joking.

    What an unhinged idiot he is. And yet, folks, crazy people like him in the ACT party have got a blank cheque from John Key to re-write our education policy. Remember that next time you vote.

    Comment by Sanctuary — May 30, 2012 @ 9:27 am

  39. “those “Dumb Kids” who you would blithely allow to fail don’t just vanish — they go on to become a drain on society. “

    Yep, and even if you build enough walls and razor wire to keep the criminal ones off your lovely stuff, they still vote. You break democracy itself if you go down that road, one way or the other.

    Mr Policy Maker knows that his is the one job safe from someone else assessing his performance.

    Nuh-uh. Mr or Ms Policy maker has to sit through the pointless tedious process every year in order to be told that despite being a stellar employee, the department can’t pay them any extra, so why shouldn’t everyone else have to go through the same.

    Comment by Trouble — May 30, 2012 @ 9:57 am

  40. Might have posted this before, but here’s the money quote from the Treasury briefing:

    Increasing student/teacher ratios, and consolidation of the school network, can free up funding that could be used to support initiatives to enhance the quality of teaching, such as more systemic use of value-add data and a more professionalised workforce.

    Now class sizes aren’t the be-all and end-all — you could make a case that it might be worth it to cut class sizes in order to free up money to train and hire specialist remedial teachers. Hell, if they wanted to free up money to buy every kid an iPad, I’d hear them out. Instead, Treasury are proposing to do something that will certainly make education worse (we can argue to what degree) in order to free up money for something that the current best evidence suggests doesn’t work at all — the most prominent implementation of value-add data, in New York, has been a debacle. From the Treasury briefing again:

    Policy makers need to know not only that it works, but that it is the most cost-effective approach to lifting student achievement.

    Treasury apply this to class sizes, but not to their own proposal. How mysterious.

    Comment by bradluen — May 30, 2012 @ 10:00 am

  41. p.s.: streaming is a great way to ensure we continue to have a long tail

    Comment by bradluen — May 30, 2012 @ 10:01 am

  42. Alwyn Poole of Mt Hobson Middle School (actually writing in favour of charter schools) has a succinct way of putting it: “We run a 12:1 student teacher ratio. John Hattie’s meta analysis did not have class size high but the things he had above it are far more manageable with 12-15 in a class” He also talks about a poor tendency to put resources into infrastructure and bling rather than more teachers and better teaching methods, though in this case he was thinking of some private schools.

    RE “smart dumb and average” children, they are different at different ages, they are developing, they are complex people. Success isn’t always about being “smart”, it can relate to the will to work and the capacity to see that it will pay off, it can be about finding the right niche. The reason to try to keep less successful children in touch with their cohort is that at some point they may kick on and excel.

    Comment by bka — May 30, 2012 @ 10:44 am

  43. If one of the students is disruptive (and yes, The Smart Class has less of this than The Dumb Class

    I was in the Smartest of the Smart Classes way back when I was in high school, and in Year 10 the consensus among our teachers was that we were actually the worst/most disruptive class in our year (which was about 450 students). So not always less, I guess.

    Comment by derp de derp — May 30, 2012 @ 11:05 am

  44. (60/15*2) = 2, (60/30*1) = 2 I’m guessing you’re not a maths teacher and at that point I stopped reading.

    Comment by AJK — May 30, 2012 @ 11:30 am

  45. p.s.: streaming is a great way to ensure we continue to have a long tail

    Comment by bradluen — May 30, 2012 @ 10:01 am

    Off topic, but can someone explain to me to the current thinking around streaming? I was heavily streamed at high school and it seemed to me the cream in top 20% got a jolly good education, unencumbered by the dross as it were, and the poor sods in the bottom 20% of the school were more or less managed out of the place as soon as was possible, which was a relief to us smarty pants cos they were forever trying to beat us up. The mass in the middle sort of muddled on through I suppose, I didn’t pay much attention to them given the lack of a clear physical threat from that quarter.

    As a student in the top class, I loved the benefits of challenging teaching and a classroom culture that wasn’t afraid to admit it enjoyed learning. I would hate to see those sorts benefits lost for the top students in a school. But looking back, I can also see that potentially condemning up to 20% of your students to a life of unskilled labour isn’t the sort of outcome we can sustain either.

    So educationalists here could tell me what the thinking is these days on this matter I’d be genuinely interested to hear.

