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Q+A: Interview with Hekia Parata, Education Minister

Q+A: Shane Taurima Interview with Hekia Parata, Education Minster
Points of Interest:
Government to create a “robust and reliable appraisal system” for teachers, but won’t rule in or out performance pay.
Minister wants to “collaborate” with teachers on designing appraisal system, but says class size is not relevant.
Government to “look at” changing teacher career path so that they can earn more without leaving the classroom.
“The mix of rewards that we might want to have available are second-order to having an appraisal system that we can all rely on.”
Minister says her target to lift the number of 18-year-olds with level 2 NCEA from 68% to 85% over five years is a ‘must achieve’ and ‘aspiration.’
Departmental advice on the risks of charter schools includes, “poor teachers, ill-defined standards, unclear curriculum”, but those are risks in all schools.
Minister won’t say if she will look at cutting front line teaching jobs if it would raise money to improve teaching quality, saying it’s the principals determine class size.
Parata says, “The single biggest challenge we have is to raise achievement.”
Q+A, 9-10am Sundays on TV ONE. Repeats of Q&A will screen on TVNZ7 at 9pm Sundays and 9am and 1pm on Mondays.                

Q+A is on Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/NZQandA#!/NZQandA and on Twitter, http://twitter.com/#!/NZQandA
Interviewed by SHANE TAURIMA
SHANE                         Thank you, minister for joining us. Tena koe.
HEKIA PARATA – Education Minister
                                       Kia ora.
SHANE                         The head of Treasury, Gabriel Makhlouf, says teaching quality is the most important issue on education, and I quote, “It’s the single biggest issue the country needs to tackle to raise living standards,” end of quote Do you agree with that?
MS PARATA                I think the single biggest challenge we have is to raise achievement, and improving teacher quality is going to directly contribute to that. We need to have more of our young people leaving school with the basic qualification of NCEA 2. We’ve seen progress over the last three years, since 2008. We have raised NCEA 2 achievement levels across the board, and for Maori and Pasifika. But we really need to treble that over the next five years if we are to get more young people equipped with skills, able to leave school and get into a career and make meaningful choices about the quality of life they have.
SHANE                         Let’s go back to teaching quality, because you’ve been quoted this weekend saying that pay performance is back on the table. Is that correct?
MS PARATA                Look, I think the first thing that has to be on the table is having a robust and reliable appraisal system that allows us to make those kinds of differentiations. If we want to raise teacher quality, we have to identify who is delivering successful practice and make that common practice. We have to identify where we need to improve the professional learning and development so that teachers can engage with students successfully and our students’ achievement is raised.
SHANE                         So is that back on the table, pay performance? Is that part of your thinking, I suppose?
MS PARATA                Look, I think it’s really important that we don’t think there’s one kind of silver bullet, and I think that the mix of rewards that we might want to have available are second-order to having an appraisal system that we can all rely on. And the point of an appraisal system is not to punish or blame but to identify where the best practice is occurring, how we get that happening across all schools and where improvement needs to occur and how we get support in.
SHANE                         Former education minister Anne Tolley, she told the NZEI annual meeting last year, and I quote, “I’ve made it very clear that this government has no intention of pursuing performance pay.” Has that changed?
MS PARATA                Again, I think we need to focus on what our purpose is, which is raising achievement of all New Zealand students.
SHANE                         So you’re not absolutely ruling it out?
MS PARATA                No, I’m not ruling it out or ruling it in. I’m saying that the purpose of the education system is to send kids out into the world with a qualification that’s meaningful. In order to do that, we need to have quality teaching in the classrooms, all the way from year one through to year 13.
SHANE                         So you talk about an appraisal system. How would that work? How do you see that working?
MS PARATA                Well, first of all I think it’s something that has to be a function of collaboration across the sector. There are over 52,000 teachers in the New Zealand education system. There are over 2500 schools in the education system. The only people that are going to be able to raise achievement are the teachers and the learning connection with the learners.
SHANE                         But the appraisal, though. The appraisal system...
MS PARATA                So we need to be hearing from the teaching profession as to what are the key things that make the difference in achieving quality, in getting the outcome of raised achievement...
SHANE                         Because the big question, I dare say, is how do you actually measure teacher performance?
MS PARATA                And that is why we need to have a discussion. We need to co-construct that or collaborate on that, because teachers in the profession, and many of them are teaching extremely well, because four out of five of our students are achieving...
SHANE                         With the absolute greatest respect, you pose a lot of questions. Do you have any answers?
MS PARATA                I do have a lot of answers, and...
SHANE                         So let me...
