The Public Voice - QPEC Newsletter - May 2013
“QPEC Doesn’t Buy the Rhetoric Behind Charter Schools”
Minister of Education, Hekia Parata, has again attempted to defend the ideology behind the introduction of the charter school concept into New Zealand.
In today’s NZ Herald, (Tuesday 21 May) Minister Parata makes the well-worn claim that Partnership Schools (as they have to be called in New Zealand, because every public school already has a charter), will be “efficient and achieve results, and they would be held to a public contract.”
Unfortunately, the Minister failed, yet again, to produce any substantive evidence that charter schools, on the whole, do better for students than regular public schools in the overseas countries where this experiment has failed.
She also claimed that the mere existence of a “contract” means that Partnership Schools will be more accountable than public schools.
QPEC National Chairperson, Bill Courtney, finds the timing of this statement unfortunate, in the week when school trustee elections are due to take place.
“The election, by parents, of the trustees that govern every public school in New Zealand is the largest democratic exercise that takes place in our country. Over 100,000 of us have served as school trustees since the introduction of self-governing schools in 1989. It is direct accountability at the Board table that gives parents, through their elected representatives, the strongest voice possible influencing their children’s education.”
QPEC also doesn’t swallow the idea that “more choice” is the solution to raising student achievement. It’s like arguing that another 50 or so SKY TV channels will finally give us something decent to watch on TV.
QPEC’s position on the introduction of Partnership Schools is clear:
1. No substantive case has been put forward to justify the introduction of the charter school concept into NZ. Where is the Isaac Report?
2. NZ already has “arguably the most aggressive school choice system in the world” and the vast majority of NZ parents already believe they send their children to the “school of their choice”;
3. Overseas evidence on charter school performance is inconclusive, at best;
4. The argument that charter schools lead to greater innovation is weak;
5. Specific concerns have been expressed about the design features of NZ Partnership Schools, around non-registered teachers, curriculum and lack of accountability;
6. There is real concern that the introduction of Partnership Schools will undermine the strength of NZ’s public education system to the detriment of those students who attend public schools;
7. Why are we doing this? What is the real agenda?
The answer to the last question is evident from Sir Roger Douglas’s op-ed piece last week in the NZ Herald: the introduction of the “market mechanism”.
QPEC stands firmly opposed to the market theory in education and is committed to strengthening the public education system with one goal in mind: a broad, quality education for every child in every school on every day.
QPEC adds its support to “Feed the Kids” Bill
Press release: 1 May 2013
QPEC is delighted to join the growing number of organisations supporting the “Feed the Kids” Bill.
QPEC notes that some 270,000 New Zealand children live in poverty with an estimated 80,000 going to school hungry each day. Last year the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty recommended the implementation of a strategy to supply food in low decile schools.
The “Feed the Kids” Bill argues for the introduction of nutritious, fully state-funded breakfast and lunch programmes into all decile 1 and 2 schools in New Zealand.
QPEC encourages the government to embrace this initiative. There is no sound reason for the government to not allow the Bill to go to Select Committee for consideration by the public on how public funds should be spent on behalf of our children.
Prime Minister increases Kings College funding by an eye-watering 40% in just two years
Media Release - 15 April 2013
Today’s revelation that the government is giving active consideration to increasing state subsidies to private schools in the budget (RNZ story today) is another sickening example of the National/Act/Maori Party government’s distorted priorities.
Government subsidies to private schools have increased dramatically since John Key took office four years ago.
When public schools are being told funding is limited in tough economic times the government has been pouring money hand over fist into elite private schools which are the schools of choice for National/Act cabinet ministers.
For example at the Prime Minister’s school of choice for his son, Kings College, government subsidies increased by an eye-watering 40% ($1,663,585 to $2,325,587) from 2009 to 2011.
The figures for all private schools are shocking.
Consider these examples:
Less than 4% of New Zealand children attend private schools and yet they have become the first priority for National in its education policy release.
In the lead-up to the budget QPEC urges the government to abandon plans to put another layer of icing on the private school cake and instead provide extra funding for the schools expected to educate the increasing numbers of victims of the government’s economic policies.
QPEC Public Forum and 2013 AGM
Saturday 27th April
St Columba Centre, 40 Vermont Street, Ponsonby, Auckland
10.00am Public Forum: All welcome
Attacks on public education came thick and fast last year but the government ended the year on the back foot with the Minister struggling to hold onto her job.
Our public forum will review the main challenges to public education from the National/Act/Maori Party government and what the next steps are for defending and improving public education in New Zealand.
The discussion will be led by -
Charter schools – Bill Courtney, QPEC Deputy National Chairperson
Christchurch school restructure – Liz Gordon, Education Consultant and QPEC Treasurer
National standards - Martin Thrupp, Professor of Education from Waikato University.
Integration of private schools into public education - John Minto, QPEC National Chairperson
The Treasury Agenda for New Zealand – Ivan Snook, Emeritus Professor of Education, Massey University.
12.00noon Input from other education sector groups
Opportunity for comment/input from student organisations, parent groups, teacher unions.
1.00pm QPEC 2013 AGM (Observers welcome)
National Vice Chairperson(s)
John Banks gives two-fingered salute to parliament with charter school board appointments
Media Release - 3 March 2013
Act Party leader and Associate Education Minister John Banks has given a two-fingered salute to parliament with his premature appointment of the government’s new charter school authorisation board.
He is arrogantly undermining the authority of parliament itself which has yet to pass the enabling legislation to even allow these publicly-funded, privately-operated schools to operate.
Act Party appointment to the Charter School Working Group Catherine Isaacs did a similar thing before Xmas when she called for expressions of interest from those wanting to run charter schools – before parliament had heard a single submission on the charter school proposal.
In typical fashion Banks is also setting up charter schools to be an unaccountable success by making it clear the new Board “…will have a role in the regular review and monitoring of their [charter schools] performance to ensure agreed targets are achieved.”
So the same Board that approves school applications will monitor their success. This creates an obvious conflict of interest as those who approve applications will typically be the last to admit failure.
Banks waited till public submissions on the bill ended before making his announcement to avoid criticism of his appointments – none of whom have a track record of improving schooling outcomes for children from low-income communities.
And yet these children are the very group which Act says will be the focus of charter schools.
This is not about improving education for Maori, Pacifika or children from low income communities. Instead these are political appointments to drive a political policy which uses some of our most vulnerable students as guinea pigs for an experiment which has already been an epic fail every country it has been implemented.
Proposed Christchurch school closures
- a tale of two policies -
Media Release: 18 February 2013
The Minister of Education’s decision to close and merge several local community schools in Christchurch is premature, unnecessary and insensitive.
Schools are the natural hubs of communities and in the city’s post-earthquake trauma they are nothing less than the glue which is holding them together.
They provide stability for children, an anchor point for families and a focus for community activity.
It is far from clear where growth will take place in post-earthquake Christchurch and at a future time it may be clear that some rationalising is needed but these are early days.
