It is frankly disturbing that the Nats care so little about education that they make major policy decisions on the fly, as part of political agreements with minnow political support “party” ACT. Neither ACT nor National went in to the election campaigning for charter schools, and now without any consultation or (I’d bet good money) serious consideration of the evidence, charter schools are to be introduced.
They’re calling it a “trial” this time, instead of a brute force national standards approach, but it is clear that this development fits the Nats’ profit driven ideology. Derek Cheng at The Herald has a reasonable first look at the issue and even manages to find some balance:
Schools plan ‘bulk funding in drag’
The Labour Party and teacher unions are panning a National-Act proposal for charter schools as a step towards privatising the education system with a proposal that neither party put forward before the election.
Charter schools – effectively state-funded private schools – will be introduced to South Auckland and Christchurch within the next three years as part of the confidence and supply deal between the National and Act parties. The goal of charter schools is to lift the performance of low-achieving students by giving schools more flexibility and autonomy – including the possibility of for-profit private management, an independent curriculum and performance-pay for teachers, which teach unions are vehemently opposed to.
Charter schools will be expected to be faith-based with an academic focus on approved curriculum and qualifications. They can raise revenue through partnerships or sponsorship with iwi, community groups or the private sector. …
But NZEI president Ian Leckie said the Government had no mandate for charter schools. “Overseas experience shows they can take students and money away from existing schools, undermine communities and increase social segregation. They are also less accountable. “New Zealanders should be very concerned that Act is suddenly shaping and dictating key education policy.” Labour’s education spokeswoman Sue Moroney called the trial “bulk-funding in drag” and exposed National’s true colours. …
Charter schools overseas have had mixed results, with some improved learning outcomes amid accusations they have been used as a vehicle for religious indoctrination. … The New Zealand model will be based on the Knowledge is Power Programme in the US – which involves about 100 schools and 27,000 students from primary to high school- and to some extent the UK system. KIPP has been lauded for improvements in maths and reading, but criticised for selecting the most motivated students; the National-Act proposal is for charter schools to have to accept all student applicants, regardless of academic ability.
As a very first look at the issue, concerns about the efficacy of these schools seem well founded. Educational historian Dianne Ravitch used to be a strong supporter of charter schools (and national standards), but the evidence has changed her mind:
Scholar’s School Reform U-Turn Shakes Up Debate
Diane Ravitch, the education historian who built her intellectual reputation battling progressive educators and served in the first Bush administration’s Education Department, is in the final stages of an astonishing, slow-motion about-face on almost every stand she once took on American schooling.
Once outspoken about the power of standardized testing, charter schools and free markets to improve schools, Dr. Ravitch is now caustically critical. She underwent an intellectual crisis, she says, discovering that these strategies, which she now calls faddish trends, were undermining public education. She resigned last year from the boards of two conservative research groups.
“School reform today is like a freight train, and I’m out on the tracks saying, ‘You’re going the wrong way!’ ” Dr. Ravitch said in an interview. Dr. Ravitch is one of the most influential education scholars of recent decades, and her turnaround has become the buzz of school policy circles. …
Here’s Ravtich on the efficacy of charter schools (in a piece critiquing a film on the topic):
The Myth of Charter Schools
… Some fact-checking is in order, and the place to start is with the film’s quiet acknowledgment that only one in five charter schools is able to get the “amazing results” that it celebrates. Nothing more is said about this astonishing statistic. It is drawn from a national study of charter schools by Stanford economist Margaret Raymond (the wife of Hanushek). Known as the CREDO study, it evaluated student progress on math tests in half the nation’s five thousand charter schools and concluded that 17 percent were superior to a matched traditional public school; 37 percent were worse than the public school; and the remaining 46 percent had academic gains no different from that of a similar public school. The proportion of charters that get amazing results is far smaller than 17 percent.
Like Ravitch, but for different reasons, the creator of charter schools in America has changed his mind on their value. From the same piece:
… charter schools were created mainly at the instigation of Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers from 1974 to 1997. Shanker had the idea in 1988 that a group of public school teachers would ask their colleagues for permission to create a small school that would focus on the neediest students, those who had dropped out and those who were disengaged from school and likely to drop out. He sold the idea as a way to open schools that would collaborate with public schools and help motivate disengaged students. In 1993, Shanker turned against the charter school idea when he realized that for-profit organizations saw it as a business opportunity and were advancing an agenda of school privatization.
Once again, under National, we get to repeat an experiment that failed 20 years ago. All cooked up on the back of an envelope in a coalition deal. Education deserves much better.