Research conducted by three independent research institutions looked into online charter schools, and their findings were released in October 2015.
The press release, with links to the full report, is here.
Report findings conclude that:
“…students of online charter schools had significantly weaker academic performance in math and reading, compared with their counterparts in conventional schools.”
Referring specifically to the question of whether the schools had helped students from low socio-economic backgrounds and/or those from minority groups, the report states that:
“This pattern of weaker growth remained consistent across racial-ethnic subpopulations and students in poverty.”
Mathematica’s analysis found:
• Student–driven, independent study is the dominant mode of learning in online charter schools, with 33 percent of online charter schools offering only self-paced instruction
• Online charter schools typically provide students with less live teacher contact time in a week than students in conventional schools have in a day
• Maintaining student engagement in this environment of limited student-teacher interaction is considered the greatest challenge by far, identified by online charter school principals nearly three times as often as any other challenge
• Online charter schools place significant expectations on parents, perhaps to compensate for limited student-teacher interaction, with 43, 56, and 78 percent of online charters at the high school, middle, and elementary grade levels, respectively, expecting parents to actively participate in student instruction
The Mathematica report concludes:
“Challenges in maintaining student engagement are inherent in online instruction, and they are exacerbated by high student teacher ratios and minimal student-teacher contact time, which the data reveal are typical of online charter schools nationwide. These findings suggest reason for concern about whether the sector is likely to be effective in promoting student achievement.”
CREDO (Stanford University)’s report concluded that:
“While findings vary for each student, the results in CREDO’s report show that the majority of online charter students had far weaker academic growth in both math and reading compared to their traditional public school peers. To conceptualize this shortfall, it would equate to a student losing 72 days of learning in reading and 180 days of learning in math, based on a 180-day school year.”
In other words, most students lost the equivalent of just under half a year’s learning in reading and made absolutely no progress in maths at all during an entire school year.
The research was funded by The Walton Foundation, which has funded a huge drive for reform. Even so, they couldn’t find much of a positive spin to put on the findings, concluding only that the research is valuable as:
“[k]nowing the facts helps parents, educators, policymakers, and funders make smarter, more informed decisions that benefit children.”
I do hope policymakers proposing the Communities of Online Learning (COOLs) in New Zealand have read the reports thoroughly and are indeed using this information to make better and more informed decisions. Sadly, at this stage, we have no evidence that this is the case.
You will find the press release and linked full reports here.
~ Dianne Khan, SOSNZ
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
The Education Amendment Bill proposes changes to the way Education is provided in New Zealand, and one of those changes is the establishment of COOLs (Communities of Online Learning).
Proponents say COOLs will open the door to more education opportunities, but have yet to explain how or why they believe it will lead to an improvement for students.
You can see me here, along with Megan Woods, Peter Dunne, Ron Mark, and Paul Foster Bell, discussing the issues on Back Benches recently:
I’m all for using technology to advance learning, but just doing a course on a computer does not make it quality learning – even the OECD agrees, saying that “education systems which have invested heavily in information and communications technology have seen “no noticeable improvement” in Pisa test results for reading, mathematics or science”.
Students having quality support readily available is incredibly important. I know this first hand, having worked for a while now with students learning via Te Kura Correspondence School, that a qualified teacher is still very much in need. Students need regular guidance, help and support. Often a student will be floundering but will not ask for help, and it is down to the teacher to be monitoring and be responsive to the student’s needs. And, as you can well imagine, some students need a fair bit of nudging to stay on task.
We must remember each time the Minister promotes COOLs, that online learning can just as easily be accessed in a school, in a physical classroom, and with a physical qualified teacher on hand for support and guidance. We need to ask, w why the push to make more learning remote? The Minister has not explained the rationale for this at all.
What the Minister is proposing is actually an extension to (and perhaps you might say a distortion of) homeschooling. I want to be clear before I go on – I fully support quality homeschooling – that is not the issue here. The issue is how learning is done, how it is delivered, and why this change is being pushed. People should sit up and listen when even home schooling networks have serious questions.
Concerns I’ve heard raised so far include:
When even home schooling networks are expressing concern about COOLs, people should listen; remember, they are the experts in understanding what is needed for a quality home-based education.
At the bottom of it all, one can’t help wondering this fundamental mystery of the fact that home-schoolers have been given little support or funding for years, but suddenly the Minister thinks learning at home is the bee’s knees. Could it be it’s only of interest to said Minister when it involves privatisation of another part of the education system?
