New Zealand has — compared to most countries around the world — done fairly well of late. We’ve avoided the disastrous youth unemployment afflicting many countries in Europe (although thankfully they appear to have turned the corner) and our Government’s fiscal position seems relatively sustainable. Amazing what favourable terms of trade and two decades of political stability can do for your Government’s books and society more generally. Booming net migration just provides the surplus icing on our fiscal cake. People voting with their feet suggests we’re doing something right.

And unlike the US and the UK, our Government and political institutions are also relatively sane.

But where might New Zealand as a country head next? I mean do we rest on our laurels and savour the moment? Or do we start looking at ways we can do better? I think most New Zealanders would opt for the latter option. And that’s one of the countries strengths: The willingness to identify issues, consider the options, and make changes. MMP being a prime case in point. As a more recent example, I’ve also been extremely encouraged by the NZ Herald’s excellent coverage of our issues with suicide. Top notch journalism: 1) identify an underlying problem; 2) asking some important questions; and 3) help people decide whether reforms are needed.

Policy reforms are never easy. They usually involve winners and losers, and — perhaps more importantly — people often simply don’t always agree on what sort of society we should live in. Such disagreement, however, is not an immutable force of nature. As Jonathan Haidt discusses in this Ted Talk on interactions between social psychology and political ideology, while we exist in something of a moral matrix that drives us away from people who think differently, we can also step outside the matrix to some degree.

Which brings me to the topic of today’s post: School zones. Why do I want to talk about school zones? Well, it’s hard to imagine any other government activity, perhaps aside from basic health and sanitation, which has a greater effect on the long-run health and wealth of our society than education.

I’ve also had the pleasure of spending the last 2-3 years ensconced in Amsterdam, where I’ve learned a few things about educational policies in the Netherlands and some of the recent research on the economics of education. I’ve come away with the feeling that New Zealand could lean a few tricks, not just from the crafty Dutch but also places like Finland. That’s not to imply that everything is fabulous in the Netherlands …

I’m not an education expert, mind you. So please bear in mind that I’m come at this issue from an economics perspective, which has its pros and cons. From what I can figure out, school zones in New Zealand are usually established where individual schools are “oversubscribed”. In this case, the Board of Trustees and/or the Ministry of Education determines the area within which students are guaranteed to have a spot at the associated school. That is the school zone (NB: Please correct me in the comment thread if I have something wrong). The Ministry has a useful website here if you would like more information.

From an urban economics perspective it’s quite clear what the effect of school zones will be: Schools are an amenity and property is immobile, while supply is — at least in New Zealand — less than perfectly elastic. This means the perceived value of accessing desireable schools will tend to be capitalized into property values. There’s a lot of evidence of a school premium in the Auckland context, and I’ve estimated hedonic price regressions where certain school zones add 5-10% to property prices. That’s an enormous amount of money, when you think about it.

I say “perceived” value because I personally doubt that parents’ perceptions of school quality are an accurate reflection of educational outcomes. A recent paper titled “The Elite Illusion: Achievement Effects at Boston and New York Exam Schools” considers the effects of elite schools in the U.S., for example, and concluded (source) that there was no effect on student performance, specifically (emphasis added):

Parents gauge school quality in part by the level of student achievement and a school’s racial and socioeconomic mix. The importance of school characteristics in the housing market can be seen in the jump in house prices at school district boundaries where peer characteristics change. The question of whether schools with more attractive peers are really better in a value-added sense remains open, however. … Our estimates suggest that the marked changes in peer characteristics at exam school admissions cutoffs have little causal effect on test scores or college quality.

Perhaps parents send their children to elite schools for other reasons, such as “building networks”, but that kind of social stratification brings me close to vomiting, so I’m happy just pretending that it doesn’t happen. Back to school zones …

So, school zones have the effect of increasing property prices close to desirable schools. The natural extension of this is that, ceteribus paribus, low income households will tend to be out-bid for access to desirable schools. When you think about it, this is effectively like privatizing schools, except that the “fees” are paid to landlords (via higher property prices) rather than to the school itself. So parents end up paying for education, but this revenue flows into property rather than education. I think this is a profoundly inequitable and inefficient outcome, and would welcome any government’s efforts to fix it.

One interesting implication of the school zoning problem is that it seems likely to exacerbate the problem it is trying to solve. If schools are over-subscribed, and they subsequently define an exclusive zone that leads to higher property prices, then we can expect development to follow. That is, while housing is less than perfectly elastic, it’s not completely inelastic.  The development that follows from higher property prices places upwards pressure on school roll numbers. Where this causes higher attendance numbers at already constrained schools, then it may actually cause investment to flow to locations where the marginal cost of increasing student numbers are already high. Hmmm!

None of this, on it’s own, provides strong evidence that we should abolish school zones. But perhaps it is an indication that there may be potential problems that we should be concerned with. How do such things work in the Netherlands (or at least in Amsterdam)?

Well, the country is split into zones within which are several schools that are managed as a “pool”; the whole of Amsterdam is one zone, for example (NB: The system still allows for private schoosls, it’s just the the schools themselves have less say in enrolments). When students are about to finish primary school, they submit a preferential ranking of the secondary schools that they wish to attend within the wider zone, such as Amsterdam. Preferences fromm all students are collated and used to automatically assign students across to schools so as to maximise their preferences (similar to single transferable vote) while observing the capacity that is available in different schooos.

