Char­ter schools not the an­swer

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION/ NEWS -

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.

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