The school of hard knocks and ‘the curious incident of the dog …’ – Part II

Not a bichon frise (Source TV One)

What was it all for?

One answer has been given by the Minister of Education, Hekia Parata:

The education sector, just like everything else in greater Christchurch, has experienced huge disruption due to the earthquakes.

Buildings have been damaged and pupils have had to move to other schools and in some cases to other regions, not to mention the emotional toll it has taken on everyone.

The face and makeup of Christchurch has changed – there are new suburbs and developments popping up around the region – and theeducation sector needs to respond to those changes as well.

For Parata – officially at least – it’s all about the earthquakes. The Government’s hand has been forced.

According to the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, Gerry Brownlee,

“Change was inevitable from the moment the earthquake struck in September.” [not ‘February’?]

Perhaps there’s a sense in which ‘change’ was indeed ‘inevitable’ since that moment. As Bob Hudson once put it in ‘The Newcastle Song‘:

Dont’ you ever let a chance go by, O Lord,

Don’t you ever let a chance go by.

But, of course, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

So, why is the Government choosing this particular way?

Perhaps it’s worth remembering, as Hekia Parata and Steven Joyce (p. 4) have emphasised, that:

[t]here is … a need to align these changes with broader Government policies and commitments for educational achievement.

How might these ‘proposals’ “align” with “broader Government policies and commitments“, and with which ones. And what “commitments” are these, and to whom have they been made?

Time to take a closer look at these ‘proposals’ and have a think about the likely consequences that might follow – and the kinds of ‘opportunities’ they make available.

Oh, and then there’s that “curious incident of the dog in the night-time” that keeps nagging away at me. It’s quite a mystery.

The Proposals

There’s a mass – or morass – of detail in the announced school proposals for Christchurch and in the commentary on them. In essence, however, they amount to the creation of large educational agglomerations (‘hubs’ or ‘clusters’), especially in the east of Christchurch.

This presumably provides economies of scale (shared facilities and support staff, for example) and centralises amenities in an area (in much the way that Christchurch, pre-earthquake, was reducing local swimming pools and moving towards ‘sports hubs’).

The agglomerations are particularly cost-effective if they involve low decile schools, since such schools receive larger increments of funding, and funding comes in various packages.

The ‘Aranui Cluster’ is the purest example of this trend – five schools merge onto one site. It rated it’s own little table in the summary of the proposals from the Ministry.

It’s presumably the poster-child of the “shared campuses’ that could provide education from the early years through schooling and into tertiary” mentioned in the ‘Directions for Educational Renewal‘ document and apparently ’embraced’ by submitters. (Then again, I don’t think there’ll be a branch of any university setting up along with the schools identified – but you never know.).

The five schools are: Aranui High School (Roll=514, Decile 2); Aranui School (153, 1); Chisnallwood Intermediate (747, 5); Avondale School (337, 2) and Wainoni School (92, 1).  Not that these are Ministry figures on enrolments (downloadable from ‘Education Counts‘) and questions have been raised about their data – as mentioned. That gives a current ‘cluster’ roll of 1843.

The school that sticks out in this cluster is Chisnallwood Intermediate. Not only is its roll the largest (and it’s an intermediate), but it also has the highest decile rating. That means that such a cluster’s overall decile ranking would likely be either 3 or 4, given how it is calculated (see link in previous paragraph). That will have interesting effects on which forms of funding are received and how the installments are calculated. No doubt these are some of the details being discussed during ‘consultation’ meetings.

That process of agglomeration is all part of the correction for all those ‘wasted educational dollars’ that Trevor McIntyre was so concerned about. But there’s another cost, of course, and it’s the one that’s preying on the minds of parents.

These enlarged schools are going to find it hard to be friendly places for any of the students, let alone five year olds and others at the younger end of the spectrum. Monitoring behaviour in such ‘shared campuses’ will be an interesting challenge.

Combined with the continuing stresses, uncertainties and (literally) fractured nature of the surrounding communities it will be a miracle if suddenly upending the schooling of thousands of children and placing them in large, untried ‘super-schools’ results in massive social and educational benefits to match the supposed financial benefits.

The far more likely result is that this will kick yet more energy into a downward social spiral for people in the affected areas.

As one letter writer to The Press noted (25 September), given the already clear class distinctions between Christchurch suburbs – and the corresponding effects these have always had on land values – all these proposals will do is exacerbate that divide:

The proposals being made by Hekia Parata and her Education Ministry minions serve to reinforce this class-divided system, most obviously by proposing an area school structure for the lower-decile disadvantaged east of the city while maintaining the status quo elsewhere.

But is this just yet more ‘naysaying’?

