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Bill Courtney

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Where is the Charter School data?

wanted 2For a Minister so obsessed with data and, in particular, the sharing of data, it is interesting how little we know about charter schools.  

Bill Courtney writes:

The game of delaying the release of a vast range of information on the charter schools continues.

The Ministry has promised to release a lot of material, including the formal evaluation of 2015 student achievement, in “April” but has refused to state exactly when. They also need to release all of the 2016 quarterly reports, the 2016 contract variations and the second “annual” installment of the Martin Jenkins evaluation of the charter school initative.

In short, lots of information is being withheld for no apparent reason.
When it is finally released, we will go through it and post our thoughts on what it reveals.

In the meantime, propaganda and marketing material fills the void.

Why high-flying Singapore wants more than grades

characterThis is an excellent article about Singapore, published on the BBC site.

Dr Lim Lai Cheng, former head of the prestigious Raffles Institution school in Singapore and director at the Singapore Management University, explains the push for character as well as qualifications.

“Schools have become highly stratified and competitive. More advantaged families are better able to support their children with extra lessons outside of school, such as enrichment classes in mathematics, English, dance and music.

Those who can’t afford this have to depend on their children’s own motivation and the resources of the school to catch up.

This social divide continues to widen because the policies that had won the system its accolades – based on the principle of meritocracy – no longer support the social mobility they were meant to bring about.

So work is in progress to tackle anything in the system that seems to be working against social cohesion.

Government policies are moving away from parents and students’ unhealthy obsession with grades and entry to top schools and want to put more emphasis on the importance of values.

Schools have been encouraged, especially for the early elementary years, to scrap standardised examinations and focus on the development of the whole child.

To enhance equity, the education ministry has also attempted to spread resources more evenly across schools by rotating experienced principals to schools that need more attention and paying more attention to academically weaker students by strengthening vocational and skills training.

All round, government leaders have expounded a wider definition of success beyond academic grades.

The media and elite schools have been discouraged from showcasing top students and their academic achievements.”

Contrast what you have read above with the New Zealand system, focusing so relentlessly on National Standards.  Add the New Zealand Initiative push towards greater measurement and the publication of the results and you cannot get further from the position Singapore has adopted.

Fact Checker: Vanguard Military School

As the NZ Listener remarked in their October 2015 article on charter schools, the national picture on NCEA pass rates is that they are now ascending into farce.

It is a February ritual to look out for the Vanguard Military School NCEA results release and to comment on what lies behind the meaningless percentages that this organisation releases.

This year’s version from the North Shore based charter school waxing lyrical about their 2016 results is available here.

Thanks to two years of OIA responses from the NZQA, covering the 2014 and 2015 school years, we now know a lot more about what standards the students at Vanguard were entered for and how well they did on internal versus external assessment.

What we now see from NZQA, for the second year running, is that a high percentage of the credits that students at Vanguard achieve are unit standards (42.2% in 2015), rather than the more academic achievement standards; a very high proportion of credits are gained via internal assessment (93.5% in 2014 and 94.2% in 2015) and a wide gap exists between external and internal pass rates (90.5% internal pass rate v 58.2% external pass rate in 2015).  Note the full NZQA analysis for the 2016 results will not be out for several months.

While it is quite fair to say that some courses that Vanguard offers, such as Engineering, will always be internally assessed, our analysis of the detailed listing of standards entered in 2015 shows many “soft” credits being gained by Vanguard students.

For example, 57 entered for “Be interviewed in a formal interview” (2 Credits), 74 entered for “Produce a personal targeted CV” (2 credits), 53 entered for “Demonstrate knowledge of time management” (3 credits), and over 50 entered in each of the Outdoor Recreation courses: “Experience day tramps” (3 credits), “Experience camping” (3 credits) and “Navigate in good visibility on land” (3 credits).  All of these standards are unit standards at NCEA Level 2.

To put these entry numbers into perspective, the 2015 July roll return shows Vanguard had 61 Year 11 students, 47 Year 12 and 15 Year 13 students at that point in 2015. So entries of over 50 students into each of these Level 2 courses is significant.

In addition, a large number are entered for Physical Education standards, which are actually regarded as achievement standards.  This means the students can achieve Merit or Excellent credits which are generally not available in the unit standards.  For example, no less than 96 students were entered for achievement standard 91330, “Perform a physical activity in an applied setting”, which is worth 4 credits at Level 2.

Some of these activities may be useful things to do but you can draw your own conclusions on what this means for the quality of qualifications these young people are obtaining.

The detailed NZQA analysis for 2016 will be released later this year and we will look to see if there is any change from previous years.

A couple of other points about Vanguard are worth noting.

First, Vanguard’s roll drops quite markedly as the year progresses.  Using the 2016 roll return data, Vanguard opened with approx.  152 students in March, dropping to 142 as at 1 July and only 113 in October.  So the roll drops away quite significantly after many complete their NCEA Level 2 and leave school during the year.  With a low proportion of credits gained via external assessment, there is no need to wait around until the end of year examinations.

