Friday, 4 September 2015

Common Sense Trumps An Alien Ideology

The Beginning of the End?

The New Zealand Labour Party is currently part of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.  So, true to its official position within the Westminster system of government, the Labour Party has systematically and relentlessly opposed the introduction of charter schools in New Zealand.  The government of the day has tentatively introduced a pilot programme of charter schools to "test the waters" and see how they go.  Labour has said, "No go" at every opportunity.  Its stated policy is that when re-elected to the government benches it will abolish all charter schools in the land.  "We will wipe them out.  All of them." has become a new line in the Labour anthem.

The Labour opposition has at least two faces.  The public face is a fiscal argument that charter schools undermine plain vanilla government schools by excessively consuming state funds that otherwise would be going to government schools.  This argument is fallacious, deceptive, and misleading.  It compares apples with oranges and ends up with lemons.  It rolls the start-up costs of charter schools into operational costs and derives a cost-per-pupil for charter schools.  Which, of course, is higher than the per-pupil cost of vanilla government schools, because (watch my hands) the start up costs are excluded in the case of government schools.

Down the road from us a new government primary school has been announced by the Ministry of Education.  The declared budget to develop the site and put the buildings up is around $27 million.  If apples were to be compared to apples, the Labour Party snake-oilers would add in the $27m start up cost to the operational costs for the first year of the new school, and calculate a per-pupil cost of a brand new government school with a brand new charter school.  And, hey presto, suddenly it would become abundantly clear that charter schools are much, much less expensive than new Rolly-Royce behemoth government schools.

But the Labour opposition has another face.  It's real concern lies elsewhere.
  Labour is substantially funded and controlled by unions--including the teacher unions.  These unions have been implacably opposed to charter schools because union control over these schools has been vaporised.  Charter schools are judged by results, but have much more operational freedom as to how to get the results.  The unions have effectively been shut out from charter schools, since they demand standardisation of working conditions for their members.  So extreme is their opposition they have run a "blackball" policy, whereby any teacher associating with, let alone teaching in a charter school, has been blackballed by the unions from ever teaching again in government schools.  The Labour Party's opposition is founded on union control, not on principial views of education, and certainly not on what is best for children.  This is the real face of the modern Labour Party.

But reality is another matter.  Unions are not that strong in New Zealand.  Moreover the average New Zealander is a pretty pragmatic sort of bloke/esse.  If charter schools work and they educate kids that would otherwise be falling through the cracks, why not?  And now, another twist has emerged.  Maori kids in particular are failing at government schools--at least at higher rates than non-Maori.  Maori leaders have generally been pretty interested in charter schools.  They have thought the idea deserves a crack.

One hotbed of union opposition to charter schools has been in Northland.  But it is precisely there that an initially successful charter school has been established, focusing upon Maori children, and its initial academic results are encouraging.  Labour MP's, representing Northland (and one a former teacher), have broken party ranks and shown public support for this charter school.
Labour MPs who attended a charter school fundraiser were warned by leader Andrew Little that there would likely be media interest - given the party's strong opposition to the controversial schooling model. Mr Little told Kelvin Davis - who is also the party's associate education spokesman - and Peeni Henare that he did not want them to attend the $250-a-seat fundraiser.

"I said it was my preference that they not go. They discussed it with me, [Peeni] had family connections to the school, which he felt was difficult to avoid," Mr Little said.  "They both wanted to support local kids who were going to the school, and that's what they saw as the most important part of the function.  In the end, I explained what my preference was and it was their judgement, and to understand that potentially there would be media interest. Which it has now turned out there is." [NZ Herald]
Kelvin Davis is the Labour Party's associate education spokesman.  His reason for attending the fundraiser for the charter school could not have been more plainly expressed:

Labour has pledged to scrap charter schools, and when approached by TV3 at the fundraiser, Mr Davis said he was there, "to support my nieces and nephews, to support Maori education.  I think there are a number of anomalies in charter schools that need to be ironed out, to create a level playing field."  Labour's stated policy is to scrap charter schools.
He attended to support his whanau, his extended family.  Point number one: Davis's loyalties are first to family, then to party.  Unions apparently come a distant third.  Secondly, he supports Maori education, before union controlled education.  Thirdly, he wants a level playing field between government schools and charter schools. What he is implying, intentional or not, is that he will support more government funding of charter schools, since they are presently a poor cousin in the funding stakes.

We await with baited breath the howls of outrage from the teacher unions and their strident demands that Kelvin Davis, having breached their blackball ban on charter schools, be banished from every government school in the land.  We expect calls for his dismissal as Labour's associate education spokesman. Or not.

If not, the unions will have lost a major battle in their bitter and twisted campaign against charter schools. 

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