Perhaps, instead, many families from the west of Christchurch will flock to the east to be sure they are ‘in zone’ for the enhancement provided by the  ’21st century educational opportunities’ that these super-schools will apparently provide.

After all, these proposals are all about turbo-charging educational achievement through innovative approaches so maybe the well-resourced families of Christchurch will be determined to take advantage of such alluring opportunities for their children? Expect to see a flurry of activity in the Aranui property market as canny property investors spy the obvious gold rush in prospect.

If only.

Back, then, to the likely reality behind these proposals.

Katharine Shaw, who was previously involved in an unsuccessful attempt to bring a court case to prevent the amalgamation of Aorangi School with Burnside Primary (which is now proposed to be closed), has written one of the more well-informed analyses of what these proposals may be about.

In her opinion:

This is dressed up as an earthquake-related emergency, but the plans for closing, merging and relocating individual schools don’t make sense, unless you consider what the Government is trying to achieve under the radar.

A hard look at the ministry’s website elicits some useful information, but also raises more questions than it answers. It gives the striking impression that thinking about Christchurch’s “new” clusters pre-dated the earthquakes.

The minister states there has been information gathering since September 2010, yet there was earlier preparation for a network review of Christchurch, which never eventuated. The new plan is a network review by stealth, overwhelmingly similar to what took place around New Zealand from 2000 to 2004.

The minister’s insistence that these changes apply to the long-term provision of education across the network, and that change must occur, is overwhelmingly similar to language from network reviews in the past.

Shaw goes on to note that there’s interesting ways in which information has been used:

The ministry has chosen the March rolls for this project, but has always used July rolls on another property website. The general trend of roll growth in primary schools through the year explains why principals are reporting higher numbers than the ministry gives them credit for.


Too often there is a wide gulf between a school’s reports of relatively minor damage and the substantially higher ministry property assessments.

Shaw claims a “surprising dearth of hard evidence” for such closures during network reviews improving student performance (let alone the non-academic issues they will raise for children and their parents).


An independent report on network reviews, commissioned by the ministry, was critical of both process and outcomes and yet never shown to the minister.

Is this how the ministry’s process of ‘consulting with itself’ operated?

We can only hope that whoever authored that report did not come under the kinds of pressures this civil servant did, with ultimately devastating consequences for himself and countless others. Providing the ‘wrong’ answers through research is not usually the route to success within organisations.

So are these proposals simply “a network review by stealth“?

All of the points raised by Shaw are undoubtedly part of the mix. Economies of scale, standardisation of ‘back office functions’ and tighter control over the educational ‘product’ fit the general push by this Government to reduce state expenditure on public services.

But ‘austerity’ and tight control of areas of people-focused state expenditure are only two songs in an overall, interlinked song-cycle that has been performed throughout the world and – more to the point – within New Zealand over the past few decades.

As well as the push for ‘efficiencies’ in education there has usually been a corresponding opening of the sector to private (sorry, ‘community-based’) initiatives.

Are we in New Zealand only to get the joy of seeing one of these songs performed? After all, there is something that is now waiting in the wings that was not there in the network reviews from 2000-2004.

Shouldn’t there be a dog barking right now?

The curious incident of the dog in the night …

Let’s let the dog off the leash.

Why weren’t charter schools an explicit part of this announcement?

And, since they weren’t, why isn’t John Banks barking like a mad dog?

In fact, as I mentioned in the ‘partnership post‘ for this post, why did Lesley Longstone in an earlier phase of this process, reassure John Bangma (Canterbury Primary Principals’ Association President) over this very ‘option’?

The document did not include any mention of charter schools.

Bangma said he was concerned it was a way of bringing in charter schools by another name, but said he had been assured by Longstone that was not the case.

The answer (to the question of why charter schools weren’t mentioned) might seem obvious but let’s pretend, for a moment, that decisions are being made rationally and transparently. Let’s assume that what Government’s say, they mean and they are not trying to achieve their goals by subterfuge.

Here’s a few of the ‘facts’:

  • The Confidence and Supply agreement between the National and ACT parties (which can be found here) makes extensive reference to the introduction of charter schools.

With respect to education, the parties have, in particular, agreed to implement a system, enabled under either sections 155 (Kura Kaupapa Maori) or 156 (Designated character schools), or another section if appropriate, of the Education Act, whereby school charters can be allocated in areas where educational underachievement is most entrenched. A series of charters would initially be allocated in areas such as South Auckland and Christchurch.

