Dear David Seymour,
in reply to the question in today’s Stuff article, where you ask teachers whether they “want to be a member of an organisation that puts ideology ahead of kids”, I would like to be clear that I most definitely do not. Which is why I’m not in the ACT Party.
Dianne Khan, proud union member
20 May 2016
Today’s announcement that the government will fund another seven charter schools and an independent body to support them comes as a huge disappointment to Principals across the nation.
‘Only a few months ago, the Minister was closing the Whangaruru failed charter school which spent $1.6million on a farm and the government has no mechanism to retrieve that money, even though the school is now closed,’ said Iain Taylor, President of the New Zealand Principals’ Federation today.
‘We thought that lessons had been learned from that disaster,’ said Taylor, ‘but obviously not.’
‘No one is calling for more of these schools,’ says Taylor. ‘Parents already have more than enough schools to choose from. Charter schools are a political arrangement with the government and the ACT party.’ he said.
‘Charter schools are a business, not a regular school, and businesses market themselves to get more customers by offering enticements. That’s what charter schools do”
‘Kids are not flocking to charter schools. Parents have to be enticed to send their kids there. We see the incentives like free school uniforms, free stationery and no programme charges,’ said Taylor. ‘Charter schools are a business, not a regular school, and businesses market themselves to get more customers by offering enticements. That’s what charter schools do,’ he said.
‘The Minister has often said that the vast majority of public schools of all decile levels in this country are great schools. We want all public schools in New Zealand to be great schools and we don’t need charter schools soaking up precious funds that would make that happen,’ said Taylor.
NZPF President Iain Taylor, media spokesperson
Mob: 021 190 3233
Assurances that ACT’s charter school experiment was just a pilot have been proven false with this afternoon’s announcement of seven new charter schools.
PPTA president Angela Roberts was surprised a new round of charter schools were being opened when New Zealand tax payers had been promised the concept would be a trial.
With a poorly conducted evaluation of the existing schools lukewarm about their efficacy opening more did not make sense, she said.
“There are still a lot of questions to be answered.”
“We have been constantly reassured there would be just a handful of schools which would be robustly evaluated – both of those claims have been proved false,” she said.
“This is not a pilot, it is just a sop to the ACT party’s ideological commitment to favouring the private over the public sector.”
This was out of step with reality as illustrated by the disastrous Serco prison contracts and the closure of one of the first five charter schools, she said.
Current research shows our poorest schools are facing the deepest challenges in meeting their students’ needs.
“Public money should be going towards what evidence shows helps the most vulnerable, and that is professional support for their health and welfare needs and economic and social wellbeing,” she said.
Enabling schools to be hubs where students can connect with nurses, mental health and welfare support would have a much bigger impact than wasting money on an unproven experiment.
“The funds should be reprioritised to the state sector where they will have the greatest impact on the greatest number of students,” she said.
David Seymour’s press release today about the collapse of North Shore based private school, Corelli, has two whoppers in it.
First, he incorrectly implies that if a student moves from a private school into a state school then the taxpayer would be $5,000 a year poorer for each student.
This is nonsense. The average amount of government funding per student in the state school sector is derived by dividing a whole raft of aggregated costs by the very large number of students enrolled. But that does not mean that each additional student – at the margin – would cost the taxpayer that amount of money.
Many of the costs incurred in running our schools do not immediately change as the number of students changes. So, it might be possible to absorb more students into the existing school network and hardly change the costs involved. Some costs may go up but by no means all of them will.
The second point in Seymour’s reckless release is that he conveniently overlooks the fact that Corelli has a large number of International students on its roll.
The preliminary March roll data suggests Corelli had as many as 19 international students out of its total roll of 37.
So, if they were all “forced” into attending a state school, the taxpayer would actually benefit, as the international students pay fees that are often over $20,000 a year!
With misinformation as grossly misleading as this, it’s no wonder the public doesn’t trust politicians.
~ Bill Courtney, SOSNZ
The ACT party education policy proclaims that:
“all parents should have a chance to send their children to Partnership Schools. The best way to achieve this is to allow all State and Integrated Schools to choose whether they want to convert to Partnership School status.”
Despite the fact that charter schools do not have to have parents on their board of trustees, the ACT policy goes on to say that:
“Partnership Schools are accountable to parents and students.”
