Critics argue that charter schools will damage the education system in NZ. These arguments are predominantly raised by those of the political left, and in particular, Teachers Unions.
The NZ PPTA considers that there is no evidence to support importing the charter school model into NZ Education. Moreover, that the current legislation allows for parents to set up their own schools, if they are dissatisfied with their local school, provided they have at least 21 students enrolled.
I asked the PPTA (via Twitter) if teachers were able to run a charter school as a worker co-operative; they replied that the legislation did not appear to allow for this.
I then sent an email to Hon. Hekia Parata and asked:
Does the legislation for Charter Schools allow for the possibility of teachers managing a charter school as a workers co-op? If not, why not?
I received the following reply:
The legislation (s158A Education Act 1989) requires the sponsor of a Partnership School to be a body corporate. Any workers or teachers co-operative would therefore have to be incorporated in some way before it could put forward a proposal to become the sponsor of a Partnership School.
During the Third reading of the Bill, Metiria Turei, Leader of the Greens stated that charter schools have no future in this country should there be a change in government.
This sentiment is also shared by the NZ Labour Party.
If Unions and those of the political left are movements symbolic of bringing an end to bossism, i.e. where workers take control of the means of production; then why on earth are they not advocating for the legislation to incorporate workers cooperatives, rather than pushing for state owned and managed institutions?
This is actually an opportunity for teachers to be freed from the hierarchical systems of institutional education and to bring about a fair and equitable workspace for the teachers and their students.
Even in a market based theory, schools run for profit are less likely to obtain the students necessary to keep the school going if Teacher/Worker co-operatives are able to provide a better educational experience for their students. This competition is good for students because in a workers co-operative, teachers would stake their livelihoods on ensuring the success of the school which depends on the success of the students. It means that teacher co-operative schools would have registered teachers. Although it would mean an end to teachers unions, and perhaps that is a reason why the Unions may not persist along the lines of encouraging workers co-operatives (note: this is a purely speculative comment).
Moreover, Labour and the Greens could also advocate for a proper oversight process to protect the students.
Sure the overseas models have had some poor results and I appreciate that there are some real issues in NZ with the handling of the implementation of charter schools and that the legislation must be improved to better protect the students.
I consider that we should focus on how we can improve the education experience for students and resist the temptation to measure students against an arbitrary standard suggestive that students are homogeneous entities lacking diversity in their background, skills or knowledge. We must encourage innovative strategies and move away from a ‘state knows best’ narrative.
The War on Kids documentary points out that while we have conducted many studies on education, there are no studies that show that compulsory education is the best way to impart the necessary skills and knowledge on children to assist them to lead happy and productive lives. Lets not just dismiss the idea of the charter school model, but look at ways of improving it.