Where certain schools are over-subscribed, then students may be prioritised based on certain very limited conditions, typically whether siblings are present and/or low socioeconomic status. If students can’t be split based on priority, then attendance is determined by way of a lottery. Students that don’t get assigned to their most preferred school are then assigned to their next most preferred school, and so on until all students is assigned (NB: You can read the details of the matching process in this paper. The Dutch system strikes me as being efficient and equitable. And smart. Approximately 95% of students get their top 1 or 2 schools.

How does it compare to New Zealand’s system? Well under the Dutch system it’s possible that some students end up travelling further, although data in the Netherlands shows that households still have a strong preference to reduce transport costs. The key difference is, of course, that proximity is not a prerequisite for acceptance, such that the value of desirable schools is not solely reflected in property prices and rationing is achieved by other mechanisms.

Another advantage of the Dutch system is that by managing enrolments across an area, rather than for individual schools, the available schools are managed as a system, similarly to other (local) public services. In this way, the Dutch approach seems to leverage economies of scale and expertise in school management, while preserving opportunities for local input. The differences are significant, and I think are something we could learn from.

Takeaway message? While New Zealand is currently doing relatively well, they are still some underlying policy issues that could benefit from some attention. Now is perhaps the best time to address such issues: We currently have the luxury of budget surpluses and we can afford to invest some in making fundamental but ultimately beneficial changes to our policies.

What do you think? Should New Zealand change its policies on school zoning? Or should we leave them as is? If I was emperor then I’d change them overnight and the Grammar Zone property premium would disappear faster than my morning coffee.

Epilogue: This post does not detract from the hard work of teachers, principals, boards, academic staff, university administrations, or the Ministry of Education across New Zealand, which I have benefited from and greatly appreciate.

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  1. A couple of potential unintended consequences: through the lottery, friend groups could be split up (my daughter has more interest in going to the same school as her primary school friends than any particular school). There are huge social benefits to going to the same school as your neighbours. Secondly, for the higher income families, if they don’t get the choice they want, they go private, and their fee are arguably used less effectively for NZ Inc as a whole.

    1. First point: Maybe. However, if you and your friends decide to rank schools in the same order (which is perfectly legitimate) then the only way you will lose out is if some win the lottery and some don’t.

      Second point: I don’t understand this at all.

    2. P.s. And just to add to my comment above: Perhaps there’s larger social benefits from meeting people who don’t live on your street? Mixing it up a little?

      1. The social benefits of living close to school and of having all the friends from school in walking distance are huge. The benefits also include brain development in spatial and geographical awareness are heightened community belonging.

        1. the social benefits of low income households not being priced out of central areas because of school zoning might also be quite large.

        2. And needs to be addressed through housing policy. Let the education sector focus on education. Teachers are already having to cope with many other ills of society.

        3. If increasing housing supply leads to increased demand on rolls at desireable schools then aren’t you back to the same situation: The need to manage demand in some way? I see only a few options for doing this:
          1) expanding the size of the school (expensive),
          2) reducing the size of the zone (politically challenging),
          3) finding another assignment mechanism (my preference).

          It seems to me that the current system only works when schools are undersubscribed, i.e. no capacity problems at schools. Which is ironic given that’s what it is designed to solve!

          Even with a perfectly elastic housing supply and schools funded equally I think you will still have school capacity constraints that mean that some students need to be rationed to other schools.

          How you do that exactly is the question, but I think you’re deluding yourself a bit by pretending that if we fixed everything else then everyone could send their kids to their nearest school without a problem.

          Whereas what I see is capacity constraints at some schools in some years, simply due to randomness (e.g. birth rates and immigration).

        4. 4) Putting more money into more schools and into improving the amenity and walkability in less desirable suburbs instead of spending $1.8b on the East-West Link and other ill-conceived roading projects.

  2. Imagine what the transport impacts would be if we didn’t have school zones? We’d see more parents ferrying their kids in the car across town, kids requiring multiple transfers on buses, inefficient school bus routes, or having to walk/cycle very long distances? Of course, this is just my speculation, but not implausible.

    1. Perhaps? That depends on 1) what people do now and 2) what they would do if there were no zones. Remember that just because there are no zones doesn’t mean that people end up travelling all over the shop. Why?

      Well, the answer is in the Dutch research I linked to: Their analysis found that people’s preferences for a school were srrongly negatively related with distance. That suggest people do consider distance very much in their decisions already.

      Consider also what might happen if zoning is removed: Property prices close to desireable schools would drop, making it easier for people to buy close to the school, if they so desired.

      Consider also what might happen to education policy if there were no zones: Suddenly parents have an interest in ensuring that the entire school system is well-resourced, rather than their particular school. So in the long-run, under the Dutch system, you’d expect school desireability to level out somewhat, so there was less demand associated with particular schools.

      All in all it’s not clear to me what the effects on transport would be. And it’s not clear that these transport effects, even if negative, would outweigh the educational benefits. Wirth looking at though eh?

      1. Yes it would definitely be worth looking at. There’s also the psychological effects; preference systems run in some Asian cities place a lot of pressure on kids and parents, especially for those who miss out on their top preferences, which are likely to be perceived as the ‘top’ schools.

        1. Yes. Although I’d rather miss out through a lottery than socio-economic status? But perhaps that’s not normal; paradox of choice and all that. Maybe some people are happier knowing they could never have gone to a good school?

          That seems like a somewhat slippery slope though :).

    1. Transport to school is a major driver of congestion and the method children get to school has major effects on fitness as well as students capacity to learn.

      Schools are intrinsically linked not only to a cities transport policies, but it’s health and livability policies as well.