Education Minister Hekia Parata’s announcements today will further damage Christchurch’s most vulnerable communities.
It’s not possible to avoid comparing today’s announcement with the late January announcement of the government bailout for the failed Wanganui Collegiate School. In that case the consultation went on for several years and the school was “saved” with massive injections of state funding for the school’s wealthy clientele at a time when there was plenty of spare capacity in other local public schools in Wanganui.
It’s a tale of two policies – one for the wealthy families of a failed private school and the other for successful public schools holding their communities together in post-quake Christchurch
QPEC will be urging the government to put its proposed changes on hold for two years until growth patterns are clear and the most vulnerable Christchurch communities are back on their feet.
Wanganui Collegiate bailed out by taxpayers
Media Release - 30 January 2013
It is outrageous that the government agreed to Wanganui Collegiate’s appeal to become an integrated school.
The school opened this week as an integrated school and thereby had its government funding increased from $800,000 to $3 million per year according to a Radio New Zealand report this morning.
This is a failed private school which taxpayers are bailing out through integration despite high quality public education available at a variety of local Whanganui schools.
Despite the huge increases in government funding through integration this school, and similar integrated schools, will maintain its exclusivity by charging parents thousands of dollars each year in government approved fees. This is education not available to the majority of local children whose parents simply can’t afford it.
It’s likely the decision to allow integration was made to appease National Party voters in Wanganui who want a socially cleansed environment for their children’s education which is paid for by taxpayers.
Integration in recent years has become little more than private education provided at taxpayer expense.
QPEC AGM 2013
The 2013 QPEC AGM will be held on Saturday 27th April at St Columba Centre, 30 Vermont Street, Ponsonby, Auckland.
Please make plans to be there. All welcome!
More details of agenda etc will be posted when they are available.
Longstone should tender her resignation
Media Release - 29 October 2012
Education Secretary Lesley Longstone’s claim, in the Ministry of Education’s annual report, that New Zealand does not have a world class education system is a nasty untruth.
Our education system is world class but government policies prevent children from working class families from succeeding as they should.
We know from decades of world class research across all education system in all countries that the single most important determinant of student success is the socio-economic circumstances of the family.
All New Zealanders know this but Longstone is in denial. Instead she does her best to blame schools and teachers for student underachievement.
It is NOT the fault of our education system when –
The scourge of student failure is linked directly to government economic and social policies – not the education system.
Schools in low income communities work exceptionally hard to raise student achievement. Instead of praise Longstone pours scorn on their efforts.
She was brought in from the poorly performing UK education system to implement its failed policies here. The UK public education system has become fragmented and incoherent – a drive overseen by Longstone herself who was a champion of the UK version of charter schools (called “free schools” in the UK)
In her time here she has been a fish out of water and has overseen Education Ministry failure at every turn – the class sizes debacle which resulted in a major government policy backdown, the fiasco over school reorganisation proposals in quake-ravaged Christchurch and the on-going failure of the new Novopay system for teachers are the most obvious examples.
If she believed in accountability as our public schools do then she would resign.
Much-vaunted accountability a “sham” in National’s charter schools
Media Release:16 October 2012
Feinberg and Failure
Comment - 1 October 2012
By any rational measure last week’s New Zealand visit by KIPP charter schools co-founder Mike Feinberg was a failure.
Feinberg was brought here by wealthy “philanthro-capitalist” Julian Robertson to promote the case for charter schools in New Zealand. Feinberg’s KIPP (Knowledge is Power) charter schools were specifically mentioned in the ACT/ National coalition agreement as an example of excellent charter schools which had overcome socio-economic disadvantage and gained excellent achievement for children from low-income communities and ethnic minorities. New Zealand should emulate KIPP we were told. This was of course despite the fact neither party mentioned charter schools in their election policies or during last year’s election campaign.
But despite no obvious interest in charter schools the right-wing thought they could swing New Zealand around to the idea with some old-fashioned barnstorming using a passionate charter school advocate. Feinberg has been successful spinning for charter schools in the US so why wouldn’t he do well in New Zealand?
But it wasn’t to be. Feinberg was here for four days and spoke to public meetings in Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland but all the meetings were small and politically insignificant. In Wellington there were 80-100 people, in Christchurch 20 (sic) and in Auckland 102 spread out in an auditorium which could seat 550.
The low turnouts weren’t for the lack of trying. The ACT party promoted the meetings through corporate networks and Feinberg enjoyed lots of positive largely-uncritical media coverage early in his visit. On his arrival in New Zealand for example the New Zealand Herald devoted almost a whole page to a favourable interview with him and included prominent free advertising for his three New Zealand public meetings.
Feinberg did many other radio and TV interviews in the few days leading up to his last Auckland meeting which was clearly designed to be the highlight of the visit – huge auditorium, New Zealand’s largest city, lots of free publicity, charismatic speaker. The recipe seemed right. All that was needed was to get the a big crowd going with an evangelical message of choice and the case would be sealed.
It didn’t work. Only 102 showed up and at least a third were opposed to charter schools. Another third would have been Act Party members and the last third was hard to pick.
Feinberg gave his presentation with lost of passion, personal anecdotes and well rehearsed lines. Nothing surprising there but in question time he was evasive and disingenuous.
The first questioner asked Feinberg about claims KIPP schools had a 40% dropout rate of African American boys. Feinberg said it came from just one school in about 2003 which he implied was a rogue school and that they had fixed up the problem. He was challenged on this later when another questioner (myself) raised the 2011 study by West Michigan University which found an average 30% dropout rate in KIPP schools nationwide before Year 9 and a massive 40% dropout rate for African American boys. Comparable dropout rates in public schools were just 8%.
Feinberg was forced to then acknowledge the research but said it was shoddy and poorly conducted. Instead he said we should read the Mathematica research which was genuinely independent and it said KIPP had similar dropout rates to public schools. When I had a second opportunity later to ask another question I suggested to him the Mathematica research was “vested-interest” research because it was commissioned by KIPP and paid for by KIPP’s corporate backers. Feinberg avoided the question and instead repeated that the West Michigan research was shoddy and paid for by teacher unions as though that negated it automatically. He was warmly applauded by the Act acolytes.
But despite the poor turnouts and lack of resonance with the public the government will press ahead with its charter school proposals because it wants to drive a wedge into public education – especially since it has faced such staunch resistance to its national standards/league tables policies from a sector determined to defend quality public education.
Driving this wedge will mean getting groups or sections of communities to agree to split off from public provision of education. The Charter Schools working group will now redouble its efforts to get Maori and Pacifika groups in particular to buy into charter schools before the first proposals are sought from interested groups next year for a 2014 start.
QPEC will continue to work to resist charter schools because we know from what’s happened overseas that proposals such as these weaken and undermine public education and have the most negative impact ont he very students they are supposed to help. Whether its beneficiary bashing, charter schools, league tables, the government is using the poor to advance the agenda of the 1%.