~ Dianne Khan, SOSNZ
It’s been a year of non-stop changes and proposals. Some call it a war on free public schooling in NZ – indeed it feels like a continuous battery of skirmishes with little to no break between attacks.
If the Minister is purposefully undertaking psychological warfare to break teachers down, then she’s doing it well, because we’re worn out; We just want to teach.
So far this year, NZ public education has faced:
I’m sure I’ve forgotten some things – there have been so many – so please comment below if there’s anything that needs to be added.
Meanwhile, look after yourselves – there’s still one whole term to go and, as we know, a lot can happen in a few short weeks.
PS, more added below!
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
The Education Ministry reported that some of last year’s new charter schools are not doing so well, but says there are good reasons for this.
The reasons given include students arriving at school far behind age-appropriate levels, student transience, the high rate of referrals from Child Youth and Family and the Police and referrals of difficult students from other schools.
Indeed, those are valid reasons for any school struggling to help students.
What I would like the Education Minister and the Undersecretary for Education to explain is how these factors are considered sound reasons for charter schools to struggle to help students and yet are considered excuses for public schools.
Sources and further reading:
Government plans to legislate for children from 5 years old to choose to do their schooling online using private companies who do not have to have qualified teachers, will horrify both parents and educators, NZEI Te Riu Roa says.
NZEI President Louise Green said the plan undermined the very worthy goals for education proposed in the same legislation – the Bill for the new Education Act.
“We welcome the high level goals and the reassertion of the right to free quality public education in the Bill, Louise Green says. But New Zealand schools already offer online learning integrated with face-to-face teaching, although support and resourcing is needed to improve equity of access.
“However, in no way does the online learning framework the Bill proposes match what we know works best for student success. Experience of online schooling in the United States is woeful and all the evidence is clear that high-quality teaching is the single biggest influence in-school on children’s achievement, particularly for our most vulnerable learners.
“Particularly for our youngest learners in ECE and primary school, education is also about learning to work and play with other children and to experience both growing independence and a range of activities outside the home. Online learning cannot replicate important social and experiential learning schools offer.
“This proposal was not subject to any consultation prior to appearing in the Bill. We are concerned it will open the door to a new market in private provision subsidised by the taxpayer that will take resourcing away from public schools.
“There is also a serious threat that children with learning difficulties or other challenges will be pressured into online learning as the cheapest option, rather than the Government taking full responsibility for specialist, personalised support to enable every child to reach their potential.”
The Online Charter School Study 2015 by the Centre for Research on Educational Outcomes showed that the academic benefits of online charter schools are currently the exception rather than the rule. See other implications here or full report.
If you don’t follow charter school goings on worldwide (and for your sanity, I kind of want to suggest you don’t), you’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s just the odd blip here and there. But, to be honest, it’s more like a volley of blips coming thick and fast. In fact, if blips were locusts, we’d have a plague on our hands.
Take just this week’s revelations, for example…
Nga Parirau Matauranga Trust (NZ)
Waipareira Trust (NZ)
The E Tipu E Rea Trust (NZ)
Academy Transformation Trust (England)
NET Academies Trust (England)
Paradigm Trust (England)
Gulen/Harmony Charter Schools (USA)
Michigan study (USA)
Ohio Department of Education invoiced (USA)
Cabot Learning Federation (England)
Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust (England)
Oh I could go on… this is but a drop in the ocean… but you get the idea.
The charter schools movement is not about education – it’s about privatisation and diversion of funds. As always, I ask you to follow the evidence and follow the money.
Featured Image courtesy of pixtawan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Taxpayers fund large wages and lavish perks of academy school chiefs , The Guardian, Published online Sunday 24 July 2016 00.05 BST, retrieved 6.59pm NZ 25/7/16
Trust given $500,000 charter school contract without going to tender, NZ Herald, published online 10:43 AM Monday Jul 25, 2016, retrieved 9.18pm 25/7/16
Are charter schools making the grade? – The Nation, TV3, Saturday 23 Jul 2016 10:34 am, retrieved 9.38pm 25/7/16
Charter school a waste of public money – PPTA, Radio NZ, published 7:19 pm on 28 January 2016, retrieved 9.31pm 25/7/16
Parents at Bath Community Academy say school has failed their children and failed them, Bath Chronicle, July 23, 2016, retrieved 9.59pm 25/7/16
On Tuesday 5th July 2016, thousands of teachers in England are striking, and the reasons that are doing so are very pertinent to what is happening in New Zealand. Everything that is happening there is already being put in place here, bit by bit by bit.
