Our children are guinea pigs in bad experiment
TRISH GRANT & IAN LECKIE
OPINION: Charter schools are operating as segregated learning environments in countries where they have been introduced, increasing inequity in communities.
Charter Schools will be subject to rigorous authorisation processes and must "ensure enrolment is open and non-selective" and respond to the community's diverse needs, says the chairwoman of the New Zealand Model of Charter Schools Working Group and former ACT party president Catherine Isaac ("Charter Schools not anti-teacher", Dominion Post, July 13).
Charter schools, it is claimed, will fix the problem of educational disadvantage, particularly for Maori and Pacific Island students and those with special needs.
However, the evidence is to the contrary. IHC and the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) have held several joint forums on charter schools. Some people might wonder what the IHC, a charitable organisation that supports intellectually disabled people and their families, and NZEI, the primary teachers' and support staff union, have in common.
The answer is simple: we both believe that all children in New Zealand deserve access to high-quality public education. We believe the true measure of a system's success is how well it meets the needs of the most vulnerable children, such as those with special needs, not simply how many children achieve National Standards or NCEA level 2.
So will the ACT-National agreement to introduce charter schools improve outcomes for special-needs students?
Based on the evidence to date, we are very concerned that it will not. In the United States, special-needs students are under-represented in charter-school enrolments, and are over-represented in expulsions and attrition figures.
Charter schools - taxpayer funded private schools that known in the US as "schools without rules" - are legally required to comply with disability rights legislation.
But the trend overall has been that charter schools operate as segregated learning environments where students are more isolated by race, socio-economic class, disability, and language than the public schools around them.
New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC - three places that rely heavily on charter schools - currently face claims of systemic discrimination based on administrative and judicial actions brought under disability rights legislation.
In New Orleans, the average per centage of students with disabilities in traditional public schools is 12.6 per cent, while charter schools enrol on average 7.8 per cent. Charter schools also tend to enrol students with mild, rather than severe needs.
As one US academic has put it, the problem with charter schools is not simply one of "creaming off" the most able students, but one of "sedimentation" - leaving public schools to deal with a disproportionate number of students with special needs.
Our children will be guinea pigs for the ACT-National charter school programme as soon as next year if the charter school experiment proceeds. The Government plans to introduce legislation into Parliament in September which will let private companies run charter schools for profit, allow the schools to employ unqualified and unregistered teachers and to take over existing public schools or set up new ones in competition with them.
This is not the time for radical experiments such as charter schools and primary school league tables. It is a time to invest wisely in education, building on the basis of what we know works for all children in our community.
Trish Grant is director of advocacy at IHC and Ian Leckie is president of the New Zealand Educational Institute.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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