by Alwyn Poole
Since the post election agreement between National and Act declaring that Partnership (formerly Charter) Schools would be a feature of the elected governmentâ€™s education policy there has been more misinformation spoken and press released than on a teenagerâ€™s facebook page.
Having been involved in teaching children for 20 years the most disappointing thing has been who the current opponents are, the protection of their patch (as opposed to care for children), and the disingenuous nature of their pronouncements.
This is a proposal worth fully considering so I have taken the time to research and write a full post. .
Similar models have been adopted overseas. Because current opponents assume a nationwide anti-American sentiment their focus has been on the US models. They have grasped desperately at aspects of the â€śCredoâ€ť study and that the results have so far been mixed. What they havenâ€™t been prepared to acknowledge is that there has been some significant successes depending on how the model is implemented and state by state. They have also not disseminated the main point â€“ that the effect on the poor and disadvantaged groups has been positive (i.e. the groups that this is initially aimed at in NZ).
Â â€śrecent work by Mathematica, an independent policy group, suggests that the Credo study is sound. The bigger problem is that its findings have been misinterpreted. First, the children who most need charters have been served well. Credo finds that students in poverty and English language learners fare better in charters. And a national â€śmeta-analysisâ€ť of research, done last year for the Centre on Reinventing Public Education in Seattle, found charters were better at teaching elementary-school reading and mathematics, and middle-school mathematics. High-school charters, though, fared worse. Another recent study in Massachusetts for the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that urban charter schools are shown to be effective for minorities, poor students and low achievers.â€ť
â€śSecond, charter school performance is not so â€śmixedâ€ť if you look at the data on a state-by-state basis, rather than across the country as a whole.â€ť
â€śTraditional public schools no longer have the excuse that they cannot be blamed for the poor performance of children because of their background; so competition from charters may improve standards in non-charters, too.â€ť
Other media and research conclude:
â€śIn New York, charters are oversubscribed. This spring, according to Joel Klein (former chancellor of New York Cityâ€™s public schools) writing in the Wall Street Journal, some 67,000 New York kids applied for fewer than 15,000 openings in charters. â€śThese kids,â€ť Klein notes, â€śare almost entirely from low-income African-American and Latino families. Those families, desperately in search of a better education for their kids, are clearly voting with their feet. The recent test scores confirm they know what they’re doing.â€ť
â€śThe Success schools (Charter) are performing at the same level as NYC’s gifted and talented schools that select kids based solely on rigorous tests.â€ť
â€śAs recent performance data demonstrates, New Jerseyâ€™s charter schools are largely on the right track. In the five largest urban school districts in New Jersey, a higher percentage of students in charter schools are demonstrating proficiency or higher when compared to students in their respective urban school districts. In Newark, for example, charter schools performed 25 percentage points higher than district schools in math and 21 percentage points higher in language arts in 2010 – 2011.â€ť
It is acknowledged that there have been failures (as there are in State schools in all countries). The advantage of NZ is that other countries have done much of the experimenting for us and we can emulate the best models; e.g. Andre Agassiâ€™s school in Las Vegas.
Current opponents seem to think that if they keep saying that the NZ education system is â€śworld classâ€ť then the significant portion of the population whose children are failing and having their life choices massively restricted will look the other way. If what we have is world class then â€śworld classâ€ť is not good enough. No one involved in education should be anything like satisfied until we are absolutely world leading â€“ for all groups.
Profit from Education
Current opponents are trying to demonise the model through the prospect that schools may be run for profit. The inference is that people making money from educating children are exploiting the taxpayer and the poor.
The first point on this is that many people already make money through education in NZ â€“ most via the taxpayer. At the most basic level economic theory states that there are returns to providing resources to a production process â€“ wages/salaries, rent, interest and profit. Profit is simply the name for the return for providing some resources, taking the financial risks and organizing the process. Teachers make money (i.e. profit) from educating children, university lecturers in Education make profit from doing so, the education spokespeople of political parties profit from their positions, providers of services to schools make profits (e.g. electricity, IT, plumbers, builders, architects, etc), executives of education unions (e.g. PPTA, NZEI) most certainly financially profit from being involved in education. It is hard to see why many of these people seem to be saying that someone willing to take personal financial risks arenâ€™t worthy of receiving income from it and yet they are.
The second point is that it is highly unlikely that significant profits will be made â€“ the foreseeable opportunities are too small and many of the groups who will be interested will do so on a non-profit basis. However â€“ if an entrepreneur can set up a great school, inspire staff, improve the educational outcomes of a group of children and the flow-ons to their families â€“ is there any real issue with them receiving a return on that? The current opponents would be very hypocritical to maintain that there is.
Children deserve very good teachers in front of them. But who in NZ can put their hand on their heart and say that all â€śqualifiedâ€ť and registered teachers are effective. Having a degree and going to teachers college is no guarantee of quality and teachers (especially secondary) have long debated the worth of the year at their College of Education as opposed to on the job training and a qualification process through that. The outrage of the PPTA and NZEI here is simply protection of their patch and it is transparent. On Q&A Ian Leckie supposed to speak for every primary school teacher (except one) by saying that they are not interested in teaching in Partnership Schools (and are likely to be blacklisted if they did).
It is also ridiculous to say that time at a teachers college is the only pathway to being equipped to contribute to the education of young people (or is the equivalent of 10 years of medical training as some have tried to imply). In ten years of running a small middle school some examples of â€śuntrainedâ€ť people who have come in and expertly contributed to teaching modules are â€“ marine biologists, lawyers, surgeons, builders, architects, dancers, actors, directors, historians, archaeologists, politicians, pilots, military personal, rocket engineers, athletes, etc. Many, but not all have been volunteers. Is there really an issue with these people being paid for their time?
