In NZ too – Teacher Unions against helping if they lose control

The opposition and teacher unions continue to rail against charter schools despite mounting evidence overseas that charter schools massively help amongst the poor and disadvantaged.

Forbes magazine has an article about charter schools that shows that charter schools are doing well for their student and the unions are a road block to success.

They look at a recent CREDO study that found:

While overall charters and public schools compare relatively closely, both the 2009 and 2013 study found that charters did better for students in poverty. In addition, performance gap is growing over time:

Charter school impacts with students in poverty and English language learners were positive in 2009 in both reading and math. These positive results have sustained and in fact increased in 2013.

And the results are especially strong for black students in poverty. As the CREDO study reports:

“Black students in poverty who attend charter schools gain an additional 29 days of learning in reading and 36 days in math per year over their [traditional public school] counterparts (see Figure 30). This shows the impact of charter schooling is especially beneficial for black students who in poverty.”

You see this result repeated on other studies as well. Using randomized study results from charter school lotteries in Massachusetts, Angrist, Pathak, and Walters find that non-urban charters don’t outperform public schools and may even do worse, but urban charter schools benefit black students and poor students:

Black and Hispanic students benefit considerably from urban charter attendance in middle school, but the estimated math gains for whites are smaller, with no increase in whites’ ELA scores. Urban charter middle schools appear to produce especially large achievement gains for students eligible for a subsidized lunch and for those with low baseline scores.Attendance at urban charter high schools increases math scores in every group and raises reading scores for everyone except whites, though estimates for small groups are imprecise.

It’s hard to imagine it another policy being called a failure because it only benefitted poor students and black students but the overall scores were held down by non-urban schools and white students.  

The emphasis is mine but accurately sums up precisely where the jihad against charter schools in NZ goes wrong. Every time the union and the opposition open their gobs to oppose charter schools what they are saying is that the poor and under privileged don’t matter to them, and union hegemony of our education is more important than the kids.

As a result, I think charter critics who draw on empirical research that compares outcomes are fighting a losing battle. The charter sector is outperforming public schools by some measures already, but more importantly they are getting better over time. I have little doubt that the next CREDO study will show charters making even more gains. Critics determined to oppose charters should start to pivot now, because they are standing on a leg that will give out eventually.

The charter sectors’ ability to do better for poor students and black students is important given that they disproportionately serve them. I remember when I was an undergrad in the early 2000s, the debates on charter schools were far more theoretical than they are now. Back then I frequently heard the concern that charter schools were just going to engage in “cream skimming”, be a way for middle class white families to escape urban school systems, and thus serve as one more form of segregation in this country. This concern has not come true, and currently 53% of charter students are in poverty compared 48% for public schools. Charters also serve more minority students than public schools: charters are 29% black, while public schools are 16%. So not only do they serve more poor students and black students, but for this group they relatively consistently outperform public schools.

What’s odd is how often these facts go ignored. If the opposite were true, and charters served less minority or low-income students than public schools then it this would be trumpeted constantly and presented as perhaps the most important evidence in this debate. Or if charters showed strong positive results overall but didn’t benefit poor students or black students they would be condemned as institutions that further inequality. I’m not accusing anyone of conscious bias here, but I think if the empirical research on any other policy showed similar results that charters do for poor students and black students it would be far more widely embraced, and the average effects would be downplayed as less important.

I doubt Chris Hipkins has the wit to look at the empirical evidence, much less analyse it to see that his implaccable opposition of charter schools on behalf of the teacher unions is not only wrong headed, but wrong based on the available facts.


– Forbes


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  • The Whinging Pom

    But isn’t this the sort of problem Angry Andy is going to address in his crusade to ensure that Labour connects once again with its former core supporters?

    • MaryLou

      Absolutely. If he gets into power he’ll address it by shutting them down. The core, of course, being Unions.

