Archive for April 2013

Talk-ED: In praise of Teachers – New Zealand's Super Stars

Written by Marilyn Gwilliam, Principal, Papatoetoe Central School

 

I found it hard to know where to begin with this one.   Anyone who has spent a day in a classroom or been a helper on a class trip or school camp would most likely have the same problem.  While teaching can be immensely rewarding, it is demanding and often challenging.

It always brings it home to me when I see parents slightly weary after a day out on a class trip, in search of a cup of tea and a quiet corner to put their feet up.

I believe that most of our teachers are super stars and what they accomplish daily, is nothing short of astonishing.  Most of them are learners themselves, willing to take risks, to try new things, excited by learning and their optimism rubs off on the students they teach.  We can all think of special teachers who influenced our own lives.

Even though they describe the current climate in the schooling sector as confusing, chaotic and disheartening, most of them are simply getting on with the job – teaching skilfully, minute by minute, day by day.  They do not waste important learning time.

So much is expected of them and they just seem to get on with it. I don’t hear them complaining about their students, their workload or the schools they teach in. 

I do however, hear them catching up with each other after the end of the day, sharing their stories, talking about what they tried and what worked, or what they need to change.

I do hear them talking about their students and their progress.  They do share resources, ideas and strategies in support of each other and in support of the students they are teaching. 

I have an absolute sense of a shared endeavour amongst teachers, of a constant desire to make a difference daily for their students, a complete commitment to their learning and to improving their achievement levels.  Most care deeply about their students and their overall wellbeing.

They spend their days at school working out how to address  students’ learning needs and when they go home at night, they often still think about how best to do this critically important work.  They find it hard to let it all go.

Some people say that teachers don’t like change, yet it is the one constant in their professional lives.  As governments come and go along with their various recipes to fix up schools and the people who work in them, teachers just seem to simply get on with it. 

Each year, they have  different groups of students to teach and with these students come new challenges and learning and teaching considerations. Even if their students have special learning or behavioural needs or speak little or no English, most teachers just adapt their classroom programmes and get on with teaching them. It is highly skilled work and they are very good at it.

Michael Fullan, a leading researcher in the area of school improvement, suggests that educational change simply depends on what teachers do and think.  Our teachers are indeed agents of change, they are in positions of influence and their views and perspectives need to be acknowledged and respected. 

How much genuine consultation with teachers have we seen lately?  How involved do our teachers feel with the current schooling agenda?  How much alignment is there with current social policies and the genuine needs of many New Zealanders?  How much input are individuals, groups and professional organisations having in the current decision making processes?

It seems to me that the very people who can contribute the most are the very people not involved in the current debate.  Our teachers feel that they have been isolated from it because there is a perception that they have nothing of any value to add to it. 

I do know that what is good for teachers, is good for the students they teach.  I do know that teachers often do some of their best work with the students who need them the most. I do know that they are well worth listening to. 

And I genuinely believe, that most of New Zealand’s teachers are indeed, super, super stars.

 

 

 

Pathways-ED: IT is a lot bigger than you think!

 

Informtaion Technology (IT) is big business in New Zealand.  Statistics NZ puts the IT spend at $6.4 billion each year.  As this figure does not include expenditure that is internal or for labour, it can be assumed that quite a bit of it is spent on IT Projects and Developments – the Novopay kind of project.

They also estimate that when it comes to IT projects in New Zealand, 25% of them succeed, 25% of them fail and the rest fall into the “grey area” or in other words things are much the same as they have always been, no great damage done but not much improvement is obvious either.

The failure of large IT developments in the State Sector has usually been greeted with the clicking of tongues, the issuing of reprimands and the usual calls for blood.  The Health Sector called a major development off once but only after spending quite a few million before realising that it wasn’t going to work.

