“We believe that students will get better educations if their parents have more choice and educators face more competition.”
Source: ACT Party Education Policy 2014, p.1
ACT Party Leader, Dr Jamie Whyte, keeps saying that his party would privatise the public education system and believes this will provide increased “Choice” to parents.
But a quick look at the New Orleans “Recovery School District” website will reveal that Dr Whyte is deluded and that privatised systems do not work as he thinks. And besides, New Zealand parents already have more choice in education than he acknowledges.
The Recovery School District in New Orleans is the best worked example of a system where all the schools have now been privatised. This followed the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which accelerated the process of establishing privately operated charter schools and closing public schools.
Unfortunately, in the new fully privatised system, there are three things that parents cannot now choose:
- They cannot choose their school, as the system “assigns” their child to a school;
- Once assigned, they cannot choose to just leave their school;
- And most importantly, they cannot choose to send their child to a public school.
Because the charter schools are privately operated parents initially had a nightmare trying to enrol their children. As enrolment applications usually exceed the number of places available at each school, parents needed to apply to many different schools, as they did not know for certain whether their children would get accepted. This caused a backlash and a centrally operated enrolment system was developed, called One-App.
One-App allows parents to apply once on one application form and to designate their top 3 preferred schools. The process is not easy and the form is nearly 20 pages long!
But any suggestion that parent choice prevails goes out the door pretty quickly.
The enrolment system assigns each child to a school. If the parents are happy with the school they have been assigned to in the main round, then they do no more. But, if they are unhappy, then they may apply again in the second or third rounds.
Here’s what the RSD website reveals:
“The system matched 90 percent of entering kindergarten and rising ninth grade applicants to one of their top three school choices In non-transition grades, 70 percent of applicants were matched to a top choice; and in pre-kindergarten, where the demand for seats is greater than the supply, 75 percent of students were matched to one of their top choices.”
So, let’s be very clear.
- The system assigns children to schools. Parents do NOT choose;
- In total, 80 percent of applicants were assigned to a top 3 school choice, of which only 61% were assigned to their Rank 1 selection.
But, it’s even harder, in some ways, to leave your school. Why? Because once everyone has been assigned there are very few available places.
“Prior to the beginning of the third week of August and after February 1, a family requesting admission to a school other than the one they were assigned to or currently attend can submit a Placement Exception Request (PER).”
So, parents need to complete a form and seek permission to leave their school.
Call that parent choice?
Here’s what the website says:
“All PER requests must be approved by the RSD and are pending seat availability. PER requests must address a particular “hardship” and must be submitted with accompanying paperwork. The hardship criteria are Medical Hardship, Safety Transfers, Travel Hardship, Childcare Hardship and Transfer to a Specialised Program.”
So, being disappointed with the school and wanting to vote with your feet is not an option!
Finally, we come to the last choice that is missing: the right to send your child to the local, neighbourhood public school. That right has been taken away by the privatisation movement.
In New Zealand, parent survey research shows that only 6% of New Zealand primary and intermediate school parents say their child was attending a school that was not their family’s first choice; and the equivalent figure for secondary parents is 9%. [Source: NZCER Surveys: 2013 (Primary and Intermediate) and 2012 (Secondary)]
So, 94% of New Zealand primary/intermediate school parents and 91% of secondary parents are satisfied with their first choice school.
Contrast that to the 61% first choice figure achieved in the RSD in New Orleans and you can readily see that New Zealand parents already have more effective school choice options available to them than their counterparts in a privatised system.