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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Charter schools

The  three latest ideas from the Ministry of  Completely Off-the-planet Outrageous Loopy Schemes or COOLS (AKA Ministry of Education)  have something in common besides being completely wacky . 

In all three cases, bulk funding, screwing over special ed kids and now massive online learning schools, the ministry imagines a greater role for itself in monitoring and supporting schools.  It says in relation to bulk funding that schools will need more financial help, it promises more early detection and support for special needs students, and it assures the public that the COOLS will be rigorously monitored and audited.

Quantum physics tells us that there's a planet where that might be true but it's not this one.

Currently schools go bankrupt and the ministry doesn't have clue about it - and a whole cohort of kids can pass through before they do anything. This is partly because they don't have the capacity or enough competent staff to properly monitor schools' spending but also because they are chary about intervening in  self-managing schools.

Surely no one believes that the ministry really has ability to provide timely and consistent help to schools struggling with special needs students. (I know that in a typical triumph of surface over substance  the Minister has banned that term but too bad)

Then there's the rigorous accreditation process for Cools.  Anyone remember Whangaruru Charter School?  It took two years to close it even though it started failing in the first month of operation - and we still haven't got the farm back.  For most of that time the ministry denied there was a problem while putting in its own staff to try to sort out a private business. There is not a snowball's chance in hell that they would intervene when the provider is an American online company registered on Wall Street. Too politically hot - with or without the TPPA.

The ministry doesn't have the competence or capacity to manage this process and given the political delicacies, they won't be looking too closely at any of these little taxpayer-funded sinkholes.  In any event, overseas experience says that these fly-by-night affairs lie and cheat and it takes a serious crisis, often a whistleblower, before the truth is revealed.  In the meantime, the kids are left to fail. 

b2ap3_thumbnail_Cartoon_PPTAJrnlMay1975_Money.png

 

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Is Peter Hughes the luckiest man in the public service, or would this trifecta of fails have been avoided if he was still in charge?

To recap. A few weeks ago we discover the bulk funding zombie is back, rebranded as the ‘global budget’. The sector revolts. Then special ed changes are announced that will shift resourcing from schools, at the same time as telling us there are significant increases in demand. Parents of special ed students go wild. Finally, an announcement that we’re getting publicly funded, online schools and, worst thing of all, they’ll be called ‘cools’. Everyone freaks out (stuff commenters most of all).

I don’t know where Hekia can go from here. Maybe she’ll have another crack at the payroll system, and call it ‘coolbucks’.

But seriously. These are some appalling policies.

Let’s look at the latest one. The Ministry of Ed consulted on some changes to the Ed Act late last year - most of it was reasonably uncontroversial, and on the parts they consulted on there are some decent proposals. These do things like introduce a purpose statement, simplify reporting for boards, and one pretty good change which is make it somewhat easier for the Ministry to enforce school zones.

But did they consult about introducing online schools? Not at all. This section of the bill was completely outside the scope of the consultation and dropped on Tuesday like a most unwelcome bird poop from blue sky.

All we have to go on in terms of policy background for this is the regulatory impact statement (RIS), something that ministries are obliged to produce for legislation. No cabinet paper, no research report. And what a risible RIS it is.

There is no research cited that supports the main contention that online only learning for school age kids is something that we should be encouraging, or that this model, of private providers competing with public schools, is the way to do it.

The main piece of research that’s used, referenced twice even, is from an obscure journal and is about blended learning rather than full online. And blended learning isn’t something that you need to rewrite the Ed Act to achieve, as anyone who’s set foot in a school recently would know.

So it should be good that the RIS does refer to the National Education Policy Centre (NEPC) Virtual Schools Report 2016.This is balanced and authoritative research from a credible university, based on masses of studies of online school results. But how the Ministry uses it is either an undergrad C- essay or straight up dishonesty.

Behold:

“Research on open-access online learning suggest that full time online learning has certain advantages. Because it is more flexible that its face to face equivalent students can study in a manner that suits their other commitments or personal preferences. It can also provide students with increased exposure to self-directed learning and technology that they may not have experienced in face to face schooling. Increased flexibility and agency over their learning may increase the likelihood of students’ ongoing educational engagement and in turn their achievement. [This para has no references ]

However, student outcomes in this setting are variable [reference here to the NEPC study] and while “online learning may allow for educational improvements… it certainly does not guarantee of these potential benefits”.

This is like saying Donald Trump has variable support amongst educated urban liberals. The NEPC study is absolutely damming of online only schools. “Virtual school outcomes continued to lag significantly behind that of traditional brick and mortar schools” and so it goes on. Because of this, its main policy recommendation is to stop opening more of them until they work out why they’re doing so badly. The Ministry’s RIS doesn’t give a whiff of this.

The most high profile recent report on online schooling, Stanford University’s Online Charter School Study, 2015, isn’t even mentioned in the RIS. Its main findings include “Academic benefits from online charter schools are currently the exception rather than the rule”.

