Charter school surprise | The Jackal

11 Dec 2011

Charter school surprise

There is something very wrong about announcing a major policy just after the election. People weren't given a chance to make a decision based on proposed policy, which in some ways is even worse than a broken election promise.

Being that National's coalition deal with Act is being used as an excuse for the delayed charter school announcement, one would expect that John Banks had informed us about their plans prior to the election.

However this was not the case, with the only (woefully lacking in detail) announcement coming after the coalition deal was signed. Here's Act's charter school policy announcement made over a week after the election:

The provision to set up a trial charter school system - under sections 155 (Kura Kaupapa Maori) and 156 (designated character schools) of the Education Act – for disadvantaged communities, specifically in areas such as South Auckland and parts of Christchurch where educational underachievement is most entrenched.  A private sector-chaired implementation group will be established to develop the proposal for implementation in this parliamentary term.

Act is claiming that legislation already exists that has given the government a mandate to set up a trial charter school system. Let's have a look at exactly what the legislation states:

156 Designated character schools
  • (1) Subject to subsection (2), the Minister may, by notice in the Gazette when establishing the school, designate a State school as a designated character school
  • (2) The Minister shall not establish a school as a designated character school unless satisfied that—
  • (a) the parents of at least 21 people who would, if the school were established, be entitled to free enrolment there, want the school to be established; and
  • (b) the parents want the school to have a character that is in some specific way or ways different from the character of ordinary State schools; and
  • (c) the parents have given the Minister a clear written description and explanation (expressed in the form of aims, purposes, and objectives for the school) of the way or ways; and
  • (d) students at a school with such a character would get an education of a kind that—
  • (i) differs significantly from the education they would get at an ordinary State school; and
  • (ii) is not available at any other State school that children of the parents concerned can conveniently attend; and
  • (e) it is desirable for students whose parents want them to do so to get such an education.

Not only did they fail to announce their intentions to start a trial charter school system before the election, it appears that their policy is in breach of the Education Act 1989, being that the minister could not be satisfied that the parents of 21 students wanted a charter school because there was no time given to seek that approval.

It also appears that the Education Act does not give provision for schools that already exist to be changed into charter schools... so unless National and Act are prepared to ignore or retrospectively change the Education Act, they currently have no mandate for charter schools, even on a trial basis.

But let's just put that fact aside for now, as I'm sure National and Act will ignore the law as it is written. What about the supposed benefits of charter schools? Here's what the in-depth Standford University study (PDF) into Charter School performance in 16 US states concludes:

Executive Summary
The group portrait shows wide variation in performance. The study reveals that a decent fraction of charter schools, 17 percent, provide superior education opportunities for their students.  Nearly half of the charter schools nationwide have results that are no different from the local public school options and over a third, 37 percent, deliver learning results that are significantly worse than their student would have realized had they remained in traditional public schools.

That means on average charter schools are 20% worse than publicly funded schools. Clearly on the basis of previous experience there is no good argument for implementation.

Couple this with there being no electoral or parental mandate under the Education Act 1989, and the government is once again trying to force what is already an unpopular policy down peoples throats without any semblance of a mandate.

Have they learnt nothing from the implementation failure that is National Standards?