A small step beyond slactivism

It has been a surprising couple of days.  Thanks to the DimPost and Facebook a lot of people read my last post, which was typed in an angry burst a couple of mornings ago.  This is quite a change.  Usually a few good friends, my wife and my mum read this blog (hi guys).

Today I realised that it is nice to write an angry post and end up with a lot of people reading it, but this isn’t actually doing anything.  Writing an open letter on an obscure blog is what a friend of mine told me was called slactivism.

While I was reading the official National Party education policy I decided that I should actually write a letter and send it to Anne Tolley.  Not that I am naive enough to believe that she will respond personally, but presumably someone in her office is manning the email inbox.

So here is my letter to Ms. Tolley.  I sent it tonight.

Dear Ms. Tolley,
I read the National Party’s policies for education and I was hoping you, or someone who works with you, could clear up some points for me.  Before I ask you these questions I should tell you that I am unlikely to vote for National, that I have been quite critical of your party’s policies in the education sector in the past, and that I am a secondary school teacher.  Initially when I read the policies your party is proposing I felt quite angry and I wrote a post on my blog.  If you would like to read it here is the link:
I am also going to put this letter on my blog because people seem to be interested.  I tell you this to be fair to you, but I would like you to know that I am writing in good faith and that I am actually interested to hear your answers, because I work in the sector, and my daughter has just started school
So, here are my questions (they refer to the policy document on the National Party website):
  • Your policy states that one in five students leave school without any qualifications.  Could you direct me to statistics that show me a breakdown of this group?  Do they all come from all parts of New Zealand and all schools; do they come from a wide range of socio-economic groups; are any ethnicities over represented?  Is it generally true that schools with poor academic results tend to be in certain areas and in many schools the statistic of one in five is not true?
  • If national standards are supposed to help parents to compare their child’s achievement with a national average why is there no consistent test across schools, and why are these results not moderated?  It seems that a lot of parents misunderstand this point and believe that their children’s results are being pegged against a national average.
  • Your policy states that your party has spent $36 million to fund new intervention programmes to help students who are failing.  If 20% of the students are failing this seems a very small amount of money.  What is this intervention programme called, and how does it work?  I couldn’t find anything about it, and I am interested to hear about it.
  • Your policy also states that your party has put $60 million towards stopping bullying, and promoting good behaviour.  What has this programme been called, and how has it encouraged good behaviour?  Bullying seems a very difficult programme to solve.  What has the $60 million been used for?
  • You have rolled out a few policies to address truancy.  You have doubled the penalty for parents of truant parents, and given more schools text notification systems.  Has this had an impact?  I am curious because in the case of difficult truants the parents often change cell phones or are indifferent to text messages, and have no money to pay the increased penalty even if they were taken to court which very rarely happens.  Have schools with truancy issues reported any success with your $60 million programme?  My impression was that good people on the ground building up relationships with the community was more effective than an automatically generated text message.
  • It states in your policy that you have engaged 50 experts to help schools raise the bar in education.  This sounds great.  Who are these experts?  50 seems a very high number of educational experts.  What are their qualifications, what work have they done, and in what schools?  Have these schools given you any feedback?
  • What will a Student Achievement Function Practioner actually do?  Helping schools support struggling students is fantastic.  Will they work one to one with teachers on targeted students?  This would be great.  How do you envision this working?  We already have RTLBs in the school system.  Will you be rebranding them, or creating something new?  If you are creating something new could you explain how it will be different from the old system?
  • I realise I am raising a lot of questions so I will focus on only one sentence I am unclear on at the bottom of page six: “We’ll also shift the resourcing model so that it incentivises performance.”  Could you explain this for me in plain English?  Does this mean you will give more money to schools that do well and less to poorly performing schools, or that you will give more money to support poorly performing schools and less to schools that are doing well?  Or are you talking about performance pay for teachers?
  • On page seven you talk about creating more effective career path for teachers.  What does this mean?  You also talk about strengthening processes for competency.  I’m afraid I don’t know what this means.  Does this mean making it easier to dismiss teachers from their jobs?
  • Finally, I don’t see anything in this policy that talks specifically about addressing Maori and Pasifika students.  John Hattie determined that even accounting for a school’s decile, and a student’s socio-economic background, a Maori student was still less likely to succeed in school, which suggests some systemic problems.  Does your party have any policy to address this?
I’m sorry that I have so many questions, but I am  – as I said – quite concerned.  I would appreciate it if you, or someone in your office, could take the time to at least answer some of my queries, or help me to find the information that I need.
Thank you for your time,
John-Paul Powley
I received this automatically generated reponse a few minutes after I sent my email:
On behalf of Hon Anne Tolley, thank you for your email which has been received by this office.  Your correspondence has been noted and will be recorded. 
Your email will be forwarded to the Minister for consideration, and a response will be sent as soon as possible.  However, if your email is bringing some information to the attention of the Minister, please regard this as a final response to your email.
Kind regards
The Office of Hon Anne Tolley
I will wait patiently for a further response.

10 thoughts on “A small step beyond slactivism”

  1. Wow, well done! I wish you could be a reporter on TV. These are the types of questions I want to hear asked and answered. I am also waiting with you.

  2. Sadly I doubt the answers to the questions will be forthcoming, almost certainly not before the election.

    I wish they were though, because these are exactly the kind of questions I too would like to hear answered.

  3. This is excellent. Far too sensible and intelligent to be answered, I’m afraid. Don’t hold your breath! Keep posting these articles!

  4. I am sure this will be treated as an OIA request. As you may be aware, the government is not required to create information. As your questions relate mostly to the creation of information, you are unlikely to receive a response to those particular questions.

  5. Thank you. I am sure you feel better for writing to Anne Tolley and asking these questions. I have often thought of doing the same but have so far just addressed them to the dog. He is a beagle with brown eyes and absolutely no idea about education. He never answers me and neither will Anne Tolley.Good luck….an ex teacher, Chris Parkes

  6. I have mixed feelings reading your comments. I (naively) actually expect an answer. By rights I should recieve one. Of course this will not happen before the election on Saturday, but, hey, it would be decent of the folks announcing the policy to explain it.

    Some of my questions are about future proposals so perhaps they could say “actually we haven’t really thought this through yet” (which would be a bit stink), but some of my questions are about things they say they have done. Who are the 50 experts? What has been the bullying policy? How was the truancy thing worked out? Seeing as I have been teaching the entire time and haven’t seen any of these experts, or policies in action I am pretty curious.

  7. I suspect (cynically) that the 50 experts know little more than you or I, but were probably paid at consultants’ rates of pay, and that “We’ll also shift the resourcing model so that it incentivises performance.” does mean “talking about performance pay for teachers”.

    It has been interesting following this election campaign from afar. Most of the time I stick to the mainstream news websites, and from reading them I struggle to see the logic of one party returning to power, going on all the media muck-ups and things being said (these are my favourites: http://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/Decision2011-News-Article.asp?storyID=209633 and http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/campaign-trail/6029124/Keys-staff-gag-bus-driver)- yet the polls show the complete opposite.

  8. You should definitely expect an answer, I agree there. Perhaps I just have very low expectations of politicians actually responding to such requests, especially around an election.

    If you don’t get decent responses it may well be worth trying to have the “things that have been done” parts treated as an OIA, that might be harder to be brushed off.

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