Resources on KIPP and charter schools:
KIPP SCHOOLS PUBLIC MEETING IN CHRISTCHURCH TONIGHT!!!
Tonight, Mike Feinberg will speak at a public meeting in Christchurch about the amazing success of his KIPP schools. The ‘Knowledge is Power Programme’ runs 125 schools across the US enrolling 40,000 students. It was mentioned by John Banks as the kind of programme to be encouraged here.
Feinberg’s visit has been funded by the Aotearoa Foundation, which is the local arm of the right wing USA-based Robertson Foundation. The philosophy of this new breed of ‘philanthrocapitalist’ is to use corporate giving to influence government policy, in particular towards the privatisation of public goods such as education. There is therefore a hidden agenda underlying this visit.
After 20 years of charter schools and thousands of new schools opened, the overall position of American schools on international league tables should have improved dramatically if the policy had been successful. It has not, and the USA is many places below New Zealand schools on scores of literacy, numeracy and science.
KIPP claims excellent results for its students. With a school day from 7.30am to 5pm, and several hours compulsory, supervised homework each night, plus half a day on Saturday, there is certainly plenty of time for learning. The emphasis is on learning to pass standardised tests, and on good behaviour. Concern has been expressed about the boot-camp mentality. One researcher, Howard Berlak, noted the following:
When I was there children who followed all the rules were given points that could be exchanged for goodies at the school store. Those who resisted the rules or were slackers wore a large sign pinned to their clothes labelled "miscreant." Miscreants sat apart from the others at all times including lunch, were denied recess and participation in all other school projects and events.. . . . I've spent many years in schools. This one felt like a humane, low security prison or something resembling a locked-down drug rehab program for adolescents…
The dropout rate is high. Children who fail standardised tests at each year level are kept back, and many leave and return to the public system. Thus unsuccessful students are weeded out early. The dropout rate before Year 9 (age 13) is around 30%, compared to 6% at public schools.
Most of the teachers are young and lack experience. Many are graduates of the ‘Teach for America’ programme which fast-tracks teacher education. The dropout rate is very high. Typically, they leave after two years, because they work unsustainably long hours (up to 70 or 80 hours a week is common) on relatively low pay. They burn out.
KIPP schools are very well resourced with government funding and tens of millions of dollars in corporate donations. The average public school child in the US attracts eleven thousand dollars, while the KIPP schools have per capita funding of $18,000.
In his visit so far, Mike Feinberg has been surprisingly muted about the stated success of his schools. He says they are not a silver bullet but another ‘choice’ for parents. This is a very revealing statement, as the Minister of Education, Hekia Parata, is also using the ‘no silver bullet’ analogy, as has the Secretary for Education, Lesley Longstone, the head of the now-rebranded Business Roundtable and the head of the charter schools NZ initiative Catherine Isaacs. This feels like subtle political management to me.
Those living in Christchurch might ask the question why, if choice is so good, it is being reduced here through proposed school closure or merger. Is this a dastardly plot to soften us up for charter schools? Are we being prepared for a new menu of ‘choice’ in education here? Is the Christchurch rebuild going to be used to import new models of privatised education into the city?
Choice, by itself, does not raise educational standards. I am highly suspicious of models of assertive discipline in schools that treat children in ways that none of us, as parents, would treat our own.
The National Standards data released this week has revealed for all to see (teachers have always known it) that there are big educational and social gaps between our children. But is the upshot of that the need to enrol poor kids in school boot camp? Isn’t that a little dire? And does it work, anyway?
In recent years the Ministry of Education and low-decile schools have worked tirelessly to overcome the educational gaps. Here in Christchurch there are some fabulous low-decile schools and teachers that break their backs to help their students. I do not believe that the KIPP model, or charter schools generally, offer anything better for us. Not a silver bullet indeed – rather a shotgun that will fragment our high quality public education system.
Mike Feinberg will speak at 6.30 Wednesday night at Undercroft, basement of University of Canterbury main library, James Height Building
KIPP Schools? No thanks we’re kiwis
Media Release - 19 September 2012
Wealthy “philanthro-capitalist” Julian Robertson has brought Mike Feinberg from the KIPP (Knowledge is Power) charter school programme to New Zealand to promote charter schools and prepare the way for the privatisation of public education.
Feinberg is speaking at public meetings in Auckland and Wellington and in reporting on his visit we hope the media will look beyond the glossy PR promotion and report accurately the obvious weaknesses of these schools as well as their alleged strengths.
Pasted below is a Q & A on the main issues we see with this proposal to privatise part of our public education system.
What this portrays is a hideous caricature of education which would be anathema to most New Zealand parents. KIPP has overall dropout rates of 30% before Year 9 – which rises to 40% (sic) for African American male children – and this would never be tolerated in a New Zealand school.
If 40% of lower-achieving Maori or Pacific boys dropped out of school by the end of Year 8 there would be questions asked in parliament and a commission of inquiry – and quite rightly so.
KIPP prefers to weed out these kids and then bask in the warm glow of the successes of the students that remain.
It’s the kids who drop out of KIPP who are the very children New Zealand charter schools are supposed to help. KIPP leaves them behind.
Background information on Mike Feinberg and KIPP (Knowledge is Power Programme)
Who is Mike Feinberg?
Mike Feinberg is the co-founder of KIPP and is a board member of the KIPP Foundation.
What is KIPP?
KIPP stands for “Knowledge is Power Programme” and uses a “no excuses” philosophy to run 125 Charter schools across the US enrolling nearly 40,000 students mainly from low-income communities.
Why was KIPP founded?
Feinberg claims public education is failing poor children in the US and says poverty is no excuse. This was music to the ears of right-wing foundations and corporate capitalists who have donated tens of millions to establish KIPP schools as well as promote the idea that the private sector should take over public education.
What is he doing in New Zealand?
He’s here to promote the Act/National government’s charter schools policy and encourage the privatisation of public education.
Who paid for him to come here?
His visit has been funded by the Aotearoa Foundation which is the local arm of the right wing USA-based Robertson Foundation. Aotearoa Foundation and the Robertson Foundation were established by American Hedge Fund billionaire and honorary New Zealand knight Julian Robertson. The Robertson Foundation is now headed by former Auckland and Oxford University vice-chancellor, John Hood. Hood is also a trustee of the Aotearoa Foundation.
The Robertson Foundation is one of the new breed of so-called ‘philanthrocapitalists’, private sector investment funds and trusts that view charity not as altruistic giving, but as just another business investment opportunity to influence government policy and the delivery of public education. And, to do so by lobbying behind closed doors, completely outside the democratic process.
Are KIPP schools successful?
