Charter schools

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Child poverty, charter schools, and better alternatives

10 September 2014


QPEC Chairperson Bill Courtney became involved in a fascinating debate with Catherine Isaacs, the poacher turned gamekeeper of the charter schools in NZ, on Radio NZ today. The debate was frustratingly short and there was little time to engage with the main issues. I just want to pick up on one issue here.

QPEC’s concern is not only that the process is secretive and lacks accountability, but also that it is based on impossible assumptions. The Minister and Ms Isaacs are correct in identifying the areas where the Partnership Schools have been set up as some of the poorest in the country. We know from the OECD that there is a strong relationship between lack of wealth and resources and poor educational outcomes, not only in NZ but around the world. The OECD itself has researched this gap, concluding that charter schools, privatisation and other such initiatives do not solve such problems.

In short, the policy response of Partnership Schools cannot work. It does not take a rocket scientist to realise why. A key to educational success for these young people is overcoming barriers, whether these be lack of food, gang connections, mental health issues, low self-esteem, learning disabilities, bullying, alcohol and drug issues or other matters. Students will carry these barriers to whatever school they go to. As the new kura at Whangaruru has found out, the issues make it very difficult for students to learn, no matter how dedicated, engaged or exciting the school may be.

The solutions to such problems lie in things like overcoming child poverty, providing better resources (including job pathways) into communities and ensuring wrap-around services for the young people. It makes me very angry that this vulnerable population has been used as a guinea pig in the ACT party’s (which thinks that poverty is a problem about individuals, not societies) drive to privatise education.

I also feel sorry for the schools involved, and annoyed that taxpayers have had to shell out so much for a daft little ideological experiment.

This is not to say nothing can be done in the education sector to provide better options for young people with barriers. The wish-list is pretty simple:

Feed the kids – food is not only functional for learning but also promotes a sense of community

Ensure access to high quality partnerships in the community with health and social service providers, and ensure every young person is well, has good sight and hearing and is safe in their families

Ensure that children with special needs get the resources they require

Put in place restorative approaches in schools that facilitate good practice, overcome the need to suspend or exclude students and develop more effective learning communities. Everyone should be able to be included in education, and as communities we all benefit from such inclusion.

Make alcohol and drug programmes available in all schools

Deal with the causes of child poverty by raising benefits and minimum wages

That would be a good start!

Liz Gordon.