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

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.



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:



(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.


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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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Posted by on in Uncategorized

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)





ATC (Vanguard Military)





He Puna Marama (Whangarei)





Nga Parirau (Whangaruru)*





Rise Up











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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A bunch of charter schools put their ‘annual reports’ out yesterday, beautifully produced pieces of PR fluffery that would make any company seeking investors proud.*

In the Vanguard report there’s a page dedicated to busting ‘Vanguard Myths’. Trouble is – most of them are nonsense. 



Vanguard chooses to teach (some of) the NZC, but charter schools in general don’t have to. Section 158D of the Education Act makes clear that the contracts of charter schools will establish the curriculum and qualifications that they offer –they don’t have to be the NZC or NCEA.

The curriculum options at Vanguard are much narrower than almost any other schools teaching senior students. Students in years 11 to 13 do three compulsory subjects and choose from seven others.

Compare this to other small low decile secondary schools such as:

·         Queen Elizabeth College in Palmerston North – 21 options at level 3

·         Ruapehu College – 16 options at level 3

·         Whangaroa College – 15 options at level 3

This is not counting the subjects available at other levels.  And contrast this to some other secondary schools on the Shore – Birkenhead has 30 options at level 3, Northcote 40, or Glenfield 33.

Because Vanguard chooses to offer this very narrow range of subjects they can put far more resources into them.



So despite what the first paragraph sentence says, they do have ‘unregistered’ staff – just read sentence two.  Someone who is ‘unregistered’ does not have a teaching qualification; therefore they’re not a teacher.  Having a qualification in another field means nothing, there are thousands of qualifications available out there, it’s no guarantee of anything.

The Vanguard contract states it clearly – in 2015 they have 10 registered teachers, and 4 non registered, i.e. people who are not teachers.

So the ‘myth’ is in fact true – “They can use non-registered teachers and that could be someone off the street.”

The Dominion Post story, by Jo Moir is not about teachers who are unregistered, but people who have not renewed their practising certificates.  These teachers have for some reason or another not filled out the form to get their certificate updated (a three yearly process).  They are not unregistered.




This myth is partly right and partly wrong. It’s right in that they don’t have a zone. They could, in limited situations, refuse a student who lives right next door.

They are supposed to take all comers though. But the trouble with this is twofold. This is not like a regular public school where students can just rock up on day one (or two or three…) of term and expect to be able to go to school. Public schools have to take all comers. Vanguard’s cohort self-selects to a large degree. There’s a reason there are no ORS or high needs students there.

The other side is what they do when students are there. Charters overseas are well documented at perfecting the art of moving students on who are going to damage their reported grades. The four exclusions in 2014 could well mask a higher number of students who were ‘counselled out’ in less obvious ways. This (unfortunately)  happens sometimes in public schools too. All we have to explain the roll drop from the start of 2014 to the end (of around 30 students) is that Vanguard says these students achieved NCEA and left. We have to take their word on this.



Vanguard’s roll did decline significantly over the course of 2014. It was 104 in March; 93 in July and 79 in October.   

While they say the reason for this decline is that students left to pursue military careers, we don’t know that for sure, and the school has a lot of good reasons to say it. Contrast it to the status of public schools – if students (of any year level) leave during the year they lose funding. Retaining students at school is one of the major goals that regular public schools are given. This doesn’t seem to apply to Vanguard – who are allowed to shed students and act as if this is a great accomplishment.




Vanguard’s funding in 2014 and 2015 is much higher than most schools, at nearly $20,000 per student. The average state school funding per student is around $7000 per student. One other charter school received over five times regular state school funding.

Some very small low decile secondary schools do receive per student funding that is comparable to what Vanguard gets.  It’s worth noting a couple of things though. Because tiny secondary schools are hugely expensive it’s not really considered a good idea just to open them up willy nilly. The comparably expensive schools are generally in the wops, or have a historical significance and special character which explains their existence.  What’s more, their funding is high because of the base funding which secondary schools get to offer a full and complete curriculum at senior level – it’s expensive to offer that wide range of subjects. Vanguard doesn’t do this, so they have heaps of cash for small classes – and hey presto – high grades which they can trumpet about in glossy brochures like this.

