Are NZ Charter Schools A Done Deal?
So, I just got my grubby mits on a copy of a rather interesting document signed by the Johns Key and Banks that has some very interesting things to say about the changes to New Zealand’s education system.
It tells me (I feel with a fanfare and maybe a drum roll intro) that “National and ACT agree to establish an implementation group comprising a private sector chair, and private sector, business, iwi and community representatives along with government officials to develop the proposal. They also agree to ensure it is implemented within this Parliamentary term.”
– Note the term implementation group – not a group to investigate whether it is a good (or sane) proposal, but one to help implement it. Rather as if it’s a foregone conclusion.
– Note there is no mention of any educational representative in the group at all – not one. A totally new way of educating our children and not one teacher, professor, principal or teacher aide is on the panel. Really? I mean, is it just me, or is that just plain crazy?
– Note they were focused on pushing this through right from the get-go. This document is from 2011.
Christchurch, South Auckland and “Other Areas of Low Educational Performance”
As for the oft-repeated “we are listening and “nothing is set in stone” assertions of Hekia Parata and Lesley Longstone regarding the sweeping proposals in Christchurch, this document says quite clearly that “A series of charters would initially be allocated in areas such as South Auckland and Christchurch.”
The document also states that “Initially the system will be implemented in areas such as South Auckland and central/eastern areas of Christchurch. Once successfully established, and as fiscal conditions permit, the system would be extended to other areas of low educational performance.” First of all, I am not at all happy about the use of the word ‘will’, again implying this is a done deal. Secondly, is Eastern Christchurch really an area of low educational performance? And even it it were, how will charter schools with untrained staff and a management focused on money-making be the answer to improving things for those children?
And remember, this document is dated December 2011, well before the Christchurch proposals were laid out for schools and the public.
Does that sound like genuine consultation to you?
Just what is really going on here?
But Our Charter Schools Will Be Modelled On Successful, Fabulous Overseas Ones, Right?
The NAct document tells us that “The [charter school] approach is modelled on successful international examples such as the KIPP schools in the US and to some extent on the system of ‘free’ schools currently being introduced in the UK.”
- Schools that actively seek out more “motivated and compliant” students 
- Schools that take in high achieving students over low achieving ones 
- Schools that look for families with motivated and supportive parents 
- Schools that typically have lower concentrations of special education and English as a second language students, than the public schools from which they draw  
- Schools where a huge proportion of students leave prematurely 
- Schools where minority students are the majority of those leaving early! 
- Schools where the teacher can have no teacher training or qualification at all. 
Seriously, NAct is proposing a model of schools to deal with our most disadvantaged and poorly performing students that is known to have very serious flaws.
Tell me again how this will help them?
Just How DO Charters Achieve Their Miracles?
I have yet to hear one single thing from NAct explaining just HOW exactly charters will improve things. It’s not an unreasonable thing to ask. What is it that charters will do that public schools cannot? What miraculous methods will they employ?
The reason I am so curious is that in the USA, children in charter schools have about a 17% chance of getting a better education in a charter but a 37% chance of getting a WORSE one.   This year, in England, exam passes for English and Maths were better in public schools than in the new Academies.
KIPP schools get some great write ups in research, and on the face of it they do fairy well, but that’s not the whole story. As Diane Ravitch and Gerald Coles point out, “the research KIPP relies on [to prove they are doing so well] was funded by corporations and foundations that have previously given KIPP millions of dollars.”  Hardly what you might call unbiased research then?
Coles asks: “Can there be any bias in research bankrolled by the corporate contributors of the very company whose product the researchers were expected to validate? We are all familiar with the long history of industry-supported research, such as that of tobacco, drug, auto, and coal companies, all conducted by credentialed researchers, all of whom invariably produced findings that supposedly confirmed the value and safety of the products they were paid to investigate. This research on KIPP schools can be described in various ways, but “independent” surely has to take at least second place to “KIPP-funders funded research.”
The unbiased, independent research is not nearly as positive about charters, be they KIPP or otherwise.
So, if NAct is telling us charters will improve things here, I want to see some good, hard INDEPENDENT facts explaining how.
But Bad Charters Are Shut Down, Eh?
Newsweek observed that “charter schools are laboratories where educational ideas are tested. If a charter school is failing after three to five years, it is supposed to be closed down, freeing up a slot for another educational entrepreneur.”  This is worrying. What if your child is in a failing school for the whole 3-5 years it is experimenting away merrily?
And even after they are identified, poorly performing charter school are not always shut – Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) report shows that whilst the charter schools movement has been good at starting up new schools, they have not been good at closing those that are failing. So they might carry on for a long, long time, producing poor results and disadvantaging their students.
How is that any better than the system we have now? It addresses nothing.
Do you want your child to be in an experimental school, possibly with untrained staff, while the school’s sponsors (not necessarily anything to do with education at all) see if their unproven ideas will work?
No, me neither.
Don’t sit by an passively let this happen – you will live to regret it, and your children doubly so.
DO SOMETHING: Make a submission to parliament
Sources and further reading:
 National-ACT Confidence and Supply Agreement (2011) – http://www.act.org.nz/national-act-confidence-and-supply-agreement
 Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge_Is_Power_Program
 Student Characteristics and Achievement in 22 KIPP Middle Schools KIPP Schools – http://www.mathematica-mpr.com/publications/pdfs/education/KIPP_fnlrpt.pdf
 A Challenge to KIPP – http://dianeravitch.net/2012/08/23/a-challenge-to-kipp/
 Standford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) reports on Charter Schools – http://credo.stanford.edu
 Understanding Charter Schools – Newsweek – http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2010/06/13/understanding-charter-schools.html
 “Fifteen percent of KIPP students leave each year, five times the rate of the school districts from which the organization draws students, the study found, citing federal data. Forty percent of black males depart KIPP from sixth- to eighth-grade and more low-performing kids leave and aren’t replaced.” – http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-03-31/-waiting-for-superman-kipp-schools-leave-kids-out-study-finds.html
 Education Amendment Bill – NZ Charter (or Partnership) Schools (see Factsheet 2) – https://saveourschoolsnz.wordpress.com/2012/10/15/education-amendment-bill-nz-charter-or-partnership-schools/