Saturday, February 06, 2010

Opinionated Mummy

Opinionated Mummy is going through hard times. WINZ won't help. No, it's not fair when you have paid your taxes, but the assistance is supposedly targeted to the greatest need (of course I have written endlessly about how the very availability of assistance creates the need). It seems to me OM needs to find whatever temp work she can get while a 'real' job is secured. But I know that is easier said than done. I went through a period after returning to NZ of living with my parents and getting less confident and more depressed as I failed interviews and felt guilt ridden about relying on their support. And I only had myself to worry about. Not three children.

I sympathise with OM and I don't think she has brought her problems on herself. So in the ethos of voluntary giving, which I believe strongly in, I would like to have a whip around for her and will start off the kitty with $100. I know its not a huge amount but neither is her current shortfall. Would anyone like to chip in? E-mail me at

And OM. Don't go all proud on us. You can pay it back one day if you want but I certainly wouldn't expect you to. I like the way you think and I like the way you approach life. So I can help if I wish. Let me know how I can get the money to you.

National Standards 4 - still unpersuaded

John Hattie is "Auckland University professor, student assessment expert and the man top politicians in this country see for advice about education". This is what I have been saying, or attempting to say, about the introduction of National Standards;

If it ain't broke...

Hattie's first point is that, despite sweeping claims of failure by Key and Education Minister Anne Tolley, the New Zealand school system is in good shape, especially compared with the rest of the world.

National standards, he argues, are usually the catchcry of countries where the education system is in serious trouble. They have been introduced in the US, Britain and Australia but none of these countries have been able to show any overall improvement in student achievement.

Hattie believes national standards may lift the performance of a few children at the bottom of the educational heap but says the average will not change because bright children will be neglected. He thinks the policy threatens to destroy one of the great strengths of New Zealand's education system, which recognises that children of the same age have different academic abilities and allows them to learn at the level of their current ability.

There is an indication later in the piece that the Minister is allowing schools to keep "their own testing system, rather than introducing national testing." So now I will try to find out exactly what that means.

Friday, February 05, 2010

The growth in incapacity isn't just a factor of an ageing population

Excuse me while I attend to a comment from SPC over at Frog blog;

"LM claims little expertise on the matter of SB and IB – their rates are increasing worldwide."

Never have I made a secret out of Australia, the UK and the US grappling with the same issue. Does that make it acceptable? I have blogged about all at some time or another. I have also mentioned more than once the OECD's observation that reliance on incapacity benefits is the medicalisation of labour market problems.

"Indications are that the levels on these benefits will continue on a rising trend whatever government policy is in place to manage the numbers down. This is a factor of the aging of baby boomers, a higher retirement age and over the last 20-30 years long periods of unemployment and poverty (consequences include addictions and mental health issues) and health problems resulting from smoking and dietary trends (which while reversing have left many in poor health)."

While I won't argue with any of that MSD says;

This paper reports on research that uses the Ministry of Social Development’s benefit administration data to advance our understanding of the growth in the number of people receiving the Invalid’s Benefit over the decade to 2002. It investigates the growth in inflows of people to Invalid’s Benefit, as this was the main cause of growth in recipient numbers. Some of the growth in inflows can be explained by population growth, population ageing, and the effects of the rise in the age of eligibility for New Zealand Superannuation. However, more than half cannot be accounted for by these factors and is explained instead by an increase in the proportion of people aged 15–59 taking up Invalid’s Benefit. (my emphasis)

Next is an MSD graph which shows which age group is increasing its reliance on sickness benefits;

2009 would show a further increase in the 18-24 year age group.

What I don't understand is why commentors want to make excuses for - or legitimise - the problem of people increasingly relying on these benefits. A great deal of the incapacity claimed could have been avoided. A great deal of the incapacity claimed is self-inflicted. Changing the rules to sanction self-inflicted incapacity was definitely a factor in climbing benefit numbers.

(There is also some confusion about dole numbers after Radio NZ reported 168,000 on the dole. There are 168,00 unemployed. Two different things.)

Sir Roger on the cause of high youth unemployment

On the matter of youth unemployment, specifically 15-19 year-olds, Roger Douglas released the following yesterday,

"It's very rich of Labour's Annette King to blame National for the high rate of unemployment for young New Zealanders when it is, in fact, Labour's abolition of youth rates that has caused this problem", ACT Finance Spokesman Sir Roger Douglas said today.

