Right Wing Takeover of New Zealand Education

New Zealand teacher ‘Boonman’ wrote the following article on his blog http://boonman.wordpress.com . I felt that this provided another insight into the mad rush to ‘reform’ and privatise New Zealand education. I’ve added explanatory notes in italics.

Allan

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The Right Doesn’t Know What the Right Hand is Doing

Hello y’all.

This week has been pretty cool. As a teacher that is. It’s been the first week of the year (yes, that’s right, year!) where I’ve managed to do a whole week of teaching in the classroom with little or no interruptions.

Little or no interruptions? “What are you talking about Mr B?” I hear you asking… Being a Year 5 & 6 class there is the seemingly continuous issue of what I’m sure Mrs Parata (Minister of Education) would call non-core subjects.

So far this year my “learners” as her highness would call them have been on a week-long camp, have swum every day in the school pool, and attended the local swimming sports. All this non-core stuff comes nowhere near being measurable by any national standard AND is far more valuable to a kid’s long-term growth than being able to work out 9 + 7 by changing it to 10 + 6. In my opinion.

Anyway… this week I wanted to expand on an idea I raised during last weekend’s rant post: how can a charter school fit with the ideologies of right and centre-right neo-liberal political parties? A mid-week NZEI union (primary teachers union) meeting to discuss so-called “negotiations” with the ministry (Ministry of Education) has also got me fired up.

Here in New Zealand our current government is a coalition (and I use that term in its broadest possible sense because two of the parties signed up to the coalition are one man bands) likes to call themselves a centre-right government. Their various social policies pitched as sound fiscal management by the ruling party suggest the are actually a ideological-driven far-right junta. The Prime Minister is a bit of a dick and whips out the odd classic one-liner now and again so everything’s alright according the voters – the National Party currently stand at 50% in various polls despite numerous and regular stories highlighting of mismanagement and cronyism by the media.

I’m not sure what’s going on – but that’s a blog for another time.

So we have a neoliberal ideological coalition in charge. Where should they stand on education?

The classic neoliberal party – say the Libertarian Party, or here in New Zealand ACT would be the example – believe in a very low-level government that keeps their interference in the markets to a minimum. Free trade, privatised state assets and very little regulation will allow the markets to thrive and provide. Everything will be ok.

Of course, the economists who invented the theory failed to take into account what would happen when they added people to the mix. Stupid people with their free will and beliefs.

Here in New Zealand our ACT Party does have an education policy. It’s there, promise. But before we look at it, please read quote from their own website:

Government spending in New Zealand is out of control. Governments can justifiably take money from New Zealanders when there are clear public benefits such as infrastructure, education and healthcare.  However, the previous government set the country down a wasteful path of transferring money and services to influence swing voters instead of to provide public benefits.  (here’s the link)

That policy comes under the heading Spending Cap. This is where they argue that the government is wasting the money it spends on social policies. You’ll see in the above that the say governments can justifiably take money from taxpayers where there is a benefit.

What about their education policy then? Again I quote:

While education for many children is among the best in the world, we have a well-known “long-tail” of underachievers, who become the next generation of under skilled, unemployed, disengaged citizens.  After 70 years of state controlled and mandated education, we have a situation where around 20% of our children left school last year unable to read or write sufficiently to fill out a job application. (here’s the link)

Again, there are statistics in this that need further analysis, but that is for another time.

So their education policy is driven by state failure – the repeated failure of the state, in their eyes, to cater to the educational needs of young New Zealanders.

So the state has failed. Ok then, what do we do next? Do we open the education market up? Let free enterprise reign supreme and provide the panacea to all our education woes?

Yes. BUT…. what do you mean, yes BUT?

Yes BUT we don’t believe the private sector should have to front up any of the cost for this enterprise.

Sorry? Aren’t you the party that has been arguing for years – two decades nearly – that there should be very little government and the markets should be freed up and allowed to rule?

Well… um… yes… um… sorry, what was the question? Ooooh look, isn’t that a pretty cloud up there in the shape of Jesus on a piece of toast (scuttles away hurriedly).

That’s right. Although the ACT Party believe in private enterprise and entrepreneurship, when it comes to their policies on charter schools this part of their dogma is conspicuous by its absence. It is missing because the charter schools policy is not about improving educational outcomes. It is part of the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) which aims to open up the billions of dollars spent on education by governments around the world to the private sector. Who will benefit from this policy? Children? No. Teachers? No. Right-wing old white men like Rupert Murdoch? Probably a more likely outcome.

Once that door is open, it will be very hard to close.

New Zealand has a very open education system. Anybody is allowed to open up and run a private school anywhere they want. There are a huge number of examples of successful private schools that have been operating in this country for decades. If you believe your education policies are going to work that amazingly well, then set up a privately operated schools with your own money. You’ve got enough.

But no. Like all political parties they are full of contradiction and hypocrisy. Yes they want a low government, low regulation economy. BUT…

Charter schools are not about “improving educational outcomes” for our children. It’s about making rich people richer. If the neoliberals really, truly believed in their policy, they wouldn’t be wasting their time going through government channels. They’d be creating a brand-new market to provide for the HUGE demand. BUT there is none, so they’re not.

That is the contradiction of the Global Education Reform Movement.

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