MS PARATA                ...the answer is this – it’s not simple; it’s extremely complex. What we do know is that achievement is uneven within schools as well as between schools. That tells us that the challenge is far more than simply suggesting that it is a socio-economic problem, because we see that this texture of performance is across the system. That means we need to engage with the profession itself to identify...
SHANE                         And we take that point.
MS PARATA                ...what the best standards are.
SHANE                         We take the point in terms of engagement.
MS PARATA                OK, so we need high-quality graduates to be attracted into the profession. We need to know that they have qualifications and they understand pedagogical range. We need to know that they understand...
SHANE                         Can I just slow you down?
MS PARATA                ...the learning styles of the students.
SHANE                         Just on those first two points – are you prepared to pay them well, though?
MS PARATA                Well, at the moment the starting salary for teachers is, I think, just over $50,000, and it can range through to over $200,000 for principals, so there is a broad range, but what I think the workforce taskforce reported last year was that we needed to look at the structure of the career pathways so that excellent teachers aren’t forced to become leaders or managers – in other words taken out of the classroom situation – because that would be the only way they could get a pay increase. So we have to look at that. We have to look at what the structure of career progression is and how we pay that.
SHANE                         Can I take you back?
MS PARATA                You can.
SHANE                         Can I take you back to my original question around how you propose to measure teacher performance? Because, I put to you, how do you assess the teacher with a bright, motivated group of students against another teacher who has a class with several disruptive students? How do you measure that?
MS PARATA                OK, so there are two broad measures by which you measure. One is whether the student is achieving the national standard...
SHANE                         So student outcome?
MS PARATA                ...for their age at primary school and whether they are passing external examinations at the secondary school level. The second and complementary part of that is what is the rate of progress or what is the value-add or what is the growth of learning that a student is achieving with a particular teacher in a classroom.
SHANE                         So student outcome?
MS PARATA                Student outcomes are most definitely a core part of determining whether or not learning is occurring successfully. We know also that the difference made by a good teacher has been tracked. Most recently I met with Profession Rockoff, who’s one of the three academics who’s published on of the largest pieces of research...
SHANE                         Can I just move you on, please? Mr Makhlouf, the head of Treasury, if we can go back to him again, because I dare say class size would be part of the appraisal system. Would that be fair?
MS PARATA                No.
SHANE                         No? It’s not?
MS PARATA                No,...
SHANE                         OK.
MS PARATA                ...because what we know from the evidence is that the effect of class size is minimal in comparison to the effect of the quality of teaching.
SHANE                         On the issue of class size, though, because he suggests that you should be looking at increasing class sizes by one or two students per class across the system to be able to free up funding to be able to improve teaching quality.
MS PARATA                To be fair, I think he’s making the argument from the opposite end from the way that you’ve just presented it. He has said that in recessionary times where we have fiscal constraint, where's the best place to put a dollar? And the choice between class size or between investing in the quality of the teacher is really clear.
SHANE                         Do you accept his notion, though, or the concept of what he’s proposing?
MS PARATA                Well, I accept what the evidence tells us, which is that it is the quality of teaching, albeit the size of the class, that makes the difference to the students. The class size itself...
SHANE                         Is that something you would be prepared to do?
MS PARATA                Well, class size itself is not correlative to achievement. I mean, I, for instance, went through primary school in a class of 42. Other children may have gone through in a class of 16. If you take the linear logic of that argument, then everyone who went through in a small class should be superstars and everyone who went through in a large class should not be. It’s the difference of the teacher in the classroom.
SHANE                         You’ve made the commitment to lift the number of 18-year-olds with level 2 NCEA from 68% to 85% over five years. Is that an absolute must-achieve for you or is it an aspiration?
MS PARATA                Well, look, it’s both. I mean, I aspire to that, but the fact is our country needs well-qualified young people.
SHANE                         I suppose my point in asking the question...
MS PARATA                I’m committed to achieving 85%. That means we need to collaborate across the sector and indeed the country. We need, outside of schools, for parents to be committed to their children doing well, to have high expectations of them and to go into schools and demand those expectations.
SHANE                         The point of my question, I suppose, is that if you don’t meet the target, is this when you put your career on the line today and you say, “If I don’t meet the target, this is what happens”?
MS PARATA                Look, of course we must have ambitious goals as a government, and I am ambitious for students in the New Zealand education system. We cannot have more of the same. It means we have to do something different. So if...
SHANE                         So does that mean putting your career on the line and saying, “I will achieve it”?
MS PARATA                I don’t think we need to get quite that dramatic.
SHANE                         Because?
MS PARATA                Because I personally...
SHANE                         If it’s so important to you, though.
MS PARATA                Well, it’s important to our country, and I am the minister of education, and I am committed to raising achievement...