"Since youth rates were abolished in early 2008, the unemployment rate for 15-19 year-olds has almost doubled. The number of unemployed youth has risen by 18,800 people," Sir Roger said.

"It is pretty clear what is causing this to happen – if you look at the 10-year period before the abolition of youth rates, youth unemployment peaked at 15.9 percent. Today, it stands at 26.5 percent."

So now that youth must be paid the adult minimum wage, their prospects of employment are diminished. Hence their current high unemployment rate. Can we test that theory?

The average 15-19 year-old rate for the 2009 was 23.4 percent. I use this figure because December is always high and I want to compare to an earlier average rate.

In 1993 the gap between the general unemployment rate and the 15-19 rate was 12.1 percentage points (10.1 percent versus 22.2 percent).

In 2009 the gap is 17.2 percentage points (6.2 percent versus 23.4 percent).

The important difference between 1993 and 2009? In 1993 under 20s were exempt from the minimum wage.

Sadly, the young always take the brunt of a recession (the primary culprit) but the abolition of the youth rate appears to have had a compounding effect.

It would be preferable to have young people working for less than the minimum wage than sitting on a benefit, but the hard Left would disagree.

National Standards 3 - no thanks

Yesterday I received my 'soft soap the standards' letter from Mr Key and it has failed. It has scored a 'not achieved'.

First, National Standards will impose a new regime on schools which are already testing, assessing and providing the results to parents. These schools have presumably chosen those testing procedures the teachers and boards believe are the best for their school. But now they will have to conform to a national scheme. For years some secondary schools and ACT stood against the NCEA because it was a one-size fits all regime. They argued and still do for secondary schools to be able to adopt their own preferences eg Cambridge or Baccalaureate. While National Standards do not constitute an exam system as such, the principle of choice still applies. Each school is unique.

Put in practical terms my letter tells me how the new reports "might look".

As it stands I get more information than this. I am told what my child's reading age is for instance. My child frequently gives me reports herself about what her spelling age is. She is naturally proud of being well above her actual age.

Under National's regime all she will know is that she is somewhere on a scale. This was exactly the problem with NCEA and its demotivating effect on high achievers.

Mr Key says;
"National Standards in education will give you accurate information about how your child and school are doing, so you can make the right decisions for your child."

But I already get better information than the system you are about to impose.

The letter features a photo of a Maori or Pacific boy smiling warmly as he holds a picture book. And that gets full marks. Because he is what this policy is about. It's a misguided attempt to pull up the under-achieving tail. It's not about improving the education of hundreds of thousands of other children.

It is the imposition of change where none is needed. And based on what I see in my letter it may be change for the worse.

So I am angry and the parting salvo from Mr Key only makes me angrier;
"This policy is a critical step along the pathway to achieving [a brighter future for New Zealand]. I hope you and your family make the most of it."

Oh Prime Minister, we are forever in your debt - NOT.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

The changing face of unemployment and benefit dependence

According to the NZ Herald;

New Zealand's unemployment rate has surged to 7.3 per cent, from 6.5 per cent, and now stands at its highest level since June 1999.

In June 1999 there were 148,573 people on the unemployment benefit.

Yet today there are only 66,328.

How is that? The labour force is larger so 7.3 percent should represent a larger number.

In June 1999 there were 81,863 people on a sickness or invalid benefit. Today there are 144,191.

The two columns have virtually reversed. But the situation is worse in terms of cost and outlook. The movement in sickness and invalid benefits only ever goes in one direction - up. The rate of dependence on these is greater because people stay on them for longer. That means the cost is higher (10,000 people on the unemployment benefit may represent 30,000 months dependence whereas 10,000 people on a sickness or invalid's benefit might represent 120,000 months.) And the prospects of leaving these benefits is lesser.

For a good many people a sickness or invalid benefit is merely a de facto unemployment benefit.

(Strictly speaking the chart label 2010 should read Dec 2009. I don't have time to change it now.)