So there are two things that could be going on here. One is that the Ministry is too scared to provide the high quality advice it’s supposed to give; the other is that the Minister told them that she didn’t want to hear it. Either way, it’s a mare.

Peter Hughes dodged a bullet (or three) moving to the SSC when he did. The list of applicants applying for his old job could be very short if your day revolves around trying to manage the relationship between an out of control Minister and overworked officials who can’t give free and frank advice.

 

Splat - pharion (bird poop)

 

(Blog image 'Splat' from Pharion via http://orig13.deviantart.net/c75c/f/2011/213/0/1/splat_by_pharion-d42byj4.png)

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Much was said about what the $26 million spent on the flag change debacle could have been better spent on. However, the argument that some worthy cause missed out in order for that money to be spent on the flag is hard to prove.

Not so with the funding of Charter schools.

The budget allocation for 7 new Charter schools (and a support group to help these private interests not make the same disastrous mistakes as happened in Whangaruru) does come from somewhere – it comes out of the education budget.

Meanwhile, Special Education is underfunded.

The Operations Grants to schools are insufficient and have actually decreased this year, while the tap for accessible and relevant professional learning for teachers is about to be turned off (for most) by the Ministry of Education.

Establishing Charters in the same communities as state schools means those schools lose funding, including operational funding and their staffing entitlement which can mean they will struggle to offer curriculum and other critical educational resources to the students left behind.

Despite all this, the clamour of professionals and educators who know where the money could be better spent appear to be being ignored - again.

Why?

 

(Published in Dominion Post Letters to the Editor 25 May 2016)

Larry Cuban site - charter school cartoon

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Remember the Claytons advertisement - the drink you have when you are not having a drink? More recently Tui advertisements have added to our New Zealand lexicon "Yeah Right!"

It seems we are working on the latest Tui billboard with the education funding review – truly a Claytons review.

The review you have when you are not having a review.

Special education and alternative education are crying out for funding. 

Parents wonder what happened to  'free education for all' as they hand over yet more money to enable their local school to provide the basics.

And so last week the Education funding review was publicly announced - “The Government is interested in the role that funding can play in enabling schools and ECE services to better meet the needs of all children and young people.” And acknowledges “resourcing levels may not be well matched to the teaching and learning challenge and care and pastoral needs at each stage of learning.”


PPTA supports an education funding review – and have asked for a broad review – there are a number of papers on our website regarding this and with the National Education Leaders Partnership we’ve agreed on some principles.

But the bizarre bit is this - in the same week as the Minister announces the review and  acknowledges the resourcing issue for our schools, the Undersecretary for Education announces that hundreds of thousands of dollars are to be spent on the charter school experiment- new schools and a government funded charter school think tank

Charter schools are an  education business model designed to primarily benefit sponsors (aka business/trust owners)  – the product is NCEA credits (or similar)  rather than student education  – with a long term view to testing whether education can be left to the market to manage.

Unfortunately the generous start-up and ongoing funding for this business model takes money from the state education funding pool. 

It does seem to make a mockery of a transparent and open process for an education funding review in the context of an underfunded state schooling system.

Let’s hope for all our sakes it’s not “Education funding review? Yeah Right!”

Post Script - the budget 2016 didn't make an inflation adjusted increase for state schools (although charter schools are guaranteed this) and pre-empted the funding review by targeting (on one available variable) some students for a small ($1.79 per targeted student a week) increase in funding to their schools.

 

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The half a million dollar bung given to a new outfit to promote charter schools, E Tipu E Rea, takes the whole fiasco to new depths of corruption.

 

1.       The new body is filled with Act and National cronies

Like Catherine Isaac, who is on the other publicly funded board that’s gouging the public purse to promote charter schools, Jenny Gibbs who is on this one, is a senior Act Party doyenne and a major donor to the party, giving over $50,000 in March this year alone.  The chair of this group, Rob McLeod, is a former chair of the Business Round Table, and was shown to be busy fundraising for National in the emails released in Nicky Hager’s The Hollow Men. And La’auli Michael Jones has been heavily tipped to be a future National MP.  

The insistence throughout its proposal that this is an ‘apolitical and neutral’ organisation is risible.

2.       It’s doing a political job with public money

One of its goals is to get opposition parties who oppose charters to change their position.

Clark’s Labour government had the pledge card fiasco, but did they fund a bunch of lobbyists to work on the National Party not to roll back their student loan policy?

Incumbent parties already have a huge advantage when it comes to winning elections, but then using taxpayer funding to try and undermine the ability of elections to actually bring about change is taking this to the next level.

3.       No other organisation doing this sort of work gets public funding

In the application for funding they compare themselves to other organisations working in the sector that they claim to be similar to. The Association of Intermediate and Middle Schools, Area Schools Association, Private School Proprietors and so forth, all do advocate on behalf of their members, with the ministry of education, and the public and government when they get the chance.