Here, Charlotte Carson explains the reasons that the teachers are striking and why parents should care:
1. It’s not really about pay.
As a profession I think we are well paid. That is why we have good quality professionals working hard to teach children, inspire them and look after them. But this is about to change.
2. The White Paper
The government’s latest white paper proposes DEREGULATION of teachers’ pay and conditions. Currently all local authority employed teachers in England are paid according to the same contract. Like nurses and doctors, we have automatic pay progression (so the longer you serve the more you get – an incentive to stay in the profession), pay portability (if we move schools we get the same basic pay – they can’t pay us less – this stops a competition between schools for teachers based on money – without it richer schools will always poach good staff from poorer schools) .
3. What is performance-related pay?
The introduction of performance related pay will mean that teachers get paid according to exam results. As a parent I would never want a teacher to look at my child and think ‘is he going to wreck my data and stop my pay rise?’ We are not working in sales – it is hugely problematic to pay us based on exam results.
4. Why should non-teachers care about teachers pay and conditions?
Deregulation also means that our working hours, holidays, pay, sick pay and maternity pay will be individually decided by the employer – the academy that is. An Academy in Manchester has in its contract that maternity pay will be ‘subject to affordability’. Who will become a teacher if the terms and conditions are unattractive?
A mum said to me yesterday ‘but in my job I don’t get good maternity pay – why should I care about teachers?’. My answer is this: public sector pay and conditions set the bar for private sector pay and conditions. If we get screwed you will get screwed too.
5. What’s the problem with academies and free schools?
Academies and free schools are businesses. That means their primary concern is money. The government is paving the way for them to become profit-making businesses. Already many academies double up as wedding venues, conference facilities etc. No harm in generating revenue eh? Well only if it’s being ploughed back into the school and the children. Let’s remember schools are about children aren’t they? It seems not.
Many academies including Harris academies have recently got in trouble for deliberately excluding ‘problem children’ and paying local authority schools to take them off their hands – because they wreck the data. How can you publish your excellent GCSE results if some stubborn children just won’t make progress! The answer in some academies is to get rid of them – then you don’t have to report their results.
So if the money isn’t spent on the kids where does it go?
Do a Google search on Haberdashers Free School account fraud. He ran off with £4million! How did he manage to do that? Answer – because he was only accountable to the board of governors and the head teacher. Local authority schools are overseen by a democratically elected local council. Academies don’t have to bother with that level of accountability. And the government also wants to get rid of parent governors. This would mean that academies would only be accountable to themselves. We’re talking about millions of pounds of public money. Already there have been many documented cases of fraud in academies and free schools.
6. Qualified teachers v. unqualified teachers
Academies and free schools don’t have to employ qualified teachers. Unqualified teachers are cheaper of course. But I know which one I want teaching my children.
This is all I have time to write just now.
The problem is that most teachers are so busy that they haven’t taken time to communicate all this with parents. I think we need to get much better at doing that.
But just think about your children’s teachers – do you trust them? If you do then please trust that they are on strike for the right reasons – for the future of our jobs and our schools – defending education from privatisation.”
New Zealand parents, take note – this is all coming our way, too.
In these two short videos Assoc. Professor Peter O’Connor from the University of Auckland analyses why Charter schools are being introduced into New Zealand.
The first video was released in 2012. the follow-up in 2014, and together they give a good overall picture of the concerns people had and still have regarding NZ charter schools.
As a follow up, you may wish to watch Bryan Bruce’s up-coming doco about the New Zealand education system, ‘World Class?’, which is being aired on TV3 at 7.30 on Tuesday 24th May 2016. The doco was years in the making and should be very thought provoking.
The promo clip is here:
The ACT party education policy proclaims that:
“all parents should have a chance to send their children to Partnership Schools. The best way to achieve this is to allow all State and Integrated Schools to choose whether they want to convert to Partnership School status.”
Despite the fact that charter schools do not have to have parents on their board of trustees, the ACT policy goes on to say that:
“Partnership Schools are accountable to parents and students.”
How, I wonder, if parents are not on the board and most information about the school can be kept secret due to it being a private business.
It is incredulous that ACT is still arguing that privatisation (of anything) automatically raises standards. It is patently untrue, as shown by the prisons saga and power companies.
What is true is that once a service is privatised, more money goes into CEOs’ back pockets and less to the workers or those they are meant to serve.
“Education is supposed to be for the benefit of New Zealand’s children.”
Ask yourself, who would privatisation benefit?
