Dec 7, 2011

Charter Schools and Maori

Charter schools: at best the evidence is mixed, at worst the evidence is an indictment against the idea. There is no compelling evidence in clear support of the idea – or at least I’m not aware of anyone who has produced or pointed to any compelling evidence.

Over the past 48 hours a lot of has been written on charter schools, most of it rightly rubbishes the idea, but we haven’t seen anything from a Maori perspective. With that in mind, I’ll give an outline of the idea from a Maori perspective.

On first principle, the charter schools idea is attractive. Allowing iwi to take control of education in their rohe (area) satisfies the very foundation of tino rangatiratanga – the right of Maori to control things Maori. Any idea that will advance tino rangatiratanga is certainly welcome. The idea also fits nicely with the partnership principle i.e. the government funds education while Maori deliver it.

On a cynical level, the charter schools could, hypothetically speaking, mean profit. If the corporate arm of iwi, as opposed to say the social services arm, took responsibility for iwi charter schools then the motive would be profit. Controlling education would be another step in iwi’s desire for more control over New Zealand, especially in strategic areas. The iwi leaders are currently transfixed with delving into strategic resources and companies like geothermal power and Air New Zealand, but control over education is probably a far more potent area. Iwi could, hypothetically and cynically speaking of course, shape how their students see the world.

On a brighter note, iwi would be attracted to the idea as a means of reviving Maori culture. If our charter model is anything like the overseas models iwi would have the power to set the curriculum. Iwi could include subjects like rongoa (broadly speaking Maori medicine) or set up traditional wananga. This probably ties in to the principle of active protection i.e. the government, in allowing iwi to set such a curriculum, is taking active steps to protect Maori culture.

It’s a gamble though, allowing iwi anywhere near education. Iwi certainly have no experience in delivering education and I doubt there are many overseas models to draw on. Having said that, the kura kaupapa model is a good place to start. However, in my opinion kura kaupapa, although successful overall, are still suffering from teething problems. I don’t think it would be sensible for Iwi to deliver Maori language medium schools only too. Young Maori need to be prepared to enter the Pakeha world. This necessitates an element of mainstream education in whatever model iwi adopt.

I tentatively support the idea of iwi having some power over Maori education. This doesn’t mean I support the charter school model. In fact, I strongly oppose charter schools. I think it’s unfair that the overwhelmingly Maori populations in South Auckland and Christchurch East, along with the non-Maori population too, be subject to a trial of what is, at worst, a failed model. Surely John Banks should use his people in Epsom as guinea pigs for his pet idea. When the trial fails, or is repealed as soon as Labour gets in, New Zealand is going to have a subset of failed young people. I don’t think Act and National can see that there is a connection between poor policy and results in real world. Anyway, as above the idea of iwi control over Maori education is decent and if the charter idea goes ahead I’d support iwi involvement.     


  1. Hi -
    I beg to differ with your negative view of charter schools.
    First, the Wikipedia article on them -
    "Several local evaluations have found urban charter schools to significantly outperform their school district peers."

    It goes on to show some very positive results in Boston and New Orleans charter schools.

    Secondly, there is this site about the KIPP schools -
    Well worth a really good, long read.

    Here are the results -

  2. Kia Ora Morgan
    Thanks for the linky love. There is already scope within education system as it is for Maori to control Maori education within the Kura Kaupapa system.

    @thor42 Charters aren't shown to improve student achievement across the board. Almost half of the schools were no better than public schools; 17 per cent performed significantly better, while 37 per cent performed worse. When you look at international studies like PISA New Zealand ranks near the top of most studies unlike the US where charter school originated from.


  3. The idea has not been clearly explained and I doubt if Mr Banks really knows how it works himself. All talk from its proponents has so far has been on secondary schools but surely, if a student is failing at secondary it’s almost too late. Primary schooling (and indeed preschools) is where the effort needs to be placed.

    Charter schools appear to have some ability to select their students. So what happens to the students they don’t select? And note that the Government will only do it in areas where there are large numbers of students so they can choose (cherry pick) and not take in disruptive, aggressive or special needs students.

    Here is a challenge – go to Mangakino or Murupara or a similar socially deprived area (and preferably one off the beaten track with limited social services) where there is only one school and you have to take all the students, warts and all – ie no cherry picking!! I’ll wager they never will! Go on, I dare them you to!

    Banks continues to push the rhetoric that one in 5 children are failing. Frankly I don’t believe that and if the measure of failing is an inability to secure a job then perhaps the job market is failing. If there aren’t jobs out there then no amount of charter schools will enable school leavers to gain employment, and particularly in the provinces.

