Party policy provokes division

Last updated 05:00 25/02/2014

Surprise, surprise! ACT party spokesmen didn't like my column on education overseas and Partnership schools.

From David Seymour, ACT party candidate for Epsom and ministerial adviser to John Banks in 2012 responsible for Partnership School policy:

"Your ominous sounding string of anecdotal overseas failures is a poor way to argue that reaches weak conclusions.

"If you looked at the hard data you might see that New Zealand faces a real challenge. Economists' consensus is that inequality has grown in developed countries mainly because the value of education is growing and educational achievement is very unequal.

"Therefore, education is the key to a more equal society.

"New Zealand has one of the world's most unequal education systems - of 64 countries it ranks seventh worst for the gap between the top 10 per cent and bottom 10 per cent of students in reading and maths, third worst in science. What we are doing is not working for all students.

"What many countries are doing, adopting Partnership School-style policies, is working. The largest study of American Partnership Schools, from Stanford University, found that charter school students have a clear advantage in reading and maths.

"In Sweden, free schools (as they call charters) help student achievement, particularly among the disadvantaged. That's the result after two decades of the policy.

"In Alberta, the only Canadian province with charters, several studies report superior results.

"English free schools are too new to have comprehensive results, but nothing suggests they won't follow the pattern elsewhere.

"Partnership Schools in New Zealand bring talented, devoted social entrepreneurs for children at risk of failure in the current system. I have met some of them and they are formidable.

"They set up schools where disadvantaged children engage, learn, qualify and, ultimately feel good about themselves.

"Alwyn Poole is setting up South Auckland Middle School, taking a unique educational style, previously only available at his Mt Hobson Middle School in Remuera, to Manurewa.

"They are setting up the whole country for a better and more equal future.

"An honest assessment is that, like any human system, Partnership Schools harbour the potential for things to go wrong. On balance, they promise considerable benefits. They should have publicly-funded service."

Frances Bell: "Thank you for your column. I spent time and energy finding out all I could about these kinds of schools in the United States and the United Kingdom before writing a long submission opposing the introduction of Partnership Schools.

"It seemed that ACT's claims were accepted without question.

"One main source of information was Diane Ravitch, who has extensive experience in education and has written articles and books about the US charter schools.

"It was very interesting to read reports from other countries.

"It is really unfair that these schools are being so well-funded and have such a generous student-teacher ratio. These programmes could have been run within schools - more cheaply too - had they this level of support for the kinds of students now in the new schools.

"I hope you continue to supply information about the success or otherwise of charter-type schools and programmes in other countries."

Alwyn Poole, Villa Education Trust, Mt Hobson Middle School Academic manager:

"It is easy to sit in a chair and cherry-pick information from overseas.

"I can find many examples to counter what you wrote, with massive wastage and inappropriate use of funds in public schools in countries throughout the world.

"We put in significant hard work and expertise in providing a model that will change cycles for children and families, rather than simply accepting that they are a lost cause and cannot achieve because of their family or socio-economic background."

To contact Pat Booth email pat.booth@fairfaxmedia.co.nz or write care of this newspaper.

All replies are open for publication unless marked Not For Publication.

- Manukau Courier

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