Charter schools – using the poor to advance the agenda of the rich


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.

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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.


  1. In America, there are some charter schools that start earlier in the academic year so it gives them a chance to get rid of the kids they don’t want before they have to say who is actually enrolled in the school. So, a whole lot of kids leave (are forced into leaving) before they get to be counted in official figures.

    • Hey if carter schools get us undersea cities and psychic powers or something resembling a grand final win at Eden Park so much the better, right?

      Or nationalism I mean that was good, we didn’t have all the issues we have now under nationalism. Although some how I think some one vastly overestimated charter schools ability to teach a tiny bit of these concepts.

      Look, if charter schools can accommodate pregnant girls, then they might not have better statistics than public schools but it’d be worth it in limited capacity because publics schools couldn’t accommodate these kinds of niche programmes because you can’t really scale programmes for pregnancy to the public school system when teen pregnancies is ill advised. It’s just like special needs students. There’s no reason a charter school should be forced to take anyone who may need any kind of extra accommodation or who has even mild discipline problems as that might jeopardize their ability to leech public school funds and make a profit. But that’s the kind of niche service desperate parents are after.

  2. Charter schools were suppose to help the 20% tail that was failing in our public schools. So why has there been no results showing how this group did. It appears many of the tail group were probably expelled from the vanguard school so the justification for the policy was fine but the implementation was poor and they have not considered the extra costs and the unfairness of such a policy.

  3. In fact an independent investigation has found that Charter schools are delivering what they promised:

    The *real* reason for the new government’s attack on these schools is that they offer the potential to undermine union hegemony in education. Last time I checked, teachers comprised about 55% of total union membership in NZ.

    The only logical conclusion: Labour cares more about union membership than educating poor kids. It’s almost criminal!

    • Seeing as the profits go back to the owners rather than the Government Andrewo, then let the Government immediately withdraw any financial commitment and let them stand alone. That is of course you truly believe that Charter Schools work?

      The only logical conclusion: Charter Schools are private enterprises so should not receive Govt contributions. Given that the largest population of children are educated through public schools AndrewO, National and ACT are more interested in profit than children.

    • So if Charter schools are so successful AndrewO why don’t all countries do away with public schooling? Is it because they’re afraid of the teachers union? That’s what I thought. You are clearly anti- unions but then you probably had lunch and tea breaks during your working life and I gather you never ever said no to those AndrewO did you?

      • John Minto answered the underlying question succinctly;why would Act want to support disadvantaged kids?…it has never used such socialistic reasons before…therefore I don’t trust them!

    • Andrew,
      John Key is the chair of the global heavily conservative, one world govt, Democrat Union. Could you please provide a link to your complaint against that union. Thanks.

    • Charter schools were introduced as a coalition agreement with ACT. They introduced them because they believed they had a mandate by way of being elected. Well guess what AndrewO, Labour now have that same mandate, the mandate to align Charter schools with mainstream education. Billyboys running around claiming foul. Two sets of standards for the far right.

    • As usual, AndrewO, supporters of right-wing ideology only give us partial information. You left out this bit from another story on Charter Schools;

      Small class sizes have been hailed as one of the key conditions to charter school success in a first report into how the controversial education model is working.


      If State schools received the same high funding levels as Charter Schools, with smaller class-sizes, I’m betting they’d have “good results” as well.

    • By the way, AndrewO, re your comment;

      “The only logical conclusion: Labour cares more about union membership than educating poor kids. It’s almost criminal!”

      You do realise membership of unions is voluntary, right?

      You wouldn’t be advocating people be denied choice in this matter, would you? After all, ACT and National support choice. It’s core to their ideological principles.

  4. At a 2014 election campaign evening, I heard the act candidate refer to students as ‘units’. That says more than anything I have read, before or since, about the attitude Act and private interests have towards children.

  5. Auckland Grammar School, Epsom Girls Grammar School, and Auckland Girls Grammar School are public schools and produce good results, why can’t other public schools ?

    It is a combination of factors both socio economic, demographics and the quality of teaching. Discipline is also a critical factor ?

  6. Weren’t Prebble and Douglass in Labour in the 80s and 90s, not ACT. Did Act even exist in the 80s? well who cares, but I think that part of the article is a bit lacking in logic.

    • They were in Labour but subsequently joined ACT. So it’s pretty much true to say that the 4th Labour government was hijacked by people who became ACT supporters and it can therefore be viewed as our first, and last, ACT government.

      • I think that’s a fair view, AB. Considering that the 4th Labour government implemented many ACT policies and ACT supporters held key ministerial positions, your assessment that “it can therefore be viewed as our first, and last, ACT government” is perfectly valid.

    • Good question Jason. I highly recommend you watch Alistair Barry’s excellent trio of NZ political history documentaries on the takeover of both Labour and National , , in the 80s and 90s, by what we used to call the “New Right” (what folks here often calll “neo-liberalism”). Many of the people involved in these takeovers later became founders and supporters of ACT, which is the only NZ political party that still openly promotes neo-liberal ideology (the rest oppose it in opposition then enact it in government). The titles are ‘Someone Else’s Country’, ‘In a Land of Plenty’, and particularly ‘A Civilized Society’, which covers Tomorrow’s Schools and education issues. You can find out more about them at, and I believe you can watch all three there or on YouTube at no charge.

