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June 20, 2001
Children First America has issued an eight-page brief describing bold reforms that the Kiwis have made to their education system over the past decade and a half. New Zealand's powerful, unresponsive, and highly bureaucratic Ministry of Education was transformed into a body that hands block grants to local boards of trustees (one per school) and audits school performance against the requirements written into each school's charter by its own board. Every New Zealand public school and most private schools are now versions of "charter schools," and district-level boards have been eliminated. Private schools may get state funding equivalent to public schools (including capital funding), provided they meet certain facility code standards, teach the core curriculum, and instruct students for the prescribed number of days each school year. Authors Matthew Ladner of Children First America and Maurice McTigue, a former New Zealand Cabinet Minister, briefly examine what test scores reveal about the efficacy of these Antipodean reforms. The 1995 TIMSS math results show that New Zealand's 12th graders scored 22 points above the international average, while U.S. seniors scored 39 points below. Ladner and McTigue conclude their brief with a critique of U.S. authors Edward Fiske and Helen Ladd's recent book on school choice in New Zealand, When Schools Compete: A Cautionary Tale. This book asserts that school competition in New Zealand has not improved those schools that lost enrollments as a result of the nation's reforms. Ladner and McTigue argue that Fiske and Ladd fail to muster any evidence that the children in these schools have been harmed in any way and also that they misunderstand the accomplishments of the past 16 years of reform. Attendance has indeed shrunk at unpopular schools and risen at schools held in high esteem by parents, with the result that fewer Kiwi children attend schools regarded by parents as low quality than was the case before the reforms-a result to be celebrated, not bemoaned. School Choice in New Zealand is available online in Adobe Acrobat PDF format at http://www.childrenfirstamerica.org/cfanzstudy.pdf and as a Microsoft Word document at http://www.childrenfirstamerica.org/CFAnz.doc. Hard copies can be obtained by telephoning co-author Matthew Ladner at (512) 345-1083 or e-mailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.