Second, because of this tendency to leave after NCEA Level 2, the Vanguard roll also drops away at Year 13.  The full 1 July 2016 roll return shows 55 students at Year 11, 69 at Year 12 but only 18 at Year 13.  2016 was the third year of operations for the school, so retention into Year 13 seems to be quite low.

Of the 18 students at Year 13, there were 10 Maori, 5 European, 2 Pasifika and 1 Asian.  Draw your own conclusions about small cohort sizes and the promotion of the 100% Pasifika NCEA L3 pass rate!

As to why they emphasised the Maori and Pasifika results in the release, is management sensitive to the fact that Maori and Pasifika students make up only 54% of the school’s roll?

The policy intention of the charter school initiative was to target Maori and Pasifika learners which is why the charter school contracts have a performance target for enrolling at least 75% “priority learners”.  Vanguard argues that they meet this target because many of their other students are from low socio-economic backgrounds.

The final point to note about Vanguard is the number of expulsions.  Ministry of Education analysis confirms that Vanguard expelled 3 students in 2014 and 5 students in 2015.  Furthermore, these students are not included in any calculations relating to student achievement performance for the year in which they were expelled.

The Ministry of Education insists that they apply their rules relating to students being enrolled for “short periods” consistently across all schools and that this does not advantage the charter schools compared to any other type of school.

On the Saga of Misinterpreting Student Achievement Performance Standards at NZ Charter Schools

Bill Courtney

Bill Courtney

The purpose of this report, prepared by Bill Courtney of Save Our Schools NZ, is to document several matters relating to the various quantitative measures that have been used to report student achievement in the charter secondary schools, across both 2014 and 2015.

The main observation is that, in respect of 2014 achievement, the performance standard originally set out in the charter school Agreement, the Ministry’s interpretation of this, the achievement reported by the schools and the reported achievement in the Ministry’s publicly available database, Education Counts, are all different! (See Reporting Summary table on p. 2 of full report)

One of the most significant implications of these differences in interpretation is that, on the recommendation of the Ministry, the Minister approved the release of the 1% operational funding retention amount, relating to the 2014 year, for both Vanguard and Paraoa. However, Vanguard did not meet its NCEA L2 Target and Paraoa did not meet either its Level 1 or Level 2 Target.

In July 2016, the Ministry finally acknowledged that there were “issues” related to the current NCEA performance standards as being applied to charter schools. This admission raises serious concerns about the mantra underpinning the charter school approach, which is described as: “Rigorous accountability against clearly agreed objectives.

In a paper to the Minister, it recommended a new set of performance standards be utilised in the Third Round contracts that were signed in August 2016. These will use two new roll-based NCEA pass rate measures along with a clearly stated “School Leaver” measure, calculated in the normal manner.

However, the same paper redacted the sections referring to “Next Steps” that might suggest how the Ministry is going to evaluate the performance of the existing First and Second Round schools on an on-going basis.

At time of writing, the Ministry has published its initial analysis of the schools relating to the 2015 year using what it has described as the “current” interpretation of the performance measures. But it had not yet made any recommendations regarding the 1% retention amounts for 2015.

In order to provide a more comprehensive overview of performance, I have included in the full report data from the Education Counts system-wide data spreadsheets, based on the “School Leavers” metric. These show charter school achievement compared to decile 3 schools and for Maori students.

I have also included an initial analysis of information relating to the “quality” of the NCEA credits being earned by students enrolled at charter schools, based on data provided by NZQA.

Finally, I conclude with some thoughts on the implications of this bizarre outcome in what is supposedly being sold to the country as a “Contracting for Outcomes” arrangement.

You can view the full report here.

~ Save Our Schools NZ

David Seymour and another misleading statement about charter schools

David Seymour has made a clearly incorrect statement to the media about his beloved charter schools and contradicted his Minister in the process.

The question at issue is the incorrect interpretation and measurement of the student achievement targets used in the original charter school contracts for the first and second round charter schools.

Save Our Schools NZ has been involved for over a year in the battle to get the Ministry of Education to acknowledge that both the reporting by the schools and the performance evaluation by the Ministry have been incorrect.

Radio NZ reported on Thursday that Seymour defended the incorrect interpretation by making the following statement:

“The reason that there is a difference, just remember, is that we have been pioneering holding schools to account through a contract, and it was necessary if you wanted to do that to have a different system of measurement.”

This statement is rubbish!

The original contracts did not have a different system of measurement at all.

The performance standards used in the original contracts were stated as “School Leavers with NCEA Level 1” and “School Leavers with NCEA Level 2”.

But both of these performance standards have been interpreted incorrectly and not calculated in the normal way that the Ministry does so for all other schools in the system.

These School Leaver statistics are published in the Ministry’s Education Counts database for every school: state, state-integrated, private and now the charter schools.

The error was obvious once the Education Counts “School Leavers” figures for the first round charter schools were released and it was clear that these were different from both the schools’ own reporting and the Ministry’s evaluation.

But it was also clear that they were not what the Minister had intended when the contracts had been put together in 2013.

Under the Official Information Act, Save Our Schools NZ obtained Ministry reports to the Minister in 2013 that set out the basis for the contract performance standards and the metrics that would be used to measure performance.

