Charter Schools – Mighty Boasts and Empty Promises


What is the most important thing? 

It is people.

It is people

It is people.

I am reminded of this each time Hekia Parata and co. assure us that charter schools are about our tamariki, about bolstering their achievement, raising their grades, helping them do better.

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Because, for all I have asked those driving the charter school movement to show me how these schools will improve things and why we cannot instead focus upon further improving all public schools, I am yet to get anything even remotely near a decent answer.

In fact most people refuse to answer me at all, which is telling.

Associate Minister of Education Nikki Kaye and I had a spirited exchange on Twitter earlier in the year, where she assured me publicly she had hard facts.  She promised to come back to me with those facts.  Instead she fobbed me off each time I reminded her and then unfollowed me.

please explain why I am wrongIt’s now been six months, and to date she’s given me this:  No facts.  No figures.  Nothing.

So I am no nearer believing charter schools will be an educational miracle.  Sadly, I almost wish I was.

Because all I care about is that we give as good an education as possible to as many children as we can, in a fair way, with as much equity as can be managed.  If I thought this was going to work, I’d be all over it.  If I even believed it was truly aimed at improving the system, I might give it a tentative nod.  But the evidence is that charter schools’ real benefit is to one group and one group only – those running them.  It’s not about students, it’s about profits.

Still, I’ll ask again:  Tell me how.  Give me hard facts.  Explain it to me, please.

Because nothing about removing community involvement in schools by taking away their right to a locally-elected Board of Trustees indicates there will be a better school/community bond.

Nothing about charters being able to employ untrained, unqualified staff tells me that standards will rise.

Why are we not spending that money improving the system we already have in place, learning from best practice in our most successful schools?

Why charters?  Why privatisation?

Tell me, please.

Set my mind at rest.

Hekia Parata, Nikki Kaye, John Banks, Christine Isaac and all of those pushing for NZ charter schools, I fear history will judge them thus:

He nui to ngaromanga, he iti to putanga.

You depart with mighty boasts, but you come back having done little.


  1. How about trying:
    It is the students, it is the students, it is the STUDENTS!
    Bad teachers will naturally be worried about charter schools and anything else which may cause them to be measured against great teachers.
    I keep saying this “if you want New Zealanders to take you seriously be honest and support the things this national government do that you actually agree with”
    Otherwise you are seen as politically driven ‘nutters’

    • You could be honest and start admitting you want to privatise our education system. I dont see whe we cannot just fix our public schools. I bet you would have Destiny Church come in and have pastors teaching kids that homosexuals are vermin and must be put to death en masse.

  2. Somebody needs to remind Dianne Khan that the current schooling system, it’s management and staff have let down a lot of students over the years.
    The same people who bitched about certain groups being left behind are now bitching about charter schools. Not likely to give them a fair chance are you?
    Hekia Parata, Nikki Kaye, John Banks, Christine Isaac and all of those pushing for NZ charter schools will we believe be proven right.
    Just because it is not our initiative it doesn’t mean we must oppose it; that just doesn’t make sense.

    • Why cant our public school system be fixed instead of the increasing of private provision? Why does everything have to be privatised?

      • Everything must be privatised because otherwise the great Randian individualist entrepreneurs like Sally and Steve won’t be able to make their beloved profits. The fervour with which they push the willing government to hand over assets to them is just more evidence of what useless bludgers they are, unable to make a living unless it’s handed to them on a plate. I’ve seen the business model imposed on universities and it leads to worse teaching, lower standards, and a class of masturbating superstars who get paid more to push the neoliberal agenda. No thanks.

    • We have the foundations of a world class education system. It’s just plain illogical to use funding to fix the areas that arent broken, when we could use the money to further improve our public systems.

      The thing that pisses me off is that its clear its not about that because it makes no logical sense at all, and so people pushing charter schools simply arent being upfront about their true agenda. This is ideologically driven, not best practice driven.

  3. Once upon a time there used to be many ‘unqualified teachers’. Many.

    In fact, once upon a time, there were ONLY ‘unqualified teachers’. Qualifications do not create capable teachers at any level of training.

