The Government’s decision to trial charter schools (part of a post-election deal with the Act party) in South Auckland and Christchurch, is proving more than a little controversial.
Education sector union NZEI Te Riu Roa says the government should not be allowed to push any legislation on charter schools through parliament, without a proper select committee process.
NZEI believes legislation will be needed around the funding and governance of charter schools as they represent a fundamental change to the spirit of the Education Act and the Tomorrow’s Schools philosophy of communities running their own schools.
NZEI president Ian Leckie says while the government clearly had detailed policy around charter schools ready to go, the public has been completely blindsided.
“Given that, it is only fair that the any moves to establish charter schools go through proper parliamentary processes so the public at least has a chance to make submissions and have the issues debated.
“Charter schools represent a major shift in direction for New Zealand education and the government must not be allowed to simply pass legislation through the House under urgency, claiming it has a mandate to do so,” he says. NZEI believes that if a select committee was to consider charter schools, it should sit in Christchurch and south Auckland, to hear directly from residents as to whether they want charter schools driving a wedge through their communities.
“There are some very big question around why New Zealand needs charter schools and why the government is so intent on pushing them. If the government and ACT are so wedded to the idea of charter schools, perhaps they should trial them in Epsom,” Leckie says.
Leckie also says, contrary to claims by the Education Minister, principals in south Auckland have no appetite for charter schools. He says Hekia Parata has said principals and parents are queuing up for the first charter school, and that there is very high demand.
NZEI says it has spoken to 87 principals in south Auckland with the vast majority saying they are either concerned or very concerned about the prospect of charter schools, while only four said they could see some benefit. Also that there is clearly a disconnect between what the Minister is saying and what people and educators in south Auckland are feeling.
“Perhaps the Minister should release some more details about exactly what these schools will look like and talk to those communities which will be affected by what represents a major shift change to the foundations of our public education system.”
PPTA president Robin Duff says charter schools failed when introduced in countries such as the US and the UK and they will fail here too.
“The proposal’s targeting of low-decile areas places our most at-risk at greater risk.”
A study of charter schools conducted by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) in 2009 showed that 37 percent of charter schools reported that their students were struggling academically compared to their counterparts in the public education system, 46 percent did just as well, and only 17 percent reported having students doing significantly better.
“Placing the responsibility of delivering a curriculum to young people in the hands of businesses and organisations with little or no experience of education isn’t a recipe for success,” Duff says.
However, not everyone is so pessimistic. Maxim Institute researcher Steve Thomas says charter schools provide a great opportunity for education to diversify and strengthen in New Zealand.
“They would allow community groups and entrepreneurial educators to start new and different schools to the regular state schools.
“Contrary to some of the arguments being made, the neediest children in our education system are theones who are set to benefit most from charter schools, as they are the ones who need creative, new schooling options,” Thomas says.
“Charter schools would help to break down the current, uniform one-size-fits-all approach to public education in New Zealand by providing more choice and diversity in state schooling.”
The Business Roundtable chairman Roger Partridge says his organisation welcomes the initiative. “It’s not just about the need to equip our children well for employment in an economy that has to compete with the rest of the world; it’s about ensuring they can be happy, confident and achieve their potential, and that young lives are not blighted by failure at school.
“Many children are well served by our current state education model, but far too many are not. Around 20 percent of children leave school without basic literacy and numeracy skills. Since many of these children are already disadvantaged, an unproductive education is just one more step in a downward spiral into joblessness and social alienation.
“No one could argue that the current system is working for these children, and there are no other meaningful solutions on the table. While the proposed pilot charter school system is not a panacea or a silver bullet, it is soundly based, builds on a great deal of positive international evidence, and is well worth a try. It enables firms, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, iwi and community organisations to play a real part in the solution.
“How anyone who cares about children’s achievement and well-being could object to it is hard to understand.”