The Dim-Post

September 23, 2012

Conspiracy theory of the day, cockup or conspiracy edition?

Filed under: education — danylmc @ 2:10 pm

So the release of the National Standards data makes it easy to do all sorts of incredibly dubious analysis on the incredibly dubious dataset of National Standards results (check out Arahunga School’s results – just one of many ‘what the?’ moments when looking through the raw data).

But looking at the relationship between class size and standards is actually a bit tricky – that information is spread across three different datasets. Standards in one, teacher numbers in another, student numbers in another. And then, when you do measure that data and see the link between class size and results, it’s instantly, really obvious that the special schools are skewing the trend.

So maybe the Herald on Sunday did that analysis, and just didn’t notice the special schools, or did notice and didn’t care. But it strikes me as awesomely convenient that Hekia Parata, the same Education Minister releasing the National Standards data was humiliated and forced to back down on her signature budget policy just a few months ago when she argued that class size didn’t matter, and that larger classes were better.

I wonder if the Herald on Sunday were scammed by the Minister’s office on this one?

Update: HoS editor Jonathan Milne called me to clarify that (a) they ran the analysis with and without the special schools, and acknowledged that the trend is less-pronounced without them, but still there – which is why they angled on it, and (b) there’s commentary and analysis of the data and results in the hard copy that hasn’t made it online yet.


  1. Or the editor/journalist was an anti-teacher-union type (Roughan involved in HoS at all?) who saw an awesome chance to both avenge the class-sze “loss” and rub in the National Standards implementation in one go?

    Comment by garethw — September 23, 2012 @ 2:45 pm

  2. HOS editor Jonathon Milne seems to be making excuses.

    Calling a trend on bad data is like seeing an alien on State Highway One. You simply can’t see a trend, the data is a dud, and attempts to analyse it and report any findings only serve to make the Herald on Sunday appear even stupider, or desperate, or both.

    Comment by Mel — September 23, 2012 @ 2:51 pm

  3. Considering Arahunga School is a school for special needs and autistic kids, its not surprising the majority are well below national standards.

    Interestingly my daughters school has no students at all “well below” national standards in reading or writing, that might seem odd but not when you know that the deputy principal runs a reading recovery program with a missionary like zeal, she teaches all year zero and year one kids for their first six months at school to identify the ones that need it, or will need it, then she personally does the reading recovery herself. However the decile ten school up the road has “average” numbers of “well below” in reading, they dont have reading recovery -parents pay for extra tuition (maybe its just not done for middle class parents to say there kid is in reading recovery?) The community has known about the schools different approaches for years.

    It also has no maths in the “well below” category- the same intensive approach is given through streamed classes, and the kids are encouraged to sit ICAS maths every year in a competitive way.

    BTW way she has 34 kids in her year 5 class, having only 27 would be welcome.

    Comment by gn35 — September 23, 2012 @ 2:57 pm

  4. “…Update: HoS editor Jonathan Milne called me…”

    This is bad for Fran O’Sullivan.

    Comment by Sanctuary — September 23, 2012 @ 3:43 pm

  5. OK so WHY did HOS do that analysis? It does seem odd.

    Comment by Dv — September 23, 2012 @ 3:50 pm


    Why the heck does Lindisfarne (decile 10) get so much money?
    According to this they get more funding per student than the students at low decile schools….

    Comment by HB — September 23, 2012 @ 4:55 pm

  7. They get more funding because they are routinely sacked by Viking hordes.

    Comment by Gregor W — September 23, 2012 @ 6:01 pm

  8. Wonder if they thought about this plot. Just playing around, seems like ~70% of the effect disappears when you factor in school decile.

    Comment by David Winter (@TheAtavism) — September 23, 2012 @ 8:50 pm

  9. (that’s “at” or “above” the math standard below, and enrollment:FTE ratio above)

    Comment by David Winter (@TheAtavism) — September 23, 2012 @ 8:52 pm

  10. Do bigger classes cause better results, or is it the other way around? Why do people always make this mistake? It’s not like it’s hard to identify a clear causality between schools identifying weak students and schools attempting to give them more help. They’re actually supposed to do that. It is good to see it in the data, though. If it were the other way around, that individual tuition was being given to the gifted students, and those struggling were lumped into giant lectures to switch off and fail, then we’d have very poor average results.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — September 24, 2012 @ 12:21 am

  11. Meanwhile, Jonathan Milne has also written on his experiences with the British equivalent of national standards… and apparently they’ve went pear-shaped.

    Comment by DeepRed — September 24, 2012 @ 3:20 am

  12. Why the heck does Lindisfarne (decile 10) get so much money?

    Schools get both money and teachers. My guess is that that funding for each school is reached by adding the cost of both the grant, and the salaries, together. If a particular school has few cheaper junior teachers, and lots of teachers at the top of the scale, it’s overall funding will be higher than other schools which have more teachers who are new to the profession. Whether that is the case with this particular school, I naturally cannot say.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — September 24, 2012 @ 9:38 am

  13. I think Lindisfarne is high becuase it is integrated. All the integrated schools seem quite high. It might include parent contribution.

    @ graeme – it’s my understanding that funding is per pupil and doesn’t reflect the actual balance of the staff. It is an averaged amount for a typical school and the school manage the staff mix within that.

    Comment by insider — September 24, 2012 @ 12:46 pm

  14. “13.I think Lindisfarne is high becuase it is integrated… It might include parent contribution”
    But the data says “The school receives $3,525,883 in direct government funding, which translates to a budget of $7,123.00 per student.”

    Yay, religious indoctrination AND over-the-top taxpayer funding. But I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt: perhapss the funding data includes capital works, not just operational grant. But, then I spotted “Total funding = Operational funding + teacher salaries, Education”
    Perhaps the Ministry’s definition of “operational” is a bit like TEC’s definition of “cash” = “cash income (or expenses) paid, accrued or invoiced” (which must mean TEC-cash does-not-include: provisions, deprecitions, amortisation). Perhaps “operational” DOES include capital works….

    Comment by Clunking Fist — September 24, 2012 @ 1:49 pm

  15. I dunno cf. integrated schools don’t usually get funds for buildings just salaries

    Comment by insider — September 24, 2012 @ 5:07 pm

  16. The media exist to sell advertising. Any facts, truths, context behind the “stories” are irrelevant.

    The so called “national standards” (actually national party standards) are Key’s responsibility and the HoS would criticise him? Id not think so.

    Hartevelts piece in the dompost is in the same vein. Bugger education the government has a policy. the government is never wrong we need to sell advertising run the story and bugger the facts.

    Comment by peterlepaysan — September 24, 2012 @ 9:20 pm

  17. Yes, but you are assuming that the y axis is actually meaningful. It isn’t. Try looking at the difference between incoming and outgoing students’ performances. Oh, right, the people who devised this train wreck didn’t measure that.

    Comment by Euan — September 25, 2012 @ 1:16 am

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