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My submission calls on politicians to show leadership and stop using the education system for short-term political ends and focus on the central role it plays in building a civil society.

Groucho Marx defined politics as “the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies”.

Regrettably, this Bill meets all elements of that definition. 

Submission on the Education (Update) Amendment Bill

1. Introduction

I have been engaged with education for over forty years, as a secondary teacher, a parent, a member of a board of trustees (three years as board chair) and as a policy advisor for a teacher union.   In that time, I have seen many pieces of legislation introduced without proper care for the impact on schools and students and without the extensive consultation needed to avoid a crash landing.  This Bill continues that practice. It does not establish “a strategic direction that allows a focus on children and young people and their educational outcomes” as optimistically promised in the general policy statement but simply adds more competition and incoherence to a system that is already ad hoc, piecemeal and highly-stressed.  

The changes proposed in this Bill are not associated with improved educational outcomes and no evidence is provided for the claim that there will be real, as opposed to ideological, gains in respect of “efficiency, effectiveness and accountability”. 

2. Preamble: What would a top performing education system look like?

  • Top performing education systems share the following features:
  • Access to high quality early childhood education especially in poor communities;
  • Well-resourced comprehensive schools that don’t stratify students (either within schools or by schools);
  • Equitable resourcing with a special focus on socio-economically disadvantaged areas;
  • Sufficient trained and qualified teachers;
  • Teacher access to relevant professional development, appraisal and support;
  • Sufficient trained and qualified principals;
  • Support for principals, especially when they are new to the position;
  • Collaborative, high-trust relationships between schools and between central agencies and schools;
  • Parental involvement;
  • Widespread use of technology as a pedagogical tool to build better learning relationships not as a mass cost saver;
  • Valuing of coherency over fragmentation.[1]

Testing the proposed changes proposed in the Education (Update) Amendment Bill against these factors confirms that New Zealand is drifting further and further away from models of schooling that are associated with success.  The only one New Zealand would get a pass mark on would be parental involvement (Boards of Trustees) and that is being actively undermined by charter schools and now, COOLs.

3. When is an update not an update?

I want to comment on two major elements of this Bill; the establishment of COOLs and the reconstitution of integrated schools as public schools and how those two initiatives fit into the context and operation of the school network. It is something of a sleight of hand to include these two items under the benign title of “Update”. In fact, they presage very significant change and deserved to have been introduced and consulted on separately. Their late and inappropriate appearance in an “update” Bill speaks to a covert agenda.

4. COOLs

4.1  It’s not about learning

New Zealand schools already use online learning to expand options for students but they do it in the context of a learning relationship which includes face-to-face support within a wide range of other collaborative school experiences such as drama productions, sporting activities and cultural pursuits. The COOLs proposal shears the emotional content from the learning relationship and reduces it to a content transaction.  It is a factory model designed to enable private, probably international, companies to make maximum profits from our children at the lowest possible cost.

4.2  Consultation, research and planning is completely optional

If the intention had been otherwise, there would have been full consultation (including an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of current NZ online programmes) careful consideration of the research and risks, a long time-scale for the introduction and an implementation plan.  Instead this proposal was added to the Bill at the last minute with only a very lightweight regulation impact statement.

4.3  Privatisation is NOT associated with better learning

The haste and the underhand approach suggests that the drivers for this proposal are cost cutting and privatisation not providing the best education for New Zealand kids. The appearance of this proposal at the same time as the failed bulk funding model resurfaces is not coincidental, either.  Unless schools can cash up their staffing, they will not have funding to purchase COOL courses.  The intention is clearly to screw down school staffing so that small rural secondary schools, in particular, find themselves unable to staff a range of curriculum options for students. They will then be compelled to adopt full online provision regardless of whether this is in the student’s best interests or not.  Long term, this can only mean the end of senior secondary provision in many small rural communities.   There does not seem to have been any honest attempt to apprise rural parents of this information or to consider the implications for rural communities which have already lost their hospitals, police stations and banks. 

4.4    “Rigorous” Accreditation?

