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Cullen on school choice

Rob Salmond has reproduced a recent speech from Sir Michael Cullen on Labour on his Polity blog. I like Cullen’s perspective on choice. “An expectation of an ever-widening range of choice across many different aspects of life is part of the world in which we live, especially for younger people”.

However, Cullen’s message seems to be – choice is good, as long as everyone gets it. Now this idea brings me back to the Labour I once knew: “…choice in a social democratic context is not enhanced by engaging in a hopeless, self-defeating, and politically suicidal attempt to level down by constraining choice. The challenge is to empower the excluded by levelling up.”

The implication for schooling is profound. Although Cullen opposes charter schools, he says that this “should not lead us into opposing greater variety and choice within a publicly funded system. This may well help us address some real challenges in education and respond to the desire of Maori and Pasifika groups in particular for a greater level of self-determination in education”.

School choice is great as long as everyone gets it.

But the truth is, those with the money to buy houses in good school zones have more choice than those without money. Maori and Pasifika families have less school choice. The New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) found in its 2013 survey of primary and intermediate schools that although only 6% of parents said they didn’t get their first school choice, the rate was twice as high for Pasifika (12%) and Maori (11%) parents. In their secondary school survey in 2012, 9% of parents said they didn’t get their first school of choice, compared to 14% for Maori (Pasifika not reported).

School zoning needs to be addressed if Labour is to get back to its roots as a party that represents empowering people. Let’s not level down. Let’s level up. Love it.

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