At a superficial level the school results look good but behind the gloss the figures make grim reading. KIPP claims for example that 80% of the children who complete the 8th grade (Year 9) in a KIPP school go on to University compared to just 20% of children from public schools. This is highly misleading at best because the dropout rate from KIPP schools is very high particularly before Grade 8 (Year 9) Overall 30% of students drop out before Grade 8 but the figure becomes an astonishing 40% for African American males. The comparable dropout rate from public schools of the same demographic is 6%. When these dropout rates are factored in the comparative success of KIPP schools plummets. Some researchers have even suggested the rates of University attendance may be lower at KIPP schools than for the same demographic of public school students.
Why is the dropout rate so high in KIPP schools?
The dropout rate is high because the schools set rigid standards for passing standardised tests and obeying school rules. Children who fail are kept back a year and many leave to return to public schools rather than repeat a year behind their friends. In this way children of lower academic ability are weeded out. Others are expelled or given the US version of a “kiwi-suspension” when they misbehave (where the parents are encouraged to remove their child from the school).
After weeding out the poor performers and those who break their rigid rules the KIPP leaders then bask in the warm glow of the success of those who lasted the distance.
How are KIPP schools funded?
KIPP schools receive much more revenue from all sources (eg including corporate donations) per student than comparable public schools, on average $18,491 per student vs. $11,991 per student in a public school.
How are KIPP schools run?
There is some variation between KIPP schools but basically they run from 7.30am to 5pm each day with a half day on Saturday and three weeks over the summer break.
They focus strongly on teaching numeracy and literacy because these are measured in standardised tests. The schools have a very tight behaviour regime best illustrated in the following anecdote from researcher Howard Berlak after a visit to a KIPP school in San Francisco:
"When I was there children who followed all the rules were given points that could be exchanged for goodies at the school store. Those who resisted the rules or were slackers wore a large sign pinned to their clothes labelled "miscreant." Miscreants sat apart from the others at all times including lunch, were denied recess and participation in all other school projects and events.
Similar stories are commonplace. It’s easy to see why the Knowledge is Power programme has been dubbed the Kids in Prison programme.
What are the rules for teachers, students and parents in KIPP schools?
The rules for teachers, parents and children are here:
Teaching and learning is not so much based around good relationships between teachers and students as it is based on sets of rules to be followed.
Who teaches in these schools?
The teachers are predominantly young and less experienced. Many are “graduates” of the “Teach for America” programme which fast-tracks teacher education. The dropout rate of teachers is very high – typically they leave after two years – because they work unsustainably long hours (up to 70-80 hours per week is common) on relatively low pay.
Note: The Robertson Foundation (see above) is a funder and supporter of the US programme “Teach for America” which feeds teachers into charter schools. Here in New Zealand Julian Robertson has also been associated with the establishment of the equally controversial Teach First New Zealand fast-track six-week teacher training scheme at Auckland University. A scoping study for Teach First New Zealand was jointly funded in 2010 by the Aotearoa Foundation and The Warehouse founder Stephen Tindall’s Tindall Foundation. It seems clear that Teach First New Zealand has been specifically set up to feed unregistered green “teachers” into charter schools here.
Should New Zealanders be worried?
Absolutely. This is an all out attack on public education. Once charter schools are established they will be promoted heavily by the right wing just as they have been in the US and public education with become fragmented and incoherent as it has become in the US, UK and Australia.
But couldn’t charter schools improve education for children in low-income communities?
Charter schools have been around for 20 years and there is no reliable data to conclude they do better than public schools in any country (see earlier comments re KIPP schools) for children from low-income communities. Promoters of charter schools invariably produce data to support a claim of better education but these generally founder under independent assessment.
Earlier this year Massey University Policy Response Group did a comprehensive analysis of charter schools in the UK, USA and Sweden. Their report can be read in full under the “Research on Charter Schools” tab at www.qpec.org.nz
How good is New Zealand’s public education system?
The New Zealand public education system is excellent. Our state school students regularly top students anywhere in the world. In the most recent PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results for 15 year olds New Zealand was ranked fourth out of 34 OECD countries in reading literacy, fourth in scientific literacy, and seventh in mathematical literacy. Our kids are world beaters, our teachers are stunning and our public schools are outstanding.
By comparison the US, UK and Sweden (all quoted favourably by Act/National) have much weaker results because they have allowed the private sector through charter schools to fragment their education delivery.
What about our “long tail of underachievement”?
This is a huge cause for concern but the problem is not underperforming public schools, useless principals or hopeless teachers as Feinberg, Act and National would have us believe. Instead it’s primarily the economic policies which have grown the gap between rich and poor faster in New Zealand than any other OECD country in the past 27 years. Whenever this gap widens then social problems proliferate and education underachievement becomes endemic in low-income areas. For example public schools are NOT to blame when:
What should New Zealand be doing about the fact so many children, disproportionately Maori and Pacifika, are leaving school without even a level one NCEA qualification?
Outside of schools we need to push for government policies which take the financial burden off low-income families; feed our kids breakfast and lunch in schools each day; ensure families have warm, dry homes which are not overcrowded and kids don’t contract third world diseases. We should be also be pushing for families to have decent incomes so kids aren’t shuffled between parents, grandparents and other relations so that every Monday morning in South Auckland the equivalent of an entire primary school of children change schools. How can these kids in “transience” ever benefit from what a high quality school can offer?
Inside schools we need to increase resourcing for programmes shown to make a significant difference for Maori and Pacifika children (such as the Kotahitanga programme and the AIMHI initiatives) We also need resources to dramatically reduce class sizes in schools in our low-income communities so teacher/student relationships can be strengthened where the need to do so is greatest.
Some worthwhile references on charter schools and KIPP:
Christchurch consultant - government proposals for Christchurch schooling a “tangled mess”
Media Release - 16 September 2012
The proposals for Christchurch School closures, mergers and changes reflect a confusing mass of conflicting purposes, reasons and justifications, according to a local education expert.
Liz Gordon, a Christchurch-based educational consultant and Deputy Chairperson of the Quality Public Education Coalition, spoke of her bewilderment and despair on reading the list.
Dr Gordon said that the most worrying thing was a lack of discussion and consultation within communities.
The Quality Public Education Coalition is requesting that the Ministry of Education go back to the drawing board. “The plan is ill-informed and anomalous. It should never have been released in that form. As others have said, all it has done is cause upset and concern across the city. We really could have done without this.”
Dr Gordon wants the Ministry of Education to withdraw the plan, and start again. “There is an opportunity to really improve educational provision and results over the next 20 years in this city. This will not be achieved by top-down mergers, but by serving communities effectively.
“The Ministry needs to compile a public consultation document that includes population projections, civil aspirations, providing services that overcome educational disadvantage in poorer communities, and a city-wide discussion over our educational futures.
Dr Gordon calls on all parties for a democratic, integrated, aspirational and planned model of schooling for the city into the future, not “the tangled mess released this week”.
Kiwi state school system targeted by global ‘philanthrocapitalists’
Media Release - 16 September 2012
Another twist in the National-ACT charter school experiment comes with the revelation that a private foundation is apparently to sponsor a visit to New Zealand by the head of a controversial charter school management organisation – the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP).
