Thoughts on Gonski and education reform.

With the Gonski reforms expected to be rolled out across Australia in the coming 5 years, it is handy to reflect on what actually are the basic challenges for school reform in Australia. A view of the underlying issues helps one to judge the likely outcomes of the current reforms and others one might think of.

One can see the main learning challenges in Australian schools as related to the quality of what is taught, the quality of who is teaching, and the quality of the school as a whole. Three main issues then come to mind:

  1. The curriculum is often too influenced by political concerns and of low quality.
  2. Teachers are relatively low paid, and have seen their relative wages drop over many decades, leading to the newer cohorts of teachers to be less good as the old ones.
  3. Failing schools are kept going rather than replaced, effectively leading to whole neighbourhoods being bereft of good educational opportunities.

On top of this, the sector has governance issues, like a large education bureaucracy both inside schools and outside of them, but since we are here ultimately interested in the transmission of knowledge, let us focus on the problems at the coal-face and talk about the governance issues when they arise.

Now, on point 1, I am optimistic about the role of the National Curriculum that was recently introduced. It will make it visible what the educational problems are in parts of the country, most likely will lead to a set curriculum and thus a set textbook and teaching aids for all subjects, and should hence significantly raise the bottom of the education distribution (though I don’t think it will matter for the top). Whilst one cannot really see this dynamic yet on the ground, in which schools and states are just getting used to the idea of a national curriculum, one can argue that other countries that have a national curriculum have indeed gone the way of raising the floor (NZ in particular). Given the competitive mindset of the Australians and the fact that you now get frequent international comparisons, I do expect the political pressures to accumulate to use the national curriculum to improve what is taught and how it is taught. In short, I think the signs are good in terms of addressing problem number 1.

Point 2 is a very tricky one because of the fact that we have a large stock of teachers who accept the current wages and hence would not change their behaviour if you increased their wages. This means education authorities, school principals, and ministers have a strong incentive not to raise teacher wages except for the new entrants. However, if you would cheat the stock of existing teachers and only increase wages for the new teachers, you quite understandably run into opposition from the union on equity grounds. Similarly, having schools compete for teachers by letting the good schools offer better teachers higher salaries needs active competition and would probably only happen if the private schools expand and become more academically focused (rather than focused on local networks or particular religions). In short, the pressures from within the sector don’t look like leading to higher teacher pay at all, even though it is well-recognised that better teachers are the main thing that leads to improved education.

Whilst the federal government could explicitly raise teacher wages, the current reforms do exactly the opposite: to partially fund the Gonski reforms, the government is discontinuing the current policies of paying some teachers extra, and the policies under which principals can reward good teachers (and many commentators seem not to realise that the main benefit of paying teachers more is that you attract better people into the profession). In exchange for this effective lowering of teacher pay, it seems likely that it is the already overly large education bureaucracies that will get discretion over how to spend more money, and only non-economists could believe that they are going to spend most of the money on improving education by attracting better teachers into the profession by means of higher wages, rather than to predominantly use the money to hire more and better paid bureaucrats. Indeed, even if the local education bureaucracies were far-sighted and truly interested in teaching outcomes, it makes no sense for them to individually increase teacher pay because aspiring teachers do not know where they will work and hence base their entry decision on the average pay in the whole sector, implying that it needs a central push to increase teacher pay across the board. Given that Gonski seems to imply local authorities get discretion, we are talking about a clear missed opportunity in terms of teacher pay.

The third problem is the trickiest of all and has bedeviled most education reforms and flummoxed many economists too.

The essential problem with failing schools is twofold: their initial failure leads to lock-in effects such that they become hopeless in nearly all dimensions (teaching, parents, pupils), whilst there are enormous political transaction costs in actually closing down a school. Let me expand on both.

Schools can fail for many reasons, just as a marriage can go sour for many reasons. Schools might have a particularly bad principal, have particular drug-prone and aggressive students, might suffer from parents who see the dominant culture as something to be actively resisted, have open warfare between clubs of teachers, etc.