The Police Department was an early pioneer in IT issues when back in the mid-1980s it launched its INCIS Project. It ballooned out to costing over a million dollars.  In reality the project was abandoned in 1999 but various bit and pieces were able to be used.  The police have recently abandoned its system for recording offenders and reverted to the previous system it used on the grounds that it was better and, anyway, staff preferred using the older one.

This last point is an issue that is often not included in the costs of such failures – the cost through frustration and stress when such new systems don’t work well is considerable and the reputation of the system takes quite a hammering. This sets in motion a downward spiral of mistrust and cynicism which can prove fatal.

The Novopay Affair has all the classic features of a major IT project in that it seems to have created major frustration and anger simply in trying to achieve something that has always been done one way or another – i.e. see that each fortnight teachers get paid.  This does not, to use the cliché, seem like rocket science, but it is a very complex pay roll with untold opportunity for errors and wrong payments to occur.

Does anyone remember the period that was required for the previous Payroll System to settle down in the early 1990s?  Time heals all!

In the mid-1970s I was overpaid over a period of time for reasons that were innocent and complex.  The error was discovered in the old Department of Education right on the last pay before Christmas which was a large pay in those days that took you over the holiday period and into the next school year.  Their response was simple – don’t say anything to the teacher involved (me) and simply reverse the Christmas salary payment taking out of his (my) bank account the total amount I quite properly needed to pay back.  I was left with virtually nothing.  Well, a few phone calls and that situation was remedied with the pay being restored.

While I had no right to retain the money I had the right to negotiate the manner in which I repaid the amount.  We agreed on an amount and lo and behold on the next pay day when this process was to start I checked my pay and they had swiped a much greater amount out of the cheque.  At that point all automatic procedures were abandoned and we agreed that each fortnight I would post to the Department of Education a cheque for $10.00 (the sums weren’t huge but this was nearly 40 years ago).  Each fortnight I received from the Department of Education a letter posted to me with a receipt for my payment.  If in any week I was a day or two late, I received a letter from the Department of Education requesting my payment in response to which I sent a letter and they sent a letter back.

This arrangement of Gilbertian complexity continued until I had discharged my obligation to put right their mistake.  Thank goodness all this didn’t happen under current conditions when I would have had to battle call centres and suchlike.

The biggest project failure that I enjoyed most was the Defence Force’s purchase of a supply ship that subsequently and after many millions of dollars later proved to be most suitable for shipping oranges around the Mediterranean.  This exceeded any of the stupidities of Captain Mainwaring and his Dad’s Army mob.

In the US the major software developer Geneca reports a survey recently completed, that 75% of business executives anticipate that their IT software projects’ will fail.  This is a serious situation because it is as if the projects are doomed before they start.  Largely the reasons point simply to poor planning.  Perhaps it is a case of the partially sighted (the IT experts) leading the blind (the non-IT expert business leaders).

It is not just the leaders that have been agitated by the Novopay business but pretty well everyone in the schooling sectors.  The majority of those leading the charge will not have been affected in any material way at all – their support for the colleagues that have been is interesting and likely is an extension of a host of other issues.  Once again, the education sectors have chosen protest over leadership in their contribution to an issue.

And where have the teachers’ employers been through all this?  The Boards of Trustees employ all the teachers, their peak body has been notably absent from any public discussion of the issues.

But take heart. Only 1 in 4 IT projects fail – Novopay might turn out to be the one out of four that succeeds or even one of two out of four that don’t make much difference.

 

 

 

The Bridging the Divides Conference

For more information, please contact the Manukau Insitute of Technology Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways, Colleen Young:

E:  colleen.young@manukau.ac.nz  or P:  09 968 7631.

 

 

 

Talk-ED: The Aspirations of a Three-year Old

 

Chatting to a friend over the weekend she was telling us about her grandson.  I will call him Taylor for that is his name; he is three years old, lively and normal.  In response to a question about what he was going to do in the future he told his Nana that when he was five he would go to school and after that he would go to university.  “Why will you do that?” his Nana asked. Quick as a shot the answer cane back – “To get a job!”