  • Written into that agreement is that the deadline for implementation is the end of this term. That is, by that time, some charter schools should have been established.
  • Their initial implementation will target disadvantaged and ‘underperforming’ areas (in the ‘Annex’ to the agreement):

The proposed charter school system is targeted at lifting educational achievement in low decile areas and disadvantaged communities where educational underperformance has become the norm.

Initially the system will be implemented in areas such as South Auckland and central/eastern areas of Christchurch.  Once successfully established, and as fiscal conditions permit, the system would be extended to other areas of low educational performance.

  • A commitment has already been made to focus on two parts of the country: South Auckland and the east of Christchurch (see above).
  • A working group is well-established (since February) under the number three-ranking ACT party list candidate Catherine Isaacs (details of the membership of the group can be found here). The project, interestingly, is now not called ‘charter schools’ but ‘partnership schools’ or Kura Hourua.

National and ACT agree to establish an implementation group comprising a private sector chair, and private sector, business, iwi and community representatives along with government officials to develop the proposal.

  • The Associate Minister of Education – and ACT party leader – John Banks has stated that, in Christchurch, he can foresee a sponsor, such as a construction company, establishing a charter school to provide training for the workers needed for the Christchurch rebuild.

Banks said yesterday that Christchurch was chosen as a trial area because of the opportunities that had arisen from the earthquakes.He refused to name the groups that wanted to set up charter schools in the city, but hoped business interests in the building industry would work closely with a charter school to bring workplace education into the classroom.

Banks said he envisaged building and construction companies co-funding charter schools, which would focus on getting pupils into the work force.

“This will give opportunities for education to become very relevant to people like myself who were not interested in school work,” Banks said.

  • The (seemingly omnipresent and influential) Trevor McIntyre, Prinicipal of Christchurch Boys’ High School – who, as I pointed out in the Part I of this post, was particularly positive about the recent announcements – was quite positive about the benefits to be gained from establishing charter schools in Christchurch (in the previous link):

Christchurch Boys’ High School principal Trevor McIntyre said he could see no harm in trialling charter schools.

There had often been a huge rift between business and schools, and the initiative could help bridge that gap, he said.

“If there’s a corporation out there that would like to invest in education, then let’s have a piece of it,” he said [Almost sounds like he’s volunteering Boys’ High for the pilot.]

  • According to the Government (as pointed out above), the earthquakes have necessitated a major restructuring of the school system in Christchurch.
  • That restructuring has the aim of not simply restoring what already existed but also ‘enhancing’ the education system.
  • The aims of that enhancement include innovative approaches that would involve partnerships with the business community and targeting underachievement of students so that they can participate in work, further education or training. It is hard to imagine a closer meshing with the wording of the relevant section of the National-ACT Supply and Confidence agreement. Remember:

You want to see diversity in educational options and are open to embracing new and bolder initiatives that will mean greater co-operation and sharing of human and physical resources.

This would mean closer relationships with business and other organisations …

we need to ensure the approach to renewal looks to address inequities and improve outcomes, while prioritising actions that will have a positive impact on learners in greatest need of assistance.

  • As part of the proposals, many schools in the east of Christchurch will abandon their sites (and buildings) and either be merged (as with the Aranui ‘super-school’) or relocated. This will leave a considerable amount of Crown land and education assets available for lease (or, if no Crown use is desired, for purchase by Ngai Tahu which is supportive of ‘partnership schools’ or Kura Hourua).
  • Nearly half of Christchurch’s intermediate schools could be wiped outby these proposals. Intermediates have, until now, provided various forms of technical (‘manual’) education; just the sorts of educational ‘service’ that Minister Banks envisions could be provided by charter schools in Christchurch.
  • The proposals are due to take effect within the next two years (i.e., by the end of the current Government’s term).
  • Legislation will be introduced this year.

Those are just some of the uncontroversial ‘facts’ (assuming, once again, that the claims made are made in good faith). Together – and read in good faith – they make it very hard to understand why the Government did not make reference to the opportunities for charter schools that flow from these announcements.

Add to this some more speculative, but reasonable, points.

Many, if not most, of the residents of east Christchurch would be unable to afford the fees for relatively ‘local’ private schools that currently exist and find it difficult to move into zones for public schools in other parts of Christchurch. Distances to travel to the super-schools will be further for many families than to their current local (un-agglomerated) school.

The removal of the requirement for all teachers to be registered (against a Ministry of Education recommendation) and the freedom to vary from the national curriculum, national standards and NCEA also makes charter schools more tempting for ‘sponsors’ and other groups seeking to make a commercially viable charter school.

The ability to pay ‘teachers’ less than the current standard arises from the freedom from the curriculum, etc. that, apparently, will become enshrined in the legislation. As Associate Professor Peter O’Connor explained:

“The key cost in a school is obviously the teachers’ salaries,” he said. “If you can drive down salaries…that is where you can make a profit in the schools.

