With David Seymour announcing today that a third charter schools application round is now open, it seems (despite previous assurances) there is no slow down in the push towards privatising New Zealand’s school system.
What is particularly interesting in Mr Seymour’s announcement is the implicit admission that up to now charter schools have indeed cost way more than state schools – a fact that has previously been denied to the hilt.
“The new model reduces establishment costs, and emphasises ‘per-student’ funding. When Partnership Schools reach maximum roll, they will receive funding broadly the same as the state school….” – David Seymour.
It’s rather embarrassing for Mr Seymour to spend a few years shouting down those of us that highlighted funding inequities, saying the figures were wrong or we were scare-mongering, only to now admit the model has had to be changed for those very reasons. Will the funding now be fairer? Will the Undersecretary and other nay-sayers be more honest and accurate in future? I’m not holding my breath.
The second interesting snippet in Mr Seymour’s press release was this:
“Partnership Schools show good progress, with achievement in reading, writing and mathematics either the same, or slightly above, that of decile 1, 2 and 3 primary schools. And, overall, NCEA achievement for Partnership Schools in Year 11 and for Level 2 in Year 12 is very high,” says Mr Seymour.
Let’s look at that in two parts, first National Standards, then NCEA.
If charter schools are sold as being better than state schools, it’s not much of a boast to say charter schools’ National Standards results are the same or only slightly above state schools. So , if we take Mr Seymour and his data at face value (and I’m not even going to go into the fact that charter schools as yet haven’t enrolled any ORS funded students with serious special needs), then charter schools are doing about as well as your average state school despite all the extra funding and freedoms. Not what you would call high praise.
Another thing to consider about the National Standards results is their reliability (in any school or sector). It is widely known that National Standards are not at all reliable. The National Standards School Sample Monitoring and Evaluation Project this year again reported that “teachers’ judgements of how well children were performing against the standards still lacked dependability”, so it is ridiculous to trumpet charter schools’ results at all, given it is completely unreliable data across the board.
Charter Schools’ NCEA Results
Now to NCEA. We are yet to get to the bottom of this data. Charter schools and the Minister have repeatedly said that charter schools have achieved great NCEA results. However, the data does not support this, and questions to the parties involved has failed to get a clear answer regarding whether the pass rate percentages are for those that finished the year or for all students that were in that year, including those that dropped out.
Given the falling rolls in some charter high schools over the school year, it is an important point. Student attrition is a common way charter schools fudge their pass rates. Certainly our own investigations have shown charter schools performing at a lower rate than the targets set and than the national average.
If 100 students start the year, but 40 leave, and the remaining 60 pass their exams, can you really claim a 100% pass rate?
There is no evidence that charter schools’ NCEA pass rates are truly higher than comparable state schools. What we do know is that charter schools are allowed to be selective with their reporting and we cannot demand raw data under the Official Information Act because they are private businesses. Because of this, charters can use statistical smoke and mirrors (aka data manipulation) to make claims that it’s impossible for parents or others to confirm or deny – a tactic well known to many US charter schools.
That’s great PR but not at all helpful in working out how well the charter school model is faring in comparison to state schools.
All in all, David Seymour’s praise of charter schools doesn’t hold water, and puts me in mind of a point Diane Ravitch once made in relation to the New York education department’s reporting on charter schools, where she pondered:
“Wouldn’t it be swell if the Department of Education actually had a research department, instead of a hyper-active public relations department?”
~ Dianne Khan, SOSNZ