Thursday, April 14, 2005



Gearing up for privatisation

So, National has a "new" education policy, and what is it? A return to the same tired old policies that were tried - and failed - in the 80's. Bulk funding, so the government can wipe its hands of the last shreds of its responsibility to ensure that everyone has equal access to a decent education (or at least equal access to teachers) - not to mention hide underfunding and dump blame on the local board; smashing the unions, so they can drive the cost (and quality) down; and of course abolishing zoning, so that children can be forced to travel miles for a basic education rather than go to their local school. All this has been roundly criticised by parents, teachers, and principals - those with an actual stake in the education system. But what hasn't been criticised is the overwhelming thrust of the scheme - which is to funnel public money into private pockets so as to enrich National's mates in the business community - and the way educational outcomes have been sacrificed to this goal.

The headline of the policy is the introduction of national literacy and maths standards, coupled with testing for primary school children to ensure that those standards are met. Let's ignore the fact that we already have testing, and that there's no problem with identifying the children who are struggling, and move on to what National proposes be done with those who fail to make the grade. Rather than funnelling them into the internationally acclaimed Reading Recovery programme (and resourcing it properly to cope with the increased load), National instead proposes giving them vouchers to purchase private tuition - in other words, taking money out of schools and giving it to an industry which has no standards, and which must pay not just for the cost of service delivery, but also a profit margin. The chief beneficiaries of this move will not be children, but the owners of Kip McGrath.

Then there's their promise to boost government funding to "independent" (meaning private) schools. Again, these are profit-making entities, and the primary beneficiary will be their owners. Also advantaged will be the children of the rich, who will effectively be getting a fat subsidy for abandoning the public education system.

But we should also ask where National is going with this policy - and the destination is obvious. The shift to running schools through a community trust effectively turns them into private entities; allowing them to cannibalise "underperforming" schools will mean that we will end up with a small number of competing educational corporations, probably regional monopolies. If this sounds familiar, it's because it is what was done in the electricity sector - and the end result was the sale of much of the industry into private hands. In other words, National is gearing up for a full-scale privatisation of the public education system. Is that really what we want?

12 comments:

There are two ways you can go with a voucher system.

1) Don't vet the ways vouchers can be spent or the education providers that can cash them in. "Students choice" or "parental choice" will take care of it.

An example of how this can be abused was the bikie gang (in Texas? New Mexico? it was US South, but old NY Times articles aren't easily googleable so I can't refind the reference). They set up their own charter school and sent their own kids to it. The 'school' did not teach anything, and the parents pocketed the voucher money.

2) Vet the ways the vouchers can be spent, and vetting what providers can cash in vouchers. But if that's what Brash is proposing then he's implicitly proposing setting up a new education beaurocracy.

This overall issue mimics a current issue in tertiary education: as long as students front up and enrol, the govt will fund it. But the result is that the govt is funding a lot of crap tertiary courses: it turns out that student choices aren't always for things the govt should be paying for.

The problem with both is this that they are attempt to fake a free market. But it's not a free market, it's taxpayer money being spent. Free markets are great in their proper place, govt-funded institutions can work well in the proper place, but I'm always suspicious of fake markets.

Posted by Icehawk : 4/14/2005 12:02:00 PM

Do Primary schools still do the reading comprehension and maths PAT(?) tests every year? I recall that was used to catch underperformers, stream me into my high school class, and presumably was examiend at various levels (up to the national-) to see how well kids were performing?

Posted by Jono : 4/14/2005 12:34:00 PM

YOu say: "National instead proposes giving them vouchers to purchase private tuition ... The chief beneficiaries of this move will not be children, but the owners of Kip McGrath."

Perhaps the chief beneficiaries of this move will be children themselves, who will be able to learn to read by being taught by teachers who know phonics. That is, they will be taight to read.

If another result is the collapse of the failed Whole Language Reading Recovery programme, then all the better. It's no wonder they're screaming - who will employ them if the government no longer forces them on your children?

"National is gearing up for a full-scale privatisation of the public education system."

If only that were true - sadly, they don't have the balls.

"Is that really what we want?"

What's this 'we' white man? My answer is an emphatic yes, for reasons you can see on my own blog today.

Posted by PC : 4/14/2005 02:15:00 PM

PC - at least have the guts to tell the *whole* truth, let's say:
"Perhaps the chief beneficiaries of this move will *my* children, who will be able to learn to read by being taught by *costlier teachers I can afford to hand select*. As for those without the cash? well that's your lookout..."

And since you already have the freedom to select a private school in the existing system, what you're actually concerned with is rearranging the system to obtain an increased state subsidy...