“And if this is about making schools more attractive for private companies to invest in, than [sic] possibly that is the reason. But there is certainly no educational value in having untrained or unqualified teachers in front of the classroom.”

There would therefore be ‘latent demand’ and ‘latent supply’ for charter schools in the east of Christchurch.

All in all, if we are to believe the claims above then the explicit incorporation of charter schools into the proposals would be an obvious move for the Government to make.

Doing so would not only “align” the restructuring with “broader Government policies” but it would also meet the rather obvious “commitments” it has made in the Coalition agreement between National and ACT (quotes are from the Directions for Educational Renewal document and were quoted previously).

But, there was no mention of charter schools.

Others suspected that charter schools were part of the thinking behind the proposals.

Indeed, of the handful of letters to The Press that were supportive of the Government in this area, at least two informed any schools that didn’t like the proposals to apply for charter school status. That is, even Government supporters can see the obvious ‘incentive’ for charter schools in these proposals.

The ‘dog’ (charter school advocates) didn’t bark. Like the dog in Silver Blaze, the reason is obvious – it recognised its master and therefore knew it would be well served.

If charter schools (now called ‘partnership schools’ for some mysterious reason) are being well served by these proposals, what other indications are there of their imminent arrival, atop the current proposals?

Well, the context around charter schools becomes more and more fascinating the closer you look.

John Banks has hung ACT’s future on the success of the charter schools pilots:

The future of this political party, I think, is going to be substantially predicated on the success of the charter school trials because everything we stand for and stand against comes together,” he said.

“We are committed to making this work. We are not here to give it a go and hope.”

Perhaps with half an eye on the prospect of a Silver Blaze moment, in the same link, Banks also emphasised that:

“We don’t see ourselves as bichon frises of the National Party. We want to work very constructively but we wouldn’t want anyone around here to mistake our friendliness for weakness.

Meanwhile John Key has strongly backed the efficacy and usefulness of charter schools:

Charter schools could offer choice and hope to parents whose children were being failed by the standard school system, the Prime Minister says.

Speaking in Auckland today, John Key said the Government wants to see a “better performance for young New Zealanders” and charter schools were a way of giving parents more choice.

So, the Prime Minister sees considerable merit in the ‘choice’ that charter schools supposedly make available, particularly for those currently being “failed by the standard school system“.

Lesley Longstone (Secretary of the Ministry of Education) is also well-known for her involvement in establishing ‘Free Schools’ in the UK. Here’s her addressing a conference about the nature of the freedom that ‘Free Schools’ have.

Key is not alone, in the National Party, in accentuating the positives about charter schools.

Christchurch Central MP Nicky Wagner warmly welcomed the appointments to the charter school Working Group (which had two Christchurch-based members):

The two Christchurch appointments are former Christchurch Mayor and founder of Discovery 1 and Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti, Vicki Buck, and the Dean of Te Puna Wanaka and Director of Maori and Pasifika Studies at the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, Hana O’Regan.

“I am excited about the possibilities for Christchurch as we rebuild and rethink the way education can be delivered here,” she says.

Those appointments were confirmed in March this year:

Former ACT Party President Catherine Isaac has been confirmed as the chair of a working group setting up new charter schools.

Isaac, who was third-ranked on the ACT Party lists and considered a potential leader of the party, will be joined by six others on the new working group.

Among them, former Christchurch Mayor Vicki Buck who has established two “innovative” schools in Christchurch. Tony Falkenstein, founder of the Onehunga Business School and chief executive of Just Water is also in the group.

[Commit Falkenstein’s name to memory.]

The Working Group fees are detailed here. Isaacs gets $30,000 per year – for working five days per month – while the other members of the group receive $9,000 per year. Meetings are twice monthly.

Admittedly, one of the appointments to the Working Group, “Michael Hollings, chief executive of the Correspondence School“, is no longer with the Group, having been seconded to the office of the Minister of Education, Hekia Parata. So the costs will be slightly less.

The PPTA, however, is not impressed given some other associated costs:

A multi-million dollar computer botch-up has left teachers at Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu / Correspondence School (Te Kura) unable to support their students – while the CEO who set the system up moves on to work for the minister of education.

Te Kura CEO Mike Hollings has been seconded to Hekia Parata’s office leaving behind a $12 million dollar mess.

Hollings was also a member of the working group set up by the government and led by former ACT leader Catherine Isaac to look into charter schools for New Zealand, but has resigned from the group since taking up the position with the minister.

