School Choice Comes With Hidden Price Tag

The NZ Herald ran an opinion piece featuring Briar Lipson’s analysis of The Tomorrow’s Schools Independent Taskforce in the New Zealand Herald. This analysis was sadly skin deep.

It is easy to caricature the proposed reform as removing school choice from parents and supplanting it with bureaucratic control. However, this overlooks the big hidden price tag that school choice has delivered. 

For starters there was no analysis of whether we might end up with fewer bureaucrats overall if some back office functions could be more efficiently shared between schools. As an example, currently every school (even one with 20 students) pays for an auditor to go over their accounts every year. That is hardly value for money. Nor was there any discussion of whether public schools should be spending taxpayer money advertising to attract more students.

Yet these issues are dwarfed by the elephant in the room of school choice: the fact that it hurts the poor. This has been the result of school choice whenever it has been tried anywhere in the world.

Let’s make sure we are all on the same page. The aim of the education system is to help everyone achieve their potential. Some people have learning difficulties, and this is more likely for students from poorer households. An education system should invest more in these people to ensure they have a fair go.

Our education system doesn’t do this. Compared to other countries, our education system does very little to close the gap in attainment between rich and poor. Basically, we put the same amount of resource into students from poor households as we do for those from middle class ones. The result is that poor students turn up to school roughly 2 years behind richer students, and that gap never closes.

School choice is a major driver of this. Since introducing choice, all the middle and upper class parents have exercised that choice and moved to “good schools”. These “good schools” aren’t actually the schools that help students the most, rather the ones that the other middle and upper class families attend. The result is that students from poor households have been ghettoized into low decile schools.

But we fix this with extra money through the decile system! Yeah, nah. The extra money given by the decile system is more than outweighed by the extra resources middle and upper class parents bring to a school. That isn’t just more money through fees and fundraising but extra help in class and skills around the Board of Trustees table.

There is a way to fix this and keep school choice, but it isn’t cheap. It requires spending a lot more money on schooling disadvantaged pupils. The Tomorrow’s Schools Independent Taskforce suggested that current decile funding needs to be doubled to ensure schools have the resources to help those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

There is a another way to lift the achievement of poor students up to their well-off peers. It doesn’t cost any money. It doesn’t reduce the achievement of the students from richer backgrounds at all. It is called removing school choice.

Here’s the thing: students don’t just learn from teachers. They learn from each other. They learn from the role models they see in their class every day, including other students and their parents. If their classmates can do something, they start to believe they can do it too.

This is why streaming is so damaging for the students at the bottom of the heap. Once a student is labelled by a school or a teacher as “dumb”, they will tend to live up to that expectation. And if you lump all those students together all you have is a recipe for discipline problems.

If we want all our students to have a fair start in life, then the cheapest way we can do that is by making our classrooms look like our society. Is that too much to ask? Sadly it doesn’t happen through school choice.

So there is the real choice being put forward by the Tomorrow’s Schools Independent Taskforce - either we wind back school choice or we spend a lot more money on educating students from poor households. They have recommended doing a bit of both.  I do agree with Briar that you should comment on the Tomorrow’s Schools Independent Taskforce recommendations. And when you do, please think about how we get the best out of all our young people, not just your own child.



Read more

Wealth Inequality - High & Not Likely to Reduce Any Time Soon

The year is winding to a close, but last week gave us yet another reminder of why The Opportunities Party is the only prospect for real change.

Firstly we had the Statistics New Zealand wealth report. Not a great deal has changed since 2015 in terms of how wealth has shared, but that is precisely the point. It isn’t likely to change in the future either.

Read more

The Listening Tour: Workshop Results

During the month of October, The Opportunities Party held several workshops around the country to listen to how people related to the party and where they wanted to see it going in the future.  

We’re still listening.

If you want to have your say you can fill out this survey.  The form will remain open until after the leadership election. Remember, only registered members can vote in the leadership

If you are not a member yet, let us know why not?

It’s a great time to get involved, get heard and get us into Parliament.

We need to give reason a seat at the table.

Read more

Teacher Strike - It is (Mostly) Not About the Money

This week is seeing a rolling teacher strike across the country. It appears the unions and Government have reached an impasse - there is just too much distance between their positions.

The Government claims there is no more money, which is of course nonsense. There is plenty of money in the kitty, but they are rightly worried that if they give in to the teachers then other wage demands will escalate.

What are the real issues behind the teacher’s strike? What light can the international data shed on the situation?

Read more

What New Zealand can learn from Trump

An analysis of the economic conditions which gave rise to Trump in the United States suggest we should be worried here in New Zealand. It comes down to one key thing: productivity.

Productivity growth is essentially working smarter, as opposed to working harder. Our low productivity growth means we’re working harder, but we’re not working smarter. This means that each year there is not much more to go around.

Read more

I Went Travelling for Six Months and My House Earned Far More Than I Spent

As you may know, earlier this year I went overseas on a bit of a soul search, before coming back to lead The Opportunities Party. I was gone for almost six months in total, from the beginning of April through to the end of September.

