Guest Post – The pseudo-moral outrage over Charter Schools

by Alwyn Poole

The NZEI/PPTA are continuing with their pseudo moral outrage around Charter/Partnership Schools in an effort to influence the submission process to government around the relevant Bill. As do some of the political opponents. The level of monologue from them is well below what you would expect in public discourse from people that you would have thought had to have some intellect to get in to the positions they are in. The hype reached a new, and tedious, low in the last few days with the PPTA criticizing John Banks for asking for public submissions on the bill while at the same time setting up a form document so their members don’t have to think to submit:

Then Tracey Martin of NZ First regurgitates some of the rants:

“New Zealand First says the Government is attempting to sneak through unpopular changes which will destroy our public education system.”


“The Education Amendment Bill requires comment on Charter Schools which will become cash cows for foreign investors.”

The other recourse of the unions is to take a mono-cultural country (Finland) where every teacher is required to have a post graduate qualification and say we need to be like them in all of our provisions. Or to state, despite recent trends that we are “world class”. This ignores the fact that for children from lower socio-economic homes and Maori and Pacific Island communities the differentials are huge (e.g. a 20% differential for Maori to non-Maori and Level 2 NCEA in 2011) and that recent TIMMS reports had NZ sliding. The “more money” argument doesn’t work either – New Zealand is the highest spender per capita in the OECD in this area.

Almost every family will tell you that there is a “could do better” aspect to their child’s education. New Zealand is a small incredibly well resourced country and every community should be utterly dissatisfied until our education system is world leading and no child falls through the cracks. The children of this nation are that important. It seems completely against the mentality of the unions and others with a vested interest in education to be positive and put the children first.

What is the Charter School Opportunity?

The model is simple and aspects of it have been applied overseas with mixed results but enough indicators that if it is done well can help many children without hindering others. With an outstanding positive approach in New Zealand this can be completely NZ designed for NZ children and their families and – and where it is relevant – the best of the overseas aspects can be applied also.

The key to success is an outstanding application and permission process and strict ongoing accountability.

Private organisations (with permission) will be able to set up Partnership Schools and offer places to children. Those children will take something like their state funding to the new school (i.e. this is near fiscally neutral). No child will be compelled to attend and the focus (quite clearly under the proposed legislation) is to be on children who are otherwise not achieving. Where schools are oversubscribed a ballot will be applied. If what is offered is not good enough then people will not choose to send their children to those schools.

For Maori and Pacific Island communities this is a genuine opportunity to intervene in the quality of educational outcomes for their children and to take greater ownership of the well being of their youth.

For families where they feel that the “one size fits all” model is not working for their children this is an opportunity to co-operate and work on micro-schools with particular niches that allow their children to get through the qualification hoops and have greater choices going into adulthood.

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).

It is not that some of these educational innovations that will occur are not occurring in state schools or over time but the inertia is massive and the level of opposition from the unions to any kind of change is a significant barrier.

One aspect used to fuel the opposition fervour is that of saying people shouldn’t “profit from education” (e.g the “cash cow” nonsense from Tracey Martin). As I stated in an earlier post  – this is a complete red herring. Many people already make money through education in NZ – including Tracey Martin  – most via the taxpayer. 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 aren’t worthy of receiving income from it and yet they are.

The second point, also previously made, is that it is highly unlikely that significant profits will be made – the foreseeable opportunities are too small and many of the groups who will be interested will do so on a non-profit basis. However – 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 – is there any real issue with them receiving a return on that? The current opponents would be very hypocritical to maintain that there is.

I have also previously commented on the unqualified teachers aspect but to summarise: Children deserve very good teachers in front of them and what they currently have is a mix and Principals have very little discretion to provide incentives through rewarding good teachers/teaching. 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.

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 “untrained” people who have come in and expertly contributed to teaching modules are – 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 “qualified” 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 “business” skills (e.g. budgeting, property management, personal management) it is precious and again, patch protection, to consider that someone from a business background can’t learn education sector skills.

The children of NZ, current and future, need educators to have ideals and vision. When I was studying at university in the 1980’s and 90’s one of the main areas of discussion was the major “tail” in New Zealand’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 people with the well being of New Zealand children in mind should be in behind it. The aims would be to guarantee that this works for the children that are currently failing while protecting the integrity and enhancing the positive effects of the state, private (fee paying), and integrated systems. 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. The opportunities for young people are outstanding but there is a massive dichotomy in terms of the choices available to those with qualifications and those without. Every effort must be made to find pathways for every child – even if that feels threatening to adults in positions of power within education in New Zealand.

One aspect of submission that is important (and here I agree with the unions) is that these schools must be highly accountable for their use of taxpayer funds. If that is not to be through the OIA (as private organisations) then there must be another very transparent means of accounting for their use of taxpayer funds.

The PPTA thinks all of New Zealand is on holiday  but if you have the time you can submit to the select committee on the Education Amendment Bill.

We live in a free thinking democracy with respect for intelligence so I won’t tell you what to think and/or write.

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 Cuthbert’s. For the last ten years I have designed and run Mt Hobson Middle School as a school for 50 children in Newmarket (as a charitable trust) and believe that the model can be broadly applied in NZ communities to improve outcomes for children that attend. Always happy to have people come in to discuss education and see the work we do with children. Three children myself – now at University.

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

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