    Comment by Sanctuary — May 30, 2012 @ 11:38 am

  46. @Trouble: I think there’s a disconnect here regarding “Mr (or Ms) Policy maker”: I suspect Cathy is thinking of our politicians, rather than the policy analysts and such who do the actual grunt work that lies behind their decisions and edicts.

    Comment by Dr. Curiosity — May 30, 2012 @ 12:09 pm

  47. Anonymous publication, by John-Paul Gaultier?

    Comment by Andrew M — May 30, 2012 @ 12:25 pm

  48. But looking back, I can also see that potentially condemning up to 20% of your students to a life of unskilled labour isn’t the sort of outcome we can sustain either.

    Why ever not? Condemning a minimum of 20% is crucial to sustaining our enviable low-wage economy. It’s the invisible boot at work!

    Without a sustainable supply of peons who else will labour in our dark satanic mills?
    Why go to the trouble of importing Johnny Foreigner when we have an ample supply of untermensch to hand?
    How can we possibly sustain the wage suppression to alarm the middle class, and equally as importantly, swell the ranks of the unemployed in order to blame the bludgers come election time?

    Think about it, man!

    Comment by Gregor W — May 30, 2012 @ 12:45 pm

  49. Natural Standards.

    Comment by Ross — May 30, 2012 @ 12:48 pm

  50. I can see how streaming is bad for the dumb kids – because it labels them dumb (yes, we all know who is in what class and why, no matter how the school labels them) and that sets up expectations around them and their achievement and they no doubt internalise these messages.

    But what to do about the smart kids who need stretching? Our local school only streams the top few classes and the rest are unstreamed – that’s a mix of above average, average and below average students in the same class. The really smart kids are streamed together and pushed hard academically.

    Anyhow, I have yet to see how this works out – will start to find out next year. I’m hoping my offspring will get into one of the streamed classes because he is bright and capable but lazy and has also been conditioned to not demonstrate any ability because it is seriously uncool to be academic. The only way to be cool at his current school – a very small decile 8 state primary school – is to play sport. He likes to read and we have discovered one other pupil in his class who reads as well; they do book swaps outside of school time and do not mention reading (or even mix with each other) at school. To have it known that you enjoy reading would result in being ostracised. Luckily he is okay at sport.

    A colleague says rich white people like schools that stream because it is a good way of hiding their racism. I think if I really didn’t want my child to mix with brown children I wouldn’t send him to a state high school that was 50% brown. I’m genuinely in favour of streaming – in his case – because I think it will give him a chance to develop academically in a way he might not otherwise. But I can see that not every child necessarily benefits from this.

    Like Sanc, I’m interested to hear what reseach and expereince says about this. Any teachers out there able to comment?

    Comment by MeToo — May 30, 2012 @ 1:16 pm

  51. Maybe I’m being absurdly idealistic, but why don’t the Min of Ed run a trial? If option A is foisting these changes on every school in the country then I don’t see how randomly assigning some kids to larger class sizes than others is an ethical problem.

    Run the trial on a few schools for a year, measure the outcomes, decide if want to do it on the rest?

    Comment by David Winter (@TheAtavism) — May 30, 2012 @ 2:05 pm

  52. @AJK (60/15*2)=2 ?

    This was never stated by the writer,,,,what was said was “The maths works out as each student having eight minutes of one-on-one time with an adult to assist them with their work. (60÷15×2)” which reads corrrectly to me.

    Perhaps your maths is okay, but you need remedial reading?

    Comment by MGK — May 30, 2012 @ 2:14 pm

  53. 52.@AJK (60/15*2)=2 ?

    This was never stated by the writer,,,,what was said was “The maths works out as each student having eight minutes of one-on-one time with an adult to assist them with their work. (60÷15×2)” which reads corrrectly to me.

    Perhaps your maths is okay, but you need remedial reading

    Comment by Mike — May 30, 2012 @ 2:18 pm

  54. It appears AJK is reading 60/15*2 as 60/(15*2), not (60/15)*2. Which is wrong … so obviously AJK didn’t learn their PEMA rules at school. Maybe the teacher didn’t have enough time to lavish on her/his special needs?

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — May 30, 2012 @ 2:47 pm

  55. Andrew! No! (60/15)*2 = 8 so is correct…the first one equals ‘2’.

    Comment by MGK — May 30, 2012 @ 2:51 pm

  56. Opps! Sorry Andrew.. belatedly read the “not” remedial reading teacher’s low standards drove me to this failure!

    Comment by MGK — May 30, 2012 @ 2:52 pm

  57. yes, perhaps we wouldn’t be in this situation if a)more people had gone out and voted, and we would probably have had a more mixed representation in parliament with the necessity for ample discussion over such crucial matters , and b) if the building inspectors had been retained and the Ministry of Education hadn’t had to spend millions on leaky buildings.