      1. Yes, and cities are also where the benefits of social capital are realised, whether for people who grew up in Auckland or for people who migrate there. So if we want Auckland to be fabulous, then we need a good education system.

        1. Sure, but let’s focus on education, not on some Auckland-inappropriate scheme that will result in some kids not being able to go to their closest school.

        2. well then group schools in zones that are one-quarter the size. That would give say: Franklin, South, East, Central, West, and North. So six zones.

        3. Not enough, Stu. They have a cycling and PT network that works. We don’t. My boy made best friends with someone at primary school who lived in the next suburb: Waterview. The cycle from Pt Chevalier to Waterview, with a 9-year-old and 4-year-old, 8 years ago, was one of the most harrowing experiences I’ve had as a parent. Keeping the 4-year-old on the narrow footpath with cars rushing past probably shortened my life by a year or two. In the end, the other mother did all the driving.

          We can’t even provide good links between adjacent suburbs. Keep your idea simmering until we do.

  3. Some good ideas in there Stu, definitely agree something needs to be done re zoning. I’m interested though, surely a policy like that relies on having suitable density, distribution and diversity of schools within an realistically accessible area. So it would be interesting to see how the size and distribution of schools compares between Amsterdam and Auckland. With our sprawled population, is it possible this model would just create similar pressures on properties with the most school choices within a certain distance ie Central Auckland?

    1. Yes good question. And depending on how you define the school zones that is certainly possible.

      The thing to note is that some aspects of school desireablity will still be capitalized into property values, because people prefer to be close to good schools, like any other amenity.

      So … what I woudl expect to disappear is sharp discontinuities in property prices across zonal boundaries that we find at the moment.

      And I think the long run effects could be quite beneficial, for reasons noted in the post and also in the comment thread above.

  4. “I personally doubt that parents’ perceptions of school quality are an accurate reflection of educational outcomes.”

    I can absolutely guarantee that different schools offer different subjects. Moving house got my children access to courses they could not have taken had we remained in the suburb in which we lived when they were born.

    1. I’m sure many parents, like yourself, can accurately assess suitability. But do you feel like you have a good understanding of how different schools will affect your childs test scores?

      Basically, I’d argue that parents are much better at assessing the suitability of a school than its effects on student performance.

  5. School choice is no panacea and metropolitan Amsterdam is no comparison with Auckland.

    Even in tolerant Amsterdam school choice panders to xenophobia:

    The metropolitan area of Amsterdam is a flat, compact, high density city (4400 persons/km2) that is easy to get around without using a car. Kids would be in easy bike or walking range of multiple schools.

    In Auckland (topographically complex and 1200 persons/km2) school choice is already a key driver of car use.

    1. I was talking to an older (overweight) woman at work who was saying that she would never have biked to work in Taupo as it was too hilly. That stopped me for a minute as I was trying to think if there were any hills in Taupo…

      Hills and distance are a matter of perspective… Currently as a nation we appear to walk around 4,500 steps a day; otherwise known as being sedentary. In a sedentary nation any slight rise is likely to be called a hill too difficult to surmount.

      1. Walking to school is one of the most important habits to establish to increase life-long walking. For most people in Auckland there isn’t even a second school in walking distance, let alone a range of schools appropriate.

        1. And in those locations where there is only one school, they aren’t typically oversubscribed so all students who apply will be accepted.

  6. The author is always a thoughtful and clear writer and the subject of school zones is both interesting and important. However to get to the subject you have to plow through the authors prejudices about immigration the sanity of Brexit – are UK intellectuals prefixing their articles with comments about the Treaty of Waitangi? (Actually it is a funny cartoon for a Brit like me but why Kiwis are interested in the UK with Coronation St on TV and UK soccer frequently in the news headlines baffles me)
    The opinion on the economic benefit of immigration and mine are quite different but either opinion doesn’t alter the significance of school zones. Auckland’s population would be increasing and the population density in inner areas would be increasing if there was no immigration.

    However otherwise a good article and I’m positively pleased it is written by someone who admits to not being an education expert. I’m looking forward to reading the comments..

    1. Thanks for the compliements.

      I fear you may have missed my main point in the preamble — apologies for the confusion and let me try and explain again …

      My main point *is not* that Brexit or immigration is good/bad (as you note, I do suspect Brexit will be bad and immigration is good, but that’s actually besides the point).

      Main point #1: NZ is doing relatively well. The implication is we should think about whether our policy settings are set-up to accomodate growth, as you noted.

      Main point #2: When make important policy decisions, such as Brexit or immigration numbers, then we should do so carefully and having considered/debated the merits either way. I personally don’t like Brexit and/or Labour’s immigration plan because neither do much to inform the public debate. Without this platform, politics quickly becomes a populist headless chicken running around a like a silly goose trying to please everyone’s momentary whim. The implication is that we should continue to evaluate our policies and identify failings as a society, which is what I’m trying to do with this post.

      One final comment: Feel free to disagree and/or disagree with the post in the comment thread. But if you have feedback then we ask that you don’t put it in the comment thread, but instead put it into an email. As per our user guidelines:

    2. Yep. I don’t get why the default now is for author contributions to be prefaced with left-wing venting before getting into the subject matter. The first three paragraphs are completely unnecessary.

      I should add i found the zoning content great though. Sad thing is that it’s had such an impact in Auckland now that it’s deemed a “property right”.

      1. I don’t understand why your comment is prefaced with complaints about the blog. The first sentence was completely unecessary and (technically) in violation of our user guidelines.