These documents included one where the Minister, Hekia Parata, made a hand-written comment on one of the papers in May 2013, discussing the principles behind the contract standards:

“There is to be no compromise on the system-level benchmarks.”

This makes a mockery of David Seymour’s claim that it was necessary to have a different system of measurement.

The  Minister then signed off the contract metrics in September 2013.  These included the following:

“n.          Agree that performance standards for 2014 NCEA Level 1 and 2 should be based on 2012 system-level results for decile 3 state schools.”

So the Minister had clearly intended that the normal system-level benchmarks should be used and the charter school targets for 2014 should be the same as the results of decile 3 state schools in 2012.

It is the incorrect interpretation and measurement of those performance standards that has been revealed and is now being corrected.

Seymour is simply wrong to argue that a “different system of measurement” had always been intended.

~ Bill Courtney, SOSNZ

See also: https://saveourschoolsnz.com/2016/08/16/david-seymours-bizarre-claims-about-charter-school-performance/

Little evidence that charter schools are delivering for Māori

Maori education tui

Save Our Schools finds little evidence to support the claim by the Māori Party that charter schools are “delivering for our people”.

Closer scrutiny of the schools’ performance against their contracts suggests that none of the three schools with predominantly Māori students is actually meeting their main targets.

The Ministry set targets for student achievement using National Standards as the metric for the primary schools and the “School Leavers with NCEA Level 2” metric as the main target for secondary schools.

But Ministry analysis released in May this year showed that both of the primary schools, Te Kapehu Whetu-Teina in Whangarei and Te Kura Māori o Waatea in Mangere, were evaluated as “Not Met” for student achievement.

Whetu-Teina achieved only 2 of its 18 targets and Waatea achieved none of its 12 targets in 2015 according to the Ministry analysis.

The secondary school based in Whangarei, Te Kura Hourua o Whangarei Terenga Paraoa, reported high NCEA participation-based pass rates but its School Leavers stats showed a different picture.

The Education Counts database showed Paraoa as having 84.6% of School Leavers in 2015 leaving with NCEA Level 1 or above against a target of 84.0%; but its School Leavers with NCEA Level 2 or above figure of 69.2% did not quite reach its contract target of 73.0%.

The Ministry has not released its revised evaluation of the school’s performance against target, as it has only recently acknowledged an inconsistency in how the secondary school contract performance measures have been interpreted.

But on the surface, Paraoa has not reached the key NCEA Level 2 School Leaver target that the Government focuses on.

Finally, we have to keep in mind that the fourth school with predominantly Māori students, based at Whangaruru in Northland, was closed earlier this year by the Minister.

So, on balance, there seems to be little evidence at this early stage to support the claims being made.

– Bill Courtney. Save Our Schools NZ

The Villa PR Push: Let’s look at the Funding

This is the second in a series of postings following up an op-ed written by Don Brash published in the NZ Herald.

Our first response discussed what motives might lay behind what we feel is a concerted PR push by Villa Education Trust, the Sponsor of South Auckland Middle School.

In this piece we will look at the statement made in the op-ed about funding, as this remains one of the real sticking points about the early charter schools.

Ah yes, critics argue, but partnership schools get a lot more money from the taxpayer than other schools do.  Absolute nonsense.

Sorry, Dr Brash, but charter schools do get more OPERATIONAL FUNDING than the local schools get.  Especially when their funding is compared to the larger schools in South Auckland, where SAMS is located.

In a nutshell, SAMS received total operational funding of approx. $12,800 per student in 2015 compared to Manurewa Intermediate (the intermediate school used in the article) which received approx. $5,600 per student.

To understand how this large discrepancy arises, we need to look at the original charter school funding model.  The single biggest policy mistake it made was to try and work out the equivalent funding that a stand alone State school of the same size and type might receive.

But, in practice, the charter schools are being created in places like South Auckland where there are larger, more established schools that receive much lower average per student funding.  This means that the larger schools could not possibly recreate the conditions such as class sizes of 15 that the smaller charter schools can.

One recent story on Radio NZ described the pressure on some South Auckland schools that saw many of them using their libraries and halls as teaching spaces.  One school had plans to start teaching next year in the staffroom!

So, is it any wonder that when given the option of class sizes of 15, free uniforms and free stationery, that parents may be choosing the charter school?

Let’s look briefly at the original charter school funding model, noting that this model has already been changed for the third round schools that have just been announced.

The original model had two essentially fixed components per school: Base Funding and Property & Insurance.  The property component is fixed for the first 3 years (unless the school changes size or teaching year levels) and the base funding component varies by type of school (secondary, middle or primary) and is indexed each year.

Variable Funding comes in two parts: a Per Student Grant and Centrally Funded Services.  The two variable components are then multiplied by the number of students on the roll or the Guaranteed Minimum Roll (“GMR”) whichever is the greater.  So, if the actual school roll is less than the GMR, the Sponsor gets paid for at least the GMR number of students.

In 2015, SAMS operated at its Maximum Roll, which was originally 120 students.