~ Dianne Khan
I could never work in an Academy. As an educator, a professional and a passionate believer in universal education, they represent a corruption of the principles of equal access to free education. Not only that, the long litany of problems involving finance, curriculum alterations and mistreatment of students and staff clearly outline that Academy schools aren’t great places to work. A friend of mine wrote beautifully on the subject a little while ago now.
In New Zealand we have Charter Schools a half formed cargo cult version. They’re already in trouble due to finance, curriculum and mistreatment of students and staff. Sounds awfully familiar.
The first UK Academy opened in 2002. Their introduction was aimed at reinventing inner city schools with significant results and management problems. Then sponsors got involved, either rich individuals or corporations (including educorps). They were supposed to bring in private sector best practice and management, like most privatisation is supposed to.
In May 2010 the Conservative-Liberal Democrat (Lib Dem) Coalition came to power in the UK. There were, at the time, 203 Academies in the UK – mostly Secondary Schools.
The term of the Tory education secretary Michael Gove saw a radical expansion of Academies. This was often as a result of OFSTED inspections, some of which classed schools as failing only a year or two after they had been called outstanding. Some schools were forced into becoming Academies, against the will of pupils’ parents.
Today there are 4,516 academies; 2,075 out of 3,381 secondary schools and 2,440 of 16,766 primary schools. The expansion was so rapid that many private Academy trusts took on more schools than they could cope with, leading to those schools failing and being taken back by the DfE until another Academy group could be found to take over. The free market of schools.
“It was the middle of last week when I heard that I could never work in the UK again as a teacher”
It was the middle of last week when I heard that I could never work in the UK again as a teacher. I’ve no plans to move back, I love Aotearoa New Zealand, but the crunching finality of knowing that there’d be no place that I could conscientiously work was sudden and upsetting.
In the Budget, Chancellor George Osborne (not the pig tampering one, the one who looks like a pig) announced that all English schools would be converted into Academies by 2020. Every single one of them.
What does this mean? Well, given the evidence already available it would mean none of the UK’s schools would be bound to teach the National Curriculum, instead being charged to provide a ‘broad and balanced’ curriculum. So what you’re taught in one school may be radically different from another. Not teaching style, actual content.
It’s not great for pupils, in more ways than one. Many Academies have operated a subtle and not so subtle selection process, choosing only pupils who are likely to be able to improve their results. Others, when dealing with those who are disruptive or failing, have placed pupils on study leave during exam or inspection periods, or placed them in study support centres outside of the school. This can take the form of pupils and parents being asked to leave by the school, rather than being excluded (which would show up in the all important league tables). Now that every school is to become an Academy, where do those pupils go?
Academies have, over the long term, not been proven to raise results any more significantly than schools in the UK operating under the LEA’s (Local Education Authorities, which will soon be defunded and dissolved). In fact, Academies have come under fire for exactly the same issues that LEA schools had in management, results and organisation, the same issues which saw the schools be forced to convert! Conversion turns every school into an individual Ltd company and scythes out the level of local support and oversight that was previously provided by the LEA. On such a huge scale, that’s far too much for the Department for Education to handle.
It’s going to cost money too. Newly converting Academies get a 10% funding boost, at a time when state funded schools have seen budgets cut year on year. But due to the rapid expansion of Academy schools and the lack of oversight, many have had to be bailed out by the Department for Education. I guess bringing in the ‘best of the private sector’ does mean being utterly sure the Government will spend millions trying to salvage the mess you make.
Overall, it’s had a huge impact on the profession. Academies are not bound by the collectively negotiated pay structure, meaning the UK’s Teaching Unions will have to bargain with individual Academy Trusts and schools. They’re also not bound by the negotiated terms and conditions of contract for teachers, which means many teachers find themselves on-call permanently or schools have employed teachers on the equivalent of zero hours contracts. The trend for Academies to lack unionisation, because of the ease with which you can be dismissed, makes this even harder.
It’s not great for Academies, either, though. Without a national pay structure, schools who can find more money will get the better teachers. Schools with wealthy backers will have more than schools that don’t.
As a male Primary teacher, I’m relatively certain that I’d be paid more than a female doing the same job with the same experience. Why? Because I’m rarer. Teaching is one of the few professions where pay equality was built in already. And they’re getting rid of it.
“Academies don’t have to employ qualified teachers”
There’s also the question of professionalism itself. Academies don’t have to employ qualified teachers. And hidden in the announcement of Academisation was the change to Qualified Teacher Status.