But those organisations certainly don’t get any government funding to do it. They run on the smell of an oily rag, with what they can collect in membership fees. This outfit is getting  $500,000 in its first year from the government, and then claims that they will run on philanthropic donations. I’ve no doubt that the poor old philanthropist will continue to be the New Zealand taxpayer.

4.       The procurement process was a joke

The ‘direct source’ method that was used to select E Tipu E Rea to be the support agency for charter school sponsors is rarely used, and for a good reason. A tender process, either open or closed, is more likely to result in better quality applicants, and a more cost effective service. David Seymour, who signed this off, is constantly whining about Steven Joyce’s ‘crony capitalism’, but this is even worse. The only justification given for using this method of selection in the cabinet papers was to get it running in time. This is the same justification that’s been used to slip through all sorts of questionable spending on this policy already – expediency trumps transparency and good process again.  

5.       There is already an outfit being paid to do this

For a policy which was supposed to cut down on bureaucracy there seems to be a lot of cash going into the pockets of people who aren’t actually involved in running the schools.

The ‘Partnership School Authorisation Board’ has spent over $500,000 already. While the ministry claims that these two organisations have separate roles, with the Authorisation Board providing advice on who should run charter schools, and E Tipu E Rea advocating for sponsors and helping them get nice applications in, they both are committed to the success of the policy, and building public support for it, such as the Authorisation Board’s charm offensive with the Iwi Leaders Forum to encourage them to get in applications.

And of course, don’t forget that the Ministry of Education and School Trustees Association are also offering significant support for charter schools, parachuting in new staff to help when they are struggling, and doing their own pro-active PR.

 

 

The ministry officials who signed this deal off should be feeling deeply uneasy about being involved. It stinks to high heaven, and I’d be very surprised if the Auditor General’s graft-o-meter wasn’t already pinging. 

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Posted by on in Charter schools

David Seymour almost appears reasonable when discussing educational choice – stating that consumers should be “free to choose the school that suits them” is a nice political soundbite, made more compelling given his personal foibles and practised earnestness. But, let’s be frank - every school in New Zealand must cater for difference. Schools are obliged to provide opportunities for all akonga to learn while providing the acculturation they need to take their place in society.

The public system provides this – and continued improvement will result from sharing best practice and providing professional development for teachers to meet the needs of all, not from ideology dressed up as fact.

Education ‘silos’, ostensibly catering for interest groups, will do little to ensure these needs are met. Rather, evidence suggests that students who do not meet a Charter’s targets are ‘let go’ (and those with complex educational needs often don’t get in in the first place).

Imagining that an approach to schooling which allows untrained and unregistered teachers, lacks an evidence base, is without any public scrutiny around how managers spend taxpayer dollars and does not require these institutions to take the very learners Seymour suggests might 'need' a new model is not about choice - it's political chicanery.

Word map - political chicanery

 

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Charter schools have been kicking out students at a rate many times higher than comparable public schools, a risk raised when they were first proposed.

Vanguard Military Academy expelled or excluded four students in 2014, and another four in the first half of 2015, while the total number of students at the school was around 100.

The average rate of exclusions in public schools in 2014 was 1.4 per thousand students, and expulsion was 1 per thousand students. Vanguard’s rate was more than 20 times the national average.

A 2012 report in the Herald on data about suspensions showed that even schools with very high rates of use of formal disciplinary measures, such as Rotorua’s Western Heights High and Hamilton’s Fraser High School, had lower rates than Vanguard, which excluded or expelled nearly 4% of its students, compared to 1.2% and 2.5% respectively.

Charter schools in the USA are notorious for doing this, with research from Chicago showing the charters were expelling students at over 10 times the rate of public schools. In New York just last month children’s advocates called for increased accountability and transparency with charter school discipline processes to address this significant problem.

Vanguard not only has very high exclusion and expulsion rates, it also has very high numbers of students leaving during the year, with 29 of 104 leaving during the 2014 school year, nearly 30% of the school.

While their representative claims that this is because they have completed qualifications and are leaving to further work or study, this has not been independently verified. Internationally charter schools are known to informally exit students who will undermine their achievement data.

Vanguard is not the only charter school in New Zealand with unusually high levels of disciplinary exiting of students and turnover of students during the year. South Auckland Middle School, with 111 students, excluded 2 students in 2014 and another 1 in the first half of 2015.

The same operator runs another charter in West Auckland which just opened in 2015 and excluded one student in its first six months.

South Auckland Middle School (SAMS) also mirrors Vanguard in the high number of students leaving during the year, with 15 students leaving during the school year of 2014. Turnover during the year of more than 10% would be very unusual at any public school.