So, putting all the components together the SAMS financial statements show revenue from Government Grants of $1,536,016, or an average government funding figure of approx. $12,800 per student, in 2015.

money showerSo let’s walk through the SAMS financial statements for 2015 and see what Villa does with its $1.5 million of funding.

First, it pays the rent, which is $150,000 per annum.  If we are generous, and include all Property expenses, including utilities, we find these amounted to $194,776 in the 2015 financial statements.

This would then leave a total of $1,341,240, or $11,177 per student after we have acquired and maintained the school premises.

What do we do next?  We would look to hire the teachers necessary to deliver on the 1:15 class size ratio.

For a school of 120 students, we would need 8 teachers, at a round number cost of $75,000 per annum each.  That should cost us approx. $600,000 and we find that teacher salaries in the 2015 SAMS accounts came out at pretty much that amount: $584,883.  Add in the other curriculum related costs, such as classroom resources – including those free school uniforms and stationery – and total Learning Resources amounted to $869,846.

That leaves us with $471,394 to pay for the administration of a 120 student school.

Plenty of money to pay for a full-time Community Liaison Manager – nice if you can afford it – pay for all the office and other admin costs and allow for depreciation and you spend a total of $263,906.

And what does that leave room for?

That’s right: the Management Fee payable to the Sponsor of $140,000.  That’s the cost of hiring a full-time principal at a much larger school!

For comparison, let’s see how Manurewa Intermediate is getting on.

The Find A School application on the Education Counts website has summary financial information for State and State-Integrated schools.

In 2015 Find A School showed Manurewa Intermediate’s Staffing Entitlement figure was $2,510,958 and its Operations Grant figure was shown as $1,431,808.  So, let’s cash this all up and make an OPERATIONAL FUNDING total of $3,942,766.

But straight away we have a problem.  Manurewa Intermediate has 704 students.  So we start our comparison with average per student government funding of only $5,600 per student.

Its property is owned by the Crown, so it doesn’t pay rent in cash.  So we can skip straight to the teacher costs.

To engineer class sizes of 15, we would need to buy 47 teachers.  At a cost of $75,000 each we would need $3,525,000.

That would leave us with only $417,766 or $593 per student to pay for everything else necessary to run a school of 704 students which is nearly 6 times the size of SAMS!

Out of that amount, we would need to pay for all classroom and curriculum resources, all the non-teaching staff, all the administration costs, the utilities and property maintenance costs and the depreciation to cover the replacement of all the furniture, equipment and ICT resources.

Hopefully you can see from this comparison that it would be virtually impossible for Manurewa Intermediate to have class sizes of 15 with the level of government operational funding it receives.

You could also arrive at the same conclusion with a simple rule of thumb calculation.

Based on a teacher cost of $75,000, in a class size of 15 each student needs to contribute $5,000 to pay for their teacher.  SAMS had $11,177 after paying for the premises; Manurewa Intermediate started with $5,600.

In summary, what readers interested in understanding charter schools funding need to appreciate is the significant influence of the fixed cost components of their funding model.

Even at its initial maximum roll of 120, the fixed components of SAMS’ funding comprise 57% of its total funding: base funding was $578,021 and the property component was $303,681.  That is why the charter schools are proving to be more expensive than their local counterparts: they are small schools with high fixed cost funding.

But they are being compared to larger, longer established schools where the fixed costs are spread over a much greater number of students.

This is what economists call economies of scale.

It is a major reason why direct comparisons between schools with significantly different funding streams should be treated with real caution.

Research shows that the effects of smaller class sizes are positive and of real help, especially when dealing with students who need more intensive support.

Smaller class sizes are an expensive policy to engineer; but wouldn’t it be great to see class sizes of 15 in all our low decile schools, not just those favoured by the flawed charter school funding model.

~ Bill Courtney, Save Our Schools NZ

The Villa PR Push #charterschools

The NZ Herald ran an op-ed piece yesterday written by former ACT Party leader, Don Brash.  It sang the praises of South Auckland Middle School, one of the two charter schools run by Alwyn Poole of Villa Education Trust.

The piece contained statistics of all sorts including figures purporting to compare the National Standards results for SAMS to local Manurewa schools.  I will write separately on the thorny topic of comparing schools and how this might fit in to how we see the charter school concept playing out here in New Zealand.

We will also look again at the much higher operational funding that SAMS receives compared to local schools.  And we will also deal with the silly comment that Dr Brash made about Rototuna Primary receiving “$40 million for start-up”, which is a ridiculous statement to make.

[If you want a summary of this year’s charter school funding read our piece from earlier this year]

But, in the meantime, let’s focus on the current PR push.

We have seen this push several times recently in the right wing blog sites Whale Oil and Kiwiblog and it even appeared in a piece in the National Business Review, written by another former ACT Party leader, Rodney Hide.

Alwyn is well known to many of us in the charter school circle.  He is very aggressive in his marketing and communications, looking to push both the charter school concept and his own schools at every opportunity.

While there’s nothing really wrong with that, I suspect the motivation for this current push was that SAMS has fallen short of the student achievement performance targets in its contract.

