Show me the evidence

Martine Udahemuka
Insights newsletter
19 May, 2017

The football season has begun. Not the FIFA cup, but the political football that is education.

And when it comes to the fate of partnership schools, the Labour team’s position has been ambiguous, at best. The survival of these schools, if Labour gets into Government, has been changing from one day to the next, and from one member to the next.

Two Sundays ago, Labour list candidate Willie Jackson, who helped set up a partnership school, suggested that Labour would keep the schools open but may call them something else.

When pressed two days later, party leader Andrew Little could not confirm if his policy to abolish partnership schools would see Jackson’s school shut.

By the following Sunday, Little sounded more convinced of his position: Partnership schools that teach the New Zealand curriculum and employ registered teachers might be safe, and Jackson’s school meets these standards.

But all of these exchanges have distracted from a fundamental question that was implied, but not discussed in detail.

Are partnership schools actually delivering on their promise to deliver better academic outcomes than state schools?

The test is simple. For each partnership school student, there are many others like him or her in traditional state schools. Students from both types of schools can be matched on circumstances known to contribute to achievement, and then their progress can be tracked.

Student achievement results at the end of the year would show whether the partnership school student had kept pace, lagged, or outpaced when compared to similar students.

And if the results show that the schools are doing a better job for students, the next question should be ‘why’? To answer this, factors that make the two types of schools different, such as funding mechanisms, teaching resources, and curriculum choice need to be considered.

These are empirical questions yet to be answered.

One could argue that, ultimately, the long waitlist for places in the schools are testimony to their success. But parents who value academic progress deserve better information to help them make these critical schooling choices.

If the core goal of our schools is to give all students the best possible education, then surely it pays to first find out how current providers are faring before discussing who stays and who goes. 

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