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For most countries the value of education as a social enabler and public good is patently obvious.  So much so that within the Global Community the right to education is not only enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but has also been included within the United Nations Strategic Development Goals (SDGs), which require nations to work towards free public education, sufficient qualified and trained teachers and equity of access for all.

For these reasons it should be unsurprising that investment in public education across the world has occupied a significant proportion of government spending. So it should.

Unfortunately, this investment has come under increasing attack due to the expanding influence and control of Neo Liberalism on global economics (and by extension the nation states that adopt its mantras). While the assault has not been as quick or as direct as in other sectors, forays into educational ‘markets’ have well and truly been launched.

Infiltration and privatisation of state education across the globe, however it is dressed up, has a single goal: access to the money. Edubusinesses have made inroads into state budgets everywhere you turn, through a range of what the CEO of Pearson Education calls ‘entry points’- whether it is through Teacher Training, PLD or Charter Schools. Once established, these corporate interests quickly spread their tentacles into curriculum, legislation and ultimately the full privatisation of public education. And they are voracious.

Of course, the profit motive has obvious implications for the quality and sustainability of education in those countries which have enabled access for corporate players. Edubusinesses are driven by profit: the largest cost in providing education is teachers, the solution is to enable untrained (low cost) teachers. The next highest cost is typically the physical infrastructure, that is school buildings. The solution is to deliver ‘education’ online.

Ironically, instead of pushing back against such reforms, many nation states have assimilated- parroting words such as ‘choice’ and ‘competition’ to encourage and promote access to their domestic education markets. But once established, there is often no ‘choice’ at all, as- like some extraterrestrial parasite-  they expand and occupy larger and larger sections of their host’s resources.

The underfunding of public education is one hallmark of countries that provide access to corporate players. While some governments initially see a reduction in government spending as a positive, such a view is always incredibly short sighted because the long range costs are disastrous for kids, communities and countries. Not only does reduction in funding have catastrophic implications for the public system but typically the transfer of public money to private interest is accompanied by other sweetheart deals such as tax refunds, decreased regulatory oversight and other ‘flexible’ benefits.

Jurisdictions such as the U.S.A have seen state education institutions become so underfunded that the quality of education is a national shame. Sadly, the privately run Charter Schools have performed little better than the public schools (while returning ballooning profits to their corporate motherships). Online educational provision has also failed spectacularly (students who learn online are described as sometimes being years behind students in mainstream classes). Furthermore, because these schools have the ‘flexibility’ to set their own curricula and operational processes they frequently prohibit access to the most needy and turf out children with complex needs with absolute abandon – leaving the underfunded state schools to try and pick up the pieces- and take the blame.

Across the African continent a string of schools titled APEC (a subsidiary of Pearson Education) provide ‘education’ within a tightly controlled curriculum (on the taxpayers’ dollar) that provides all the education these students need to prepare them for …minimum wage positions in call centres owned by APEC themselves. Not only this, but Pearson Education sponsored charters in other African and South East Asian countries are lobbying for governments to abrogate their obligations under the United Nations SDG on education by allowing ‘low cost’ rather than ‘free’ education in their schools so that they can collect money from both the state and the consumers. (According to Education International the ‘low cost’ rate in Kenya is 40% of the average daily income of poor Kenyan families- for just one child).

If any of this sounds familiar it's because it's here already. Charters, COOLs and changes to legislation to enable untrained teachers to be in front of our children are writ large on our current Minister’s approach to ‘re-imaging’ education in New Zealand.

Sadly, it appears that Hekia Parata has drunk the koolaid: The proposal to cap school operating budgets and devolve responsibility for staffing to Boards and Principals is a Neo Liberal strategy for anchoring and reducing costs (following the model of private and charter schools who pay their managers more and staff less or increase their class sizes to reduce staffing costs). She has even said in the media that her COOLs proposal is an opportunity to “open up access to New Zealand's education market”.

Correspondingly, Under Secretary for Education David Seymour’s proposal that all schools should be able to become Charter Schools and ardent support for fully online schools run by corporate players is not his own harebrained idea- it is BORG consciousness which predisposes him to salivate at the prospect of further aliens feeding at the trough.

They are not alone. First contact can be traced back to Tertiary Education Minister, Steven Joyce, who has deliberately underfunded the tertiary sector so that they are incentivised to seek out private investment and foreign students. (The sad reality for foreign students who pay a premium to access tertiary education in New Zealand is that many are funded by families in home countries that can barely afford the expense, meaning they and their families are reduced to living below the poverty line while they study: “it’s life Jim, but not as we know it”). The marketisation of our universities, with the concomitant focus on profit has put in place financial barriers that prohibit access to many in our own country and increasingly gauge those who prioritise higher education. Of course, even this is not enough for the ravenous Edubusinesses that run these institutions: they are already bulk funded (resulting in support staff often being paid the minimum wage) and are being forced into performance pay (which in Neo Liberal dogma ‘improves productivity’, but in reality only increases inequality by putting in place barriers to increased income for most staff or driving more and more work for less pay). And they won’t be slowed: Minister Joyce has been removing staff representation from governing boards since 2009 - and replacing them with ‘business people’.

