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Bill Courtney

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Admission shows that Charter School funding is higher

Radio NZ ran a story last week with the startling admission that funding for two Whangarei based charter schools was about to fall as they converted into Designated Character State schools from 2019.

The revelation will not be a surprise to opponents of the charter school initiative, as it has been clear from the outset that the original funding model was based on bold assumptions that have simply not come to pass.

Here are the statements in the Radio NZ article attributed to Raewyn Tipene, CEO of the He Puna Marama Trust:

“We won’t be able to fund them [staff] all. That’s a fact: the funding won’t allow for us to have all the teachers we’re eligible for, plus the support staff we are used to having.”

“We will just have to work out how best to do with less.”

Unfortunately the piece did not clarify how much the funding was expected to fall by when they convert.

He Puna Marama, as Sponsor of the two charter schools, will receive nearly $4 million this year for the two schools: $3,074,521 for the secondary school and $883,073 for the primary school.  These figures are published on the Ministry of Education website and are based on the projected opening rolls.  Actual quarterly payments could vary depending on the student rolls as the year progresses.

The article stated that Te Kāpehu Whetū (the educational unit of He Puna Marama Trust) employed 26 staff for its 190 students, according to Mrs Tipene, who said: “That is a higher teacher to student ratio than a state school would have. A number of those staff are not trained teachers, they are mentors who support our senior students.”

Under the contracting out theory of the charter school initiative, the Sponsor may deal with the funding it receives in whatever way it feels is appropriate.  So they can hire more teachers, more support staff, mentors etc. if they wish.  Charter school supporters claim this bulk funding approach is one of the main features of the initiative.  But the real issue has always been the quantum of funding they are receiving and not just how it is delivered.

Charter school supporters have hidden behind the narrative that the Ministry tried to make the original charter school funding model produce a level of funding that was “broadly comparable” to that of a “similar” State school.  But this modelling approach was flawed from the outset.

First, making comparisons with State school funding is problematic, as State schools have many different sources of funding.  The modelling had to try and reduce all of these to a simple approach that could be written into a commercial contract.

Second, State schools’ property is provided by the Crown but charter schools need to rent (or buy) their premises.  So how this component was cashed up has caused problems from the outset, especially if the charter school did not reach the maximum roll on which the property funding was based, or took a long to get there.

Third, it also ignored the reality that the choices parents make are “local” and not “comparable”.  So the problems with the original funding policy mean that the early charter schools have enjoyed far more funding than the local schools they were set up to compete against.

Save Our Schools NZ analysed the 2015 financial statements of South Auckland Middle School and compared these to Manurewa Intermediate.  What we saw was that SAMS received funding per student of $11,740 after paying the cost of the premises it rented from the Elim Church.  In contrast, Manurewa Intermediate received $5,907 in Teachers Salaries and Operations Grants funding per student, with its premises provided by the Crown.

This means the charter schools have been able to offer advantages such as hiring more teachers, which reduces class sizes, hiring more support staff, such as mentors and community liaison staff, or offering support to parents by way of free uniforms, free stationery and so on.

The National government changed the charter school funding model in 2015 but the revised model applies only to charter schools which commenced operations in 2017 and 2018. The government is therefore locked in by contract to the original funding model for the early schools.

A paper from the Ministry of Education to Bill English and Hekia Parata, dated 30 April 2015, set out the key problems with the original funding model and the proposed solution, which was based on:

“Moving to a true “per-student” funding model rather than a “per school” model;

Ensuring that the property funding flow is aligned with the current enrolment”.

The impact of the change in funding model is clear when we look at the funding for the closed First Round school, Whangaruru, in 2015 (its second year of operation) compared to that for the new Third Round school, Te Aratika, in 2017.

In 2015, Whangaruru received operational funding of $412,148 per quarter, or $41,215 per student p.a. based on 40 students.  In the 4th quarter of 2017, Te Aratika received quarterly operational funding of$126,580, or $15,343 per student p.a. based on 33 students.

So two “similar” schools – in this case small secondary schools – have received vastly different amounts of funding per student under the two funding models.