Yes, building new schools is expensive. But the state owns them, and the school property portfolio is worth around $10billion. Charter schools’ facilities are privately owned.




* Except they are very quiet on the money side of things. Funny that.

Tagged in: Charter schools Myths
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While most schools in the country are feeling the pinch – with 95% of secondary principals reporting their funding isn’t enough to meet their needs, one school is so flush that they have just bought a $100,000 waka for their 65 students.

The NZ Herald reports:

He Puna Marama, which received $6 million of government funding for its two Whangarei schools over two years, but also gets revenue from elsewhere, says it bought the 22-person, 14m carved kauri waka with money specially "put aside" for the purpose.

The secondary school part of this charter school (which opened in 2014) had around 60 students last year, and with its $40,000 funding each student bought in, it employed 8 teachers.

And along with this it has $100,000 left over for a beautiful hand carved waka.

Post Primary Teachers' Association president Angela Roberts said she found the waka purchase "frustrating".

"It breaks my heart, because I know for a fact there are outdoor education teachers in state schools around the country trying to motivate the same kids as He Puna Marama are and they don't even have the money to buy a couple of plastic kayaks," she said. "That's what hurts.

An example of this – a great rural secondary school serving a predominantly Maori community just set up a senior outdoor ed course – and the Board of Trustees gave the teacher in charge a $200 budget for the year. Not even enough for one kayak or mountain bike.

This school – with over 80% Maori students, gets a quarter of the funding that the Whangarei charter does per students, and has a massive debt that a previous principal left.

And from overseas the issue of lack of accountability with charter school spending has been in the news again. The Washington Post reports:

A new report released on Tuesday details fraud and waste totaling more than $200 million of uncovered fraud and waste of taxpayer funds in the charter school sector, but says the total is  impossible to know because there is not sufficient oversight over these schools.

It’s to their credit that He Puna Marama was open about this purchase – but we have no idea about the general spending at most of the charters – how much the chief executives are earning for example. I’d hazard that this waka isn’t the only purchase that is out of line with spending at regular public schools.

 And, like with the 81 hectare farm bought by another charter, if this trust has its schools closed, or decides it wants to get out of the ‘education business’ their tax-payer funded purchases remain in their hands.

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So the plan to evaluate charter schools has been released, at last, and it’s as hopeless as expected.  David Seymour agrees that if it doesn’t compare the cohorts in charters with how they would have been expected to perform in regular schools, it’s not much cop.

What we didn’t know before it was released, that we do know now is:

1. The survey of parents, which is part of the evaluation, relies on the schools themselves to select the whanau and carry it out. This is seen as a problem by the evaluators, but apparently isn’t so serious that they won’t do it. Hmmm. So, what’s the bet that parents who are ticked off with the school won’t be getting an evaluation form sent home.

2. The total cost of the evaluation is $375,000 over the three and a bit years. This is less than 1% of the cost of the policy. You’d think for a pilot programme that a bit more would be invested in a high quality evaluation.

3. The Ministry of Education’s Chief Science Advisor, whose role is to “to use evidence to enhance the quality of policy formation and evaluation” was not involved in designing the plan.

Of course, with charters in New Zealand funded to a level that is wildly out of step with what is spent on almost all other students in the country, an evaluation that compared students in charters with students in regular public schools was always going to be problematic.

However, there may be some comparisons that could work. This would have to be with small schools of choice (i.e. that parents have to make an active choice to enrol in, that have maximum rolls, rather than zones), with students predominantly from amongst the ‘priority learner’ groups.  Three that spring to mind are Nga Tapuwae, a kura a iwi in Mangere, McCauley College, a Catholic girls’ school in Otahuhu, or Tai Wananga, a special character school in Hamilton.  All three of these are low decile, predominantly Maori or Pasifika, and their students achieve NCEA results well above the national averages.  (Search them out on the site, comparing those three with the two Kura Hourua in Whangarei and Whangaruru, and Vanguard, the three charters that did NCEA last year).