And that is the middle class advantage, growing up with a possibility that develops into an expectation and becomes an aspiration.  I would be certain that Taylor doesn’t really understand at this point just what it means.  He will know about school because they walk past the local school often enough.  He will know about jobs because Mum and Dad both have them.  But already the connections between schooling, postsecondary education and training and jobs are starting to grow in his mind.

Middle class children get all this with their cornflakes. It’s part of the chatter that goes on in those homes and it becomes a powerful factor in sustaining young people such as Taylor through the 16 or so years that come between his simple plan and the future.

So starting the talk about jobs as an outcome of education is very important.  But it often is hidden behind a number of myths.

Myth 1.                                                                                                                                         

Most of the young people we are teaching will end up in jobs that have not yet been invented.

This is patently untrue.  Most young people in education now will go into jobs that exist now and many will work in jobs that have been around for a long time.  Those who do go into the cutting edge of employment, into the jobs that are really new are not these novice workers starting out but the experienced, highly skilled and workers.  The jobs the children in classrooms now will need to be skilled and prepared for are the jobs that are out there now.

Myth 2.

We have to prepare young people for a future in which they will have seven careers.

“Career” is a very funny word. Can you set out to have a “career” or does one simply emerge from the set of activities and experiences that are accumulated over time? Is a “career” something you look back on, a useful term that means all the bits and pieces I have done?  Is there a difference between changing your job quite a bit and a career that is usually applied to substantial experience in the same vocational area?  And that’s the point – we have changes in our jobs bit not necessarily a change of jobs.  I have had one job all my working life but I have had six positions.  I am an educator – I guess that is my career – but I have added skills as different positions have demanded them.

Preparing young people to get into the workforce – to make a start in a career by getting a job – is a key outcome for schooling and tertiary education and training.

Myth 3.

There aren’t any jobs out there.

Try telling that to employers desperate for skilled workers.  There are jobs for those adequately prepared.  The sad truth about youth unemployment is not that young people are unemployed, although that in itself is not to be desired, but that so many young people are unemployable.  You hear quite a lot of talk about university graduates who are clearly under-employed,  that is to say that they are working in jobs that require skills and knowledge at a much lower level than their qualification demands.  That is not a good thing at all.  But with young people who are perhaps early school leavers, the skills of employment are a balance of practical skills as well as what is called the “soft skills” demanded by employers.

These so-called soft skills are attributes such as a strong work ethic, a positive attitude good communication skills, time management abilities, problem-solving skills, acting as a team player, self-confidence, ability to accept and learn from criticism, flexibility/adaptability, and working well under pressure.  How would our students score if those were the heading on their report card?  And could we point with confidence to our programmes and show that each of these is explicit in them?

Add to this that employment also requires knowing other things as well – language, mathematics, science of one kind or another and so on.

Yes, Taylor has got quite a lot to do before he gets that job!

 

Announcing the Bridging the Divides Conference

For more information, please contact the Manukau Insitute of Technology Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways, Colleen Young:

E:  colleen.young@manukau.ac.nz  or P:  09 968 7631.

 

Pathways-ED: Speech Therapy

Wednesday was quite a day for speeches.

First there was the House of Representatives debate on the Third Reading of the Same Sex Marriage Bill – well debate is was not, the majority of speakers favoured the proposal and opposition was rather token.  But as an old (no, former) English teacher, I took interest in the speeches.  A rare chance to hear a succession of MPs delivering their short speeches which were written, well rehearsed and delivered with varying degrees of effectiveness.  All-in-all it was a bit like a school speech contest only with a topic that was weighty, critical to the direction our social maturity was heading and deeply and intensely personal to many.  And, unlike school speeches, the outcome of the vote was not a book token but a change to the law.

So how did the speakers do and what tips could school children take out of it?