In July, some 18 organisations were listed as expressing interest in developing charter schools (or becoming charter schools).

Of these, five were christian organisations or current schools (one being Destiny Church), four were Maori or Pasifika organisations/schools, three were targeting ‘disadvantaged’ groups or are in lower-socioeconomic areas, two were United States organisations (one for-profit, one non-profit) and others include Victoria University of Wellington.

The website for the Working Group echoes the focus of the National-ACT agreement and provides the terms of reference for the group. The membership is detailed here.

A lot of work has obviously been done on charter schools yet, again, apparently not sufficient to incorporate them into the thinking through of the school proposals in Christchurch.

There’s a further oddity. Charter schools – and the proposed educational possibilities and ‘choices’ they supposedly make available – are already an option.

Currently, there is allowance in the state system for ‘special character schools’ to be established (under sections 155 – primarily for Kura –  and 156).

One of the members of the Working Group, former Christchurch Mayor Vicki Buck, has previously taken advantage of that allowance to establish two ‘alternative’ schools in Christchurch  – Discovery 1 (a primary school) and Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti (a high school).

These two schools are proposed to merge under the proposals. Prior to the earthquake of 22 February, 2011 they were both in ‘central Christchurch’ (above the then Bus Exchange), one of the designated areas for charter school pilot implementation.

There has been an interesting recent decision on an application for a ‘democratic school’ in Golden Bay, that is well worth considering in detail.

The Golden Bay group had applied for the establishment of a democratic school (in which the children have a large say over the education process), called Kahurangi School. As Pew Singh, one of the proponents, explained:

In May last year the Golden Bay group applied to the education minister to fund Kahurangi School, a “character school”, legislated for under the Education Act, which allows for the establishment of a school with a “special character” which defines a style of learning not catered for in the region. Their application pushed heavily that the choices for education in the area were limited, and that the school would be unique. They wanted it taxpayer-funded so it would be free to everyone.

A similar group in Nelson, was inspired by the initiative in Golden Bay:

Dawn Grace Kelly had a similar “aha” moment when she heard the noises happening in Takaka. She’s the co-ordinator for Arohanui Holistic Learning Trust, which promotes a democratic school in Nelson. She too wants more choice in education, and particularly more emphasis on creativity. Her 6-year-old son only does art once a fortnight at his state school.

The philosophy of ‘democratic education’ is what underpins the Christchurch Schools:

There are three [schools] in the South Island already approved under the special character legislation: Tamariki School, which started in Christchurch in 1966, and New Zealand Learning Discovery Trust’s twin schools Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti and Discovery 1, both of which are due to merge in the upcoming Christchurch education overhaul. The LDT has offered support and advice to Kahurangi School.

The Kahurangi School proposal has now hit what is described in the article as “a bump in the road“:

In late August, as the Nelson democratic school team was producing its ministry application to establish their designated character school, Education Minister Hekia Parata declined Kahurangi’s application – leaving them “very disappointed”, Mr Singh says.

And the reason for the rejection?

Though Ms Parata wrote that she “applauded” their commitment to the education of the young of Golden Bay and didn’t want to discourage them, a new school wasn’t necessary to achieve their goals. The group should work with the board of an existing school to provide what they wanted for their children, or stand for election for a board if they wanted to change how schools worked.


Now the Nelson group has shelved their application.

“We’re 99 per cent sure it will be rejected,” Ms Kelly says.

There’s an obvious implication in Hekia Parata’s decision – that ‘alternative’ forms of education are no longer sufficient reasons to meet the criteria for special character. Presumably, the only initiatives that would meet the criteria would be schools differentiated on religious or some other, non-pedagogical, criteria:

“The section 156 which we applied under all relates to providing a style of education that’s not currently catered for in a traditional state school. The ministry’s interpretation of that is that hypothetically, it could be – which means nobody could ever meet the criteria under 156.

In fact, the Kahurangi trust has contacted the schools in the area and, “all bar one, which has not yet replied, have refused to even meet to discuss the possibility“.


all five Golden Bay school principals wrote to the Education Ministry expressing reservations about the new school, saying the community was too small to support another school and they feared it could lead to reduced funding for existing schools if rolls dropped.

I suppose members of the Trust now have Parata’s option of getting on to school boards, given the lack of ‘accommodation’ of their approach by local school principals.

Then again – there is another option:

John Armstrong of Henley School, … said parents had “a great range and choice of educational institutions in our region”, and suggested the two groups pursue making a case to be a charter school or self-funded private school if they disagreed.

I’m sure a similar thought never entered Hekia Parata’s mind – otherwise, surely, she would have mentioned it as one of the group’s remaining options?

