National’s support for reinstating the American charter school model shows not only that the privatisation bias that Bill English pursued over recent years is alive and well, but also that they are struggling to develop sound Education policy.
As far back as the 2008 general election, National committed to “increasing educational choices”. But everyone knows that the phrase “School Choice” was first coined by economist Milton Friedman and is the code used to drive the privatisation movement in the USA. The pure form of the privatised market model is vouchers, but in practice the charter school model has been adopted as the most practical privatisation route in most States.
The irony is that there is a wide variety of choice already available in the New Zealand public education system. One leading American commentator, writing in the Washington Post, made the remark that “…the most aggressive school choice system in the world is probably New Zealand”.
Surveys over many years by the NZ Council for Educational Research confirm that around 90% or more of New Zealand parents feel they send their child to the school of their choice. This high degree of satisfaction with choices available is underpinned by the variety of schooling options available, both within the State system and across the State-Integrated model.
Every State and State-Integrated school is governed by a parent-elected Board of Trustees, under a charter, the defining document that sets out the school community’s Vision and Values. It is this inconvenient fact that requires “charter schools” to be called something different in New Zealand!
The State system includes the set of schools operating as Kura Kaupapa, under s. 155, and the set of Designated Character schools under s. 156. These schools are complemented by over 330 State-Integrated schools, with religious character, such as Christian values or even Muslim values, as well as a variety of teaching philosophies, such as Montessori or Rudolf Steiner.
Indeed, anyone who tries to claim that New Zealand has a “one-size-fits-all” public education system is either very poorly informed of the variety of options available or is being deliberately misleading.
As a former Minister of Education, Nikki Kaye knows this only too well. So, we can conclude from this release that she has just nailed her colours to the mast of the privatisation movement.
National hid behind the ACT Party first time around and needed the support of the Maori Party to get the initial charter model legislation through the House. The convenient marriage of the ideology of privatisation and the ideology of self-determination was therefore born.
Given that the formal evaluation of the charter school model, carried out by Martin Jenkins, failed to draw any genuine conclusions as to the impact of the model to date, National is clutching at straws to claim that the model has already proven to be successful.
And we know from the financial statements of the Sponsors that this has been a lucrative business for them to enter. Bill English rushed to change the funding model after only one year but the first and second round school Sponsors have scored well out of the policy and away from the watchful eye of the Auditor-General.
No wonder they don’t want to let it go!
Labour has launched several reviews across multiple fronts to try and get to grips with the challenges of reinvigorating the New Zealand public education system after 9 years of flawed policies, such as National Standards.
It is early days yet but National’s knee-jerk reaction to bring back an American model that doesn’t even work there reveals how shallow National’s approach to developing Education policy is proving to be.
– Bill Courtney, Save Our Schools NZ
The ACT Party’s ideological bent for privatisation is clear when David Seymour talks about the government’s decision to “take school choice away” from kids if his charter school model is abolished.
But the New Zealand system already has a remarkable variety of options available without the need to privatise the provision of public education.
US commentator, Marc Tucker, had this to say on “school choice” in an article that appeared in the Washington Post, in October 2012:
“The country with the most aggressive school choice system in the world is probably New Zealand”
And that was before we introduced the charter school ideology!
Mr Seymour might also want to check the views of parents a bit more widely than asking the National Party pollster, David Farrar, to run a poll for him.
Regular surveys of New Zealand parents carried out by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER), have consistently found that around 90% of both primary school and secondary school parents state that their child is attending the school of their choice.
And these numbers have hardly changed over the 25 years or so that NZCER has run these surveys.
Most New Zealanders understand that the phrase “School Choice” was used by Milton Friedman to advocate for the privatised, market model of education provision that he believed should replace the institution of public education.
Fortunately, the vast majority of New Zealand families do not support either the ACT Party or its ideology.
~ Bill Courtney, SOSNZ
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?
The charter school model is being closed down. The model. Not the actual schools currently operating as charter schools, necessarily.
The charter schools currently running have opportunities to remain open, in that they will be able to negotiate to become state schools or special character schools.
Some of the charter schools have got poor academic results. Some have not met their roll targets. Some are doing okay. Each school will be looked at individually. And if a charter school is doing okay, they surely can do the same job as a state school.
In moving from being a charter school to being a state/special character school, the only big differences are:
Truly, if – as they assert – a charter school is doing a good job, has qualified teachers, can cope on the same funding as a state school, and has nothing to hide, why the fuss?
New Zealand Charter (or Partnership) Schools are private businesses that are fully funded by your taxes. They are funded at a higher rate than comparable state schools.
Charter Schools can employ untrained staff to work in classrooms as teachers.
