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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

Nikki Kaye and David Seymour make misleading statements about charter schools

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.

pants on fireThis 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:

  • 24 May: Board meets to discuss STEM / TEI applications
  • 8 June: Board meets to review balance of applications
  • 9 June: interviews
  • 15 – 16 June: Interviews
  • 22 June: Final recommendations meeting.

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

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

Update: Defunct group, NZ Special Education Association, confirms Hekia Parata did not consult them

Thousands of people have read my post about Hekia Parata fabricating support from a mystical “Special Education Association”, and most were just plain dismayed that a Minister would openly make up information to justify her plans for special education. However, a few hardy trolls souls dredged up whatever support they could for the Minister, saying that there is indeed an New Zealand Special Education Association (NZSEA) in Canterbury and they probably did support the plans. (This despite Hekia writing on her Facebook page that when she said she had the support of the Special Education Association what she mean was some people generally support her plans). Most people know and accept that Hekia lied – but, you know, some poor devils just wont face those kinds of facts.

So I did what seemed best, I emailed the apparently defunct NZSEA to double check that they are indeed no longer a group and check whether they did or did not support Ms Parata’s plans.

In plain English and to be very clear, I asked the NZSEA whether they are the Special Education Association to which Hekia Parata referred when she said to Chris Hipkins during Question Time in Parliament on 23rd August 2016:

“I can tell the member that the Special Education Association tells me they want to be able to measure progress…”

The answer is no, they are not.

The NZSEA’s reply, received at 9.45am today, said:

Kia ora Dianne,

Thank  you for your email.  It is timely as I am about to write a letter to the editor disclaiming any association between NZSEA and the Minister’s statement she gave last week. She has never consulted with NZSEA on any matter associated with special education, in the past or now.  

Unfortunately, the NZSEA is currently on the process of winding up so it will be interesting to see if the Minister refers to the group again.  All the best in your quest. 

Ngā mihi 

Gaye

Chair

New Zealand Special Educaiton Association (NZSEA)

Over to you, trolls.

~ Dianne

Spin Doctors out in force at Vanguard – again!

spin checkedThe recent press release from Vanguard Military School (3 February 2016) again highlights how the spin doctors love to spin a story around high participation-based pass rates in NCEA.  But do they tell the full story of student achievement at the charter secondary school?

Late last year an excellent article published in the NZ Listener revealed that students at Vanguard and its counterpart in Whangarei – Te Kura Hourua o Whangarei Terenga Paraoa – gained the vast majority of their NCEA credits in internally-assessed standards.  They also had far higher pass rates in internally-assessed standards than they achieved in external assessments.

The full breakdown published by NZQA (and linked to in the Listener article) also revealed that no less than 25 students at Vanguard gained 3 credits at NCEA Level 2 in 2014 for such demanding subjects as “Experience day tramps”, which is Standard no. US 425, if you want to look it up!  Readers will be pleased to know that no-one seemed to have failed that one!

It will be interesting to examine the 2015 standards information release and see if there is any change in the makeup of these “top academic results”, as the spin doctors  have described them!

The final comment in the release also caught our eye, as it related to the school roll.

Vanguard talked about opening in 2014 “… with a roll of 104 it has grown to around 160 students in 2016 and will continue to look to expand.”

This sounds like the school is growing steadily but in practice, Vanguard’s roll has been below its Guaranteed Minimum Roll used for funding purposes since the day it opened.

The 2014 GMR was set as 108, but the actual roll dropped from 104 in March to 93 in July and 79 by year end.

In 2015, the GMR was set higher at 144 but the actual roll was 137 (March), 123 (July) and 84 by October.

This trend confirms that students are leaving the school well before end of year external exams take place, which is consistent with the high proportion of internally-assessed standards achieved.

But, more significantly, the taxpayer is funding far more student places at the school than has been evident in the school roll.

Given the school is operated by a for-profit company (Vanguard Military School Ltd, company no. 4622709) this additional revenue has gone straight into the Sponsor’s bottom line profit.

Bill Courtney, SOSNZ

Hekia misleads the house on Wairua charter school funding

Hekia ParataMinister of Education Hekia Parata (again) misled the House in response to a question yesterday about the school’s funding.

Here is what the Minister said (Oral Questions no. 8, 29 July 2015):

“Te Pumanawa o te Wairua will continue to operate under its contract and will therefore receive $412,000 per quarter.”

“This is the money that would have been spent had these kids attended other schools.

Wrong, Hekia, wrong.

Under her charter school funding model, the government pays $355,200 per quarter for the fixed costs that it pays the school’s Sponsor.  These costs would cease once the school was closed.

Add in the additional $129,000 in emergency funding that she has thrown in, and the taxpayer will pay a total of $839,400 over the balance of 2015 because the Minister of Education decided not to close the school at the end of the second term.

The charter funding model has four components for each school: two of these are “fixed costs” and two are “variable costs”.  But only the variable, or per student costs, would continue and follow the students if they were to transfer to another school in the network.