This was confirmed last week when the Ministry’s evaluation of the 2015 charter school performance was published.  SAMS met only two of its six Targets and was rated as Almost Met.  However, its sister school out west, Middle School West Auckland, met only one of its six Targets and was rated Not Met.

Mind you, the Ministry report, dated 30 May 2016 but released in the last week of August, was buried on the charter school section of the Ministry’s website and not even put at the top of a long list of documents.   No press release, no website announcement – nothing.  I wonder why?

The Ministry report did not make any recommendations on the release of what is termed the 1 per cent retention amount of each school’s operational funding.  This is supposed to be released only when a charter school has met all of its performance standards.  [See charter school Agreement, Schedule 7: Payment, clause 1.4 (i)]

However, the Minister fudged this decision last year and released the retention payment to Villa, even though SAMS failed to meet its student engagement performance standard, due to having too many Stand Downs, Suspensions and Exclusions.

Just out of interest, we should also note that the two Villa charter schools have so far generated $640,016 in management fees to the Sponsor.  And these are on top of any expenses incurred within the schools to cover both teaching and administration costs.

The charter school love-in group, known as the Authorisation Board and headed by another ACT Party ideologue, is in recruitment mode now for the Fourth Round.  They have a slide pack that promotes the charter school concept as “Rigorous Accountability for performance against agreed objectives”.

Both SAMS and Middle West have not met their student achievement contract performance standards in the 2015 year.

We shall see what the Minister decides…

~ Bill Courtney, SOSNZ

David Seymour’s bizarre claims about charter school performance

Seymour Outrageous comments

Analysis by Save Our Schools NZ shows that the charter primary and middle schools achieved only 27 out a combined total of 66 achievement Targets for the 2015 academic year. This is a hit rate of only 40.9%.

For most people, this would represent a “Fail” but David Seymour seems to have taken the dark art of grade inflation to a new height.

In his Free Press release (15 August), Seymour claims that his charter schools are “knocking it out of the park with results and innovation”.

Outrageous comments such as Seymour’s serve to remind us that charter schools are clearly not subject to any serious monitoring at all.

Seymour’s colleagues on the charter school Authorisation Board have just launched a marketing campaign to try and bounce back from the disastrous current application round.

One of the slides in the presentation pack describes the charter school model with this comment:

“Freedom from constraints imposed on regular state schools in exchange for rigorous accountability for performance against agreed objectives.”

But the agreed objectives are those set out in the charter school contracts and not those in Seymour’s fantasy baseball stadium.

It will be interesting to read the Ministry’s evaluation of 2015 charter school performance and to see whether they have also drunk too much of the charter school Kool-Aid.

For the record, the combined 2015 results for the 3 primary and 2 middle schools are shown below.

Contract Targets are set at each Year level, as being the percentage of students assessed as “At or Above National Standards” across Reading, Writing and Maths.

The schools have different numbers of Year levels in operation, as they become established, but these add to 22 in each subject area for the 2015 year.

Targets Met in total:                      Achieved 27 out of 66                    40.9%

Reading:                                              Achieved 7 out of 22                      31.8%

Writing:                                               Achieved 10 out of 22                    45.5%

Maths:                                                  Achieved 10 out of 22                    45.5%

– Bill Courtney, Save Our Schools NZ

Charter School Funding in 2016 – Follow The Money

Prior to the publication of Save Our Schools NZ’s detailed analysis of charter school funding in 2016, we here present a summary of findings:

  • 6 of the 8 on-going charter schools are operating below their Guaranteed Minimum Roll for 2016, with a total of 46 positions over-funded as at 1 March 2016;
  • Across the 8 schools, the combined opening roll at the start of 2016 falls short of the combined Maximum roll by 817 students (895 enrolled versus 1,712 Maximum);
  • Looking at average school size, the combined opening roll of 895 students gives an average size per school of only 112 students;
  • Even though the first round schools are now in their third year of operation and are well past their establishment period, only one – South Auckland Middle School – is operating at or above its original Maximum Roll;
  • Paraoa and Vanguard are both in their third year of operation but neither has reached their Maximum Roll. Average funding per student is reducing slowly but both first round secondary schools receive average funding around the $16,000 per student mark;
  • Ministry of Education figures reveal that the weighted average operational funding per student across State and State-Integrated NZ secondary schools in 2015 was $7,606.97;
  • South Auckland Middle School is the older of the two middle schools and its total funding per student has stabilised at around the $12,000 mark. This stability has arisen because SAMS started with an initial roll that was close to its Maximum Roll and this has remained the case;
  • Middle School West Auckland, however, has seen its roll and GMR fall from 2015 to 2016. Consequently, its average funding per student has risen and is over 40% higher than its sister school;
  • The primary schools receive much less operational funding under the original charter school funding model than the secondary or middle schools;
  • Both their Base Funding and their Property & Insurance components are much less, because the assumption is that the primary school model is less costly to implement than the secondary model of schooling;

Finally, it will never be easy to make straightforward comparisons between charter school and State / State-Integrated school funding, as this inevitably involves an apples v oranges comparison. But even in their third year of operation, the first round schools still have high total funding per student costs compared to the weighted average across the school system.