It has clearly been stated that the proportion and role of non-registered teaching staff will be a matter of school by school negotiation and, obviously, if parents are not satisfied with the quality of teaching their children are receiving they have the â€śqualifiedâ€ť state alternative to revert to.
Some current opponents have also expressed concern that the leader of a Partnership School will not necessarily have been a teacher. People other than teachers can care for children, understand learning, manage staff and may bring a managerial skill set that someone who has spent their career in the classroom has not had the opportunity to develop. A teacher moving into school management has to learn a plethora of â€śbusinessâ€ť skills (e.g. budgeting, property management, personal management) it is precious and again, patch protection, to consider that someone from a business background canâ€™t learn education sector skills.
The behaviour of the current opposition has been disappointing. They are clearly holding to the mantra that if you say things often enough and loud enough then it is true. However, this is a model that when applied effectively directly benefits the groups that people like Labour, Mana, NZ First, the Green Party, PPTA, NZEI claim to stand for (indeed identify as their political constituents). This is a model that one of the most comprehensive reports on concluded that:
â€śurban charter schools are shown to be effective for minorities, poor students and low achievers.â€ť
My only conclusion here is that they are worried that the National/Maori/ACT/United Future government may actually help many of these people.
The current opponents are groups that claim to stand for diversity, freedom and choice in our society. In this case it seems to be diversity only in so far as they come up with the policy.
The current opponents have also been disrespectful to the intelligence of the families of New Zealand. When further details were released last week â€“ instead of engaging in genuine discourse three of them came out with the â€ślipstick on a pigâ€ť comment â€“ in press releases within minutes of each other.
It would seem to me that the response to this that cares for the children of NZ would have been to say that:
â€śWe recognise that there are underachievement issues in NZ and that some groups are over-represented in the statistics. The children are so important that we will put aside premeditated politics (or perceived political gains) and get behind any innovations to help with the aim of ensuring that they are effective.â€ť
David Shearer can call for cross party work of superannuation. Are the vulnerable children not valued as highly as the voting elderly?
John Tamihere has seen the policy and opportunity for what it is and made that clear earlier this year on a radio interview when he stated that he wanted for the children of Henderson what the children of Epsom are getting. Why are the opponents of this policy intent on keeping this opportunity from them?
Green Party education spokesperson Catherine Delahunty has declined the invitation to come in to Mt Hobson Middle school to get an idea of what a partnership school may look like. Nanaia Mahuta has done the same. Winston Peters stood on the basis that he would support good policy no matter where it came from – NZ First Education spokesperson Tracey Martin is visiting later in the year and we will look forward to a positive discussion.
The current opponents keep using the term â€śmandateâ€ť. The theoretical advantage of MMP is that minority groups and small parties get an influence. The implication of the current opponents is that if you did not achieve 50% in the general election then you have no mandate for change (for example Ian Leckieâ€™s last statement on Q&A on August 5th). On this basis I would expect the Labour and Greens to change no laws if they are able to be a part of a future government (e.g. on the basis of the 32% and 12% respectively from the latest Colmar Brunton poll) as neither will have a â€śmandateâ€ť.
Not only is the lack of honesty and constructive discourse disrespectful to the general public the opponents are also disrespecting parents by telling them that they know best for their children. No one will be forced to go to Partnership Schools and they wonâ€™t be zoned. What is it about the opponents of the policy that they consider that parents lack the ability to make sound educational choices for their own children? Their fear is that parents will line up for these schools in droves (and they will if it is done properly).
The media is growing quickly in its balance and knowledge on this subject. They do keep bringing out the sensationalist issues of the Destiny Church and the possibility of someone teaching Intelligent Design. On those two â€“ the Destiny Church may well be positioned to deliver very good schooling to children in some areas and their members pay tax too. Many churches are involved in education in NZ. And is the idea that someone might teach the concept that an intelligent being is behind the creation of the universe and life on Earth so new and radical.
A growing number of reports and editorials are acknowledging the positives and possibilities of this proposal and some reporters (including Corin Dann on Q&A) are clearly doing some research rather that simply parroting the nonsense of the current opponents.
The children of NZ, current and future, need educators to have ideals and vision. When I was studying at Massey University in the 1980â€™s and 90â€™s one of the main areas of discussion was the major â€śtailâ€ť in New Zealandâ€™s education outcomes, social causes and the flow on effects. There have been improvements but despite the outstanding efforts of many people we are still a long way from solving these problems. Without significant change we will be having the same discussion 20 years hence.
This is a new opportunity and many good educators will say letâ€™s try it, letâ€™s innovate, letâ€™s make it a success of this as well as improving our state and private schools (outcomes that are clearly not mutually exclusive). We are now in the 21st Century after all and the current prevalent model was designed for the children of the Industrial Revolution not the children of the Information Revolution. Throughout this I have mentioned â€ścurrent opponentsâ€ť of the policy. I am very hopeful many of those currently speaking against Partnership Schools will put the children of New Zealand ahead of their own aspirations and preconceived ideas, consider carefully, get behind it and make it very much their business that this succeeds and that the government keep their word with regards to ensuring the quality and outcomes of the model. They may even work out that it could be politically expedient for them to do so.
Or will they stand in the way of a new opportunity for some of the children of New Zealand that has no inherent negative impacts for any others? Will they continue to try and score cheap points â€“ or will they serve the people?
Declaration of Background and Interest
I had a mother able to break out of an 11 child state home family. I was educated in state schools in Thames and Wanganui. Economics degree, teaching diploma, Masters degree in Education, Post Grad. diploma in Sports Management. Six years teaching at Tauranga Boys, one at Hamilton Boys, four at St Cuthbertâ€™s, ten at Mt Hobson Middle School. Three children – now at University. Very interested in working with others to explore the very best that Partnership schools may offer to the young of New Zealand.