Posted by Huskynut : 4/14/2005 02:44:00 PM

OTOH, having worked a stint in MoEd, I'm utterly cynical about the likelihood of that instiution producing quality outcomes in the forseeable future.
I'm sure that above-average outcomes are most probably the result of the work of individual teachers schools and BoTs, not the curriculum planners etc.

Posted by Huskynut : 4/14/2005 02:52:00 PM

Huskynut, I'm afraid you've got the wrong end of some stick I'm afraid I don't recognise.

While I'm not a total advocate of vouchers, in the example we're discussing here vouchers would offer ALL parents the chance of being a cash-paying parent. 'Those without the cash' are precisely the ones who get to benefit from vouchers.

You also say that there is freedom to choose a private schol at present, and of course that's true but not affordable as any parent sending a child to a private school is of course being taxed twice.

FWIW, I have my own objections to Brash's policy, which I've already posted on my blog if you want more details.

Posted by PC : 4/14/2005 05:18:00 PM

Huskynut, you said: "I'm sure that above-average outcomes are most probably the result of the work of individual teachers schools and BoTs, not the curriculum planners etc."

And here we agree. :-)

In fact, you might also say ~despite~ the the curriculum planners etc.

Posted by PC : 4/14/2005 05:51:00 PM

The Nats are proposing to shift resources from the poor to the rich yet again. They are incorrigible and must be stopped for all our sakes but particularly that of our kids.

Posted by Anonymous : 4/14/2005 06:40:00 PM

Anonymous is correct. The proposal to smash the teachers collective and allow site agreements will inexorably tip the scales further in favour of rich schools.

Site Agreements will allow rich schools to offer more in order to attract the teachers that they want, pulling quality teachers away from the schools they are needed in the most, and deepening existing inequalities.

It then becomes inevitable that the rich schools will do 'better' and the results of poor schools will continue to decline - opening the way to the bizarre corporate-style takover scenario allowed by the policy.

Posted by michael wood : 4/14/2005 09:36:00 PM

FYI: from the UK Conservative election manifesto, launched two days ago:

"Parents will be able to send their children free of charge to any independent [i.e. private - why do they never just say 'private']school that offers a place at no more than the cost of a state-funded school."

Free of charge being taxpayers footing the bill, that is.

Posted by Jarndyce : 4/15/2005 02:23:00 AM

Despite the problems of centralised planning, privatisation of education (voucherisation is just a variation on market-demand principles), can never deliver a better overall result, simply by design of the system.
The majority of businesses within a given market will automatically work to optimise profits, not to optimise quality (or said another way, introduce competition and schools will compete, the results will be similar and completely predictable).
Using, say, the fast food industry an an example - to maximise profits (or throughput, or 'value') it steadily applies economies of scale to drive down costs. Net result - excellent profits, widespread consumption (and acceptance) of a marginally toxic industry product. Vast sums spent on branding and advertising rather than on delivery of a higher quality product.
Quality/individualistic workers replaced as far as possible by homogenous and interchangeable workers, paid at the lowest feasible rate. Standardisation of product, streamlined to be capable of delivery by the cheapest possible worker.
Where food standards apply they're met, where they don't exist (say fat content) the industry optimises for it's own benefit (only).
Under the current 'corporate' model, pretty much all service-based industries are guaranteed to optimise in a similar (perhaps not as extreme) manner.
Of course, at the same time, a parallel industry arises producing gourmet burgers for those with the money to afford them.
Now apply the same model to education and try to imagine how that can possibly produce a better educational outcome (except for the gourmet-education consumers), when one of the primary requirements upon a teacher is to respond to children in an individualistic manner.. education is simply not amenable to optimisation through economies of scale.
To pretend that pressures generated through consumer choice will cause an increase in quality is dreaming. School capacity isn't expandable in the way a factory's capacity is.
The trained workforce is neither (and never will be, due to higher wages offered overseas) deep enough, nor mobile enough (teachers changing jobs every few months to optimise placement, anyone?) to generate new workers where shortages arise in timeframes that allow optimisation. Teachers and students are not widget'.
Privatised education is a completely predicatable disaster, waiting to be inflicted if people are unwilling to fight it.
Recent experiences with market-demand-driven courses at polytechs and universities have borne this out: institutions optimise for their own benefit ahead of the consumers of the products.

Posted by Huskynut : 4/15/2005 02:49:00 PM

It is so PC to be constantly saying how good a job the teachers are doing and how bad the planners are..

As far as I know most teachers are a little below average individuals. Not surprising I guess because the system doesnt attract good people into teaching. Theoretically the multiplication efect of teaching should mean that they would get paid more than most other jobs (because they can train people who will do those other jobs thus paying for themselves).
But anyway I think that the system is absolutely flooded with poor teachers, and poor plans and so on.

Posted by Genius : 4/15/2005 10:58:00 PM