Zone Fixing - a Systemic Problem?
A survey conducted by University of Illinois Professor Chris Lubienski while on a Fulbright Scholarship to New Zealand has occupied the headlines in the last week. It has brought to the fore the issue that zone fixing is occurring in New Zealand and has been for some time.
With the introduction of the Tomorrow's Schools model under David Lange in 1989 both those in the education sector together with parents have questioned the validity of zoning.
Head of the Secondary Principals' Council Allan Vester said the issue of schools selectively setting their school zones was not new.
"It has been discussed and debated for years. I very much doubt that the research findings come as a surprise to anyone who has been in Auckland since Tomorrow's Schools.''
He said aspects of Tomorrow's Schools should be reviewed.
"Unfortunately the market type model also encourages behaviours which, while advantageous for an individual school, can actually reduce the quality of the educational experience overall for the community.''
He said the decile system introduced in the 1990s did not alleviate the competition and inequality.
So what did Professor Chris Lubienski find?
He studied 49 schools in the Auckland area last year and found 36 secondary school zones did not match their geographic location. Of those, 29 are skewed to exclude poor areas and include more affluent neighbourhoods.
He says some principals admitted to doing this deliberately and one said she removed names from her school's ballot for out-of-zone enrolments.
The research alleged that some schools made sure to cherrypick students from ballots by excluding students that appeared to be from a minority group or relatives of students unwanted by the school.
He said he could only infer there was an intention by schools to distort their decile rating, although he said in the qualitative part of the study, principals talked about intentionally drawing up zones to enhance their school's market position.
"We found in a vast majority of cases that the schools were serving students who were more affluent,'' he said.
The schools took part in the research on condition of anonymity.
Principals are divided
While some principals have taken offence at suggestions that manipulation of zoning and ballots has been taking place to exclude poor areas and students from schools, many have indicated this has been a long standing issue. While zoning has always been around in one form or another it may be the ability to redraw zones is the crux of the issue.
The Secondary Principals' Association has called for principals to provide evidence.
Association president Patrick Walsh said a review of zoning rules would be premature at this stage.
If principals believe zoning-manipulation is happening it is time to name the schools and end damaging speculation across the secondary sector, he said. "The research, as a matter of urgency, needs to be picked up by the Ministry and taken a careful look at."
Two principals in Wellington and one in Christchurch have also told him schools are skewing enrolment zones.
Walsh said he personally doesn't think it's a widespread problem as school enrolment zones are scrutinised by the ministry.
"If it is happening then those checks and balances are not working."
Papatoetoe High School principal Peter Gall was among those principals not surprised by the research.
He has called for the Government to revise the decile rating system to remove the incentive to manipulate school zones.
Walsh says if their allegations are true the Ministry of Education would need to explain why it allowed zone changes to go ahead.
Zoning was set up to ensure transparency and fairness
In a statement, the Ministry of Education said the enrolment zone was set up to ensure the selection of applicants for enrolment is fair and transparent and makes the best use of the school network.
It said householder income should not be considered when zones are drawn up.
"The law requires a board to ensure all students can attend a reasonably convenient school while ensuring other schools do not experience enrolment problems.
"As far as possible, an enrolment scheme must not exclude local students so that no more students are excluded from a school than is necessary to avoid overcrowding.''
The ministry had recently updated guidelines on enrolment zones. They make clear that before drawing up an enrolment zone boards are required to consult parents and the wider community as well as other schools.
What do you think?
We would like to hear what you have to say. If you have any comments about the survey, zoning and Tomorrow's schools please add them below.
- Budget gets thumbs down from teachers
- Sense of ‘Excessive Entitlement’ May Result In Exam Failure
- Government cuts back support for students over 40
- Banks wants 50-60 Charter Schools within a decade
- National Standards comparisons impossible - Martin Thrupp
- Search for exceptional school students to be acknowledged in MATARIKI MAGIC
- Learning Media problems could lead to education writing going off-shore
- Expert teachers to be recognised in new initiative
- Bay of Plenty
- West Coast