February 13, 2012

Tip of the icecube

The Dominion-Post is reporting ‘hundreds of unfit teachers in class’.  They haven’t made any attempt to scale this by the number of teachers, or compare it to other professions, or basically anything that would make the number interpretable.

The number of teachers employed at State or State Integrated schools in NZ as at April 2011 was 52460. This misses out the non-integrated private schools, but they are a small fraction (4% of students).   With 664 complaints over two years, that is a rate of 1 complaint per 158 teachers per year.  About half the complaints are dismissed.

For comparison we need other professions where the public can make complaints to independent adjudicators.

  • As of June 2008 there were 8230 sworn members of the police force in NZ. In the most recent single year where data are available (2010/11), there were 2052 complaints to the Independent Police Conduct Authority, that is, 1 complaint per 4 police per year.  Half the complaints were Category 5, ie, minor, too late, or otherwise not worth proceeding with.
  • As of the last Census, there were 4284 people in NZ employed as reporters, editors, or sub-editors.  This probably overstates the number of journalists relevant to the Press Council, since it includes technical editors, book editors and so on.  The Press Council received 149 complaints in 2010, the last year for which they have published a report. In that year, 65 complaints went to adjudication (1 complaint per 66 journalists per year), and about half of these were upheld.

In all three professions roughly half the formal complaints that make it to the independent adjudicators are upheld and half are dismissed, but journalists are twice as likely as teachers to receive formal complaints, and police are about forty times more likely.

It’s quite likely that the headline is literally true: there probably are hundreds of unfit teachers, but that’s likely under 1% of all teachers.  It’s worth trying to weed them out, but not without considering the costs.  In any case, the amount of fainting and clutching of pearls the situations warrants is pretty limited.

 

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Thomas Lumley (@tslumley) is Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Auckland. His research interests include semiparametric models, survey sampling, statistical computing, foundations of statistics, and whatever methodological problems his medical collaborators come up with. He also blogs at Biased and Inefficient See all posts by Thomas Lumley »

Comments

  • avatar

    Hi Thomas
    The Teachers Council say there are more than 96,000 registered teachers (http://www.teacherscouncil.govt.nz/news/media/wtd2010-localteachers2.stm). These include early childhood teachers that also require registration under the TC. So this will also impact on the ratio of “unfit” to competent teachers…

    5 years ago

  • avatar
    Thomas Lumley

    Ok.

    That will be an overestimate to some extent, since it it includes teachers who are registered but not currently employed (who are presumably less likely to get complaints).

    96,000 would give 1 complaint per 289 teachers per year.

    5 years ago

    • avatar
      Ken Wilson

      96,000 is closer to the number of registered teachers. As Stephanie noted, your original figure doesn’t include registered teachers in ECE which are a significant number. Nor does it include those in tertiary education – including teacher educators – who choose to remain registered members of the profession.
      Regards,
      Ken

      5 years ago

      • avatar
        Thomas Lumley

        Remember that while we want to count ECE teachers, we don’t want to count those in tertiary education, or those registered but not currently employed.

        Is there any way to find out how many ECE teachers are currently employed, similar to the numbers for primary and secondary?

        5 years ago

        • avatar
          Ken Wilson

          Yes that is tricky because in NZ teacher registration is not sector specific. A teacher is a teacher is a teacher! You could find out the number of kindergarten teachers (where registration is compulsory) and make an estimate of those in other services. But why bother? It is a fact that a certain number of registrations are awarded and that will be provided by the Teachers Council.

          5 years ago

  • avatar

    Renewal of teacher registration happens every three years. It is only at the point of renewal (or initial registration) that teachers are asked to select the sector that they are currently associated with, and this is optional. Therefore the sector held on file may not be current, or recorded. This means it is difficult to give fully accurate sector figures.

    The number of registered teachers with a current practising certificate is now over 98,000.

