PPTA responds on charter schools boycott

A guest post from the PPTA in response to my post strongly critical of their boycott of staff and pupils at charter schools.

Thanks for the chance to respond to your post about PPTA’s ban on working with charter schools.  Here are some points that I doubt will satisfy many of your readers, but I think need to be on the record.

  1.  “I love how the union dictates to teachers.”  Absolutely not. PPTA is democratic, and 90% of secondary teachers choose to join. The policy of bans was agreed on at National Conference where 150 teachers representing their regions, including Northland of course, decide significant policy. A union’s power comes from collective action; we have to be democratic for this to work.

  2. “It’s about control.” Again, not at all. Teachers need to be involved in and engaged with in regards to significant decisions for the education sector – we don’t expect to get our own way always, but we need to have genuine engagement. This process didn’t do that at all – neither from the charter school working group, the select committee process, the authorisation board, nor the applicants.

  3. “It’s not about the kids.” Here’s the great irony – students are being encouraged to leave the local schools to go to the new charters, but then they will be sent back to those same schools for most of the NCEA teaching which is how the charters will be assessed. If, as the charter school operators believe, the local public schools are so bad, why would they use them for delivering the curriculum to their students?

  4. “Listen up dumb parents, we know what is best… we do not think you should have a choice of where to send your children…” I think most people would accept that choice is not an absolute good – i.e. there needs to be a balance struck between choice and efficient use of resources, fairness and other good things too, right? Our view is that there is that there was about the right balance prior to the introduction of charters – our highly devolved school system is pretty much unique and allows for a lot of variety. And, this may grate, but choice between schools as a driver for improving school systems just doesn’t work – even the OECD and Treasury recognise this.  Ideally, schools would be able to offer lots of choices and variety of experiences at each local school, meaning that different cultural backgrounds, interests, skills etc…would be catered for and developed, while also getting the benefits of mixing with different people, economies of scale and so forth.

  5. “Fewer resources for the schools and, ultimately, the threat of lost jobs for PPTA members”.  This isn’t a concern for the reason you think, it relates to the previous point. Schools that lose teachers generally end up narrowing the curriculum. This disadvantages the students that are left. We had a simple solution to the ‘threat’ of lost jobs for PPTA members, which was to offer membership to staff in charter schools, like NZEI are doing. Our position was that we couldn’t do that –as it would be very difficult for us to advocate for closing schools that we had members in.

  6. “Boycotts are reminiscent of the apartheid era…” Indeed, and they contributed to changing an invidious system. This isn’t a boycott against Maori schools and students, it applies equally to all five schools and is mischievous to imply otherwise.  Every teacher in Whangarei and Northland is a teacher of Maori students. Political change is brought about in many different ways; for unions, denying our labour is one of the ultimate and strongest tools to bring about change that we have. We don’t use it lightly.

  7. And anyway, what’s the story with these schools that were supposed to “compete on an equal footing with the state education system – thus driving up standards for all through competition” using the resources and teachers of the state system?  This is like Jet Star over-selling some flights and running short on pilots, and demanding that AirNZ lends them pilots to cover them. We didn’t ask for the market system in education and don’t want it – the charter school proponents did. They can’t have it both ways. 

My view remains that it is one thing for the PPTA to say they are against charter schools, to lobby against them, to advocate people vote against the Government that introduced them.

But to go beyond political action, to a boycott of staff and students at these schools that is designed to damage the educational opportunities of those families who think a charter school may help their (probably) struggling kid, is misguided and wrong. It is using kids as pawns with a philosophy of the ends justify the means.

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