COMMENT:

The answer is, "Because it warrants discussion." The question is, "Why do we spend so much time and energy talking about education?"

Education theory has been politicised increasingly, in democratic countries, to the detriment of all.

The surprise announcement this week by Education Minister Chris Hipkins has been welcomed by many and attacked by a few. The New Zealand Initiative welcomed the announcement. Referring to the declining performance of 15-year-olds in reading, maths and science, the think tank suggested the changes were an improvement.

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It did, however, come with a rider, that assumed change would be "robustly implemented". Robustly, in this instance carries a heavy responsibility.

There will be a sharper focus on literacy and numeracy skills, which entices the question as to why. Why was that focus missing? Where has it been?

Good grief, we have now matured to the point where our education system can "sharper focus" on the very foundation of learning. I'm rocked.

Contrarily, Kia Aroha College in South Auckland regards exams as "a colonial system". Principal Haley Milne thinks it is "a giant step backwards". The college does not make any of its students sit exams.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins has announced changes to NCEA for a sharper focus on literacy and numeracy skills. Photo / Greg Bowker
Education Minister Chris Hipkins has announced changes to NCEA for a sharper focus on literacy and numeracy skills. Photo / Greg Bowker

Albany Senior High School principal Claire Amos agrees with the "step backwards" if for different reasons.

William Guzzo raises an important matter. That is that the system does not work for everyone. As a sufferer of dyspraxia and ADHD, he employed initiative and started an NCEA tutoring company.

Good for him, I hope he's very successful. And he's right, the system doesn't work for everyone, which is why the minister is wrong-footed in pulling the rug on charter schools. Two left feet.

A word of advice for Hipkins. Why you dumped charter schools is obvious - but you may be interested in a fresh study of Boston in the US from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Boston charters doubled from 16 to 32 in four years.

In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal wrote: "It appears that proven providers successfully transmitted hiring and pedagogical practices to new campuses. Expansion charters generate achievement gains comparable to those of their parent schools."

Further, the WSJ writes: "A year of attending one of those charter spin-offs improves math scores by an amount equivalent to about 40 per cent of the achievement gap between Massachusetts' black and white students."

The study paper authors, three professors of economics and education policy, explained that the state set rules encouraging successful charter schools- deemed "proven providers" - to seed new campuses.

Most follow a "no excuses" framework, with high expectations and low tolerance for misbehaviour. Attendees, they say, used the chance to make academic and social gains.

Re-reading Hipkins' missive from October last year is a good reminder: "Charter schools were a deregulated, privatised form of schooling that we simply don't need in New Zealand."

No government in this country has excelled in the education portfolio for, well, pick your own time span. Neither will this one. I am deeply disappointed that those who could have achieved in a Bostonian charter environment now won't.

"A classroom without discipline can't provide education; a teacher without enthusiasm, motivation and a modicum of education can't teach effectively; flexible schools freed from centralised control will invariably achieve better results; an overcrowded curriculum bogged down in so-called culture wars, trivial identity politics and other tangential subjects does not equate with education."

The Labour-led Government axed charter schools but US research suggests they have got some good results. Photo / Jason Oxenham.
The Labour-led Government axed charter schools but US research suggests they have got some good results. Photo / Jason Oxenham.

The above is from the foreword to a book by Australian educator Dr Kevin Donnelly. Today is the day of the Australian election. Donnelly, this week, penned an op-ed, A Labor win will have come from the classroom.

He included a quote from America's 16th president, Abraham Lincoln: "The philosophy of the schoolroom in one generation will be the philosophy of the government by the next."

This Australian election is incredibly important to New Zealand.

How much do young New Zealanders know about socialism? How many would be happy if New Zealand became a socialist country? I mean really socialist. British historian Niall Ferguson says young Americans have no clue about socialism. I'm guessing the same here.

Someone who does is another historian, John Lukacs. Born in Budapest, he was confronted by Nazism and communism by the age of 22.

He was in a forced-labour battalion in 1944 but escaped to America in 1946. He taught at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia for 47 years. He could have gone anywhere he chose, he was that good. But he stayed there because Chestnut Hill allowed him to write while teaching - he penned more than 30 books. He was an avid defender of the West but believed he was living through the West's decline.

I have some of his books and about 10 years ago we did an interview. Recently I wanted to again but sadly this week at 95, history claimed him.