Charter schools not the answer
In a speech last week, United States President Barack Obama called income inequality ‘‘the defining challenge of our time’’.
At almost the same time, the OECD’s international comparison of education outcomes was illustrating the impact of income inequality on the learning outcomes for children.
In the OECD’s latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings, New Zealand slipped from seventh to 13th in reading, seventh to 18th in science and 13th to 23rd in mathematics.
About 5000 New Zealand students from 177 schools took part in the tests, held in July 2012.
The results were not all bad. For now, we remain above the OECD average in all three subjects, and a high ratio of students are still top performers in reading.
More than one in five New Zealand students are top performers in at least one subject area.
Essentially, the cream of our students continue to do well, but the gaps between them and the pool of poor performing students (and schools) continue to grow.
‘‘ New Zealand,’’ the OECD notes, ‘‘is counted among the 10 PISA countries and economies with the widest spread of achievement in mathematical literacy.’’
Overall, the OECD bureaucrats concluded: ‘‘ New Zealand is a country characterised by relatively high achievement compared to the OECD average, but the distribution of student performance shows relatively low equality in learning outcomes.’’
For a society that once prided itself in being egalitarian, and a great place to bring up children, that is a damning verdict.
It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that our rise in income inequality is becoming associated with a rise in poor learning outcomes for many children.
The incidence in New Zealand of Third World diseases of poverty – such as rheumatic fever – has been well documented.
Evidently, parts of our education system are now generating Third World learning outcomes as well for some children.
For this, Education Minister Hekia Parata still blames the Clark government, and/ or teachers.
In reality, charter schools are clearly not the answer.
The PISA results were damning of the experiment with state funding for private sector provision in Sweden’s schools, which have been a model for charter schools in New Zealand.
The negative relationship between school choice and reading, science and maths outcomes was noted by Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s deputy education director.
‘‘ You’d expect systems with greater choice would come out better,’’ he said. ‘‘You’d expect competition to raise performance of the high performers and with low performers put them out of the market.
‘‘But you don’t see that correlation . . . Competition alone is not a predictor for better outcomes.
‘‘Our data doesn’t show much of a performance difference between public and charter and private schools, once you account for social background.’’
As the OECD education experts warned, the road ahead shouldn’t entail waiving teacher training to foster ‘‘choice’’ in education.
That, they said, would create a downward spiral: ‘‘ Lowered standards for entry, leading to lowered confidence in the profession, resulting in more prescriptive teaching and less personalisation in learning experiences, will risk driving the most talented teachers out of the profession. That will then lower the skills of the teacher population.’’
So much then, for the money and time being wasted on charter schools.
Controversy often surrounds veteran politician Winston Peters, and it was no exception when he visited North City Plaza in September 1996.