    From a posting on The Standard …

    “ What those who critique NZ Education and Educators say is “Teachers and schools are failing” without considering the impact that socio economic and family factors bring into the equation. The research says that these two things have a greater influence on learning than anything else. Research also tells us that only Canada is better in the OECD at lifting achievement of children in poverty than NZ (and in NZ we spend less).

    There is no surprise that as poverty has risen in our country educational outcomes have fallen – rather it is surprising that as we grow poverty so quickly that our achievement levels stay so high.

    The way to lift achievement of all children is to ensure that all children live without poverty. Not easy, but if we want our schools to achieve then something has to be done and it certainly isn’t labelling low decile schools failing and making them businesses.”


    “How about setting up Charter Schools where the bottom 20 percent of kids are chosen to go. (No chance of picking off just the great learners like Private Schools do now.) Fully funded, expertly staffed, and curriculum designed to be in context with kids’ lives. Wow. That would show that the pollies really really care. And by next year the long tail will be gone- forever! Roll on Charter schools just for those in need! Let our excellent State Schools get on with what they already do so well”

  4. Kia Ora Morgan.

    I like your passionate defence of state schools.

    But they aren't that good - and its not just about money. It's also about correcting teachers attitudes to Maori kids, which NZEI and PPTA only pay lip service to. (To be fair to NZEI and PPTA, their role is actually looking after their members.)

    But you also need to remember that kaupapa Maori education was born out of frustration with mainstream state schools, and their ongoing refusal to deal with legitimate Maori demands regarding language and culture.

    And this is where the Maori Party and National and...might I say it...Act share ground: they do not agree that State controlled, Wellington driven, state mandated and determined systems are better.

    Kohanga reo, kura kaupapa and wananga all grew from a frustration of Maori educational leaders with the mainstream, state led, pakeha driven system. Iritana Tawhiwhirangi, Kara Puketapu, Kathy Dewes, Te Hei Koko Mataira, Rongo Wetere, Hirini Moko Mead, Turoa Royal all challenged the state / government / status quo and said - get out of the way and let us do it ourselves.

    No doubt there are issues in the implementation. As there are with all implementation.

    But the principle is simple, and within a kaupapa Maori context sound - state control is not always best. Moreover, if you had a choice to trust people to look after your interests, wouldn't you prefer a more local, Maori focused solution.

    Moreover, the Durie whanau in Feilding (Mason and Eddie's nephews) have started their own charter school, Tu Toa. It is a secondary school, sports focused academy that is unashamedly about Maori excellence. Feilding has Feilding Ag, and Palmy has PNBHS - both good sate schools with large Maori rolls. But Tu Toa wants to do things in a Maori way, with a key focus on Maori achievement. They struggle. But they are ticking along with community support.

    Many Maori have challenged the system and continue to do so. The state school system can't do everything for everyone. This issue is not so black and white.

  5. Bottom line...its about more choice for the parents and new options for the kids away from a one size fits all failing model administered by the state for the advantage of politicians at the expense of freedom and children's futures..

    Maori should be all over this as a blessing as a way to free their kids from the cycle of failure and dis-pare they are locked into know.

  6. A couple of very useful links
    to studies showing that school choice and charter schools work -

  7. Thank you for this interesting discussion.
    I found a little more information about the model of charter schools proposed for NZ in the National-ACT agreement - particularly in Appendix 1 - all of which can be found here:

  8. Good comments from all! Charter schools could work for Maori, however so could any 155/ 156 Kura with excellent governance and management.

    I say have a go but am concerned that the charters are subject to approval and can be cancelled in overseas schools, which would not give longentivity.

    I like the idea of having 'super intendents' which free up Principal and staff to just do the job. Also the salaries of canadian teachers look good. Are we comparing apples when it comes to funding NZ schools or are overseas simply just putting more money in, also one school I looked at generated 100K of its own funding PA, decile 1 schools would love that extra cash.

    The opportunity to invest in people, local solutions, distinctiveness and collaboration is infinate.

    Schools should still be able to access free government advice, support (we are all in it) rather than buy back its advice or resources (e.g. pay to rent its gym after hours) as this benefits the learners).

    Schools should have per pupil funding, but also targeted incentives where they exceed student achievement goals.

    For what reason can a charter be turned down. This should be sorted out asap so we can ascertain the priorities. I am concerned that it is a right wing initiative for a 'deficit' problem so priorities will reveal the true agenda.

    I still believe a good teacher can make a difference in any school, or environment.

    Q Do special needs kids have tailored programmes in a charter school.




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