Performance funding is a terrible and harmful idea

Source: Chicane Southland Times

Source: Chicane Southland Times

I’ve preached in many a post that central planning is basically the devils work. I stand by that. Where power can be concentrated, it will be. This isn’t limited to economic issues either – it traverses the entire ‘state sector’.

Minister Hekia Parata’s announcement that she is looking to fund schools according to the progress their pupils make, reinforces my contempt for central planning. Should this proposal come to fruition, it will be extremely harmful for children.

Parata was critical about ‘schools in deprived neighbourhoods’ being paid more, ‘as a blunt instrument’ and admitted that ‘some gentrified areas, especially in Auckland, could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars, while others would gain similar amounts’

This suggests that Parata would cut funding to schools in lower socio-economic zones based on the arbitrary device her government uses to measure the performance of pupils. The zone is important here too – it restricts pupils from attending better funded schools outside their zoned neighbourhood.

Parata’s idea places the funding burden on pupils. In effect, their schools would lose funding if they [the pupils] didn’t perform well in their tests, exams, assessments etc. Reiterating, their performance is subject to a highly contentious arbitrary measure.  This is a perverse policy and is prima facie inconsistent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (the Convention).[1]

For the purpose of the Convention, child is defined as including generally every human being below the age of eighteen years. So, the Convention applies to almost all pupils who would be affected by Parata’s proposal.[2]

Art 28 of the Convention provides that States must recognise that all children have a right to education with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity. Additionally, Art 2 (2) provides that children should be free from all forms of discrimination.

As Chris Hipkins (Labour Party) states:

a child’s achievement depended on a wide range of factors including whether they were living in a cold, damp house and whether their parents were educated and had time to spend with them

Hipkins barely even touches on the multitude of factors that affect a child’s performance at school, yet we can already deduce that some children, particularly those already at a disadvantage, would suffer greatly under a performance-funding model because the States commitment to provide equal opportunity in education perishes and children could become subjects of discrimination based on their socio-economic backgrounds.

Parata appears to acknowledge that this proposal is discriminatory when she implies that schools in deprived neighbourhoods could potentially lose hundreds of thousands in funding based the progress of their pupils. She also appears to ignore that the increased pressures placed on lower socio-economic families exacerbates the poor performance of those pupils.

Many have criticised the National Party’s implementation of the arbitrary National Standards measures and the shifting in funding from public schools to charter schools[3] and now criticise the proposed potential of the state to transfer school funding from lower scoio-economic areas upwards.

But the standard response is simply to replace one form of centralised power with another, by voting for the other side. This doesn’t fix the problem. It just shifts who holds that centralised power. Concentration of power is susceptible to the same abuses irrespective of who is exercising it.

If we want to avoid policies that are discriminatory and removes equal opportunity, particularly for children, then we need to reject the path that leads to the concentration of power – the centralised state. Because as mentioned at the start of this post, those with the ability to attain power can and (as we have observed) do assert it contrary to popular will. Reiterating here that this is not a feature unique to the National Party – its the flaw in our supposedly ‘representative democracy’.

The usual argument against decentralisation is that without central government, private corporate tyrannies will rule. I think this is misguided. Decentralised public entities could exist to guide and support public institutions because removing central government involves removing the privileges central government grant in favour of big business.

I don’t presume that we could just do away with the central government today and have a perfectly formed, and functioning decentralised community tomorrow, but prioritising it as a goal means we can start planning and implementing the infrastructure that would support decentralisation and in effect the proper measures to deal with social an economic inequality.

If we want quality education for our children, then we need to eliminate central government control of it.

[1] NZ ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1993  subject to specific reservations.

[2] Noting, some students in their final year of secondary school are 19 years old.

[3] I have defended charter schools (to an extent) in previous posts on the basis that they are decentralised educational institutions that have the potential to provide education according to the needs of the pupils who attend and in conjunction with the families and local community (e.g. Te Kura Hourua O Whangarei Terenga Paroa). I’m not convinced that charter schools are necessarily ‘for profit’ entities.

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6 comments

    1. Are you referring to roads/rail etc? I can appreciate why you might preference a central body in that respect, but in my view there is nothing to stop decentralised entities collaborating to ensure the needs and desires of their respective communities are met, while also providing quality road and rail throughout.

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  1. Good post! Wondering about the funding mechanisms: would this be allocated by the state to localities according to local needs with less strings attached? (like National Standards levels of accountability) Would you propose to decentralise funding to boards of trustees or local government or DHB-like boards?

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    1. I think there are a number of transitional steps to get to a properly functioning decentralised society. So it is difficult to deal with decentralisation of specific public institutions in isolation. But I do think that initially at least, there would be a Local Body elected by the community (like Councils) who then distribute funding to other independent entities. I think independent bodies must be elected by the communities they serve and accountable to those communities.A DHB type model might be a good start.

      In terms of funding mechanisms, I really think before even getting to decentralisation, major reforms must be made to our tax and monetary systems, hence my preference of putting in place the infrastructure to support the transition. My ideal is first to get people away from orthodox thinking that the ‘State’ knows best and trusting that cooperation, coordination, collaboration at the community level are at the heart of human interaction, and therefore communities have the capacity to better understand and respond to community needs.

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      1. Interesting approach. One concern I’d have is where you draw the line between national and community responsibilities. I think the broader left could really benefit from a Norman Kirk-style approach to civic identity through the creation of national programs as meaningful as ACC, but at same time could provide a real response to neoliberalism that appeals to localism. I’d love more local control over education that meets real student needs and encourages equal parent and teacher participation in decisionmaking rather than a National Standards approach, but would fear some aspects of local autonomy that might have some schools promote a teach to the test approach anyway. Unless, say, a national mandate could be be used to implement a standard of rounded education that met students’ specific strengths and local schools get greater interpretation on how to implement that?

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