I’m not saying that the answer then is to simply more ‘schools of choice’ rather than regular public schools, as their students achieve better. That would be a very bad argument, which unfortunately some people will leap to.  Rather, if we’re looking at the impact of charters, we have to, like David Seymour says compare apples with apples. 



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The Ministry of Education put out a bit of propaganda a few months back that Cam Slater and his cronies seized on with glee. It tried to prove that charter schools aren’t really all that expensive, and that they actually are funded less than public schools.

It ignores a whole bunch of inconvenient facts.

1. When the state invests millions of dollars in a new school, it’s getting an asset that it owns. The school property portfolio is worth over $10 billion. Unused school sites are regularly sold. A charter school, if it buys its property, like the Whangaruru one, owns the assets themselves, and if they go belly-up, can walk away with whatever they’ve bought, paid for by the taxpayer. Funnily enough, I haven’t heard Jordan Williams or David Farrar making a fuss about this.

2. New schools cost a lot, whether they’re charter schools or public schools. However, before any new public school is opened there’s a thorough analysis which has to show that there will be significant roll-growth, above the capacity of existing schools to manage. Part of this involves talking with other local schools – like in this example of Hobsonville Point.  This is absolutely not the case with charters – see Whangarei in particular, or Alwyn’s middle school in West Auckland where there are hundreds of spare places at the year levels he’s teaching.  Hekia acknowledged this by making ‘in areas of roll growth’ one of the potential priorities for the second round – but it was a ‘nice to have’ priority, rather than a must have – and has been ignored.

3. The massive costs for new public schools, such as for example the millions on Hobsonville Point Secondary School, are almost all tied up in property and plant. In regards to teaching staff and operational funding, they receive the same as any other school of a similar size. The charters can, on the other hand, spend their money which in theory should be going on plant directly on the students, in small class sizes and free uniforms, or on executive salaries or whatever.  The best example of this is the Whangarei charter that opened last year. Its lease is $60,000 per year for property – which means that property costs only one and a half students.  It has a vastly disproportionate amount of resource available to spend compared to local public schools – and when you talk to Ministry of Ed staff, they’re well aware of this.

4. The most extravagant funding, for example for the aforementioned Whangarei charter, was based on the school’s assertion that they would be starting very small, and growing to a larger number of students (from 70 to around 300) – and property funding was based on the target roll rather than the actual roll. What a surprise – the roll doesn’t seem to be growing at the rate projected. But funding is still based on what they are aiming for.  And don’t forget, it’s highly unlikely that a new secondary would be approved that only promised to get to 300 students, simply because that’s always going to be a very costly school (compare to, e.g Hobsonville Point again – target roll, 1500 students).

5. One of the premises of charters was that private sectors would ‘partner’ with the state to provide education –and provision of property was supposed to be one of the ways in which this would happen. Unsurprisingly, the outfits that want to operate them haven’t brought anything to the table at all, and have needed the state to fund them entirely.

6. How much is spent on instruction makes a difference to achievement. See, for example, this research on ‘low ability’ students receiving significant extra funding. Comparing the learning outcomes of charter and public schools is unfair. Any good scientific test needs clarity about what the variables are that are being tested. If charters get better achievement results than their local public schools which variable is making the difference? Massively more resourcing for instruction would be a pretty decent candidate – but is that the point that charter school advocates wanted to prove?


Anyway – don’t take my word on the costs of charter schools. This MoE document spells it out – see sections 35- 38.

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To make any reasonably legitimate claim about whether charter schools have been worth it or not, two basic questions need to be answered.

First – how well have these students done compared to how well they would have done if they hadn’t been in charter schools?

Second – what’s the impact been on other schools in the areas where the charters opened?

If we only answer the first part of question one (how well they have done) without any comparison to how well they may have done otherwise, we’re not getting useful information. Sure some of them might get good results at NCEA or in their National Standards, but without knowing (with some certainty) how these students would have done if they hadn’t been at a charter school, it’s meaningless.