Like a failing marriage, once a school starts to fail, the problems tend to get worse and worse. Good teachers will leave a failing school and try their luck elsewhere. Good pupils will leave to go to other schools. Active parents will similarly take their children elsewhere. So over time, a failing school gets stuck with the most demoralised and least skilled teachers, the most disruptive and dumb pupils, the least interested and least active parents, and a run-down building to boot.

Now, economists know exactly what should happen in such a case: you basically want the whole school to be disbanded. You don’t merely want new management, because new management would still inherit the disruptive culture amongst students and parents. Similarly, a small influx of better pupils or parents wouldnt help much either. No, what you want is for all the teachers, parents and pupils to have to find a better school elsewhere, cap in hand. That’s what happens in a market: what is efficient and productive survives, what is not disbands such that the individual elements can become part of successful entities elsewhere.

Why do you want to destroy the old school rather than reform it? Basically because you want to force the disruptive parents and the dispirited teachers to enter a different culture in which they are the small minority: you want the disruptive kid to go to a school where the disruptive behaviour is not merely frowned upon by teachers, but actively discouraged by the peers in the class. You want the dispirited teacher to go to a school where the other teachers are optimistic and things are run well, so that that teacher rediscovers the good parts about teaching. Etc. Effectively, you want teachers, parents, and pupils to get away from cultural lock-in effects (called peer spill-overs in the jargon of this literature).

Now, here is the rub: destroying an existing school comes with huge initial transaction costs. You force individuals to go to schools further away (a big no-no in policy land, particularly when pertaining to Aboriginal kids); you are stuck with a large expensive property unsuited for anything else; and you would have to pay out redundancy packages for the teachers and actively find places for the pupils.

It should be clear that this disruption is politically very unappealing and a nightmare administratively. So the local politicians and education bureaucrats would usually prefer to have the next generation of local children get no decent education than go through the pain of this disruption. This selfishness on the part of politicians and bureaucrats, by the way, is normal since it is the usual tradeoff between visible short-run pain versus uncertain long-term benefit. It is exactly the same when it comes to bankruptcy of large corporations: politicians don’t want to be seen to be responsible for those forms of short-run pain either.

Now, it is in this realm that the Gonski reforms will succeed or fail. The headline promise is that funding will follow students (a voucher system), which in principle means that good schools can outbid bad schools, that new schools can come in, and that bad schools can thus go bankrupt, to be replaced (potentially in the same location some time later) by good schools.

Will this really happen though, and in particular, will local education authorities allow bad schools to disappear and be displaced by (Christian) private schools or more successful public schools, as many commentators seem to hope? I have my doubts: I find it hard to imagine that local politicians and bureaucrats will not actively sabotage or try to undo any existential threat to bad schools. They simply have too much to lose politically not to engage in ‘emergency loans’, ‘visitation committees’, ‘additional resources’, etc.

I find the following quote by the teacher union ominous as to what will really happen with the Gonski reforms: ‘‘What Gonski proposed to do is not pay teachers but instead direct resources into schools to allow students who are disadvantaged, by a whole range of circumstances, to get better outcomes for education’’. My my, that sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? The unions clearly don’t think the additional resources will go either to improve teacher pay nor to the disbanding of failing schools. They seem to hope it goes into the bottomless sink of administrators ‘helping’ failing schools.

In this respect, the post-Gonski environment will probably offer a lot of scope for fudge and for rewarding failing schools rather than killing them off. For instance, local education authorities can then easily discover a whole set of mental learning difficulties amongst the pupils of a failing school, thus allowing them to send in an army of monitors who will set ‘performance criteria’. Similarly, they can engage in the ‘let us try new management’ trick, thus ensuring not much changes in the medium run. In short, I fear that the potentially positive aspects of the Gonski reforms are easily sabotaged and that we will end up with more education administrators.

My hope is that the National Curriculum will break the political dead-lock over failing schools: that open league tables will start to make it so clear which schools are really bad, that education authorities will bite the bullet and truly let some schools go under, replaced by better ones. But I am not holding my breath on this.

