1. The introduction of charter schools is both a sop to the ACT Party, with their ideological desire to introduce a privatised, market based model of education, and a follow up to the Step Change Report produced in the term of the previous National Government. [Feb 2010]
2. However, there are significant differences between vouchers, the pure market model usually promoted by ACT, and charter schools, which is privatisation by way of contracting with private sector providers. Treasury calls this “Contracting for Outcomes”.
3. Treasury, in its advice to the Minister of Finance, noted that: “The evidence suggests that schooling systems that use strongly competitive elements such as vouchers, avoiding school zoning and ‘charter’ schools do not produce systematically better outcomes.” [July 2012]
4. “School Choice” is the phrase used in America to describe the market model. But New Zealand already has “arguably the most aggressive school choice system in the world” in the view of one overseas commentator. [Marc Tucker, Washington Post, October 2012]
5. NZCER surveys over the years consistently show that the vast majority of NZ parents already believe they send their children to the “school of their choice”. [NZCER]
6. Overseas evidence on charter school performance is inconclusive, at best. A wide range of individual school performance is evident but with little system-wide effect across the model as a whole. [CREDO and Hattie]
7. This purely quantitative analysis is then subject to further criticisms of many aspects of US charter school practices, including: student selection, including the effect of “self-selection” amongst parents; the proportions of English language Learners and special needs students; student attrition; school discipline and behaviour management practices; the apparent lack of backfilling, i.e. the tendency to not replace students as they leave; and the drive for what is commonly called “test prep”, in contrast to a genuine focus on the quality of education.
8. The promotional pack from the Authorisation Board boasts that the New Zealand charter school model represents “Freedom from constraints imposed on regular state schools in exchange for rigorous accountability for performance against agreed objectives.”
9. It then identifies the following factors, but without any evidence that these are likely to lead to higher student achievement: Cashed-up per student funding; school day & year; school organisation; curriculum; teacher pay / teaching practice; privately provided / secular or faith based. [PSKH Authorisation Board, 2016]
10. The argument that “freedom” will encourage/facilitate “innovation” is weak. It is not supported by overseas evidence [Lubienski 2003] and one US charter school industry’s overview even conceded that “… most charters do not employ particularly innovative instructional approaches”. [Bellwether 2015]
11. The combined roll of the 10 schools now in operation was 1,257 as at 1 March 2017, an average of about 125 students per school. The combined Maximum Roll across the 10 schools is 2,112 students. [MoE Schools Directory, April 2017]
12. The original funding model has already been changed, as it soon became clear how much operational funding these schools were receiving compared to their local state schools. Small schools are expensive and the government was fully funding the First and Second Round schools with no Sponsor capital input required.
13. Even in their 4th year of operation, the two largest First Round charter secondary schools are receiving cash funding of over $14,000 per student, compared to a system-wide weighted average for all schools, including property, of $7,046.11. [2015 system data]
14. The Third Round funding model now uses an approach more oriented to funding the student than funding the school, as the roll grows. But the government still provides the property and insurance funding for what is essentially a private sector organisation.
15. Cabinet was told: “A strong evaluation programme will be put in place that thoroughly examines the impact and effectiveness of the first such schools. This will enable us to make informed decisions about whether or not to open further such schools in the future.”
16. This promise has not been carried out. The roll-out of the model has proceeded well ahead of the release of any evaluation. At the time of writing, the Third Round schools have opened this year and applications are being processed for the Fourth and Fifth Rounds!
17. The first two reports from the Martin Jenkins Evaluation Programme are weak and do not rigorously examine school performance or the impact these schools have had. The Evaluation has also completely ignored the failure of the First Round school at Whangaruru.
18. Student achievement outcomes to date have been mixed but difficult to analyse thoroughly given the delays in the Ministry releasing accurate information.
19. By May 2017, the Minister has still not announced her decision on the release of the performance based funding for the 2015 school year! No operational reports for the entire 2016 year have yet been released, along with supporting documentation such as contract variations and Ministry advice to the Minister.
20. There was a major problem with the interpretation of the original secondary schools’ contract performance standard, which is “School Leavers” and not NCEA pass rates. This resulted in incorrect reporting of the true state of the 2014 and 2015 secondary performance. [MoE advice to the Minister, July 2016, obtained under the OIA]
21. Superficially high NCEA pass rates are published by Vanguard Military School but NZQA data obtained under the Official Information Act (OIA) reveals issues around the quality of the credits gained, the high proportion of unit versus achievement standards entered and large differences between internal and external pass rates. [NZQA]
22. Primary and middle schools assessed against National Standards have not performed well. In the 2015 year, only one school out of five – the Rise Up Academy – met its NS student achievement standard targets. [MoE initial analysis, 30 May 2016]
23. Some schools, including Vanguard and the two Villa middle schools, have failed to meet their Student Engagement contract standards relating to stand-downs, suspensions, exclusions and expulsions. This is of concern, given the US charter school practices noted above.
24. Charter schools are not more accountable than public schools, simply because they operate under a contract. Whangaruru was not closed for failure to achieve contract standards; it was dysfunctional from the start.
25. Public school accountability includes parent-elected Boards of Trustees, which must hold open meetings, maintain open records and be subject to the Official Information Act. Board finances are subject to audit under the supervision of the Auditor-General.
26. No such requirements apply to charter schools, which are organised under a commercial contract between the government and the private sector Sponsor.
27. Public funding must go hand in hand with public accountability. State and State-Integrated schools both abide by this principle but charter schools do not.