Talking Teaching

August 22, 2012

charter schools (from letters to the editor)

Usually when I choose to base a post on the ‘letters’ section of a newspaper, it’s because something that someone’s written has rather got my goat. This time – this time, it’s because I agree with the sentiments & feel they warrant a wider audience & further analysis.

The Government wants to introduce charter schools, apparently, to solve issues of under achievement. It points to students failing to achieve NCEA Level 2 as justification for this policy. In fact, if the Government actually bothered to look at NCEA data, it would see that pass rates have been rising over the past decade, something achieved without charter schools.

And in fact, the NZ Herald ran a story on this in early 2011.

Studies clearly show that the most effective way to assist schools to lift achievement levels is employing trained teachers and providing quality professional development. Charter schools can employ untrained teachers and the Government has cut funding for much of the professional development it offered.

As I’ve said previously, it’s hard to see how using untrained teachers is going to improve teacher quality.

New Zealand has a very good education system. In countries with poorer education systems than ours, with greater academic under achievement, charter schools have failed to make any significant improvement to under achievement. So, if the Government wants to make a dent in education under achievement, why import policies that have failed overseas. Failure simply replicates failure.

The evidence on success (or otherwise) of charter schools is mixed. In some US states, for example, they seem to have a marked positive effect on learning outcomes for their students. In others, not so much. We’re told that in NZ, charter – sorry, ‘partnership’ – schools will be run following best overseas practice; it would be useful to hear more about what that will entail, sooner rather than later.

In that last post, I also expressed concern about the potential for charter schools – which, let us remember, will be state-funded – to include subjects such as creationism in their curricula. A ‘Stuff’ piece by Kelsey Fletcher expands on this, describing the intention of one group keen to run a charter school to use the ‘In God’s Word’ philosophy (something that would somehow still be able to be ‘marked’ against the Cambridge curriculum – presumably only if the evolutionary underpinnings of the biology curriculum component are ignored). Associate Education Minister, John Banks, tells us we don’t need to worry (the following is from the ‘Stuff’ item):

John Banks said the ministry had received a lot of correspondence, including complaints about public funding of faith-based education. He would not comment on the trust’s charter plans. “There’s no proposed partnership to consider, because we haven’t received any formal applications, and none have been called for,” Banks said. “The first schools open in 2014, and expressions of interest will be called for next year.”

I would feel more sanguine about this whole process if the nature of charter schools, and what they can and cannot offer in their curriculum, was set out clearly well in advance. Finding out after the event is not an appropriate option.

 

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2 Comments »

  1. Sadly, in the States, we are dealing with that very problem. Vouchers and charters schools are being used in Louisianna, Tennessee, and Missouri to get the state to pay for teaching creationism and pulling education in evolution and climate change. Some of the history textbooks used in these charter schools also teach such things as teh Loch Ness Monster is real and disproves evolution, slave owners and the KKK were good people, the Great Depression was a Liberal fantasy, and other such nonsense. You are right to be concerned about charter schools that are not strictly monitored and held to the same standards as the rest of your schools.

    Last week, I told my wife that I was discouraged about the fact that half the people in my state are creationists and wondered if there was any point to trying to fight against such a large group that held the reins of so many schools. She said because 50% is better than 100%, which is what would happen without people continuing to fight it.

    Comment by jdmimic — August 24, 2012 @ 6:02 am

    • I think your wife is correct – but at the same time, those stats sound truly disheartening :-(

      Comment by alison — August 24, 2012 @ 9:27 am


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