In the short run however, the resources for Gonski seem partially to come from reducing teacher pay (via the axing of bonuses), which is a clear turn for the worse in terms of attracting good new teachers. Australian education just got a little dumber again.

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36 Responses to Thoughts on Gonski and education reform.

  1. conrad says:

    I have entirely the opposite view of the National curriculum (your point 1), for a number reasons:

    1) Having different states do different things is really helpful in terms of working out what works and what doesn’t in terms of curriculum reform. In the most simplistic case, you may have two options for teaching something, and no real ability to choose which is better. Having states do different things allows you to evaluate this.

    2) Having states compete against each other is really good. To me the best value of the PISA etc. isn’t cross-country comparisons which are inherently confounded by any number of things, but cross-state comparisons. These differences get almost no mention in the popular press, but are a really excellent way of seeing educational problems.

    3) I don’t see why bureaucrats in Canberra are going to do a better job of creating courses etc. than people in the states. One obvious reason for this is that they have to live in Canberra. Who wants to live there compared to, say, Melbourne or Sydney? If you want really smart people, this is important. A second reason is that Victoria and NSW have historically done a good job, so the bar is quite high. Lowering that bar would be bad.

    3.1) If I look at what the federal government has done, it appears to me they have no interest in doing things well, they do things for political reasons, and they don’t care care about evaluating their performance.

    For example, I really do know a lot about reading development (and not crappy sociological stuff). Now if I look at the first NAPLAN test, it’s doesn’t even have face validity. The same is true of the maths section (which far fewer people know about). So what you have, without even testing it, is something that doesn’t measure what you want, and huge amounts of time and money is wasted on it (and if people teach to test, which will inevitably happen, they will get *worse* long term outcomes because of this than would otherwise be the case). As far as I’m aware, the validity of these tests was not even looked at before running it and has not been looked at after. So what’s happened is a bunch of highly paid bureaucrats, who appear to know nothing about early childhood development, have subcontracted ACER to create a test for them, and the ACER people also know nothing about early childhood development, and then this test is used for any number of important things (teacher evaluations, what to teach….). This is ludicrous and worse than nothing at all. If you want to use tests for something good, you have to validity and reliability. Surely someone in these departments must know this, yet presumably since they don’t want to get their head cut off due to the political capital invested in it, are not going to say anything.

    4) Silly political things in one state are far easier for the public to see that silly political things inflicted on everyone.

    • Pedro says:

      I can’t comment on your criticism of NAPLAN, but otherwise: Hear Hear!

      As far as I can tell, large institutions will always struggle to make substantial changes to governance and policy. That has to be worse in institutions where dismissing people is very difficult.

  2. derrida derider says:

    Hmm –

    “1.The curriculum is often too influenced by political concerns and of low quality.”

    versus

    “I do expect the political pressures to accumulate to use the national curriculum to improve what is taught and how it is taught.”

    .

    The incoming conservative government has people in it who are very keen on pursuing the kulturkampf that John Howard fought to such effect. I think Labor has given those conservatives an instrument for them to do just that, and consequently I expect “political pressures to accumulate to use the national curriculum” in ways that will not improve what is taught at all.

    • Gummo Trotsky says:

      Yes DD, there’s a very good chance that a national curriculum, currently on the nose with our educational conservatives, will gradually start smelling of wattle flowers and eucalyptus again.

    • Paul Frijters says:

      It is hard to think of a more mundane and more ideological history curriculum than the one my kids have gone through in Queensland (how many essays can you possibly write about James Cook 5 years in a row?) that I doubt what is cooked up in Canberra is going to be worse. Indeed, it seems to me from these two responses that the National Curriculum will get the issue of history teaching into the national democratic debate rather than decided in the boughs of State bureaucracies. Sounds like progress to me.

      • conrad says:

        You will never win this one, National curriculum or not. The reason is obvious. Every political party will want large amounts of Australian content to show what great Australians they are. But in the end, Australia is lucky enough to have a very boring history and so that is all you can get.

    • Pedro says:

      I doubt there is a reason to be optimistic about the history preferences of either side, let alone the groans. perhaps it would be best to not have a history curriculum.

