National’s support for reinstating the American charter school model shows not only that the privatisation bias that Bill English pursued over recent years is alive and well, but also that they are struggling to develop sound Education policy.
As far back as the 2008 general election, National committed to “increasing educational choices”. But everyone knows that the phrase “School Choice” was first coined by economist Milton Friedman and is the code used to drive the privatisation movement in the USA. The pure form of the privatised market model is vouchers, but in practice the charter school model has been adopted as the most practical privatisation route in most States.
The irony is that there is a wide variety of choice already available in the New Zealand public education system. One leading American commentator, writing in the Washington Post, made the remark that “…the most aggressive school choice system in the world is probably New Zealand”.
Surveys over many years by the NZ Council for Educational Research confirm that around 90% or more of New Zealand parents feel they send their child to the school of their choice. This high degree of satisfaction with choices available is underpinned by the variety of schooling options available, both within the State system and across the State-Integrated model.
Every State and State-Integrated school is governed by a parent-elected Board of Trustees, under a charter, the defining document that sets out the school community’s Vision and Values. It is this inconvenient fact that requires “charter schools” to be called something different in New Zealand!
The State system includes the set of schools operating as Kura Kaupapa, under s. 155, and the set of Designated Character schools under s. 156. These schools are complemented by over 330 State-Integrated schools, with religious character, such as Christian values or even Muslim values, as well as a variety of teaching philosophies, such as Montessori or Rudolf Steiner.
Indeed, anyone who tries to claim that New Zealand has a “one-size-fits-all” public education system is either very poorly informed of the variety of options available or is being deliberately misleading.
As a former Minister of Education, Nikki Kaye knows this only too well. So, we can conclude from this release that she has just nailed her colours to the mast of the privatisation movement.
National hid behind the ACT Party first time around and needed the support of the Maori Party to get the initial charter model legislation through the House. The convenient marriage of the ideology of privatisation and the ideology of self-determination was therefore born.
Given that the formal evaluation of the charter school model, carried out by Martin Jenkins, failed to draw any genuine conclusions as to the impact of the model to date, National is clutching at straws to claim that the model has already proven to be successful.
And we know from the financial statements of the Sponsors that this has been a lucrative business for them to enter. Bill English rushed to change the funding model after only one year but the first and second round school Sponsors have scored well out of the policy and away from the watchful eye of the Auditor-General.
No wonder they don’t want to let it go!
Labour has launched several reviews across multiple fronts to try and get to grips with the challenges of reinvigorating the New Zealand public education system after 9 years of flawed policies, such as National Standards.
It is early days yet but National’s knee-jerk reaction to bring back an American model that doesn’t even work there reveals how shallow National’s approach to developing Education policy is proving to be.
– Bill Courtney, Save Our Schools NZ
One of the first five schools, that started up in February 2014, has had huge problems. Te Kura Hourua ke Whangaruru, a bilingual secondary school for years 9-13, has a dropping school roll, up to a third of students absent on any one day, poor planning, serious internal issues, and fighting and drug problems with students.
A Ministry-appointed facilitator was appointed, working there almost daily for hours at a time, and he stepped back only “after a local Child, Youth and Family manager was seconded to the job of executive principal.” Source
Radio NZ’s Morning Report piece can be listened to here. (approx 5 minutes long)
So far, the school has cost up to 500% what it costs to fund a state school pupil. Needless to say, principals and teachers at state schools are furious that they are struggling to get help for students equally needy, when money is being wasted on the charter school experiment.
There has been concern from many quarters regarding charter schools. The Quality Public Education Coalition (QPEC) has questioned the “secretive, undemocratic, expensive and ideological experiment”, PPTA have said that charters are “based on an extremist ideology which has no basis in evidence”, NZEI have expressed amazement at the experiment, saying “it beggars belief that any government of any persuasion would want to undermine a quality public education system in this way”. Leading academics from both New Zealand and overseas have also spoken out against the charter school experiment.
This is not an experiment we can afford to continue. Any school currently running that is found to be doing a good job should, as Labour, Greens, NZ First and Mana have suggested, be given the option to join the state system as appropriate. Those failing should be closed down.
The focus MUST be on improving the lot of all students in need, on helping all schools get the best resources to help those students, on making sure the whole support system is bolstered and supported so that it can properly serve all schools and their students.
Any system that serves to support only some students whilst ignoring the majority, is a system New Zealand doesn’t need.
Sources and further reading:
Jamie Whyte discussed charter schools this morning in his leader’s interview on Radio NZ. It makes fascinating listening (from 17 minutes on).
Reformers tell you charter schools are all about choice, right?
So, where’s the choice in England where schools are being FORCED against community wishes to become Academies (their version of charter schools)?
Where’s the choice in New Orleans’ Recovery District, now ALL schools there are charters and students are allocated a school place by lottery?
And what about in New Zealand?
In other words, where a public school would have opened there could now be a charter school in its place. (4)
New Zealand charter schools are sneakily being proposed INSTEAD OF public schools.
Now look again at your local primary school and ask yourself how happy you will be further down the line when it is forcibly made into a charter school.
About as happy as the parents and school governors fighting tooth and nail to prevent is in England, I imagine.
“Roger Sahota, one of the deposed governors, claimed that the results were emphatic. “We conducted a ballot[of students’ parents] in the aftermath of the head’s resignation. We found 147 against academy status, 14 for and five didn’t know,” he said.” (3)
Privatisation of the state system by stealth? Indeed.
NZ, beware of what is to come.
References and further reading: