Stanford University

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Making Money Out of Our Kids’ Education

child dollarsCharter schools usually run for profit.

We give them our tax dollars.

They spend it wherever they want.

And, well, that’s it.

They do not have to account for where the money goes

– no public accounts

– no Board of Trustees

– and they do not have to be answerable under the Official Information Act.

With that in mind, it doesn’t take a PhD to work out why they are so appealing to some sectors, but just in case this is all new to you, let me make it plain…


You might be thinking that charter schools do better for kids, and that the money is well spent and the secrecy and skimming off of money as profit is all worthwhile if it gets kids a better education.

downward trendWell that might be a good argument if it were true, but let’s just check the facts:

  • Better results?  A study released on August 22, 2006 by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found that students in charter schools performed several points worse than students in traditional public schools in both reading and maths on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test.
  • Better Results for Students?  A Stanford University study found that a “quarter of New Jersey charter schools have below-average growth and below-average achievement in maths, and the same is true for 35 percent of the charter schools in reading. Students in these schools will not only have inadequate progress in their overall achievement but will fall further and further behind their peers in the state over time.”
  • Eeek! Another USA-wide study found that only 17% of students in charter schools nationwide did better than the students in their districts, with 37% doing worse, and the rest about the same.  Hardly a great leap forward, then, for our ‘long tail of under-achievment‘.  Source
  • Finding and Retaining Great Staff? In Michigan, the state government decided it was tired of all the fiscal woes of certain districts, so it handed them to emergency managers, who gave them to for-profit operators.  Chaos.  The charter operator fired all the teachers and hired new ones who cost less.  Within the first month, 20 of the 80 teachers quit. Source
  • More for the principal – less for the teachers  In Indiana, the average public school administrator (principal) earns $45-59k more than a teacher at the same school.  In the same district, charter school administrators earn $52-92k more than their teachers.  So in the extreme cases they earn twice that of their public school counterparts.  Want to know where that money comes from?  Well the average teacher in an Indiana public school earns about $52k, whereas the teachers (trained and untrained) in charters earn $35-37k.  So in charters, the teachers get about $15k less, but the administrators get heaps more.   You can just imagine the high quality, well-motivated staff that must attract…  Source
  • upward trend dollarsWhere Does The Money Go?   Well why not go to this conference and find out… “Private Equity Investing in For-Profit Education Companies – How Breakdowns in Traditional Models &Applications of New Technologies Are Driving Change”   The description: “Private equity investing in for-profit education is soaring, and for good reason — the public and non-profit models are profoundly broken. This is why for-profit education is one of the largest U.S. investment markets, currently topping $1.3 trillion in value.”   The advert goes on to say  “What are some of the main challenges that Private Equity investors are facing in the education sector?”   And as one commentator pointed out, for businesses the answer seems to be that the problem is the teachers, who therefore need to be silenced.  Source 1   Source 2.   Well dear reader, do you still think it’s all about education?
  • Oh wait, there’s more about $$$ … Check out this agenda for the 2013 Education Summit in Arizona. (   The April 17th panel at 4:35 p.m. will include Ron Packard (of K12 Inc.) and other profiteers discussing, “A Class of Their Own: From Seed to Scale in a Decade: What Does it take for an Education Company to Reach $$$1Billion?”  Remember, that’s YOUR tax money there.  Nice eh?
  • What Happens When The Investors Don’t See Enough Bang For Their Buck?  Well they shut the schools and colleges down.  Out go the kids.  Because, lets face it, it’s about $$$$ and if it’s not bringing enough moolah in, then they close shop.  Nice eh?  Source

As Prof Peter O’Connor said “Charter schools are part of an international Right-wing attack on progressive and humanist traditions of education… The attack is not driven by a genuine desire to remedy the ills of the education system, but by the desire to create a cheaper teaching force, one that is shackled by narrow-minded, test-based accountability measures, and one that has less union power to fight back.”   Source.

Oh I could go on all night (and in my head, I do), but you get the drift:  Undervalued teachers, dollar signs flashing left, right and centre, and the kids caught in the middle.

Do you truly think handing schools over to money-makers and marginalising educators will help our students learn?

Does this really and truly sound like the answer to you?


Further reading:

NAct’s Vision for NZ Education (You Scratch My Back and I’ll Scratch Yours)

Are NZ Charter Schools A Done Deal?

The Johns

So, I just got my grubby mits on a copy of a rather interesting document signed by the Johns Key and Banks that has some very interesting things to say about the changes to New Zealand’s education system.

It tells me (I feel with a fanfare and maybe a drum roll intro) that “National and ACT agree to establish an implementation group comprising a private sector chair, and private sector, business, iwi and community representatives along with government officials to develop the proposal.  They also agree to ensure it is implemented within this Parliamentary term.”

– Note the term implementation group – not a group to investigate whether it is a good (or sane) proposal, but one to help implement it.  Rather as if it’s a foregone conclusion.

– Note there is no mention of any educational representative in the group at all – not one.  A totally new way of educating our children and not one teacher, professor, principal or teacher aide is on the panel.  Really?  I mean, is it just me, or is that just plain crazy?

– Note they were focused on pushing this through right from the get-go.  This document is from 2011.

Christchurch, South Auckland and “Other Areas of Low Educational Performance”

As for the oft-repeated “we are listening and “nothing is set in stone” assertions of Hekia Parata and Lesley Longstone regarding the sweeping proposals in Christchurch, this document says quite clearly that “A series of charters would initially be allocated in areas such as South Auckland and Christchurch.

The document also states that “Initially the system will be implemented in areas such as South Auckland and central/eastern areas of Christchurch.  Once successfully established, and as fiscal conditions permit, the system would be extended to other areas of low educational performance.”  First of all, I am not at all happy about the use of the word ‘will’, again implying this is a done deal.  Secondly, is Eastern Christchurch really an area of low educational performance?  And even it it were, how will charter schools with untrained staff and a management focused on money-making be the answer to improving things for those children?

And remember, this document is dated December 2011, well before the Christchurch proposals were laid out for schools and the public.

Does that sound like genuine consultation to you?

Just what is really going on here?

But Our Charter Schools Will Be Modelled On Successful, Fabulous Overseas Ones, Right?

The NAct document tells us that “The [charter school] approach is modelled on successful international examples such as the KIPP schools in the US and to some extent on the system of ‘free’ schools currently being introduced in the UK.”

Oh that’s okay then, for a minute there I thought it was modelled on something crazy, like:

  • Schools that actively seek out more “motivated and compliant” students [2]
  • Schools that take in high achieving students over low achieving ones [2]
  • Schools that look for families with motivated and supportive parents [2]
  • Schools that typically have lower concentrations of special education and English as a second language students, than the public schools from which they draw [3] [7]
  • Schools where a huge proportion of students leave prematurely [2]
  • Schools where minority students are the majority of those leaving early! [7]
  • Schools where the teacher can have no teacher training or qualification at all. [8]

Oh wait…

Seriously, NAct is proposing a model of schools to deal with our most disadvantaged and poorly performing students that is known to have very serious flaws.

Tell me again how this will help them?

Just How DO Charters Achieve Their Miracles?

I have yet to hear one single thing from NAct explaining just HOW exactly charters will improve things.  It’s not an unreasonable thing to ask.  What is it that charters will do that public schools cannot?  What miraculous methods will they employ?

The reason I am so curious is that in the USA, children in charter schools have about a 17% chance of getting a better education in a charter but a 37% chance of getting a WORSE one.  [5] [6] This year, in England, exam passes for English and Maths were better in public schools than in the new Academies.

KIPP schools get some great write ups in research, and on the face of it they do fairy well, but that’s not the whole story.   As Diane Ravitch and Gerald Coles point out, “the research KIPP relies on [to prove they are doing so well] was funded by corporations and foundations that have previously given KIPP millions of dollars.” [4]  Hardly what you might call unbiased research then?

Coles asks:  “Can there be any bias in research bankrolled by the corporate contributors of the very company whose product the researchers were expected to validate? We are all familiar with the long history of industry-supported research, such as that of tobacco, drug, auto, and coal companies, all conducted by credentialed researchers, all of whom invariably produced findings that supposedly confirmed the value and safety of the products they were paid to investigate. This research on KIPP schools can be described in various ways, but “independent” surely has to take at least second place to “KIPP-funders funded research.”

The unbiased, independent research is not nearly as positive about charters, be they KIPP or otherwise.

So, if NAct is telling us charters will improve things here, I want to see some good, hard INDEPENDENT facts explaining how.

But Bad Charters Are Shut Down, Eh?

Newsweek observed that “charter schools are laboratories where educational ideas are tested. If a charter school is failing after three to five years, it is supposed to be closed down, freeing up a slot for another educational entrepreneur.” [6]  This is worrying.  What if your child is in a failing school for the whole 3-5 years it is experimenting away merrily?

And even after they are identified, poorly performing charter school are not always shut – Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) report shows that whilst the charter schools movement has been good at starting up new schools, they have not been good at closing those that are failing. So they might carry on for a long, long time, producing poor results and disadvantaging their students.

How is that any better than the system we have now? It addresses nothing.

Do you want your child to be in an experimental school, possibly with untrained staff, while the school’s sponsors (not necessarily anything to do with education at all) see if their unproven ideas will work?

No, me neither.

Don’t sit by an passively let this happen – you will live to regret it, and your children doubly so.


DO SOMETHING:  Make a submission to parliament


Sources and further reading:

[1] National-ACT Confidence and Supply Agreement (2011) –

[2] Wikipedia –

[3] Student Characteristics and Achievement in 22 KIPP Middle Schools KIPP Schools –

[4] A Challenge to KIPP –

[5] Standford University’s  Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) reports on Charter Schools –

[6] Understanding Charter Schools – Newsweek –

[7] “Fifteen percent of KIPP students leave each year, five times the rate of the school districts from which the organization draws students, the study found, citing federal data.  Forty percent of black males depart KIPP from sixth- to eighth-grade and more low-performing kids leave and aren’t replaced.” –

[8] Education Amendment Bill – NZ Charter (or Partnership) Schools (see Factsheet 2) –

So, Charter Schools Are Better, Are They?

Be afraid.  Be very, very afraid.  Charter schools may sound like a miracle from heaven, but a little research shows the truth is not nearly as rosy.

Here’s just a selection of the articles I’ve found that make me concerned about charter schools:


“If u posted a blog about the need 4 more giraffes in elementary school lunch rooms, 57 charter advocates would post comments about charters.

Charter cheerleaders are relentless; evangelical soldiers in the reform wars, they are absolutely convinced that charters are laboratories full of innovation and creativity.

And it matters little to them that the vast majority of the evidence piled up on charters shows little to no average effect on student achievement. The beauty of charters, you see, is that the17% of them that do better than pubic schools hold the key to saving our “failing” students. If we can look at these “successful” charters and tease out what makes them so awesome, we can spread the awesomeness around to everyone.As I see it, there are three problems with this argument…”

Read more here


“A West Oakland church school that makes its students ask for money at BART stations appears to have vastly inflated its enrollment (sic) numbers to collect extra taxpayer funding, some of which goes to a teacher who former students say physically abused them and other children.And for years, St. Andrew Missionary Baptist Church and private school has operated with virtually no government oversight despite repeated red flags. The K-12 school is run by Robert Lacy, 79, a pastor who pleaded guilty in 2007 to theft of government money for taking his deceased father’s Social Security payments.”

Read more here.


“It’s New Jersey School Choice Week. Gov. Chris Christie signed a proclamation encouraging all citizens to “join the movement for educational reform.”

Or, at least, his brand of reform, one that includes cutting $1 billion from traditional public schools while spending taxpayer money on independent schools that have somehow failed to enroll New Jersey’s neediest children, those with handicaps, language problems, and very low income…”

Read more here.


“Carol Burris, who was recently named to the honor roll as a hero of public education, wrote a letter to President Obama. Carol understands how excessive testing is harming students and demoralizing teachers. She warns the President how this policy–at the heart of Race to the Top–will do increasing damage as it is institutionalized.”

Read more here.


“The group portrait shows wide variation in performance. The study reveals that a decent fraction of charter schools, 17 percent, provide superior education opportunities for their students. Nearly half of the charter schools nationwide have results that are no different from the local public school options and over a third, 37 percent, deliver learning results that are significantly worse than their student would have realized had they remained in traditional public schools.”

Read more here.


“Charter schools have taken on an almost mythic quality. Touted by politicians, the subject of Hollywood films, the darlings of Wall Street: listening to the marketing, you would think charter schools were the saviors of American children…”

Read more here.


Little or no accountability, weaker kids dumped, schools as businesses massaging the figures to keep the business going, huge attrition rates, and for all that they still don’t do very well.

Whatever you believe, you owe it to your children and yourself to learn more about charter schools before it’s too late for New Zealand.


Stanford University Research on Charter Schools (USA)

Stanford University released its report, Multiple Choice: Charter School Performance in 16 States, on 15th June 2009.

“[T]he Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University found that there is a wide variance in the quality of the nation’s  several thousand charter schools with, in the aggregate, students in charter schools not faring as well as students in traditional public schools.  

While the report recognized a robust national demand for more charter schools from parents and local communities, it found that 17 percent of charter schools reported academic gains that were significantly better than traditional public schools, while 37 percent of charter schools showed gains that were worse than their traditional public school counterparts, with 46 percent of charter schools demonstrating no significant difference.” (1)

In a press conference, Margaret Raymond, director of CREDO and lead author of the report, said  “We are worried by these results … This study shows that we’ve got a 2-to-1 margin of bad charters to good charters.” (2)

The Stanford report offered some encouraging news  regarding students in poverty and English-language learners, saying they outperformed their public-school peers in both reading and math.  However, learning gains for black and Hispanic charter-school students were significantly lower than those of their traditional-school twins, and as Charter Schools enroll more poor, black and Latino pupils this is a concern.

How Charter Schools would play out in New Zealand for students in similar groups  is unclear.






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