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
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.
Source: ACT Party Education Policy 2014, p.1
ACT Party Leader, Dr Jamie Whyte, keeps saying that his party would privatise the public education system and believes this will provide increased “Choice” to parents.
But a quick look at the New Orleans “Recovery School District” website will reveal that Dr Whyte is deluded and that privatised systems do not work as he thinks. And besides, New Zealand parents already have more choice in education than he acknowledges.
The Recovery School District in New Orleans is the best worked example of a system where all the schools have now been privatised. This followed the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which accelerated the process of establishing privately operated charter schools and closing public schools.
Unfortunately, in the new fully privatised system, there are three things that parents cannot now choose:
Because the charter schools are privately operated parents initially had a nightmare trying to enrol their children. As enrolment applications usually exceed the number of places available at each school, parents needed to apply to many different schools, as they did not know for certain whether their children would get accepted. This caused a backlash and a centrally operated enrolment system was developed, called One-App.
One-App allows parents to apply once on one application form and to designate their top 3 preferred schools. The process is not easy and the form is nearly 20 pages long!
But any suggestion that parent choice prevails goes out the door pretty quickly.
The enrolment system assigns each child to a school. If the parents are happy with the school they have been assigned to in the main round, then they do no more. But, if they are unhappy, then they may apply again in the second or third rounds.
Here’s what the RSD website reveals:
“The system matched 90 percent of entering kindergarten and rising ninth grade applicants to one of their top three school choices In non-transition grades, 70 percent of applicants were matched to a top choice; and in pre-kindergarten, where the demand for seats is greater than the supply, 75 percent of students were matched to one of their top choices.”
So, let’s be very clear.
But, it’s even harder, in some ways, to leave your school. Why? Because once everyone has been assigned there are very few available places.
“Prior to the beginning of the third week of August and after February 1, a family requesting admission to a school other than the one they were assigned to or currently attend can submit a Placement Exception Request (PER).”
So, parents need to complete a form and seek permission to leave their school.
Call that parent choice?
Here’s what the website says:
“All PER requests must be approved by the RSD and are pending seat availability. PER requests must address a particular “hardship” and must be submitted with accompanying paperwork. The hardship criteria are Medical Hardship, Safety Transfers, Travel Hardship, Childcare Hardship and Transfer to a Specialised Program.”
So, being disappointed with the school and wanting to vote with your feet is not an option!
Finally, we come to the last choice that is missing: the right to send your child to the local, neighbourhood public school. That right has been taken away by the privatisation movement.
In New Zealand, parent survey research shows that only 6% of New Zealand primary and intermediate school parents say their child was attending a school that was not their family’s first choice; and the equivalent figure for secondary parents is 9%. [Source: NZCER Surveys: 2013 (Primary and Intermediate) and 2012 (Secondary)]
So, 94% of New Zealand primary/intermediate school parents and 91% of secondary parents are satisfied with their first choice school.
Contrast that to the 61% first choice figure achieved in the RSD in New Orleans and you can readily see that New Zealand parents already have more effective school choice options available to them than their counterparts in a privatised system.
Here are the main types of schools available in NZ.
Jeepers! Is that IT!!!!!!
Best add in another type of school because, man,
I need to start a nice profitable business I need more choice!