How, I wonder, if parents are not on the board and most information about the school can be kept secret due to it being a private business.
It is incredulous that ACT is still arguing that privatisation (of anything) automatically raises standards. It is patently untrue, as shown by the prisons saga and power companies.
What is true is that once a service is privatised, more money goes into CEOs’ back pockets and less to the workers or those they are meant to serve.
“Education is supposed to be for the benefit of New Zealand’s children.”
Ask yourself, who would privatisation benefit?
~ Dianne Khan
The closure of the charter school based at Whangaruru is an indictment of the charter school model and not a strength as David Seymour wrongly claims.
The first round charter schools were hand-picked by the Government and the Authorisation Board, headed by Seymour’s political ally, Catherine Isaac.
The Minister comments loosely on matters such as “inadequate curriculum leadership” but where was the advice she should have received from Catherine Isaac on whether it was feasible to put the Trustees’ “vision” into practice?
One can sympathise to some extent with the challenges the original Trustees faced in trying to establish the school in such a short time period.
But it is a failing of both the ideology behind the model and the politicised authorisation process that these challenges were not considered more seriously and evaluated properly.
Secondary schools need to be of some significant size before they can offer a broad curriculum and give students the full range of opportunities they need in the modern world.
According to the Ministry of Education’s database, only one Whangaruru school leaver (out of 15) gained NCEA Level 2 in 2014. But information obtained from NZQA reveals that a good deal of the NCEA credits gained by students in 2014 came from Fencing and Possum Trapping.
The reality of what has happened at Whangaruru stands in stark contrast to the grand statements promoting the charter school model made by Authorisation Board member Sir Toby Curtis:
“We do not want to see our children fobbed off with “soft” subjects and meaningless qualifications that take them nowhere. They need the chance to succeed in subjects such as maths, science and technology, as well as languages, the arts and trades.”
Sir Toby gets our vote for Tui billboard of the year.
– Bill Courtney, Save Our Schools NZ
The decision to open two more charter ‘partnership’ schools in New Zealand is indefensible on educational or social grounds, says QPEC Chairperson John Minto.
“Recent studies have demonstrated that state schools that educate the most disadvantaged New Zealanders are already struggling from white flight and viability issues due to the distorting effects of the education market.
“Opening more small schools simply makes that process worse, scattering hard-to-teach children through a mish-mash of tiny schools”, he said.
“It is a win-win situation for this government,
but not for disadvantaged students”
QPEC sees the decision to open bidding for two more partnership schools as entirely political. “It is a sop to the ACT Party, and a way for National to promote the privatisation of education. It is a win-win situation for this government, but not for disadvantaged students”.
While it comes at a financial cost, QPEC is more worried about the effects on the schooling system. “This is not just a mad right-wing experiment, but a policy that will have substantive effects on young, needy children now, said John Minto.
Hekia Parata promised that the record of partnership schools in New Zealand would not mirror the US experience, where school failure, teaching problems, corruption and excessive profits are common. But we have already seen similar issues emerge here (excessive profits, school failure and questionable practices) after only two years and only nine schools.
“In short, this policy is a shocking waste of taxpayer money
and really poor educational policy”.
QPEC notes that Hekia Parata has always defended charter school funding as being on the same basis as state school funding. “The current decision to reduce the amount of funding provided to these schools confirms that the money given to the nine schools has been excessive, as QPEC and other critics have constantly pointed out. In short, the Minister’s defence of the old funding model was incorrect – she did not tell the truth about this”.-
In fact, all of the first three charter secondary schools seem to have performed below their NCEA Level 2 contract performance standard in 2014.
If Mr Seymour took a look at the charter school contracts, he would see that the performance standard for student achievement against NCEA is set out in Annex A.
It clearly states that the contract standard for “school leavers with NCEA Level 2 or higher” was set at 66.9% for the 2014 academic year for each school.
The government data published on the Education Counts website for each of the charter secondary schools reveals the following for “School Leavers with at least NCEA Level 2” for 2014:
These results compare very unfavourably with the national school leaver figure of 77.1% leaving school with at least NCEA Level 2 or higher (School Leaver stats are published by the Ministry on this site under the Find A School application.)
The problems at the charter school based in Whangaruru have been well documented but the Minister not only let them stay open but gave them even more funding!
