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Education and the ACT Party

Education and the ACT Party

The Party of American Crackpot Theories, otherwise known as the ACT Party, holds its 2014 Party Conference this weekend.

The Quality Public Education Coalition has put together a handy set of pointers to help reporters covering the conference to get to the “nitty gritty” of ACT’s Education policies.

1. Let’s call a spade a spade
ACT hides behind the nice phrase “Choice” when it talks about the charter school model imported from the USA. But Choice is just the euphemism used in America to describe the privatisation of public education. Why don’t they come clean and call it that so we can see what they really mean?

Diane Ravitch, US Education Commentator and author of “Reign Of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools”:

“Reformers don’t like to mention the word “privatisation”, although this is indeed the driving ideological force behind the movement. “Choice” remains the preferred word, since it suggests that parents should be seen as consumers with the ability to exercise their freedom to leave one school and select another. The new movement for privatisation has enabled school choice to transcend its tarnished history as an escape route for Southern whites who sought to avoid court-ordered desegregation in the 1950s and 1960s.”

Rodney Hide op-ed Herald, 18 August 2013: “Magic wand wasted on John Key”

“If you could wave a wand and change overnight one policy to make our country better, what would it be? Mine would be to privatise all schools. I would kick government totally out of anything to do with the schooling of children.

2. New Zealand already has loads of “Choice” within our education system.
Two comments by Marc Tucker of the National Center on Education and the Economy in the USA:

“The country with the most aggressive school choice system in the world is probably New Zealand.” Source: Washington Post, 12 October 2012.

“New Zealand has embraced choice as a value and has developed policies that provide widespread choice for parents and students among public schools. But there is no evidence that these choice and market mechanisms have improved student performance overall and the research that has been done appears to show that there was greater inequality in student performance after such systems were installed than there was before they were introduced. ” Source: Edweek blog: “Choice and Markets: Theory and Practice”, 28 September 2012.

The Treasury ideology of the 1980s drove the introduction of the quasi-competitive model known as “Tomorrow’s Schools”. Add in the State-Integrated, Kura, Special Character and others and we have a host of choices available. But does it work? Has more choice improved student achievement?

3. Where is the Isaac Report?
Former ACT Party President, Catherine Isaac, was the perfect political choice to head the NZ Model of Charter School Working Group. She was paid $33,890.31, including reimbursed expenses.

But WHERE is her report?

What has guided the introduction of the charter school concept into New Zealand, when we already have so much “Choice” available? Where is the evidence to support claims that charter schools in New Zealand will lead to better outcomes for students?

Evidence: OIA request response from the Ministry of Education, dated 8 August 2013:

“The Working Group did not produce any reports, advice or recommendations to the aforementioned Ministers. However, their views were captured in four documents that were produced by the Ministry of Education.”

4. “Choice” just doesn’t work – and that’s official!
Andreas Schleicher of the OECD in a UK interview, 3 December 2013:

“My organisation [the OECD] is very strong on choice, enabling citizens to make choices, and you would expect that systems with greater choice would come out better. But in fact you don’t see that correlation… Competition alone is not a predictor of better outcomes. The UK is a good example – it has a highly competitive school system but it is still only an average performer.

Our data doesn’t show much of a performance difference between public and charter and private schools once you account for social background.”

Bill Courtney
Quality Public Education Coalition
27 February 2014


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