What's the point of the new STEM charters?
It seems to be a law of politics that conservative governments can always find plenty of money for the police and army but plead poverty when it comes to social programmes.
The introduction of STEM charters is a bit like this. We don’t have money in the education budget for special needs coordinators, better mental health care, or even to pay teachers enough to keep them in teaching, but ‘school choice’ is so important that we’ll find the money for that.
Who’s this school choice for? Clearly not for the squeegee kids of Manurewa. Seeking out a specialist school in a ‘business incubator’ where yoga’s on the timetable isn’t exactly a priority for these families.
The Treasury told us years ago that school choice is all very well as an end in itself, but can’t be used as a strategy to actually help more kids do well at school. Most of the time it simply exacerbates the Mathew Effect.
So what are the STEM charters for?
This seems to be a clear example of middle class capture. A policy which on the surface was touted as being for the under-privileged has now moved into the Wynyard Quarter, and, oh look, picked up a whole heap of corporate sponsorship.
On the other hand, there is one way which STEM charters will likely contribute to educational equity. Assuming that the vast majority of the kids who attend are from fairly privileged backgrounds, the curriculum and teaching style will almost certainly mean when it comes to actual achievement they’ll do far worse than if they had been in a regular school.
While the people setting up these schools may be opportunists, idealists, ideologues or simply naïve, it doesn’t really matter. It’s the policy behind them that does. The point of charters, as Act is so busy demonstrating, is to undermine public education institutions, and in particular the unions. If it costs a whole lot, both in terms of lost opportunities for students or the opportunity cost for government, that's a small price to pay.