Maxim Institute real issues

Published: Thu 20 Nov 2003 09:52 PM
Maxim Institute real issues.
this week: No. Ninety 20 NOVEMBER 2003
Contents: * Families Commission Bill passes second reading How 'family' is defined remains an issue
* In Harm's Way - international surveys show NZ education failure A new Maxim report summarises how our children compare to international benchmarks in educational achievement
* Calling all leaders and future leaders Compass - a residential programme to inform and inspire
* Boy Troubles - Research and Rhetoric about Boys' education Address by Jennifer Buckingham, Centre for Independent Studies
Families Commission Bill passes second reading - Parliament has voted 60 to 52 this afternoon in favour of the Families Commission Bill passing the second reading (without any amendments). Bill sponsor, Social Development Minister Steve Maharey, wants the $28 million Commission up and running by July next year. But he may yet have to accept that some family forms deliver better outcomes than others.
Many opposition MPs are unhappy with the loose definition of 'family' including 'strong psychological attachment', but Labour wants the focus on function, not form. In other words, what families do rather than what they are. Conceivably then, a netball team or Rotary club would qualify. Last week Mr Maharey even claimed that gang members may be described as a family unit.
Yesterday the Social Development Minister told a conference that sole-mother families are just as good as the traditional "nuclear family" of mum, dad and the kids. He said, "I know of no social science that says a nuclear family is more successful than other kinds. It's whether you have a loving, nurturing family."
This is untrue and dismissive of the evidence. Here's what a leading US researcher Professor David Poponoe of Rutgers University says: Social science research is almost never conclusive. There are always methodological difficulties and stones left unturned. Yet in three decades of work as a social scientist, I know of few other bodies of data in which the weight of evidence is so decisively on one side of the issue: on the whole, for children, two-parent families are preferable...If our prevailing views on family structure hinged solely on scholarly evidence, the current debate would never have arisen in the first place. ('The Controversial Truth', New York Times, 26 December 1992, p. A 21.)
And, along similar lines: The two-parent family ideal...would not only ensure that children had access to the time and money of two adults, it would also provide a system of checks and balances that promote quality parenting. The fact that both adults have a biological connection to the child would increase the likelihood that parents would identify with the child and be willing to sacrifice for that child, and it would reduce the likelihood that either parent would abuse the child. (Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur, Growing Up With a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994, pp. 95-101.)
We should not withdraw support from the important work of single parents, nor force people to get or stay married. But international research is clear that the two-parent married family remains society's greatest weapon against poverty, depression, child abuse, and crime, among other ills. For the Families Commission to make a difference in our society its architects need realise the importance of marriage as a public good, and that not all family forms produce the same outcomes.
For a link to more substantive data Maxim has on the benefits of married families, click on:
In Harm's Way - international surveys show NZ education failure
- How are New Zealand pupils doing in comparison to other nations? In Harm's Way is a new report released this week by Maxim Institute that summarises four international reports which compare school education. When New Zealand pupils are benchmarked internationally in literacy, mathematics and science, they perform, on average, modestly, and in some areas very poorly.
In Harm's Way reveals that the gap between New Zealand's top 25 percent of achievers and bottom 25 percent in reading literacy is the 2nd largest among 32 nations. The good news is that 19 percent of New Zealand 15 years-olds performed at the highest international reading literacy benchmark. The bad news is the serious gap between New Zealand's highest and lowest achievers in reading literacy. Our bottom 25 percent of achievers are the worst performing of the bottom 25 percent of all participating English-speaking countries.
One international survey asked participants to subtract 4078 from 7003. 12 percent of Koreans gave the wrong answer compared with 42 percent of New Zealand pupils. The gaps between average and poor performance in mathematics, reading and science among 13 to 15 year-olds is the 2nd worst among 24 nations, and has worsened over the last 25 years.
Low-achieving pupils in Finland or Spain are approximately 3.5 years behind the average Finnish or Spanish Year 9 pupil. In New Zealand, low-achievers are approximately five years behind their average achieving peers.
On the basis of the international evidence In Harm's Way makes seven recommendations for a way forward. It is first time that the results of these four international surveys have been brought together in a summary and is an excellent objective comparison of New Zealand pupils' achievement against international benchmarks.
For more information; a more detailed summary and how to purchase a copy visit:
Calling all leaders and future leaders - If you are a young person, or know a young person with a passion to see this nation changed for the better, then you need to know about a new youth initiative supported by Maxim.
University, media and the workplace throw up an array of competing ideas and worldviews that confuse our direction and challenge our thinking. Compass is a summer retreat that'll give you a firm grip on what's real, what's relevant, and how to become the leader this generation needs to you be. International and local speakers, brain food, and beach.
Compass goes for 10 days from the 10th of January at Snell's beach, north of Auckland, where excellent local and international speakers will share their passion and understanding of the ideas and beliefs that are shaping our world. Apply now for the journey of a lifetime.
For more information, check out the website: or email Amanda McGrail at
Boy Troubles - Research and Rhetoric about Boys' education - New Zealand has the 2nd largest disparity in reading literacy between boys and girls among 27 OECD nations. This significant gap is highlighted in Maxim's latest report In Harms Way which reveals that 1 in 5 Year 11 male pupils are capable of completing only the least complex reading tasks, compared to 1 in 12 females.
Australian policy analyst, Jennifer Buckingham will address the issue of boys' educational disadvantage at public meetings in Auckland and Wellington next week. Jennifer is the author of Boy Troubles: Understanding Rising Suicide, Rising Crime and Education Failure (1999) and was invited to attend the Commonwealth Minister for Education and Training's roundtable on the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Education of Boys. To reserve seats phone (04) 472 6100.
For more information on the Auckland event visit:
For more information on the Wellington event visit:
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THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
The philosophy of schooling in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.
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Real Issues is a weekly email newsletter from the Maxim Institute. The focus is current New Zealand events with an attempt to provide insight into critical issues beyond what is usually presented in the media. This service is provided free of charge, although a donation to Maxim is appreciated. Items may be used for other purposes, such as teaching, research or civic action. If items are published elsewhere, Maxim should be acknowledged.
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