How could an evaluation work this out? Well, there are quite a few different methods that could be useful. One is to look at how comparable cohorts of students do at regular schools. The crucial word here is ‘comparable’. I’ve no doubt that the MoE is already comparing the charter school results to data from other schools with similar profiles of students in terms of ethnic make- up, and the national and regional data for the groups of students in the charter schools. But is this really a comparable group of students?  For one thing, these students and their parents have chosen a charter school. Perhaps then a comparison with students in other ‘schools of choice’ such as state integrated or special character schools would be fairer. Ideally, the best ‘control’ group to compare to would be students who applied to the charter schools but didn’t get in on a ballot – this won’t happen because so far the charter schools have been able to take everyone who has applied.

The second question, about impact on other schools matters because this is supposed to be a policy about addressing student underachievement as a whole. If the charter schools are getting great results, but the schools that the charter students are leaving are seeing their results slide (perhaps as a result of losing the more motivated students, or the impact of falling rolls meaning they can’t offer the educational options they could before) then it can’t be said to be an effective policy.

Anyway, neither of these questions will be answered by the charter school evaluation that the Ministry has contracted, nor by the reports that the Ministry and the schools themselves release trumpeting their successes.

The evaluation will no doubt provide interesting insights into how they operate, which is mostly what it is designed to do, but based on the proposal the Ministry put out for the research, is going to go nowhere near these difficult questions.

Finally, a question that won’t be answered by evaluation or research, that certainly is worth considering in any broad and honest appraisal of the policy is, could we have got something better if the money had been spent another way?

We know that programmes that cost less than charter schools ($15 mil in 2015), like Te Kotahitanga, can make a significant difference to large numbers of students.  So what is the opportunity cost of the charter school policy? And on one side of the ledger has to sit the damage that this policy has done to the relationship between teachers and the government.



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Yesterday's story about quarter of a charter school’s students leaving in the course of a year throws into relief some of the inconsistencies between the way the government treats charters and regular public schools.

Charter school operator Nick Hyde has said that students leaving during the year , supposedly having finished their qualifications, is something to be celebrated*.  I’m sure that plenty of secondary school principals would like to be able to agree – but that’s not the way they are supposed to operate.

In 2011 the government introduced a new funding regime to try and make schools keep students all year - by penalising those that don’t. Quarterly funding means that if students leave (for any reason) during the year, their school loses funding. Here’s the Minister at the time explaining the new policy:

Education Minister Anne Tolley said quarterly roll counts were introduced to ensure funding was more accurate, and directed to where it was needed.

"I'm sure taxpayers will be astonished to find out that schools have previously received funding for students who are no longer attending.

"This change provides an incentive for schools to retain students. If students are at school and engaged in learning they have a much higher chance of gaining qualifications and skills.

Contrast this to charter school funding – guaranteed for a minimum roll for the whole year, however many students leave during that time (not to mention the generous funding rates…)

Currently three of the five charter schools are below their minimum roll (down 29, down 21 and down 2), and two above (up 2 and up 17). I wonder how many students who were enrolled at charters are now at other educational institutions, receiving more state funding there?

And while I’m on inconsistent funding regimes, the MoE will be shortly calculating the automatic inflation adjustments to next year’s charter school resourcing. This is something people in public schools can only dream of.  Schools’ operational funding is adjusted during the Budget round at the Minister’s discretion (and admittedly has generally kept pretty close to inflation in recent years) but the largest part of school funding is salaries. Teachers’ salaries have fallen around 5% behind inflation over the last six years.


*Of course he claims that these students have done well – maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not. Later this week I’ll post about how we’ll never know the actual impact of charter schools on students’ results, because the Minister and Ministry are designing the evaluation to make sure we don’t.

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Posted by on in Charter schools

Act’s fresh-faced MP for the rotten-borough of Epsom wants a cabinet post, and John Key thinks it’s a good idea so he can get the extra funding.


