Students on Act’s Aspire scholarship cost the taxpayer twice as much to educate as students in the public system, yet results for these students are only marginally better than their publicly educated peers.
The 250 students on these scholarships, who receive a public funding to attend private schools, cost on average $15,600 each year. Students in the public system are funded at around $7000 a year.
This programme is another example of Act’s bankrupt educational vision. Their only plan is to wildly over-fund private outfits, while somehow promising to shrink government spending.
In an NZ Herald story today David Seymour claimed "We are taking students who we know are disadvantaged and put them into independent schools and they have dramatically outperformed the New Zealand average."
This is bizarre. To get on the Aspire Scholarship students need to be from low income families (below $56,000) – but this does not necessarily equate to being disadvantaged. Having a family that will seek out the opportunity to apply for a scholarship to a private school is a likely indicator that this student comes from a background that values educational achievement. To a large extent, the most disadvantaged students are those whose families, for whatever reasons, are completely disengaged with education.
To be fair, this is complex, as incomes are a feature of disadvantage. But they’re certainly not the only one, and if Seymour thinks that being on less than $56,000 a year is disadvantaged, one has to ask – what’s his plan for the hundreds of thousands of other students in the same situation? If he really is proposing doubling the government spend on them, well, that’s great – but it might be a bit hard to do that while introducing that flat tax rate. Or does disadvantage only need to be addressed if your parents can be bothered to apply for this scholarship –i.e. they are the ‘worthy poor’ who will ‘do something about it’ – presumably kids whose parents aren’t doing something about it don’t deserve this massive extra resource.
And to claim ‘dramatic outperformance’ takes some dramatic license. 20 percent of the students on the scholarship who finished school in 2013 did not achieve the government’s bench-mark of Level 2 NCEA or equivalent. This rate was worse in 2012 and 2011. In the state system in 2013 the achievement rate was 74%. There was a higher rate of Aspire Scholarship students achieving Level 3 than the average, but if there is still 1 in 5 not getting the bottom benchmark, that is a problem.
Furthermore, the Aspire Scholarships programme is not being evaluated. A high quality evaluation of a programme like this would involve tracking a matched group of students and comparing outcomes. This would be easily achieved, by tracking the results of students on the programme with students who applied but didn’t get on.
OECD research backs up the fact that the Aspire programme is a waste of money. A PISA in focus report states that almost all of the advantage that private schools seem to have academically over public schools is a result of the socio-economic status of the students who attend. Because of this, it states “…there is no evidence to suggest that private schools help raise the level of performance of the school system as a whole.”
Between charter schools, including the new ones, and this programme, Act’s educational programme gives almost $15 million a year to private providers for the education of around 800 students. A large secondary of double this size would be cheaper than that to run.