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?
David Seymour needs a reality check if he thinks that charter schools are not in trouble overseas.
Here is how Save Our Schools sees some of the key evidence:
1. Professor John Hattie, in his quantitative studies, ranks charter schools at number 183 out of the 195 policy interventions that he examined in his paper “The Politics of Distraction”.
Hattie based his analysis on no less than 246 studies and concluded that within a year or so, the “different” school becomes just another school, with all the usual issues that confront all schools.
2. Popular support for charter schools is falling in the United States. A nationwide poll conducted by the “Education Next” magazine, published by Stanford University, found that public support for charter schools has fallen by 12 percentage points, with similar drops evident among both self-described Republicans and self-described Democrats.
3. The experience in New Orleans is that the locals do not believe that the charter school miracle has worked for them. This editorial by the African American newspaper, the New Orleans Tribune, in November 2017 doesn’t pull any punches:
“It’s been 12 years since our schools were hijacked. And 12 years later, many of them are performing just as poorly as they were before they were stolen. To learn that charter operators set up goals they knew were unattainable just to get their charters approved and their hands on public money and facilities is indefensible. Unless and until these pilfering reformers are ready to admit what they did and that it was wrong and then actually return public schools to real local control without charter organizations and unelected boards that come with them under the current model of return anything else they have to say sounds pretty much like sounding brass and tinkling cymbals—a whole bunch of noise.”
4. David Seymour mentions the CREDO studies but fails to mention their main finding.
In the CREDO 2013 nationwide study, less than one hundredth of one percent of the variation in test performance is explainable by charter school enrolment. Specifically, students in charter schools were estimated to score approximately 0.01 standard deviations higher on reading tests and 0.005 standard deviations lower on math tests than their peers in traditional public schools. “With a very large sample size, nearly any effect will be statistically significant,” the reviewers, Maul and McClelland, conclude, “but in practical terms these effects are so small as to be regarded, without hyperbole, as trivial.”
The reality is simple: there is no genuine educational merit in the charter school model. As John Hattie observes, “these new forms of schools usually start with fanfare, with self-selected staff (and sometime selected students) and are sought by parents who want “something better”. But the long-term effects lead to no differences when compared with public schools.”
~ Bill Courtney, SOSNZ
Nikki Kaye has joined her colleague David Seymour in making misleading statements about charter schools.
In a stuff.co.nz story, written by Jo Moir and published on Tuesday 7 November, she is quoted as saying that the six new charter schools were “publicly notified in February”, meaning the wheels had been in motion for many months for those schools.
This is incorrect.
The public announcement of the two Fourth Round schools, due to open in February 2018, was made on Tuesday 11 July this year.
The public announcement of the four Fifth Round schools, due to open in February 2019, was made on Thursday 7 September, only 16 days before the election.
No documentation relating to either the Fourth or Fifth Round schools has yet been released. This is in contrast to the Third Round schools, when documentation such as the applications, evaluations and contracts was released publicly on the day of the announcement.
Further scrutiny of the minutes of the Partnership Schools Authorisation Board confirm that at the meeting held on 11 April 2017, the Board agreed to delegate to the Chair and Deputy Chair the authority to make the final decisions on the outstanding due diligence matters for the Fourth Round applications. The Ministry of Education was to then confirm the communications plan ahead of the Round 4 contracts being signed. So, that implies that as at April, the final decisions had not even been made and the contracts had not yet been signed. But without any documentation, who knows?
As for the Fifth Round applications, they were even further behind. The 11 April meeting agreed the following dates for Round 5:
According to that timetable, the Fifth Round recommendations were not even going to be finalised until late June!
So, Nikki, where does the “publicly notified in February” comment come from?
As for David Seymour, he was up to his usual mischief over the weekend, when he made this statement in his press release:
“The Sponsors of these schools are passionate educators who were required to demonstrate community support for their schools before their applications were accepted.”