It has been suggested that the sections on accreditation in the Bill (35T – 35 ZE) will protect children and the public from the abuses associated with overseas online learning providers. This is nothing but a triumph of hope over experience.  The frauds that may be perpetuated by these organisations are not easily discoverable and it beggars belief that the Ministry of Education with its low staff numbers will have any prospect of undertaking the sort of scrutiny that would be required.  Moreover, accreditation (or removal of accreditation) will be subject to intense political interest as we have seen in the case of charter schools.  Te Pumanawa o te Wairua in Whangaruru began failing a few months after it opened but the Ministry denied the existence of problems for over a year. It took two years to close the school at a cost to the taxpayer was $3.2 million. Similarly, the MPI fish dumping scandal, the visa fraud at private Indian tertiary providers and, most recently, the use of isolation rooms in schools, all reveal an understaffed, beleaguered and politically-cowed public service who are not in a position to provide the level of monitoring that this proposal demands.  The promise of “rigorous” accreditation is a sop with no practical application whatsoever.

4.5    Funding – a zero sum game

The most egregious aspect of the introduction of COOLs is one that will operate outside the scope of the legislation.  Every student that leaves a face-to-face school to enrol in a COOL takes funding and staffing with them.  This means the educational experience for every student that remains in the school will be impoverished.  In secondary schools, the loss of even a few students means the loss of subjects from the timetable, reductions in the provision of pastoral care and fewer sporting and cultural options.  In order to provide an illusion of choice for a few, the educational potential of all other students is being compromised.  Education should not be a zero sum game.

4.6    Fine words but no fair go

In this context, the Bill’s goal in s.1A(3)(a), of the National Educational and Learning Priorities that, “the system must focus on helping each child and young person to attain educational achievement  to the best  of his/her potential” is contradictory.  The system has no intention of ensuring all students get a fair go because for that to happen all New Zealand students would need to be able to attend an equally well-resourced and supported school.  That is manifestly not the intention here.  The COOLs are being set up to deliberately create an oversupply of places so that schools are forced to compete for students in order to retain sufficient funding and staffing to be able to provide educational opportunities for their students.

4.7   Students pay the price for underfunding

While it is sometimes argued that such market “discipline” will force schools to become more effective, the reality is that students suffer when schools go into roll decline. Moreover, intense competition for students undermines collaboration and fuels mistrust adding to the fragmentation and incoherency that is already such an undesirable feature of the New Zealand system.

4.8   Investing in Educational Success (IES) – so last year

There is no better example of how hopelessly ad hoc and politicised educational decision-making is than the fate of the government’s 2014 flagship programme, Investing in Educational Success (IES).    Schools have only just begun getting to grips with the challenge of collaborating after years of competing and instead of being supported in this challenging venture, they have been thrown a curve ball in the shape of competition from COOLs. Add to this the recent bulk funding proposals which will also increase competition and it becomes clear that policies are being developed on the hoof with no thought to consistency and practicality.  Taxpayers will rightly be concerned that the $359 million allocated to IES collaboration is probably going to be wasted.

5. Political Leadership

5.1  We have the solution; now to invent the problem

Groucho Marx defined politics as “the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies”. Regrettably, this Bill meets all elements of that definition.

5.2  What does it mean to have compulsory education?

Nowhere does the Bill show any appreciation of the social contract between the State and citizens that is compulsory education. Parents do not send their children to school by choice; since 1877, the State has mandated that children must attend school. This is backed up by s.24 of the 1989 Education Act which authorises punishments for parents who fail to enrol their children in a school.  There was nothing whimsical about the 1877 decision. It arose from a long campaign to provide educational opportunities to all children, not just those who happened to have wealthy parents.  It was understood that an informed and educated citizenry was an essential part of nation building and that education was a right not a privilege.

It is unconscionable for the State to coerce parents into sending their children to school then take no responsibility for the quality of provision available.  The mantra of “parental choice” has become a catch-all phrase that enables politicians to shift responsibility for the provision of a well-resourced and supported national network of schools to parents.  Governments authorise the creation of many more schools than are actually needed, and then expect parents to shop round and find one that is suitable and which might accept their child.

5.3  Is it ok to have winner and loser schools in a compulsory system?

The result is the creation of an unequal network of winner and loser schools.  Popular schools raise additional money through “donations” and foreign fee-paying students which enables them to provide facilities and services far superior to those of schools in poorer areas.  This, in turn, creates an oversupply of “customers” enabling schools to select those students who will bring them most credit.

5.4  Winning formula – control student intake and charge fees.

Integrated schools have been particularly well-placed to take advantage of this market for two reasons: firstly, they have been allowed to charge fees/donations and while this is arguably against the law, there has been no political will to hold them to account; and secondly, the maximum roll device which was supposed protect local public schools from predation has been used to control student intake.   The result of this has been well-documented; New Zealand schools have polarised along ethnic and socio-economic lines. 