        I found the comment on the content great though. Glad we agree.

        P.s. Your comment and the one below suggest that perhaps my views aren’t so easy to pigeonhole politically. I’d prefer if you just took them at face value, and agreed/disagreed where you felt so inclined. Rather than commenting on political preferences etc. So sad.

    3. “However to get to the subject you have to plow through the authors prejudices about immigration the sanity of Brexit”.

      The comic about Brexit was spot on. In three images it described the lies of the original leave campaign, the current position of the Tories where they’re willing to keep their borders open to Europeans in exchange for access to the single market and then manages to encapsulate Bojo’s cynical populist promotion of Brexit; likely in complete opposition to his actual beliefs.

      So rather than prejudice, it merely calls Brexit populist. Considering that the promoters of Brexit appear to have not planned for the consequences of their achievement (such as food insecurity, the lowest growth in 70 years, loss of skilled and unskilled labour, loss of access to the financial markets and their role as a euro clearing house… etc etc…) it seems perfectly reasonable to label it as such. It’s hardly prejudice to call populist policies stupid as well as by their very definition, populist policies ignore evidence.

      1. thanks Kerry. And your description of populism is exactly what I was getting at. My problem with Brexit is the context in which the decision was made.

        Whether Brexit is a good/bad thing is actually a secondary consideration.

        1. We will see about Brexit. The UK public certainly took the high risk option – maybe dreaming of being another Switzerland and they will end up being another Turkey.

          Why is ‘populist’ used as a term of abuse? Democracy means we are willing to give other people the same right to their opinion as we have for our own; if I have made my case as well as I can and have failed to convince then it is my fault not the other side for being uniformed. The Brexit vote was taken after a public debate; I wasn’t there but I assume it had plenty of emotion and wild extrapolations and I assume both sides had access to the newspapers and the BBC. What is astonishing is that all the political parties represented in Parliament were for remain and the public decided they were all wrong. A dramatic lack of faith in their elected representatives.

          Maybe too much about Brexit/’populist’ but relevant to this debate about school zones. If there is one political issue where every adult has a strong ‘populist’ opinion it is schools. We are all experts having experienced years of schooling. And then we have children and grandchildren.

  7. Great post Stu! As someone who went to the only high school in 50km (Fiordland College) I find the whole zoning thing bemusing. This school was small and had limited subject options but it certainly didn’t do my career prospects any harm, in fact I enjoyed the university tutorial style of my Physics and Chemistry classes with only three students in 7th form!

    The problem seems to be the idea that state schools can differ so much in different parts of a city. While there will always be socio-economic differences there is no real reason that some schools in Auckland would offer some subjects that others don’t or have better rugby coaches than another.

    There really does need to be some way of paying teachers at different rates. This would be one way of getting good teachers into schools that are not as popular, which might help tilt the balance.

    1. Glad someone enjoyed it! Differences between schools are definitely an issue, and I believe the government is working on alternative funding models, which is great.

  8. If some people want to pay exorbitant prices for property because of an elitist attitude about the competitive-style school there, then they’re welcome to their foolishness. In no way should that mean we adopt a policy that means children might miss out on their local school or have to have the lesser quality experience of ending up with friends located over a huge geographical area. This results in increasing isolation for teenagers, a terrible outcome in a city already suffering from sprawl-induced inaccessibility for teenagers.

    1. Couple of things:
      — You’re obviously passionate about this topic which is great, but …
      — I think you’re jumping to extreme conclusions. Amsterdam still has a zone, it’s just defined differently. Nobody has suggested the same scheme in Auckland would result in a zone for the whole of Auckland. You could have much smaller zones, if you wanted.
      — Students in Amsterdam still attend a local school. It might not be the closest. But they may have good reasons for that.

    2. Oh. just on the “let rich people pay” attitude: Even if the consequence is increasing segregation of ruch and poor? Such that low income households are priced out of central areas?

      And let’s be clear: That is what is happening with these zones. 5-10% on property prices is huuuugggee. And has some fairly serious socio-economic consequences, I would think.

  9. I live in a low density suburb, Orewa. Within a 3km radius of my home there are two primary schools and a college that does years 7-13. If I widen the radius a little at least three more primary schools come into play, with another one planned.
    ISTM that zoning should be irrelevant, yet my school, Orewa College is having to tighten its zone cos of over demand. We have literally run out of classrooms. Part of the zoning issue is a serious lack of planning by the MoE.
    Regarding transport, the closer you are to your local school, the more likely you are to ride/walk.

  10. I think there’s plenty of room for discussion about the misconceptions that surround quality in education, and how assessment is best used as a tool for teachers to see how they are going. What we have is way too much of the school year put over to assessments for a whole range of counterproductive reasons, including competition between schools.

    Stu’s well-intended suggestion doesn’t pave the way for these important discussions but instead keeps us discussing school ‘choice’ and comparisons between schools.

    1. Just in case you missed my comment above on long-run effects.

      Consider also what might happen to education policy if there were no zones: Suddenly parents have an interest in ensuring that the entire school system is well-resourced, rather than their particular school. So in the long-run, under the Dutch system, you’d expect school desireability to level out somewhat, so there was less demand associated with particular schools.

      All in all it’s not clear to me what the effects on transport would be. And it’s not clear that these transport effects, even if negative, would outweigh the educational benefits. Worth looking at though eh?