  • Pluto

    Trouble for Chippy is once he was so vehemently opposed to charter schools he can’t find the wit or courage to admit he was wrong, in spite of all the evidence.
    He’s being shunted down a one-way street by the teachers unions with no room for a U-turn. Labour will be in government sometime, lets hope they’ve had the fortitude to look at this with an open mind before then.

  • oldmanNZ

    Teachers Unions are just that, Unions.
    Might as well take the “teacher ” out as they not in the interest of teachers or students, just unions.

    With Angry “cut the crap” Andy in charge, his vision, as said in his speeches, “I want to make the rules, not follow them”, and reference to the 1940’s post war depression when union was strong, he wants to make unionism strong again.
    That mean taking out any business without unions out, successful or not.

    • He wants to make the rules does he, but not follow them; quite anarchistic.

      I have always said though, that rules are for the guidance of the wise and the binding of fools. The latter aspect fits Angry Andy quite well.

  • Allyson

    Labours education policy of total suppliance to their Union buddies is a disgrace. If Hipkins and his Labor mates want to stand in the way of improvements in educational outcomes, he must be destroyed.

    • Dave

      If you think the system of evaluating teachers, and capitulating to unions is bad now, imagine what it will be like if Angry Little Andy ever gets near power.

  • Je Suis Charlie – Respect!!

    The son of a good friend of mine wad attending a “good” school in dunedin, but wasnt doing well. He was just below average and trying hard but the teachers efforts went into the high fliers and the school team atheletes.

    They decided that it would be benificial if he went to an out side agency to finish his year (last year – along with 30 others). He is thriving in his new environment and talking of uni now. Before this he was moody and a typical teen with no prospects and a chip on his shoulder.

    Initialy his parents figured the school were doing the right thing by their son but then they met some other parents and discovered their kids were being removed so their low ncea scores wouldnt impact on the schools record.

    The sooner they bring in accountability and quality testing for nz teachers the better. Its a rorte at the moment with no accountability and any failure of the teachers is blamed on students or add adhd or whatever. Why is it the current system is so flawed it has evolved with the times but somewhere the ability to teach students was left behind.

  • Mick Ie

    Labour and the Unions know their very existence is threatened by education.
    This is why they will never accept alternative education and the achievements that come with it.
    Their failing attempts at trying to dumb down the masses is one of the reasons they are still in opposition and why their support numbers are continuously dropping off.
    They need the majority of workers to be uneducated, non achieving/unemployable or at the very least, low paid for them to ever be relevant again.
    It isn’t going to happen.

  • xennex

    I know you like to bang on about how good charter schools are, but I believe that many of the examples you give are cherry picked.
    For example, looking at student performance is not a good measure, as charter schools schools attach a higher quality student to begin with. The accepted measure is the change is learning. By that measure charter schools are no better / no worse than traditional schools. See and the image from the Standford study.
    The second thing would be that a lot of US data is translated to NZ. Is that a good assumption to make?
    Charter schools are relatively new, but so far they are not the silver bullet.
    What does affect many students is the power of the teachers union to protect poorly performing teachers. This is the low hanging fruit which should be cleared out before anything else.

    • Cadwallader

      Whether Charter Schools are a silver bullet or not, it is too early to confirm, but the important fact here is: They are a choice for parents who truly care about their children. The teachers’ union seems to resent the existence of Charter Schools for that reason alone. If they are fearful of the existence of Charter Schools, I construe the Unions are fearful of obsolescence.

      • xennex

        Yes, the union’s first prerogative is to defend their power by defending their members (and the contributions those members make).
        In the US charter schools are about 7% of students but the surprising statistic (to me) is that 3% of students are home schooled.

  • Jim Benson

    A note of caution. The well-performing Charter Schools in NY were based on discipline, hard work and a rigorous approach to learning. It remains to be seen whether NZ Charters schools will adopt those philosophies. My fear is that they may just become “alternative” schools that the kids enjoy going to while not learning much. Witness Kohanga Reo and immersion schools- Charter schools by another name. The results are not promising.