5.5  The lie that lies at the heart of parental choice    

The political response has been to hide behind the illusion of parental choice. Schools from poor communities are blamed for not being as effective as their well-funded cousins in the wealthy areas and the implication is made that parents and communities elsewhere are racist.  In reality the stratified education system we have is a very deliberate political device. It has not arisen by accident but has been systematically and cynically created to enable our political leaders to abrogate responsibility for funding and support for an effective network of local schools.  There is no better example of the complete failure of political leadership of education than the minister of education’s sophistry in claiming that charter schools and COOLs are simply adding to the options available to parents. She would be more aware than most that adding more schools to the network diminishes funding to others and thus overall quality and, as well, shifts costs to parents.

5.6  More school sites = less money for teaching and learning

No business would survive if it opened new branches in areas where customer numbers are in decline yet that is the way the New Zealand education system operates. No rational relationship exists between the opening of new schools and student numbers in any particular area.  Whanganui Collegiate was famously integrated even though there were already 1500 surplus places in surrounding schools and tiny charter schools are being regularly set up in communities that are already over-supplied with schools.  The result is a network of small, fragile, struggling schools that do not have sufficient student numbers to provide a broad range of options for students. 

5.7  COOLs will damage schools

While the market theory is that successful schools should survive while unsuccessful schools go to the wall, the reality is that schools struggle on with the odds stacked against them, trying to do the best job they can. Meanwhile cohorts of students passing through the school are denied the opportunities a compulsory education system should provide. COOLs will do nothing but exacerbate this problem.

5.8  Schools as pork barrels        

There is a whiff of pork barrel politics about this process. Politicians enjoy the photo opportunities and electoral kudos that are generated by opening new schools but understandably  go to great lengths to avoid the political opprobrium associated with school closure.  Consequently, the taxpayer is picking up the tab for multiple, small school sites and for extra staffing despite the economies of scale offered by a single, large institution. A school of 1200 students rather than 4 sites of 300 students each, would allow more investment in the critical part of education - teaching and learning.  Except for the case of isolated rural schools which are small by necessity (not through choice) scarce educational dollars should not be being dissipated across small, non-viable sites.

5.9  Let’s spend the money on teaching and learning

Fewer more robust schools would enable class ratios of 1:15 for all schools (not just charter schools) ensure that effective use was made of the trained and qualified teaching resource (rather than seeking to stretch it out by taking on untrained staff and using online delivery) and would guarantee that all schools were well-equipped and fit for purpose.  It would also stop the constant increases in charges to parents which are an inevitable concomitant to any system that wastes money on oversupply of places.

6. Integration of the integrated schools

6.1  Private Schools’ Conditional Integration Act

As noted, integrated schools occupy a very privileged place in the New Zealand education system. Although the original intention of the Private Schools Conditional Integration Act was to save the largely catholic schools that were often serving very poor communities, it has become a device whereby wealthy private schools seek full taxpayer funding while continuing to charge “fees” and to select their students. 

6.2  Proselytising privileges

The original poor catholic schools have long gone and for the same reasons; the ability to charge attendance dues and “donations” in the context of roll maxima. The trend has been for catholic schools to become whiter and to move up the deciles.  Principals talk about the practice of “priest shopping” which is a means whereby non-practising Catholics get certified for entry to catholic schools.   While church attendance is in decline throughout New Zealand, rolls are increasing in integrated schools, suggesting that the taxpayer is paying for proselytising.

6.3  What happened to the “secular” bit?        

Consistent with the more pluralistic country New Zealand has become, a much wider range of religions are now represented within the integrated school network.  Some of these schools have views on gender roles and creationism, for example, that would not find favour with the majority of New Zealand taxpayers.  The concern would not be so much with the teaching of these views but with the fact that taxpayer funding is used for such instruction when the system is supposedly compulsory, secular and free.  Many of these schools are also very small and struggle to be viable so they add to the problems of over-supply and wasteful use of scarce educational funding.

6.4  Some parents pay for school transport; some don’t.

Integrated schools are also advantaged by receiving free transport.  Parents in urban areas who often have to pay transport costs to send their children to the nearest public schools will wonder about the even-handedness of such a provision.

6.5  Time for a difficult conversation    

This discussion signals the need for a more comprehensive review of integrated schooling and its place in the New Zealand education system.  At the very least, some consideration needs to be given to the possibility of establishing comprehensive,  interfaith schools in which  provision is made for appropriate modes of worship within the schools but the actual curriculum is not faith-based.  This model would meet the needs of those parents who want access to a particular religious doctrine but in a more tolerant and open-minded environment. Importantly, it would be more cost effective and allow for increased spending on teaching and learning priorities as opposed to property and facilities.