And while things may or may not change over time, our approach will remain simple: “Follow the Money”.

~ Bill Courtney, Save Our Schools NZ

Spin Doctors out in force at Vanguard – again!

spin checkedThe recent press release from Vanguard Military School (3 February 2016) again highlights how the spin doctors love to spin a story around high participation-based pass rates in NCEA.  But do they tell the full story of student achievement at the charter secondary school?

Late last year an excellent article published in the NZ Listener revealed that students at Vanguard and its counterpart in Whangarei – Te Kura Hourua o Whangarei Terenga Paraoa – gained the vast majority of their NCEA credits in internally-assessed standards.  They also had far higher pass rates in internally-assessed standards than they achieved in external assessments.

The full breakdown published by NZQA (and linked to in the Listener article) also revealed that no less than 25 students at Vanguard gained 3 credits at NCEA Level 2 in 2014 for such demanding subjects as “Experience day tramps”, which is Standard no. US 425, if you want to look it up!  Readers will be pleased to know that no-one seemed to have failed that one!

It will be interesting to examine the 2015 standards information release and see if there is any change in the makeup of these “top academic results”, as the spin doctors  have described them!

The final comment in the release also caught our eye, as it related to the school roll.

Vanguard talked about opening in 2014 “… with a roll of 104 it has grown to around 160 students in 2016 and will continue to look to expand.”

This sounds like the school is growing steadily but in practice, Vanguard’s roll has been below its Guaranteed Minimum Roll used for funding purposes since the day it opened.

The 2014 GMR was set as 108, but the actual roll dropped from 104 in March to 93 in July and 79 by year end.

In 2015, the GMR was set higher at 144 but the actual roll was 137 (March), 123 (July) and 84 by October.

This trend confirms that students are leaving the school well before end of year external exams take place, which is consistent with the high proportion of internally-assessed standards achieved.

But, more significantly, the taxpayer is funding far more student places at the school than has been evident in the school roll.

Given the school is operated by a for-profit company (Vanguard Military School Ltd, company no. 4622709) this additional revenue has gone straight into the Sponsor’s bottom line profit.

Bill Courtney, SOSNZ

Is David Seymour changing the rules for his charter schools?

David Seymour ACTIs David Seymour changing the rules for charter schools to make it easier for them to meet their contract performance standards?

Seymour’s bizarre press release (9 December 2015) contained the extraordinary statement that “David has reformed the funding formula for the schools and is tweaking the assessment regime.”

What on earth does “tweaking the assessment regime” mean?  And why would a politician be involved in a technical matter such as assessment?

The New Zealand Qualifications Authority is the entity responsible for the qualifications framework in this country not David Seymour.

But is Seymour taking action to change the rules for the charter secondary schools, given they appear to have failed to meet the 2014 standard set out in the charter school contract?

This states quite clearly that the standard is “School leavers with NCEA Level 2” with a 2014 target of 66.9% eventually climbing to 85% in 2017.  This is the Government’s main target for the school system.

However, the Education Counts database published by the Ministry shows both Vanguard Military School and Te Kura Hourua o Whangarei Terenga Paraoa fell short of that target in their first year of operation.  Vanguard had 60.0% and Paraoa 55.6% of their School Leavers leaving with NCEA Level 2 or above.

So, what is Seymour up to?

Followers of the charter school initiative will also laugh at the comment that “David has reformed the funding formula.”  While problems with the original funding model were clear from the outset, Seymour denied this was the case.  A quote from his op-ed published in the Sunday Star-Times (8 February 2015) states that: “Why do some claim partnership schools are overfunded?”

So, which level of funding is correct Mr Seymour?

The amount produced by the original model or the amount now on offer after you “reformed the funding formula”?  The Ministry document presented to cabinet clearly sets out how much less the “reformed” model produces for a new charter school in its early years compared to the original model.  But that cannot stop the overfunding that already applies to the first round of schools, as the Ministry is bound by the original contract.

So, are the schools also being held to account for their side of the same contract?  Or is the parliamentary under secretary riding to their rescue and “tweaking” the rules?

– Bill Courtney, Save Our Schools NZ

Update of the Education Act 1989 – some observations

Bill CourtneyI attended the “open to the public” MoE consultation workshop last Friday about “Updating the Education Act 1989.” As a parent and former school trustee I have maintained a keen interest in education policy and wanted to see first-hand how I would be “consulted”.

After all, the foreword in the public discussion document from our Minister of Education clearly said that she was asking the public for our input into the process.

But it was hard on days like last Friday to not come away concerned about how education policy is being developed in a land that has traditionally been very good at educating its young people.

In many ways the consultation reinforced concerns about what many of us call GERM, i.e. the Global Education Reform Movement, as it is popularly known overseas.

Most Kiwis probably don’t understand what we mean by GERM and may even call us cynical and ideological.  But in recent years we have seen too many examples of policy initiatives that have come off the GERM agenda, as Finnish education leader, Pasi Sahlberg christened it.

