So the plan to evaluate charter schools has been released, at last, and it’s as hopeless as expected. David Seymour agrees that if it doesn’t compare the cohorts in charters with how they would have been expected to perform in regular schools, it’s not much cop.
What we didn’t know before it was released, that we do know now is:
1. The survey of parents, which is part of the evaluation, relies on the schools themselves to select the whanau and carry it out. This is seen as a problem by the evaluators, but apparently isn’t so serious that they won’t do it. Hmmm. So, what’s the bet that parents who are ticked off with the school won’t be getting an evaluation form sent home.
2. The total cost of the evaluation is $375,000 over the three and a bit years. This is less than 1% of the cost of the policy. You’d think for a pilot programme that a bit more would be invested in a high quality evaluation.
3. The Ministry of Education’s Chief Science Advisor, whose role is to “to use evidence to enhance the quality of policy formation and evaluation” was not involved in designing the plan.
Of course, with charters in New Zealand funded to a level that is wildly out of step with what is spent on almost all other students in the country, an evaluation that compared students in charters with students in regular public schools was always going to be problematic.
However, there may be some comparisons that could work. This would have to be with small schools of choice (i.e. that parents have to make an active choice to enrol in, that have maximum rolls, rather than zones), with students predominantly from amongst the ‘priority learner’ groups. Three that spring to mind are Nga Tapuwae, a kura a iwi in Mangere, McCauley College, a Catholic girls’ school in Otahuhu, or Tai Wananga, a special character school in Hamilton. All three of these are low decile, predominantly Maori or Pasifika, and their students achieve NCEA results well above the national averages. (Search them out on the site, comparing those three with the two Kura Hourua in Whangarei and Whangaruru, and Vanguard, the three charters that did NCEA last year).
I’m not saying that the answer then is to simply more ‘schools of choice’ rather than regular public schools, as their students achieve better. That would be a very bad argument, which unfortunately some people will leap to. Rather, if we’re looking at the impact of charters, we have to, like David Seymour says compare apples with apples.