One thing, always hear a speech when you are writing it.  Producing a piece of pearly written prose can not only be inappropriate for a speech but can actually be rather hard to say out loud.  This caught a few and I was left thinking that if they could give me a copy it would all be better.  Make sure that you can actually say the sentences in a manner that sounds effective.  And don’t use words you cannot easily pronounce.

Be careful of using humour.  It’s hard and it can be dangerous.  Several MPs judged pretty poorly in this respect.  A very early speaker managed to be both inappropriate as a comedian and as a result fell rather flat.  It was a bit like a test opening batsman striding seriously to the wicket and proceeding to attempt trick shots with the inevitable result.

Stick to the time allowed.  Usually a speaker has put some effort into that final sentence and quite a few never got to deliver them when the Chair (especially the Deputy Chair) cut them off in mid-stream.  This is a special danger when the “speech” is actually an essay.

Introducing the personal into a speech often has a very strong effect and so it had in the debate.  The clarity with which the pain of discrimination was spoken about was matched with personal anecdotes, tales of bigotry and the overwhelming feeling that the world was about to change a little.  Many of the speeches were strong in this regard.

Finally, a speech is a speech is a speech and so few of the speeches in this Third Reading will be remembered as a speech equal to the occasion.  Speeches techniques that are not usual in short written pieces.  Repetition is one of these.  I don’t mean simply repeating words and certainly not that irritating habit of politicians of repeating the last few words they say (as in  “and that is why repealing the act would result in suffering and pain, suffering and pain.”)  Repetition is best effective when it is structural and each iteration of the phrase moves the argument or ideas along.  A couple of the speeches had some excellent examples of this in them.

Overall the “debate /speech contest” was interesting and at the end the teacher could have commended them all.

Then a quick look at Maggie Thatcher’s funeral service – not many speeches here.  The bulk of the spoken word was taken from that compendium of brilliant language, The Bible, and the St James Version at that.  So no much scope here deviating from the script.

The one speech was from the Bishop of London who from the pulpit delivered a considered and brilliant commentary on the life of Thatcher.  Setting is all and the great St Paul’s Cathedral provides no better platform to indulge in the patterns, resonances and cadences of formal English language at its best.  I have always loved the use of inversion in biblical and liturgical language – “I to the hills will lift mine eyes” sort of stuff.

One of the parliamentary speakers made use of literary quotation, an extract from The Merchant of Venice but it went on too long and losts it point a little.  Not so the Bishop who made lovely use of literary quotation, a short extract from Little Gidding (T S Eliot’s Four Quartets).

What we call the beginning is often the end

And to make an end is to make a beginning.

The end is where we start from. (V)

The context in which the Bishop used this quote made it most appropriate.  It occurred to me that it was perhaps the point at which the parliamentary debate had ended.

 

 

Talk-ED: A Smart Chart or Bawl and Sprawl

 

On the day that the Minister of Education assured Auckland Primary School Principals that Christchurch was not the start of a wholesale review of schools in other areas, the need for just such a review in Auckland was made apparent in a NZ Herald article.

I am not into conspiracy theories so the assurance from the Minister should be taken at face value – it is what it seems.  In Christchurch the cataclysmic events of the earthquakes put the city into a situation where response was required and urgently.  Children have to be educated, schools have to be provided.  So looking at the provision of education was urgent, changing the way schools worked and worked together and looking at the options for young people was a self-evident and sensible way to proceed.

But there is one critical difference between Christchurch and Auckland.  The school rolls in Christchurch have shrunk while in Auckland school rolls have increased and are predicted to increase dramatically over the next forty years.  The report in the paper tells us that the MOE has to find space for 150,000 more student s in Auckland by 2050.  Much of this growth, 70% probably, will be within the existing city urban limits.  In other words, 70% of the growth has to be absorbed in areas where there are already schools.

Building new schools is an option but land will be at a premium in these built-up areas where intensification of housing will be the modus operandi of the planners as they seek to achieve this bigger city in numbers but not in sprawl.

