Jun 20, 2012

Fail: Why the Maori Party's wrong on education

As former education professionals, you would expect Te Ururoa Flavell and Pem Bird to know a thing or two about education. However, on charter schools, performance pay and league tables Flavell and Bird have got it wrong.

From Waatea:

Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell is backing Education Minister Hekia Parata's reforms.

"I think we've got to look at new ideas so for example I haven't got a problem with looking at charter schools. If it doesn't work, so it doesn't work. We've got to look at things like pay performance because that might encourage our teachers to lift performance even better, particularly around dealing with Maori students. Let's look at it. We shouldn't be precious about staying with what we've got because clearly it isn't delivering what we want," Mr Flavell says.

While Pem Bird informs RNZ that:

The Iwi Education Authority says league tables would make schools more accountable for performance and more responsible for achieving results.

Authority chairman Pem Bird says any ranking system would make schools work harder, because results would be explicit and transparent.

He says if his annual results weren't good, he wouldn't despair - it would be a challenge for him improve the following year's performance.

These are incredibly simplistic views. “If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work” is a terrible approach to policy making. Charter schools, performance pay and league tables are not abstract concepts that will have no tangible effect on learning. They are concrete policy initiatives that will affect the lives of all Maori children. With that in mind, it is reckless to endorse policy just because it quote “might” work.

Flavell, having based his views of performance pay on the idea that it provides an incentive, is misguided. Performance pay provides an incentive, but an incentive to narrow outcomes. All of a sudden schooling becomes about test scores rather than broader goals, for example equipping students with reasoning skills, ideas of social responsibility and so on. 

In other words, performance pay encourages teachers to teach to the test. Such an approach fell out of fashion long ago. What we need from out students isn’t the ability to rote learn, which is what performance pay and its bastard teaching to the test encourages, but the ability to reason, innovate and so on. 

As for charter schools, well, I can see the attraction. The idea conforms with ideas of tino rangatiratanga. Charter schools put Maori in charge of Maori. Iwi, for example, could deliver the curriculum and revive our culture. Rongoa Maori could be offered as a subject.

The pitfall, however, is that iwi have no experience in delivering education. Add to this the shortage of Maori teachers, especially te reo Maori teachers, and the fact that there are precious few models to draw on.

On league tables, Bird’s conception is shallow. League tables “might” encourage schools to work harder, or alternatively encourage schools to skew results, purge and refuse to accept weaker students, teach to the test and so on. I tend to think the latter is more likely.

Furthermore, National Standards aren’t standardised thus rendering the comparisons (i.e. league tables) almost meaningless. A different set of standards also apply to Kura, therefore any comparison between Kura and mainstream schools is utterly pointless. So for Maori parents wanting to compare whether Kura or mainstream schools are better for Maori children, league tables will offer no guidance. With that in mind, what the fuck’s the point?

I’m constantly amazed at how disappointing the Maori Party can be. Is anybody doing their homework in the party? Or are they just going off intuition? I don’t know what’s going on, but they’re doing Maori a disservice when they endorse the government’s plans for education.


  1. Maori underachievement in Education is a seriously problem, and has been for yonks. I don't see how experimentation with charter schools could be any worse. Iwi are not the only groups who could vie for maori-oritentated charter schools, indeed those maori teachers frustrated with the shortcomings of the system would probably be the best-equipped to run such things.

    Maybe this support of the government is detrimental to Maori, but this is politics, and we have to accept there's going to be trade-offs (Whanau Ora doesn't come cheap).

    The key here is for opposition parties to rattle the bars, they've been doing it a fair bit over the last month. But I am, as yet, unaware of what exactly Labour plans in terms of policy in Education and specifically related to Maori Education.

    They've got Nanaia Mahuta as Education spokesperson - and she's been highly critical of the Budget & Nats' education policy, but also quite vacuous as far as putting forward tangible goals that I expect to see from a government-in-waiting. (Are they still going with the pre-election policy or ...?)

    Essentially, Labour's current education policy comes across as 'we're just going to un-do whatever National does' - but maintaining status quo isn't better for Maori.

    Statements like "“Labour believes that education is too important to experiment with." (Shearer)
    doesn't inspire much confidence within me, knowing that our education system is failing Maori anyhow.

    Maybe I don't pay enough attention to their press releases, but it seems Labour has been good lately at being critical but very poor at being visionary.

    1. I think iwi would be the most appropriate body to run charter schools for Maori. Mostly because iwi have the resources. Although, there are number of whanau and hapu trusts that could look to set up their own charter schools, but there is such a huge element of risk. If the venture is a failure, and there will always be a high chance of this, then the education of hundreds of students is ruined. I can see your point, however, that how can charter schools get any worse than the status quo. After all, as Kura Kaupapa demonstrate, Maori achieve better in a Maori environment. Yet I suspect it is not that simple.

