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Bill Courtney

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Answers for David Seymour

Save Our Schools feels a response to David Seymour’s Questions for Kelvin, Willie and Peeni should include a few relevant facts. This seems to be something Mr Seymour routinely ignores in his communiques.

First, his comment about Maori educational achievement being so utterly abysmal.

Using the Government’s main system level metric, called School Leavers, Māori achievement has been increasing steadily for many years. In 2016, 66.5% of Māori students left school with at least NCEA Level 2 or higher, the benchmark used by the government for the minimum desired level of qualification. This compares to a similar figure of 45.7% in 2009, an encouraging increase of 20.8 percentage points in 7 years.

In contrast, only 59.7% of charter school leavers left school in 2016 with at least NCEA Level 2 or higher. Furthermore, it was disappointing to see that no less than 20.2% of 2016 leavers from charter schools left without even attaining NCEA Level 1.

Second, his comments on charter school funding always require clarification. Charter schools receive much more funding than the LOCAL schools that they were set up to compete against. This gives them an advantage compared to the much bigger, more established schools in places such as South Auckland.

Save Our Schools analysed the 2015 financial statements of South Auckland Middle School (SAMS) and its local counterpart, Manurewa Intermediate. SAMS received $11,740 of funding per student after paying the rent for its premises. In contrast, Manurewa Intermediate received funding of $5,907 per student, with its property provided by the Crown.

This simple analysis destroys the myth perpetuated by charter school supporters that there were not serious problems with the original charter school funding model. Some of these problems were corrected when the funding formula was revised but the early schools still enjoy the benefit of being locked in to the overly generous original model.

Last, we are always puzzled by the current stance that charter schools are apparently now behaving themselves, and all teaching the National Curriculum and employing registered teachers etc. etc.

Wasn’t Mr Seymour’s marketing slogan that charter schools were freed from constraints placed on state schools in return for rigorous accountability against agreed objectives?

Well, if they are not, in fact, using these so-called freedoms, then what is their point of difference?

And, if they are, then they will have no problem merging back into the incredibly broad range of school types and structures that characterise the New Zealand education system.

Won’t they, Mr Seymour?

David Seymour and his charter school “facts”

David Seymour needs a reality check if he thinks that charter schools are not in trouble overseas.

Here is how Save Our Schools sees some of the key evidence:

1. Professor John Hattie, in his quantitative studies, ranks charter schools at number 183 out of the 195 policy interventions that he examined in his paper “The Politics of Distraction”.

Hattie based his analysis on no less than 246 studies and concluded that within a year or so, the “different” school becomes just another school, with all the usual issues that confront all schools.

2. Popular support for charter schools is falling in the United States. A nationwide poll conducted by the “Education Next” magazine, published by Stanford University, found that public support for charter schools has fallen by 12 percentage points, with similar drops evident among both self-described Republicans and self-described Democrats.

3. The experience in New Orleans is that the locals do not believe that the charter school miracle has worked for them. This editorial by the African American newspaper, the New Orleans Tribune, in November 2017 doesn’t pull any punches:

“It’s been 12 years since our schools were hijacked. And 12 years later, many of them are performing just as poorly as they were before they were stolen. To learn that charter operators set up goals they knew were unattainable just to get their charters approved and their hands on public money and facilities is indefensible. Unless and until these pilfering reformers are ready to admit what they did and that it was wrong and then actually return public schools to real local control without charter organizations and unelected boards that come with them under the current model of return anything else they have to say sounds pretty much like sounding brass and tinkling cymbals—a whole bunch of noise.”

4. David Seymour mentions the CREDO studies but fails to mention their main finding.

In the CREDO 2013 nationwide study, less than one hundredth of one percent of the variation in test performance is explainable by charter school enrolment. Specifically, students in charter schools were estimated to score approximately 0.01 standard deviations higher on reading tests and 0.005 standard deviations lower on math tests than their peers in traditional public schools. “With a very large sample size, nearly any effect will be statistically significant,” the reviewers, Maul and McClelland, conclude, “but in practical terms these effects are so small as to be regarded, without hyperbole, as trivial.”

The reality is simple: there is no genuine educational merit in the charter school model. As John Hattie observes, “these new forms of schools usually start with fanfare, with self-selected staff (and sometime selected students) and are sought by parents who want “something better”. But the long-term effects lead to no differences when compared with public schools.”