There appears to be strong indications that all future ‘special character’ applications will be channeled towards the charter school option.

The legislation to be introduced this year facilitating the establishment of the charter school pilot may well alter, or even remove, section 156 (probably not 155 as that would be politically difficult) of the Education Act to close that door in the future. Current ‘special character’ schools may also be ‘encouraged’ to migrate to the charter school system.

Perhaps all of these contextual issues are unrelated coincidences that just happen to clear the way for charter schools like an ice-sweeper in front of a curling stone.

Or perhaps they aren’t.

The National-ACT agreement explicitly mentions the inspiration for the charter school proposals:

The approach is modelled on successful international examples such as the KIPP schools in the US and to some extent on the system of ‘free’ schools currently being introduced in the UK.

‘Free Schools’ have been mentioned above and is the system that Lesley Longstone has been heavily involved in implementing (another happy coincidence, then, for the charter school proposal).

The KIPP programme is currently receiving some attention in New Zealand. That’s largely because of the speaking tour (to New Zealand Universities) of Mike Feinberg, a KIPP luminary. The ‘company’ he keeps is listed on the KIPP website.

The approach taken by KIPP is summarised in its ‘Five Pillars‘. It makes for interesting reading.

The ‘Pillar’ of ‘High Expectations’ involves “measurable high expectations for academic achievement and conduct that make no excuses based on the students’ backgrounds“. No excuses for background? Presumably that means that, if established here, such schools would not accept the added increments of funding that follow low decile pupils? (Unlike the ‘Free Schools’ programme which continues that disproportionate funding.)

The ‘Choice and Commitment’ ‘Pillar’ means that “Students, their parents, and the faculty of each KIPP school choose to participate in the program.” That ‘free choice’ presumably implies that a standard state school will be available within similar geographical reach – level playing field, and all that? After all, we wouldn’t want to ‘nudge’ the decision by non-pedagogical concerns, would we?

‘More Time’ means that,

KIPP schools know that there are no shortcuts when it comes to success in academics and life. With an extended school day, week, and year, students have more time in the classroom to acquire the academic knowledge and skills that will prepare them for competitive high schools and colleges

‘Power to Lead’ focuses on the principals who,

 have control over their school budget and personnel. They are free to swiftly move[sic] dollars or make staffing changes, allowing them maximum effectiveness in helping students learn.

Finally, ‘Focus on Results’ means that,

KIPP schools relentlessly focus on high student performance on standardized tests and other objective measures. Just as there are no shortcuts, there are no excuses. Students are expected to achieve a level of academic performance that will enable them to succeed at the nation’s best high schools and colleges.

Once again, it is fortunate that the recent introduction of National Standards – and the likely future pressure arising from them to introduce national testing – meshes so neatly with this philosophy. A little more ice out of the way, so to speak.

Measurement is very important for KIPP. It helps establish its performance against non-KIPP schools. There is no mention of ‘teaching to the test’.

Attending KIPP, or having your child attend KIPP, involves a contractual ‘pledge’. Here’s a sample pledge. Parents agree to:

We will make sure our child arrives at KIPP by 7:25 am (Monday-Friday) or boards a KIPP bus at the scheduled time.

We will make arrangements so our child can remain at KIPP until 5:00 pm (Monday – Thursday) and 4:00 pm on Friday.

We will make arrangements for our child to come to KIPP on appropriate Saturdays at 9:15 am and remain until 1:05 pm.

We will ensure that our child attends KIPP summer school.

Failure to adhere to these commitments can cause my child to lose various KIPP privileges and can lead to my child returning to his/her home school.

I guess parents who can’t make arrangements for their children to attend during those hours will self-select out of the school. Similarly, those who cease to maintain their commitments will end up having their children return to their home school (i.e., being expelled).

KIPP make a lot of reference to ‘character strengths’, but, as an organisation, they seem to lack the ‘grit’, ‘optimism’ and ‘self-control’ to commit to a child and a family irrespective of the background of the students and parents (which generate their ‘character’, of course). They fail at their own standards.

State schools, of course, have to make that unconditional commitment.

Are KIPP schools effective? A particularly good blog post on this by John McGowan highlights the way in which bias in the so-called ‘evidence’ in these public policy realms is notoriously difficult to detect statistically. I recommend anyone interested in KIPP to read it.

There’s also the ‘about turn’ by Diane Ravitch, an esteemed educationalist in the United States who has shifted from strong support for testing and charter schools to strong opposition. A short video clip of her discussing her book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System“. (It’s particularly interesting when she discusses ‘accountability’ from about 7mins30 secs).

But, at the end of the day, what’s the harm in opening up the school system to see if something useful can be generated?