    2. NZ’s assessment tools are teaching compliance and strategy (learning/teaching how to pass assessments) not learning for learnings sake. It doesn’t teach creativity and risk taking. According to Prof Welby Ings this is problematic as NZ needs creativity and uniqueness to compete in the world to compensate for the disadvantage of distance. He also says the number 8 wire mentality is not a cultural gift it has to be taught.

      Prof Ings explains this in an interview with Hillary Barry here

      P.S I liked Stu’s proposal to reform school zoning and I think the small increase in randomness (only a few percent of parents/students did not get their choice) could possible help people care more about the quality of the education system as a whole rather than being part of the anxious ‘my life/my kids will suffer if they don’t do well in x,y assessment’ crowd…….

      1. My finnish wife is bemused about the NZ quality of school argument. She says in Finland all schools are considered good and only a few parents want to send their children to special schools i.e. ex-pats arranging for their children to go to an international school -that sort of thing. I am not sure how Finland got to this beneficial situation. I suspect it is more than one factor.

        My understanding is Finland has a very different assessment regime to NZ. For instance assessments are not used for eligibility into higher institutions -I don’t think there is the equivalent to UE for instance. Courses which are being rationed -set their own entry criteria -which often are objectively tested exams.

        So I have a Finnish nurse friend who took 3 attempts (3 years) to pass the law entrance exam – a test based on changing textbooks for completely different areas of law each year.

        I could see this system helping ‘learning for learnings sake’ at lower levels. This ‘learning strategy’ keeps the most options open to students. While anyone with enough effort, can at any point take a risk on going for a higher qualification.

        1. Yes I think we can learn a lot from Finland. When I lived there in the 90’s, the concept of wanting to go anywhere else except the excellent local school was a joke. We can probably also learn from how that is changing slightly now with white flight becoming an issue, and how they could have avoided that through better social and housing policy.

        2. Finland does have annual graduation parades/celebration day where high school (equivalent of year 13) graduates wear a graduation hat. There is a strong cultural belief in Finland that education is the way that Finnish people individually and collectively will advance themselves. Originally (pre 1917) gaining a graduation hat was an elitist thing -symbolising the right to enter Helsinki University. But high school matriculation and university entrance has long since separated. See here

        3. Yes. In NZ there are schools whose yr 11,12,13 kids stop classes in the 4th week of term 3, so they can go on study leave and exam leave. That’s nearly half the year, and often after previous time out in class for other assessments and time off for other exams. In Finland, the classes run right through the academic year. There’s time for learning in the classroom. That’s a huge difference. The kids can have a shorter school day, less (almost no) homework, a shorter school year, and still do very well academically. This increases the kids’ community and family involvement, and generally emotional health.

          That’s what you can have when the teachers aren’t having to assess for external reasons, are treated like professionals who can decide on curriculum themselves and when there’s no ranking of students or schools going on.

        4. Yes Heidi we could learn a lot from places like Finland. I think an important factor is that ever since Independence from Russia in 1917 (and prior to the Russians running Finland it was the Swedes) the country has realised its future was not primary production -they realised if Finland’s future was dependence on traditional wood products then they would be very poor. This realisation has over a century morphed into strong cultural support for education, research and development, creativity, design, cities/urbanization……

        5. …and started with a strong emphasis on putting in the infrastructure and services required, like good warm housing and healthcare and public transport and cycling networks… 🙂

        6. Heidi and Brendon: I know nothing about Finland except for its reputation and you have both lived there. Can I make a wild guess as to why their schooling is internationally considered superior and please shoot me down if I am wrong. My guess is they pay teachers well.

        7. Well, I’ve read different things on that. Not a lot more if they do. But they put more money into the school system in other ways. Smaller schools, smaller classes, more support for teachers, more equipment, more subjects offered for the size of the school.

          They actually turned around the status of the profession intentionally, by requiring every teacher to have a degree before training. I think it was even specified that the degree had to be in science and maths. Note, this is at primary as well as secondary level. That’s a huge difference. In New Zealand too many primary school teachers have a lack of understanding of science and maths. (Not wanting to bag them – I just think the system should be weighted more towards attracting people who are maths and science capable.)

          Teachers are expected to use their professional judgment much more there, adjusting practice according to the needs of the individual students they are teaching, and engagement with learning is the most important criterion for success, not external assessment, which drives many poor practices.

        8. Interestingly there are proposals to require NZ primary school teachers to have a degree in order to improve their status, needless to say it is meeting significant resistance.

          I don’t think pay is a big driver either but I do think we should be rewarding the best teachers with higher pay rather than the one size fits all model we have at the moment.

          It’s very difficult attracting and retaining people qualified in Science and Maths as there are so many other roles out there that pay more and don’t involve the stress of dealing with other people’s kids.

        9. All good points, Jezza. Paying “good” teachers more is a can of worms though, as there is no good way to assess their quality, and the wrong teachers can easily be singled out for better pay, which would be very disheartening for those that put in every effort but have particularly disengaged children to teach. Different classes even within the same school have different needs. I’d put more effort into removing the administrative burden teachers are under and support them more with technical assistance. Finnish teachers have shorter contact hours and lower administrative burden, WAY lower assessment burden, and are expected to fill the rest of the day with preparation and evaluation. Which they do, to good effect.

          Dealing with other people’s kids – and with the parents themselves – is a huge job, and I think it’s really important we support them rather than try to rank them.

        10. Pay isn’t the only driver. Status and autonomy certainly matter. But in our capitalist society nothing denotes kudos like a big salary. Just double all teacher’s salaries and in time you will see a difference for the better. Quite possibly the best single investment a government can make.