~ Bill Courtney, SOSNZ

Nikki Kaye calls for transparency on charter schools? Yeah Right!

Nikki Kaye has taken the early lead in the “You must be joking” stakes with her ridiculous press release calling for transparency on charter schools.

Nikki Kaye and her government played an active role in holding back information during her time in office. She is in danger of becoming the hypocrite of the year as she now calls for transparency. And, just for good measure, she is supposedly now worried about the cost to the taxpayer of dealing with the mess that she has left behind!

A few fact checkers may be in order here:

• The charter school model does not have a proven track record as Ms Kaye claims. See our release on the poor School Leavers stats across the model as a whole, which shows charter schools underperforming the system-wide benchmarks used by the government.

• In particular, the charter school sector results are below those of both Decile 3 schools and those for Māori students across the NZ school system.

• Ms Kaye delayed the release of the second Martin Jenkins evaluation report from late 2016 until June 2017. Furthermore, the report could not discuss the true level of student achievement given the problems the Ministry of Education had uncovered in how the schools had incorrectly reported their School Leavers results.

• Ms Kaye took until June 2017 to finally release her decisions on the performance-related funding for the 2015 school year. That’s right – it took 18 months to evaluate only 9 schools and then she fudged the decisions on 3 of those schools.

• As for the new schools that were announced to open in 2018 and 2019, Nikki Kaye takes the cake with these. Not one single piece of official information on any of these 6 proposed schools has yet been released. When the Third Round schools were announced in August 2016, the supporting documentation, including the signed contracts, was released that afternoon.

• The biggest concern we have is how much taxpayer money has already been paid to the Sponsors of the 6 proposed schools and is this recoverable? In the early rounds, the Sponsors received the one-off Establishment Payments within 20 days of signing their contracts. So, Nikki, how much taxpayer money have you wasted?

~ Bill Courtney, SOSNZ

Charter secondary schools under-perform system-level benchmarks

The 2016 School Leavers statistics paint a grim picture for charter school supporters. Figures just released by the Ministry of Education show that only 59.7% of charter school leavers left with NCEA L2 or above in 2016.

This compares to a system-wide figure of 80.3% across all schools within the system in 2016. Looking more closely at specific groups, the system-level result for Decile 3 schools was 74.3% and for Maori students, across all deciles, it was 66.5%.

The School Leavers metric is used as the performance standard in the charter school contracts. Former Minister of Education, Hekia Parata, made her intentions clear when she said:

“There is to be no compromise on the system level benchmarks”.   Source: Hand-written comment from the Minister on a Ministry of Education paper, dated 24 May 2013

The decile 3 system-level result for 2012 had been used as the baseline for the charter schools in their first year, i.e. 66.9% for the 2014 year. The contracts then set out a series of performance standards for subsequent years, culminating in the target of 85% of School Leavers attaining NCEA Level 2 or above by 2017.

[There were no contract performance standards set above NCEA Level 2. The contracts for primary and middle schools are based on performance standards using National Standards for years 1 to 8].

But worryingly, even this poor performance masks a weak set of results overall. There were 124 School Leavers from charter schools in 2016 and this is the breakdown of the highest qualification they left school with:

Below Level 1 – 25 students, 20.2%

Level 1 – 25 students, 20.2%

Level 2 – 45 students, 36.3%

Level 3 – 14 students, 11.3%

University Entrance (UE) – 15 students, 12.1%

Given the hype around charter schools, it is disappointing to see that 20.2% of students left school in 2016 without even attaining NCEA Level 1.

And at the top end, numbers above Level 2 fall away quite markedly.

The proportion of School Leavers attaining NCEA Level 3 or above, for example, was 23.4% compared to 53.9% for the system as a whole. UE attainment is low, with a mere 15 students, or only 12.1% of School Leavers, attaining UE, compared to a system-wide figure of 40.7%.

As we await this year’s Ministry of Education evaluation of the charter schools, we are minded to note Hekia’s comment from 2013. Clearly, the New Zealand model of charter school is currently not achieving at anywhere near the system-level benchmarks that have been set for it.

SOSNZ

Further Resources:

SOSNZ’s 2017 Charter School Secondary School Achievement 2014-2016 report can be viewed here.

SOSNZ’s 2017 Charter School Rolls (2016) Report can be viewed here.

2016 School Leavers’ statistics paint a grim picture for Charter School supporters

Figures just released by the Ministry of Education show that only 59.7% of charter school leavers left with NCEA L2 or above in 2016. (School Leavers Stats.xlsx – Sheet1)

This compares to a system-wide figure of 80.3% across all schools within the system in 2016.

