New Zealand Post Primary Teachers' Association / Te Wehengarua (PPTA) President Robin Duff observes that the ACT idea of charter schools has very little to do with educating New Zealand children.
Charter schools are not smarter schools
Hanging a sign on a dog that says “I am a horse” doesn’t make it one. And so it is with the charter school/partnership/ kura hourua school rebranding exercise. The ACT Party regards the public as fools who will buy its pig-in-a-poke policy, with or without the lipstick.
I am reminded that a previous government tried the same trick with the bulk funding of schools. It was variously re-named "salaries grant for management", "direct resourcing" and "fully-funded option" but all to no effect. The public knew what it was and rejected it. Funnily enough material released under the Official Information Act says that as well as not having to have registered teachers, and not having unions on site, charter schools will be bulk funded. It has also revealed the names of the applicants who are keen to get their snouts in this particular trough.
They fall roughly into five groups:
1. American schools offering to come to New Zealand to gift Kiwis a proper American education with the profits drawn from the New Zealand taxpayer and siphoned off to USA. Although John Key says (with an impressively cavalier disregard for the impact on students) that if charter schools don't perform they will simply be closed.
2. Boutique schools for the middle class which are looking for a 100% taxpayer funding rather than the partial subsidy they currently receive. It will certainly stretch credulity if schools serving this population are considered in need of special support.
3. A couple of second chance schools/alternative education centres. Presumably these schools are taking a punt on getting some extra money because the sector has been so underfunded for so long. I don't like their chances given the charter school working group's response to PPTA's suggestion that the most honorable thing they could do would be to seek out the most disadvantaged students and give them a real chance in life. The group was distinctly unenthusiastic knowing that the critical thing dooming the charter experiment to succeed is the careful selection of students.
4. A couple of selective Māori and Pasifika entrepreneurial groups. Although the frustration
Māori and Pasifika groups feel with the slow rate of improvement in achievement for their children is understandable, there is absolutely no reason to assume charter schools will make any difference. The clear evidence from USA is that charter schools "stratify students by race, class, and possibly language, and are more racially isolated than traditional public schools in virtually every state and large metropolitan area in the country". The reason this happens is that these schools cherry pick students most likely to deliver good results and avoid the others.
So when millionaire ACT Party members start crying crocodile tears about education for the poor, hold on to your wallet. After all, there is nothing stopping ACT supporters from setting up a philanthropically-funded private school now. But that’s their money. They want ours - 100% taxpayer funding but no accountability to the taxpayers via Parliament. They are also quite shameless in acknowledging that their aim is to use this taxpayer funding, along with the captive market created by compulsory education, to turn a profit from the nation's most vulnerable children.
5. The rest. The remaining applicants represent fringe religious groups including Destiny Church and the Maharishi Foundation, all notable for delivering education that denies scientific principles. Given the criticism dished out to public schools recently by luminaries such as Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, the PM's science advisor, and Phil O’Reilly from Business New Zealand about the quality of science teaching, you might think they would have something to say about taxpayer dollars being used to fund religious indoctrination rather than education. You’d be wrong – not a word from Gluckman and all O’Reilly could do was gush about “choice and flexibility.”
Don’t give me “partnership” schools. The only partnership that matters here is between big money and corrupt ACT Party politicians.