Napalming Charter Schools

When Success Becomes a Serious Threat 
Sir Toby Curtis has made a plea to all New Zealanders to stand up and speak out against the napalming of charter schools in New Zealand at the behest of the Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins.  

We certainly wish to stand with Sir Toby and join him in speaking out.  Sir Toby Curtis chaired the Iwi Education Authority for tribal immersion schools, was instrumental in establishing Māori broadcasting, and served on the Partnership Schools/Kura Hourua Authorisation Board.  He has had a good deal to do with New Zealand’s “toe in the water” introduction of charter schools in New Zealand.

We will reproduce his appeal to Hapless Hipkins:

My preference as a Māori would be to discuss the Government’s unilateral decision to close partnership schools Kura Hourua, kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face) with them.  However, the Government denied us that opportunity.  It is my fervent hope that through this medium, the Minister of Education might be appraised of the concerns I raise on behalf of many Māori.

In a few days’ time a colleague and I will meet the Education Select Committee in support of our submission opposing the closure of these schools and the kura hourua model. But even before the Committee has heard submissions, the minister has terminated the contracts of 10 of the schools.

To compound the injustice, the Government has silenced the schools by holding over them the prospect of joining another state school status.  The arrogance of this is breathtaking. These are schools where hundreds of Māori students are experiencing educational success, some for the first time in their lives.

The large majority of the kura are being run by Māori for Māori, some by Pasifika for Pasifika. All have close relations with their whanau and families who send their children there. Sometimes that’s the first time a family has had the chance to make a considered choice about their child’s education, and it’s the beginning of becoming empowered.

Some of the schools are providing classes for whanau and parents to help them learn how to support their tamariki with their school work. The kids, some of whom had dropped out of school, are going to school and are eager to learn. Iwi have actively invested in the schools.

In my role on the authorisation board for the schools, I’ve visited every one of them.
I’ve talked to the whanau, the teachers and the children. I’ve seen what they are achieving and studied the evidence of their performance.  The schools report on their educational achievement and the students’ attendance and engagement at school. Most are performing well above national averages and some are far above the rest of the country, in particular in results for Māori students. Attendance is high.

But the Government ignored all this. They refused to visit the schools or study their results or talk to any of the people involved in them. Does the minister think we can’t be trusted to take responsibility for building our own capability to do things for ourselves?

I’ve seen this happen countless times. Governments have decided to do things “for” us, rather than let Māori do things for ourselves. I’ve watched billions being spent on government and NGO initiatives designed to fix our problems. But things keep getting worse.

The state school system has largely failed Māori and is now failing Pasifika. A majority of Māori are leaving school without qualifications. On an average school day around half of all Māori and Pasifika secondary school pupils are truant. The truancy rate in my home town of Rotorua is one of the worst.

My plea to the minister is to stop this injustice. My plea to all New Zealanders is to speak up against it. Hold our politicians across all parties, Māori and Pakeha, to account for it. And stop the cold-hearted removal of a model that is giving 1300 young New Zealanders, and hopefully many more to come, a better chance at life.

We are hoping that, like us, your blood is coming to a slow boil around about now.  We do not quibble over the Ministry of Education closing schools down for sound reasons.  Failing to educate would be one.  But in this case it is the very success of the charter schools which has stirred the hostility and ire of Hapless.  He would have loved to see them fail.  Their roaring success increased his bitterness and resolution to shut them down now, quickly–lest their influence and results spread throughout the country.

We need to remember that Hipkins has a fundamental loyalty to the all powerful teacher unions.  He made a solemn promise to them that he would shut down charter schools, no matter what.  Why do the unions hate charter schools so much?  Simple.  Because they represent an implicit condemnation of the failing state education system.  Behind this failing system are the teacher unions who effectively control the present Ministry of Education.  Charter schools were indirectly exposing the uselessness of many of the state schools. The failure of the government education system is ultimately an indictment of the unions.  Therefore, Hipkins made a Faustian bargain with the unions: in return for their support, he would shut down the hated charter schools, no matter what.

We expect that in a secret closet of the collective mind of Hipkins and the teacher unions there is a skeleton of racism.  They need to see Maori and Pacifica (and Pakeha in South Auckland) failing.  It secures their positions, their jobs.  It enables them to live in a world of professional blame-shifting: “if only we had this, or that; if only the government spent more money on teacher salaries; if only . . . –and then we would see real progress in education!”   That, dear reader, is why charter schools had to go–because they were succeeding and their very success was exposing the lie, the false narrative, about why the state education system is failing.

That’s why Hapless had to shut down the charter schools before the Select Committee had completed its consultation on whether they ought to be shut down.   He fears the truth.  He did not want the success of charter schools made public.  Therefore, he had to act swiftly, so ensure that everyone thought it was a done deal.  His Faustian bargain with the teacher unions required it.
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