The high turnover and disciplinary rates at these charters casts real doubt on their achievement claims – any school that got rid of ‘problem students’ at that rate could get fantastic NCEA stats. And while charter supporters may say it’s a good thing as it shows they’re maintaining high standards, it completely undermines the claim that this policy is about raising achievement for students who are failing in the mainstream system.

And in the USA this video, filmed in a classroom at a Success Academy charter school has again raised questions about ‘no excuses’ charter schools treatment of students.  It’s not hard to see from this why student turnover at these schools would be high.

******************************************************************************

 

 

Figures are all from the school’s annual and quarterly reports, which are available here: http://www.education.govt.nz/ministry-of-education/information-releases/partnership-schools-kura-hourua-information-release/approved-partnership-schools/  Annual reports for 2015 have not yet been released, so data goes up to July that year.

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Today's announcement that the struggling charter school in Whangaruru will (likely) be closed has been hailed by David Seymour as a sign of the 'strength of the model'.

The possibility of occasional school failures was accepted during both the formulation of the policy and the authorisation of each school,” said Mr Seymour.

“The potential for school closure is a strength, not a weakness, of the Partnership Schools model. Overseas evidence shows that closing failing schools and allowing successful schools to expand improves education outcomes as the charter or partnership model matures.

“Education innovators should be continue to be commended for their bravery, supported in their efforts, be accountable for their failures, and congratulated for their successes.”

In a pure market model of schooling this makes sense. Bad businesses 'go under' and good ones thrive, ergo, the same for schools. 

But (in this model again...) the people who pay the price of a business going under are the owners - the risk, and the rewards, are theirs (of course in real life there are also employees, the community etc... but let's ignore that for the sake of Seymour's model).  

It's not the same with a school. The risks here have been borne most heavily by the students; around 50 of them have had two years of a complete mess of an education. The trust who run the school on the other hand - well it looks like they walk away with the assets and a couple of years of very generous pay packets. Is that what being 'accountable for their failures' means? I don't think so. 

So, after the state puts in over $4.5 million over two and a bit years into around 50 students' education, what does the minister think they have got?

* student achievement concerns remain and the quality of teaching remains poor

* inadequate curriculum leadership continues to impact negatively on students

* the curriculum is not and has not been consistent with the broad ranging curriculum vision articulated in the contract

* a lack of basic literacy and numeracy underpinning qualification credits achieved

This is really shows up some of the bullshit about the whole issue of social entrepreneurship. Vulnerable people, young people, sick people, people in jail don't have the same relationship with the providers of schools, counselling, healthcare or prisons, as they do with the people they buy their groceries from. It's ridiculous to pretend that they do. 

And we get called 'ideological' for pointing this out...  

 

 

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Posted by on in Uncategorized

Yesterday a number of technical and relatively minor amendments to the Education Act and other related legislation were announced- some coverage is here and here.

But one of the changes struck me as curious -  it's an amendment to section 79 of the Education Act which authorises the minister to make payments to boards of trustees - i.e. for their operational grants, property and so forth. 

What this amendment does is also allow payments also to be made to 'sponsors' , i.e. the organisations that run charter schools. 

Here's what the Cabinet Paper introducing this legislation said about this section:

b2ap3_thumbnail_Charter-schools-paid-illegally.jpg

 

The question is then - if this change is 'required' and these payments "should also be authorised" - under what authority have the payments (around $20-$25 million so far) been made? Does this mean that they are open to legal challenge, or should the Auditor General be looking at this? 

(I'm too petty not to point out here that this bill with these 'inadvertent omissions' was claimed by David Seymour to be the 'best charter school model' in the world... a low bar eh...)

One thing that I'm wondering (assistance welcome!), is how this fits with the fact that appropriations for charter schools were made in the budget (for each of the years they've been running, so the first one was Budget 2013 for the schools which opened in 2014) - which is passed by parliament, so that arguably would seem to authorise payments. 

However, from reading a bit about this on the Parliament website - it does seem as if appropriations don't necessarily mean that there is authority to make payments, i.e.;

An appropriation does not enable the Crown, a department or anyone else to do something which they are not otherwise legally authorised to do; the existence of an appropriation does not make lawful something which is unlawful.

So were the payments unlawful as there wasn't explicit parliamentary authority to make them? 

The other way they could have been lawful, without having explicit authority from parliament (i.e. in an Act), is if they are allowed because of the contract that the Crown entered into with the sponsors. It seems, from that same page, that entering into a contract might be authority enough. But if that's the case, why is this change required?

And then, where does that leave the extra payment made to the (supposedly about to be closed) charter school in Whangaruru? It got an extra $129,000 above the contractually agreed funding earlier this year. 

I'd be happy to be put right on this and have someone explain what's going on - and I definitely don't think it's is a conspiracy, but if it is a cock up, it's a spectacular one. 