QPEC understands that the right wing USA-based Roberston Foundation is bringing Mike Feinberg, KIPP co-founder, to New Zealand to promote the establishment of charter schools in New Zealand through its local arm, the Aotearoa Foundation. Aotearoa Foundation and the Roberston Foundation were established by American Hedge Fund billionaire and honorary New Zealand knight Julian Roberston. The Robertson Foundation is now headed by former Auckland and Oxford University vice-chancellor, John Hood. Hood is also a trustee of the Aotearoa Foundation.
The Robertson Foundation is one of the new breed of so-called ‘philanthrocapitalists’, private sector investment funds and trusts that view charity not as altruistic giving, but as just another business investment opportunity to influence government policy and the delivery of public education. And, to do so by lobbying behind closed doors, completely outside the democratic process.
In the USA, the Robertson Foundation donates several million dollars each year to the KIPP Foundation and other charter school management organisations. In New Zealand, Julian Robertson has also been associated with the establishment of the equally controversial Teach First New Zealand fast-track six-week teacher training scheme at Auckland University. A scoping study was jointly funded in 2010 by the Aotearoa Foundation and The Warehouse founder Stephen Tindall’s Tindall Foundation. The Robertson Foundation is a major sponsor of the USA-based Teach For All network of self-styled social entrepreneurs. Teach for All aims to establish fast-track teaching schemes across the world.
QPEC is appalled at the way in which New Zealand public education policy, services and assets are being privatised without any public mandate. The New Zealand public needs to know that the global corporate sharks are now circling our state school system looking for a quick killing.
13 public schools in Christchurch to close – how many will reopen as charter schools?
Media Release - 14 September 2012
QPEC is calling on the government to come clean over the decision to close 13 public schools in Christchurch as part of an educational re-organisation following the city’s earthquakes.
It appears the wholesale closure of public schools in the city is at least in part to make room for charter schools to take their place.
We saw this happen after Hurricane Katrina devastated the US city of New Orleans and private profiteers worked with the government to close the city’s public schools and reopen them as charter schools run for private profit.
Will some of these 13 schools be closed as public schools only to be reopened in 2014 as profit-making charter schools? Which sites have been quietly earmarked by government ministers and the private business lobbyists as sites for charter schools?
Christchurch was specifically targeted for at least one charter school at the time coalition agreement between Act and National after last year’s election. Auckland was the other centre suggested for a charter school.
Since then Act’s ambitions have grown with Charter Schools promoter Catherine Isaac now talking publicly of up to 30 charter schools. How many of these will be in Christchurch?
We know no-one can trust Charter Schools Minister John Banks so we want the Prime Minister to assure the people of Christchurch and New Zealand that no public school which is closed will be re-opened as a charter school. Such a move would be an insult to people of Christchurch – its students, parents and teachers.
A good start for Labour on education policy
Media Release - 10 September 2012
QPEC is pleased to see the Labour Party begin to announce some significant improvements in its education policy compared to National’s dangerous drive to undermine public education.
The policies announced yesterday by Labour leader David Shearer are a good start. We would be delighted to see the end of National Standards and league tables; a commitment to feed children at low-decile schools and increased resources to help children falling behind.
It was also refreshing to hear a party leader say “a great public school system is important”. This contrasts sharply with National's attempts to belittle public school and teachers at every opportunity and blows away the foetid atmosphere created by National’s policies for charter schools, league tables and so-called performance pay for teachers.
QPEC will be keen to see further details of this policy and we hope future announcements will include policies to dramatically reduce pupil/teacher ratios in schools in low-income communities as the most effective way to improve student achievement for groups of children, predominantly Maori and Pacifika, who are falling behind.
ERO - a biased political weapon for the government
Media Release - 30 August 2012
Another month and another biased ERO report attacking schools, principals and teachers.
ERO claimed yesterday’s report was a “wake-up” call for teachers, principals and Boards of Trustees and highlighted what it said was schools’ “three most important shortcomings” – schools need to focus on the needs of individual students, provide a rich curriculum and use assessment results to plan their teaching.
This report is meaningless because it is so negative and biased. It lacks the balance and independence that is essential to its national evaluation function. In this report, ERO has simply trawled through four years of reports to pick out and highlight the most negative aspects of teaching and learning they could find and then launch a broadside against public schools.
New Zealand has an excellent public education system which overall stands close to the top of OECD rankings but listening to the ERO one would think our children attended banana republic schools.
The report is also completely useless as a practical guide for schools to improve teaching and learning. This is incompatible with ERO's claim to want to 'assess and assist schools'. So what is its purpose?
It seems clear the report is part of government plans to “soften up” parents to see public schools in a negative light and so support the government’s destructive drive for performance pay for teachers, national standards, league tables and charter schools.
By acting in this biased way, the ERO has become the mouthpiece for the government, picking on public education with such broad political attacks that make it impossible for schools to respond effectively.
Dealing with an ERO report like this is like trying to wrestle with a marshmallow.
We saw this in the 1990s when schools in low-income communities were ERO’s soft targets – now it’s the entire public education system.
If ERO continues to produce such biased reports lacking in objectivity then parents will rightly lose confidence in using their findings.
The ERO must become a genuine evaluation agency of the education system rather than the willing political weapon it has allowed itself to become.
QPEC Applauds Children’s Commissioner’s report
Media Release - 29 August 2012
QPEC applauds the recommendations from the expert advisory group setup by the Children’s Commissioner for the provision of free meals in schools, improving housing for those on low-incomes and re-introducing a universal child payment of $125 to $150 per week.
The expert panel says that having 270,000 or nearly one in four New Zealand children living below the poverty line is unacceptable. QPEC agrees.
The report’s recommendations are long overdue and we will be joining other groups to encourage the government to implement them without delay.
It is well known that the most important determinant of student achievement is the socio-economic position of the child’s family.
Schools must set high standards and have high expectations of students but educational success will always be seriously undermined -
Meanwhile the government is demanding improved academic achievement for children in a context of increased impediments to learning. QPEC notes it is impossible to achieve this improvement without significant support for schools and teachers. New Zealand schools do brilliantly by international standards but with better support, more can be done for our most needy children.
We support free, healthy school meals for all disadvantaged children, good quality pastoral care in each school, creative and successful learning systems that engage failing students and help them learn and high quality support for schools, instead of the usual government attacks on teachers.
We call on the government to support an effective way forward to pull this generation of children out of poverty, and improve their learning.
A free breakfast programme for all children in decile 1 to 3 state schools would cost the government around $35 million dollars per year. That is less than half the amount the government pays each year for children to attend private schools. For the government to continue to allow children to start each school day hungry is an affront to New Zealand’s “fair go” values.
Teachers and schools are more than ready to play their part for the next generation – it’s the government which must now get in behind our children.