This is not a conspiracy theory- the invaders are here already and have been welcomed by our government: and they are coming after our kids.

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One of Minister Parata’s proposals in the surprise bulk-funding announcement is to offer private schools more money.  

During Question Time in the House on Tuesday 28th of June, it was confirmed this would likely be a per child amount, perhaps on par with the amount state schools receive.

If this proposal eventuated it would not just be bulk-funding, but a full-blown voucher system.  The political equivalent of National adopting ACT’s education policy.  Good if you send your kids to Dio, St Kents or Kings.  Bad if you are in the 97% of New Zealand families who go with state and state-integrated schools. 

So, do private schools really need all this new money?  I went on the internet to check-out their financial statements.

Many organisations (including PPTA) display their financials publicly on their website, but this does not appear to be the case with private schools.  Lots of photos of students competing in equestrian events and attending luncheons, but accounting is off the menu.  What could they be trying to hide?  Fortunately, some are registered as charities, so the charities register has the statements filed online.

Wow!!!  Check out Auckland Dio – It has not made a profit under $1.8 million since 2008.  In 2011, when they seem to have acquired an injection of students from earthquake-stricken Christchurch, the surplus was $3,574,784.  Top marks for opportunism. 

Rangi Ruru in Christchurch - $1,347,676 in 2013, followed by $1,449,320 in 2014.

More conservative profit margins can be found in Wellington where Marsden and Queen Margaret make six figure surpluses but not seven.

So, put bluntly, I don’t think the time is right to increase class sizes in state schools to provide a funding boost to private schools.  

Interested in your thoughts always.

 

Raking it in

 

 

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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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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. b2ap3_thumbnail_Proportion-of-students-in-decile-bands-of-schools.jpg

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. 

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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. 

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As is often the case, a recent PPTA conference paper helped set the agenda - with headlines in newspapers up and down the country in recent times about ‘white flight’ and the increasing segregation of our schools. And they’re right to be concerned.

We identified a real problem in that paper, one that is widely agreed upon, but as is so often the way, the solutions to it are not straight forward at all.  

NZ has entrenched school choice– and many people on both side of the political spectrum would be loath to reverse it entirely and insist on strict zoning, and the complete removal of schools of choice (like kura a iwi, Catholic integrated, Steiner schools etc…). But even with a (probably impossible) return to strict zoning, as a result of the economic and social divisions within cities we would still to a large extent have segregated schools.  

So, what can be done? Probably the best answer, and certainly the one that would contribute most to equity, is to make the schools that are currently the least desirable for aspirational families much more so – and without a doubt this involves resourcing. Even the inequity in school buildings and grounds contributes – Auckland Grammar’s plan to raise millions from their exclusive network to build a new block that will cost around double what a regular school would spend on a similar space is a classic example – at the same time as half empty schools to the south struggle with outdated and run-down buildings and grounds.

In the US they have been struggling with desegregating schools for decades. In a system where school choice is generally less entrenched (except in charter school districts, which brings in rafts of other problems) options such as mass busing of students from one area to another has been a common place practice – similar in some ways to what happens in Auckland already, but for the opposite purpose (mixing schools up instead of making them more homogenous). This can happen because of local school boards controlling entry to schools.

I recently read a response to the awful Time Magazine cover story on teacher tenure and in there was an interesting answer. Recognising the importance of schools as a place for students to mix with, and learn from, students of different ethnicities and cultures, some districts deliberately set up their school rolls to reflect the make-up of their wider community. (There also is an element of choice in the example discussed here, as families can rank their preferred schools, and are then placed by the district.)

Thinking about this then – perhaps something that schools could aim for, and talk to parents about is reflecting the cultural makeup of their community – not just the suburb they are in (as it’s unlikely students will spend their whole lives in their little suburb) – but at least the wider area that they are in- say the local authority area, or the Ministry of Education region? Maybe even, at a smaller scale, Communities of Schools could work on this goal – to be reflective of the community. Is this something that the Ministry’s regional offices or ERO talks to schools about? I’ve never heard of it – and in our devolved system, many principals would probably take affront.

 

I’d be interested to know which schools are around that already reflect this – noting that the demographics of young people are different from the whole population. At least it might be something that the journalists busy ranking schools by their results could helpfully consider doing.

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