Not so, as least as far as the Wairakei community is concerned, where one of the Fourth Round schools is due to open next year.
Two recent articles in stuff.co.nz have covered the anger and frustration that Wairakei residents have expressed about the proposed new school. In the second article, dated only 2 days before the election, Taupō Mayor David Trewavas called for a halt to plans for a partnership school at Wairakei Village, saying the complete lack of consultation is “unacceptable”.
But the article also quoted David Seymour, who responded to a query from local MP Louise Upston, saying that while community consultation was not required to establish the school it was an “essential component” of a school’s preparation for opening.
So, Mr Seymour, why do you now say that demonstrating community support for the school was required before the application was accepted?
The appalling lack of transparency has been an unfortunate feature of the New Zealand charter school experiment from the outset.
Save Our Schools NZ calls on the new government to instruct the Ministry of Education to release all documentation relating to the Fourth and Fifth Round applications with immediate effect.
Only then can the false and misleading statements of opposition politicians be called out as they should be.
– Bill Courtney, SOSNZ
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
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
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
Is David Seymour changing the rules for charter schools to make it easier for them to meet their contract performance standards?
Seymour’s bizarre press release (9 December 2015) contained the extraordinary statement that “David has reformed the funding formula for the schools and is tweaking the assessment regime.”
What on earth does “tweaking the assessment regime” mean? And why would a politician be involved in a technical matter such as assessment?
The New Zealand Qualifications Authority is the entity responsible for the qualifications framework in this country not David Seymour.
But is Seymour taking action to change the rules for the charter secondary schools, given they appear to have failed to meet the 2014 standard set out in the charter school contract?
This states quite clearly that the standard is “School leavers with NCEA Level 2” with a 2014 target of 66.9% eventually climbing to 85% in 2017. This is the Government’s main target for the school system.
However, the Education Counts database published by the Ministry shows both Vanguard Military School and Te Kura Hourua o Whangarei Terenga Paraoa fell short of that target in their first year of operation. Vanguard had 60.0% and Paraoa 55.6% of their School Leavers leaving with NCEA Level 2 or above.
So, what is Seymour up to?
Followers of the charter school initiative will also laugh at the comment that “David has reformed the funding formula.” While problems with the original funding model were clear from the outset, Seymour denied this was the case. A quote from his op-ed published in the Sunday Star-Times (8 February 2015) states that: “Why do some claim partnership schools are overfunded?”
So, which level of funding is correct Mr Seymour?
The amount produced by the original model or the amount now on offer after you “reformed the funding formula”? The Ministry document presented to cabinet clearly sets out how much less the “reformed” model produces for a new charter school in its early years compared to the original model. But that cannot stop the overfunding that already applies to the first round of schools, as the Ministry is bound by the original contract.
So, are the schools also being held to account for their side of the same contract? Or is the parliamentary under secretary riding to their rescue and “tweaking” the rules?
– Bill Courtney, Save Our Schools NZ
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
With David Seymour announcing today that a third charter schools application round is now open, it seems (despite previous assurances) there is no slow down in the push towards privatising New Zealand’s school system.
What is particularly interesting in Mr Seymour’s announcement is the implicit admission that up to now charter schools have indeed cost way more than state schools – a fact that has previously been denied to the hilt.
“The new model reduces establishment costs, and emphasises ‘per-student’ funding. When Partnership Schools reach maximum roll, they will receive funding broadly the same as the state school….” – David Seymour.
It’s rather embarrassing for Mr Seymour to spend a few years shouting down those of us that highlighted funding inequities, saying the figures were wrong or we were scare-mongering, only to now admit the model has had to be changed for those very reasons. Will the funding now be fairer? Will the Undersecretary and other nay-sayers be more honest and accurate in future? I’m not holding my breath.
The second interesting snippet in Mr Seymour’s press release was this:
“Partnership Schools show good progress, with achievement in reading, writing and mathematics either the same, or slightly above, that of decile 1, 2 and 3 primary schools. And, overall, NCEA achievement for Partnership Schools in Year 11 and for Level 2 in Year 12 is very high,” says Mr Seymour.