The initial policy mistake of fully funding the cost of creating and operating small schools has meant the charter school initiative has cost the government more.  This is why Bill English and Hekia Parata changed the funding model – over 3 years ago!

Whether this additional cost has paid off is arguable, as the formal evaluation failed to draw any meaningful conclusions as to the impact of the initiative.

But either way, one could just as easily assert that the Government should be prepared to invest more and help all students who need more support, not just those in an ideologically motivated experiment.

Bill Courtney

Save Our Schools NZ, August 2018

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?

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.

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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

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/

Charter School Funding in 2016 – Follow The Money

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

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

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

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

~ Bill Courtney, Save Our Schools NZ

Update of the Education Act 1989 – some observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s list a few things that rankled me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Bill Courtney

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

Charter School Funding: The (Updated) Facts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is the illustration misleading?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Bill Courtney, SOSNZ

Sources:

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

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

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

 

David Seymour’s claim that charter school NCEA achievement is “very high” is utter nonsense

David Seymour ACTDavid Seymour’s claim that charter school NCEA achievement is “very high” is not supported by the Government’s own data.

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:

  • Vanguard Military School                                                       21 out of 35         or 60.0%
  • Te Kura Hourua o Whangarei Terenga Paraoa                  5 out of 9            or 55.6%
  • Te Pumanawa o Te Wairua                                                     1 out of 15           or 6.7%

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

Charter schools no panacea for education system – Bill Courtney

private public schoolsPractical issues arising from the initial set of schools have highlighted how poor the policy development, authorisation and implementation processes have been.

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.

Fact Checker: Vanguard’s 2014 NCEA Results Release

sosnz fact checker RECTANGLE

The press release from Vanguard Military School on its 2014 NCEA results makes for impressive reading on the surface (release date 18 February 2015). Digging deeper, a  few key questions are worth asking.

First, a statement about percentage pass rates does not reveal two key ingredients: how many students obtained that qualification and how many attempted it, especially in relation to the number of students in the cohort?

This is important in any school that experiences a high rate of student attrition, as Vanguard did in 2014.

Second, in what subjects have these students achieved their qualification?

Vanguard’s curriculum is narrow, which is a practical constraint given the small size of the school.  At NCEA Level 2 students take five compulsory subjects and then two electives.  The compulsory subjects are English, Maths, Physical Education, Physical Training and Recruit Development Course.

The electives are Engineering and Defence Force Studies (vocational pathway) or Maori, Biology or History, from the university pathway.

It is not clear from the release how many students went down the university pathway and how many took the vocational pathway.

Nor is there any indication as to the level of achievement within each subject.  However, it is possible that such detailed information may be available at a later date.

In addition, although the press release stated that the school’s roll has “increased from 108 students in 2014 to 144 this year”, this is not quite correct.

charter schools this-does-not-add-upVanguard’s “Guaranteed Minimum Roll” was set as 108 students in 2014, as per its contract with the Ministry of Education.  Vanguard was therefore funded throughout the year as if it always had this number of students, but the reality was quite different.

Roll returns obtained from the Ministry of Education’s School Directory database indicate actual student roll numbers as follows: 104 as at 1 March; 93 as at 1 July and 79 in October.

Vanguard has previously stated that many students received their qualifications during the course of the year and then left, often to join the military forces.  This may well be a sensible and logical outcome for the students concerned but the taxpayer still funded the privately owned and operated school for many more students than it ever enrolled.

This is in contrast to the position of State and State-Integrated secondary schools, which lose funding during the course of the year if their roll numbers decline.

Guaranteed Minimum Roll levels and funding details for 2015 for the 5 first round charter schools have not been released by the Ministry of Education, despite repeated requests under the Official Information Act.

This lack of transparency has plagued the charter school experiment from the outset and undermines any confidence that the taxpayer may have about how their funding is being used.

Finally, there are ongoing concerns around the charter school funding formula, particularly in respect of funding for property costs.

On balance, this may or may not be a good set of results, given the expectations of the students and their families. Many questions remain about this concept and its applicability to the New Zealand system.