7. Conclusion

7.1  The crystal ball says…

This Bill sets up a back-to-the-future scenario whereby New Zealand returns to the pre-1877 regime with fee-charging “special character” schools for the children of the rich and a mishmash of uneven state provision, including online delivery, for the rest.  This cannot be in the interests of either current or future New Zealanders.  The public education system ought not to be a series of disconnected learning factories charged with delivering achievement outputs, as this Bill envisages.  Events in Europe and USA remind us of the ugly political and social consequences that may arise when the role of education in creating tolerant and informed citizens is compromised by cost-cutting, privatisation and the promotion of socio-economic, ethnic, religious, cultural and gender division.  Local schools are one of the few remaining institutions that actually promote community engagement and cohesion. We should not lightly dispense with them.

7.2  First, do no harm…

The honourable course for the Select Committee is to set aside the elements of this Bill that deal with COOLs and with integrated schools because, as it stands, they will actively and dangerously add to the incoherence and polarisation that currently characterises our system. There has simply not been sufficient consultation and consideration of the implications and the alternatives.  The process needs to start over with an honest and comprehensive national discussion about how we can best serve the educational needs of all New Zealand children and what online delivery and faith-based schools might contribute to that.  Imposing a top-down “solution” prepared earlier and devoid of any real understanding of the problem, will not do.

7.3  Inquiry-based learning – it works for kids 

In the past, changes of the magnitude proposed in this Bill would not have appeared without some form of extensive public enquiry or investigation; that this has not happened indicates a certain contempt for the democratic process.  The Select Committee needs to provide the sort of strategic, non-partisan leadership that is so lacking in New Zealand (and the world) at the moment via a review of educational provision in New Zealand.   In the absence of any political will to provide such leadership, a royal commission would be the least that the public has a right to expect. 

 


[1] This is an amalgam of factors from various sources. There is general agreement about the principles though not necessarily about the significance of individual characteristics. It’s not a secret recipe and it’s not rocket science.

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Amongst many questions about the virtual schools bill that’s going through Select Committee at the moment, two big ones are about how they’ll be funded and how enrolments will work. These aren’t clear from the legislation; enrolments seems to be open access with the restriction of yet to be determined accreditation criteria, and funding is simply ‘allowed’ by Ministerial decision.

So it was helpful to receive a bunch of papers from the Ministry of Education a few weeks ago which showed a bit more of their thinking (though it’s a shame that they didn’t put them up with the Bill in the first instance).

Funding and fees

While there is still very little detail on this it seems that:

·         COOLs that are state schools or charter schools will be fully publicly funded and unable to charge fees to students.

·         COOLs that are private organisations or tertiary institutions won’t be fully funded and will be able to charge fees.

·         We don’t know whether ‘fully funded’ means at the same level as a face-to-face school or less – some papers point out that the costs are different for delivering online and face-to-face learning.

·         We also don’t know whether private COOLs will be funded at the same level as private schools now (around 20% of what public schools get) or the same level as tertiary institutions (around 40-50% of costs) or some other level.

·         It does seem clear that the current ‘double up’ of funding that exists when a student is enrolled at a face-to-face school but then does a supplementary course through Te Kura will be gone. This will make it far less attractive for small schools to access supplementary courses, as every student enrolled will cost them money.

·         Of course, we also don’t know whether there’s any new money that will be dedicated to this. I’m not holding my breath, as the papers that have gone through Cabinet don’t make any commitments.

 

Enrolments

Something that wasn’t clear initially, but appears to be what officials are thinking now, is that enrolments in COOLs that are private or run by tertiary institutions won’t be open access at all – the providers will be able to select their students.

This has pros and cons.

On one hand’ they’re more likely to select students who are likely to be successful in an online learning environment, so the ‘off –ramp’ risk for disengaged students is diminished. The downside of this is the equity risk, creating selective schools with higher proportions of ‘high achievers’ and non-selective schools with everyone else is a likely to lead to worse outcomes overall in the long run.

For a Minister who has spoken so much about increasing the achievement of students in our ‘long tail of underachievement’ this is a policy which seems very likely to at best do nothing for it, and at worst grow the ‘tail’ even more.

