At a recent Iwi Chairs Forum hosted by Waikato Tainui at Hopuhopu, iwi leaders resolved to actively support the establishment of partnership schools (kura hourua) in their rohe. We also resolved to advocate that the Government expand this initiative and to advocate the concept publicly, in particular the importance of high-quality teaching, high educational achievement and strong supportive partnerships with iwi, communities and other organisations.
These resolutions follow unanimous support from iwi leaders at a hui in November 2014 for a recommendation that the number of kura hourua be expanded and that more Maori communities be encouraged to take advantage of them.
We believe kura hourua can be a circuit breaker in closing the educational achievement gap between Maori and non-Maori students. While much has been and is being achieved through the kohanga reo, kura kaupapa and kura a iwi movements, a large and persistent gap still exists between the achievement of our children and all others.
Kura hourua is just one of a number of initiatives aimed at lifting Maori educational achievement but compared with other models it provides much greater autonomy and freedom for communities to be part of their children's education within a culture of high expectations.
With this model, schools can design the teaching, language, curriculum and organisational practices that work for their children. The use of te reo by both child and teacher can be a key determinant of a Maori child's success at school. The schools can invest in attracting and developing gifted teachers and leaders, and partner with iwi, community organisations, businesses or philanthropists to support their establishment and their mission.
In return for these freedoms, kura hourua are contractually bound to achieve meaningful, measurable, high academic standards for all their students.
We do not want to see our children fobbed off with "soft" subjects and meaningless qualifications that take them nowhere. They need the chance to succeed in subjects such as maths, science and technology, as well as languages, the arts and trades.
Kura hourua appeal to us because they are based on the premise that all our tamariki and mokopuna can achieve educational success and should be able to leave school with the world at their feet.
As well as delivering a high-quality academic education, kura hourua are responsible for their students' cultural and social wellbeing. They must foster active whanau involvement, a factor we know can make a powerful difference, especially in the early years of schooling.
The schools must demonstrate good governance and strong organisational and financial capability. They must enrol the Government's priority learners, namely, Maori, Pasifika, students from low socio-economic backgrounds and students with special needs.
With one exception, the kura hourua I have visited are achieving all of these things. The authorisation board, of which I am a member, has now received the annual reports for the first five schools and the quarterly reports for the second four schools. The results are pleasing.
Because kura hourua are still new here, and doubtless still evolving, it is useful to bear in mind that the concept has been modelled on the best overseas examples. We have had the benefit of observing the experience of Sweden, the UK and in particular the US, where charter schools have been operating for 22 years and serve 2.5 million students across 43 states.
The results in cities as diverse as New Orleans, New York City, and Chicago are remarkable. Since Hurricane Katrina, 93 per cent of students in New Orleans now attend charter schools. Of the 47,000 public school children in the city, 85 per cent are African-American and 83 per cent are economically disadvantaged.
The schools, which have open admission and public accountability, have almost closed the achievement gap between overwhelmingly poor students and affluent students. In the past 10 years the proficiency of African-American students in state tests has increased from 21 per cent to 59 per cent.
The reforms have been vindicated on every measure, including suspension/expulsion rates (much lower), achievement of students with disabilities (much higher) and on-time high school graduation and college enrolment rates (dramatically higher). It's no wonder the Obama Administration has hailed its success.
Members of the Iwi Chairs Forum have seen first-hand what can be achieved. Kura hourua can provide the same opportunities for our children.
Sir Toby Curtis is a former chairman of the Iwi Education Authority, part of the Iwi Chairs Forum, chairman of Te Arawa Lakes Trust and part of the Partnership Schools/Kura Hourua Authorisation Board.