What are charter schools?

  • 08/12/2011

Charter schools have received a lot of attention this week after National and ACT revealed plans on Monday to roll them out in New Zealand.

The plan for the schools was floated by ACT in their confidence and supply agreement negotiations with National. It has now been signed and charter schools seem set to become a reality.

But what exactly are charter schools?

The structure for the charter schools has been taken from Canada, US and Europe, with ACT envisaging a similar model in New Zealand.

Charter schools will receive the same per-child funding from the government as state schools currently do but will have freedom from some rules and regulations set by the Ministry of Education.

This means charter schools will be autonomous and free to set their own curriculum and qualifications, teacher pay-rates, school-day length and school terms.

In return, they are accountable for certain achievement outcomes and standards and results, which are written into the school’s charter or mission.

Each charter is different for each school but all will have a rigorous academic focus, a traditional curriculum, and focus on a particular area of specialisation – language, vocation or other.

Charter schools will not be operated by the Ministry of Education but rather sponsors such as Iwi, not-for-profit organisations, businesses or existing education providers.

In turn, the school is accountable to the sponsor - not the Ministry of Education – and the sponsor is responsible for the charter school meeting its charter objectives and staying financially viable. 

The schools will remain free and open to everyone and if there is excess demand, students are pulled out of a ballot at random to determine which pupils will attend.

The ACT party rarely focussed on charter schools in their election build-up but have floated the idea intermittently for the last decade – this year focussing on the charter school system in Alberta, Canada.

Alberta is the only province in Canada that has charter schools and passed legislation in 1994. The province now boasts 13 of the schools, although two schools were closed down – one in 1998 and the other in 2006.

Before the election, former ACT leader Don Brash said if Alberta were a separate country, it “would be the top performing academic jurisdiction in the English-speaking world”.

The National Education Association in the US says charter schools “have the potential to facilitate education reforms and develop new and creative teaching methods that can be replicated in traditional public schools for the benefit of all children”.

They also said that the results and effectiveness of charter schools varied widely and unqualified teachers were less effective than qualified teachers at the schools.

A review into the US charter schools programme in five states came to the conclusion that they were less likely than public schools to meet state-school performance standards.

PPTA president Robin Duff is against charter schools and says New Zealand doesn’t need them.

“We rank in the top two or three countries in the world in these areas,” he says. “Yet we’re having imported these sort of stop-gap programmes from largely underachieving economies and underachieving education systems, like the US, like Britain, who seldom appear anywhere in the terms of the success of their youngsters at international level.”

Despite the concerns, charter schools will be rolled out – or ‘trialled’ as ACT says – in South Auckland, Christchurch Central and Christchurch East.

Once established, ACT plans for charter schools to be rolled out in other areas of “low educational performance”.

3 News

source: newshub archive