One thing is abundantly clear – education in Auckland will have to change the way it works and this could have an inevitable flow-on effect across other areas of the country.  But as soon as this is signalled the trenches are dug and the old education default position trotted out.  We don’t want to change.  What we are doing works well.  That could be true, but what the journalist calls a “population tidal wave” is headed our way and change we will.

The problem is that territory won is territory to be defended. Of course those in a school now, those with children in a school now, feel good about the school – they have to, it is a natural response.  But those children will grow up and leave the school.  Similarly Principals and teachers working in a school will feel good about the school – they have to otherwise getting up in the morning is too hard.  But they will move on one day.

“Now” and “us” is not a very good place to start planning for the future which will be “then” and “others”.  Stephen Covey tells an anecdote in which a group is hacking their way through the jingle with great energy and high levels of efficiency.  One of them climbs a tree and takes a look around.  “Hey!” they call to those on the ground, “we’re going in the wrong direction.” But this repeated anew information is ignored until those on the ground, irritated by the person up the tree call back “Be quiet!  We are having fun down here!”

To say that things must change is not to say that what is happening is of itself poor quality or wrong or not enjoyable.  But it might not be what will be needed for another time and in the future.  Someone has to “go up the tree” and see with a little more clarity than those on the ground just what the direction needs to be.

The MOE did just this in Christchurch with some appropriate urgency.  Auckland has the luxury of time.  Of course if Rangitoto was to blow up and enter a prolonged period of eruption (scientists tell us it is theoretically capable of this) then our protestations about change will seem about as pompous as Pompeii.  The Unitary Plan – the great chart of the unexplored future for New Zealand’s biggest city and a key reason for the amalgamation of the territorial local authorities – has the purpose of painting a picture of the future of Auckland.

Instead of resistance, educators would be well advised to welcome such an opportunity for change that can be planned for.  Some quick fixes might be needed which impinge on the current ways of working – increased numbers of students on school sites, expanding the age ranges in schools and so on.

But the future needs to be planned and orderly.  The nature and place of what we call sectors could be examined.  The way governance is achieved could be looked at.  The very notion of a school zone could be challenged and perhaps a place seen for differences between the curriculum and programmes in different schools.  This and other ways of increasing choice for parents could be examined.

We should embrace this opportunity for change in Auckland schooling.

One of the key issues according to some in Christchurch, well it seems so at a distance, is the fact that there has been a feeling that change has been foist on people, that they have not been consulted or consulted in the right way or at the right time, that communities have been ignored. Others assure me that this is not an entirely shared view.  There are those who welcome much of what is happening.

In Auckland we can make sure that there is consultation by taking ownership and control over the changes that we will face, work in a measured manner towards options and directions. Perhaps an Auckland Education Commission set up to take the Auckland Unitary Plan and produce a blueprint for change in schooling in Auckland would be a good thing to consider. This need not be rushed; the MOE can look after the few issues that need urgent attention.

The future demands a calm and thoughtful, widely discussed approach.  It will never be too early to start this.  But it is often too late when people are willing to get involved in such discussions.  If being the world’s most liveable city is an aspiration, we need to get thinking soon.

 

Talk-ED: Babble, Babel, Babble

 

Over the past week one education topic keeps on cropping up in my life – bilingualism.

First  I read a thesis that emphasises that students who are learning English as an additional language are not disadvantaged when it comes to academic achievement.  Then I attend a lecture where all the whys and wherefores of bilingualism and its place in life and in schools is outlined clearly and with some force.  I get up this morning and the newspaper has a major article on bilingualism in an Auckland school and notes the various successful diplomats that have been fluently competent in the linguistic sense.

Monolingualism is the “English Disease” or should that be “unease”?

People of English background do not accept generally that they are in a minority in terms of language competence when compared to say the native population of Papua New Guinea or the Solomon Islands, or the vast majority of Europe.  No, we speak and use the finest language in the world and that is the end of the discussion.

