Charter schools

22 Jan

The media storm that hit after the new government announced its new changes has begun to subside. I fear that New Zealand will lull itself once again into a sleepy state where we watch new policies unfold and fail to even question them. While key areas such as asset sales and increased inequality remain areas of debate and discussion, silence has fallen around the proposal to trial charter schools in New Zealand. Other than the speculation that the Destiny Church might open a charter school, reporting on the issue has all but disappeared.

With this in mind, it seems timely to start considering what charter schools could mean for New Zealand. The move towards a charter school system represents a challenge to what we value as essential public services. It reflects a change in our political identity to one that shrinks the amount of influence and ownership the government has over public services such as education. Charter schools begin to blur the lines between the public and private sectors. State influence over the school is reduced and the influence of private funders is increased. As a result, our ability to have a say as voters in a democratic nation is reduced. We can elect a government. We can ensure that the people who make decisions related to the education system are those who we have had some say in electing. They promote their policies and we vote accordingly (not that charter schooling was mentioned in the lead up to the election). A risk with charter schools is that we as a nation begin to have less say in how we want our education system to look.

This move represents a possible shift to a focus on privatising our public school system. Although a less obvious example of potential privatisation than asset sales (see ‘Know your history’), it is perhaps a more insidious one where the impacts will potentially be felt over a longer period of time and therefore direct correlations between cause and effect become vague. When asked if it is a step towards the privatisation of schools, Key responded that it was a step towards more choice. Although the schools would still be funded by the government, they stand outside the state system and do not have all of the rules and regulations that regular public schools are tied to. This seems like the first step in the direction of a more privatised view towards schooling in New Zealand. First you reduce state influence over school policies and curriculum and place that influence in the hands of private parties, and then you reduce state funding and increase funding provided by the private parties that already have a vested interest in the school. Not a direct correlation I know, but definitely a possibility in the current political climate. As stated above, a move towards increased privatisation in schools means that we as voting members of society have less opportunity to have a say in the education system.

A further concern is the potential that the implementation of charter schools has to increase the already growing gap between the rich and poor in New Zealand – an issue that has become impossible to ignore. The risk lies in the fact that charter schools can choose which students that they want to attend the schools. In these circumstances it is likely that kids that need more assistance at school level are excluded creating an immediate chasm between those who attend charter schools and those at public schools:

“So if you have a bright kid who is keen to learn (and cheap to educate) then they’ll get to go to the local charter school – and they take their taxpayer funding with them. But if you have a kid with a physical disability, learning disability, developmental problems, dyslexia, autism, etc, then they don’t get to go to the charter school.” The Dim Post

Reports from America have shown that charter schools have served to further entrench inequality. UCLA reported that in America, charter schooling has led to greater inequality and increased segregation in the schooling system. A step backwards when it comes to civil rights.  A 2010 national evaluation of charter schools in America stated:

“It also should be noted that many of the better-performing charter schools tend to have fewer special needs students, fewer limited-English-proficient students and fewer low-income students in the mix.”

A recent elevenhoursahead blog post illustrated that increased inequality has a direct correlation to increased poverty. If these schools are going to be trialled then these areas of concern – the blurring of the lines between the public and private  sectors, the possible move towards a more privatised education system and the potential for increased inequality at a school level – must be considered and kept in check; especially considering the current lack of public consultation about charter schools and the vehement criticism from groups representing teachers and principals. This is not an issue that we should let fall to the doldrums of time – something that we look back on and wonder how it happened.

For an explanation of charter schools see:

http://www.3news.co.nz/What-are-charter-schools/tabid/423/articleID/235782/Default.aspx

This is an excellent post that explains some of the risks with charter schools:

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL1112/S00030/gordon-campbell-on-charter-schools.htm

Listen to an interview with John Key about charter schools here:

http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/92980/opposition-to-charter-schools-trial-growing

Hannah Mackintosh

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