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More willful ignorance on charter schools

Written By: - Date published: 10:35 am, April 29th, 2012 - 27 comments
Categories: education, schools, uncategorized - Tags: ,

Well all tend to see what we want to see, to confirm our biases, to select our facts to suit our purposes. Political right wingers seem to be particularly prone to constructing their own reality in this way. Take John Armstrong on the subject of charter schools, for example. Saturday last week he reported:

Charter school trials to take place across the country

The trialling of Act’s controversial plan to set up autonomous charter schools is now likely to take in poor towns and suburbs across the country, rather than being restricted to south Auckland and Christchurch.

This Saturday it was:

Softly, softly – Act’s subtle school tactic

The trial of two or more such schools – an Act-driven initiative which has National’s tacit blessing – could herald the most significant change in compulsory education since the Tomorrow’s Schools reforms of the late 1980s and the introduction of NCEA a decade or so later.

“Two or more such schools”? It’s going to be more, lots more, if the trials are to take place “in poor towns and suburbs across the country”. Armstrong is trying to downplay the risks of this large scale, and very unfortunate experiment. To do so of course he has to (as the PM so often does) denigrate the science that he wants to ignore:

Opponents of charter schools have already called in the heavy artillery in the form of a 101-page report produced by a clutch of Massey University education academics who have assessed the success or otherwise of overseas examples of charter schools.

A “clutch” of academics eh John? Your prejudice showing much? And they weren’t “called in” by anyone, they’re just doing their job.

The report might have been a valuable contribution to the debate. But any claim to objectivity was undermined by the authors’ obvious disdain for charter schools, which many on the left see as an abdication of the state’s responsibility to provide adequate schooling and a sell-out to profit-driven corporates.

What John means is that the report might have been a valuable contribution to the debate if it had confirmed his prejudices instead of confronting them. So he has to write the report off as biased. Typical right-wing willful ignorance (how unfortunate for them that “Reality has a well-known liberal bias”). Anyway – make up your own minds. A Massey University press release on the report is here, and the report itself is here.

Armstrong concludes:

Swaying public opinion to the extent necessary for the concept of charter schools to survive a change of government is a very tall order. But it is not one the Act pair will shy away from

Always supposing there is still an ACT Party next week of course.

27 comments on “More willful ignorance on charter schools ”

  1. ghostwhowalksnz 1

    My guess is the “charter” schools name will be ditched as part of the Isaac review. They have all ready voiced concerns about the american connotations of the name.
    And Isaacs as a PR person will be very attuned to that- she has no educational experience or knowledge- so she knows the ‘selling’ is her main task.
    My pick is they will become “Academy Schools” which is the UK term.

    The PR spin has begun with the above story by Armstrong.

    Interesting to hear the Heralds Education reporters view –hello does the Herald even have an Education reporter?

  2. happynz 2

    It’s interesting that he mentions KIPP (but only in passing as I suspect that Armstrong doesn’t really know much at all about that particular charter school organization). What isn’t mentioned is the high attrition rates of some KIPP-ran schools.

    As researchers analyzed the student achievement data and KIPP’s approach, they also identified challenges facing Bay Area KIPP schools, including high student attrition rates, teacher turnover, and low state and local funding. For example, 60 percent of students who entered fifth grade at four Bay Area KIPP schools in 2003-04 left before completing eighth grade. Annual teacher turnover rates have ranged from 18 to 49 percent since 2003-04.


    However, it is only fair to mention that the report does note some success by the KIPP organization.

    • Tony P 2.1

      Yes the reference to KIPP schools is a scary one when you read these:




      Very structured, emphasis on the required behaviour and the disciplinary actions against those that don’t follow the rules and what worries me too is this talk of children who are not reaching the required standards having to spend extra time in the classroom to try and make it up. Children need time to play/move/interact aS part of their learning. Being cooped up in the classroom for longer hours is really going to improve their attitude to learning-not.

      • Jackal 2.1.1

        +1 No Excuses schooling really does seem a bit counterproductive. It’s also statistically insignificant in comparison to for instance effective teachers. We need to find a way of keeping more good teachers in New Zealand. In my opinion, allowing non-qualified teachers and limiting procedural regulations is going to have a negative effect.

