School Choice vs. No Choice

Educational policy is the bellwether of overall government social policy in New Zealand. Despite the appearance of independence, it is inextricably linked to the whim of political and business decision makers. As the economist, Paul Samuelson stated, “the very name of my subject, economics, suggests economizing or maximizing but political economy has seen us go a long way beyond that” (Samuelson, 1947). In New Zealand, during the 1980’s, we saw a political rush to deregulation. The dual mantras of “choice” and “efficiency” were given as the rationale for decentralizing education decision making. It was a feel-good moment, after all, who could make better decisions about children’s education than those living and working everyday with them.

However, three decades later, the reality does not reflect that egalitarian ideal. In fact, the inverse has become the result. Educational choice has become the mechanism of social, political and economic power. Those with money and political influence can exercise a freedom of choice that is not reflective of the wider community. They can afford to perpetuate political and economic influence over those that have become increasingly marginalized. Nowhere have the effects been felt more than in the educational sector. The politicization of education has led to a socio-economic stratification of educational opportunities.

How does this affect the teachers in the classroom? We are fundamentally changing the makeup of our classroom with regards to ethnicity as more and more white students flee lower decile schools for “greener pastures” elsewhere. One in seven students in Auckland now bypass their local school, with the result being the creation of “social disaster, ghetto communities” and a culture of “brown and white schools”. (Hill, 2016). The ideal of educational choice has migrated in New Zealand to those who can most afford it.

The commoditization of education has seen politics become the weapon of choice for those that have sought to zealously protect what that have attained. This can be seen in the fight surrounding school zoning, an act that is inevitably linked to home value and restricting access to prestigious schools. (Parents of students that lived near Auckland Grammar have in the past exerted political pressure to maintain access to that sought after school). There is a rush to protect was is increasingly being perceived as a scarce resource. That scarce resource being access to a better-quality education.

There are distinctly racial overtones to this problem as well, Decile 10 schools are overwhelmingly white. Statistics indicate that the average Decile 10 student population is 67% European, 24% Asian, and only 6% Maori and 3% Pacifica (Johnson, 2015). Contrast that with Decile 1 (the lowest socio-economic decile) where 65% of the population are Pacifica, 29% Maori, 4% Asian, and just 2% European (Johnson, 2015). It is resulting in an “educational apartheid” as a result of “white flight”. The economic and social repercussions of which are accelerating with the rate of segregation. We can rectify the situation by showing that lower decile schools should not be synonymous with lower quality education and for many who travel to out of zone schools, the benefits are spurious as class sizes increase and there is a dearth of cultural diversity and understanding. We will never be able to eliminate the politicization and marketization of education but what we can do as a society, is ensure that the purpose of public education is to provide a quality education to every student and not just those who can afford to make choices. I’ll finish with another quote from the economist Paul Samuelson “every good cause is worth some inefficiency”


Hill, M. (2016, March 27). “Claims of ‘education apartheid’ as 110,000 kids flee their local schools”. Retrieved June 1, 2017, from

Johnson, K. (2015, August 14). “World Class Auckland: Education-where did we go wrong”. New Zealand Herald. Retrieved from:

Samuelson, Paul A. (1947), Enlarged ed. 1983. Foundations of Economic Analysis, Harvard University Press.


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