David Seymour has his eyes on the education portfolio, on the basis of his work developing, in his words “the best charter school policy in the world”. These are the schools that are costing three times as much per student as public schools. In Whangarei two new ones opened in an area with 900 spare school places already.


Act’s education policy, as Jamie Whyte described it, is to make schools like supermarkets. I guess teachers can kiss goodbye to the idea of ever belonging to a respected, reasonably paid profession in that scenario.


Showing unusual self-awareness, Act also writes that “many in the educational establishment express intense hostility” to their policies.


Key assures New Zealand that his third term isn’t going to see a radical step to the right.  Appointing Seymour would put this under doubt.


What’s worse, it would antagonise a sector that the government is working with on the delicately balanced, but potentially very positive Investing in Educational Success initiative.


(An abbreviated version of this post appeared as a letter to the Dominion Post on 29/9). 

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Posted by on in Charter schools

Charter schools the future of education?

"Did you know what a charter school was?" a parent is asked.
No - she responds.

Maybe she doesn’t know because the NZ difference is not educational. The difference is one of ideology and, in order to encourage the development of this privatisation model, these schools get greater resourcing and support which in turn allows for smaller class sizes (1:15) and more attention to the child’s learning needs.

Resourcing and support that all schools would love to have access to. Smaller class sizes would provide a learning opportunity that all NZ children deserve – however children also deserve the safeguards that are in the (non-privatised) state system too, for their health, safety and education.

The question must be this - why are local and foreign entities - including trusts, profiteers, religious outliers, the mad, the bad, the disenchanted, the wheeler-dealers, the self-important, the rich, (or a combination of) - being encouraged to sign up for this.

Why does such an entity have to opt out of the NZ education system, and all the associated safeguards, to get the charter school level of resourcing and support? They opt into a business contracting model and, for higher dosh, have a lower level of responsibility for students and less accountability to the NZ public.

Why are models such as the South Auckland Middle School and Mt Hobson Middle School not OK for integration into the state school system but are OK as charter schools?
It seems that Mt Hobson Middle School (aka Alwyn Poole’s model) was operating successfully in Remuera without public funding. So why is the state (aka taxpayer) funding what is effectively the franchising of a private school model?

Is it because the authorisation board needs a charter school flag flyer  - a safe pair of hands and one that can be rolled out as a benign face and the reason for the scheme’s existence - regardless of the risk that the model poses to our education system.

It is not educationally innovative.

The expansion of the scheme does make it sound ripe for the picking ... especially if you are a wheeler-dealer.

Oh wait a minute - it was a wheeler-dealer or two that created imported the model in the first place.


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The Minister of Education wants it both ways. One hand  she says that teachers use out of school factors “as an excuse and an explanation” for everything bad that happens in schools, and then says a charter school losing students and falling apart is okay because they’re dealing with kids who have drug problems and tough lives.

What grates even more is that while these kids at the failing charter school are no doubt doing it tough, the resources that they have available to help are vastly more than similar kids get in public schools – around 3  to four times more.  Even students in Alternative Education centres receive far less government funding than charter school students. And these are ones that genuinely do have it tough - we don't have to rely on charter school operators to tell us. (Who knows how the kids at any of the charter would be doing at public school - there is no matched evaluation,  and we rely on self-reporting to know the demographics/baselines of their students.) 

Sure, these are new schools and the funding for new schools is always high. But they’re tiny, which makes them  particularly pricey, and the almost all the funds that the schools receive can be spent directly on the students as the overheads are so low. A new school like Hobsonville Point is also very expensive on a per student basis –but almost all of that cost is tied up in buildings. These schools don’t have that at all. The fact is, they have far more to spend on each student than any other school in the country. This should be making a difference.


To be charitable, maybe this is a ‘road to Damascus’ moment for Parata. Perhaps the lives of these kids at Whangaruru have made her realise the error of her ways and she’s now going to be more understanding of the realities of students and teachers in all schools. I’m not holding my breath. 

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