    In that same long ago, young people who had no desire to be academics were frequently taught by men and women, who had come from the world of trades and crafts and paid employment, the ways they needed so they could head out at, age 14 or 15, to start as earners.

    And those are the kids we’re letting down today. Not all. So many, though.

    Too: the slow kids. The frightened ones. The confused ones. How are they day-to-day helped by a qualification? People with time, patience and experience, with or without qualifications, are often a better ‘fit’ for those kids.

    Places that can safely take the square pegs out of the round holes and put them with other square pegs so they know they’re not ‘on their own’ or ‘weird’ or not worth befriending. Surely, surely you’ve seen kids like this in your classes, Diane? I know I have – and there was nowhere for them to go and grow well.

    I don’t support charter schools as such. Not the ideological profit-hoping tax-payer gouging charter schools.

    I do want places for the sorts of kids I’ve mentioned above – and the mainstream, as it currently flows, is not that supportive place.

    As far as I can recall, this ‘gotta have quals!’ rot started with Trevor Mallard and Labour – particularly early childhood training. To this day I don’t know what was to be measured to see if providing qualified teachers was actually going to ‘improve’ certain skills or abilities in little kids. Or was this yet another ‘faith-based’ venture?

    As with so many top-down directives – the supporting infrastructure and systems are simply not there. It seems that joined-up thinking is not popular in this country.

    Practical and effective alternatives anyone?

    • Andrea, I too have taught the ‘square pegs’ you describe and worked hard to make their school experience worthwhile. Together with innovative Principals and colleagues these students have often gone on to have fulfilling careers and lives. I know however, that the current narrowing of the curriculum and focus on testing regimes are making it much harder for schools to meet the needs of all children. There is an irony in the fact that while our public schools are being forced to narrow their focus, Charter schools are being created, supposedly to offer a broader “choice.”
      Andrea there is a fundamental flaw in an argument that begins from the premise that children are ‘failing and being failed at school’ and then goes on to advocate for a system that turns those same kids over to be taught be unqualified teachers. I’ve worked in such a place and seen how those kids were doubly disadvantaged. It wasn’t a Charter School but a New Zealand High School during a teacher shortage. It was back in the 70’s and the school was one we would now be rank as decile 1.
      It was a tough place to work. The kids lived in poor homes and arrived at school with little of the learning capital that kids in the wealthier areas had, so the road to success for them was a steep one. Their horizons too, were very limited – not because they did not dream of a better life, but because no one they knew had climbed the social and vocational ladder. Where they lived, you did what your parents, uncles and aunties did.
      When you came down to it school was a bit of an irrelevance, but you still knew who was a good teacher and who was there because there was nobody else to keep you from doing what you’d rather be doing. Back then you see, there was no absolute rule about who could teach, and in times of teacher shortage desperate Principals dragged in whoever they could find.
      So the guy behind the counter at the local bank suddenly appeared in front of junior maths classes, a local builder showed up in the technology block and a lovely, cultured, Christian pianist came in to teach music and social studies. These are just the few I remember well, because they were the most spectacularly well-meaning and hopeless but there were many others I saw in my five years at the school. Almost without exception they hadn’t a clue how to teach or how teenagers learn.
      And the kids knew this. They could spot a fraud between one bell and the next, and they’d come into my classroom and say how crap the new teacher was and worse, how stink it was that the school gave them someone who wasn’t even a proper teacher.
      “Coz Sir, they don’t give those fake teachers to the top classes aye?”
      Those young people felt insulted and they had every right to be.
      In the same way, poorer communities are offended today by suggestions that their taxes are going to finance local schools where there is no responsibility to teach the curriculum or have qualified staff. They point out that if the Government really thinks the problem of student underachievement in poor communities is important, they ought to be putting into those schools top resources and the best teachers – the most qualified, experienced and motivated.

    • @ Andrea: my grandmother was a teacher, trained and qualified. She began her training as a pupil-teacher, then went to teachers’ college. This was before she married my grandfather and had her children. Her eldest – my mother – was born in 1907. So you can see that the teaching qualification has a deep history here: it wasn’t something invented by Trevor Mallard and Labour just to annoy people. And my mother was also a trained and qualified teacher.