And here we are again, this time looking at the Education Act itself, but leaving out most of the contentious policy development of the past decade, such as National Standards, charter schools, IES, Education Council, etc, etc.

Let’s list a few things that rankled me:

  • Timing.How can anyone take seriously a Government that opens a consultation process on education at this time of year and allows a mere 6 weeks for responses – closing on 14 December?  Our session had a total of two school principals as the only school-based education professionals in the room.  I wonder how many teachers and principals will get the opportunity to attend any of these sessions?
  • Scope.You can usually tell when a process has a not-so-hidden agenda when the scope of the review excludes most of the controversial topics!
  • Honesty.Why does the foreword from the Minister of Education say “It is time to take a fresh look at it [the Act]”?  I would have thought that a “fresh look” started with a clean sheet of paper, wouldn’t you?  Also, you would think from reading Hekia’s foreword that the Act had not changed in 26 years.  Yeah Right!
  • Double Speak.Hekia again: “We want an Act and a system that puts children at the centre of learning.” “This discussion document outlines a number of proposals for raising educational achievement.”  Note how “learning” and “achievement” are often interchanged, as if they are the same thing?  In the GERM world, only that which is counted – normally by way of standardised testing or assessment – is deemed to be “achievement”. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, in a child’s life there’s a lot that Counts that cannot be Counted.  Learning is much broader than test scores in Reading and Maths.

So, we began our consultation session with the mandatory PowerPoint pack.  The very first slide got me uptight:

“The Act is no longer doing the job it was designed to do.”

Hang on!  The “job” it was designed to do was to implement the competitive model of education that Treasury promoted in its Briefings to the Incoming Government after the 1987 general election!

What are we really saying here?  Is it time to ditch the much despised competitive model, or not?  If so, then what might replace it?

Given the significance of the changes that the introduction of Tomorrow’s Schools entailed, the Act was completely rewritten in 1989 to create the structure of self-governing schools, Boards of Trustees and so on.

So, are we really changing our minds on the competitive model, or not?  If we were, then the process to evaluate a replacement model would be significant, as it was in 1987 to 1989.  And, for good measure, it would probably require another substantial rewrite of the Act.  So is it getting a “fresh look”, or a mere cursory glance?

Next up was another bugbear of mine!  Apparently we want to “… make sure everyone knows the goals for education.”  Really?  And have we worked out how we are all going to contribute into a powerful and meaningful statement that will endure?

Or, I wonder if it really means another set of Hekia’s infamous 85% achievement targets?

And another one… “How a graduated range of responses could be developed to better support schools when difficulties arise?

How about taking a different tack?  How about supporting schools better now with greater resources targeted where they are most needed, backed up with support services that are needed today?  Why focus instead on how efficiently we can deliver ambulances to the bottom of the cliff tomorrow?

The concerns continue to flow as we progress through the public discussion document.

“How should schools and kura report on their performance…? What should the indicators and measures be for school performance…?”

More data, in other words, right out of the GERM Handbook for Standardised Education.

But, don’t worry, if your numbers are high, then “… what freedoms and extra decision-making rights could be given to schools, kura and Communities of Learning (Hekia’s new clusters) that are doing well?”

It’s hard not to feel cynical, as I said at the outset, but recent developments overseas, such as the testing Opt-Out movement in the USA, give us hope that GERM policies are under scrutiny for one powerful reason: they just don’t work.

My final thought, and the saddest aspect of Hekia’s consultation, is that, 26 years on, we are just going to tinker.  Where is the genuine major rethink on education that we really need?

In the meantime, what collateral damage will GERM continue to inflict on current and future generations of children?

– Bill Courtney

Make a submission online here. You have until 5pm on 14th December 2015.

Charter School Funding: The (Updated) Facts

This time last year the Ministry of Education published a shamefully misleading publication, ironically called “State and Partnership Schools: The Facts”.

It is time to update the so-called “Facts” on charter school funding and show just how expensive these very small schools are still proving to be.

The Ministry brochure attempted to compare average per student funding between two actual State and two Partnership schools.  But there were two tricks used in the illustrated calculation of average funding per student.

First, the funding for the charter schools was adjusted to remove two components produced by the funding model: “Property & Insurance” and “Centrally Funded Services”.  The Ministry propaganda argued that these costs were paid for by the Ministry for State schools but that charter schools “must fund these costs themselves, from their Ministry payment.”

Second, the adjusted funding for the charter secondary school was then divided by a projected roll number of 300 rather than using the actual school roll.

For the charter secondary school, the combined effect was to show an illustrated average funding figure per student of $8,452.  This was compared to an unnamed State decile 3 secondary school with an actual roll of 307 students and an average funding figure of $9,594.

Why is the illustration misleading?

The secondary charter school used in the brochure was Te Kura Hourua O Whangarei Terenga Paraoa, based in downtown Whangarei.

What we now know from examining their 2014 audited financial statements is that actual property costs in 2014 amounted to only $239,097.  By deducting the “Property & Insurance” funding component of $737,936, the Ministry ignored the reality that actual property costs were nearly half a million dollars less than what the school was funded for.

