It does seem interesting this passion among a few zealots for the establishment of Charter schools – a concept well developed in countries such as Denmark, the United Kingdom and the United States. It seems to be about the idea that a different structure is the way to help those students who are currently not well served by the current system. What the claimants are saying is that if we hand over some of the schools where student achievement is not making the grade to an independent organisation then with different drivers the problems will be addressed.
The clamour for change comes from those who consider that children from poor backgrounds have no alternatives while the better heeled can contribute more funding for extra tuition or can move their children to another school, even to an independent school.
There is no argument that it is crucial that the government has a robust well resourced state system. Despite criticism of the current funding model, the PISA reports say that our students are the best performing students in the western world outside of Finland. It is also interesting within our present funding model that schools with students from poorer backgrounds have significantly more funding than those at higher deciles. It is noticeable from perusal of individual school reserves that many schools in these areas have significant funds on hand.
So if there is funding available, why the achievement gap? In the end it breaks down to governance. The great thing about self managing schools has been the ability of every school to focus on serving the needs of their communities. The downside has been the lack of skill and experience prevalent within school boards who are trying to serve schools in these poorer community – not always, but common.
All New Zealand schools have a Charter so it is interesting to see that our model is now to be referred to as a partnership school. These schools will still have Charters, they will still be required to consult with the community to determine the particular expectations of the parents of the students – we can safely expect that they will all want better progress and achievement for their children. The difference will be that the board of governors (or whatever they are called) will not be well meaning locally elected parents of variable skills and experience. They will be more experienced people appointed by the overall governing body – a trust or other entity – to govern the school with a real focus on student achievement.
The media will have us believe that some vast corporate entity is about to descend on New Zealand, scoop up lots of taxpayer money and make an enormous profit from running a couple of dozen schools. Nothing will be further from the truth. There are no free lunches out there and there will be no funding largess What we should get is competent professional people governing some of our particularly needy schools.
Equally there is no point in studying overseas models (UK and USA) to see how they have done with Charter schools. None of them have had the experience of a largely effective self managing school system that we have now had for over 20 years. Ours should be a different model, based on expanding on our successes to date.
For other perspectives listen to Roger Moses, Principal at Wellington Boys – Sunday Morning RNZ National on Sunday 27th January at 9:40am. Also Catherine Ryan, Nine to Noon RNZ National Monday 28th January at 9:30am – interviews with John O’Neill, Professor of Teacher Education and Alwyn Poole, academic manager at Mount Hobson Middle School.