  3. aidan says:

    Can I suggest that you have no idea what you are talking about?

    http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/a-matter-of-principal-20130121-2d2ej.html

    On the whole teachers do the job because they love it and find it rewarding. Not everything is about money.

    • Paul Frijters says:

      Follow the link to the Andrew Leigh article in the post and you will see that students thinking of becoming teachers are very sensitive to the salary they expect to get paid, with better students coming in when the pay is high. Once a teacher, more or less pay indeed makes little difference to what they do, but to think money does not matter for teachers is a fantasy.
      So please read the post more carefully so you know what you are criticizing.

      • aidan says:

        The link to the Leigh article is borked. For others, it is here

        http://andrewleigh.org/pdf/TeacherPayTeacherAptitude.pdf

        I read it.

        I wasn’t suggesting that money isn’t important, it is a marker for status and the worth we place on various occupations. By paying teachers poorly we are telling them we don’t value their work.

        I was taking issue more with your suggestion that “failing schools” just be shuttered as nothing can be done. The link I posted above disproves this.

        • Paul Frijters says:

          Your link is an inspirational story of how one school reportedly improved over time with a new headmaster. Ticks all the boxes of a regular feel-good movie (including a bit of incredulity as to whether it all really happened that way!). Are you suggesting however this ‘proves’ that it is realistic to expect all failing schools can be turned around rather than that they should be shut down?
          The analogy with marriage is a good one: some marriages can be maintained, others can be endured. But to conclude on the basis of a marriage that was on the rocks but that got better again that one should not allow divorce or even advocate divorce as normal for bad marriages?

        • aidan says:

          You said failing schools couldn’t be saved. I provided an example where this was not the case. Sure it is only one, but that should be enough to show your premise was not correct. It showed it is possible to save a struggling school. Maybe not all of them, but surely lessons from success stories should be applied before just consigning the entire school to the scrapheap.

          Notice how you belittled the example I provided, “reportedly”, a “feel-good movie”, “incredulity .. whether it really happened that way”. You are the hard headed realist whereas I am gullible. Look at your own preconceptions.

          The point is that it isn’t just the school that is failing, it is the pupils. Shutter the school and spread those kids out amongst other schools and some of those kids will do well, some ok, but will the problem kids be turned around or just diluted? That principal turned the school and the kids around. In some cases their families too. Amazing and inspirational. Reproducible? I don’t know, have we tried?

          • Of course i have some doubts about the example you provided. It was a newspaper article.
            Claiming that hope shows you should do what you want goes both ways: have you tried my suggestions?

  4. Paul Frijters says:

    Conrad,

    interesting. And important for even after reading your comments I am still in favour of the national curriculum, though I agree with most of what you say. Part of the difference is perhaps that my kids now go to school in Queensland and what passes for a curriculum here in some subjects (language and history in particular), is unimpressive, to say the least.

    Let me expand on the reasons why i like the idea of a National Curriculum and do think it will lead to good things in the longer run, starting from your points:

    1+2. Yes, having experimentation and competition across states can be a good thing, but I dont really believe that for many of the more basic subjects we should expect huge improvements in terms of best-practise. I see no reason why decent learning methods and textbooks should not be the baseline. Like in Europe, where National Curricula have been the norm now for decades, good schools will still experiment will all kinds of supplementary classes and courses. Indeed, the best schools (such as those on the International Bac system) can quite probably ignore most of the National Curriculum entirely as they are miles ahead of it. I hence do not really fear the end of experimentation at the top end as a result of the National Curriculum.
    4. the bureaucrats in Canberra will of course not be better than the best in the States and political incentives can be perverse, but the beauty of textbooks is that the costs of creating them is huge whilst the additional costs of copying them is minimal. Hence why should Queensland not get the textbook written by a good NSW teacher? Your essential problem is that at the moment you see a dysfunctional ministry that doesnt select the best teachers to design the National Curriculum. That might or might not be true (I dont know), but I trust in the longer-run pressures of international competition such that we will gradually get a better and better National Curriculum. Indeed, the more noise is made about the international comparisons, the harder for politicians to ignore them, which i think in this case is a good thing.
    5. Having had kids go to school in 3 states and 7 schools now, it is striking how dumbed-down the curriculum is in many areas, particularly languages, geography, biology, and history, for the simple reason of individual schools taking the road of least resistance: with many new kids in the class coming from different states and different schools, the kids get taught almost exactly the same thing year after year after year in these subjects. There is virtually no progression and the best you can about it is that the kids really know how to count to 10 in Chinese after having been taught it 5 times. That kind of idiocy makes perfect sense from the point of view of a complaint-minimizing school but its the sort of thing that would pretty quickly go away with a National Curriculum: however bad the guy putting the curriculum together, it seems unlikely he will end up advocating the same thing is taught 5 classes in a row. So I truly expect this issue to gradually disappear with the national curriculum.