Charter Schools are free to pay staff, advisors, etc whatever they choose. Charter schools need not declare pay levels or any other aspect of what their funding is spent on.
It is not possible to get use the Official Information Act to access information from a Charter School, as they are private businesses.
Charter Schools need not have parent representation on the Board.
With that basic overview done, here are the charter school policies of the main New Zealand political parties.
Despite charter schools being driven by ACT, their education policy web page has no mention of charter (or partnership) schools at all.
Despite bringing in the legislation for charter schools, the National’s education policy web page has no mention of them at all.
“We believe in a quality, comprehensive, public education system, not the corporatised, privatised system that the current government is driving us towards. Taxpayer funding for education should be directed towards learning and teaching, not creating profit-making opportunities for private businesses.”
“Labour will protect and promote our quality public education system by: Repealing the legislation allowing for Charter Schools” (Source)
“The Green Party will: Oppose charter schools, repeal the enabling legislation around charter schools, and maintain the current flexibility to support/create some state schools designated special character.” (Source)
“New Zealand First is strongly opposed to “charter” or “partnership” schools; public funding for these privately owned profit making opportunities would be ended by New Zealand First.”
“New Zealand First will: Repeal the 2013 amendments to the Education Act 1989 that allowed the creation of Charter Schools.” (Source)
Mana will: “Cancel public private partnership contracts for schools and abolish the charter schools policy” (Source)
“Question: You seem to be staunchly against specialist schools like charter schools and even private schools. Shouldn’t parents have the right to do best by their child, and be less concerned about the plight of other less fortunate children?
Answer: You’d have a point if there was any evidence that these specialist schools are producing better overall results for their students. There is no such evidence. There is however strong evidence that ghetto-ising the residual schools is doing real damage to the students there, entrenching disadvantage and raising the costs to society of the rising inequality that results. There is a case for specialist schools or at least classes for children with special needs, or for children of various ethnic communities. But the trend under Tomorrow’s Schools of “affluent flight” shows no benefit and plenty of costs.
As for charter schools, they could easily be accommodated within the state system – there is no need for them to sit outside.” (Source)
The Maori Party
The Maori Party’s education policy does not mention charter schools. (Source)
No school-level education policy at all can be found on the web page of United Future (Source)
If you note any errors or missing information relating to this post, please comment below and I will edit as quickly as possible.
Dianne Khan – SOSNZ
Edited 10/9/2017 3.34 to update TOP’s policy and add link.
In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s election year, and that means it’s time to look at the various political parties’ education policies.
So, because we are helpful souls here at SOSNZ, here’s a handy alphabetical list of NZ political parties with links to their education policies online (or, where no education policy is yet published, a link to their general policy page):
Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party Education Policy – none on party web page. Other policies are here.
Conservative Party Education Policy – none on party web page. Other policies here.
Maori Party Education Policy – not on party web page. Other policies are here.
United Future Education Policy – none on party web page. Other policies are here.
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
Dear David Seymour,
in reply to the question in today’s Stuff article, where you ask teachers whether they “want to be a member of an organisation that puts ideology ahead of kids”, I would like to be clear that I most definitely do not. Which is why I’m not in the ACT Party.
Dianne Khan, proud union member
Assurances that ACT’s charter school experiment was just a pilot have been proven false with this afternoon’s announcement of seven new charter schools.
PPTA president Angela Roberts was surprised a new round of charter schools were being opened when New Zealand tax payers had been promised the concept would be a trial.
With a poorly conducted evaluation of the existing schools lukewarm about their efficacy opening more did not make sense, she said.
“There are still a lot of questions to be answered.”
“We have been constantly reassured there would be just a handful of schools which would be robustly evaluated – both of those claims have been proved false,” she said.
“This is not a pilot, it is just a sop to the ACT party’s ideological commitment to favouring the private over the public sector.”
This was out of step with reality as illustrated by the disastrous Serco prison contracts and the closure of one of the first five charter schools, she said.
Current research shows our poorest schools are facing the deepest challenges in meeting their students’ needs.
“Public money should be going towards what evidence shows helps the most vulnerable, and that is professional support for their health and welfare needs and economic and social wellbeing,” she said.
Enabling schools to be hubs where students can connect with nurses, mental health and welfare support would have a much bigger impact than wasting money on an unproven experiment.
“The funds should be reprioritised to the state sector where they will have the greatest impact on the greatest number of students,” she said.
David Seymour’s press release today about the collapse of North Shore based private school, Corelli, has two whoppers in it.
First, he incorrectly implies that if a student moves from a private school into a state school then the taxpayer would be $5,000 a year poorer for each student.