But a truth that one day will dawn on us is that until New Zealand becomes wholeheartedly bilingual, we will continue to stutter along at the bottom of the Pacific.  And never has the opportunity presented itself in the ways that does now.

The tired old arguments against Te Reo Maori have somewhat subsided and a new generation is coming through that has a comfort, but often not a competence, in that official language of New Zealand.  There are high levels of competence in a range of Pacific languages from the fluency of the older generations to the passive bilingualism of many of the young members of those communities. We have a vibrant Chinese community bringing with them a language of global and future significance.  Similarly, the Indian community continues to grow and with it higher levels of presence of that great sub-continent.

The other factor that enters the discussion at this point is the fact that we struggle to get adequate levels of competence in literacy from so many of our young.

One answer to lifting achievement in our schools might be to take seriously once and for all the teaching of second languages to students in schools. A number of reasons commend this idea at this time.

First the general educational reasons for doing this are compelling.  Bilingual brains are better brains – there is plenty of evidence of this.  So it would make our young people sharper and fitter academically.

Secondly, if we are serious about development of competence in English we had better address the issue of linguistic competence generally and one way of doing this is through the teaching of languages. Students come to understand how language works not through bucket loads of grammar and rulkes but through understanding how and why languages are different. How many out there say they know about grammar but would also attest to the fact that they picked this up through learning French, or German – for this is what “second languages” was defined as for much of our history.

Thirdly, we have a wide and growing supply of people who are competent to teach those languages. They are out there in the community rather than in the colleges of education and the schools. Yet again the question is raised – who should be teachers?  Again the answer is – a group that includes wider sets of skills than the traditional trawling of the ranks of the graduates that the academy produces.  Finland has all students learning Swedish (and vice versa in Sweden) in the last three years of primary school.

Fourthly, the educational practices of the 18th and 19th centuries play a strong part in the decline of Te Reo Maori competence among so many Maori up to the 1960s when such pioneers as Richard Benton starting to draw attention to the “state’ of the language. New Zealand seems to be achieving a remarkable feat in reversing that trend arresting the slide of a language to being a museum language.

Are we going to stand by and again see this scenario played out with Pasifika communities.  Already there is concern about the levels of language capability among the young in the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau communities.  Sheer numbers mask a similar worry but perhaps at lower levels of proportion among the Tonga and Samoa communities.

We have an opportunity to do so much right this time. To deny continued growth in the languages of the homes to those whose first language is not English is simply to place restrictions around their development of English and all that goes with that situation in the schools and other places of learning.  The depressed performance of Maori over a long period of time in this country is to a large extent due to this very factor.

But it requires action.  I am sick and tired of all the lip-service that is paid to language learning, of all the homage paid to our few linguistic heroes, and of the disproportion levels of failure foisted on non-English language groups by our language practices.  I am embarrassed by our continued ignoring of the language skill in our communities and the persistence here in little-England of adamant monolingualism.

Ireland, Wales, most of Europe, significant areas of India, Scandanavia, some parts of the USA – many other places just get on with it.

When it comes to language its time for the talking to stop and the action to start.

 

Pathways-ED: Charter Schools – "A View from the States"

written by Ben Riley, Director of Policy and Advocacy, New Schools Venture Fund

I’m tremendously excited that Stuart asked me to offer my “View from the States” on New Zealand education policy. For reasons I’ll explain in a future post, I am keenly interested in New Zealand’s education system and I’m eager to learn more through this partnership. Let’s dive right in, shall we?

Recently, Stuart blogged about pending legislation to create charter schools (or as you are calling them, “Partnership Schools Kura Houora”). Given that the organization I work for, NewSchools Venture  Fund, has funded charter schools for more than a decade, I thought it might be helpful to share my perspective on US charter policy in the hopes of informing New Zealand’s nascent interest. I’ll begin with three general comments and then offer a few specific observations on your pending legislation.