  5. conrad says:

    1+2) I don’t think experimentation will stop either (and at least for early reading, Euroland is lucky because the orthographies used basically mean anything works, unlike English). However, there a lot of individual differences you need to consider, like what happens to all of the spectrum (in terms of both students and schools) and the state by state data provides great data that would be very difficult to get otherwise, especially since most of the schools likely to experiment in Aus are going to be the good ones, which don’t tend to have the bottom students. So a lot of the data you get now is what makes good better, not what makes bad average.

    A practical example here would be, say, teaching physics. Many schools just don’t have good teachers in this area, unlike most top schools. Given this, how do you supplement the poorer input these students are getting? If you want to get this data, you could use clusters of trial schools, but this is especially hard to do, and if your new methods didn’t work well, you would be caned and those schools may not want to participate next time (and you will face teacher motivation problems too). A second way would be just to change things across the board, for better or worse, and admit defeat if what you did made things worse (seems politically unlikely). The simpler alternative here is to look at what the different states are doing and just see what works best, since you basically have lots of little mini experiments going on. This data is especially rich because you can look at all the incremental updates over time that are done (for example, they should be looking at what was done in the mid-80s to 90s, since the results in maths and science were much better then than now).

    “Hence why should Queensland not get the textbook written by a good NSW teacher?”

    I’m personally baffled as to why the people in the states with poorer systems (WA is especially bad) arn’t already kicking up a fuss about this. It’s not like the states with these problems couldn’t already just copy what the better states are doing, with or without a National curriculum. With no national curriculum, they would have more choices of who to copy.

    “Indeed, the more noise is made about the international comparisons, the harder for politicians to ignore them, which i think in this case is a good thing.”

    I think the noise here is a good thing too, but I don’t think the noise is strong enough to get politicians to do much. For example, the level of maths in Aus has gone from almost the best in the world to about average in 25 years or so. Some of the reasons are obvious, such as too much gaming of the system by encouraging students to do vegetable rather than advanced maths. A similar effect can be found in writing — ever wondered why many of your students can’t even string a paragraph together? Too much gaming the system and a system deliberately set up to be gamed (this is how elite schools get their dumb students good marks — basically memorizing answers for predictable questions– so this is a political problem).

    “it is striking how dumbed-down the curriculum is in many areas”

    I agree that continuity across states is an advantage in many areas, and that a National curriculum may help that. You could fix some of that by getting agreement across states where they would teach some things like languages at different levels regardless of the year level of the student (this already happens in some contexts).

    Alternatively, I can also imagine very negative outcomes of this, where the National Curriculum might lead to a situation that is ubiquitously bad. I doubt that would happen for languages (which are already woeful), but it’s easy to see it happening for maths and science. The reason for this is that there will be a strong pressure for the government to get the results of the bottom schools up, and the simplest way is to go for the lowest common denominator, especially because they know at that if they don’t, many of the schools at the lower levels won’t even have the teachers to teach anything else, and this is a very hard problem to fix.

  6. Paul Frijters says:

    Conrad,

    I think we are nudging towards consensus here. We are basically agreed on the analysis of the current problem, but differ in terms of our expectations with respect to the likely outcome of the whole process set in motion with a National Curriculum.