  2. Don't forget Pita Sharples is a former education professional too.

    All too often the Maori Party seems comfortable with liberalisation as long as the private sector groups that will get to take over government functions are Maori, preferably Iwi-related. I don't want to get into Iwi bashing but I think you're right - the Iwi are not set up to address the problems that affect the sector, even with the best will in the world.

    1. That's an interesting observation. I guess privatisation with a brown face is more comfortable for the Maori Party.

      I think there are some merits in having iwi run charter schools, but I think there is too much risk. It's no0t worth gambling in education.

    2. If I was to look at a league table for a kura kaupapa, it would not be incomparrison to a mainstream school, it would be to another kura.

      With all the politicising and usual covert 'anything to do with Maori bashing', please remember or even be informed; Tangata Whenua have been educationalists for thousands years before the enforcement of Western systems of education. That is, the entire point of Te Kura Kaupapa Maori. The reason tamariki succeed so greatly, can be located in the name that highlights the intent; Kura=place and/or time of learning, Kaupapa=generic word that can be applied to issue or subject or in the education context, it also can mean 'the centre of', Maori=tangata whenua, can be iwi/rohe/whanau specific or all inclusive but always derived from matauranga-a-Maori and/or mataurnaga-a-iwi (matauranga in this context refers to the epistomological pedagogy).
      My tamariki are at the centre of their own learning, to see their own reflection in their education is what enables them to achieve so highly. Please keep your debate specific to your own topic i.e league tables. Its so clear to see when people speak of Te Kura Kaupapa Maori with limited understanding and therefore limiting veiws. Specifically for Morgan Godfery, if your defecit view of Maori initiated education is a 'risk', the question of 'to whom' would require further analysis.

  3. Good comments and right on the spot

  4. Maori were historically anarchic. We still are. I am reluctant to put a pakeha label on us, but the fact is we live in fairly autonomous groups, and don't take kindly to centalised control whether it be from central government or iwi authorities. This is the reason the charter 'type' model is attractive. Self governing and self managing. Look to Rakaumanga in Huntly and Tawhiuau in Murupara. Pem Bird was instrumental in getting Rakaumanga going, and he started, and continues to run Tawhiuau. People like Pem and Barna Heremia at Rakaumanga know what they are talking about. Don't be too quick to criticise Pem. I believe that he and Barna are the most innovative and talented Maori educationalists in the country. Look at their results and achievements before criticising them. If you knew what Pem had done over the years, and what his goals are you would not dismiss his ideas as shallow and without homework.

    1. I agree. The comments by Mr Flavell, I believe, have also been misunderstood. He ends by saying that what we're doing at the moment is still not working, so why not look at other ideas such as Charter Schools etc. Looking at and going ahead with are two different things. Looking into such ideas could mean investigating and welcoming feedback or alternative methods to education. As one of the so called "low number" of Maori teachers, I continue to feel isolated in the schools that I have worked at. While working at mainstream schools I have felt like I've been left to my own devices, unsupported and have been expected, on my own, to raise Maori achievement.

  5. I share your concern, Morgan. The National led Government keep talking about the fact that their priority is lifting achievement in Maori and Pacifika children and they demand that schools and teachers address this. Despite this they under resource Ka Hikitia, a programme specially designed to support Maori achievement and everything else they have done has not been enough to make a difference. Charter Schools won't help, they would be better to properly fund existing kura, League Tables won't help, especially with a narrow focus on literacy and numeracy (where mainstreamed Maori and Pacifica children especially struggle) and National Standards has been a dismal failure. NZEI have instigated a strategy, Whakahau Whakamana Whakahihi ( http://3w.org.nz/ ), to celebrate success and we wish this Government will do the same.

    This is off topic but I thought I would also share this passioned speech from David Clendon on how te Tiriti o Waitangi relates to the asset sales : http://inthehouse.co.nz/node/13389

  6. I agree that our domestic situation deserves its own analysis in regards to the instituting of Charter schools. There appears to be two specific arguments. One concerning the viability of charter schools generally and another that considers their potential as a more congruent concept for integrating kaupapa Maori academic endeavors. How do these two concerns relate to one another? If the charter school concept proves to be conducive to Maori academic endeavors and less consistent with Mainstream academic whakaaro, what are the longterm implications? how does this affect our tamariki (Maori and all others) who are not in kaupapa Maori institutions? and what changes can be made to the current mainstream model to seriously address the systemic failure of Male and Maori students? This issue deserves proper korero lest we fall into the trap of resisting by default.



1. Anonymous comments will be rejected. Please use your real name or a pseudonym/moniker/etc...
2. No personal abuse. Defamatory comments will be rejected.
3. I'll reject any comment that isn't in good taste.