I struggle with the lack of understanding about basic economic principles in our school staffrooms. Most teachers and their unions don't seem to understand the rationale behind charter schools.
They are about freedom of choice for parents and students in providing alternative options to mainstream schools. Teachers and their unions seem fearful of this possible competition. They may be trying to protect their exceptional pay and conditions.
Charter schools can select whoever they want to teach in their schools. They will be judged by their performance. If they fail to perform they will be closed. They are subject to market discipline and greater accountability than the average state school. I am looking forward to their first set of external results under NCEA, due about now. Good information and hard data is essential in consumer decision-making in the marketplace.
State education's monolithic nature frustrates some. Charter schools offer a flexibility lacking in mainstream schools crippled by the need to employ teachers who meet professional standards.
Charter schools can employ people who choose not to get degrees or teaching qualifications or meet the professional requirements of the current Teachers' Council. They give freedom of choice to people who can't, or don't want to undergo formal teacher training but still want to be involved in education and mix with young people. Given the recent spate of abuse cases by qualified registered teachers, maybe it makes sense to allow unqualified people into the classroom.
Few Kiwis have heard of Sione Vailea. He should be a hero of freedom to choose in this country. He single-handedly challenged the monopoly power of the dentistry profession in New Zealand. In 2013 he was charged with operating as a dentist while lacking professional qualifications. He had performed teeth extractions and filled cavities for many low-income families in South Auckland.
He had provided these low-income families with greater freedom of choice. I am surprised that his noble efforts were largely unheralded by fellow advocates of free markets and consumer choice. He was possibly New Zealand's first charter dentist and a martyr of the free market.
As a partially sighted individual I am a frequent user of taxi services. This industry has been deregulated and is one of the most competitive markets in New Zealand. It is the epitome of freedom of choice for consumers.
Many drivers I have conversed with are highly qualified in their country of origin. They are qualified doctors, engineers, accountants or dentists in their own country. Yet they are prevented from plying their trades here because their qualifications are not recognised or they can't gain professional registration.
The charter school model provides a wonderful approach to giving consumers in New Zealand greater choice and lower prices for a wide variety of goods and services. If they prove to offer better value for NZ consumers of schooling then such a model could be applied to other professions such as medicine or dentistry.
People could enjoy cheaper doctor and dentist visits by exercising their freedom of choice. Competitive pressures and market forces would ensure substandard practitioners would eventually be forced from the market. Why should people's choices be limited by the entry requirements of professional bodies trying to maintain their vested interests?
Consumers should be able to eat cheaper home kill meat if they choose. The same for services provided by electricians, plumbers, builders and all other trades. Competitive markets and consumer choice would ensure bad butchers or dodgy electricians eventually get driven from the market.
People should have the option of having their houses built by cheaper builders rather than master builders. Much of the Auckland housing crisis is about a lack of freedom of choice. People should be allowed to build as and how they want on their own land unrestrained by resource consents and council rules.
NZ's education sector is fairly small. I have worked with several colleagues who have embraced the freedom to choose the charter schools model. I hope for the sake of their students that competitive forces and the magic of the market unleashed by charter schools dramatically improves their performance and accountability.
Peter Lyons teaches economics at St Peter's College in Epsom.
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