Wairua Funding Breakdown

Here’s the breakdown of the quarterly funding for Wairua for 2015:

Base Funding                                                                                   $252,128

Property & Insurance                                                                      $103,072

Sub-total Fixed Costs                                                                    $355,200    [86.2%]

Per Student (based on a Guaranteed Minimum Roll of 40)       $54,188

Centrally Funded Services                                                                 $2,760

Sub-total Variable Costs                                                                $56,948     [13.8%]

Total Quarterly Funding:                                                               $412,148

So, when Hekia quoted a cost of “412,000 per quarter” she was referring to the total funding that the school receives from the Government.

But $355,200 per quarter would not be payable, if she were to close the school, as her officials clearly recommended.

~ Bill Courtney, Save Our Schools NZ

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

Hekia Parata Fact Checker: National Standards are “the right steps”

sosnz fact checker RECTANGLE

Hekia Parata, quoted in stuff.co.nz, Monday 17 November 2014:

“The profession and academics of New Zealand determined that those were the right steps to be taken in each progression through our education system,” Parata said.

Well, Hekia, some of us beg to differ. National Standards has always been a highly contentious policy. But there is no excuse for anyone making statements about the system that are simply not true.

We need to ensure that historical fact is recorded and is not distorted by contemporary political spin.

Many parents, media and commentators might assume that the National Standards were set correctly and were properly tested.

But those of us involved in the debate over time know that there are several issues around the construct of the Standards that have never been resolved.

Let’s check the history:

•The Standards were developed by two small teams of developers (one wrote the Reading and Writing Standards and the other wrote the Maths Standards);

• These people were chosen by the Ministry of Education and mainly included external contractors;

• The Standards were written in a very short period of time in the first half of 2009;

• A brief “consultation” period ran from May to July 2009, during which three draft Standards were available for consideration by the teaching profession and the public;

• The full set of 24 Standards (Reading , Writing and Maths across 8 ages and year levels) was released at the official launch by John Key, in October 2009.

But was the teaching profession involved in the process of setting the Standards?

Frances Nelson, President of NZEI, certainly didn’t think so:

“Not only have the Standards been developed under a cloak of secrecy, the small number of practitioners who were invited into the “inner circle” were – apparently – required to leave all material in the room and sign confidentiality agreements to ensure they didn’t go back and share what they’d been doing with other colleagues, board members or parents!”

Frances Nelson op-ed, Dominion Post, December 2009

Nelson had responded to an op-ed published earlier by the Minister of Education, Anne Tolley:

“There will be no concessions, there will be no trial period. Parents want national standards and they are going to get them from next year. There will be constant evaluation, the tenders are just being let, and if adjustments need to be made, then that will happen.”

Anne Tolley op-ed, Dominion Post, November 2009

To this day, the Standards themselves have never been tested in any trial of any kind.

People forget that the 2010 nationwide petition, organised by NZEI and known as “Hands Up For Learning”, did not call for outright opposition to National Standards but rather for them to be trialled:

“The petition of William Michael Courtney, requesting that the House of Representatives note that 37,617 people have signed a petition requesting that National Standards be trialled in our schools before being introduced nationally.”

Petition no. 2008/90 tabled in the House by the Hon Trevor Mallard, 28 June 2010

The government-commissioned evaluation of the National Standards system did not make any significant recommendations and no “adjustments” of any sort have been made to the Standards.

So, any flaws in the construct of the original Standards have remained.

And what did the academics think?

Professor John Hattie, a leading supporter of the concept of National Standards, was critical of this set of Standards when they were released:

“The success of national standards will be related to the quality and dependability of the standards. The current approach of developing standards by committee is not good enough.

The glossy, recently published New Zealand literacy and numeracy standards have no data, no evidence, and no evaluation – they are pronouncements without evidence. If there is evidence outside committee contemplations, where is it? Until there is evidence, the standards remain untested and experimental.”

Hattie: Horizons and Whirlpools, November 2009

The Parliamentary Library prepared a research paper on National Standards in June 2010. Here is an extract from the section “Speed of design and implementation”:

“The lack of a trial period or testing of the Standards has caused concern. Education sector groups and academics sought a phased introduction of the Standards, as opposed to full implementation in schools during 2010. Concern has also been expressed that with no trial of the Standards, there has been no opportunity to establish whether they have been set at the correct level, or to see how they relate to actual patterns of student progression over time. Not all students follow the same developmental trajectory to get to the same level of performance over time.”

Parliamentary Library Research Paper, National Standards, June 2010

One of the most concerning aspects of the system is the lack of evidence underpinning the Standards and the “One Size Fits All” trajectory they assume. This is important, as in standards-based assessment, achievement is defined as being “in relation to the standard”, as opposed to norm-referenced assessment, for example, which shows student achievement in relation to a student’s peer group.

So it is important for parents and commentators to understand that if there are concerns about the level at which the Standards are set, and how appropriate they are to individual student achievement and progress, then there must be real doubt about the validity of any assessment results arising from using such a system.

~ by Bill Courtney, SOSNZ

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