        I’m unsure why we’re basing any of our decisions on a United States model in the first place? Just look at the mess they’re in; The highest incarceration rate in the world, a privately owned federal reserve system up the wazoo and a lack of affordable housing leading to the highest and fastest growing per capita homeless rates in the developed world. Freedom… only if you can afford it.

        It’s typical of the rightwing to take something that’s working and privatise it for the profit motive, which will end up ruining it for the vast majority of students. Even their so-called success stories end up costing us billions with nothing to show for it. Having John Banks in charge of anything is a disaster waiting to happen.

  3. Blue 3

    If Key and Banks decided to invade Australia for lebensraum Armstrong would be giving them advice on how to sell it to the public.

    He seems to be pushing shit uphill with this one though. The poll on the Herald’s homepage is overwhelmingly against charter schools, and that’s the right-leaning audience voting.

    • mike e 3.1

      Our private schools can.t make ends meet without government stepping in to keep them going.
      Their academic records are skewed just like these charter schools thatsv why the turn over is hiigh they get rid of pupils that don’t do well under their regime to make the figures look good.

      • Stephen Doyle 3.1.1

        What chance any political party making the Kings of this world stand on their own feet, and channeling the money to low decile schools reading recovery teachers?

    • ghostwhowalksnz 3.2

      Teachers are big Herald readers and the Herald boosts circulation numbers by bulk school deliveries for nominal costs

  4. …as opponents try to mobilise the only weapon they have to halt or at least delay the concept becoming reality – public opinion.

    Well, the only weapon apart from “evidence,” but the govt seems impervious to that one…

  5. He does a remarkably clever job of covering Isaac’s role as chair of the charter schools working group while tip-toeing around the elephant that is the blatant cronyism of her appointment. Clever or not, the fact that Banks has put one of his party cronies in charge of the group means it has as much chance of being taken seriously by the sector as I do of being NZ’s next top model.

  6. BM 6

    Is a Kura Kaupapa a charter school?

    • ghostwhowalksnz 6.1

      Probably yes , in the sense of Charter schools in the US, but No when it comes to curriculum and teacher salaries and school year.

      NZ allows integrated schools for groups that want a different classroom experience but follow standard school guidelines and teacher pay.
      Even the Exclusive Brethren have their own schools in NZ, mostly paid for by the state.

    • Hateatea 6.2

      At present Kura Kaupapa are state schools http://www.minedu.govt.nz/Boards/LegalObligations/BoardsOfKuraKaupapaMaori.aspx
      I think it would also be fair to classify them as ‘special character’ schools. That is not to say that a Kura Kaupapa might be founded under the proposed Charter Schools proposal although it is difficult to see why anyone would want to. Perhaps there will be ‘incentives’ to attract one

  7. captain hook 7

    what is really wrong with charter schools is that the national government is using education as a slush fund to pay off its cronies.
    furthermore these cronies are usually dummies too which severely compounds the problem.

  8. dan1 8

    On one hand, the NACT Party is pushing national standards to get the failing students up to scratch. Schools who don’t follow this directive have been threatened with dismissal of their BOT, or cutting back on funding. Now we have a system that actively promotes the ability of schools to do their own thing: no syllabus requirements, no requirement for trained teachers. The two policies are totally contradictory, and both are wrong.
    The people who have some understanding of the issues involved are rubbished because they are biased. Anyone reading the literature would be biased.
    The notion of a national education system will rapidly vanish if this lot have their way

  9. fabregas4 9

    All schools in NZ have charters (which have been much cause of consternation as the govt pushes National Standards through these documents which must be submitted to the Ministry of Education who then, amazingly through a now three tier review process, decide if the schools charters meet their requirements). This includes Kura Kaupapa Maori.

    ‘Charter schools’ though have these characteristics (amongst others):

    Less reporting to Govt.
    Can set own employment conditions (that is outside of collective agreements)
    Can employ anyone as a teacher (qualified or not)
    Can set own school hours/lenght of school year.
    Can decide who they enrol and who they don’t.
    Can have own curriculum
    Can be run by anyone who is approved (by the govt) to run them.

    But are still (bulk) funded by the government.

    It is a tiny jump from the current Self Managing school system we have to most of this – the reality is this is neo liberalism 101, an attack on teachers unions, and an opportunity for right wing folk to criticize government run education and move its management to their mates whilst also ensuring a steady flow of cash through our taxes.