**********************************************************************************************

Updated 30.11

Thanks to the people at the MoE who got back to me to answer this. Turns out there is a clause in the Education Act that made these payments lawful (particularly the one above the contract) - Section 321. This seems to be a catch all section which I have no idea what sort of 'bodies' would be paid under generally - as things like tertiary, compulsory and ECE all have their own specific sections. 

Would have been helpful if this had been mentioned in the Cabinet Paper or Regulatory Impact Statement ... That it wasn't does make me wonder whether it was dug out after the fact to cast a veil of respectability. Here's the full response:

Section 79 of the Education Act 1989 is the main resourcing provision for state schools. It authorises the payment of, for example, operational funding and salaries funding for state schools. For Partnership Schools, most funding goes through the contract. The amendment clarifies that section 79 applies to any grants or payments outside the contract to sponsors of partnership schools.

 

The grants are authorised by section 321 of the Education Act 1989 (“grants to educational bodies”).  However, as Partnership Schools are registered schools, it is more appropriate for grants to be paid via section 79.  The Bill clarifies the legal position.

 

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Guess what? Charter school students love their small class sizes and feel like teachers really have time to work with them as individuals. 

That's the stunning new finding from the just released round one evaluation.

This report feels a bit like a brochure for a cruise ship holiday. Yep, cruise ship customers love it. But let's not talk about the impact on the islands where the ships stop, discharge tourists and waste, and move right along. 

Just to assure you I'm not being unfair here - check the methodology for this report: 

The PSKH were all told who we would like to talk to but the schedule was determined by each individual school/kura.

So yep, they spoke to a bunch of people who the school leaders wanted them to.  

And there's no room in here for any analysis of wider impact... or actually what the impact is at all, as earlier posts make clear. Nope, this is just to look at how well they're 'innovating' - so if anyone claims that this shows they're making a great difference for students, they're making stuff up.

How about that innovation then?

Curriculum - "Little real innovation"

Engagement with community and parents "Little real innovation"

Pedagogy teaching and learning  - "Multiple examples of 'best practice'... while similar examples can be found in some state schools, these practices are not widespread across the state sector".

Fascinating. I didn't think this research was looking at state schools - but apparently so. Would love to know how these researchers could make a call that 'best practice' (as they identify it) happens more often in charters than state schools, from a couple of visits to charter schools. I guess the people they interviewed told them.

So where are the big innovations happening?

Governance  "highly innovative".

And how so?  Here's what a Ministry of Ed person said :"The Board members aren't elected - it's a private commercial organisation; it's a business model and ensures the right mix of skills." Great to know our public servants have such high regard for elected representatives.

Use of funding "the funding model is innovative in and of itself"

Oh it certainly is. One of the CEOs noted "A big freedom we enjoy is the funding model." I wonder whether this was the one that banked $1.9 million surplus, or the one that paid management fees (on top of salaries) of $260,000. Worth noting that future rounds of charters will have significantly less money in the set up stages as the Ministry belated realised that these guys were getting absurdly high funding. 

And linked to that, policy people in the Ministry should be worried about this from one of the principals "Our success is related to our size - we don't want to grow our roll too high," when the recent change in funding was partly driven by the fact that their was an incentive for them to keep the rolls tiny, and thus keep pocketing masses of cash.

Not that Hattie is to be relied upon unquestioningly, but he's fair and square debunked the value of innovation that's all about governance and funding, and doing nothing different in classrooms. But that's irrelevant to the people who came up with the policy, as this evaluation shows. If they can inveigle the private sector into the public domain, move money from state institutions to private businesses and get in some hits on public schools in the process, then they're meeting their targets.

 

 

 

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Posted by on in Charter schools

A recent OIA request unearthed this email from Alwyn Poole, who runs two charter schools and a private school, to Catherine Isaac, the chair of the Authorisation Board.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Email-from-Alwyn.jpg

 

ERO reviews of private schools are notoriously hands off. Gloriavale is a case in point - basically the people running the school say "This is what we want to do, and this is what we're doing" and ERO gives them a tick. ERO notes that, "...reviews of private schools are significantly different in process and more limited in scope than those for state and state integrated schools..."

Alwyn claims that their quarterly reporting to the minister would provide more than enough oversight and accountability. The irony of this is that the quarterly self-reporting from the first round has been shown, in some cases, to be misleading - and the new policy design for future rounds of charters tightens this up.

Of course, Alwyn also is avoiding (legally required) public scrutiny by failing to provide his accounts to the Charities Commission - now over three months late. Contrast this to public schools, whose accounts are public, and have to hold open Board  meetings, are covered by the OIA and have legal obligations to consult with and report to their communities. 

 

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PR 'expert' and charter school pusher Catherine Isaac came up with the great idea that rebranding our version as 'partnership schools' would differentiate them from the US model they're based on and avoid some of its grubbier connotations. 

