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

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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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. 

 b2ap3_thumbnail_Myth-1.png

 

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.

 b2ap3_thumbnail_Myth-2.png

 

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.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_Myth-3.png

 

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.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_Myth-4.png

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.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_Myth-5.png 

 

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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Posted by on in Uncategorized

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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So yesterday it emerged that Willie Jackson’s application for a charter school has been accepted. It’s not official yet, but it’s almost certainly true, given the wackiness of most of the rest of the applications.

This map tells you one crucial thing you need to know about this charter school. It will most likely be where the blue dot is – at Nga Whare Waatea Marae.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Mangere-map.jpg

 

That’s right, it’s within a couple of kilometres of a kura a iwi, a kura kaupapa Māori and numerous other schools.

Now, the local kura a iwi, Nga Tapuwae, won’t suffer as a result of this new school. They’re a designated character school, which means that they take students from all across Tāmaki whose parents chose to buy into the Tainui tikanga of the school. They have a long waiting list and are set to expand from 270 to around 600 students in coming years.

But over the other side of the motorway is Te Kura Kaupapa o Mangere. This school has 190 students, and is not a designated character school. In 2012 the ERO review commented on student behaviour that wasn’t being well managed. There is no waiting list at this kura. 

And check out this table which is from a parliamentary question in June this year.

b2ap3_thumbnail_surplus-capacity.jpg

 

There certainly are times when school should be closed down, and similarly there are times when new schools need to open. But applying the Starbucks approach of cannibalizing local schools isn’t the way to go about this, and the Minister knows it.  This should be about prudent fiscal management, good use of the school network – and as a result, much better and more equitable outcomes for students.

So, can the Minister guarantee that if Willie Jackson gets his kura, that students staying at TKKM o Mangere won’t lose curriculum breadth or extra-curricular options? And that student losses won’t put pressure on the viability of other local kura? Can she guarantee that, unlike with the first round of charters, an analysis of the impact on other schools in the area will be done, in the same way as when any other school is opened?

And it has to be asked whether there’s been an approach to any of the schools within a 5km radius letting them know that a new school is about to open? If not, this shows how seriously the Minister really believes in the IES rhetoric of collaboration.

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Every time Jamie Whyte opens his mouth the chance of Act having any influence on the next government plummets.

Native Affairs on Monday night was a case in point.

Act has been trying to appeal to Maori leaders with various anti-state policies for some time, promising to roll-back the oppressive burden of government and give autonomy to iwi groups. The latest manifestation of this is of course charter schools. Catherine Isaac asked Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi to jack her up a chance to speak at the iwi leaders forum this year to sell them to this influential group.

 It’s not hard to picture how iwi leaders would have responded when Jamie Whyte goes off on one about rolling back ‘Maori privilege’, including getting rid of whanau ora (which he, self admittedly, doesn’t even know what it is). I doubt too many of them are regretting not putting their hands up for the second round of charter schools – no major iwi groups applied, despite Isaac’s best efforts. No need to spell it out to this crowd when someone’s trying to pull a swift one.

What’s more, Minister Parata’s hardly going to be beside herself with joy at National’s preferred coalition partner’s ‘grotesque and inflammatory’ comments.  Remember, Parata left the National Party after Brash’s Orewa speech.  Even if, somehow, Act is returned in a National led government, I am sure Parata (who I suspect will still be Minister of Ed should National win) will be absolutely clear that her portfolio has had quite enough damage from the junior partner over the last three years, and it’s someone else’s turn to cop it.  

 

Of course, Whyte wasn’t fussed about the iwi leaders or Minister Parata with his latest rant; this was aimed at Louis Crimp and his type, and was about cajoling him to get out the cheque book again. However, 2014 isn’t 2004, and even Act party members are finding this dog-whistle politics grating. 

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I’ve been reading the harrowing tale of Pike River by Rebecca Macfie recently, and one of many things that struck me is how in so many cases information given to directors and share-holders was feel-good garbage, spun and polished to make sure that the money kept flowing and hard questions weren't asked.

Obviously Pike River is in a different league in terms of the potentially catastrophic impact of this phenomenon, but I think we’re seeing a similar class of ‘misinformation’ in documents like this:

 b2ap3_thumbnail_Tkhkwhangaruru.jpg

 

This is from a report which went to Minister Parata in February. It’s about the charter school in Whangaruru, the one that the Ministry of Education said should not be opened as it wasn't going to be ready, and they had concerns about the capacity of the people involved to run a school.