Olympic Medal hopes nurtured in state schools
John Key – “do as I say, not as I do”
Media Release - 5 August 2012
On Friday Prime Minister John Key said he’d be happy for his kids to be taught by unregistered teachers but we can’t find any at the schools he chose for his children (see the attached staff list from Kings College and staff employment conditions from St Cuthbert’s)
John Key made the assertion when defending the government’s decision to allow charter schools to employ unregistered teachers. He claimed registered teachers were not a requirement for a good education but in practice he makes sure his own children get them.
It’s another example of Prime Ministerial hypocrisy and comes hard on the heels of John Key promoting larger class sizes at state schools, saying they would not reduce the quality of education, only to be outed from an earlier interview where he said he sent his kids to private schools specifically because they offered lower class sizes.
In both cases the Prime Minister has tried to sell poor quality education to other people’s children but made sure his own kids were insulated from it.
There is never any shortage of advice from the rich as to how the rest of the country should live our lives but on education the Prime Minister should keep his hypocrisy to himself.
Kings College Teaching staff 2011
G Adams, BA (Auckland), MA (Hons) (Auckland), DipTchg
St Cuthbert’s school ‘package’
Employer of Choice-Teachers
The Trust Board of St Cuthbert's College realises the importance of all staff both academic and support. Therefore all academic staff are offered the following "Employer of Choice" package.
“New Zealand model of charter schools” confirmed as political rather than educational
Media Release - 2 August 2012
Yesterday’s announcement of details of the New Zealand model of charter schools is confirmation that the policy is political and ideological rather than educational.
Setting the bar so low for the quality of teachers and the delivery of the curriculum is designed to make the proposal more attractive to private sector “for-profit” providers because teaching costs are the biggest expense in any school. Even if it means lower quality education in the classrooms the government’s proposal will mean cheaper “teachers” and the prospect of bigger profits for providers.
It’s also clear from the announcement and from the list of groups who have registered interest in running a charter school that they will NOT deliver education to those who are failing in the education system now.
The poorest performing 20% of students will be missed. Instead it will be the more motivated parents with their more motivated students from low-income communities who will be enrolled rather than those students who are actually struggling.
For example “partnership schools” will not enrol students in perpetual transience (400 of whom change schools every Monday morning in South Auckland) The students who need extra help are already in our public schools now and it is here that help is needed.
What the NZ and international research evidence shows is that educational achievement increases when:
For 20 years John Banks and ACT have promoted policies which have taken us in the opposite direction while at the same time showing an arrogant disregard for those they have driven into poverty and deprivation.
John Banks is part of the problem.
League tables an unnecessary distraction from problems in education
Media Release - 19 June 2012
QPEC is dismayed at the Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday that he is keen to see “league tables” for primary schools.
This is an unnecessary distraction from improving student achievement which should be the government’s focus.
The government is still smarting from its backdown on increasing class sizes and is using this issue to try and drive a wedge between teachers and parents. Key thinks league tables will be popular with parents but opposed by teachers and schools.
QPEC has always opposed the use of crude data comparing schools. We have already seen the unsavoury practices in secondary schools through ranking schools according to NCEA pass rates. For example students may be denied entry to some courses or excluded from entering examinations. This has the effect of improving the pass rate but reducing opportunities for students – the opposite of what we should expect our schools to be doing.
It would be an awful to see such practices enter primary schools.
There are three main reasons QPEC believes league tables are bad policy.
Firstly league tables will only tell us what we already know, that kids in wealthy areas do better in school than kids in poor areas. League tables based on pure socio economic factors are virtually identical to those based on educational achievement.
Secondly, only some things can be measured, and these are not always what is valuable about education. You can’t measure interest, engagement, passion, social skills and all the other things that go on in schools.
Thirdly, in countries which have league tables there is strong evidence that teachers are required to teach to the test. This may increase performance on individual indicators, but there is also evidence that what goes on in schools becomes narrower and less engaging, particularly for hard-to-teach children.
The Prime Minister wants to bring a crude, market-based business approach to schooling which is out of kilter with the collegial, collaborative approach to teaching and learning within our schools.
The solutions to improving educational achievement do not lie in naming and shaming schools in low-income communities, nor in celebrating high achievement in Remuera or Fendalton.
Class size matters the most where students are struggling
Published in Dompost - 15 June 2012
Relief at the government abandoning increasing class sizes needs to quickly change to focus on improving student achievement.
Education Minister Hekia Parata has said as much and the education sector must take her at her word and be prepared to collaborate in developing policy.
The first thing to recognise is that overall our education system is a world beater. Our kids consistently perform close to the top of international comparisons in the key areas of reading, science and maths. We regularly outperform the US, UK and Australia.
In the latest international survey (2012) from 34 OCED countries New Zealand students were ranked fourth in reading literacy, fourth in scientific literacy and seventh in mathematical literacy.
Since these PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) surveys started in 2000 New Zealand has stayed close to the top while other countries have struggled. As our Teachers Council reported last week “Australia has recorded a significant decline since 2000 on all the skills measured. England has slipped from seventh in 2000 to 25th in reading, eighth to 28th in maths and fourth to 16th in science. The United States only rates around the average of all OECD countries.”
If our athletes in London competed as well internationally as our students and teachers we’d be deluged with medals.
Prime Minister John Key complains that despite adding additional teachers in recent years our student achievement has “flatlined” over the past decade. That’s true but we are flat lining at the top, which should be a source of pride and only a single country from the original top 10 performers from the first PISA survey, Korea, actually increased its reading literacy score over the last 10 years. Compared to the countries whose ideas the government wants us to emulate, the UK (free schools) and US (charter schools), are dropping or have flatlined well below us.
What is also clear is that our teachers and schools achieve this with lower funding than other OECD countries. Again the Teachers Council reported “New Zealand consistently scores in the top half dozen OECD countries, even though, according to the evidence gathered by the OECD, we spend far less per student than nearly all of the other 34 OECD nations.”
In the words of Massey University’s Professor of Education John O’Neill “...one can reasonably argue that New Zealand schools are underfunded, but overachieve.”
All this should be a matter of huge national pride so why is the government constantly belittling our teachers and schools. During last year’s election campaign John Key told the country that our schools were letting down New Zealand kids. How pathetic is that? We need to ask him why the government doesn’t offer its warmest congratulations to our students, teachers and schools. International success like this is fantastic and it’s easy to make the case that our schools are the brightest spots across our entire economy.
It’s also important to recognise that New Zealand has achieved these high levels of success through a strong public education system. 96% of New Zealand children are educated in public schools while education systems which are in crisis and failing such as the US and UK have highly fractured education provision based on a false notion of “choice” where the most important choice – a high quality school in the local neighbourhood – has been lost to many. Their attempts to improve through so-called “charter schools”, more private funding and getting businesses to run schools have paralysed progress in lifting student achievement. They should be emulating us and not the other way round.
In fact across all OECD countries those with the highest levels of student achievement, such as New Zealand, have their successes based on high quality public education as a right of citizenship.
