Sunday, March 16, 2008

ACT on education, some hope?

Well ACT bloggers think so, although until I hear some details about policies I wont be getting too excited. Having said that I AM pleased to read that one of the policies will be education choice. Sir Roger Douglas has talked of "scholarships" for all kids. If ACT could just get that implemented, in a coalition with National - it could make a positive difference to education for the good. National on the other hand, will do nothing - like it did in the 1990s when it had the perfect chance to battle the teachers' unions and win.
Education is the one area where the damage wrought by the state is most apparent. The centrally planned and funded education system, which seeks to churn out kids production line is NOT a system for the 21st century. It is one of the three main areas of state activity that was NOT properly reformed in the '80s and '90s. Outside paying either for location or fees, most parents have little option but to send their kids to the local school - like it or not. They all pay taxes and get wildly different results.
The teachers' unions oppose school choice because it devolves authority from Wellington to schools, it means funding follows pupils, and means that schools will be driven to make their own choices about teachers, teachers' pay and how they differentiate themselves. The unions have left clout and monopoly power if the decisions are up to schools. The nonsense that teachers can't be subject to pay based on performance can be confronted. Teachers' unions argue they only do their best with what kids they get - and that they can't be blamed if the kids they get from low income areas don't do well. This is a blatant obfuscation of reality. Parents and kids know good teachers from bad - the ones that inspire kids, the ones that cause them to want to go to school, or that class, and who clearly demonstrate improvements. They also know the bad teachers who don't communicate, who aren't interested in extending the kids, who don't inspire and who do as little as they can.
By and large, most parents care a great deal about their kids' education. It is not good enough to repeat the nonsense socialist fairytale that "we wouldn't need school choice if all schools were excellent". Much like we wouldn't need choice in brands of car, or clothes, or food. It isn't going to happen. Some schools will be badly run, some will be excellent. Some teachers are abysmal, some are extraordinary. That's right PPTA and NZEI, some of your members shouldn't be teaching!
The big question should be - why SHOULDN'T parents choose what school their kids go to, and why SHOULDN'T taxpayer funding follow the child? We have had nine years of fully centralised funding under Labour to make the schools "equal". That is enough, it is time for New Zealand to take the baby steps towards more choice and accountability that have worked in such bastions of the unfettered free market as ... Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands.
No doubt the PPTA and NZEI will go on strike - showing clearly how much they really care about the education of children. They will go on strike because they fear losing members who are incompetent, and schools hiring teachers that are competent but aren't members. They fear accountability, and fear the power shifting from bureaucrats and politicians, to parents.
No, vouchers/scholarships wont be enough. No, it wont free up education from the fetters of bureaucracy and the ideology of self sacrifice, collectivism and statism that is part of the curriculum. It wont mean all kids can go to an integrated or private school, as some will have fees beyond the value of a voucher - but more will be able to, without paying twice like they do now.
There is little hope under the current environment for any other steps forward in education. I can only hope that if ACT can ever do anything if it ever is in power with National, it is this one thing.

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