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Charter Schools, GERM (Global Education Reform Movement), New Zealand, Partnership Schools, Privatisation of state schools

Charter Schools: The original vision and the morphed reality

As you might imagine, I am often asked why I’m against charter schools. Such questions are posed in ways that range from the genial to the downright combative, yet it always pays to listen and draw out what people feel they are supporting.

More often than not, what people are sold on is the promise of charter schools. I don’t blame them – I am sold on the promise, too.  But, as I point out, it’s wise to learn from what history and experience has taught us and, no matter how beautiful it is, we must meet the dream with facts.

The original vision for charter schools, as laid out by Albert Shanker, was for places where innovation would be encouraged in staff and students, where teachers would have a huge say in how the school was set up, what was taught and how, and where students from all manner of backgrounds would be educated alongside each other. It was (and is) a marvellous vision. Sadly, it was soon hijacked by those with entirely different motives.

Some saw charter schools as a chance to undermine unions, some saw a chance to promote political ideologies, some saw it as their chance to leap in and undertake huge social experiments.

And, of course, there were those who saw a chance to – one way or another – make money.

It moved from being about freedom and innovation to being about control. Control of teachers, control of students, control of communities, control of policies, control of unions and control of funds.

charter schools dividing communities since1991300With the promise dashed, most charter schools were even more segregated by colour and wealth.

Teachers found themselves working in highly stressful, non-collaborative situations that offered nothing remotely like the innovation or freedoms Shanker had envisaged.

And worst of all, students’ grades were, more often than not, worse than or just the same as in state schools.

The incredible promise was gone: the Charter Schools experiment had failed.

What is amazing to me, as a New Zealand teacher, is that much of what Shanker originally envisaged can be seen in our best state schools. (And by best, I don’t mean highest decile or best NCEA or  National Standards results – I mean schools that provide the richest learning environments for their students, both academically and socially.)

  • New Zealand has schools that are brave enough to make the most of our flexible curriculum to create amazing learning and growth opportunities for students (and, indeed, teachers).
  • We have schools that include staff in decision-making, actively canvass ideas and listen to them, and tap their potential making them part of a truly interactive and collaborative team.
  • We have schools that work hard to actively attract and retain students from a broad socio-economic and ethnic canvas.
  • We have schools that are driven not solely by results but also by students’ wider growth.

All of that already exists in New Zealand state schools.

Rather than spend money and energy setting up a parallel school system that has much the same benefits and flaws as the first but at a greater financial cost and with less oversight, what we should do is tap into those schools already leading the way, learn from them, and encourage all other schools to step outside perceived and real confines, and shine.

Because when it comes to improving education for all children, what better than to take Shanker’s original vision and work to apply it to ALL schools.

~ Dianne

About Save Our Schools NZ

"One needs to be slow to form convictions, but once formed they must be defended against the heaviest odds." Gandhi


2 thoughts on “Charter Schools: The original vision and the morphed reality

  1. Reblogged this on Education Talk New Orleans and commented:
    When I was in New Zealand in 2012 and 2013 I often asked people why would New Zealand need charter schools? New Zealand already had a system that included community voices in their local schools. I was able to see a few different kinds of schools, everything from single sex schools, non-traditional schools and Maori schools. There was no need for the charter school model in New Zealand. Oddly enough, I found myself debating one of the founders of KIPP charter schools. Going with the KIPP model of charter schools would be a step backwards for New Zealand.


    Posted by edutalknola | August 21, 2015, 3:57 am
  2. In Bethlehem, Tauranga we see the swankiest maori charter school. When will we see NZ european kids having the same PRIVILEGE of a swanky new fee-less school which upholds NZ European values, without Maori interference. When will I be relieved of having to pay for petrol by having the posh school vans come and pick MY child up from our house to take them to school and drop them off again at the end of the day. When will the NZ Ministry of education recognize that NZ European kids have their own cultures that need protecting. When will it stop being expected that I should be ashamed of my colonial heritage. A ministry of education minion said to me once about herself, “I am an immigrant too.” Successions of Polynesians were immigrants also, who became ‘Maori’ only once European settlers arrived. Where do you think the tribal system and intertribal warring originated? My daughter stated her knowledge at kindy, that “the Maori killed the Moa.’ This was responded to with , “oh, I think I can see a moa in the trees over there.” Why is my daughters knowledge not as valid as your Maori knowledge. When will the NZ education system and Hekia Parata stop being so apartheid.


    Posted by abouttoburst | October 15, 2015, 4:46 am

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