That didn't work, everyone still calls them charter schools, and to no-one's surprise, they've been proven to be behaving like their US counterparts too. As this Huffington Post headline reads, 'Charter schools spend more on administration, less on instruction than traditional public schools.' 

The NZ Herald reported in depth on the weekend about the fees they're sluicing out to their owners and sponsors. The article noted that in normal schools 10% to 25% of costs go on administration. My experience, from being on Boards of Trustees and asking around, would be that the lower figure is more realistic and common. 

Now a public school principal has sat down and compared their audited accounts line by line to one of the charter schools. Check out a summary below:

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_Charter-vs-public-schl-spending.jpg

(Click for the bigger version)

A few things that stood out to me about this:

The charter school should be spending far more on curriculum resources and so forth than the public school as they're just getting set up. They aren't.  The curriculum area where they wildly outspent the public school was extra-curricular activities - this was the school that was in the news for bribing students with KFC...

The public school outspent the charter on teaching staff, This is really surprising, as they charter school claims to have classes of 15. From what I hear this is often achieved by not actually having a teacher in the class with the students, and leaving them to be supervised by a non teacher.

I wasn't surprised that the admin costs for the charter were high, as the economies of scale and the reality of the establishment period would mean there'd be a fair bit of admin required. However, the admin salaries, consultant fees and 'management fees' add up to nearly the same as they spent on teaching staff - this seems exorbitant.

 

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The minister has announced another round of charter school applications despite having assured parliament earlier this year that that was it for 2015.

According to “a spokesman from Parata’s office” the minister’s assurances were correct at the time but subsequently “Mr Seymour mounted a persuasive case for more partnership schools.”  

It doesn’t take a genius to figure that the persuasive case would have been the Prime Minister, John Key, telling the minister she had to suck it up because David Seymour was threatening to pull his vote on some piece of legislation (perhaps the new Health and Safety Bill).

Once again – the last time was over class size – the boys are making Hekia swallow a live rat. The minister has really grown in the education portfolio and no one can question her commitment to kids – it’s beyond belief that she doesn’t know how unsuccessful and destructive charter schools are.

John Key knows this too and he would also know from his focus groups that the public hate charter schools. His aim would be avoid damage to his reputation by keeping well clear.  He has no such scruples about Hekia’s reputation and no conscience about using scarce education funds to bribe Seymour.

 

How delightful that one of the private member’s bills to be drawn from the ballot proposes that the David Seymour sinecure - education undersecretary – should be subject to the Official Information Act.  The Act Party with its high standards of probity and transparency will no doubt want to support this legislation and it’s hard to see why any other party would vote against it.  What fun we will all have then when the machinations that underpin the charter school model are exposed for all to see.

weasel

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Last week the Northern Advocate ran an editorial about our charter school boycott that got a few things wrong, and missed a bunch of context which is pretty important for understanding the situation. They ran our response on Saturday, but it didn't go online, so here is the letter from Angela Roberts in full. 

It’s a pity that the editorial in the Northern Advocate about the charter school student teacher ended on a plaintive note about the students missing out, because it’s contradicted by the facts and the details in the rest of the piece.

As the writer notes, the student teacher has the opportunity to complete his initial teacher education placement at a private school or other charter school , which was suggested by PPTA when we became aware of the situation.  He can still complete teacher training, and when he’s done so will be very welcome to teach in the public sector. This is not a boycott against individuals; a teacher who leaves a charter school and gains a teaching position in a public school is very welcome to join PPTA.

While Mr Kahukiwa may be temporarily inconvenienced, he is in a situation that very few other student teachers are in, with paid employment and the support of a well-endowed school. The salaries at his current employer are significantly higher than public schools, and they can offer conditions, like small class sizes, rivalled only by exclusive private schools.

PPTA’s boycott on supporting charter schools is about them standing or falling on their own merits. They were set up on the premise that public school, and teachers, are doing a terrible job. The application from He Puna Marama Trust says it clearly, it states they are “ acutely aware of the gaps in quality, delivery and relevance at each of the schools” in the area.

The great irony of their seeking assistance from teachers in schools which they rate so lowly is not lost. And nor is the fact that they are banking millions of dollars surplus which could be used to purchase all the support they need on the open market, a situation that no other schools in the area can match.

 

 

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The Northern Advocate asked PPTA for answers to a few questions about the boycott in Northland, a small portion of which was published in this story today. 

Here are the questions and the complete response.

·         Why has the PPTA implemented this ban?

PPTA members are deeply concerned about how charter schools will damage the education system in New Zealand, fragmenting provision, wasting resources and undermining our strong public system. The people who will ultimately suffer will be students, as we have seen in countries like Chile, Sweden or the USA where charter school type policies are leading to far worse education outcomes.

 After opposing the charter school policy all the way through the legislative process, PPTA members decided that it would be consistent and principled to continue this opposition when charter schools are established. Charter schools are a politically driven experiment, and it’s clear that they are premised on and directly contribute to ‘failure’ of public schools. 

