Deborah Hill Cone

Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone: Super-rich superhero lends a hand

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Sometimes all it takes is a heroic effort for our children. Photo / File
Sometimes all it takes is a heroic effort for our children. Photo / File

My Billionaire of the Week award goes to Julian Robertson. I don't get a flush-on over the super-rich these days but, boy, is he a doll.

Your commemorative oven mitt is on its way, JR. I might send one to Warren Buffett while I'm at it, for saying coddled billionaires should pay more taxes. Good work, fulla.

But Robertson gets the prize this week not just for giving this country a whole lot of culture but because he is doing something that could be amazing for our education system and especially for our kids who don't want no edukashn.

His charitable foundation is involved in bringing an initiative called Teach for America here - renamed Teach for All. The programme encourages the brightest university graduates to attach themselves to a disadvantaged school for two years.

The dynamic founder of the programme, Wendy Kopp, was only 22 when she proposed its creation in her thesis at Princeton University, and went on to make it a reality.

The scheme has given a hero status to teaching. The New York Times says Teach for America is an elite brand; it adds extra allure to an Ivy League CV. Most importantly, it's great for the kids.

Three recent independent studies have found teachers from Teach for America have had a greater impact on student achievement than teachers coming from the mainstream channels. At a time of youth riots and an increasing welfare burden, when we are particularly focused on what to do about unhappy young people - are they deprived or depraved? - this has to be a positive idea. So, of course, teachers are going to hate it.

Don't underestimate the fight Robertson is buying. I rang the Post Primary Teachers' Association and asked them what they thought of Teach for All. They sent me a document saying the programme undermines the professionalism of teachers, demeans teaching and degrades education. They then asked me to ignore that and provided a more carefully worded statement saying the PPTA "sees problems" with this sort of scheme.

That is the union speaking. Not all teachers are bossy, hairy and risk-averse. I used to be on the board of an excellent, pragmatic non-profit organisation called Comet (City of Manukau Education Trust) which ran a lot of innovative programmes in South Auckland. Comet developed some really positive relationships between business and schools - such as the Principal for the Day scheme in which CEOs became teachers for a day. They were focused on getting "lost" school leavers transitioning on to a more positive path.

The educationalists I came across, led by Stuart Middleton, were open to innovation and doing bold things in some of the toughest schools. But the idea that the education of our children is not "owned" by teachers - it is something we can all contribute to - does seem to be anathema to the teaching establishment.

PPTA head Robin Duff, in his statement to me, said he was against members of the community "chipping in" to help schools. That is a shame. I go in to help at my daughter's primary school for one class a week. I write up stories and staple up artwork and am a whiz on the laminator. I find it very satisfying.

I'm not the only one. The other day a rather fabulous flamboyant man in a cravat was helping with an art class. He is an international lawyer who is also an art-lover. Not too degrading of education I hope? One day all those non-hairy-bossy teachers are going to get sick of their union's featherbedding attitude. Bring it on. I'll send them all an oven mitt.

dhc@deborahhillcone.com


Correction: The Post Primary Teachers' Association says it has no objection to parents volunteering to help in schools, contrary to the claim in this column. The PPTA's objection is to untrained people filling core teaching positions.

Correction: The name of the organisation being developed in New Zealand is ''Teach First New Zealand" and you can find out more about it here. Teach for All is a global organisation co-ordinating home grown organisations such as Teach First NZ.

- NZ Herald

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