Now it looks as if student achievement below contract performance standard is not only going to be swept under the carpet but the Under Secretary will talk it up as being “encouraging”.
– Bill Courtney, SOSNZ
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
Reading another worrying report about the New Zealand charter school experiment – this time looking at Villa Education and the Ministry’s poorly negotiated contracts – a friend commented that it’s almost like the Minister will throw any amount of cash at charter schools to make them succeed.
And another mused that in no other area of government would a private business be handed over such huge sums of money from the public purse with no way of reclaiming it should the business fail.
Many ask themselves, just what exactly is going on? But if you try to find out, the Minister, Ministry and Undersecretary will merely offer words to the effect of ‘no comment’.
(And for the love of all that is holy, don’t hold your breath trying to find anything out via the Official Information Act – people have lived and died waiting for those beggars to come through).
I don’t know why, but it all puts me in mind of Nero fiddling while Rome burned.
So is excessive funding of charter schools really such a big problem? I mean, MBIE flings public funds around like money’s going out of fashion, so perhaps it’s just how government funding goes? Are charter schools merely benefiting from government’s lax purse strings? Hmm, nice try – but not all publicly funded entities are so lucky:
Charter schools are given funds for students they don’t have: Public schools are funded only for their exact roll.
Charter schools can and do spend the funds they are given to buy property that they then own and keep even if they fail: Public school land and buildings are owned by the crown and are reclaimed if a school is closed.
Charter school accounts can be hidden by use of a parent Trust company: Public school accounts are entirely public.
It all sounds a little, well, uneven. And not entirely sensible.
As Jolisa Gracewood put it in What’s Wrong with National Standards?:
“By the current government’s logic, it makes more sense to pour money into a brand-new charter school in a lower-decile neighbourhood than to direct that funding towards support programmes at existing schools or kura…”
Exactly. But why?
Some say the Education Minister doesn’t know what on earth she’s doing. I disagree. She knows. But people misunderstand the purpose of these first charter schools. Their purpose is to slowly get people used to the idea that privatising the school system is not such a bad idea. As such, they will be supported and made to succeed (or seem to succeed) come hell or high water.
Of course you don’t have to trust me on this one – we can look to far wiser heads than mine and the conclusions of Massey University’s report, CHARTER SCHOOLS FOR NEW ZEALAND:
“In New Zealand, government initiated or ministry sponsored educational experiments have a long history of ‘success’: all innovations seem to ‘work’. The reason is, of course, that those who introduce them make sure that they are well funded and that the ‘evaluation’ is carefully controlled to ensure favourable outcomes.”
But why would anyone want to ensure the success of charter schools at all costs?
If ACT’s charter school dream comes true, all schools will be given the chance to become charter schools.
Of course, once large numbers of schools, wooed by the glint of better funding, convert to charter schools, the game will change:
The current level of funding cannot be sustained for huge numbers of schools.
The answer is, it won’t matter. Not to ACT or to National, at least, as the mission will have been achieved, which is to move the education system over to a privatised model.
Then the funding can and will drop, because the actual goal will have been met – privatisation of the public school system.
So to answer those wondering what’s going on with excessive charter school funding, the answer is simply this: it’s an inducement to jump the public school ship and board the charter schools cruise liner … but beware, that boat has holes.
~ Dianne Khan
Sources and further reading:
CHARTER SCHOOLS FOR NEW ZEALAND, An investigation designed to further the debate in New Zealand on education policy in general and on charter schooling in particular, EDUCATION POLICY RESPONSE GROUP, Massey University College of Education, April 2012
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.
Excerpts from the readiness report on Te Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru charter school are startling:
After months of operation, ERO reported in September that the school was in a dire situation with inadequate teaching, poor management, disengaged students, and sub-quality learning. The eyebrow-raising list of findings is here:
It is admirable that the Trust want to help these students. But wanting to and being able to are two different things, and in order to serve any students properly, a school needs to be run well with properly trained and skilled staff that can engage the students. Without that it is nothing.
The school hasn’t even been undertaking proper planning or evaluations. How can you know what the students need without first evaluating where they are? And how can you move them forward without planning for progression?
If the school is mostly dealing with classroom management and behaviour issues, then the staff need to be far more skilled in those areas, which I would suggest takes very experiences teachers with a really special ability in that area.
