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National’s knee-jerk support for charter schools

National’s knee-jerk support for charter schools shows it is struggling to develop Education policy

National’s support for reinstating the American charter school model shows not only that the privatisation bias that Bill English pursued over recent years is alive and well but also that they are struggling to develop sound Education policy.

As far back as the 2008 general election, National committed to “increasing educational choices”. But everyone knows that the phrase “School Choice” was first coined by economist Milton Friedman, and is the code used to drive the privatisation movement in the USA. The pure form of the privatised market model is vouchers but in practice the charter school model has been adopted as the most practical privatisation route in most States.

The irony is that there is a wide variety of choice already available in the New Zealand public education system. One leading American commentator, writing in the Washington Post, made the remark that “…the most aggressive school choice system in the world is probably New Zealand”.

Surveys over many years by the NZ Council for Educational Research confirm that around 90% or more of New Zealand parents feel they send their child to the school of their choice. This high degree of satisfaction with choices available is underpinned by the variety of schooling options available, both within the State system and across the State-Integrated model.

Every State and State-Integrated school is governed by a parent-elected Board of Trustees, under a charter, the defining document that sets out the school community’s Vision and Values.

It is this inconvenient fact that requires “charter schools” to be called something different in New Zealand!

The State system includes the set of schools operating as Kura Kaupapa, under s. 155, and the set of Designated Character schools under s. 156. These schools are complemented by over 330 State-Integrated schools, with religious character, such as Christian values or even Muslim values, as well as a variety of teaching philosophies, such as Montessori or Rudolf Steiner.

Indeed, anyone who tries to claim that New Zealand has a “one-size-fits-all” public education system is either very poorly informed of the variety of options available or is being deliberately misleading.

As a former Minister of Education, Nikki Kaye knows this only too well. So, we can conclude from this release that she has just nailed her colours to the mast of the privatisation movement.

National hid behind the ACT Party first time around and needed the support of the Maori Party to get the initial charter model legislation through the House. The convenient marriage of the ideology of privatisation and the ideology of self-determination was therefore born.

Given that the formal evaluation of the charter school model, carried out by Martin Jenkins, failed to draw any genuine conclusions as to the impact of the model to date, National is clutching at straws to claim that the model has already proven to be successful.

And we know from the financial statements of the Sponsors that this has been a lucrative business for them to enter. Bill English rushed to change the funding model after only one year but the first and second round school Sponsors have scored well out of the policy and away from the watchful eye of the Auditor-General.

No wonder they don’t want to let it go!

Labour has launched several reviews across multiple fronts to try and get to grips with the challenges of reinvigorating the New Zealand public education system after 9 years of flawed policies, such as National Standards.

It is early days yet but National’s knee-jerk reaction to bring back an American model that doesn’t even work there reveals how shallow National’s approach to developing Education policy is proving to be.

ENDS

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