This is nonsense. The average amount of government funding per student in the state school sector is derived by dividing a whole raft of aggregated costs by the very large number of students enrolled. But that does not mean that each additional student – at the margin – would cost the taxpayer that amount of money.
Many of the costs incurred in running our schools do not immediately change as the number of students changes. So, it might be possible to absorb more students into the existing school network and hardly change the costs involved. Some costs may go up but by no means all of them will.
The second point in Seymour’s reckless release is that he conveniently overlooks the fact that Corelli has a large number of International students on its roll.
The preliminary March roll data suggests Corelli had as many as 19 international students out of its total roll of 37.
So, if they were all “forced” into attending a state school, the taxpayer would actually benefit, as the international students pay fees that are often over $20,000 a year!
With misinformation as grossly misleading as this, it’s no wonder the public doesn’t trust politicians.
~ Bill Courtney, SOSNZ
The ACT party education policy proclaims that:
“all parents should have a chance to send their children to Partnership Schools. The best way to achieve this is to allow all State and Integrated Schools to choose whether they want to convert to Partnership School status.”
Despite the fact that charter schools do not have to have parents on their board of trustees, the ACT policy goes on to say that:
“Partnership Schools are accountable to parents and students.”
How, I wonder, if parents are not on the board and most information about the school can be kept secret due to it being a private business.
It is incredulous that ACT is still arguing that privatisation (of anything) automatically raises standards. It is patently untrue, as shown by the prisons saga and power companies.
What is true is that once a service is privatised, more money goes into CEOs’ back pockets and less to the workers or those they are meant to serve.
“Education is supposed to be for the benefit of New Zealand’s children.”
Ask yourself, who would privatisation benefit?
~ Dianne Khan
The closure of the charter school based at Whangaruru is an indictment of the charter school model and not a strength as David Seymour wrongly claims.
The first round charter schools were hand-picked by the Government and the Authorisation Board, headed by Seymour’s political ally, Catherine Isaac.
The Minister comments loosely on matters such as “inadequate curriculum leadership” but where was the advice she should have received from Catherine Isaac on whether it was feasible to put the Trustees’ “vision” into practice?
One can sympathise to some extent with the challenges the original Trustees faced in trying to establish the school in such a short time period.
But it is a failing of both the ideology behind the model and the politicised authorisation process that these challenges were not considered more seriously and evaluated properly.
Secondary schools need to be of some significant size before they can offer a broad curriculum and give students the full range of opportunities they need in the modern world.
According to the Ministry of Education’s database, only one Whangaruru school leaver (out of 15) gained NCEA Level 2 in 2014. But information obtained from NZQA reveals that a good deal of the NCEA credits gained by students in 2014 came from Fencing and Possum Trapping.
The reality of what has happened at Whangaruru stands in stark contrast to the grand statements promoting the charter school model made by Authorisation Board member Sir Toby Curtis:
“We do not want to see our children fobbed off with “soft” subjects and meaningless qualifications that take them nowhere. They need the chance to succeed in subjects such as maths, science and technology, as well as languages, the arts and trades.”
Sir Toby gets our vote for Tui billboard of the year.
– Bill Courtney, Save Our Schools NZ
The decision to open two more charter ‘partnership’ schools in New Zealand is indefensible on educational or social grounds, says QPEC Chairperson John Minto.
“Recent studies have demonstrated that state schools that educate the most disadvantaged New Zealanders are already struggling from white flight and viability issues due to the distorting effects of the education market.
“Opening more small schools simply makes that process worse, scattering hard-to-teach children through a mish-mash of tiny schools”, he said.
“It is a win-win situation for this government,
but not for disadvantaged students”
QPEC sees the decision to open bidding for two more partnership schools as entirely political. “It is a sop to the ACT Party, and a way for National to promote the privatisation of education. It is a win-win situation for this government, but not for disadvantaged students”.
While it comes at a financial cost, QPEC is more worried about the effects on the schooling system. “This is not just a mad right-wing experiment, but a policy that will have substantive effects on young, needy children now, said John Minto.
Hekia Parata promised that the record of partnership schools in New Zealand would not mirror the US experience, where school failure, teaching problems, corruption and excessive profits are common. But we have already seen similar issues emerge here (excessive profits, school failure and questionable practices) after only two years and only nine schools.
“In short, this policy is a shocking waste of taxpayer money
and really poor educational policy”.
QPEC notes that Hekia Parata has always defended charter school funding as being on the same basis as state school funding. “The current decision to reduce the amount of funding provided to these schools confirms that the money given to the nine schools has been excessive, as QPEC and other critics have constantly pointed out. In short, the Minister’s defence of the old funding model was incorrect – she did not tell the truth about this”.-
In fact, all of the first three charter secondary schools seem to have performed below their NCEA Level 2 contract performance standard in 2014.