In Finland, which has the best performing education system in the world there are no private schools but the government has heavily invested in public education with the funding focused for equality and equity and ensuring that every school is a good school. Now there is something worth emulating.
But all is not perfect and the Minister is right to point to significant numbers of students who are still failing in education. There will always be students who don’t do so well for a host of reasons but our Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf is right to point out that we have more low-scoring students than the other high-performing countries.
These students are disproportionately Maori, Pacifika and working class kids in our low-income communities.
What Makhlouf didn’t say however is that there is a strong co-relation between poor educational results for kids from low-income communities and the degree of income inequality in a country. It’s no surprise then that in New Zealand, where we have had the fastest growing gap between rich and poor over the past generation, we have kids left behind. Lower achievement for kids from families on the lowest incomes follows inequality like night follows day.
The same applies for other social problems we are all too familiar with: child abuse, violent crime, drug abuse, teenage pregnancy and poor mental health. If we are serious about addressing these problems we must rebalance our economy so every family is brought in from the cold.
This is the unpalatable truth the government and Treasury must face but there’s no point holding our breath waiting...
So what should we be doing in the meantime?
There is enough local evidence now that the single policy which would make the greatest difference in lifting the achievement of Maori, Pacifika and kids from low-income communities would be to decrease class sizes in our lower decile schools and couple this with intensive professional development for teachers to adapt their teaching to the new learning environment. So while reducing class size doesn’t appear to score as highly as teacher performance in lifting achievement overall, the local research shows it has differential effects for different groups of kids with the kids we need to target benefiting the most.
Lowering class sizes at high decile schools where high parental expectations match high teacher expectations would not necessarily make much difference. But where home circumstances mean learning outcomes depend more heavily on the teacher alone then small class sizes and closer relationships between students and teachers become key drivers in improving achievement.
We shouldn’t accept second best for any of our kids and this means significant investment directly into the classrooms where our underachievers predominate. Class size matters for these kids more than most. Our teachers have shown they are world beaters – why not give them the resources to get all our kids to the top?
Quality Public Education Coalition
Saving Ranui special needs unit – another U-turn urgently needed
Media release - 7 June 2012
10,000 signatures on a petition calling for the Ranui special needs unit to remain open were presented to MPs this morning outside the Minister of Education office in Normanby Road, Auckland.
QPEC is supporting the brave group of parents and children vigorously defending their children’s education through organising the petition. We have written to the Minister of Education Hekia Parata to support the unit remaining open.
At least three other special needs units attached to schools and four residential schools for children with special needs are under threat of closure by the Ministry of Education this year.
This policy needs a U turn.
QPEC has a 15 year involvement in supporting parents and children with special needs getting a fair deal in education. We support the rights of parents to have their children enrolled in a mainstream class at their local school and we also support the right of parents to have other options, such a special needs unit or special school, if that is the choice that works best for their children.
It is ironic that the government supports a “choice” which funds 250 students to attend private schools at taxpayer expense but is pressuring children with special needs into a single option.
These parents have experienced having their children in mainstream classes and for many their education has gone backwards. They have seen their children thrive in the unit where they learn in a smaller group while also mixing in the wider school.
QPEC also wants the government to change the way it funds the special education grant. At the moment all schools receive the same special education grant funding irrespective of whether they have children with special needs or not. This bizarre funding mechanism seriously disadvantages schools which welcome children with special needs. It makes the lives of these students their parents and teachers unnecessarily more difficult.
After the backdown....where to save money?
8 June 2012-06-08
Saving $114 million in government spending is now the challenge facing Education Minister Hekia Parata and Finance Minister Bill English following the backdown on plans to increase class sizes.
QPEC suggests that if these savings are needed they can be can be made partly from inside education and we suggest the government start by:
Any other funded needed should come from higher income earners who currently pay virtually the same tax as those on low incomes if GST is considered alongside income tax.
QPEC does not support stripping funding from other sectors within education to make up the difference.
QPEC welcomes class-size decision as a victory for kids’ education
7 June 2012
QPEC welcomes the government decision not to increase class sizes as a victory for our kids’ education.
It’s a relief the right decision has been reached and we congratulate parents, teachers, principals, boards of trustees and education academics for their unified pressure which forced the government to the right decision.
It is deeply disappointing such an awful decision was taken in the first place and parents and educators will need to be on their guard because it seems inevitable that under this government further Treasury-driven policies will be in the pipeline for education.
We are particularly concerned the government may now shift its focus to an attack on the collaborative nature of teaching and learning with plans to implement so-called performance pay for teachers. Such a move would represent a similar danger to children’s education as increasing class sizes.
We also welcome the Minister’s commitment to working at improving student achievement, particularly for Maori, Pacifika and children from low-income communities. However we’d like to see the Minister work with teachers and schools to this end rather than working with Treasury to impose bad education policy.
In the meantime parents and teachers can get on with the job of keeping New Zealand schools close to the top in international educational success.
Education Minister shows arrogant disregard for parents and teachers
Media Release - 6 June 2012
Education Minister Hekia Parata’s refusal to meet with education sector groups together today in the face of outrage at the government’s decision to increase class sizes at public schools shows an arrogant disregard for the parents and teachers.
The Minister has backed herself into a corner and instead of trying to work with the sector to change the policy and is now digging in for a fight. Her statement that there will be no backdown on this hugely unpopular policy reinforces the enmity for public education which seems hard-wired into National’s DNA.
Parata is trying to cloak this attack on public education by saying one in five students is failing and the objective is to raise achievement for those students.
However the research evidence is clear that the very students the Minister says she wants to help would suffer the most if class sizes increase. Massey University’s Professor John O’Neill wrote to the Minister in February pointing out that any decision to increase class sizes would impact most on students already failing. He pointed out that even education researcher John Hattie, much quoted by the government, concluded in his major research project that “...increasing class size is poor policy.”
This is a political decision to undermine public education rather than an educational decision to raise achievement.
QPEC will be working with education sector groups to campaign to have this policy reversed.
$43 million should be saved from private school subsidy
31 May 2012
QPEC is calling on the Minister of Education to save $43 million from education by reducing the government subsidy to private schools rather than increasing class sizes at public schools.
In the New Zealand Herald this morning the executive director of the Independent Schools Association said the average class size among their 44 member private schools is around 12 students with a maximum class size of 16 students. In public schools the average class is size is around 25 with many classes well over 30.
At private schools:
Average class size of 12, maximum 16
No children with significant special needs
No children with significant behavioural problems
Few children with serious learning difficulties
Educate 4% of our children
22% increase in government funding in 2012
At public schools:
Average class size of 25, classes of over 30 typical
Children with special needs included in “mainstream” classes
Many children with significant behavioural problems
Many children with significant learning difficulties
Educate 96% of our children
Government aims to “save” $43 million each year by increasing class sizes
Government subsidies for private schools have increased from $40 million when National took office to more than $70 million today. In 2010 the increase was 22.3% with similar annual increases since.
