The ACT Party were out on the weekend with 100 people supporting their Auckland march to oppose the closure of charter schools.
Some of the people supporting charter schools are genuinely concerned about their children’s education and think what is on offer through charter schools may be better than what is currently provided through our public school system. It isn’t. It’s much worse.
Before going into detail though it’s a valid point to ask the question: Since when has ACT been concerned about children’s education?
Since when has it shown the remotest interest in the hundreds of thousands of New Zealand children living below the poverty line?
In fact the economic policies they championed in the 1980s and 1990s through their leaders Roger Douglas and Richard Prebble drove those same hundreds of thousands into poverty in the first place and reduced, yes reduced, educational opportunities for these same children through the disaster that was and is Tomorrow’sSchools.
The ACT Party’s sole interest in education and charter schools is as a way for wealthy investors to get rich through privatising public education for profits – big profits.
They are using children from the low-income communities to advance the agenda of the rich.
ACT’s charter schools are modelled on charter schools operating in the United States where they have been an educational disaster. The “most successful” charter schools are the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Programme) schools. ACT brought KIPP founder Mike Feinberg to New Zealand in 2012 for a national tour to help promote charter schools. His visit was a failure as the truth about KIPP and how its schools are run was exposed. (See the backgrounder on KIPP prepared by the Quality Public Education Coalition for Feinberg’s visit – it’s at the end of this piece)
In short, research shows KIPP schools weed out 30% of kids before they get to Grade 8 (our Year 9). The figure climbs to a staggering 40% for African-American boys. Translate that to New Zealand for a moment. Would we tolerate any school system expelling 40% of their Maori and Pacific Island boys before they get to secondary school age?
New Zealand charter schools are repeating the pattern set by US charter schools – cream off the kids you want at enrolment time and leave the most difficult kids for the public schools. Then crow about your success and slag off the public schools to which you have discarded kids with behaviour issues and/or those of lower academic ability.
Vanguard Military Academy for example, which features in ACT’s campaign to keep charter schools open, has a very high dropout/expulsion rate compared to public schools.
And despite ACT’s claims that they would expect children with special education needs to be disproportionately enrolled in charter schools, former education minister Hekia Parata was forced to admit that not a single child who would qualify for ORRS funding (special targeted funding for children with special needs) was enrolled in any of the nine charter schools established at that time.
We also need to remember that by far the most important group of children failing in our schools are transient children (kids who shift schools frequently because of poverty-related issues) and we can be sure none of these children are enrolled for long in any charter schools.
Here in New Zealand we have a wide variety of state and integrated schools from the traditional single sex schools, co-ed schools, religious schools, special character schools and alternative education schools such as Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery. If there is a genuine, demonstrated need for a different type of school then it should fit within the public education system and be funded as such.
Some of the charter schools may be able to transition to the public school system but they will lose the huge amounts of extra funding they have received compared to public schools and they will have to teach the curriculum with qualified teachers.
That is the least we should expect from any school which receives government funding.
Meanwhile MPs Willie Jackson and Kelvin Davis, who have expressed support for charter schools in the past, could learn a lot from the experience of Polly Williams. Polly was a black American who championed “vouchers” in education and charter schools because she believed it would improve schooling opportunities for black children. She was heavily backed by the right wing and wealthy businesspeople and was brought to New Zealand in the 1990s by the Business Roundtable to advocate for privatised education here. Within a few years she had changed her mind however as she saw the destructive power of profit-driven education over the interests of children from low-income communities.
Our education system needs better funding – far better funding for schools in low-income areas. We need to halve class sizes for all students, not just for those attending charter schools or private schools.
Instead of self-serving support for charter schools Jackson and Davis should be pushing for the best education deal for ALL our kids.
Charter schools were always a con.