By: Richard Prebble

When governments want to hide something they put it out on Friday night on an obscure page of a government website. On the Friday before last, with no press release the “Multi-year evaluation of partnership schools” was posted on the Ministry of Education’s website.

Charter schools are an idea from America where foundations have set up schools in ghettos to try to improve educational outcomes for the most disadvantaged. As part of its support arrangement with National, the Act Party got agreement to set up some charter, or partnership, schools with community groups to focus on pupils who are failing in the state system. The report was commissioned to see if it’s a success.

Before the report was received the Government announced it is closing partnership schools.

While the report is careful to say three years is not long enough to declare success, the report all but does declare success. Here are some of the findings.

“All of the PSKH [charter schools] are attracting priority learners (as was the policy intention), including learners with complex needs”. Charter schools “are meeting their learners’ needs using good and innovative practices”.

“Multiple examples of best practice, with approaches well matched to context and student need … these practices are not widespread across the state sector.”

  • On student achievement, the evaluation reports five out of eight schools or kura almost met or exceeded their targets.
  • On student attendance: Seven out of eight schools/kura met or exceeded their targets
  • On student engagement: Six out of eight schools/kura met most or all of their targets.

Other positive outcomes, it found, were “improved self-esteem and self-worth, development of high aspirations”.

“High proportions of Māori and Pasifika students, and that many of them come from low-decile schools … and at least a fifth of them had experienced some disengagement (through stand downs and suspensions).”

Put in plain English, charter schools are doing a remarkable job with pupils whom the state school system had failed. The report gives indications of why charter schools succeed. The “boards were appointed for specific expertise without the need to involve parents”.

“A key innovation in management was the split between administration (CEO) and academic leadership (principal).”

Charter school “students are being suspended significantly less frequently, and for significantly shorter periods.” (On any given school day around 50 per cent of Maori and Pacific pupils are truant from state schools).

A third finding was; “Quality staff were identified by the sponsors as vital to achieving their vision … including the small number of unregistered teachers … were employed under individual contracts.”

The report finds the role of the sponsoring organisation to also be a key factor in the success of charter schools. “The sponsors were using principles from business to succeed: They were taking personal responsibility for the success of their school … “

What the report does not find is just as important. The education unions and the present Minister of Education have run a campaign against charter schools saying:

  • The funding is unfair. There is nothing in the report to support the claims of unfair funding.
  • Critics have said the pupils are cherry picked. The report finds the truth is the opposite; these are pupils who the state system has failed.
  • The minister even claimed in Opposition that charter schools were faking their good results. The report says: “We did not find any examples of schools/kura demonstrating assessment practice that was ‘poor’ or ‘inadequate’ overall”. The report found the high standard of “assessment practice contributed to good outcomes in these schools/kura”.

The whanau “reported positive outcomes in regard to their own engagement with the (charter school) feeling more involved in their children’s learning and more confident dealing with the (school) than with their previous school”.

I have read dozens of reports into schools, including reports of how one in five pupils at state schools leave without the skills for a modern economy. Everything successive governments have tried for 80 years has failed. This would be the most encouraging report of how to lift Maori and Pacifika achievement that I have ever read.

We have a Prime Minister who says child poverty is her priority. Education is the way out of poverty.

What possible excuse is there for kicking this ladder away from around 1300 children attending eight charter schools?

If reducing child poverty is the goal, why is the Government not opening more charter schools?

Richard Prebble is a former leader of the Act Party.

Source: NZ Herald

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