 The politicians who developed the policy and the people who have wanted to run charter schools have all said that public schools are failing students and that’s why they are needed. If this is the case, why would they then turn to the public system for support? The evidence is clear that while we have challenges in our NZ education system we are doing well and getting better – and that many of the factors which contribute to student success and failure are things that are out of the control of teachers, but that the government could act on them if  it was serious about all students doing well.  When a charter school is given more money because its students are from tough backgrounds and struggling in the education system, the same challenges in the public system are met with the message to ‘raise your expectations.’

 What’s more, the charter schools are funded, extremely generously, to offer a full curriculum. The Whangarei charter school has banked millions of dollars of surplus, while the Whangaruru one is this year being funded at a cost of around $50,000 per student. They could almost afford to employ one teacher per student – compare this with the average of $7000 per student in the public sector – many local schools would recieve less than that. Charters have plenty of money to purchase any support they need, and that’s the premise on which they were established anyway – give them the money and free them from having to do the sort of things that public schools do.

 

·         What does the PPTA hope to achieve through the ban?

 There are two things – one is to make sure that they (charter schools) succeed or fail on their own merits, that they aren’t propped up by the goodwill and expertise of teachers in the public sector.  The second is to continue to demonstrate the strength of feeling of teachers in the public system against this unwelcome political experiment. Charter schools were foisted on the public in a back-room deal after the 2011 election, and the development of the policy was as bad as I’ve seen education policy get. We are not going to treat them as a fait accompli and give up our principled opposition to them now.

 

·        The ban has been described as discrimination, how does the PPTA respond to this?

The ban that PPTA members agreed to means that we don’t support charter schools by giving them professional advice or access to the expertise or resources of public school teachers. These are all things that teachers do with colleagues in their own and other schools, or with trainees, out of good will for the profession. Charter schools were established with the rationale that the teaching profession is failing, and it’s highly hypocritical of them then to seek assistance from trained and qualified teachers in the public system.

It’s perfectly legal to choose not to employ or work with people on the basis of their current employer – it’s the same as a business not wanting to sell something to a competitor because they don’t want to be copied by them. A boycott is by definition discriminatory, but this is both legally and ethically sound,  like many examples of boycotts against unjust practices or bad policies in the past.

 

·         Has the PPTA either formally or informally circulated his name amongst state schools?

No. Teachers in Northland schools contacted PPTA as they were concerned that they did not want to support the charter school, and informed their principals that they did not want to have a student teacher who was employed there. Teachers at several high schools in the area were approached and when they realised the student teacher was employed at a charter school they declined to host the student teacher. Trainee teachers are turned down by schools for placements like this regularly for a range of reasons  and it is common for trainees to have to travel to complete a teaching practice. We contacted the teacher education provider and suggested a number of options for this student to complete their initial teacher education at schools which do not have PPTA members. This is what I understand has happened. 

 

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This isn't supposed to be how it works. The promise was that the out of whack funding that charter schools get would come down as they became established and the rolls grew towards their maximum.

But the average per student funding in the first five charter schools has increased from last year, thanks to the Ministry’s generous (extravagant?) recalculations of their guaranteed minimum rolls, while growth has been slow or even negative. 

The biggest boost, unsurprisingly has gone to the deeply troubled Whangaruru charter school, which thanks to its declining roll and the extra boost of $129,000 they're getting - has more than doubled it's per student funding from 2014. 

Rise Up, which last year was the cheapest charter school to run, has received a boost of around $3000 per student – maybe they saw how much the other schools were getting and convinced the Ministry to double the number of students they are funded for (while the number of students actually enrolled increased at a much more modest rate).

Charter school sponsor

Total funding 2015

Students funded for

Students attending (July)

Funding per student

Villa (South Auckland Middle School)

$1,523,468

115

117

$13,021

ATC (Vanguard Military)

$2,346,964

144

127

$18,480

He Puna Marama (Whangarei)

$2,145,072

70

75

$28,600

Nga Parirau (Whangaruru)*

$1,777,588

40

35

$50,7088

Rise Up

$838,560

100

68

$12,331

 

$8,640,652

469

422

$20,475

 

Two charter schools, which have had growing rolls, those run by Villa and ATC, have slightly less per student in 2015 than 2014, around $1000 each, but both of them are still funded at a level far above the public school average of $7055 per student.

As charter school defenders are keen to point out, establishing new schools is always expensive and small schools are much more costly to run that large ones. Both of these things are true, but we were assured that the funding would get more in line with what most students receive as time went on, not less so.

 

 

* This includes the extra $129,000 announced on 24 July.

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The most recent capital injection into the Whangaruru Charter School of $129,000  to cover “extra costs associated  with implementing its remedial plan”   along with the quarterly funding of $412,148 and including the cost of two audits by Deloittes of $150,000 puts the total cost of  per student at  $49,425.  (That’s not including the enormous cost of paying Wellington consultants to now run the school which  will be hidden in Vote Education.)