“Limited feedback.” “Limited positive reinforcement.”
In any school that would be a disgrace. In a school that promised to cater to those most in need, it is doubly so.
“The New Zealand charter school model is the best in the world …”
said David Seymour, the new under-secretary to the minister of education.
I would ask Mr Seymour to look below at the huge list of this charter school’s serious weaknesses. Does that look like the best in the world to you, Mr Seymour, because it really doesn’t look remotely adequate to most observers and I very much doubt the students feel they are getting the best education possible.
Charter schools were and still are sold as innovative and able to do amazing things that state schools cannot. So far we have one totally failing school, three largely off the radar, and one posting good NCEA results but with very high rates of pupil attrition.
How is any of this improving the education system?
Perhaps I should print David Seymour’s statement in full so you can see what the real focus is:
“The New Zealand charter school model is the best in the world and ALL state schools should have the option to be one.”
David Seymour, the new under-secretary to the minister of education.
That’s the real aim of the game, eh, Mr Seymour; Privatisation at any cost.
Sources and further reading:
For a party that espouses “individual freedom, personal responsibility” ACT isn’t half quick to hide behind a job title, eh?
“The under-secretary position means Seymour will not be subject to questions in the House. It appears he will not be subject to the Official Information Act also.” (1)
So now the charter schools saga will be *even more* secretive. Ask yourself this – if it’s truly such a great idea, why would government want or need to hide the facts?
Also bear in mind that the little we have found out about the charter schools currently running has largely been through Official Information Act (OIA) requests regarding Ministry and the Minister. It’s already a mare to get information directly about a charter school, because they are businesses and so not subject to the same openness that state schools are.
“charter schools had a huge potential to increase educational achievement. “We need to bed the policy in and make sure it keeps running well.””
But as yet we have not one solitary report, analysis or piece of research explaining why ACT has such faith in charter schools. Nothing. Just a closed door and more secrecy.
What’s the secret?
What is it about charter schools that will make such a difference? No-one’s said.
How will they achieve this? Hmmm…. nothing from the Working Group or Ministry or the Minister or Seymour on that.
Can you show that charter schools are spending the tax money they get to the best effect for students? Actually, they don’t have to show that.
Are the staff there well qualified? Don’t have to tell you that.
How many students with special educational needs are they catering for? Don’t have to tell you that, either.
In fact, they don’t have to tell the parents or taxpayers much of anything, and since they don’t have to have a community-based Board of Trustees, they can work behind closed doors.
Much better from the schools’ points of view to stay quiet and rely on The Herald and other on-side media outlets to spin stories based on PR.
Funny how working behind closed doors and a wall of silence is okay for charter schools, isn’t it?
Can you imagine the fuss if a state school refused to be open about how it operates and who it teaches?
So I ask again, if charter schools are truly such a great addition to the system, why all the secrecy?
“Really, John? You’re really going to let me tinker with
New Zealand’s state school system?
Oh thank you, sir, thank you…”
Playing (out) soon near you.
Brought to you by Charter Schools, GERM, and David Seymour.
You might wonder why this is. You might think it’s a terrible move. But from National’s point of view, it’s a clever move, and here’s why:
Firstly, National can point to ACT as the reason for dreadful policies like charter schools and the soon-to-become-real horror of a voucher system. The hope is that ACT can take the party blame and National can deflect as much as possible.
The second, similar, reason is that by putting Seymour in an education role they hope that anger at unpopular policy will be pointed at him personally, much as it is with Hekia Parata at times. The hope will be that people will focus on ACT’s 0.7% vote or that they have only one MP.
DO NOT FALL FOR IT.
That ACT got 0.07% and one MP is frustrating, but the fact is that ACT is in now and we must resist the urge to talk about the person and instead focus on the policy.
POLICY is what matters.
Every time a new policy is suggested, read it, consider it, ask what effects it may have, read the news, the blogs, talk to others about it.
Do not take anyone’s word for what might happen as a result of any new policy – not my word, not Seymour’s, not Parata’s, no-ones.
Think about it yourself.
Read, learn, question.
And if you decide the policy is going to damage our education system, I implore you to fight it.
Because this next three years is going to be one hell of a roller-coaster for education.
In the words of Bachman Turner Overdrive, You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet.