The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

the zone diet

Last night I noticed Bill English's press release on Feb 7th which trumpets out "96% of parents can't be wrong", and goes on to say:

A survey showing that 96% of parents want to choose which schools their children attend shows Labour is out of step with the aspirations of New Zealand families, says National’s Education spokesman, Bill English.

I checked out the Maxim report that English is referring to. I wanted to see what the question was in this survey:

Parents were asked to respond to the statement, "I would like to select the school my child goes to," indicating whether they strongly agree, agree, neither agree nor disagree, disagree or strongly disagree.

Nearly all parents (96 percent) indicated that they would like to select the school their child goes to.

Maxim then go on to defend the simplicity of the question, but I want to know is, what would the answers have been if they had shoehorned these facts in:

  1. Approximately two thirds of NZ schools don't currently even have zones. The Maxim report itself has a dandy graphic on this that shows only 33% of primary schools and 38% of secondaries have zoning. (I suspect that the vast majority of them are in Auckland and yet those surveyed were from across the country.)
  2. Being able to pick which school you want your child to go to doesn't mean you actually get to chose which school they attend. Just like the Oscars - you can pick any Oscar that you want to win, but unless the Academy picks you for it too, you ain't getting it.
In situations where spaces are tight (remember Point 1, this is about a third of schools), there is no guarantee that just because you choose School A your child will get in to School A, unless there is some obligation on the school to take students like your child above others.

Under zoning that obligation is for schools to take local students above others. Without zoning that obligation is up to the school and its Board of Trustees, and they could decide anything they liked as long as it didn't directly contravene legislation, eg the Human Rights Act. They could decide they were only going to take students who lived in houses with even street numbers and if you happened to live in an odd numbered house, tough cheese.

In the zoneless world it is the school who has all the power. It becomes even more dangerous when community involvement is also curtailed, through associated policies like encouraging schools to take-over others and turning schools' senior figures into managers instead of professional leaders. Where demand is high and supply is low the market will provide - which usually means the people with the big wallets gets what they want and stuff everyone else.

Abolishing zoning gives the appearance of parental choice. But it can't deliver the reality.

Moxie over at Kete Were has been writing some excellent stuff on zoning recently, e.g.
- John Morris - victim of injustice?
- Zoning debate rages on - in my mind at least

- Education
- Zoning


Mr Stupid said...

Hell, I'm not even a parent and I appreciate that choice is a good thing when it comes to school. On some days I even think vouchers make sense (don't hit me!!) But I'm only in favour of parent's choosing schools, not schools choosing pupils. National and Act's plans will take away even the option of going to local schools ... and they'll have the gall of telling everyone it's introducing for options for parents.

Does anyone remember the National billboard on this issue before the election? That one pissed me off mightily.

Rich said...

Good post - I think zoning is the least worst system for a number of reasons:

- all children should get a good education, whether they have pushy parents, indifferent parents or parents who've abandoned them to CYFS. With schools able to pick pupils, the kids with pushier parents will go to the best schools and the ones with neglectful parents the worst. Perpetuating disadvantage.

- As you say, schools can choose to select on any arbitrary basis. One school (in England) interviewed potential pupils and asked them what they did when they got home. The correct answer was "turn off the burglar alarm" - indicating they were middle class enough to have one.

- Even if school selection was standardised, it has been shown repeatedly that no form of assesment of 11-13 year olds effectively predicts learning ability. Selective schooling is basically closing the doors of opportunity to a large section of the population.

The existence of supposedly "elite" schools in NZ is a problem - since children who don't attend a high decile school are seen as marked for failure. One option would be to convert them all into 6th form (16+) colleges (that's what they did where I went to school - all the secondary moderns (ordinary high schools) became 12-16 and the one grammar school became the 16+ college.

stef said...

I think very few people are asking the questions as to why it is the parents are just so desperate to get into Grammar.

Surely in education we should be striving for everyone to be get a decent standard of education no matter where they happen to live.

A lot of it seems to do with parent's 'buying' ideal friends for their kids.

Mr Stupid said...

... the last time I tired to buy an ideal friend they arrested me for solicitation ...

alright, I'll go quietly.

Psycho Milt said...

Bill and his voters always do prefer the idea that having more money should get you better stuff than everyone else. When it comes to cars and jewellery who could disagree, but when it comes to publicly-owned schools, they can fuck off.

Apathy Jack said...

"96% of parents can't be wrong"

The arese they can't - has he ever met any parent?

The day we start giving parents a say in their children's education is the day I hang up my cane and bottle of Teaching Moonshine.

As to zoning: I'm all in favour - no one would send their kids to Hoodrat High unless they were forced into it, and I'd be out of a job...

span said...

Thanks for the comments - I agree with Stef about the issues with the standard of education, and I find the idea of Trust Schools even more frightening than an end to zoning - it's like an admission that we can't provide a decent standard of education for everyone, so let's just concentrate on the schools where we can. Doesn't bode well for the future really.

span said...

Readers may want to check out the comments on DPF's thread on this, in particular the most recent one, from George:

Ghet said...

What I want is a fundamental right for my child to
a) attend the most convenient school for our family, which is obviously the closest one, and
b) receive a quality education there.

I have a child with a learning disability, you think schools are going to be scrapping for her to come lower their GPA and their perceived school standing?