Back to Mike Feinberg’s visit. When asked to comment on Feinberg’s visit by the Tertiary Education Union, John O’Neill of the Quality Public Education Coalition (QPEC) argued that it was a manifestation of what has been termed “network governance”:

 it … illustrates a rapidly emerging phenomenon in advanced economies: the growth of what is called ‘network governance’ to supplant traditional social democratic forms of public policy development and enactment. Whereas the traditional public policy process has been by convention relatively open and transparent, and conducted by officials, the new network governance is at least partly based on relatively covert networks of personal and professional interest.  In network governance, the KIPP Foundation, its partners, donors, supporters and lobbyists are a major player.

O’Neill then details the fascinating links between a range of people in New Zealand and overseas who have clearly been very active in the area.

Remember, for example, Tony Falkenstein on the charter school Working Group? (noted above). He appears in O’Neill’s analysis:

In April 2012, the New Zealand Initiative was formed by the merger of the New Zealand Business Roundtable and the New Zealand Institute. The latter … has mostly corporate ‘supporters’ including The Warehouse, but also lists Auckland University and the independent school, St Cuthbert’s College (where the PM’s daughter went).

The Institute’s membership includes Sir Stephen Tindall and John Hood [former Vice Chancellor of Auckland University] as trustees, and John Taylor of Auckland University. The Business Roundtable membership includes Tony Falkenstein of Red Eagle Corporation, entrepreneur and the founder of the Onehunga High Business School and the Onehunga High Building and Construction School. Falkenstein and Taylor are also two of the five members of the Charter School Working group currently chaired by former Act Party president Catherine Isaacs, who was nominated by Associate Minister of Education Hon John Banks, and whose late husband, Roger Kerr, was long-standing Executive Director of the Business Roundtable.

If O’Neill is correct, then this kind of ‘management’ of the public policy process by a highly networked group of influential individuals and organisations goes quite some way to explaining “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time“.

Why bark when all is in hand?


There is clearly at least one more foot to fall when it comes to the announced proposals for Christchurch schools.

For Christchurch schools’ sake, I just hope the Government-headed Leviathan that has been lumbering like a predatory beast towards them these past years has only two feet.


Destruction of Leviathan

[Epilogue: For those interested, the recent Chicago Teachers Union strike and its relation to charter schools is well detailed at the Huffington Post.]

This entry was posted in Democracy, Earthquakes, Education, Human Wellbeing, New Zealand Politics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The school of hard knocks and ‘the curious incident of the dog …’ – Part II

  1. Janine Stagpoole says:

    Totally hit the nail on the head with this one!

    • Puddleglum says:

      Thanks Janine,

      Well, I’ve given it a go at any rate.

      Just how many nail-heads there are to hit we’ll no doubt find out over the coming months.


  2. colleen hughes says:

    Thanks for all the research you have done for this. It definatley paints a clearer picture of the National Government agender for Christchurch, particularly the East where I live. I hope it is shared and read.

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi Colleen,

      Thank you, I really appreciate the encouragement. To be honest, I enjoy doing this kind of ‘join the dots’ analysis.

      If it helps people come to their own understanding of what is happening then I’m happy. I just hope people are encouraged to think about these things, even though I know it can be wearying when so many of us are battling on multiple ‘fronts’.


  3. Hi Puddleglum, it’s been a while since I’ve felt up to commenting here. You work of late has been truly awesome, and I recommended it to Robert Guyton, last time I met him. He seems to have taken up reading your blog, too. Hope I got that syntax correct.
    I think John Bank’s hope that charter schools will revive or reinvigorate ACT, or make them in any way palatable for re-election, is forlorn. Only National can throw them the lifeline of an electorate seat. National won’t, and ACT won’t make it over 5% at the next election, or 4% if the threshold is dropped. Charter schools will be gone after the next election.
    You have laid out a compelling case showing stealth by the government, I wish The Press would publish it. And they publish plenty of opposition to the changes already. The logical solution, at this stage, seems to be to carry on with things pretty much as they were until Christchurch settles, as inevitably it will. Once the need for schools, in the long term, can be determined then decisions can be made on how best to provide them. Right now Christchurch is not ready for this and it seems to me that some of the objection comes from the unreadiness, in addition to the uncertainty around charter schools the theory behind charter schools.
    The idea that schools are there to create workers is one I find bizarre. I chose to have children because I wanted to give them, well, that’s getting way off topic, but one of the things I wanted to give was an education, and the most important thing I wanted to teach them was how to live happy lives. Sure, they are happy at school, and doing well and all that, but it’s not the be all and end all. And neither is working. The whole idea of a work-life balance was one I found fascinating, because it differentiates clearly between “work” and “life”. And like I said, I want my children to have happy lives. Work will be part of their lives, and an important one, but others will be more important. Teaching kids that their success will be defined by how hard they are seen to work is a mistake and a major betrayal. Making them go to school from 0730 to 1700, plus half days on Saturday does exactly that. It teaches them that they are slaves. I would rather home-school than charter school.