  10. When it comes to educational delivery there is nothing that Charter Schools can deliver that can’t be provided under our current system, in fact New Zealand schools are already self managed and can adapt their curriculum to meet the special needs of their children and communities. The only real differences between them are that charter schools can employ teachers outside of the collective agreement, they don’t have to base their curriculum on national guidelines and they can have their funding supplemented by private interests.

    In other words they can employ teachers without the same guidelines and vetting that ordinary schools have to adhere to, they can ignore the secularism that public schools support and can teach things like creationism if they want to. I can see an educational version of Pike River or leaky buildings in the making.

    There is no educational reason for this system to be introduced in Aotearoa.

  11. tc 11

    Armstrong is simply an extension of the NACT agenda masquerading as a serious journo…LOL.

    You can rely on JA to applaud warmly whatever they get up to, the consummate shill.

  12. Jimmie 12

    There is another option – instead of decrying the charter school idea as a waste of time (and presumably what is preferred is to keep the status quo) why not say well we’ll give it a go and if it doesn’t work then we will know, but however if it does improve achievement rates then may be it is what NZ needs.

    Can’t be any worse than our current education system that feed 25% of students into a life of benefit dependency, a life of crime, low skill/pay jobs, or see them flee to Aussie.

    Perhaps though, those who shout the loudest against it should come up with their own bright ideas on how to help these kids do well in school.

    Perhaps a good start would be to complete a survey of successful kids and find out what common factors in their background and personality that have assisted them to achieve.

    To me I think a lot of the struggling kids need to be picked when they are younger 7-10 years old, and then put resources (one on one tutoring?) in to help pick them up so that they have the basics in the 3 R’s at least.

    There is no point shoving them in to high school to learn algebra and calculus when the poor kid can hardly count his fingers or write his name.

    My mum used to do a lot of out of school tutoring for kids who were having difficulty, and over several months (by using alternative learning techniques) she helped them to grasp the basics of the 3R’s. Their parents were very happy with the results.

    • Colonial Viper 12.1

      Jimmie is saying please give this failed methodology a chance to fail NZ children too, not just foreign children.

      How open minded.

      • Jimmie 12.1.1

        Read the full post CV, thats what an ‘open minded’ person would do

        • handle

          Large NZ and overseas studies show the biggest factor is how rich a student’s family is. We do not need more research. As you say money needs to go into supporting the students who teachers already know need extra help.

        • McFlock

          It’s justified by the statement that charter schools “Can’t be any worse than our current education system that feed 25% of students into a life of benefit dependency, a life of crime, low skill/pay jobs, or see them flee to Aussie.”
          Yeah, it can be worse than 25%. And maybe we should try things that have actually worked, like funding additional tutors for all students who lag rather than just the kids whose parents can afford it.

      • felix 12.1.2

        I’ll give Jimmie a bit of credit, at least he has a couple of constructive ideas in there.

        But when you bemoan so many kids going into low skill, low wage jobs you need to look at the policy settings that actively encourage and entrench a low skill, low wage economy.

        Tutoring kids, that’s a good catch-up and it’ll always be necessary. But everyone knows you put the resources into early childhood so kids don’t fall behind at school. So this govt cuts ECE funding, cuts professional development, and replaces qualified teachers with babysitters. Umbishus for New Zild.

        And everyone knows we need more focus on skills and trade training. We have a city to build ffs. We need a generation of skilled tradespeople to build it, but that would’ve meant putting the resources into training on September 5th 2010. So this govt’s plan is to imort the skilled labour, but don’t worry: new call centre jobs instead. So umbishus.

        One more thing: no-one’s going to australia because of the education system Jimmie, they’re going for jobs. Well paid jobs that our govt thinks we’re not good enough for. Even for low skilled jobs with a decent minimum wage that our govt thinks we don’t deserve.

        Or maybe it is charter schools. Yep that’s the problem with NZ, we don’t have charter schools.

  13. captain hook 13

    where is the connection between learning something at school and getting a job?
    the economy supplies jobs.
    not schools.
    all that other stuff is just paulabeenitblather to disguise the fact that there are no jobs.
    except the ones supplied by the national party to its cronies.

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