I was travelling in South America which was dirt cheap. Even including a yoga and meditation retreat in the Amazon, my four months there cost less than $10,000. Then I had 2 months in Europe which cost about the same again. That is $20,000 all up, probably less.

Read more

The Education Gap

A report out by UNICEF yesterday shows that New Zealand has some of the most unequal education outcomes in the world. This is partly explained by our higher than average rates of poverty, but also by our education system.

According to Stuff:

Aotearoa ranked 33rd of 38 for educational inequality across preschool, primary school and secondary school levels in Unicef's Innocenti Report Card, which looked at the gaps between the highest and lowest performing pupils in OECD countries.

What has happened to the country that once prided itself on a fair go? On equality of opportunity? The myth of the egalitarian Kiwi paradise is truly dead and buried.

Read more

No Time For Slacking on Cannabis Reform

It is disappointing that after one year of inaction, the coalition Government’s referendum on cannabis law reform could prove to be an expensive waste of time. Similar to John Key’s flag referendum, this could prove a masterclass in wasting taxpayer money.

The referendum was one of the few concessions The Green Party secured that wasn’t already in the Labour Party manifesto. However, if the coalition Government doesn’t take the referendum seriously very soon, it risks making a hash of the whole thing.

Of course a real win would have been to negotiate for a regulated market as proposed by The Opportunities Party in 2017. All of the concerns that the public are likely to have can be catered for by careful design of a regulated market, as we are seeing from overseas experience. Such an approach has been recommended by the Law Commission almost 10 years ago, as well as The Drug Foundation and former Prime Minister Helen Clark. However, since the referendum has already been promised, we should all focus on making it a success.

Sadly it doesn’t appear the coalition Government shares this goal. The Minister responsible Andrew Little admits he hasn’t 'given it much depth of thought at all'.

So far this year the coalition have already tripped over itself with a muddled approach to medicinal cannabis. The promise of action within 100 days now looks more like token changes within 1000 days. Meanwhile the synthetic cannabis crisis has sent the Government scurrying backwards to the “War on Drugs” - hoping harsher penalties will provide a solution. We all know they won’t.

We need to prevent the cannabis referendum descending into a similar farce. A regulated market is now the only real hope we have of removing criminals from the market, reducing harm from cannabis use and providing cost-effective help to sufferers of chronic pain.

This referendum is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a Government-initiated popular vote on this long festering social issue. Yet the coalition Government has undertaken no consultation on the timing, referendum questions, whether it is binding and a detailed proposal for a regulated market. It is even more worrying that nothing is planned or even budgeted for into late 2019.

The risk here is that we will end up having a rushed and shallow debate marked by fear and doubt, because none of the details are clear. It all risks being a waste of time and money, much like John Key’s failed flag referendum.

Regardless of their motivations, there’s a way not to waste this opportunity and we’re here to help.

The Opportunities Party has three key suggestions for  working out the details of how the referendum will work and what it will say:

Firstly - Make the referendum binding. The Drug Foundation already does polls on attitudes to drugs, another very expensive glorified opinion poll would be pointless. Unlike a citizens' initiated referendum, a Government referendum can be binding, just like John Key’s flag referendum was.

Secondly - Use questions which matter.

Question 1: Should possession and growing of no more than two cannabis plants for personal use by adults no longer be considered a crime?

Question 2: Should adults be able to purchase small amounts of cannabis for personal use from specially regulated premises?

This allows splitting the issue of decriminalisation and personal use (where there is clearly majority support in the public) from the much less well understood issue of having a regulated market. Without two questions it could be confusing what they are asking the public.

Finally - Draft legislation that provides the detail of what these two questions would look like if implemented. This would mean that voters would know exactly what they were voting on, as they would have the opportunity to read the complete law that would be the outcome of an affirmative referendum vote. It would answer everyone’s questions, and not leave people making second guesses about what they are voting for.

To do this properly means starting now. It will take setting up a new working group immediately so that the public have plenty of time to assess the options before the 2020 election.

Sure, this is more work, but as we have seen with the push to make synthetic cannabis Class A drugs, the Government can deliver things quickly when they want to. They could also abandon their work on medical marijuana since that is such a mess and would be defunct if the referendum is passed.

All of these issues should have been part of the Labour Greens coalition agreement, and the fact it was not shows how ill-prepared they were for government.

After nearly a year in power, the coalition is staring down the barrel of a referendum debacle akin to the flag referendum. We don’t need a working group to figure that one out.


Baches earn more and pay less tax than New Zealand’s working class.

Troy Bowker raised some alarmist views about possible changes to the way we tax assets, calling it “concerning and ill-conceived” and fretting about the future of the Kiwi bach. He is referring to the risk free rate of return method, which is being explored by the Tax Working Group and is similar to the tax policy put forward by The Opportunities Party at the last election.

Read more

Why Shared Equity is Not the Answer

The new report from the Salvation Army “Beyond Renting” talks about ways of getting more people out of renting and into long term ownership. This is a worthy goal, particularly given the current plight faced by renters in this country. Sadly, the concept of the government offering shared equity will only stoke the fires of our housing market, making it less affordable in the long run.

Read more