First, pay careful attention to authorizing and oversight of charter schools. The basic theory behind charter schools is that you offer greater flexibility in return for higher accountability. That accountability, however, turns out to be trickier to establish than many expected when charter laws were first introduced. It turns out that parents are not always “well informed consumers” when it comes to selecting schools for their children; as a result, we see low-performing charter schools continue to operate in the US longer than a pure, market-driven choice model would suggest. Similarly, we’ve also learned that it’s just as difficult to close low-performing charter schools as it is to close their non-charter counterparts. Schools serve as cornerstones within our communities, thus to close one – charter or otherwise — almost inevitably results in controversy and political strife. The key is to ensure the charter authorizers are independent and empowered to make tough decisions — the National Association of Charter School Authorizers offers good guidance on this subject.

Second, make sure charter schools have equitable access to the resources they need – school facilities in particular. In the US, charter schools are supposed to have equal access to public resources as those provided to traditional schools. While that aspiration remains unevenly realized throughout the states with respect to funding, an equal if not bigger challenge is ensuring that charter operators have access to public facilities. Obviously, it’s very hard to provide quality instruction if you’re struggling to find physical space to teach children.  

Third, create clear paths for innovation and success within charter schools to translate into change within the entire education system. Perhaps my biggest disappointment with the “charter movement” is that new innovations and successful school models within the charter sector have, with rare exception, remain isolated from the traditional school system. Despite a growing body of evidence demonstrating that good charter schools can provide a high-quality education to our most challenged students, the practices common to these schools are considered “unique to charters” and thus irrelevant. And this prejudice flows in both directions, by the way: There are many interesting innovations happening in the traditional sector that charter operators never discover.

To address this, the Gates Foundation is investing US$25 million in seven “City Compacts” to promote local collaboration between charter schools and traditional schools, in the hopes that this will lead to the spread of good instructional practice. This model is one New Zealand should consider from the outset to ensure the charter sector remains connected to the larger education system.

With those general observations as background, I have read through New Zealand’s Cabinet Paper and Regulatory Impact Statement on developing a charter school model. On the whole, the vision accords with what we’ve learned in the US and strikes the right balance between autonomy and accountability. Moreover, as I am only beginning to understand how your system works, I hesitate to offer any suggestions without knowing the local context. That said, I flag two items for further consideration.

To begin, I would caution against permitting for-profit operators (or “sponsors”) to run charter schools. The reality is that any for-profit business must be run as exactly that, a business, with a fiduciary obligation to maximize profits. One problem with that, however, is that if a charter school runs out of resources in the middle of the school year, it’s supposed to shut down – with the brunt of real harm falling upon displaced students and irate parents. Just as importantly, allowing for-profit operators to operate charter schools inflames the suspicion of some that the charter movement is a cover for “big business” looking to profit and privatize public education. Perhaps this tension is not as vibrant in New Zealand as it is here but at least in the US, many people still don’t understand what charter schools really are or what purposes they serve.

Similarly, the proposed legislation allows faith-based organizations to serve as school sponsors/operators. In the US, mixing public funds with private religious instruction results in spectacular political fireworks. We are about to revive this highly contentious debate over what we call “vouchers,” which provide direct payments to parents that they can use to send their children to schools of their choice, including private religious schools. New Zealand policymakers might ask themselves – are they prepared to provide public funding to a school devoted to, say, promoting Creationist theories on the origin of humankind? In my opinion, the whole thing is a massive distraction that takes away focus on instructional quality. Better to scrap this and spend the bulk of political capital on developing clear guidelines on what’s expected of charter operators, and holding firm on accountability to ensure quality.

In closing, I am excited to see New Zealand pursue charter schooling and direct resources to provide high-quality school options to parents and students living in challenged communities. By addressing some of these issues at the outset, I believe New Zealand will be better positioned to achieve the student outcomes you desire.