They should warn you at teachers college that when you start teaching it won’t be too long before you are bailed up at a bar-b-cue by a parent wanting you to share your “insider knowledge” on the schools that will academically advantage their kids.
It doesn’t matter how the conversation over the pre-cooked sausages and lamb chops starts it always ends up with the parent asking you to finger a school that will guarantee the fruit of their loins “academic excellence”.
Teachers who are persuaded to join these conversations over incinerating meat must blur the distinction between what schools are and what schools do ... .
Ever since I spent 10 years of my life trapped in a sandpit with preschoolers I have known that “the quest to advantage your own” would make a fascinating academic study ...
... and given that independent school enrolments in New Zealand (read private school enrolments) have risen by 25% between 2000 and 2007 (Joy Quigley, Executive Director of Independent Schools of New Zealand ) compared to state school rolls increases of 4.87% over the same period – now seems like a great time to launch into a PhD in clarifying the belief systems influencing parental choice in NZ Schools for their 21st Century Loiners
Apparently our private schools are also seen as best “bang for bucks” option for foreign students
New Zealand's private schools are knocking their British counterparts off the top of the global league table for English-speaking education, international research suggests.
The findings could give New Zealand an edge over Britain among wealthy Asians seeking the best education for their children - particularly since New Zealand's top schools are generally cheaper, London's Financial Times newspaper reports.
All of which makes my summer holiday reading more pertinent – I have just finished Levitt and Dubner’s “Freakonomics” – it is a great vacation read – a book that you can relax into and be entertained and educated by in equal measure - and it has some very smart analysis for anyone interested in schools and teaching.
I enjoyed the first chapter on “What do Schoolteachers and Sumo Wrestlers Have in Common? where the authors claim that “Cheating is a primordial economic act: getting more for less” and reveal that “... teacher cheating is rarely looked for, hardly ever detected, and just about never punished.” They go on to expose the incentives for teachers to cheat when high stakes testing is introduced and describe an algorithm used to detect a cheating teacher’s classroom in the Chicago Public School System database of test answers “for every CPS student from third grade through seventh grade from 1993 to 2000.” - a sample of results from 30,000 students per grade level per year
I know we track student cheating in New Zealand and occasionally we read media reports about teacher cheating but these are always represented as the isolated actions of mavericks in the system. Levitt and Dubner’s data makes me wonder if teacher cheating is more widespread than we imagine. The chapter catalysed many questions - I wanted to ask - how prevalent is teacher cheating in enhancing student results in New Zealand schools? How would we know? How hard are we looking for teacher cheating?
It is such compelling analysis of teacher cheating that it makes me wonder if our systems are as vulnerable to teachers who wish to inflate their students test performance. Our secondary students commonly gain better grades in NCEA internals than externals. What is the cause of this difference? Is the incentive to inflate student assessments greater in internally assessed courses than externally assessed courses? And given the growing competition between primary schools in Auckland with each school looking to market itself – each school promoting its point of difference over its neighbour – I wondered what happens when the incentives are great enough for schools misrepresent student ability to inflate their own status.
Then I wondered if the significance of teacher cheating was inversely proportional to the number of teachers doing it? Does cheating in fact matter more when fewer teachers do it? – If we did find a wide spread practice of inflation in student assessment across all primary and secondary schools will its impact on how we understand student abilities be reduced?
And all of this came from the first chapter in Freakonomics - I had more questions than I had space to think.
However, Chapter 5 “What makes a perfect parent?” has the stuff that will make provocative conversation when shared with the parents who sidle up to me at the bar-b –cue.
In Chapter Five the authors look at the regression analysis of data from the US Department of Education Early Childhood Longitudinal Study ECLS – into “the academic progress of more than twenty thousand children from kindergarten through to fifth grade. The subjects were chosen from across the country to represent an accurate cross section of American schoolchildren.”
The study found eight ECLS factors that were correlated with school test scores (note correlation not causality) and eight factors that are not.
The eight factors that are correlated with school test scores:
- The child has highly educated parents.
- The child’s parents have high socioeconomic status
- The child’s mother was thirty or older at the time of the first child’s birth
- The child had low birthweight
- The child’s parents speak English at home
- The child is adopted
- The child’s parents are involved in the PTA
- The child has many books in his home
The eight factors that are not correlated with school test scores:
- The child’s family is intact
- The child’s parents recently moved into a better neighbourhood
- The child’s mother didn’t work between birth and kindergarten
- The child attended Head Start
- The child’s parents regularly take him to museums
- The child is regularly spanked
- The child frequently watches television
- The child’s parents read to him nearly every day.
Levitt and Dubner offer the following response to the regression analysis
To overgeneralise a bit, the first list describes things that parents are; the second things that parents do. Parents who are well educated, successful, and healthy tend to have children who test well in school; but it doesn’t seem to matter whether a child is trotted off to museums or spanked or sent to sent to Head start or frequently read to or plopped in front of the television.
For parents – and parenting experts – who are obsessed with child rearing technique, this may be sobering news. The reality is that technique looks to be highly overrated. (p161)
This chapter’s use of The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study ECLS Program data makes me wonder if the high test scores reported for independent (private) schools, could be looked at in a similar way – Perhaps the correlation between independent (private) schools and high test scores is more to do with what these schools are in terms of their student population, than what the schools can do for the students they have enrolled.
However, I will admit that the bar b cue parent is unlikely to be swayed by the conversations in Chapter 5 ... they seldom state it openly across the sizzle of sausages but high test scores are only part of what they seek ..