    • yeah, I got the syntax right 🙂

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi Armchair Critic and thanks for the compliment.

      Yes, I think a big part of the objection is the ‘kick us when we’re down’ aspect. The other part, that is related to that, is the sense that we (especially the local school communities) should have a lot more say in this process than we’ve been given.

      There’s incompetence here, certainly. But to me that just indicates that they aren’t sweating the small stuff (i.e., the detailed justification case-by-case). The big reworking is the main aim.

      Yet it has to be more than incompetence. People like Joyce (and Key) do not lack ‘strategic vision’. They’d spot both the likely backlash and the ‘opportunities’ in such a major project of ‘reform’. This is not just an operational response to a disruption – it’s all about ‘enhancement’ and, for Joyce and co. that means moving the education sector as a whole toward their preferred structure.

      You’re right about Banks and ACT. Apparently, Roger Douglas leapt to Banks’ defence recently. Douglas set up ACT as a vehicle to complete his ‘unfinished business’ and Banks is taking the opportunity to squeeze the last bit of electoral advantage left in ACT to get closer to finishing that business. That’s why he has Douglas’ support – irrespective of what it means for that particular vehicle.

      I agree about the narrow view of education. The corollary of that view is that if a society wants plenty of unskilled labour (as it used to want) or illiterate labour (as it wanted before that), then any education that delivers more than that is a waste.

      From that point of view, having autonomous thinking beings who are more than just very clever workers is always going to be a waste of educational resources. If the output of the educational system is always just there to supply the work (no matter how high-tech) it makes no sense to ‘over-engineer’ that output – not only is it an unnecessary expense but it also creates potential instability in the management of that labour.

      Nice to have you back commenting!


  4. John Kelcher says:

    Excellent – thanks.

  5. Kumbel says:

    Great work!

    There’s so much to be said on this topic but you have done so much very valuable work digging into the detail about charter schools that I will restrict myself to just one detail that bears more examination.

    I am also mystified as to why National would go along with a high-risk plan to gut public education leaving much fertile ground for charter schools. Received wisdom has it that the NZ public can get very touchy about education. Given that National appear to have fluked a win in the last election on the back of the Christchurch earthquakes you would think they would quietly throw ACT to the wolves given that they (ACT) are almost certainly dog tucker at the next election. Ironically it could be that that is the reason National might quietly like charter schools and it has nothing to do with education or the PPTA.

    With the inevitable demise of ACT, Maori Party and United Future (unless Peter Dunne is a vampire) National faces a bleak future. In this context charter schools throw National (not ACT) an unexpected long-term lifeline. The key (ha ha) to this, if I understand it correctly, is a strange aspect of human nature: we evaluate our well-being in relative not absolute terms. If someone else is worse off than us then we can put up with a lot. The illogical phenomenon of blue-collar support for the US Republican Party is, apparently, an example of this.

    It is hard to express this succinctly but consider that charter schools cherry-pick their students and can expel them for, as you identify, not having sufficient “character”. This will inevitably lead the charter school catchment to divide themselves into those who have and don’t have “character”. This is a purely emotional and moralistic concept but it doesn’t matter as it will create a group of people who can now place themselves apart from another group. And it is possible that this could lead to electoral success for National if they can attract new votes from the “superior” group.

    I would like to think that National are not so morally bankrupt that they would cynically use the lives of children to shore up their electoral support with adults. But stranger things have happened.

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi Kumbel,

      That’s an interesting point.

      My understanding of the charter schools proposal is that they have to take every pupil – especially from the Government’s targetted ‘disadvantaged’ groups – so, technically, it can’t be ‘cherry picking’.

      But, if the ‘contract’ between a school, parent and pupil is, at the start, very prescriptive and ‘high-demand’ then that automatically leads to self-selection which, in turn, could lead to the kinds of ‘moral stratification’ you suggest.

      That is, some parents who are capable of organising their lives around 7:30-5:00pm schooldays five days a week, Saturday mornings and Summer Schools may feel they have a better character than those families who are unable or unwilling to organise their collective lives around that kind of intensive and extensive commitment.

      I find all such arguments that pitch social problems in terms of personal moral deficiencies as – dare I say it – morally objectionable.

      Thanks again for your comment.


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