For a State school, where land and buildings are provided by the Government, the cost of creating the school is met by the Crown, which owns the new school property as an asset.  But no matter what the cost of creating each new school, the Board of Trustees and staff cannot change the way that teaching and learning are subsequently delivered in the new school.  The facilities are provided “in kind” and not in cash.  Once the school starts operation the normal State school funding based on the staffing entitlement and operations grant funding will flow.

However, charter schools are funded on a “cashed up” basis with the amount of each component determined by a funding model.  Any overpayment from the funding model, relative to actual costs incurred, will create an additional source of income for the charter school Sponsor.

In this case, additional funding of nearly $500,000 per annum from this one source alone has been paid to the Sponsor – in cash.  Under the charter school model, it is entirely up to the Sponsor as to what to do with the extra income.

If, for example, the Sponsor uses the cash to employ additional teachers, then the students will benefit from smaller class sizes, other things being equal.  In the case of Paraoa, an amount of $500,000 per annum would allow an additional 6 or so teachers to be employed, over and above whatever staffing levels were funded for in the model.

For a school with only 75 students, ignoring an overpayment of this magnitude is grossly misleading when attempting to compare costs with State schools.

The second trick used by the Ministry was to divide the adjusted funding for the secondary school by the Maximum Roll rather than the actual school roll.  The Ministry knows there is a real problem with the secondary school funding model, as these schools are paid a much higher Base Funding amount than the primary schools receive.  So, to cover its tracks the Ministry used the Maximum Roll rather than the actual roll to bring the average down as much as possible.

But it did this only for the secondary school in the brochure.  It did not do it for the primary school, which, incidentally, was the Rise Up Academy, based in Mangere.  In the primary school calculation, it used a roll of 50 even though that school’s Maximum Roll is 100.

With the (very late) release of the 1 July 2015 roll returns, we can now see that Paraoa’s roll was still only 75 students, i.e. only one quarter of its Maximum Roll!

So, how should we analyse the school’s actual average funding position?

Here is our adjusted version of the Ministry’s “Facts” brochure:

Component of payment State School Charter School
Payment per annum $2,945,432 $2,145,086 (actual 2015 funding)
Property & Insurance costs Paid by the Ministry $239,097 (actual property costs)
Centrally-funded Support Paid by the Ministry $20,700 (based on 75 students)
Adjusted Funding $2,945,432 $1,885,289
Number of students 307 (March 2013) 75 (1 July 2015)
Average funding per student $9,594 $25,137

 

$25,137 for the charter school in 2015 compared to $9,594 for the State school.

Confused?  So you should be.  And, just for good measure, the Government announced in August that the funding model would be amended for the two new charter schools to be created in the Third Round, due to open in 2017.

So, which version of the “Facts” would you like to use?  The actual, the new model, the old model or the Ministry of Education’s fairy tale illustration?

Bill Courtney, SOSNZ

Sources:

http://www.education.govt.nz/assets/Documents/Ministry/Initiatives/Partnership-schools/StatePartnershipSchoolsFunding.pdf

http://www.education.govt.nz/assets/Documents/Ministry/Initiatives/Partnership-schools/StatePartnershipSchoolsFunding.pdf

http://www.education.govt.nz/assets/Documents/Ministry/Initiatives/Partnership-schools/StatePartnershipSchoolsFunding.pdf

 

Hekia misleads the house on Wairua charter school funding

Hekia ParataMinister of Education Hekia Parata (again) misled the House in response to a question yesterday about the school’s funding.

Here is what the Minister said (Oral Questions no. 8, 29 July 2015):

“Te Pumanawa o te Wairua will continue to operate under its contract and will therefore receive $412,000 per quarter.”

“This is the money that would have been spent had these kids attended other schools.

Wrong, Hekia, wrong.

Under her charter school funding model, the government pays $355,200 per quarter for the fixed costs that it pays the school’s Sponsor.  These costs would cease once the school was closed.

Add in the additional $129,000 in emergency funding that she has thrown in, and the taxpayer will pay a total of $839,400 over the balance of 2015 because the Minister of Education decided not to close the school at the end of the second term.

The charter funding model has four components for each school: two of these are “fixed costs” and two are “variable costs”.  But only the variable, or per student costs, would continue and follow the students if they were to transfer to another school in the network.

Wairua Funding Breakdown

Here’s the breakdown of the quarterly funding for Wairua for 2015:

Base Funding                                                                                   $252,128

Property & Insurance                                                                      $103,072

Sub-total Fixed Costs                                                                    $355,200    [86.2%]

Per Student (based on a Guaranteed Minimum Roll of 40)       $54,188

Centrally Funded Services                                                                 $2,760

Sub-total Variable Costs                                                                $56,948     [13.8%]

Total Quarterly Funding:                                                               $412,148

So, when Hekia quoted a cost of “412,000 per quarter” she was referring to the total funding that the school receives from the Government.

But $355,200 per quarter would not be payable, if she were to close the school, as her officials clearly recommended.

~ Bill Courtney, Save Our Schools NZ

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