Looking more closely at specific groups, the system-level result for decile 3 schools was 74.3% and for Maori students, across all deciles, it was 66.5%.

The School Leavers metric is used as the performance standard in the charter school contracts. Former Minister of Education, Hekia Parata, made her intentions clear when she said:

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

(Source: Hand-written comment from the Minister on a Ministry of Education paper, dated 24 May 2013)

The decile 3 system-level result for 2012 had been used as the baseline for the charter schools in their first year, i.e. 66.9% for the 2014 year.  The contracts then set out a series of performance standards for subsequent years,  culminating in the target of 85% of School Leavers attaining NCEA Level 2 or above by 2017. *

Worryingly, even this poor performance masks a weak set of results overall.

There were 124 School Leavers from charter schools in 2016 and this is the breakdown of the highest qualification they left school with:

Qualification       # students    % of total

Below Level 1            25                  20.2%

Level 1                           25                  20.2%

Level 2                         45                  36.3%

Level 3                          14                  11.3%

UE                                  15                  12.1%

Given the hype around charter schools, it is disappointing to see that 20.2% of students left school in 2016 without even attaining NCEA Level 1.

And at the top end, numbers above Level 2 fall away quite markedly:

  • The proportion of School Leavers attaining NCEA Level 3 or above was 23.4% compared to 53.9% for the system as a whole.
  • UE attainment is low, with a mere 15 students, or only 12.1% of School Leavers, attaining University Entrance, compared to a system-wide figure of 40.7%.

As we await this year’s Ministry of Education evaluation of the charter schools, we are minded to note Hekia’s comment from 2013.  Clearly, the New Zealand model of charter school is currently not achieving at anywhere near the system-level benchmarks that have been set for it.

~ Bill Courtney

*  Note: There were no contract performance standards set above NCEA Level 2.  The contracts for primary and middle schools are based on performance standards using National Standards for years 1 to 8.

______________

For more information on charter schools, you may wish to read Charter School Report Card by Shawgi Tell

Charter School Performance Cover Up

The cover up of the true picture of student achievement in charter schools continued today with the belated release of the second Martin Jenkins Evaluation Report.

The report, with a final publication date of 28 November 2016, was released on Friday 5 May 2017, a delay of over 5 months.

However, even now, the report contains a massive caveat in the section discussing student achievement, which indicates there are still major problems behind the scenes.

Here is the footnote set out under the Evaluation Report’s analysis of Student Achievement:

coverupThe ratings in the May 2016 advice were based on the best information available to the Ministry at that time (and are indicative of the reports that the Ministry had received from schools/kura by then). They reflect the most up-to-date information provided to the evaluation team at the time of writing this report, but are not the Ministry’s final assessments of schools’/kura performance for 2015.  

Source: Ministry of Education (2016) Education Report: Partnership Schools/Kura Hourua: 2015 Quarter Four and Annual Reports, 30 May 2016

So, a formal policy evaluation signed off in November 2016, cannot go to print in May 2017 with a clear statement of exactly what represents the “Ministry’s final assessments of schools’/kura performance for 2015”?

Excuse me?

The same problem is holding back the Minister of Education’s decision on whether or not to release the retained operational funding that is performance related, in respect of the 2015 school year.  And this is now May 2017!

The major problem relates to the issue which surfaced last year, when the Ministry acknowledged that the interpretation of the secondary schools’ contract performance standards had been incorrect.  As a consequence, the schools had also reported incorrectly against their contracts.

These incorrect figures had been used to determine the Ministry’s ratings in its May 2016 advice, referred to in the footnote.  While the Ministry has now acknowledged that these figures are incorrect, nothing further has since been released.

The poor performance of the primary and middle schools is also evident in the Evaluation Report.  Of the five primary and middle schools, which have contract targets set against National Standards, only one school, the Rise Up Academy, was assessed as having met its contract targets.

And problems are also clearly evident in the assessment of performance against the Student Engagement standards.  Vanguard Military School and Middle School West Auckland performed very poorly against the standards for Stand-downs, Suspensions, Exclusions and Expulsions.

Overall, the main takeaway from the Evaluation Report is a fairly damning indictment of performance to date.

But the continued cover up of the true picture should not be tolerated any longer.

~ Bill Courtney

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

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