Partnership Schools

Since the post election agreement between National and Act declaring that Partnership (formerly Charter)Schools would be a feature of the elected government’s education policy, there has been considerable misinformation spoken. The following is a researched explanation of Charter Schools.

The Model

Similar models have been adopted overseas. Because current opponents assume a nationwide anti-American sentiment, their focus has been on the US models. They have grasped desperately at aspects of the “Credo” study and that the results have so far been mixed. What they haven’t been prepared to acknowledge is that there has been some significant successes depending on how the model is implemented and state by state. They have also not disseminated the main point – that the effect on the poor and disadvantaged groups has been positive (i.e. the groups that this is initially aimed at in NZ).

The Economist concludes:

 “recent work by Mathematica, an independent policy group, suggests that the Credo study is sound. The bigger problem is that its findings have been misinterpreted. First, the children who most need charters have been served well. Credo finds that students in poverty and English language learners fare better in charters. And a national “meta-analysis” of research, done last year for the Centre on Reinventing Public Education in Seattle, found charters were better at teaching elementary-school reading and mathematics, and middle-school mathematics. High-school charters, though, fared worse. Another recent study in Massachusetts for the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that urban charter schools are shown to be effective for minorities, poor students and low achievers.”

“Second, charter school performance is not so “mixed” if you look at the data on a state-by-state basis, rather than across the country as a whole.”

“Traditional public schools no longer have the excuse that they cannot be blamed for the poor performance of children because of their background; so competition from charters may improve standards in non-charters, too.”

Other media and research conclude:

“In New York, charters are oversubscribed. This spring, according to Joel Klein (former chancellor of New York City’s public schools) writing in the Wall Street Journal, some 67,000 New York kids applied for fewer than 15,000 openings in charters. “These kids,” Klein notes, “are almost entirely from low-income African-American and Latino families. Those families, desperately in search of a better education for their kids, are clearly voting with their feet. The recent test scores confirm they know what they’re doing.”

“The Success schools (Charter) are performing at the same level as NYC’s gifted and talented schools that select kids based solely on rigorous tests.”

“As recent performance data demonstrates, New Jersey’s charter schools are largely on the right track. In the five largest urban school districts in New Jersey, a higher percentage of students in charter schools are demonstrating proficiency or higher when compared to students in their respective urban school districts. In Newark, for example, charter schools performed 25 percentage points higher than district schools in math and 21 percentage points higher in language arts in 2010 – 2011.”

It is acknowledged that there have been failures (as there are in State schools in all countries). The advantage of NZ is that other countries have done much of the experimenting for us and we can emulate the best models, e.g. Andre Agassi’s school in Las Vegas.

Current opponents seem to think that if they keep saying that the NZ education system is “world class” then the significant portion of the population whose children are failing and having their life choices massively restricted will look the other way. If what we have is world class, then “world class” is not good enough. No one involved in education should be satisfied until we are absolutely world leading – for all groups.

Profit from Education

Current opponents are trying to demonise the model through the prospect that schools may be run for profit. The inference is that people making money from educating children are exploiting the taxpayer and the poor.

The first point on this is that many people already make money through education in NZ – most via the taxpayer. At the most basic level, economic theory states that there are returns to providing resources to a production process – wages/salaries, rent, interest and profit. Profit is simply the name for the return for providing some resources, taking the financial risks and organising the process. Teachers make money (i.e. profit) from educating children, university lecturers in education make profit from doing so, the education spokespeople of political parties profit from their positions, providers of services to schools make profits (e.g. electricity, IT, plumbers, builders, architects, etc), executives of education unions (e.g. PPTA, NZEI) most certainly financially profit from being involved in education. It is hard to see why many of these people seem to be saying that someone who is willing to take personal financial risks aren’t worthy of receiving income from it, and yet they are.

The second point is that it is highly unlikely that significant profits will be made – the foreseeable opportunities are too small and many of the groups who will be interested will do so on a non-profit basis. However – if an entrepreneur can set up a great school, inspire staff, improve the educational outcomes of a group of children and the flow-ons to their families – is there any real issue with them receiving a return on that? The current opponents would be very hypocritical to maintain that there is.

Unregistered Teachers

Children deserve very good teachers in front of them. But who in NZ can put their hand on their heart and say that all “qualified” and registered teachers are effective? Having a degree and going to teachers college is no guarantee of quality and teachers (especially secondary) have long debated the worth of the year at their College of Education as opposed to on-the-job training and a qualification process through that. 

It is also ridiculous to say that time at a teachers college is the only pathway to being equipped to contribute to the education of young people (or is the equivalent of 10 years of medical training as some have tried to imply). In ten years of running a small middle school, some examples of “untrained” people who have come in and expertly contributed to teaching modules are – marine biologists, lawyers, surgeons, builders, architects, dancers, actors, directors, historians, archaeologists, politicians, pilots, military personal, rocket engineers, athletes, etc. Many, but not all, have been volunteers. Is there really an issue with these people being paid for their time?

It has clearly been stated that the proportion and role of non-registered teaching staff will be a matter of school by school negotiation and, obviously, if parents are not satisfied with the quality of teaching their children are receiving, they have the “qualified” state alternative to revert to.

Some current opponents have also expressed concern that the leader of a Partnership School will not necessarily have been a teacher. People, other than teachers, can care for children, understand learning, manage staff and may bring a managerial skill set that someone who has spent their career in the classroom has not had the opportunity to develop. A teacher moving into school management has to learn a plethora of “business” skills (e.g. budgeting, property management, personal management). It is precious and again, patch protection, to consider that someone from a business background can’t learn education sector skills.

Trusting Parents

Not only is the lack of honesty and constructive discourse disrespectful to the general public, the opponents are also disrespecting parents by telling them that they know best for their children. No one will be forced to go to Partnership Schools and they won’t be zoned. What is it about the opponents of the policy that they consider that parents lack the ability to make sound educational choices for their own children? Their fear is that parents will line up for these schools in droves (and they will if it is done properly).