As a parent concerned about the radical changes to school governance proposed by the Tomorrow's Schools Review Taskforce, I attended a public consultation meeting at Rangitoto College one evening. This meeting revealed the lack of evidence to support the taskforce recommendations to remove all genuine powers from parent-elected school boards and transfer these powers to bureaucratic Education Hubs.
The meeting also highlighted that relevant cost-effectiveness analysis was entirely absent.
In justifying its recommendations a taskforce member, Professor John O'Neill, made mention several times of "other countries that have better schooling systems than ours". However, when I asked him to name five countries that fitted into this category, he did not answer my question, directing me instead to a book called "Cleverlands" by Lucy Crehan.
His response highlighted to me the gaping black hole between the taskforce's (generally apt) analysis of where our current system in New Zealand is weak and their radical recommendations for governance change.
This black hole should be filled with evidence the system they propose is very likely to be significantly better than the system we currently have, as well as cost-benefit analysis that could be used to compare several different approaches to addressing the weaknesses within our current system.
As Professor O'Neill stated at the meeting, our current system works well for 85 per cent of schools. (Ministry of Education and Education Review Office data suggest percentages even higher than this). If you are going to propose "transformation" of a system with numbers this good, there has to be robust evidence that what you are moving to is going to be much better than what you are moving from.
Unless the taskforce can provide evidence that stands up to both academic peer review and public scrutiny, it must be surmised that their recommendations are ideologically driven (and I would say they hinge primarily on traditionally leftist beliefs about the ideal locus of decision-making, power and responsibility).
Our country just cannot afford an ideologically driven wholesale reform of our public education system. In the absence of both evidence that the new system will be better and proper cost-benefit analysis based on this evidence, it might be assumed that to make the newly proposed system work anywhere near as well as the current system for the majority of students would require a massive and sustained increase in funding for education.
Not only would eye-wateringly vast sums of money be needed to redesign the system and set up the hubs, but ongoing additional funds will also be needed to pay hub staff to do what trustees do almost for free and mostly very well.
If significant additional funding is on the table for education and we have a system that is mostly working well, the gains that could be achieved by directly targeting funds to schools and students that need them should be considered. The impact of paying teachers better so that quality people are attracted to and retained by the teaching profession should also be assessed.
While I agree with the taskforce that there are a number of weaknesses in the current system, there are also a lot of strengths. I believe that, if adopted, the taskforce system will result in a significant drop in the average performance of all schools and socio economically disadvantaged students won't be any better off.
I also believe an unintended consequence will be that any parents who can afford it will send their children to private schools, as in Australia where an astonishing percentage of students are in Catholic or independent schools, thereby further eroding the ability of public schools to act as a disadvantage "circuit breaker".
But it doesn't really matter what I believe and it shouldn't really matter what members of the taskforce believe. What should matter is what the evidence tells us. So my questions to the taskforce are:
1. What evidence can they provide that the system they propose will be better than the system we currently have?
2. Based on the evidence, what cost-benefit analysis has been undertaken on different approaches to dealing with the weaknesses within our current system?
• Jennifer Orman is a parent of three and a current member of a primary school board of trustees. The views expressed above are entirely her own.