More on National Standards

Reaction to yesterday's post about the existence of standards already, included skepticism and some questions. For instance if the school compares itself to other decile 10 schools, where does it get the information? From its ERO report;

"____ School emphasises teaching and learning in literacy and numeracy. As a result, a considerable amount of student achievement information has been gathered in these areas since the 2004 ERO report. Since that time, increased use has been made of national assessment tools to gather school‑wide data to support annual target setting and guide teaching practice. This information is further analysed in terms of gender and ethnicity, and shows comparison between students at ____School and those at schools of a similar type and decile ranking.

School-wide achievement data are collected for reading, written language, spelling, mathematics, including numeracy and basic facts. Overall, the majority of students at ____ School achieve well above national norms for the assessment tools used, with only a small percentage underachieving. This is gauged through the use of Supplementary Tests of Achievement in Reading (STAR) and Progressive Achievement Tests (PATs). Other national assessment tools are used to show achievement in writing and numeracy against the levels of the curriculum.

Since 2004, the annual targets have aimed to raise achievement for specific year groups or for small groups of students within each cohort who are performing below national norms for the tests and the school’s expectations. Results, using soundly analysed achievement information, show a steady improvement over time.

The March 2007 results from STAR showed that well over 70% of students in years 4 to 8 scored between stanines 5 to 9, with 96% of the year 7 students in this range. Results from the mathematics PAT indicated that approximately 60% of the years 4 and 5 students, 75% of the year 8 students and 80% of the years 6 and 7 students scored in this range.

The school can show some comparative data for specific year groups that indicate continuous improvement. In particular, the information for written language across years 4 to 8 is well analysed to show the rate of progress made within a year."

Standards are already used. And the results are shown to parents at parent/teacher interviews.

I don't think the achieving schools are worried about published tables. It'll be under-achieving schools who will feel (somewhat understandably) aggrieved by comparisons. But I am for publication. Name the problem or it cannot begin to be solved.

But what my post was about is how we turn specific problems into universal ones and impose change where none is needed.

"Broken society" not so broken?

A war of words has broken out in the UK. The Tories have been using statistics about violent crime without a caveat. And they continue to stand by them.

The way in which violent crime was defined and recorded changed in 2002. This led to an increase in recorded violent crime statistics. The Tories are touting this as an enormous increase in violent offending - in Milton Keynes, of 236 percent. (Mind you, I would commit a crime to get out of Milton Keynes.)

There are numerous ways in which crime can be measured; court convictions, police recorded offences, victim reports. Not all crime is reported and recorded. Not all crime is prosecuted or if it is, successfully prosecuted. There may be more crimes arising from the same number of offenders. In which case crime may be escalating but not necessarily becoming more widespread.

But for all the difficulty inherent in measuring crime there is no excuse for doing what the Tories did. They would lose my vote on the basis of dishonesty alone.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

A $45,000 warning

Going, going, gone - a New Zealand teenager has auctioned off her virginity to a stranger for over $45,000 to fund her university tuition fees.

A $45,000 warning. What could that be? That the experience with the inexperienced might be a let down? That she might be a porker telling porkies?


Fellas. I made a comment over on Kiwiblog and thought it worth repeating here. You can laugh all you like about men who pay for sex with virgins or otherwise. But the last laugh may be on you.

By delightful coincidence the average child support bill is around $45,000.

Don't get caught. And don't let your sons.

State school funding

A comment on the last post made me think I shouldn't assume people understand the way schools are currently funded. Schools are classified into deciles explained here.

According to the Ministry of Education Resourcing Handbook, in 2009 all state schools received $707.83 funding per Y1 to Y6 pupil .

A decile one (poorest) school receives an additional $804.07 per pupil called Targeted Funding for Educational Achievement and decile ten (the wealthiest) receives nothing. All other schools are somewhere in between.

Hence many schools now charge rather hefty fees which are wrongly, in my view, called 'donations.'

National Standards

As a parent of a primary school student I suppose I should have an opinion about the introduction of National Standards. Firstly there are schools, and there are schools. My firsthand experience extends only to my child's school which is a decile 10 school. I have anecdotal knowledge of other schools but it is very limited. For instance a friend had sent his children to a decile 1 school because he was in the zone. Eventually he pulled his children from the school because they were spending too much time trying to help non-English speaking children to learn. He had wanted to support the local school but the cost was too high. There is a great deal of difference between decile 10 and decile one schools.

