To understand why a party does stuff, you have to go back to their core objectives. Simply looking at policies in isolation means missing the underlying goals. In particular, looking at policies that clearly don’t work to achieve their stated aims without context can lead you to the erroneous conclusion that a party is stupid or crazy. To understand why National is pushing ahead with charter schools and national standards/league tables, we need to remember what National is all about.
National doesn’t like public services, which have to paid for by tax (the horror, the horror) and it doesn’t like organised labour because that distorts the god-like allocative powers of the market (and the market must only be distorted in favour of the capital-owning haves, not the rest of us). It likes ‘freedom’ and ‘choice’, in other words in believes that access to resources and opportunities ought to be allocated on the basis of ability to pay because it believes that money comes to those who deserve it and it’s only right that society serves the interests of the morally deserving. In short, National believes in maintaining and enhancing the privileges of the elite that funds it, and that elite paying as little tax as possible.
What’s that you say? Maybe National is just trying to do something to improve education? That’s the old ‘something must be done, this is something, therefore, this must be done’ fallacy. If National cared about education, it would be emulating successful policies from abroad (much as Labour sought to emulate Australia’s successful monetary, savings, tax, and labour policies last election). Instead, it is running policies that have manifestly failed to improve educational outcomes abroad, and mostly taken them backwards. There has to be a reason for this arising from National’s underlying values.
So, let’s look at the long game of charter schools and national standards:
National standards will be used to generate league tables – this was always their purpose, there is no educational value to national standards because they don’t identify learning difficulties (there are other diagnostic tools for that) and there’s no resourcing, anyway, associated with national standards to tackle learning difficulties.
So, we get league tables. They tell us which schools are ‘doing well’ and which are ‘failing’. No surprises, it’s the ones with lots of kids that are living in poverty that are ‘failing’.
Charter schools lets private organisations take over ‘failing’ schools or set up competing ones. All funded by the government (as any good businessman knows, the way to get rich is to get the taxpayer to pay your salary). And these charter schools, unlike public schools, can take in the students of their choosing.
Naturally, they don’t let in the low-grade/high-c0st students. Just like privatised ACC, the private sector takes the cream and leaves the public sector to pick up the hard cases. They also get the best teachers because teachers are understandably lining up to work with schools full of the best pupils. And, thanks to those national standards, the league tables show that, sure enough, charter schools get better results for the same cost, or less per student. Which justifies cutting spending on those ‘failed’ schools.
Now, something like 70% of the cost of public education is wages. So, if you want to drive down education costs (= tax cuts! … for the rich at least) you have to cut teachers’ wages. Conveniently, charter schools, like private schools are outside of the ministry of education’s bargaining with the main teachers’ unions, weakening their bargaining power.
Naturally, the league tables also show that public sector teachers are obviously under-performing and don’t deserve more pay – in fact, maybe we need some union-busting legislation to get them off their arses. Most teachers are still employed by the public sector schools, of course, and their lower pay helps to depress wages for the bulk-funded charter school teachers and private school teachers.
And the elite get their elite schools without having to pay private school tuition, while the rest are dumped in under-funded public schools. Just as has happened in the UK and Sweden.
What does this do for educational outcomes? Not a jot of good, that’s for sure. In fact, you’ve increased the concentration of children with learning and/or social difficulties in certain schools by siphoning off the others. That’s just going to lead to worse educational outcomes for the kids who already have it worst.
So, once we see the underlying objectives of National, we can understand their seemingly illogical education policy. And we can see why it must be stopped.
The truth is that what is holding this country back is not too much tax on a few Randian supermen, it’s the fact that we consign 20% of the population to the scrapheap from birth and they never achieve their full potential, many of them becoming a net cost, rather than benefit to society. Charter schools and national standards/league tables just accentuate this. It is a educational philosophy designed to cut costs and give the best of what’s left to the kids who need it the least, which punishes the children of poverty even more for the situation they were born into, and worsens a situation that every burdens an untold cost on New Zealand in the form of the lost potential of hundreds of thousands of young lives for decades to come.
We will never be all we can be as a country while we deny so many children a decent crack at life so that the elite can have things a tiny bit better. But, National is the party of the status quo, and how things are now is basically how National wants it: they would rather have a society that fails to live up to its collective potential as long as they are on top (and, ideally, with a bit more than they have now) than a New Zealand that takes away some of their privilege and invests it in creating a richer society for all by giving every child real opportunity.