New Rotorua charter shows incoherent government policy
It’s obvious that this government’s policy agenda in education has some incoherent and clashing elements. None more so than the contradiction between charter schools and communities of learning; charters of course being premised on more competition between schools and CoLs on less*.
And with the likely announcement tomorrow (Tuesday) of a new charter school in Rotorua this is thrown into stark relief.
Rotorua schools were some of the early ones into communities of learning, with local principals keen to break down what was pretty fierce competition amongst their schools. Student numbers have been dropping in the region, and with 49 local schools there have been winners and losers from the roll decline.
At the same time, achievement in the area has been increasing – with the region meeting the ‘better public service’ target of 85% of 18 year olds achieving NCEA level 2 back in 2015. So it’s difficult to argue that schools in the region are failing – while the achievement rate for Māori students is lower, at 79.8%, that’s relatively high nationally, and we know from government administrative data that the main reason for the gap isn’t ethnicity per se, but wider social factors.
So it’s going to be interesting to see the justification put up tomorrow when David Seymour launches a new local charter school, supported by Te Ururoa Flavell and Todd McClay. Presumably as the launch is on a marae it’s going to be a Māori focused charter, and we’ll hear lots of platitudes from Seymour about how teachers are failing Māori students, and he’s got the answer.
It’s also worth noting that the Minister of Education, and her deputies, are conspicuously absent from the list of big-wigs attending. Seymour a few months back tried to paint himself as the saviour of charter schools by claiming that Parata didn’t want to open any more of them in 2014 when he came into parliament and he twisted her arm to keep going. Are National’s education ministers as thoroughly sick of charter schools as the rest of the education sector?
Te Aratika, the latest charter that opened in Hawkes Bay this year, is looking like closing already – with a contractual obligation to get to 50 students by the end of the year, and still with less than half that enrolled. Like the failed charter in Whangaruru, this seems to be a demonstration of what’s going on with charters – it’s the entrepreneurial idea of ‘fail fast’, and Seymour would claim it’s a good thing. Open a bunch of schools (at taxpayers’ expense, and at the cost of the wider school network) and some will ‘succeed’ and others won’t, in which case they’ll be shut down. A nice idea if it’s a bagel shop or a tech start-up you’re opening, but not so much if it’s children and their one shot at education.
The students of Rotorua are the next ones to be the victims of this ‘edupreneurial’ experiment.
* See also: Charters are based on idea that private sector knows how to educate kids better than the public, while CoLs are premised on the idea that the expertise to solve educational challenges already lies in the school system; and the government wants to actively manage the school network to have less inefficient use of school property, while at the same time paying for new charter schools to open in areas where new school places aren’t required.