It is the stance of Save Our Schools that individual school performances will not, in themselves, either prove or disprove the charter school idea in New Zealand.

As we see in the United States, charter school performance varies widely and right across the spectrum.  We expect charter schools in New Zealand to exhibit the same characteristics.

It is the ACT Party conference this weekend but Vanguard’s oh-so-positive press release is unlikely to be the full story.

~ Bill Courtney

Fact Checker: Partnership School Funding

 

sosnz fact checker RECTANGLE

The Ministry of Education has produced a brochure that attempts to explain “Partnership Schools” funding.  Unfortunately, it does a good job of highlighting the problems, rather than answering the real questions.

In particular, their worked examples reverse out the most troublesome items and then proudly claim that this explains the “facts”.

Parents are not going to make comparisons with notional Ministry of Education worked examples.  They are going to compare the effect of the actual funding Partnership Schools receive with the schools that already exist in their local areas.

For example, the primary school worked example seems to be the Rise Up Academy, based in Mangere.  This is compared to a Decile 3 State school in an unknown location with a roll of only 44 students.

Furthermore, it appears that the secondary school chosen in the brochure worked example is Paraoa, with a projected maximum roll of 300 (although its roll this year did not exceed 53).  This is the largest of the maximum rolls of the first five Partnership Schools, so this helps the illustration look better by spreading the fixed costs over the highest number of projected students.

In the short term, Sponsors seem to have used the excess funding they have received to provide more teachers and other perks, such as free uniforms and free stationery.

Creating smaller class sizes has been a feature of the initial batch of schools and even the Education Review Office has commented on this point.

But this cannot persist in the long term.  If the Ministry assertion that costs will equalize over time proves correct, then staffing ratios should become more consistent between types of school.  But if they persist, it could signify that the Partnership Schools are permanently overfunded.

Our full analysis of the brochure is detailed below.  The brochure itself is available here.

Background Discussion

Issue 1: “Partnership Schools are fully-funded schools outside the state system…”

Why are Partnership Schools fully funded by the State, when they are schools of choice?  Why is their funding model inconsistent with other types of school, such as Catholic schools?

If parents choose to enrol their children at a Catholic school, for example, then that school is funded for operational grants and the same teacher staffing entitlement as an equivalent State school.  These are the two largest costs, by far, of providing education.

But when the Private Schools Conditional Integration Act 1975 went through, it was made clear that the State would pay for those students’ education but would not be responsible for the schools’ assets, which remain the property of the Proprietors. Why are Partnership School assets, which are owned by a private sector Sponsor, paid for by the State?

Issue 2: Is the funding model consistent with the original National / ACT Party Agreement?

The agreement, in December 2011, mentioned the issue of funding but vaguely stated that:

“Public funding would continue to be on a per-child basis. (Details are included in the attached Annex).”

Annex: Public funding would continue to be by way of normal operational grant funding and may include funding targeted at disadvantaged groups. Schools may also be eligible for capital funding for school property, although overseas experience suggests use of private capital will be required. Schools may choose to rent, rather than own the school building and hence may instead receive equivalent funding to cover rental costs.”

This statement raises two questions: how much private capital is invested and at risk in the new schools?  And how would be the “equivalent” funding to cover rental costs be determined?

Issue 3: “Partnership schools receive much the same funding as comparable state schools.”

What does “much the same” mean?  As the brochure quite rightly points out, “Funding for all schools, even those of a similar size and decile, varies.”  No two schools will ever be identical for all sorts of reasons.  Fair enough.  So, how was the “equivalence” funding model determined and what assumptions were used?  What would be the implications if the actual outcomes were different from those assumed in the model?

Reading the detailed funding model background paper released by the Ministry gives us an insight into just how vague this equivalence approach really is and how many assumptions underpin it:

“The Crown believes funding Partnership Schools on the basis of “Cash for Buildings” provides equivalence with the property support for State schools where property is leased. The following table provides indicative amounts of property funding for Partnership Schools based on Cash for Buildings model.  The amounts below are indicative only and subject to change.