If Mr Seymour took a look at the charter school contracts, he would see that the performance standard for student achievement against NCEA is set out in Annex A.
It clearly states that the contract standard for “school leavers with NCEA Level 2 or higher” was set at 66.9% for the 2014 academic year for each school.
The government data published on the Education Counts website for each of the charter secondary schools reveals the following for “School Leavers with at least NCEA Level 2” for 2014:
These results compare very unfavourably with the national school leaver figure of 77.1% leaving school with at least NCEA Level 2 or higher (School Leaver stats are published by the Ministry on this site under the Find A School application.)
The problems at the charter school based in Whangaruru have been well documented but the Minister not only let them stay open but gave them even more funding!
Now it looks as if student achievement below contract performance standard is not only going to be swept under the carpet but the Under Secretary will talk it up as being “encouraging”.
– Bill Courtney, SOSNZ
The charter school initiative is driven by the ideology of those who believe that a market-based, privatised system is inherently superior to an education system based primarily – but not exclusively – on public provision.
But it’s abundantly clear that the market model just doesn’t work in education.
Dr Andreas Schleicher, the Programme Director of the PISA international assessments, had this to say about the “choice” model, as the market model is commonly called overseas:
“My organisation [the OECD] is very strong on choice, enabling citizens to make choices, and you would expect that systems with greater choice would come out better. You expect competition to raise performance of the high performers and with low performers put them out of the market. But in fact you don’t see that correlation… Competition alone is not a predictor for better outcomes.”
The overseas evidence bears this out. The CREDO studies of charter school versus public school performance in the USA are often cited by charter school advocates as proof that their system is superior. But the true position is far from clear.
The 2013 CREDO study reveals that 75 per cent of charter schools either underperform or are not significantly different in reading from public schools, while the corresponding figure for maths is 71 per cent underperforming or not significantly different.
But, more importantly, the CREDO studies make it clear that charter school performance varies widely. This means there are examples right across the spectrum of charter schools that illustrate educational excellence right down to those that are simply incompetent and even downright fraudulent.
So, my take on this is straightforward: changing the structure and organisational types of school within your school system will do nothing to materially impact on overall student achievement. It is this stark reality that really underpins the experience seen in New Zealand over the past year. Charter schools will not succeed just because they are charter schools.
They will exhibit the same range of outcomes and experiences – good and bad – as all types of school ultimately do. So, why are we doing this, just because someone thought it was a good idea? The poor policy and authorisation processes and the individuals responsible for them are at fault here – not the poor souls who have been dropped in at the deep end of the pool.
The original NZ Model of Charter School Working Group, headed by former ACT Party President Catherine Isaac, never produced any reports, advice or recommendations to its sponsoring Ministers, as required by its Terms of Reference. The Ministry of Education confirmed this in response to an Official Information Act request, when I asked to see the Working Group’s output.
The result of this omission is the lack of any definitive statement as to what this initiative really is, what evidence it is based on and how it is likely to make a genuine difference. One obvious example of this confusion is the stance taken by Catherine Isaac on Radio New Zealand late last year, that charter schools are really about “alternative education” for high risk students, while ACT MP David Seymour is busy running around arguing that every school in New Zealand should convert to charter school status!
This lack of clear policy direction has created many design and implementation problems. If we were really doing “alternative education” then wouldn’t we need the strongest and most capable teachers who were able and willing to go out on a limb and to take risks? Why then was the Education Act amended to expressly allow non-registered teachers in charter schools, when all other types of school in the system require all teachers to be registered? What criteria were to be used in deciding which schools were to be authorised?
How was someone like Catherine Isaac ever going to be able to assess the educational merit of charter school applicants, given her complete lack of knowledge in that field? How would the new schools be resourced, funded and supported to carry out their demanding challenge? And how would this funding and support compare to the three other “types” of school already in the New Zealand system, including other “schools of choice”, which we call State-Integrated?
There are numerous other questions that are likely to go unanswered as the experiment unfolds, but at the heart of the matter lies the failure to state clearly what we are really doing and why.
Perhaps if our education policy makers and leaders focused on the true realities of the challenges our education system faces, we could at least begin the dialogue of how we need to go forward together. But honesty and humility are not the natural characteristics of such people.
It is inherently easier to hide behind ideology and blame everyone else for “system failure”.
– BILL COURTNEY
Bill is a parent and former school trustee who writes for the Save Our Schools NZ education blog site.
The original article can be found here and is reproduced with the consent of Education HQ.