Last night’s debate on Charter Schools at May Road School, organised by the Mt Roskill Labour Party, lived up to expectations.
Over 100 local people turned up, many directly involved in our local schools. The audience, to its credit, respected my request as Chair to let speakers, in particular former Act President, Catherine Isaac, be heard without interruption.
Ms Isaac as Chair of the Government’s Working Group on Charter Schools, argued her case for the change, but persuaded nobody that there was an evidence based case for diverting public education funding into groups to provide alternative education which would be profit or ideology motivated.
Firstly people understand this is about politics, not education.
Charter Schools were not put to people in the election campaign and have no mandate. It was a deal stitched up between John Banks and National as part of the post-election supply and confidence deal.
John Banks is in Parliament solely because National gifted him a seat. The Kim Dot.com debacle has left him with zero public credibility. John Banks wants to teach that the world was created in seven days, and for the public to fund organisations who will do that.
Three countries have experimented with Charter Schools over the last decade – the US, England and Sweden. All rank below New Zealand on the OECD PISA comparisons on educational achievement, and those countries are continuing to slide down the international rankings.
Interestingly the consistently top country in OECD rankings in education, Finland, disparaged by an ignorant Gerry Brownlee, has taken the opposite approach. It doesn’t have private schools, let alone, charter schools. It emphasises equity through all children having equal opportunity. It resources education properly and holds teaching as a profession in high regard.
Even with the advantages Charter Schools may have of private sponsorship and biased selection of pupils from more ambitious families, results from evaluations such as Stanford University, show that Charter Schools are not the answer to lifting overall educational achievement.
Charter schools, unlike Tomorrow’s Schools in New Zealand, exclude parents and the community from having a role. The Charter Schools are solely a deal between the Government, and organisations like the Destiny Church or for profit businesses.
No one last night was persuaded that having non-registered unqualified teachers which Charter Schools can employ will lift the quality of teachers. The Ministry of Education was blunt in telling the Government that was a dumb idea but the Government still intends to persist with it.
And not teaching to the widely approved and respected New Zealand curriculum, which becomes simply an option for Charter Schools, is an equally stupid idea if we want to ensure all of our students are equally prepared for the 21st century as workers and citizens.
Last but not least, Catherine Isaac persuaded no one that underachievement by the bottom 7-14 per cent of students was caused by poor teaching and poor schools in the public sector which is the implicit reason for having Charter Schools. To the contrary, our local low decile Mt Roskill schools have dedicated and capable teachers and principals who do a good job.
What we need to address is how the poverty and background of too many children mean that they start from behind, and schools are working to provide catch-up for those who begin life in a disadvantaged position.
We need great schools and excellent teachers and the emphasis should be on ensuring that is exactly what every child in New Zealand gets as well as tackling the social and economic causes of disadvantage.
We don’t need our children to become guinea pigs in some right-wing experiment with Charter Schools which have left countries which have trialled them below New Zealand in international education rankings, even though far more is spent in those countries on education than we spend in New Zealand.