Editorial: Public comparisons boost performance

Last updated 05:00 16/03/2010

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OPINION: One thing is for sure in the wake of the publication of Health Ministry statistics comparing the performances of 80 primary health organisations.

Total Healthcare Otara, the PHO with the poorest record of immunising two-year-olds, will be taking immediate steps to improve its performance. Public ignominy is a powerful motivating tool.

So it should be. The release of the data highlights yet again the benefits of comparing the performance of organisations doing essentially the same job, whether they operate in the health sector, the education sector or any other area. Not only is the information useful to decision-makers and the public, it is also useful to the organisations themselves. As Helen Rodenburg, the chairwoman of a clinical quality board that oversees four PHOs in Wellington, told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report yesterday, before the publication of the data, PHOs did not know how their performance compared with those of similar organisations in other parts of the country.

The primary teachers' union, the New Zealand Educational Institute, should take note.

Of course there are limitations associated with the way the data is collected. Of course it is important to compare like with like and, of course, it is important to consider the different environments in which schools operate. Just as a PHO in Wellington City could be expected to outperform a PHO in Porirua on many measures, so children at a decile 10 primary school in Khandallah could be expected to perform better in tests than children at a decile 1 school in Cannons Creek. The children in wealthier neighbourhoods are more likely to come from homes in which English is the first language, there is space for a dedicated homework area and the shelves are stacked with books.

But instead of flatly rejecting the introduction of national standards as the NZEI is doing, it should be devoting its energies to ensuring the tests measure something useful.

It is little achievement for a teacher at a wealthy school to get the majority of his or her students up to the national average. In fact, doing so may represent a failure on the teacher's part. On the other hand it is a considerable achievement for a teacher or school from a decile 1 area to get the majority of his or her students to the same level.

What is required is a way of evaluating the data that measure the difference individual teachers and schools make. That way parents know where to send their children and the Education Ministry, school boards, principals and teachers know what works and what doesn't.

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If the NZEI was seriously concerned about education standards it would be working with the ministry to ensure the new testing regime accurately assessed school and teacher performances.

By doing everything it can to thwart the process the teachers union has convinced many parents its primary goal is not to defend standards in schools, but the jobs of mediocre teachers.

It should think again about a process that will highlight the outstanding job many of its members are doing.

- The Dominion Post

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