Thursday, January 9, 2014

Charter/Partnership Schools - Its Just a 'Modest 'Trial'...


I've been wondering, what new challenges and directions will we see on the educational landscape in 2014.  What new surprises await us.

Optimistically, I would dance in the street if this was the year the powers that be had an epiphany and took a U turn on the neo liberal policies sweeping their way through the remanents of our internationally acclaimed, innovative world class education system and NZ National Curriculum.  Imagine if they had the same U turn in the UK and Aussie.  I fear it may be too late to holt the runaway train, particularly in the US - but a girl can dream.  

Less optimistically and more realistically, I expect there will be some big challenges and new attacks (such an emotive word, implying there is a war on education, but I feel it fits) on an already vulnerable system.  

One such attack is charter Schools.  A failed policy from various other countries, bought in under the guise of a 'modest trail'. 

But wait - back up that sceptisim truck!  Here in New Zealand, we won't have 'Charter Schools', we are calling them 'Partnership  Schools', and we are only starting with a 'modest trial', so that makes them perfectly legitimate and of no threat to anyone, right? 


Charter (Partnership) Schools are Government funded (thats yours and my taxes to clarify) at the same rate as a decile 3 public school, which is towards the higher end of funding.   They are on short term contracts of 6 years.  They can set their own curriculum, hours, staffing, holidays, pay rates and are not required to have qualified teachers.  They are allowed to make a profit, which is highly attractive from a business perspective and despite the fact that our money is used to fund them, they are not subjected to the the Official Information Act.  Apparently they do have to report their results and they may be closed at the whim of whomever makes these decisions - I assume the Minister.   It is assumed that because of the ability to set their own rules, they can therefore be more innovative than our mainstream schools.   (cue roll eyes here as I think of all the amazing schools in our country doing fabulous things under extremely restrictive bounds)

I can hear some of you asking, what is the issue here?

The issue here is not about wanting to trail new ideas, or be innovative.  Oh indeed not, innovation and forward thinking is what has made our system successful and it has been what has given NZ a previous reputation we were quite rightly proud of.  It has never been the introduction of innovation that ever concerned me.  It was the way it was introduced, sold and the stealth mechanisms that were put in place, by changing the education legislation, that concerned me.   It raised more questions than it ever answered.   Furthermore, these questions were never fully debated for the public to understand just exactly what this 'modest trial' entailed and what it really was.  

To try and simplify Charter Schools aka Partnership Schools, let me issue you all firstly with a 'why can't' followed by some reflective questions for you all.  

All NZ schools should be 'the place' to go for a world class education.  You should not need to leave your neighbourhood to seek an alternative.  That is how we set up our system in the first place, to be  based on equitable provision.   

All our children deserve a good education, fabulous teachers, skilled Boards of Trustees, up to date resources, access to good professional development, accountability measures that reflect our innovative methods of leadership and teaching, appropriate resources for the needs of a specific community (cue tools that eliminate the impacts of poverty for example) and an educational hierarchy that endeavors to produce that.  

Furthermore, an educational hierarchy that has the skills, expertise and appropriate personnel to assist schools and support them to have this, when things are not working.  

That's not hard.  That's not even a dream - it's a basic, fundemental right for all the children of our country.  Why can't we have this in every school!! Seriously, why can't we? 

So, if that's the 'why can't', what reflective questions fall out of that?

1.  If Charter Schools are designed to provide students with what they can't access in mainstream schools, then why are they not working with schools to implement these programmes within existing schools?

It's only a 'trail' remember, so where was the harm in working with selected schools (of which I am sure there would have been a number put their hand up to work on this 'trial') to see what changes could be implemented.  This way, all schools would have benefitted?  The sceptic in me suggests that this would have been unattractive to business investment because the will to make a profit would not have been as prevalent within our public system.   Being accountable under the Official Information Act would also hamper ones ability to be creative with the accounting.  

2.  If it's only a 'trail', why would you change the legislation?   For only 5 'experiments', why was the legislation changed under such urgency and was it really necessary?  Only necessary (again there is the sceptic) if you have something to hide about how you are going about things.  

3. If it's only a 'trial' with considerable public monies, why would you feel the need to remove the ability to find out what is happening under the OIA? (official information act).   This doesn't make sense.  Surely in a 'trial', all aspects of the 'trial' would be under close public scrutiny.  Cue the sceptic again. 

4.  Why would you choose a failed policy from oversees without first consulting the sector, and it's academics, for home based solutions first?  Particularly when those professionals understand the subtleties and difficulties within our system and are best placed to design appropriate solutions?   The research from around the world is clear that the issues inherent with Charter Schools makes them a risky experiment to implement.  Why would you ignore that large body of evidence unless there was another agenda?

5.  Any educational reform that is promised to appease a minor far right wing party with less than 5% of public support, in order to meet the requirements of a Governments supply and agreement policy with said party, is a perfectly good enough reason to spend 19 million dollars (this first year) on 5 experimental (sorry trial) schools, isn't it?  Nothing borderline unethical or professionally inappropriate about that, is there?  They are only children they are experimenting (sorry trialling) on after all.  No harm done.  (insert satirical laughter at this point).

6.  If there was so much support for this initiative, why were there only 35 applicants?

7. If charter schools in NZ are to lift educational achievement for those students under performing in our current system, why are they open to all and any student?  How does that advantage those who are most at risk?

8. How will the Charter/Partnership model address the inequalities that arise from poverty?

9.  What exactly is a 'school sponsor' and what do they require in return for supporting a Charter/Partnership school?  It is unlikely you will ever find out as they won't be subjected to the Official Information Act.  Oh dear - there is that sceptic again!

10.  Apparently, each school offers a 'new, innovative and dynamic approach to engaging students in education'.  What is this new, innovative and dynamic approach?  Perhaps it is yelling at them (I assume that is the Military school), or perhaps it is the Christian Values (not that dissimilar to any of the other special character schools we have in our country I would imagine, in which case, why not enrol there).   Perhaps it is the Maori language (again, not that dissimilar to Kura Kaupapa and Bilingual Units, so again, why not enrol there?).  I wonder what it is?  Must be pretty special because it is attracting 19 million tax dollars this year.

There we have it - 10 of what could be a very long list of questions, for us to think about.
As we head down these various paths and face these challenges in education, I wonder if you could do me a small favour?  Before blindly accepting a policy like Charter Schools, ask around.  Find out more and play devils advocate.  Ask yourself - in what way is this in the best interest of my child, my neighbours child, and the child who is most vulnerable?  

This is an election year, and you can bet that the Vote Education balls will be batted from side to side.  Be a sceptic - question the rhetoric and question the data.  Find out more and proactively seek both sides of an argument before committing.  Pay the same due diligence to education that you would to buying a house.   It is after all, your child's, and all the children in our countries, future.  Therefore - it is our future - yours and mine.  It is worth your time.

After all, you would not allow the medical profession to experiment on your child, so why would you allow an educational reform such as charter schools experiment on your child's future?   

1 comment:

  1. Excellent questions. I've asked them myself many a time and was even promised a response from Nikki Kaye, but - yes, you guessed it - she never came back with anything. Funny that.