The other point about enrolment that’s still not clear is how the accreditation process will ensure that students who are at risk of not achieving in an online environment won’t be able to enrol. The Minister can put criteria for enrolment onto COOLs, and the obvious ones are things like the age range that a COOL can enrol, or the types of subjects and courses they can enrol people for. David Seymour’s solution would probably be, don’t put extra restrictions on, just shut them down if they don’t meet the achievement goals and in the meanwhile ‘caveat emptor’. I doubt that many in the MoE would be this cavalier, but it’s not clear what they’re proposing instead. There is some talk in the Ministry papers about essentially having something similar to the ‘gateways’ that currently exist for students wanting to enrol at Te Kura, to me this seems like the best option, but it then begs the question of what this massive change to the Act is about.

 

Registered teachers

Something else that the MoE documents show is that their thinking on the use of registered teachers changed during the policy development process. As late as June the Ministry said that one of the important protections for students in online schools was that they “will be required to employ registered teachers”, and that this would “help to ensure that teaching provision is successful in engaging students”.

 

A month later the papers show the Minister signed off that “organisations that are not currently required to employ registered teachers will not be required in the Act to employ registered teachers…” The reason for this:  to ensure that a wider number of providers can get in on the COOL action. So a critical protection for students was watered down to get more competition in the ‘market’.  

 

icon The changing role of distance education in New Zealand (MoE document- OIA release)

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Charter schools get funding for ghost students

Charter school are being funded for more students than they have enrolled. Due to a “guaranteed minimum roll” charters are funded for a minimum number of students – whether or not they actually have that number of students. Lucky.

Five of the eight charter schools are still being funded for more students than are attending them, despite some of them being in their third year of operations.

None of the eight schools are anywhere near to their maximum roll, with most of them having rolls around half the size that they are allowed to grow to.

Why is tax-payer money paying for ghost students?

Um, ideology? David Seymour?

Is there nothing better the government could be doing with that money?

Properly funding quality public education, for example, or fixing the teacher shortages, or alleviating the workload issues that plague almost every teacher in the motu?

Why haven’t their rolls grown?

There’s more money to be made when you’re funded for 100 students but you only have to teach 85. When all you care about is pies, free pie wins.

Also, maybe, their rolls haven’t grown because they’re not providing the quality of education students and whānau are used to from the public education sector?

Perhaps charter bosses are beginning to realise they’ve made a big mistake. We did tell them so.

School

2016 Guaranteed Minimum Roll

Actual roll October 2016

 

South Auckland Middle School

150

161

+11

161Te Kura Hourua o Whangarei Terenga Paraoa

150

154

+4

The Rise UP Academy

100

85

-15

Vanguard Military School

156

123

-33

Middle School West Auckland

120

115

-5

Pacific Advance Senior School

100

97

-3

Te Kapehu Whetu - Teina

85

93

+12

Te Kura Māori o Waatea

80

72

-8

 

941

900

-41

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But seriously. These are some appalling policies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behold:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Splat - pharion (bird poop)

 

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

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

Not so with the funding of Charter schools.

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

Meanwhile, Special Education is underfunded.

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

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

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

Why?

 

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

Larry Cuban site - charter school cartoon

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

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

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

Special education and alternative education are crying out for funding. 

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.       The procurement process was a joke

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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Posted by on in Charter schools

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

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

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

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

Word map - political chicanery

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* inadequate curriculum leadership continues to impact negatively on students

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Posted by on in Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

b2ap3_thumbnail_Charter-schools-paid-illegally.jpg

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Updated 30.11

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How about that innovation then?

Curriculum - "Little real innovation"

Engagement with community and parents "Little real innovation"

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

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

So where are the big innovations happening?

Governance  "highly innovative".

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Posted by on in Charter schools

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

b2ap3_thumbnail_Email-from-Alwyn.jpg

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_Charter-vs-public-schl-spending.jpg

(Click for the bigger version)

A few things that stood out to me about this:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

weasel

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Here are the questions and the complete response.

·         Why has the PPTA implemented this ban?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Charter school sponsor

Total funding 2015

Students funded for

Students attending (July)

Funding per student

Villa (South Auckland Middle School)

$1,523,468

115

117

$13,021

ATC (Vanguard Military)

$2,346,964

144

127

$18,480

He Puna Marama (Whangarei)

$2,145,072

70

75

$28,600

Nga Parirau (Whangaruru)*

$1,777,588

40

35

$50,7088

Rise Up

$838,560

100

68

$12,331

 

$8,640,652

469

422

$20,475

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 Now there’s an innovation we could all support.

 

 

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