SHANE                         So you’re not prepared to say that?
MS PARATA                I’m prepared to say that my goal is 85%. That means we have to triple the rate of children passing NCEA now. If we did nothing at all over the next five years, then we would raise by 3500 the number of kids passing NCEA. We need 10,000 to be passing NCEA by 2016. That means we have to have a different mix in the education sector.
SHANE                         Part of that different mix – because the whole concept of charter schools... Let’s talk about charter schools now,...
MS PARATA                Yes.
SHANE                         ...which the unions vehemently oppose for a host of reasons. But what I want to ask you, though – has your own ministry provided you with any risk analysis on charter schools?
MS PARATA                Yes, and can I just take you back, though? I know...
SHANE                         No, can you answer that question?
MS PARATA                I can answer that question, but I don’t know how...
SHANE                         Can we go straight there, please?
MS PARATA                ...it’s possible to oppose something where we haven’t defined what it is that we’re talking about.
SHANE                         But let’s start off with...
MS PARATA                So charter schools...
SHANE                         Let’s start off with them.
MS PARATA                I have been provided with advice by my ministry. I have read widely around the subject, and I have visited charter schools in the United States last week, and charter schools, like mainstream schools in New Zealand – there are very good ones and there are not. In New Zealand , in the five years from 2003 to 2008, 281 schools were closed in New Zealand . In the last three years, 49 schools have been closed. Failure or success is not directly related to the type of school. It is related to the performance of the school.
SHANE                         And I appreciate that context that you provide, but can we go back to the original question. Has your ministry...? Well, it sounds as though they have.
MS PARATA                Yes, it has provided me with...
SHANE                         Can you tell us what that risk analysis is?
MS PARATA                Well, basically that we have to have very good terms of reference. We have to have clear definition of what we are trying to achieve. We have to make a good selection of where these schools might operate. We have to insure...
SHANE                         What are the failures, though, that the ministry has pointed out to you?
MS PARATA                Well, I guess that’s the point that I’m trying make to you. It is circumstance-specific. It is not peculiar to a type of school. We have private schools failing and public schools failing. We have single-sex and co-ed schools. The point about a charter school is we have to change the performance level of the system, in particular for Maori and Pasifika students.
SHANE                         Are you going to tell us, though, what those failures are that the ministry has pointed out to you this morning?
MS PARATA                Well, they’re the obverse of what I’ve just said would be successful: if there are poor teachers, ill-defined standards, unclear curriculum,...
SHANE                         So there is risk?
MS PARATA                ...lack of... As there is with all schools.
SHANE                         Would you send your own child to a charter school?
MS PARATA                I indeed have sent my child to... In fact, all schools in New Zealand are charter schools. All schools are required by law to have a charter.
SHANE                         But not in the sense that we’re about to embark on.
MS PARATA                Well, that’s what we’re...
SHANE                         Quite different.
MS PARATA                We’re about to embark on defining what we mean for the New Zealand circumstance. That’s what we’re about to embark on.
SHANE                         So the two schools...
MS PARATA                And in answer to your original question, if I thought my daughters would get a better education there, then, yes. And as it happens, my daughters have been in kura, they’ve been in a private school, and they’ve been in co-ed and single-sex educational schools, because those have fitted the circumstances of our family and my academic aspirations for my children at the time. And this is one of the point of charter schools – it adds to the menu of choice for New Zealand parents.
SHANE                         Talking about choice, I want to go back to the size of classrooms, back to that area. The PPTA say according to their calculations, if you were to add two or three extra in each class, it would mean the loss of about 2000 front line teaching jobs.
MS PARATA                I don’t know where the PPTA are getting their numbers from, but what I can tell you is that the ratio of pupil to teachers in New Zealand ranges from between 17 and 25. That is about the same ratios as in 2006.
SHANE                         So yes or no, because we have to wrap. But yes or no,...
MS PARATA                So the point about...
SHANE                         ...would you look at cutting those front line teaching jobs if it was to improve teaching quality?
MS PARATA                 But those are two different questions. The point is about ratios is that...
SHANE                         But can you answer that questions, please?
MS PARATA                ...principals determine what the size of classes are, not the government.
SHANE                         But you the minister, the decision lies with you...
MS PARATA                Not the government.
SHANE                         ...about cutting jobs, though.
MS PARATA                But the principals decide what size classes they’re going to have in their schools. That is the point of our system is to put the trade-offs as close to where they can be... the impacts are felt.
SHANE                         We have to leave it there, unfortunately. We are out of time. Hekia Parata, thank you for joining us.
MS PARATA                Kia ora.


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