Let’s look at that in two parts, first National Standards, then NCEA.
If charter schools are sold as being better than state schools, it’s not much of a boast to say charter schools’ National Standards results are the same or only slightly above state schools. So , if we take Mr Seymour and his data at face value (and I’m not even going to go into the fact that charter schools as yet haven’t enrolled any ORS funded students with serious special needs), then charter schools are doing about as well as your average state school despite all the extra funding and freedoms. Not what you would call high praise.
Another thing to consider about the National Standards results is their reliability (in any school or sector). It is widely known that National Standards are not at all reliable. The National Standards School Sample Monitoring and Evaluation Project this year again reported that “teachers’ judgements of how well children were performing against the standards still lacked dependability”, so it is ridiculous to trumpet charter schools’ results at all, given it is completely unreliable data across the board.
Charter Schools’ NCEA Results
Now to NCEA. We are yet to get to the bottom of this data. Charter schools and the Minister have repeatedly said that charter schools have achieved great NCEA results. However, the data does not support this, and questions to the parties involved has failed to get a clear answer regarding whether the pass rate percentages are for those that finished the year or for all students that were in that year, including those that dropped out.
Given the falling rolls in some charter high schools over the school year, it is an important point. Student attrition is a common way charter schools fudge their pass rates. Certainly our own investigations have shown charter schools performing at a lower rate than the targets set and than the national average.
If 100 students start the year, but 40 leave, and the remaining 60 pass their exams, can you really claim a 100% pass rate?
There is no evidence that charter schools’ NCEA pass rates are truly higher than comparable state schools. What we do know is that charter schools are allowed to be selective with their reporting and we cannot demand raw data under the Official Information Act because they are private businesses. Because of this, charters can use statistical smoke and mirrors (aka data manipulation) to make claims that it’s impossible for parents or others to confirm or deny – a tactic well known to many US charter schools.
That’s great PR but not at all helpful in working out how well the charter school model is faring in comparison to state schools.
All in all, David Seymour’s praise of charter schools doesn’t hold water, and puts me in mind of a point Diane Ravitch once made in relation to the New York education department’s reporting on charter schools, where she pondered:
“Wouldn’t it be swell if the Department of Education actually had a research department, instead of a hyper-active public relations department?”
~ Dianne Khan, SOSNZ
Excerpts from the readiness report on Te Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru charter school are startling:
After months of operation, ERO reported in September that the school was in a dire situation with inadequate teaching, poor management, disengaged students, and sub-quality learning. The eyebrow-raising list of findings is here:
It is admirable that the Trust want to help these students. But wanting to and being able to are two different things, and in order to serve any students properly, a school needs to be run well with properly trained and skilled staff that can engage the students. Without that it is nothing.
The school hasn’t even been undertaking proper planning or evaluations. How can you know what the students need without first evaluating where they are? And how can you move them forward without planning for progression?
If the school is mostly dealing with classroom management and behaviour issues, then the staff need to be far more skilled in those areas, which I would suggest takes very experiences teachers with a really special ability in that area.
“Limited feedback.” “Limited positive reinforcement.”
In any school that would be a disgrace. In a school that promised to cater to those most in need, it is doubly so.
“The New Zealand charter school model is the best in the world …”
said David Seymour, the new under-secretary to the minister of education.
I would ask Mr Seymour to look below at the huge list of this charter school’s serious weaknesses. Does that look like the best in the world to you, Mr Seymour, because it really doesn’t look remotely adequate to most observers and I very much doubt the students feel they are getting the best education possible.
Charter schools were and still are sold as innovative and able to do amazing things that state schools cannot. So far we have one totally failing school, three largely off the radar, and one posting good NCEA results but with very high rates of pupil attrition.
How is any of this improving the education system?