When we visit the teacher at our school we are given information about how our child is performing relative to her age. This is based on testing. I had a look at the school's targets and performance to find out what the tests are called and discovered a range depending on what year is involved. Evaluations include national end-of-year NumPA benchmark norms, PAT maths test and IKAN and NZ English Curriculum Benchmarks, etc.

Our school compares itself performance-wise to other decile ten schools. Which is meaningful and fair. In its own assessment of how the school is achieving the board notes;

We note that these types of assessments and the use of results is aligned with the expectations of the National Standards programme that all schools will have to deliver by 2010.

I don't know how the staff or board feel about the introduction of national standards but it would seem to me superfluous.

It looks like those schools that are not producing children meeting satisfactory levels of literacy and numeracy are responsible for the imposition of unnecessary universal policy.

But that is the story of New Zealand isn't it? Forever introducing rules and regulations to try and fix problems that are not universal.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

In depth analysis of child abuse

The fourth study into the incidence of child abuse in the US has just been released. A study has been conducted each decade from the 1970s. It collects data from 126 counties.

There is no NZ equivalent. We have statistics (bits here and bits there) but no comprehensive analysis of other factors like socio economic background, family structure, educational enrolment, relationship of perpetrator to child, involvement of drugs and alcohol etc. It seems to me that we could learn a lot from their findings. Certainly the findings put to bed the sorts of claims commonly heard like, "child abuse and domestic violence happens right across society".

The report is 455 pages. I have only skimmed through it and lifted a dew points of interest


The NIS–4 measures the total number of children who are abused or neglected in the United States and indicates the degree to which this number has changed since the earlier cycles collected similar data (the NIS–1 in 1979, the NIS–2 in 1986, and the NIS–3 in 1993).

Some findings;

Compared to children with employed parents, those with no parent in the labor force had 2 to 3 times the rate of maltreatment overall, about 2 times the rate of abuse, and 3 or more times the rate of neglect. Children with unemployed parents had 2 to 3 times higher rates of neglect than those with employed parents.

Children in low socioeconomic status households had significantly higher rates of maltreatment in all categories and across both definitional standards. They experienced some type of maltreatment at more than 5 times the rate of other children; they were more than 3 times as likely to be abused and about 7 times as likely to be neglected.

Children living with their married biological parents universally had the lowest rate, whereas those living with a single parent who had a cohabiting partner in the household had the highest rate in all maltreatment categories. Compared to children living with married biological parents, those whose single parent had a live-in partner had more than 8 times the rate of maltreatment overall, over 10 times the rate of abuse, and nearly 8 times the rate of neglect.

Which again brings me back to why marriage makes a difference to children. In a nutshell the state has discouraged marriage through the welfare system and legislation. Today it is frantically running around trying to mop up the mess.

(Hat tip to Crusader Rabbit for alerting me to the report.)

ACT forgets its "great purpose"

It must be personally satisfying for an MP to enter parliament and achieve something for some people. That is the way of modern politics. Nearly every MP is after taxpayer funding, or legislation that will enhance the interests of some people.

And as such Heather Roy will be pleased with her group of students going into independent schools on the back of tax-payer funded scholarships.

But a speech given by Muriel Newman in 2007 captures exactly why this is exactly not what ACT should be doing.

Muriel said, "The great purpose of ACT was to attack privilege in New Zealand."

It's a hard message to sell. It should have been the opposite but unfortunately too many noses and too many troughs .....

With this policy ACT has wimped out and taken the line of least resistance. I know I am out on a limb on this one but it is quite antithetical to what ACT stands or stood for.

Monday, February 01, 2010

When he's 64

Kiwiblog linked to a Treasury paper within which is this little gem. It's a wonderful depiction of the ageing population. I mentally plotted the line that would represent my first born across it. He will enter the grey zone in 2059 when there will be, well, one heck of a lot more oldies than there are now. What do you reckon will have happened to Super by then?

My guess is that the country will still be arguing over means-testing, surcharges, universality etc, as it did all through the 20th century; the eligibility age will be 70 and the payment rate will be a lower percentage of the average wage than it is now.

New data on ex-nuptial births

I blogged last week about why marriage makes a difference to the security and stability of children.