      • Cheers Strypey, I’ll do that.

        Never did like the term Neo-Liberalism though. Liberalism just means Liberty or Freedom to me, without any deeper meaning. It’s just a platitude.

  7. JUM- You’re onto it. BRAVO!

    NOBODY ever Asks WHO has been behind all the different policies that have (mishaped) education for decades, and FOR DECADES have resulted in reduced literacy /basic maths skills . so much so, that there is now a computer programme Free (called “Grammarly” HIDE this Truth.

    YES “Education” via Schooling has been actively DUMBING DOWN society.


    Today’s world, INCLUDING NZ, is totally run, taken over by corporate interests.

    This is a very important TRUTH that NEEDS to be absorbed.



    Corporate Entities exist SOLEY for profit. $$$$$
    and NOT for People.
    This INCLUDES what people regard as ” Government” today. Just a Corporation..



    Human beings in jobs are these days classified as “Resources”.

    So-called “Education” today, has been shaped soley to feed the “Economy”.

    “The Economy”, in TRUTH, is really euphemism to describe the “pool of funds” ” provided by Human Resources” that the TOP strata of The Few , feed upon.

    You SURELY notice how we are programmed to SERVE the “ECONOMY”.

    But (..actually,) it does NOT serve us EQUALLY in turn!


    Please Absorb this Truth…


    Children today are regarded as individual “units” of energy to be transformed into “resources”…to feed ….the TOP FEW
    All “education” today, rather than empower people to live their own lives , serves only to reduce them to Human Resources….to be fed upon.

    GET IT?

    Sorry to seem to venture Off Topic, but it is not really so,

    -because, as you point out, ACT (as a collective ) has NEVER been interested in anything other than….$$$$ MONEY.

    Charter Schools , have NEVER existed for humanity’s WELLBEING on a spiritual/psychological level.

    So, if ACT party protest their closure, you are CORRECT in pointing out, that this only highlights the truth that charter schools were designed to serve $$$$ PROFITS MONEY .. for the top feeders .ONLY.

    ACT is another conglomerate of people who all subscribe to the belief that
    PROFIT$$$$….and MONEY

    is MORE IMPORTANT More than People.

    • The last thing the owners of NZ want is a well-educated populace capable of critical thinking.

      The owners of NZ want an obedient workforce than doesn’t question anything and turns up every election to return the same sociopaths and environmental vandals to power, or to install a different bunch of sociopaths and environmental vandals into power.

      For many, many decades the system has worked extremely well for the owners of NZ, and so, as everything now ‘turns to custard’, the populace remains poorly-educated, uninformed, generally obedient to so-called authority, and still facilitating the agenda of ‘The Matrix’……which is more for the owners and less for everybody else.

      NZ is effectively a corporation, run by governments for the benefit of the owners.

      George Carlin said it all long ago, talking about America. But the Carlin’s words apply just as much to present-day NZ as America.

      It takes about 3 minutes to get it. And the vast majority of people living in NZ won’t.

  8. So 100 people joined the march, eh?

    Now what was it John Key said about protesters at the anti-TPPA marches…? Oh yeahhh…

    Key said the TPP was a complicated deal and people were relying on “a bit of headline information”.

    He told Mediaworks that protesters were opposing something they hadn’t seen yet and were doing so with “misinformation”.


    That was Key dismissing around 20,000 protesters in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and elsewhere around the country.

    ACT could muster up 100. Just under 1% of their 13,075 votes at the last election.


    The best I can say about the pro-Charter School march? I support their democratic right to protest.

  9. An opinion from an Ex Teacher-3 years in Secondary, 10 years in Primary-Intermediate.Mostly in South Auckland and in Migrant intensive areas of Melbourne Australia. Teaching works best as a collaborative activity. You need to present the strengths of all teachers for the pupils benefit. If you put teacher against teacher , the result will inevitably be to the detriment of the pupils. This is essentially the philosophy of charter schools. It is doomed to failure. Imagine a sports team where the team members are encouraged to bring the weaker players up to speed.[Our State School System]. And then imagine a sports team where it is actually not in your financial interest to help new /struggling team members [Charter Schools]. I have worked in both type of schools and I have drawn my own conclusions.

  10. The fact is that the current education system is failing a percentage of he population.

    “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”

  11. I wonder, DOES ANYBODY actually read others comments, to try to advance /develop discussions?

    Or is this like “Facebook”, where people just put their comments..& leave .
    (-or, somebody comments on a previous post, but.. then, others come in,
    & continuity is destroyed.)

    Big problem today= short attention spans.
    = VERY detrimental to society ( in the long run)

    NZ Society TODAY who TRUST Anybody to RULE, ( as long as presented “well”.. by Marketing.)
    …And meanwhile
    just can’t…. CAN’T …seem to
    be able to
    put their finger on …why Life GETTING WORSE.

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