Previously, Newly Qualified Teachers (NQT’s) were assessed over the course of a year or two to see if they were able to meet the standards for a qualified teacher. With a huge teacher shortage looming in the UK, the plan is to allow teachers to teach for longer in the classroom and be certified by their Headteacher and a Senior Staff member.Education Secretary Nicky Morgan says this will drive up standards, and drive is an important word. She announced that allowing teachers longer to qualify and removing the strict schedule teachers had to meet will allow those NQTs who struggle more chances to make it.
As an experienced teacher, I look back on my NQT period as far, far less intensive than doing the job in the years that followed. It’s being presented as like a driving test, just because you fail doesn’t mean you’re a bad driver, right?
“…reducing the standards you require of a teacher doesn’t drive up standards and professionalism, it drives it over a cliff”
Fair enough, but with one report saying teachers would have up to a DECADE to pass, it makes you ask – if it takes you ten years to pass your driving test, maybe you’re just not a driver? Buy a bike. Or walk. Some people just aren’t meant for the classroom, some people just aren’t teachers and the attempt to try and fill the rapidly depleting profession by reducing the standards you require of a teacher doesn’t drive up standards and professionalism, it drives it over a cliff.
It also makes it trickier for teachers to do as I did and head overseas. There’s been a mass exodus of teachers from the English system, coincidentally or otherwise, in the last six years. By shifting the QTS award to something less substantial, overseas authorities may very well view them as insufficient evidence of an ability to teach. I’m glad I left when I did; others in future may not be so lucky.
There is already a growing and vocal opposition to all of the plans outlined above, as well there should. Announcing you’re ditching LEA oversight and support of schools, dumping the need for any school to employ qualified teachers, dropping the National Curriculum, scrapping nationally negotiated terms and conditions and placing schools in a bidding war for new teachers is a huge and complete evidence free attack on the quality and professionalism of education in the UK.
“For me there’s sadness.”
For me there’s sadness. My love of teaching was developed, as a student, in the UK system that’s now being explosively dismantled. I spent the first five years of my teaching career safe in the knowledge that I was a public servant, providing fair and equal education to all of my children as a professional. I was paid the same as anyone else who was experienced as I was, and I could talk with teachers from around the country about the curriculum and its delivery in the knowledge that we were all working together as equals. It was an education system for the whole country. If these plans are implemented, it won’t be any more.
In Aotearoa we should take lessons from the way in which Academy failures were written off or marginalised to the public and how concerted political pressure on inspection agencies led to the dramatic spread of privatised schools. The few Charter Schools in this country are already struggling, and what has happened in the UK this week shows us the future of education if they’re allowed to spread further.
~ John Palethorpe
New academies laws were passed by Parliament last night: here is what they mean for you and your school – Time Educational Supplement (TES)
The 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
New Zealand public education will be seriously undermined once our government signs the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).
NZEI Te Riu Roa National Secretary Paul Goulter says the deal puts at risk the rights of sovereign nations to enact laws and regulations that stop foreign edu-businesses from setting up in New Zealand, maximising their profits and dominating New Zealand education.
“This is a major threat to our fee-free, high quality public education system.
“The TPPA wording is ambiguous but analysis of the documents clearly shows the agreement would allow international corporates to move into the education sector in New Zealand. In no country has that ever worked.
“Unlike Singapore, which carved out a clear exemption, it appears that New Zealand’s negotiators have put at risk the rights of future governments to protect public education against any changes that would disadvantage global edu-businesses.
“Sitting beside the government’s plans for private education to be included in the TiSA (Trade in Services Agreement), there is now a clear threat to our quality public education system.
“Let’s be clear, the TPPA is an international trade agreement aimed at ensuring that global corporates can trade and make profits – it is not about providing free good quality public education for children and future generations.
“We have asked the government, even at this late stage, to reconsider signing the deal in its current form.”
The initial report into the evaluation of New Zealand’s version of charter schools is the ultimate example of how rhetoric trumps evidence in modern education policy making. It makes a mockery of the current fad that “evidence based policy” is what the Government says it is seeking.
The report makes several glowing references to the beneficial impact of small class size and/or small school size.
Small class sizes are a direct result of flaws in the original funding model, which saw the first round schools funded with high levels of Base Funding together with Property Funding that was in excess of their actual property related costs. These flaws were particularly noticeable for the three secondary schools but the middle school also gained from being perceived as part secondary / part primary in how the amount of its funding was determined.
This additional funding has either been shared with the students (small class sizes) or gone into the bank accounts of the Sponsors. These observations were clear in the analysis of financial statements that was published in August 2015.