          And since this is an Auckland blog given property and rental prices they probably need to be doubled just to stand still. Wait and see the good ones leave and not be replaced.

          Come to my local school 9am on a Wednesday and see ‘Jump Jam’ in the school yard – I really admire anyone who can organise something that would be impossible for me. Whereas all the Council jobs where bums meet seats I reckon I could do easily. I think head of watercare is best paid but any of the top jobs at ATEED would be both well paid and full of perks – I am available.

        11. Heidi – Agree. I should clarify I’m not advocating for ranking teachers or numerically assessing them as that would be pretty much impossible to do accurately.

          However, in most professions it is possible to get to senior or specialist level and be paid more based on your skills and expertise, without having to become a manager. At the moment teachers pay is tied only to how long they have been there and whether they have any leadership roles. Some people don’t want to be leaders but are very good at what they do.

        12. +1 Jezza. While I know some teachers who are happy to not become HOD because they just want to teach, I’d say most teachers find themselves taking on more management and leadership just to get the increase in pay, and they would be happier being paid more to just teach.

        13. It is hard to know Bob, I would agree with what Heidi says about Finland providing greater educational support/decreased bureaucratic assessment load/more autonomy. I would also say that teaching is a high status job in Finland. The partner of my finnish nurse/lawyer friend applied to get on the course which would qualify her to be a nurse educator. Only 2 out of 100 applicants pass the test.

  11. Thought I’d throw in another comparison I’m familiar with: Singapore’s system of primary school enrolment. It uses a mixture of “connection to school” and “distance from school” to decide which students enter which school. Details here:

    If more students meet the entry criteria, schools conduct ballots to decide who enters (like a lottery):

    The high school enrolment system sounds similar to the Netherlands’- parents rank schools, and students are offered places based on distance, their primary school academic results, and affiliation (parents are alumni, etc.).

    1. Interesting! Thanks Harminder.

      I think it’s interesting SGP prioritize based on proximity. That’s something the Netherlands doesn’t allow. Not sure why.

      Might solve some of the opposition from people based on transport effects.

    1. You do seem fond of your unsubstantiated generalisations. Perhaps you could supply more detail on which we could have an informed discourse.

      From my perspective (that of a parent of 3 children) the NZ state education system leaves a lot to be desired. We transferred two of them from a US Montessori school to a NZ-based primary school when we moved countries and it was a massive retrograde step. The youngest (a talented geek with ASD) went entirely through the NZ state primary school system and it was very poorly adapted to her needs. In fact she described the intermediate school that she attended as “a school for thugs” and the classroom in her first year of state secondary as a riot (and not in the good sense). She is now at a private secondary school and is unbullied, far less stressed and able to learn.

      My parental experience with private education (Montessori and ACG) has been very positive from a quality standpoint; with the NZ state system much less so (in spite of having served on the board of trustees of a local primary school).

      1. I think Harriet was just being flippant, MFD. Sad story that the state system failed your family, and not uncommon. I just wish all the money being poured into the private system was poured into the state system, and you might not have had that experience.

        1. Well there’s a much bigger issue here which is the rewards / incentives for teachers, especially in Auckland.
          Do private school teachers typically earn significantly more than public school teachers?
          The supporters of Auckland’s ongoing high population growth need to grapple with the fact that, if this high growth continues, we will need a lot more teachers whom will probably – in Auckland at least – need to be paid a lot more.

      2. Well… I would have thought it would be fairly predictable what sort of school you are left with when all the good kids are bused off to schools with all the other good kids (and the rich good kids are bused off to private schools with all the other rich good kids) and you’re left with all the bad kids who are able to bully each other to their hearts content.

  12. The grammar zone issue is easily fixed. Just give kids the right to attend school in the zone either of their parents lives in regardless of whether they live with that parent. That way all the children of those locked up in Mt Eden could go to AGS or EGGS and watch the flight.

      1. The Dutch are reliably sensible like that. We should be removing citizenship from the hoards of kiwis living in Australia. At some point many of them will arrive back having paid no taxes here and expect us to provide for them.

  13. More seriously you have to be wary of any US educational research as 1/ everything over there is based on race. 2/ educational researchers are even more prone to simply parroting their own political beliefs ie it is all normative. For some reason education is more political than other fields like health or transport.
    Even here research is spun to achieve political goals and some of what so called experts tell you has no basis in fact at all. Example – a senior educational consultant once to a board I was on that 65% of the kids starting school now will do jobs that haven’t yet been invented. I have since found out from a BBC radio show that it is a made up fact that has done the rounds.

    1. “I have since found out from a BBC radio show that it is a made up fact that has done the rounds”.

      Probably not too far from the truth even if it was made up. Some transport people are saying that kids born today will never learn to drive… That’s a couple of hundred thousand jobs gone just there. Lawyers are also likely to be largely replaced by software… as are accountants… retail? already gone.

      1. No it is a long long way from the truth. It was used at me as a way to convince us that teaching coding was pointless. It is used to push the idea that specifics are not worth learning. Almost all the job types that exist today existed 13 years ago. Almost all the skills taught in schools 13 years ago are still relevant (if they were relevant then). Conversely the crap they taught like matrix algebra are still of limited use.

        1. Specifics aren’t worth learning if they’re the only thing you learn. Most of them will be obsolete by the time you leave school. The logic skills and reasoning ability you gain by learning coding (or matrix algebra) on the other hand are probably valuable skills to take away from school.

