Hypocrisy, arrogance and contempt: charters continue as they began
Both the new charters opening next year, in Taupo and Rotorua, are in areas of static student populations with plenty of schools there already. Rotorua district has 49 schools for 13,700 students now, more schools and fewer students than it had 20 years ago.
The back-door integration of Chapman College in Rotorua, also announced this week, adds another 120 publicly funded places to the already over-supplied network of schools in the area. Funding new places in regions like this is doubly troubling; not just because there are other parts of the country that need new classrooms while this one doesn’t, but for the local schools that will lose students, teachers, subject range and pastoral support as a result of the extra competition
The government seems to be prioritising parental choice between schools over equity or cost-effectiveness, a politically easy but morally bereft decision. Just look at what Hattie says about school choice as a strategy for school improvement. To paraphrase, parents don’t know what works in education, so they choose based on irrelevant or unhelpful factors. But they do vote, especially ones who care enough to make a fuss about a new school.
And of course, families that are active ‘choosers’ are the ones whose kids are likely to do well wherever they go to school. Even people running the charter schools know this. Most of them are attracting students from motivated, aspirational families; while they may meet the definition of ‘priority learner’ that charters are obliged to target, they are far from the most at risk kids.
Since the ministry has analysed the factors that make it less likely to achieve at school, it’s clear that the ‘priority learner’ concept has been quietly dropped from other areas of education policy. Having the evidence to show that there are dozens of factors that have greater impact on whether a student achieves at school that are more predictive than simply being Maori or Pasifika, would, if there was any logic to this policy, have an impact on charters contracts and performance management. But no – charters sail on in their ideological bubble.
Alongside to this school choice agenda, which ploughs ahead despite all the evidence against it, is the government’s arrogant refusal to do a proper analysis of the impact of charters.
Even charter school supporters and people running them agree: there needs to be robust evaluation of their impact, and the current, purely descriptive, evaluation doesn’t do that.
Two things a real evaluation needs to do are: assess the impact of the charter schools on the students who are attending them (i.e. how would they have done if they hadn’t gone to the charter school?) and assess the impact on the schools that these students came from (have they lost their ‘aspirational’ students and suffered, or have they lifted their game from the competition?).
It’s pretty hard not to conclude that the reason this analysis isn’t happening is that they won’t like the results. Much easier to cut the ribbon on a new school and spout platitudes like “There’s not a one size fits all approach” than actually make tough policy decisions based on evidence.
Thomas Paine said of his rival John Adams, “It has been the political career of this man to begin with hypocrisy, proceed with arrogance, and finish with contempt”; David Seymour’s far from a John Adams in anything but his own fevered delusions, but he has mastered all three of these characteristics at once.