    Comment by Angela S — May 30, 2012 @ 2:53 pm

  58. High achievement is about student attitude over a long period of time. Poor achievement should be blamed on the student first, then the parents, and then the teachers. the government’s job is simply to raise funds and to pay as much as possible to attract good educators. Maniacs like Hekia Parata serve no function whatsoever and should be sacked to cut costs.

    Compare our achievement in NZ (or any other Western liberal society) with that of Chinese students who are typically far poorer and receive far less teacher support. What they lack in money and state funded educational support, they gain from culture, as they come from a society that respects discipline and hard work.

    Our current education system assumes that “x student” is “smart” and “y student” is “dumb” – regardless of how much work they put in. Clearly this is the wrong attitude to give our children as it only justifies laziness and a poor attitude to learning. IQ and socio-economic status have very little to do with academic achievement, especially for students who are too lazy and ill-disciplined to utilize their resources.

    NZ society cares about education but we are too willing to let politicians make decisions like this for us. As a nation, we can lead the Western world by raising our expectations for young people themselves, rather than the government.

    Comment by Teach This! — May 30, 2012 @ 5:30 pm

  59. Maybe I’m being absurdly idealistic, but why don’t the Min of Ed run a trial? If option A is foisting these changes on every school in the country then I don’t see how randomly assigning some kids to larger class sizes than others is an ethical problem.

    Run the trial on a few schools for a year, measure the outcomes, decide if want to do it on the rest?

    The problem with trials in public institutions is that they tend to be run under optimal conditions, especially if the intervention arm is the new treatment and the non-intervention arm is the standard treatment. I can’t remember who wrote a good paper on this, but the meta-analysis shows that it’s fraught.

    You can design and interpret around it, but you have to be careful with results, particularly if the demonstrated effect is small. If you see a particularly large effect, too large to be explained by the research design, then you’re lucky and have practically usable results.

    Comment by George Darroch (@georgedarroch) — May 30, 2012 @ 6:24 pm


    Comment by Michael — May 30, 2012 @ 6:59 pm

  61. @sanctuary
    I can tell you that at my school we have streaming, but it has morphed over a few years. First it was a top, two middles, a bottom. Then a top, two middles, and a bottom, except English who instead of curriculum classes they decided as a department to teach house classes which are of course all mixed ability. As of this year we have a top and 3 mixed, and English still does its thing. I think I like the current way, the only problem being the top class is fricken huge, 29 vs 3 classes of 18s/19s. I feel like I’m heading towards it should be totally mixed (then set up seating plans so smart can help the dumb) or else make the top more exclusive, say, no more than 16. That would then give us 3 other classes of 23-24 which is managable, mostly, and would also have a sprinkling of smart people.

    Comment by Michael — May 30, 2012 @ 7:05 pm

  62. Streaming is interesting. Research has shown that there is no benefit to students that are identified as ‘able’ in subjects such as English and the humanities, but some limited benefit in subjects such as maths (this is due to the different nature of the learning). In opposition to this, they have found that students that are ‘less abled’ being placed in a low band streamed class are less likely to develop their skills at the same rate as they would if placed in a mixed class. If you take away models from average and low performing students (streaming) you reduce their learning success. If you look closely at schools that have intense streaming at a secondary level (some particular boys schools perhaps?) you will notice that they achieve a large number of scholarships, but achieve far fewer top grades as a percentage compared to non-streaming schools (the Excellence stats are a good indicator of this).

    Ultimately, it is about giving teachers the resources, skills and support to meet the needs of all learners in their classroom. I can guarantee the number of students in the class will directly influence the number of individualised plans a teacher can create, and also the level of individual feedback that can be provided. Two essential factors in lifting the achievement of all students.

    Hattie’s research is bandied about, but his overall findings are never looked at as a whole. Central to the findings of Visible Learning was the power of teacher-student relationships. A secondary school teacher will teach 5 classes. On average, this means around 28 students per classroom and a total of 140 students. Yes, adding another 5 – 8 to this list does mean that it becomes even harder for teachers to develop meaningful relationships with the students that they teach.

    The main problems with Hattie’s research is the way in which he divided up each metaanalysis and dealt with these discretely. But you can’t. Each skill / disposition / resource / action impacts on another. But treasury are happy to simply cherry-pick the findings that best suit their purpose of saving money.

