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  • Gary Judd QC

Minister’s ideology crushes innovation

[Published in NBR, Aug 16, 2017]

On RNZ’s Morning Report on February 9, Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins stated that partnership schools were an “ideological experiment”. He has introduced legislation to enable him to close them down. Elsewhere he is reported as stating "The Government's strong view is that there is no place for them in the New Zealand education system." If they stay open, they can do so only if they integrate into the state system. That is, they must lose their unique identities.

And here is socialism’s authoritarian iron fist: "If, however, early termination is not agreed by both parties, I am reserving my right to issue a notice of 'termination for convenience', under charter schools' existing contracts, by the middle of May 2018. This would take effect at the end of the school year."

According to the Minister, trying to do something different to improve educational outcomes is “ideological”. He is wrong. The ideology resides in his insistence that partnership schools integrate into the state system or be closed.

You might think: what’s in a word, it’s all semantics and it doesn’t matter. But, as attributed to Confucius: “When words lose their meaning, people lose their freedom.” The Minister condemns partnership schools because they are “ideological experiments” but they are the opposite of ideological: they seek to break away from the system, to innovate. The Minister uses the words pejoratively and falsely to slur them. What he really means is that the only system he and his government will permit is the state system.

Those who set up partnership schools and the children attending them are losing their freedom to seek and have better educational outcomes, because of the government’s “strong view” that there is no place for them in New Zealand. And the Minister is misusing words to justify that loss of freedom.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of English, 2nd Edition, Kindle Edition, an ideology is a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy. There is no doubt that the policy that education must be provided by the state is a system of ideas forming the basis of educational policy. The policy of the Minister and the government, in alliance with the education unions, is an ideology.

Partnership or charter schools are not experimental. The charter school idea was originated in the US in 1974. By 2015-2016, about 3 million, approximately 6% of all students in public schools in the US, were enrolled in charter schools representing nearly 8% of more than 90,000 public elementary and secondary schools (refer federal education report released last year).

The New Zealand partnership school and the US charter school both operate under agreement with governments. A US charter school is a publicly funded independent school established by teachers, parents, or community groups under the terms of a charter with a local or national authority. In New Zealand, Part 12A of the Education Act 1989 Partnership schools kura hourua, provides for a sponsor to enter into a contract with the Crown for the operation of such a school.

Even if they were experimental, what’s wrong with that so long as there are adequate safeguards for the children, as Part 12A ensures there are.

In School choice and school vouchers: An OECD perspective, 2017, the OECD said (p 16)

A recent OECD study on “Innovative Learning Environments” examined several innovative schools and school networks across OECD countries (OECD, 2013a). While the sample cannot be regarded as representative, the case studies came from all segments of education systems. Some were mainstream public schools, others belonged to networks of charter schools of similar environments, still others were private schools, working within or outside public systems. But all flourished because governance and oversight arrangements gave them the freedom to create spaces for experimentation.

“Innovative Learning Environments”, OECD 2013a, asks “How to design a powerful learning environment so that learners can thrive in the 21st century?” In responding to the question, the OECD’s Centre For Educational Research and Innovation undertook 40 in-depth case studies. The sites were in Australia, Austria, Canada, Chile, Finland, Germany, China, Hungary, Israel, Korea, Mexico, Norway, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland.

New Zealand’s education system is failing many children. A thinking person faced with something which is not working will ask whether something else can be tried. That’s what was happening in the subjects of the case studies. Governance and oversight arrangements are what the partnership school contracts provide. Like the subjects of the case studies, those arrangements give partnership schools the freedom to create spaces for experimentation, and they flourished.

It is a characteristic of prejudiced ideologues like the Minister that they seek to curb the innovation which spurs human progress.

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