The latest ex-nuptial (unmarried) birth data has just been released.

Last year 30,533 births out of 62,964 were ex-nuptial or 48.5 percent. That is up from 47.7 percent in 2008 and 47.2 percent in 2007.

In 1964, the earliest data provided, 9.9 percent of all births were ex-nuptial. The fastest rate of change happened during the eighties. The ten years to 2008 showed a slower rate of change than the previous decades. But there has never been a year when the percentage didn't rise.

Misa misfires

Tapu Misa has written her usual denunciation of growing inequality. This time she launches from a report about income inequality in Britain;

The report, An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in Britain, says the gap between rich and poor is greater than at any time since World War II, despite 13 years of Labour rule and the billions which Labour has poured into initiatives to try to close the chasm.

By some measures it's harder for a child born into poverty today to rise up the social ladder than at any time since the 1950s.

The fact that the inequalities opened up in the 1980s under Friedmanite Margaret Thatcher, and were held back, if not significantly narrowed, by Labour policies, is little consolation...

The parallels with New Zealand are striking.

But are they?

In fact the growth in income inequality in Great Britain is much lower than in NZ as shown here. The growth in income inequality in GB is half of the OECD average.

It would be much more accurate to claim the parallels between NZ and Finland are "striking" when measuring income inequality growth.

Misa has written about Finland before;

There are no private schools in Finland and education is free all the way through university. But Finnish 15-year-olds top the OECD in educational achievement, as measured by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)...

We could learn a lot from Finland, not just in the way it treats its teachers but in the way it reformed its education system from the late 1960s.

Could we replicate their success? Naysayers often point to the fact that Finland's population is more homogenous than ours, but Massey High's principal, Bruce Ritchie, who visited Finland on a study tour, points out that it was a more monocultural society 40 years ago, when its education system had similar problems to ours.

Bugger. For someone who strongly believes public education will solve the problem of inequality, that throws a bit of a spanner in the works.

I am sympathetic to her desire to see the incomes of the 'poor' rise. But as I wrote on Friday, that cannot be achieved through taxation and redistribution.

Sunday, January 31, 2010


Along with all the other evangelic crusades of the new century - anti-alcohol, anti-drugs, anti-obesity, anti-hooliganism, anti-prostitution (mostly mirroring those of early last century) comes the anti-dog campaign.

It is understandable that people with children are cautious about dogs but having both children and dogs gives perhaps a more balanced perspective.

The NZ Herald editorial today has made the re-ignited issue about Rodney Hide and his attempts to bring some deeper thinking to the debate over freedom and restriction. It quotes Hide;

"I am not sure that people with an irrational fear, however real, of dogs have a right to require the physical restraint of all dogs in public places," he said when announcing the review last October.

Setting aside the question of how a fear can be irrational and real at the same time, it is worth pointing out the size of the margin by which Hide misses the point.

There is no "question" about a fear being both real and irrational. Plenty of people harbour fears that are irrational. Extreme cases are called phobia. But that sentence captures the fault-finding mood of the writer.

All dogs should be leashed all of the time. That seems to be the position taken.

All dogs pose a problem or a potential problem. Perhaps a potential problem is a problem of itself. Ergo all dogs are a problem.

In reality, some dog owners and some dogs are the problem. The attitude taken by the Herald would be bizarre and repulsive if it was applied to people. Some people are criminals, or potential criminals but it doesn't follow that everybody's freedom should be restricted - although that is the path we are going down with the likes of surveillance cameras. Pursuing this line of thought the Herald would have us all in monitoring anklets.

A new term should be coined. Dogism. Like feminism and racism it describes an attitude that treats all individuals as one based on some attribute beyond the control of the bearer.

Dogism is growing thanks, in part, to the media. It is itself irrational. It forgets that domesticated dogs have shared our society forever. That they fulfil many functions no other animal or person can; leading the blind; assisting the disabled; tracking offenders; protecting property; herding farmstock; hunting or retrieving; supporting racing and showing industries; visiting terminally ill people or dysfunctional children; saving lives. But above all they are companions and for some, provide a purpose for living.

So I am not about to become an apologist for dogs. And it makes a change to see a politician bring some broader thinking to the issue of dangerous dogs beyond the reactionary and emotional dogist response.