        2. I have actually used matrix algebra but then I trained as an engineer and economist. But the other 999 people in 1000 will never use it. Same with calculus. They could have taught compounding interest and discounted cash flows and it would have been useful as well as just being a hurdle for young people to jump. Having been educated and chaired school boards and watched three daughters get educated I have learnt that most of schooling is just crowd control. The rest is about making them jump through hoops so they can be assessed. Finally there is a little bit of actual education going on- but not a lot. The real reason we have secondary schools is to act as a detention centre for adolescents. A penitentiary for people whose only crime is they are young.

        3. Tend to agree, there, mfwic. Interesting thing is how much the research agrees with you, too! 🙂 Scary sort of research like how little practical understanding 1st year uni physics students have of the concepts they should know already, and can manipulate for the exams, but just don’t have a clue about…

          If teachers had time to make sure the context and application of each idea is understood, doing lots of practical fun stuff, there’d be a whole lot more engagement. But they’re dancing to the tune of the external exams…

      2. “Lawyers are also likely to be largely replaced by software” – I laugh every time I see this. It just shows that:

        a. people watch way too many American legal dramas.
        b. people have no idea what most lawyers actually do. Hint: they don’t go to court or advise people on the actual law that much.

        There is little software could do to replace what the average commercial lawyer does on a daily basis and no way it can replace what a high level corporate lawyer does. The software may however replace a lot of lower paid and qualified support staff.

  14. The article mentions grouping schools together to pool resources. This is already happening with clusters of local schools being formed to share senior administrators, best practice and resourcing. Apparently this has been implemented at different levels since the early 2000’s. Recently these programs have been expanded.

    1. We had that in this country too right up until David Lange killed off Education Boards. They were able to provide common resources like property expertise or a School Psychiatric Service and common training.

      1. Interesting: the origin of the Big Problem on school planning.
        Regional planning to allocate land to school sites based on planning, rather than the last paddock available on the edge of development, would solve some of the problems, and also enable enrolment to be managed and co-ordinated.
        The current problem of market-choice enrolment leads to the chaos we see.
        Parents are seldom able to access meaningful data on what different schools can offer their students. Also, the quality of education can change quicker than parents’ perception. A school that “used to be good (or bad)” may be quite different now.
        The market fuels failure of the system as well. Schools with falling rolls receive falling resources, feeding a downward spiral in their offer. So schools with spare physical capacity are unable to upgrade education and attract roll growth. While overcrowded schools are resourced to uneconomical roll levels. This is nothing to do with how good the education may be in schools at either end of this.
        The expectation that education will be good at any school is the foundation of any sensible enrolment system.

  15. One solution to Auckland central’s problems is to have Auckland Girls’ Grammar School changed to a co-ed school. This school on the edge of the CBD area should be providing education for boys and girls throughout the cbd. Instead its zone extends down to Sandringham, and the boys in the cbd have to commute out to Western Springs College.

  16. Hello Stu
    Maybe this isn’t relevant in the Netherlands now or ever has been in Amsterdam. But in the provinces religion and schooling are important.

    1. Faith-based schools have an important role in Auckland as well as provinces. Likewise, charter and other school options can provide for choice to suit carers and students with different educational best choices. But these should be able to exist without distorting the nearest school general preference.

  17. Stu I think you have written a really good article and it has encouraged a healthy debate about NZ’s education system. I am quite sympathetic to the Netherland’s school zoning approach and think the idea should be investigated and discussed further. I think as Heidi indicates this would require greater investment in public transport, cycleways…. and reform to how we assess education. These are improvements NZ needs to deal with city traffic congestion, road pricing, housing affordability, economic diversification, how to improve economic productivity…. so this just adds to the necessity of those reforms.

    Having said that I disagree with the start of your article when you say NZ has done fairly well of late. Implying youth have done well by citing NZ’s good youth unemployment statistics. I don’t think NZ has done well, especially for youth. Although in a way it doesn’t matter if I take a pessimistic/glass half empty view, versa your optimistic/glass half full view, if we both agree that the situation can be improved.

    In a recent article I wrote, NZ has the worst youth suicide rates of the developed world and one of worst youth health index rates (averaging five youth indicators -neonatal mortality, suicide rates, mental health symptoms, drunkenness and teenage fertility rates). These poor social indicators opened up in the 1980s/90s and they haven’t fallen, unlike places like Finland, Norway, Austria, Estonia and Iceland which were bad and now are significantly better than NZ.

    For whatever reason NZ youth are coping very poorly to life stresses. We could do better and I think if the NZ public honestly acknowledged how badly we are doing this would give added impetus for making the needed reforms.

    P.S here is the link to my article.

    I put the link up yesterday on the immigration debate article…. but maybe some readers will connect with my article better coming from the education starting point.

  18. I totally agreed about this article.

    What I am concerned is the wealthy property owner who owns prestige-zoned property will resist and keep the statue of quo.

    It would be politically challenging.

    Intermediate solutions should be proposed that retain the interest of prestige-zoned property as well as solving inequality problem and encourage competition between schools.

    Here are the some of the possible intermediate solutions:

    -Zoned school must allocate a minimum percentage of rolls to out of zone students through proposed Netherlands allocation system.

    -School’s decile stigma should be removed and replaced by achievement rating.

    -Funding are based on roll and achievement. So schools are encourage to compete on quality and attracting students rather than trying maximize funding by trying to stay low decile forever.

    -Schools are required to retain a minimum percentage of low income students.
    -Under-performing schools are not protected from closure, and high performing schools are encourage to expand, set up different campus to replace the under performing schools.