      With regard to early childhood education, this began here with the kindergarten movement; the first kindergarten opened in Dunedin in 1889, and teacher training was an important feature right from the very beginning. So nothing new about training and qualifications for early childhood teachers, either.

      John Banks has a bee in his bonnet about alternative schools because his own son did poorly at that great bastion of education – Kings College in Auckland – and fetched up at some sort of alternative school.

      Recruiting people who aren’t trained and qualified teachers, in order to improve educational outcomes for children who aren’t doing well in mainstream schools, doesn’t pass the logic test, in my view.

      Moreover, people who’ve met the standard for a teaching certificate have been through a vetting process that aims to weed out the unsuitables – like paedophiles. While this process isn’t completely failsafe in this regard, it’s a great deal better than hiring unqualified people who’ve been through no such process.

      • To be fair on King’s, a school I despise, it is more than possible that Banks’s son had a genetic disadvantage. Banks strikes me as the sort that would have considered someone who got School C on the first try to be an absolute genius.

        • @ Ovicula: in fairness to John Banks, I don’t doubt his desire to do the very best for his children. As I understand the situation, those children are Russian adoptees. I’m aware that some of these children have difficulties in the education system here: his son would by no means be the first to have problems.

          But I think he’s got hold of the wrong end of the stick educationally. I’d have thought it obvious that, if his child couldn’t succeed at Kings College of all schools, something outside the school gates was awry.

          This is also the case for the great majority of those children who make up the “tail” of underachievement in our schools. Schools can’t fix the societal problems these children bring with them to school; charter schools won’t be able to do it either.

          That’s a bucketload of public money the government’s putting into these schools, on the basis of flawed reasoning. Go figure…

          • One of the most talented up and coming Kiwi scientists I’m aware of never did well at conventional schools. He went to Metro College. Places like King’s, AGS and St. Cuths turn out a product, ready to take its place in the upper echelons of our society. They do not deal well with anyone who doesn’t fit their pattern. Something inside the school gates is awry as well.

            And as for John Banks wanting to do the best for his children – so what? Is his best teaching them that corruption is OK, that brown people from South Auckland will climb in your window, that they don’t need to be responsible for anything, ever?

            • Metro was a state school and operated for twenty plus years within that system. Nevertheless, because our system tolerated, even encouraged diversity, it offered a radically different type of schooling. Most of the students were ordinary kids, but many were at Metro because they had found that more conventional schools did not suit them. As you suggest Ovicula, Metro produced large numbers of brilliant, successful people.
              Unfortunately, the school struggled as the political climate changed in the nineties when diversity was discouraged and the drive toward standardisation gained pace. As Karen Vaughan found in her research into the school, under the new doctrines, Metro was bound to become a ‘failing school.’
              Sadly this narrowing educational agenda forced the closure of Metro ten years ago and continues to strip creativity and diversity from the system. (Tamariki School, our oldest ‘free school’ appears near to closure because of community refusal to implement National Standards.)
              It is deeply ironic that at the same time, private Charter schools are being promoted to ‘offer diversity and choice.’ Note however that schools with a conservative christian bent and military academies have been prominent in gaining the licenses.

            • @ Ovicula: you’re dead right about “elite” schools, such as Kings and so on. They’re designed to educate the scions of the elites, and, for the most part, they do that very well. And they’ll also do well by some, but not all, children who aren’t from the elites.

              With regard to mainstream schools, it can be argued that they’re also designed to serve, as it were, those children within two standard deviations either side of the bell curve. And they are variably good at educating the outliers: hence those children who don’t do well in the mainstream, but shine in alternative forms of education. However, even alternative schools won’t help all such children: I’m aware that many do poorly, even in such schools.

              I don’t think that we as a society should be making education policy for underachievers, as if they’re all like the Kiwi scientist you refer to, because such children are actually a very small subset of the underachieving “tail”. The vast majority of the “tail” are children from that sector of society where social problems – poverty, chaotic households, drug and alcohol abuse, violence and crime – severely affect children’s readiness and ability to learn. Policy-making needs to address these issues, before any consideration is given to establishing charter schools, in my view.

  4. It’s patently wrong to say they have done little. They have started privatising state schools. It hardly gets bigger that that.

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