Thursday, October 30, 2008

Creating an 'unAustralian' education system

An article in the Australian discusses the challenge of improving schooling in Australia. Another article with opinion and without supporting facts to back them up. What has happened to our media? Why can they not develop a position and then report with supporting or refuting evidence!

The main points were:
  1. Development of a national curriculum (supported).
  2. Minimising or even abandoning plans for national testing programs (supported).
  3. Funding private and public schools on the same basis (?).
  4. Auditing the intellectual capital -- that is, teacher quality -- in all schools (?).
  5. Greater autonomy for schools and principals (?).
  6. Creating a federation of schools, in line with the British model (?).
  7. Refurbishing or replacing most school buildings constructed in the 20th century (supported).
  8. Increasing the business sector's involvement in education, including private funding of schools through foundations and trusts (supported with reservations).
Part three: By doing this we are accepting that we will have a two+ tier society. Those that can afford private schooling and those that can't. Public schools cannot compete with schools that have equal funding with private schools and are supplemented through school fees. Those students that cannot pay fees in private schools will be disadvantaged (students in private schools schools already have the advantage of rapid exit of undesirable students, this is their USP). Public schooling should be given more of the public purse than private schools. Our disadvantaged kids need our support. How is further disadvantaging them going to prepare them to compete equally in the workforce - it just creates an underclass. The funding ethos put forward is grossly capitalist and American. It is decidedly unAustralian.

Part four: Sure, let's audit teachers, how and who shall do it? What makes a good teacher? What happens if a teacher fails the audit? How do we re-educate them? Who plans and pays for the implementation? Who is to blame for poorly performing students - the teacher, past teachers? It's nonsense.

Part five: Where is the research that greater autonomy for schools leads to better student outcomes? The idea is counter intuitive. Surely re-inventing administration currently centralised cannot be cheaper, as flexible to change or as easily monitored than decentralised at a school level. All decentralisation does is decentralise blame for a system that isn't working very efficiently. Today is a time of centralisation as information technology closes the efficiency gains once found through decentralisation. Analysis and change coordinated at one location is far more efficient than directing responsibility to islands of learning.

Part six: I have no idea yet what this idea is of federated schools in the UK but I haven't heard the UK system as a model system for eons. I must investigate this further.


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  2. As an educator in the United States, I am interested in the status of education in other parts of the world. I just recently found your blog. Thank you for sharing your opinions.

    I do wonder how funding private and public schools on an equal basis is American though. Private schools in the United States do not receive any government funding because they are private institutions. All their funding comes from tuition fees. Being private means that they are owned by a private group of individuals. Were they to receive government funding, they would no longer be a private school.

    Educational funding in the United States does need to be reevaluated, though. Funding for education is tied to property taxes, so those districts in poorer areas receive less money because the properties around them are not "worth" as much money. One of the major ways to improve property values is to improve school district performance. Low socioeconomic areas are caught in a vicious circle. This is an unequal system of distribution and needs to be changed.

    Unfortunately it's not as easy as throwing a bunch of money at schools. No amount of money can reverse the lack of or inability to receive support from home, inability to have basic needs met, delayed development, etc. The larger issues are societal.

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  4. I understand your point and that my explanation was poor.. let me try again.

    What I was trying to say was that the idea of economic rationalism is more American than Australian (where here the 'fair go for all' is a national catch phrase) - that just because government funding of private schools provides overall cheaper and more cost effective education than funding public schools - we should not do that.

    It works purely from an accounting point of view (educating students in private schools is more cost effective) but it denigrates the important social purpose of public schooling - the reduction of the class divide. The logic put forward by government goes along the lines - our leaders come from private schools, these will create more jobs for all when they graduate and do great things thus they should get equal funding to those in public schools. This will ultimately create more jobs.

    In the past (say up to 10 years ago) the only real difference between the output of the two sectors (with the exception of the very few) has been the 'religious' values based education in private schools otherwise generally WA education has been of equal standards in both sectors. Increase funding in private schools to the detriment of public schools and this balance changes further.

    The 'fair go for all' concept, if abandoned, changes a core Australian societal values and this makes it unAustralian. Each student should have as equal an opportunity as we can make it to be that next leader, and if it takes lopsided funding model to raise the next battler to an elite level, I am more than happy to say that that money should be placed into public schools and tertiary opportunities.


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