If the minister closed the school she would be able to fund every student or “the 39 vulnerable young people whose future prospects will be greatly enhanced by gaining qualification” as she prefers to call them, to attend Kings College.   This must be a good school because the prime minister sent his son to it and John Banks sent his son there as well - until he pulled him out and sent him to Vanguard which, curiously, is now a fully-funded charter school.     

Full board and tuition at Kings College is $37,647, the 21 day Outward Bound Course is $4010 leaving $5000 for weekly sessions with a psychologist and …there would still be money left for the kids to travel home.   

Or they could spend the money in the local community but sensibly. Whangaruru is not a school - it is barely a single class. The number on the roll might be 39 but we hear it’s more like 25.   It should be turned into a fully-equipped e-classroom operated as a satellite of one of the local co-ed schools.

 Now there’s an innovation we could all support.

 

 

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Villa Education Trust, which runs two charter schools and a private school, recently appointed a new board member, and he's someone who should fit in perfectly. 

Cameron Astill was chair of the board of Pigeon Mountain primary school when the Ministry of Education decided it was going to convert an old special ed school next door into a school for children in CYFS care, creating the new Thurston Place College.  The saga of Thurston Place is one of the uglier episodes of NIMBYism we've seen in recent years and Astill was at the centre of it.  His howls of complaint  at the time make quite a contrast to the deep concern for educationally disadvantaged kids that charter school advocates like him claim to have. 

Astill not only revved up the community about the 'risks' that the children in CYFS care presented, setting up a website and huffing and puffing to local media, but took the Ministry to task for 'lack of consultation' with the local community about setting up the new school.

National MPs and conservative city councillors leapt on board, and Thurston Place College was canned. 

And now Mr Astill is helping to run charters, established not only without consultation, but completely against the wishes of local schools. 

But it's all okay - Mr Astill "is also passionate about making sure that children succeed to their full potential in education", according to hi bio from the Villa Education Trust. Just as long as they're not 'risky' kids in CYFS care. 

 

 

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Once again Northland branches have shown the rest of us what staunch means.  

Massey University, knowing full well that that PPTA members have democratically determined that they will not put their professional and intellectual capital in the service of secretive, profiteering and politically-motivated charter schools, enrolled a student teacher from a charter school in their teacher education course. No problem there – the problems come when they try to pressure local secondary schools to take this student teacher on.  Local teachers have seen at first-hand, the disruption and corruption and division that charter schools bring to school communities.

There are other options –  private schools and other charter schools. Why isn’t the student being stationed at Terenga Paraoa’s sister charter school in Whangaruru?  

And as for the Ministry of Education – what wallies!   Deputy Secretary, Dr. Graham Stoop, thunders self-righteously about  how out of order it is for PPTA members to refuse to provide support and succour for his flagship project, charter schools.  Meanwhile up and down the country, teacher education providers struggle to find placements for teacher education students because secondary teachers are so busy we can't always take them.  Deputy-Secretary Stoop has nothing to say about this issue (he could, for example, table a clause in our STCA bargaining to increase the associate teacher rate) but hops to when a student placement problem arises in a charter school. 

The ministry appears to have been very hands-off when it comes to providing support for the beleaguered public schools in Whangarei which, I understand, are not only suffering roll drops and job losses as the result of having two school plonked into the city but are also picking up students from the charter schools, minus the funding.  

Of course, it’s almost certain that Stoop is responding to pressure from the MP for the electorate of Gerrymander, one David Seymour. (Remember when public servants were just that and not part of political PR machine?)  David Seymour, frothing at the mouth and fulminating, has described PPTA as disgraceful.

Well!! Being called names by a man who slithered into parliament on the back of a grubby deal in Epsom, immediately engaged in a sleight of hand to have himself declared leader of the Act Party to double his income and then engineered a position for himself that’s all status and no responsibility (under-secretary indeed!) is almost a badge of honour.

I'd say it'll be a cold day in hell should PPTA take advice on ethics from the Act Party’s parliamentary puppet.

As Confucius said on the topic of moral leadership – being loved isn’t enough; “When the good like you and the bad hate you, that is enough.”  

 And another thought for ACT…

 

 

 

 

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PPTA teachers have voted not to support charter schools – their staff and their operation – it was well publicised at the time and the PPTA discussion is available on our website.

 

Our opposition to charter schools is evidence-based and well documented.   Countries that have gone down the charter schools route, including Chile and Sweden, are seeing inequality increase and results declining. PPTA members have chosen not to divert resources from state schools or their students in order to prop up a model that threatens to weaken our public education system. It might well be that given the funding advantages and smaller class sizes in charter schools, we will see pockets of success in New Zealand - but the costs to the rest of the system, and the students served by it, remain too high.

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