Heni Collins investigates growing concerns in Māoridom that the promised panacea of charter schools is a false hope.
- Minister of Education Hekia Parata is known to be a keen advocate of charter schools being run by Māori education providers. But many in Māoridom are not so sure.
- The evidence is thin that charter schools will lift Māori achievement levels, while the highly successful Te Kotahitanga programme is being cut back.
Charter schools are not the way forward for the development of education for Māori, says Professor Wally Penetito, of Te Kura Māori at the Faculty of Education, Victoria University.
“I don’t think that’s the way to go for Māori. I want to see the development of köhanga and kura kaupapa, of the kaupapa Māori movement.”
While many whānau struggle with more urgent issues such as poverty, housing, health and employment, the issue of charter schools is creating further division and confusion amongst Māori, and even within the kaupapa Māori education sector.
Professor Penetito was one of several leading Māori educationalists and leaders who signed an Open Letter to the Government opposing charter schools (officially called partnership schools) in late May. Others who publicly oppose the policy include Professor Russell Bishop, Dr Leonie Pihama, Dr Mera Penehira, Cindy Kiro, Ani Mikaere, Metiria Turei and Lesley Rameka.
Both the Labour and Green party candidates in the recent Ikaroa-Rāwhiti by-election (Meka Whaitiri and Marama Davidson respectively) were clear in their opposition at a meeting in Taita. Mana MP Hone Harawira spoke passionately against the charter school bill in Parliament in May.
Māori members of the primary and secondary teachers unions NZEI and PPTA are firm in their opposition, as both unions believe the policy has the potential to under-mine the public education sector. About 85 percent of Māori children attend mainstream schools, with varying levels of Māori language used, and 15 percent attend Māori immersion kura and wharekura.
Te Rūnanga o Ngai Tahu outlined its strong opposition to the schools in a lengthy, well-researched submission to government. It is the only iwi known to have publicly opposed them.
The new schools are being promoted by the government (National, Act, and the Māori Party supported the charter schools Bill) as a means of tackling Māori and Pacific under-achievement but the results of overseas research relating to minorities in charter schools are inconclusive and benefits to Māori are likely to be minimal.
Despite that, of the 35 or so applicants wanting to establish charter schools, about a third of those are from Māori.
Leaders of kura-ā-iwi, designated character schools (section 156 of the Education Act 1989) associated with particular iwi, see charter schools as a way to gain more freedom from centralised bureaucracy.
Dr Toby Curtis, head of Te Maru o Ngā Kura a Iwi o Aotearoa (Iwi Education Authority) and Pem Bird (representing kaiako at these kura) say they represent 23 of 25 kura-ā-iwi in supporting charter schools. Iwi in support include Tuwharetoa, Tuhoe, Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Manawa, Ngāti Rongomai, Tapuika, Waikato and Raukawa ki te Tonga.
Those in favour of charter schools often use the argument that the public education system is failing Māori children: “Too many schools are allowed to continue failing Māori children, without accountability for that failure,” said Pem Bird. “Kura Hourua can be a circuit-breaker for us, an agent of desperately needed change.”
The gap is closing
But while there is still a gap between Māori and Pakeha achievement levels, policies such as Ka Hikitia, Te Kotahitanga and He Kakano have been achieving success in closing that gap in recent years.