Perhaps I should print David Seymour’s statement in full so you can see what the real focus is:
“The New Zealand charter school model is the best in the world and ALL state schools should have the option to be one.”
David Seymour, the new under-secretary to the minister of education.
That’s the real aim of the game, eh, Mr Seymour; Privatisation at any cost.
Sources and further reading:
After months of chasing for information, delayed ERO reports, stalled Official Information Act (OIA) requests, fudging by Hekia Parata, David Seymour, Catherine Isaac and co., and blinkered reports from the mainstream media and right-wing bloggers, today we finally have confirmation of what we knew all along: Te Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru charter school is failing its students.
For a whole year, political rhetoric and cover ups have taken precedence over the needs of students that are reportedly some of the neediest in the country, letting them down yet again.
How utterly cruel to promise so much and deliver so little.
How reliable is ERO?
ERO is meant to evaluate our schools’ effectiveness and make recommendations where there are concerns.
As such ERO’s reports must be reliable and must not be held back to protect charters or any other type of school. Hiding the truth serves no-one other than politicians and those making money out of schools – it certainly doesn’t serve students. It’s worth reading this, then, to get an idea just how hard it has been to get information on this school. ERO’s readiness report was due in June, and an OIA was delayed repeatedly as the report was held back and held back.
A cynic might ponder why the report on Te Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru would be held back until both the general election and the 2nd round of charter schools were done and dusted…
Lastly, how can we be confident that concerns have not been played down in the other ERO charter school readiness reports, too?
How capable is Hekia Parata?
This is yet another stuff up to add to Parata’s list: Class sizes, technology cuts, Novopay, IES, and now this. It seems she is incapable of running a sizeable project without it crashing down, which is of huge concern when she is in charge of such an important portfolio as education.
Best not mention that it’s another $3 Million down the drain, with no promise that any of it will be recovered when the school closes.
And just what exactly is David Seymour doing for his pay packet, since charter schools were his party’s baby? His silence is deafening.
Meanwhile, it’s the kids that suffer. The students are, sadly, mere pawns in a cruel political game that is so keen to push an ideology it is blind to the truth.
Charter schools at any cost? Really, New Zealand?
For a party that espouses “individual freedom, personal responsibility” ACT isn’t half quick to hide behind a job title, eh?
“The under-secretary position means Seymour will not be subject to questions in the House. It appears he will not be subject to the Official Information Act also.” (1)
So now the charter schools saga will be *even more* secretive. Ask yourself this – if it’s truly such a great idea, why would government want or need to hide the facts?
Also bear in mind that the little we have found out about the charter schools currently running has largely been through Official Information Act (OIA) requests regarding Ministry and the Minister. It’s already a mare to get information directly about a charter school, because they are businesses and so not subject to the same openness that state schools are.
“charter schools had a huge potential to increase educational achievement. “We need to bed the policy in and make sure it keeps running well.””
But as yet we have not one solitary report, analysis or piece of research explaining why ACT has such faith in charter schools. Nothing. Just a closed door and more secrecy.
What’s the secret?
What is it about charter schools that will make such a difference? No-one’s said.
How will they achieve this? Hmmm…. nothing from the Working Group or Ministry or the Minister or Seymour on that.
Can you show that charter schools are spending the tax money they get to the best effect for students? Actually, they don’t have to show that.
Are the staff there well qualified? Don’t have to tell you that.
How many students with special educational needs are they catering for? Don’t have to tell you that, either.
In fact, they don’t have to tell the parents or taxpayers much of anything, and since they don’t have to have a community-based Board of Trustees, they can work behind closed doors.
Much better from the schools’ points of view to stay quiet and rely on The Herald and other on-side media outlets to spin stories based on PR.
Funny how working behind closed doors and a wall of silence is okay for charter schools, isn’t it?
Can you imagine the fuss if a state school refused to be open about how it operates and who it teaches?
So I ask again, if charter schools are truly such a great addition to the system, why all the secrecy?