Well the big announcement has been made and charter schools are to close (sort of). The latest of National’s ideological experiments is to be consigned to the dustbin of history, where it belongs. In a previous blog I went through the performance shortcomings of the New Zealand experiment. For some, though, the performance issues do not matter. It is the ‘freedom to choose’ that is important.
Over the years I have written a lot about the drivers of school choice. I have observed that one can have the most ‘free to choose’ system in the world, but still the choice exponents will want more. And here we have it. New Zealand has the most open system in the world – in principle any child can go to any public school the parent chooses (although in practice popular schools become full very quickly, then it is down to a lottery). But there is more clamour for more choice, better choice, different choice. This is despite the fact that taxpayers show little appetite to pay for such choices.
So, my question to you, dear reader, is in two parts. When, after 30 years of choice-based schooling, New Zealand‘s international performance in literacy has fallen from first to fifteenthish in the world, and all other choice-based systems have also fallen, why should we have faith in ‘choice’ as a policy mandate? Choice reduces overall educational performance.
And, second, why should the New Zealand government pay for schools that can use unregistered teachers, strange curricula and cowboy providers to produce, let’s face it, less than spectacular results?
In short, the New Zealand public should be clamouring for an end to the charter school experiment, and a return to a system where high-quality teaching and learning, within a national framework, is available to all. We should concentrate all our resources on improving the system that we have, which is not bad internationally, and perhaps work to become first in the world again.
If there is extra to spend, we must use it to support the hundreds and thousands of children who live in poverty, because they experience huge barriers to learning. There are supports in place but there are also still big holes in the support systems.
Alvin Poole, who runs two middle schools along with his wife and a board of Christian evangelicals (I am not against such people, but their drivers tend to be about God, not policy), has vowed to oppose the removal of the schools. He will learn that governments do have the right to change policies and change the law.
I like some of Alvin’s ideas. I am interested in the community service element that he has brought into his schools. I think schools overall need to be more outward looking. They should be extrovert organisations in their own communities, hubs of activity and places of learning for all (bring back community education!).
It makes the most sense to put all that innovation money into the existing system of schools, rather that starting new ones. I completely reject the idea that the private sector does education better than the public. New Zealand’s private schools are foundering financially and only state grants hold them up.
The charter school experiment is based on a myth that private schools are better than public. Yet in reality state schools in this country produce outcomes as good as the best private schools with about half the funding (or less), and without a moneyed community behind them.
The argument that charter schools should stay because they perform better than private schools founders on their extremely poor retention and completion results. Certainly, review them one by one. Save the effective Rise Pacific school and perhaps the one or two best Maori schools. For goodness sake close the religious and military schools, Minister. We don’t need them and they detract from the goal of a good state schooling for all.
There are vested interests in this field, even within the government. Those who have interests need to recuse themselves from all say and all involvement in the decision. Let the decisions be dispassionate and analytical. We deserve nothing less.
Dr Liz Gordon began her working life as a university lecturer at Massey and the Canterbury universities. She spent six years as an Alliance MP, before starting her own research company, Pukeko Research. Her work is in the fields of justice, law, education and sociology (poverty and inequality). She is the president of Pillars, a charity that works for the children of prisoners, a prison volunteer, and is on the board of several other organisations. Her mission is to see New Zealand freed from the shackles of neo-liberalism before she dies (hopefully well before!).