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