The charter school initiative is driven by the ideology of those who believe that a market-based, privatised system is inherently superior to an education system based primarily – but not exclusively – on public provision.
But it’s abundantly clear that the market model just doesn’t work in education.
Dr Andreas Schleicher, the Programme Director of the PISA international assessments, had this to say about the “choice” model, as the market model is commonly called overseas:
“My organisation [the OECD] is very strong on choice, enabling citizens to make choices, and you would expect that systems with greater choice would come out better. You expect competition to raise performance of the high performers and with low performers put them out of the market. But in fact you don’t see that correlation… Competition alone is not a predictor for better outcomes.”
The overseas evidence bears this out. The CREDO studies of charter school versus public school performance in the USA are often cited by charter school advocates as proof that their system is superior. But the true position is far from clear.
The 2013 CREDO study reveals that 75 per cent of charter schools either underperform or are not significantly different in reading from public schools, while the corresponding figure for maths is 71 per cent underperforming or not significantly different.
But, more importantly, the CREDO studies make it clear that charter school performance varies widely. This means there are examples right across the spectrum of charter schools that illustrate educational excellence right down to those that are simply incompetent and even downright fraudulent.
So, my take on this is straightforward: changing the structure and organisational types of school within your school system will do nothing to materially impact on overall student achievement. It is this stark reality that really underpins the experience seen in New Zealand over the past year. Charter schools will not succeed just because they are charter schools.
They will exhibit the same range of outcomes and experiences – good and bad – as all types of school ultimately do. So, why are we doing this, just because someone thought it was a good idea? The poor policy and authorisation processes and the individuals responsible for them are at fault here – not the poor souls who have been dropped in at the deep end of the pool.
The original NZ Model of Charter School Working Group, headed by former ACT Party President Catherine Isaac, never produced any reports, advice or recommendations to its sponsoring Ministers, as required by its Terms of Reference. The Ministry of Education confirmed this in response to an Official Information Act request, when I asked to see the Working Group’s output.
The result of this omission is the lack of any definitive statement as to what this initiative really is, what evidence it is based on and how it is likely to make a genuine difference. One obvious example of this confusion is the stance taken by Catherine Isaac on Radio New Zealand late last year, that charter schools are really about “alternative education” for high risk students, while ACT MP David Seymour is busy running around arguing that every school in New Zealand should convert to charter school status!
This lack of clear policy direction has created many design and implementation problems. If we were really doing “alternative education” then wouldn’t we need the strongest and most capable teachers who were able and willing to go out on a limb and to take risks? Why then was the Education Act amended to expressly allow non-registered teachers in charter schools, when all other types of school in the system require all teachers to be registered? What criteria were to be used in deciding which schools were to be authorised?
How was someone like Catherine Isaac ever going to be able to assess the educational merit of charter school applicants, given her complete lack of knowledge in that field? How would the new schools be resourced, funded and supported to carry out their demanding challenge? And how would this funding and support compare to the three other “types” of school already in the New Zealand system, including other “schools of choice”, which we call State-Integrated?
There are numerous other questions that are likely to go unanswered as the experiment unfolds, but at the heart of the matter lies the failure to state clearly what we are really doing and why.
Perhaps if our education policy makers and leaders focused on the true realities of the challenges our education system faces, we could at least begin the dialogue of how we need to go forward together. But honesty and humility are not the natural characteristics of such people.
It is inherently easier to hide behind ideology and blame everyone else for “system failure”.
– BILL COURTNEY
Bill is a parent and former school trustee who writes for the Save Our Schools NZ education blog site.
The original article can be found here and is reproduced with the consent of Education HQ.