Stories out of Whangaruru in the last few months ( e.g. here and here) show :

 

  • ·         Staff left in the first weeks
  • ·         It never had the full contingent of teachers appointed
  • ·         There were health and safety concerns from the outset
  • ·         Relationships between school leaders broke down, leading the Ministry appointed facilitator to take over the running of the school
  • ·         And we know that the facilities were not ready at the start of the term.

 

The point of this isn’t to single out this school for the rough time they’ve had. The Minister should never have signed them up, and the Ministry should not now be colluding with this terrible decision by sugar-coating the pill.  But, as we know too well, this sort of fluff keeps the money flowing.

 

* The title of this post is from this description of Macfie's book on Pike River. "Shares in the company had been rapidly taken up by investors, swept away by predictions of extraordinary returns. Beneath the hype, though, lay mismanagement, mistakes and wilful blindness that would cost men their lives."

 

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The timing was immaculate. The day after the Auditor General condemned a school’s dubious spending, it emerged that its principal had applied to open a charter school.

The Auditor General report stated that at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori O Whakawatea – “The kura spent $5,120 on Christmas gifts and vouchers for its staff and board members bought from a business owned by the principal. In our view, spending of this nature illustrates waste and a lack of probity on the part of the board.”

 

The business is a beauty spa with a side-line in colonic irrigation – which offers such things as microdermabrasion (from $99) and Hopi Ear Candling (from $55). It's owned by the principal and her husband.

The principal, Susanne Simmons-Kopa, went in the local paper to claim that the spending was all above board and was after all, only $200 per person – enough for a coffeeberry yoga with enzyme mask specialised facial.

How they managed to find 25 staff and board members at a school with 110 students is mystifying – the school I’m on the board of has a lot fewer staff with more than double the students.

Anyway, it turns out that the principal had in 2013 applied to open a charter school as well, under the aegis of the Whakawatea Kaporeihana, a clever way to get around the rule that existing schools can’t apply. The application form is revealing. Simmons-Kopa calls herself the ‘innovator-director’ of the Whakawatea Kaporeihana, an incorporated society that is paid over $30,000 a year by the Whakawatea Kohanga Reo for ‘administration services’, as well as getting MSD funding for afterschool care, presumably at the Kura Kaupapa that Simmons-Kopa runs too.

At this point it’s obvious that she’s a very busy woman – nothing necessarily wrong with that, though most principals I know report that the job is fairly demanding on its own.

 

But what is wrong with this picture is that if she does open a charter school, spending tax-payers money on things like gift vouchers from her beauty salon won’t be picked up, as the Auditor General doesn’t have any oversight of charter schools. 

And, in the US and UK where this experiment is well down the track, cases of fraud, misspending and funnelling public money to dubious ends, are regular news. 

One question that strikes me - why isn't the Taxpayers' Union crying foul about charter schools?

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Random thoughts after reading about the faith based franchise charter school that wants to open up in Porirua.  

Charter school cartoon on Frank Macskasy blogWords that came to mind were missionaries, colonisation, deficit thinking.

Apparently children in Porirua don't need qualified registered professional teachers, just people passionate about education.

Some kind of choice aye. 

A choice the ACT party thinks those kids deserve and National are rolling it out for them.

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Following two public slappings from the Ombudsman in 2013 the Ministry of Education promised to ‘proactively release’ information about charter schools rather than waiting for it to be dragged out of them via Official Information Act requests.

Following an extensive 'document dump' late last year, they seem to have fallen back into their old ways. Is this an example of what the May 2013 review of the MoE said was “…changes … not yet … fully driven down into the Ministry so that they are understood and followed by all staff”…  (i.e. blaming the workers) or is it something else? I suspect something else, and that something is the Minister’s need for political management.

PPTA was assured that there was an information release on charter schools due by the end of March. Funnily enough it hasn’t arrived. What was going on for the Minister then? Well – the storm around Te Kohanga Reo Trust had Parata very much in its grip , and there was the ISTP happening which was all about Parata getting some good vibes from her much trumpeted ‘world cup of education’.

Thus, no more information on this round of charter school applicants, which, amongst other things, would no doubt have included the newsworthy  confirmation that a US applicant was lining up for the next bite of the cherry. 

 

All of this is understandable – if disappointing. The question is, why would the Ministry promise to change when it won’t? This is public service 21st century style – where service is about serving your minister, not the public. The cynic wins over the optimist again and proactive information releases will be to the minister’s timetable.

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