    The number of complaints received about teachers involves an incredibly small percentage of the teaching profession, even if you consider those who are not currently teaching in New Zealand schools and ECE services.

    5 years ago

    • avatar

      This is great. Thanks Thomas.
      I’ve linked you in to my piece from earlier in the week.

      Also, love your work Charlotte Brown! ;)

      5 years ago

  • avatar
    Thomas Lumley

    Ken, it’s a fact, but it’s not the right fact.

    If you want to know at what rate complaints are made about teachers, then teachers who are registered but not teaching don’t count — they are not at risk for being complained about in the same way as teachers who are teaching.

    The difference will be pretty small, unless there are a lot of teachers who drop out after their first year. And the rate is pretty small, well below 1 per 200 teachers per year.

    5 years ago

    • avatar
      Ken Wilson

      True and I agree. But … if you are registered and not teaching but the complaint is of a criminal nature (such as a conviction) then you will show up in the statistics which the media will access. Yes?

      5 years ago

      • avatar
        Thomas Lumley

        That’s a good point. I wasn’t sure how the reporting was done, but checking up on it shows that it does include non-active teachers (although I suspect people who have left the teaching profession might be willing to risk cancellation of their registration for failure to report)

        What surprised me most about the figures was actually how few complaints were dismissed. It’s not surprising that there’s one valid complaint per 600 or so teachers per year, but it is strange that there’s only about one vexatious complaint per 600 or so teachers per year.

        5 years ago

        • avatar
          Ken Wilson

          I think that reflects the extraordinary high standards and professionalism of the Teachers Council and staff.

          5 years ago

  • avatar

    […] Oh, and while we’re on the subject of dodgy figures and propaganda, here’s a great article to give some context to the incredibly one-sided front page attack on teachers that featured on this blog earlier in the week.  Very interesting indeed.  http://www.statschat.org.nz/2012/02/13/tip-of-the-icecube/ […]

    5 years ago

  • avatar

    Good comparison with other professions. It’s a shame that political organisations, including the Government itself, doesn’t feel it can defend either teaching or policing when the numbers show they are a trustworthy lot.

    I estimate that teachers are four times less likely to be convicted of a crime than the average New Zealander. My post on the subject is here: http://markblackham.tumblr.com/post/17521208941/importance-of-context.
    I would welcome views on the accuracy of that assessment.

    5 years ago

    • avatar
      Thomas Lumley

      Mark,

      Under
      Section 139AP of the Education Act, convictions are reportable immediately only if they are for offenses punishable by imprisonment for 3 months or more.

      So, information on recent convictions will only be for more serious offenses, but older information (prior to latest registration) will be for all offenses. That makes it hard to work out the comparison rare for NZ as a whole, but the comparison rate should be lower than the all-offenses rate you quote.

      5 years ago

  • avatar

    […] morning’s Radio New Zealand show Media Watch (MP3) covers Thomas’ post on “Tip of the icecube” about the “hundreds of unfit teachers”. The teachers story starts at 29:47 into the […]

    5 years ago

  • avatar
    Thomas Lumley

    Media Watch correctly points out that broadcasting complaints are separate and should also have been added in to the journalist total. That’s going to make the comparison even less favorable to journalists.

    5 years ago

    • avatar

      MediaWatch is understandably interested because of the irony of a less credible journalism profession hyping up statistics about teacher crime.
      We’re losing the point about the context and worthiness of the teacher crime statistics.
      All we’ve got about journalists and media in general is “complaints”, whereas the teacher stats included actual arresteded and charged crimes.
      And that is because the moral fibre of people teaching children is considerably more important than that of journalists.
      Which is why my own post attempted to compare teachers to the average New Zealander. Teachers come out at least four times more trustworthworthy.
      An even better comparison would be the criminal records of professions where we expect trustworthiness – such as police, doctors etc.
      If anyone wants to defend the teaching profession, they need to arm themselves with that sort of data, rather than using glib or defensive commentary.

      5 years ago