Just yesterday I was defending 'mainstream' education reporting to a new-media type who was very skeptical and unimpressed, so today's feature and series of stories in the NZ Herald felt like vindication. How heartening to have Liz Gordon, Allan Vester, Cathy Wylie and Peter O'Connor, educators and researchers with decades of experience and mountains of research behind their views, as the leading voices.
The data showing the increasing and extreme segregation between Maori/Pasifika and Pakeha students in decile 1 & 10 schools is what's caused the biggest splash from this, and deservedly so. It's a massive issue, that challenges some of the basic tenets of fairness and social inclusion that we think of as fundamentally kiwi. It's also something PPTA has been talking about for a while now.
Another thread to the story of the impact of opening up the schooling 'market' to increased choice is also the shrinking of low decile schools, and commensurate growth of those that are high decile, as Kirsty says in the story.
Secondly, the drift upwards has left a significant imbalance in school size, with popular high decile schools becoming huge while those in the lower decile stagnate or shrink.
For some high decile schools, this has lead to overcrowding, "zone cheating" and increasing expectations on staff to ensure kids achieve at extremely high levels.
At the other end of the scale, academics say the drift away from lower decile schools is further entrenching inequality.
NZCER chief researcher Cathy Wylie says this is because many low-decile schools are now smaller than they were and less able to attract their community's higher-performing students. Instead, they migrate up the decile ladder leaving the schools to struggle with fewer funds and a concentration of high-needs students behind them.
The Ministry of Education data sets allow us to track this change.
In 1996 there were only slightly more students at decile 8-10 schools than the lowest three schools and the largest number were in mid decile, 4-7. Now 40% of students attend schools in the top three decile bands, while around 5% fewer are at low decile. Cathy Wylie pointed out what some of the effects of this are above.
Another effect is that it saves the government money - as students in low decile schools attract more funding. This essential (and barely adequate) component of school funding is intended to allow schools serving students from low SES households to access the same educational opportunities as those from the leafy suburbs, where parental investment in education is so much higher.
This graph shows the difference in funding that would be going into each decile band of schools if the proportions of students in each had stayed constant since 1996 - as showed in the darker blue bars above.
The bottom three deciles would be getting over $20million extra decile related funding. On top of this of course, there would be millions in staffing, which has shifted from them to the high decile schools. The trouble is, with this decile related funding, it's not money that has shifted within the system like the staffing funding does by following the students, but it's simply not being spent. It's not that these students don't require or deserve extra support and resource either - but parents' choices are depriving students of resourcing that they should be getting. It's another consequence of what Hattie is talking about below:
Except, says Melbourne University education professor John Hattie, it needs to be remembered there is a "vicious" end of school choice, in that too many parents are using socio-economic status as a proxy for quality.
So what's the solution, if we can't or won't move to limit, or 'nudge' against, the 'choosing up' that's happening so rampantly? My two cents worth - make the schools in poor communities AMAZING - with the best facilities, small classes and the best trained and most supported teachers. Surely then motivated parents in and around poor suburbs will send their kids to the local schools... unless it really is just racism, which is a thought that's a bit too depressing to contemplate.