We believe the government should save the $43 million they are claiming by reducing the taxpayer subsidy to private schools rather than by increasing class sizes at public schools.
The educational needs are much greater in public schools and the government should act accordingly.
Government hypocrisy protects small classes at elite private schools
30 May 2012
QPEC remains implacably opposed to any increase in class sizes at public schools despite yesterday’s backdown when schools were given the “good news” they wouldn’t lose more than two teachers.
The “good news” is appalling news because larger classes mean:
Less individual time for each student with their teacher
More difficulty for students to develop strong learning relationships with their teachers
Less teacher time for students who are struggling or for children with special education needs. (This is supposed to be a key focus for this government)
Greater stress on teachers
Prime Minister John Key and Associate Education Minister John Banks expect small class sizes for their own children at Kings College where the school “philosophy” says:
"Class sizes are limited and our policy of a low pupil-to-teacher ratio ensures students are given greater individual attention in the classroom".
However while preaching austerity for the 96% of children who attend public schools the government has protected these small class sizes for the 4% attending private schools – which includes the children of more than half our cabinet ministers.
Government subsidies to private schools increased by 22.3% in 2010 and over 20% in each of the following two years to almost double in the first three years of John Key’s National government.
It’s hypocritical for the government to preach austerity at public schools but lavish funding on private schools where they disproportionately send their own children.
QPEC is urging the government to abandon its plans to increase class sizes.
Minister’s rose-tinted glasses are two generations out of date
Published in NZ Herald 29 May 2012
Education Minister Hekia Parata’s comment that she was once in a class of 43 students will resonate with older New Zealanders. Large classes were the norm in the 1950’s and 60’s and I have a class photo showing 57 alongside me at primary school in South Dunedin.
Today class sizes are closer to 30 than 50 and many will think the Minister’s proposals to use an increase in class size as a way to fund improving the quality of teachers is no bad thing.
But classrooms have changed dramatically in the intervening generations. In the past most teaching was done as “chalk and talk” from the front of the room and kids assessed with exams twice a year. But teachers today are expected to see their students as individuals with individual needs, learning styles and challenges and adapt their teaching accordingly. They are expected to be able to give good and frequent individual feedback on progress and feed forward what students need to be working on to develop their learning. Assessment has grown like topsy into a much larger burden and with national standards now infecting primary schools this will increase again.
Relating to students as individuals is good education practice. This is especially so in schools in low-income areas where all the research and my many years of personal experience show the relationship between teacher and student is critical to good learning.
Changes in the teaching of children with special education needs has also impacted significantly on classrooms since 1989 when the Education Act gave children with special needs the right to enroll at their local school. This was universally welcomed but like so many good policies was never resourced for success. There is no better illustration of this than last week’s announcement that the Ministry of Education wants to close four residential schools for intellectually disabled children and those with serious behavioural difficulties and require them to access their education in mainstream schools.
This mirrors the 1998 Ministry decision to withdraw direct funding from the country’s special needs units attached to mainstream schools and require the children to enter mainstream classrooms unless their school or local cluster of schools could fund a unit themselves. Many schools and parents put up valiant struggles but the massive financial leverage of the Ministry means the small number of remaining units are facing forced closure at the end of this year.
These changes are fraught for teachers because the resources and the smaller class sizes are just not there for this to be a successful strategy in many cases. One of my most dispiriting experiences in education was some years back when a meeting of several thousand secondary school teachers loudly applauded a speaker who was struggling to support children with special education needs he was required to teach in his mainstream classroom. He was supportive of mainstreaming but frustrated at his inability to do the best for all the kids in the class without the support needed for them all to become successful learners.
Increasing class sizes makes all this that much more difficult. We already have the unsavoury behaviour of some public schools discouraging enrolment of children with special needs. God forbid that that extends to classroom teachers who will see their own reputation tarnished and their income reduced through performance pay if they welcome children with special needs into their classroom.
Today’s teachers are expected to be super-teachers – to take a class of 30 or so students and deliver increasingly individualized education programmes with much more emphasis on assessment and feedback to students and parents. Instead of helping and resourcing teachers to do this job the government is making it harder.
One of the ironies is that National Party government ministers seem to prefer to send their own kids to elite private schools where small classes are given priority, children with special education needs or behavioral problems are refused enrolment and rather than performance pay the teachers are paid the state school pay rates with an additional percentage.
And just to make sure their kids are resourced properly the government gave them a 22.3% increase in government subsidies for 2010 with further increases since.
Not so for schools in our low-income areas where student achievement is well below other areas. The issues here are multiple but the elephant in the room is our appalling low-wage economy where on top of 160,000 unemployed we have half a million people earning less than $16 an hour and over a hundred thousand who don’t get enough hours of work to enjoy a decent income.
But despite the now frequent attacks on teachers and schools New Zealand has a good public education system which consistently ranks third or fourth in the world in international achievement comparisons. If only our athletes in London could do so well.
These fine levels of educational achievement have been built by teachers and schools despite recent government policies which mimic the failed school policies from the US and UK.
Let’s give our public school teachers and public schools a break and applaud them as world champions. And let’s give them the resources and support to ensure every kid is a champion learner rather than belittle them and make their job that much harder.
Massey University charter schools analysis now online
This is available through the charter schools menu at left
QPEC submission on 21st century schools
Our submission to the select committee inquiry can be found here.
Notes from QPEC conference now online
The QPEC forum on Saturday 28 April was highly successful. Speakers included John ONeill presenting the Massey University analysis of charter schools research. Martin Thrupp outlined the preliminary findings of the ongoing National Standards research. Presentations on strategy were made by Paul Goulter aNnd Sandra Grey. Notes and powerpoint presentations can be found on the resources page.
Students from low-income families pay the price
Media Release - 4 May 2012
The budget changes to student loans and allowances foreshadowed by Tertiary Education Minister Stephen Joyce reinforce the difficulties faced by students from low-income families in accessing quality tertiary education.
The four-year freeze on the parental-income threshold for access to the student allowance will mean the struggle for these students gets that much tougher as inflation cuts their access to what is already a minimal payment.
Similarly the refusal to extend the student allowance beyond four years makes it harder for students from low-income families to enter the longer, more expensive courses such as medicine or optometry. They will be left high and dry after four years.
These students, often Maori and Pacifica students, are already on the margin in terms of representation in higher level tertiary study and the hard work done by families and schools in low-income communities to get them into high-quality tertiary education study will be further undermined with these changes.
At the other end the post-graduate road is tougher as well with repayment requirements up 20% to 12% of earnings over $19,084. This will shorten repayment times but make a post-graduate experience that much more difficult.
The government’s arguments for the changes don’t stack up. Yes, we are in an economic recession but the government’s priority was $2 billion in tax cuts for the top 10% of income earners two years ago with the shortfall to be picked up in this case by tertiary students from low-income families.
We should be removing barriers to tertiary education for these young New Zealanders rather than adding barbed wire and broken glass to the top.