But these benefits will disappear if the schools were to grow to any reasonable size. It is hardly surprising that one of the Sponsors was quoted in the report as saying: “Our success is related to our size – we don’t want to grow our roll too high”. Too damned right, they don’t!
It is hardly surprising that one of the Sponsors was quoted in the report as saying: “Our success is related to our size – we don’t want to grow our roll too high”.
Too damned right, they don’t!
Here are our observations on some of the key of the report:
But overall these initial findings are entirely consistent with John Hattie’s analysis of charter schools, based on no less than 246 underlying pieces of research. He concludes that the overall system effect will be “miniscule”. Why? Because changes in structure/governance/funding method etc, that simply create another “type” of school do not, in the end, make meaningful differences in achievement in scale across the system.
The propaganda machine will no doubt press on regardless, attempting to spin this evaluation in a positive fashion. But the clear conclusion of the initial report, regardless of its own inherent flaws, is that there is nothing here that is significant where it really counts: in the classroom.
Save Our Schools NZ
2 November 2015
As you might imagine, I am often asked why I’m against charter schools. Such questions are posed in ways that range from the genial to the downright combative, yet it always pays to listen and draw out what people feel they are supporting.
More often than not, what people are sold on is the promise of charter schools. I don’t blame them – I am sold on the promise, too. But, as I point out, it’s wise to learn from what history and experience has taught us and, no matter how beautiful it is, we must meet the dream with facts.
The original vision for charter schools, as laid out by Albert Shanker, was for places where innovation would be encouraged in staff and students, where teachers would have a huge say in how the school was set up, what was taught and how, and where students from all manner of backgrounds would be educated alongside each other. It was (and is) a marvellous vision. Sadly, it was soon hijacked by those with entirely different motives.
Some saw charter schools as a chance to undermine unions, some saw a chance to promote political ideologies, some saw it as their chance to leap in and undertake huge social experiments.
And, of course, there were those who saw a chance to – one way or another – make money.
It moved from being about freedom and innovation to being about control. Control of teachers, control of students, control of communities, control of policies, control of unions and control of funds.
Teachers found themselves working in highly stressful, non-collaborative situations that offered nothing remotely like the innovation or freedoms Shanker had envisaged.
And worst of all, students’ grades were, more often than not, worse than or just the same as in state schools.
The incredible promise was gone: the Charter Schools experiment had failed.
What is amazing to me, as a New Zealand teacher, is that much of what Shanker originally envisaged can be seen in our best state schools. (And by best, I don’t mean highest decile or best NCEA or National Standards results – I mean schools that provide the richest learning environments for their students, both academically and socially.)
All of that already exists in New Zealand state schools.
Rather than spend money and energy setting up a parallel school system that has much the same benefits and flaws as the first but at a greater financial cost and with less oversight, what we should do is tap into those schools already leading the way, learn from them, and encourage all other schools to step outside perceived and real confines, and shine.
Because when it comes to improving education for all children, what better than to take Shanker’s original vision and work to apply it to ALL schools.
The decision to open two more charter ‘partnership’ schools in New Zealand is indefensible on educational or social grounds, says QPEC Chairperson John Minto.
“Recent studies have demonstrated that state schools that educate the most disadvantaged New Zealanders are already struggling from white flight and viability issues due to the distorting effects of the education market.
“Opening more small schools simply makes that process worse, scattering hard-to-teach children through a mish-mash of tiny schools”, he said.
“It is a win-win situation for this government,
but not for disadvantaged students”
QPEC sees the decision to open bidding for two more partnership schools as entirely political. “It is a sop to the ACT Party, and a way for National to promote the privatisation of education. It is a win-win situation for this government, but not for disadvantaged students”.
While it comes at a financial cost, QPEC is more worried about the effects on the schooling system. “This is not just a mad right-wing experiment, but a policy that will have substantive effects on young, needy children now, said John Minto.
Hekia Parata promised that the record of partnership schools in New Zealand would not mirror the US experience, where school failure, teaching problems, corruption and excessive profits are common. But we have already seen similar issues emerge here (excessive profits, school failure and questionable practices) after only two years and only nine schools.
“In short, this policy is a shocking waste of taxpayer money
and really poor educational policy”.
QPEC notes that Hekia Parata has always defended charter school funding as being on the same basis as state school funding. “The current decision to reduce the amount of funding provided to these schools confirms that the money given to the nine schools has been excessive, as QPEC and other critics have constantly pointed out. In short, the Minister’s defence of the old funding model was incorrect – she did not tell the truth about this”.-