 

Roll Primary Secondary Yr 1 – 13
50 $60,232 $209,724 $96,428
100 $105,167 $339,157 $193,005
200 $189,710 $590,193 $385,862
300 $298,018 $745,112 $533,105
400 $372,590 $863,218 $641,866
500 $445,114 $977,491 $778,262

 

Please note that the amounts above may alter if a school is not proposing to reach its maximum roll in the first few years.  Composite school (Yrs 1 to 13) funding may also vary depending on the balance between the numbers of primary and secondary students enrolled.” [Emphasis added]

And therein lies the key problem: the equivalence approach is based on two key assumptions: the school moves within a few years towards its maximum roll and that the costs it will incur are similar to those of equivalent state schools being funded on this particular “Cash for Buildings” model.

But note the large difference between a 50 roll secondary ($209,724) and a 300 roll secondary ($745,112).  The larger school is funded for this cost component at a rate that is 3.5 times the amount of the smaller school!

So if the new school simply projects that it will grow, then it will be funded at a much higher rate in the short term than may ultimately prove to be necessary to cover its actual costs.

Issue 4: Small schools are expensive.

The brochure makes two statements about how certain costs associated with a new school mean that average funding will appear higher than in established schools; but that eventually as any new school reaches capacity, its average funding per student will fall.  The economists would call this “economies of scale”.

The allowance for fixed costs of this nature is called Base Funding.  The Base Funding for the three Partnership secondary schools has been set at $997,044 per annum.  The middle school receives $571,448 and the primary school receives $145,856 per annum.

But if the schools remain small, even at their projected maximum roll levels, they will remain expensive and not achieve the same reduced average funding per student that larger schools achieve.

Minister of Education, Hekia Parata, is on record in parliament acknowledging that small schools are expensive.

Issue 5: Then why create more small schools?

Why are we creating new schools at all, given that many of the new Partnership Schools are not in areas of roll growth?  This is also inconsistent with Treasury’s advice to the incoming government in 2011, which advised the government to “rationalise the school network”!

New partnership schools in 2014 have been created in South Auckland (South Auckland Middle School and Rise Up Academy) Albany (Vanguard Military School) and in Whangarei (Paraoa).  The four schools proposed for 2015 will be in South Auckland (Pacific Advance Senior School and Waatea), West Auckland (Middle School West Auckland) and Teina, a sister primary school in Whangarei for the Paraoa secondary school.  That makes a total of 8 schools that are, in reality, in areas where schools already exist.

Why, therefore, is the State using a funding model which is seeking to fund these new schools on an equivalent basis to that used to create new State schools, when there is existing capacity in the school network?

Issue 6: “All new schools are also funded for a minimum roll even if the school, on opening, is below that roll number.”

What has been the actual experience so far with the schools’ rolls?

The roll return information is contained in the “Schools Directory” spreadsheet available on the Ministry’s Education Counts website at

http://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/directories/list-of-nz-schools

School Guaranteed Minimum Roll* 1 March Actual Roll 1 July Actual Roll October ActualRoll Maximum Roll
South Auckland Middle School 90 108 110 107 120
Whangaruru 71 63 56 50 128
Paraoa 50 50 53 52 300
Rise Up Academy 50 42 46 48 100
Vanguard Military School 108 104 93 79 192
Total 367 358 336

 

Based on actual roll experience, three schools were funded during the course of the 2014 year on a “Guaranteed Minimum Roll” number of students that was greater than their actual roll returns ever recorded.

What evidence is there that the Partnership schools’ rolls are consistent with the projections and assumptions underlying their funding model?  In particular, the Ministry comment that “the amounts above may alter if a school is not proposing to reach its maximum roll in the first few years…” is certainly relevant here.

How were the “Guaranteed Minimum Rolls” determined for the 2014 year?  What, if any, changes are to be implemented by the Ministry in the procedures used to determine the Guaranteed Minimum Roll for any new schools in the future?

At what stage of their development will the secondary schools be subject to the same funding reduction regime that now applies to the funding for State and State-Integrated secondary schools, where funding is reduced during the course of a year if the school’s actual roll falls?

Bill Courtney – SOSNZ

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