Experience in education a must, insists US visitor

A US charter school guru whose programme was considered a success in poor neighbourhoods has warned against giving contracts to businesses or groups which do not have a long, robust track record in education.

Knowledge is Power Programme (Kipp) co-founder Mike Feinberg, who is on a speaking tour in New Zealand, also backed the Government's controversial decision to allow unqualified teachers in its proposed Partnership Schools.

Kipp schools were launched in poor American neighbourhoods in 1994, with a policy of longer school days and terms, and a strict code of behaviour for students.

Charter schools have had mixed success in the US, but Kipp schools have a good record in getting underprivileged children into university.


Some of Kipp's initiatives are believed to have influenced the Partnership Schools in New Zealand, which would be able to set their own hours and could not turn down students if they had space on the roll.

Dr Feinberg said a charter school scheme was not "a panacea that's going to magically fix the public school system", but it did increase the educational options available to parents.

Asked what failed experiments the New Zealand system should avoid, he said schools should not be run by groups with limited education experience.

"People sometimes underestimate how hard this is to do, to teach well. If a bunch of business folks decide 'wouldn't it be cool to open up a school next year', that's where it gets a little dangerous."

He added: "How the schools are authorised is critical. There are some states that took a wild, wild west approach and let it be market-driven and let anyone who applied get a charter, and that was a recipe for disaster."

The Government was expected to call for expressions of interest next year, but has already received inquiries from religious groups such as Destiny Church and a US-based profit-making school chain.

Education Minister Hekia Parata and Associate Education Minister John Banks were slammed last month after revealing that charter schools would be able to employ unqualified or unregistered teachers. But Dr Feinberg agreed with this move, saying that knowledge, skills and passion were as important as qualifications.

A Massey University analysis of international charter schools said pupils enrolled in Kipp schools tended to perform better than similar pupils in US state schools. It noted that the fallout rate of struggling students was high - 40 per cent of African-American students left before Grade 8 - and this could skew its student performance results.


Dr Feinberg is being hosted by the Aotearoa Foundation, founded by US philanthropist Julian Robertson.

US charter schools
Knowledge is Power Programme:

*125 public charter schools (elementary, middle, high school) with 40,000 students across the US.

*85 per cent of students from low socio-economic backgrounds.

*90 per cent of Kipp students graduate to high school, 80 per cent continue to university.

*Classes run from 7.30am to 5pm weekdays, with 2 to 3 hours homework and extra classes on Saturdays and holidays.


*90 per cent funded by the state, with some private contributions.

*Teachers earn 10 per cent more than in state schools.

*Reported to have a high drop-out rate of students.

Dr Mike Feinberg public appearances
Today: Victoria University Law School, 5.45pm

Tomorrow: University of Canterbury library, 6.30pm

Thursday: Owen G. Glenn Building, University of Auckland, 7pm