    Oh, and if teachers taught their students as badly as treasury made financial predictions, we certainly would not be ranked third in the OECD for education…

    Comment by Tim — May 30, 2012 @ 8:59 pm

  63. Testify, brother

    Comment by Uncle Mikey — May 30, 2012 @ 11:31 pm

  64. I loved it! We suffer from the same sort of I’ll-educated Fuckwittery here in the uk, I can only assume its because no teachers really want to become politicians!

    Comment by newsattack — May 31, 2012 @ 8:23 am

  65. Having kids who achieve in the same class with kids who don’t can see all boats rise….or sink….depending on the teacher, the culture in the class, the school, the families, the community…..the country. I know my own daughter has been personally challenged to lift her game by seeing other kids succeed. But if you segregate achievers and – let’s say – “people who have yet to achieve, then you’re depriving the kids who haven’t worked it out yet of the chance to see role models doing it right in front of them. Nothing is guaranteed in education because it involves people…and we should know very well we aren’t uniform units. Hear, hear to this teacher who wrote this letter / post.

    Comment by Steve (@nza1) — May 31, 2012 @ 9:59 am

  66. Hi Tim, interesting. It seems that your wordfs would fit thematically in with the general observations of all the studies discussed here and elsewhere that factors such as poverty and resources are a greater influence on academic outcomes than streaming. But what about subjective measures rather than a simply objective measure of results? What I mean by this is that subjectively I found my experience of education was much more fun once I got to high aschool and got streamed. I note, for example, that “MeeToo” says in his post that his ankle biter has “…been conditioned to not demonstrate any ability because it is seriously uncool to be academic…”

    I found that being streamed meant I didn’t have to pretend I didn’t like being a study swot who preened with straight A’s and pats on the head from the teachers (*sigh* I know, I know…) and I wonder if that subjective experience hasn’t been measured?

    Comment by Sanctuary — May 31, 2012 @ 10:15 am

  67. You’ve inspired me to join the noise and try to do something about what’s happening to our education system, so thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Comment by mooandflo — May 31, 2012 @ 10:57 am

  68. Good post, though sadly I doubt Key and co will listen as they are broad brush on the money savings not the daily details.
    The reality is we are in the hole financially and politically Key hasn’t educated us just how much, let alone to take away the WFF etc.
    Labour will be worse as they will just throw money (OPM) at it, by taking it off the 168,000 who pay 97% of the collected tax.
    We of course have just put our hands out and accepted it, not living within our means as someone else is always going to pay aren’t they!
    michael mckee

    Comment by Michael Mckee — May 31, 2012 @ 12:03 pm

  69. why don’t the Min of Ed run a trial?
    I’m not seeing much evidence that the Ministry of Education had anything to do with this policy. It seems to have come down from Treasury, with not even any attempt to brief Hekia Parata about its impacts.

    Comment by Smut Clyde — June 1, 2012 @ 8:32 am

  70. Thanks for that link, Ross. It’s just so intolerably galling that Key has the temerity to totally contradict that 2005 view with the 2012 argument for these changes. A little honesty goes a long way – how about the Govt simply admits that it is re-directing this money to fund its pet “performance pay ” (read union-busting) agenda? It’s simply insluting taht they maintain the fiction that this is designed to “improve educational outcomes”. Bah.

    Comment by MGK — June 1, 2012 @ 12:38 pm

  71. *lol* great typo that… – “insulting” of course

    Comment by MGK — June 1, 2012 @ 12:38 pm

  72. Oh I dunno, insluting just about covers it. 🙂

    Comment by Ross — June 1, 2012 @ 12:47 pm

  73. How long before we see the headline: What the Hekia Doing?

    Comment by Ross — June 1, 2012 @ 12:48 pm

  74. #70: “It seems to have come down from Treasury, with not even any attempt to brief Hekia Parata about its impacts.”

    Add to that its complete and utter oversight of the $14 bn+ Roads of National Significance and other pork-barrel projects, the mishandling of the deposit guarantees scheme, and you have all the ingredients for a re-brand.

    Comment by DeepRed — June 2, 2012 @ 10:39 pm

  75. Hekia creates one hell of a Tui Billboard!

    Comment by Dave Kennedy — June 6, 2012 @ 12:12 pm

  76. The latest OECD report on education still ranks New Zealand near the top, which prompts me to ask a number of questions:

    Comment by Dave Kennedy — June 8, 2012 @ 10:20 am

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