    -Local Council are discouraged to suppress supply. To do that, popular schools are capitally funded by central government to take more students every year and local council does not have power to say no.

    When most of the school are equally high quality and none of the school are overly subscribed, then we can progressively remove zoning and move toward a universal system like proposed.

    1. I think it’d be a great pity if no-one replies to Kelvin because he’s put his ideas before without getting much response, and there is a mixture of good and bad in there (I think). I’ve probably said enough in this post; my issue with your ideas is still around transport about assessment. Others?

      1. My view about transport is there will always be some parents who bite the bullet and send their kids far away for better education. It would be their choice.

        At the moment there is no choice. Poor children have to go to the undesirable zoned school regardless they want or not.

        Another thing, is if a lot of children are going far, it can support private school bus operators to have dedicated shuttle for that group of students. Cutting the time and cost of parents driving their kids far.

        Also if a majority of parents on a underperforming school’s zone send their kids far away, the local underperforming school will have to improve to match, otherwise their roll will just shrink and funding will be cut. So in long term, the students will be no longer need to travel far.

  19. I’ve had the opportunity to reread the article and the many posts. It is a neat idea to interpret school zones in economic terms.
    When a school is over-subscribed and there is no room to add classrooms then someone proposes changing the school zone by removing say a couple of streets – and then all hell lets loose.
    At a guess if my house was in ‘double Westlake’ zone it would be worth maybe $50k more than it is at present (say 5%). Your proposed system would kill that kind of anomaly.
    In North Shore all our colleges and schools are good and there is some flexibility of choice so it is not a critical issue today. But it will get worse. And it is easier to fix now before it become an intractable problem.

    After reading “The British Dream” I’ve become focused on the importance of school zoning and what Trevor Phillips describes as ‘sleep-walking into segregation’. You start with a well balanced society with minimal racism (as proven by social surveys) and just add immigrants from a single source – when it reaches about 50% it triggers Heidi’s ‘white flight’. It doesn’t matter how unprejudiced you are because your concerns about English language skills and cultural differences potentially effecting your childs education results in your moving to a different school zone. So you end up with two schools: one ethnic and one ‘native’ to the detriment of all. Note this happens very fast and is hard to reverse (at least hard in a democracy). Ref Logan O’s post.

    I was expecting to see some posts about South Auckland schools with high PI & Maori intake. I’m ignorant about the deprived areas of Auckland but one of my son’s best friends was Tongan/Maori mix and his executive mother worked in Manukau – I asked her why she endured such a dreadful commute from Birkdale and she said she did not want her children going to the local schools down south where many of the Maori kids however talented left college as early as possible.

    Earlier this month at a lecture by Prof Paul Spoonley he said that Howick had the highest population of Chinese in Auckland, now 40% and increasing. The reputation of first generation Chinese at college is very strong academic success so maybe there will be no white flight; possibly the opposite. But most of the population of Howick can afford to move elsewhere so it could happen. At a guess the local schools are aware of this issue and have it in hand but maybe not.

      1. This is another but very interesting issue: attempting to measure teaching is as impossible as measuring computer programming: (a) a good programmer/teacher can recognise another within seconds (b) any attempt to measure changes the performance so programmers paid by the number of lines they produce are really sloppy coders.

        Then there is the philosophic issue of what should the teacher be doing: assume a class with say 25 kids with 23 on spectrum of average and one a troubled slow learner and one a potential Albert Einstein / Louis Armstrong (i.e. blessed by God with a genius we cannot hope to comprehend [I am an atheist but it is hard to put into words]. Now as a teacher you have a responsibility to all of those kids, 23 handled in the usual manner, the difficult one needing extra attention and his/her life might be totally changed learning basic reading and their future is little difference from ours and not learning to read can lead them to prison. meanwhile your once in lifetime genius – you won’t change their life but you may change the world just by the right stimulation. How do you share you time? There is no correct answer; it is a philosophic question. But filling in forms certainly not right.

        My philosophic answer is basic reading is the critical issue. Once you can read then the rest of your life is mainly your own responsibility. I would have the minister of education tabling an annual statement in parliament listing all the teenagers who cannot read and why and what is being done about it.

        The other philosophic problem with measuring is deciding what the target is and who decides: parents, teachers, government? That is anything beyond reading. A religious parent might require knowledge of scripture ahead of everything else (in Oldham there are kids who spend more time at the madrassa than they do at state school); most parents would trade a few education attainment marks for a respectful teenager.

  20. “”Perhaps parents send their children to elite schools for other reasons, such as “building networks”, but that kind of social stratification brings me close to vomiting, so I’m happy just pretending that it doesn’t happen.””

    This blog deserves a good post about social stratification in Auckland. Note the better the transport the easier it is for the have’s and have-nots to lead segregated lives. Modern social media making it even easier. Decline in church going and recent multiplicity of sports making it easier too. Immigration with certain ethnicities concentrating on specific industries reduces diversity at work. In other words it is a growing problem.

    Please control your nausea and write an article.

  21. Please correct me if I’ve get this wrong. State schooling in NZ has along history of being secular. In the Netherlands faith schools are state school. Per 1950s in the provincial cities most Dutch families belonged to a religious community (Church, Housing & schooling) Housing was at street level less neigh-hood level, e.g. segregation at very fine level. One side of street Protestant housing, other side Catholic or beside secular housing provider.
    Early Dutch schools where started by religious groups, when state funding came along, all schools got funding. For most families faith was more important than neigh-hood and an 8km (half hour) bike ride is not a barrier.

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