Robin Duff: Manipulative charter schools are too good to be true

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Charter schools play a role in increasing ethnic and socio-economic segregation due to no zoning says Robin Duff.  Photo / Paul Estcourt
Charter schools play a role in increasing ethnic and socio-economic segregation due to no zoning says Robin Duff. Photo / Paul Estcourt

The rule that applies to financial rip-offs also applies to education. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The claims that the Herald editorial makes on behalf of the American KIPP schools is a case in point.

To the extent KIPP schools succeed, it is because they (like most other charter schools) are manipulating their student intakes. They have been found to exclude special needs students and to "lose" up to 40 per cent of their African male students between grades 6 and 8 (Miron, G; Urschel, J; Saxton, N). The replacement students on the waiting list will tend to be more highly motivated and have more supportive parents so the school grades magically float up.

The other thing KIPP schools are renowned for is drilling and teaching to the test - again creating the impression that marks are improving, but whether there is any deep learning going on is a moot point. This battery-hen model of education is not what the charter school pushers would ever choose for their own children but, drawn by the profits to be made, they have no conscience about imposing 19th century educational ideals on poor communities.

The most distressing thing about charter schools in the US - and something that is certain to be replicated here - is their role in increasing ethnic and socio-economic segregation which is a direct consequence of their not having to take local students.

"Seven years after the Civil Rights Project first documented extensive patterns of charter school segregation, the charter sector continues to stratify students by race, class and possibly language." (Civil Rights Project, 2010 UCLA).

It is intriguing to find the Maori Party supporting charter schools in the light of evidence like this - especially when Pita Sharples is on record as acknowledging charter schools will draw off the best students from neighbouring schools.

If there was ever any doubt about the New Zealand charter school model being anything other than a brazen mechanism for converting public dollars into private gains then the Education Amendment Bill removes all uncertainty. The bill, as written, empowers a group of unaccountable political appointees to dish out taxpayer money to charter school operators via secret commercial contracts. How that money is disbursed will never be known because the schools are not accountable to the office of the Auditor-General and are protected from inquiries under the Official Information Act or by the Ombudsman.

In his report to the Cabinet John Banks says this is so the schools can avoid "costly and vexatious requests". (He would say that, wouldn't he?)

Educational improvement is a long, hard road that requires perseverance in dealing not just with schools but with the range of economic, health, housing and welfare polices that impact on learning.

Flash-in-the-pan "solutions" may suit the agenda of politicians but they don't deliver sustainable educational improvement for kids.


Robin Duff is president of the NZ Post Primary Teachers' Association.

- NZ Herald

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