Make a submission on charter schools: Education Amendment Bill (no.4)

Education Amendment BillThe Education Amendment Bill (no.4) is the bill that seeks to establish charter schools in New Zealand.  The New Zealand Post Primary Teachers' Association / Te Wehengarua (PPTA) asked school communities to make a submission opposing their introduction.

Submissions have now closed

Charter school figleaf advertisement

Aspects of the suggested NZ charter school model  that submitters may have considered.

  • The undemocratic way charter schools were sprung upon voters after the election via the National/Act Coalition Agreement.
  • The proposal to fully-fund private, profit-making charter schools from taxpayer revenue when public schools are so short of funds.
  • The proposal to fund charter schools via a private contract, details of which will be protected by commercial secrecy. (Clause158D)
    • In USA this has led to reductions in money spent on teaching and learning and substantial pay increases for CEOs
    • (Research shows that  US charter schools spend $774 more per pupil per year on administration and $1141 less on instruction than public schools).
  • The lack of public scrutiny.  The Ombudsman Act and the Official Information Act do not apply to charter schools. (Clause158X)
    • In his report to Cabinet, John Banks says this is to ensure these schools "are not susceptible to costly and vexatious requests." (Cabinet paper from John Banks p.5)
  • The details of how these schools are to be funded have been withheld under the Official Information Act (John Banks paper to Cabinet p.23) although it is almost certain to be bulk funding.  Parliament is being asked to approve a blank cheque.
  • Charter school annual accounts will not be subject to the scrutiny of the Office the Auditor General as are public schools. Clause 158J. This will almost certainly be to prevent the public from knowing how much taxpayer money is going into CEO and management salaries and private profits.
  • The parent voice which is central to New Zealand schools has been eliminated:   "Governance model determined by sponsor. No requirement for parental/community representation.” John Banks paper to Cabinet p.20
  • The creation of an Advisory Group (clause 158C) to vet charter schools and sponsors. This is an example of "jobs for the boys (and girls)." Note the detail that sub clauses 6(a) and 6(b) of 158C provide on how the members of the advisory group are to be remunerated. This will be anything up to $2000 a day. This ministry of education staff could do this work for considerably less money and probably with greater expertise.
  • National Party election promotion badgeChristchurch submitters may have commented on their negative experiences with multi-timetabling ("double bunking”). Clause 15.

Charter schools - Brief summary of the research.

No evidence charter schools perform better than public schools

There is no evidence whatsoever that charter schools perform better than surrounding public schools overall, something that even the charter school proponents admit: "Despite conceding charter schools are not going to be a silver bullet to eliminate the long tail of under achievement in the country, Isaac urged the audience to give the trial a chance.”

Forced to concede this reality, the charter school pushers have developed a new rationalisation - that charter schools work sometimes.  John Banks says  that "there is an emerging body of longitudinal research from overseas that shows well-run, well-led charter schools can lift achievement for learners from minority groups and low socio-economic backgrounds"   (John Banks paper to Cabinet p1)

There are two problems with this:

  • He has never produced the "body of research" in spite of requests from PPTA, and;
  • Any school that is "well-run and well-led” (and in this case very well-funded) is likely to be successful.  We already know what is needed to create some successful schools.  The question is how to make all schools successful.

No evidence that charter schools improve education system achievement

There is no evidence at all that charter schools make any difference to national systems.  If they did, states in USA that have been experimenting with charter schools for over 20 years would show overall improvements. They don't.

"Overall, after more than 20 years of proliferation, charter schools face the same challenges as regular public schools in boosting student achievement, and future research should continue to focus on identifying the policies, practices and other characteristics that help explain the wide variation in their results.”

Link to external website The Evidence on Charter Schools and Test Scores (Di Carlo, M.)

Charter schools succeed using methods that include cherry-picking students

Where charter schools do appear to succeed it is because they are cherry-picking their students.  They have been shown to exclude special needs students and to have a high rate of suspension of Afro-American boys. When they exclude students they replace them with students from the waiting list who will tend to be more highly-motivated, thus outcomes appear to improve.  In New Zealand, the charter school bill says they must not exclude special needs students but it's clear that there will be a cap on numbers in the secret contract.  The plan to establish a maximum roll along with free bus transport will work to provide a pool of more supported and motivated students than would be expected if the school had to take all in students in a defined local zone.

There are two other reasons charters may appear to succeed:

  • Teaching to the test and drilling:

"All students are expected to wear the school uniform and to do all homework set. Parents are required to supervise homework, read to children regularly and to be in constant touch with the school; they are responsible for the behaviour of their child at all times. According to Angrist and colleagues (2010, p. 2), while at school, ‘students are expected to adhere to a behavioral code, which includes speaking only when called on in class and orderly movement between classes. Students receive "paychecks”, points awarded for good work that can be spent on field trips and other perks' (p. 2). Failure to abide by these rules results in the removal of the child from the school.”

Link to external website Charter Schools for New Zealand (April 2012. Massey University. Education Policy Response Group)

  • More resources, time and attention ie better facilities, smaller classes, more individual attention and tutoring.

"If there are any consistent lessons from the charter experiment, at least in terms of test-based effects, they seem to tell us what we already know – that performance can be improved with more resources, more time and more attention. These interventions are not cheap or new, and they're certainly not "charter-specific” in any way.”

Link to external website Explaining the Consistently Inconsistent Results of Charter schools (Di Carlo, M.)

Evidence indicates that charter schools increase segregation

There is growing evidence from USA that charter schools increase racial and socio-economic segregation which is a likely effect of their being able to control their intakes. Maori Party co-leader and Associate Education Minister Pita Sharples recognised this when he said   "that South Auckland is the worst place in the country to experiment with charter schools and went on to say that "charter schools are likely to draw off the best students from neighbouring schools.”    Waatea News: Monday, 19th December, 2011.

(Note the Maori Party has since committed to supporting charter schools and the article referred to has, coincidentally, been removed from the Waatea news website.)

Charter schools are a business opportunity

So why charter schools? They are money makers. See:

Link to external website Wall Street is delighted by the money to be made from charter schools.

Link to external website Profits and questions at Online Charter schools and

Link to external website Who's in charge here?  A look at the companies behind charter schools.

Drawing together the changes in the education bill that allow for charter school "innovations”, it seems that the government believes that the following things are responsible for educational under-achievement: the national curriculum, the NEGs and NAGs, boards of trustees, transparent funding, accountability to Parliament, the Official Information Act, The Ombudsman, the Auditor-General, qualified and registered teachers and principals, teacher unions, transparent collective agreement provisions and the absence of bulk funding.