The Government has recently announced its framework for charter schools to be introduced into our education system. It would be convenient to believe that this is an initiative solely driven by John Banks and ACT. However information released under the OIA shows National was considering this model well before the election.
Much of the research I have read – especially that coming out of Stanford University – tells us that any ‘gains’ from charter schools are nominal and inconsistent, plus there are major concerns around quality. Such schools also suck money from the public purse and privatise the profits, while having less accountability than their wholly public counterparts.
So Charter Schools can:
- Pay teachers whatever they like
- Employ unregistered teachers
- Establish a governance board that is not necessarily made up of parents
- Screen which students may or may not attend their school
- Vary the delivery of an education curriculum or not draw from the NZ education curriculum
Charter Schools are particularly attractive to adherents of faith-based schools and private sector interest groups. One only needs to ask why such schools were not established under existing provisions of the Education Act as ‘special character’ schools. Could it be that these schools do not want to conform to the same obligations as other taxpayer-funded schools, or be accountable to the wider public who want to promote tolerance through diversity of opinion and faith rather than the prospect of ‘closed community’ thinking?
National is promoting charter schools as a fix for the ‘long tail of underachievement’ (read Maori and Pasifika) and a remedy for the significant issues faced by network provision in Christchurch post-earthquakes. However, aside from local forums in South Auckland (where the government plans a charter school) and Christchurch, there has been a deafening silence when it comes to wider consultation.
New Zealand already has an education system that caters for diversity – we have public schools, private and integrated schools, kura kaupapa and wharekura. If we want to improve outcomes for ‘underachieving’ students then let’s look at shifting the mindset around the ‘norm’, so that curriculum content, relationships between student and principal, recognition of the corresponding importance of language, culture and identity align to educational and vocational pathways for young people.
All of that can be achieved through the public school system.