    I indeed agree that a National Curriculum wont solve the problem of bad teachers entirely, but i do think it helps: a dumb teacher left to her own devices will teach something simple and something very narrow to every class of every level. Give that same dumb teacher a set of slides and textbook pertaining to the average in NSW and she will at least be exposing the students to more challenging material, even if she doesn’t get it herself. You also seem to think that raising the bottom goes that way and I agree with you that for better schools, this wont be an improvement.
    As to gaming the system, I agree, but again, I think it hard to imagine life can get worse centralised than decentralised on that point: at the local level, you want your school and authority to game, so its a classic problem of public goods. That the problem is generated originally from national comparable scores is true, but i dont see that being reversed.

    • conrad says:

      Yes, I think that’s correct — I think I am just more pessimistic than you, and it will be interesting to see what the final outcomes are (and hopefully even more interesting to see them properly evaluated, which I guess we can both agree on!).

      Also, I should say that, unlike almost everyone else, I don’t see the culture wars as an especially big deal compared to other things. Whilst they might do bad things to some subjects like history, the majority of things that kids need to learn arn’t related to this and if they just learned how to write properly in history, that would be a bonus, no matter what the content.

      It’s also disappointing that most areas get no mention at all unless they are somehow political (e.g., geography and the climate), presumably because the average person can’t form an opinion on them (or perhaps be told what their opinion should be). This is especially true of primary school teaching, where we hear almost nothing, and people seem happy to accept teachers of the lowest standard (failed high school? Why not become a primary school teacher!). I reckon that’s actually the area where the biggest gains could be made, but it’s also the area where we get the least noise from people and the government. I believe this isn’t the case in Euroland.

  7. JJ says:

    I think this discussion would benefit enormously from the input of practising teachers. If you are going to talk about the coal-face, then perhaps a miner’s perspective would help. I taught for 2 years a long time ago, so I’m not up to date, but here are my thoughts anyway.

    It’s all very well to talk about competition, but nobody is going to compete for disruptive kids from difficult backgrounds. They are very hard to teach. Ever faced a class of kids who didn’t want to be there (especially Friday period 5 or 6)? It takes real skill to discipline and teach them and this can be very emotionally draining, leading to burnout. The problem that Gonski addresses is that recent allocations have been increasing the resources to the schools that don’t take those kids and need the money the least.

    How do you know what the ‘best schools’ are? Certainly not from Naplan. Unless you mean the schools that have the most kids from homes where the parents encourage learning (ie generally those of higher socio-economic background).

    Why should a national curriculum help? Teaching isn’t just reading from a text-book – there are lots of those out there easy to get. A textbook is a part of what you do – not the be all and end all. Teaching is a combination of acting, enabling students to learn using a variety of formats, responding to what individual classes need etc etc- it’s a craft. For example, a science unit on monotremes leads up to a school excursion to Healesville Sanctuary where the kids see platypuses. A text-book can provide a basis, but the last thing schools need is the dead hand of centralism – that’s not going to lift standards.

    Schools do fail – all organisations do. Given the extreme difficulty (and cost) of identifying the ‘value-add’ of an individual school, (not to mention the fact that teachers do much more than just things easily measured – how many of you are still benefiting from an inspiring teacher you had?) failing schools probably means the ones most visibly full of really needy kids, who are hard to teach. When their school shuts – who will want those kids?

    Teacher quality is cricital as you say. Bricks and mortar, statewide curricula etc don’t matter as much as that. However this means more than just money (though that’s important). Respect in the community matters (ever been to a party and told someone you’re a teacher?). The unions have locked class ratios into one size fits all and concentrated on reducing them (useful if the class is difficult but not so relevant for easy to teach kids). Teachers also need more access to their own development (it was very hard when I taught to get to a conference – budgets are tiny and there are your classes to cover).

    PISA is good in highlighting the problem, but I’m surprised no one has mentioned Finland which always rates highly. Their teachers have a lot of independence. Devolution is better than centralisation.

    However in relation to Gonski, he has identified the right issue. We are misallocating our resources and letting way too many kids fail.

    • Paul frijters says:

      Finland has a core curriculum and their teachers are better paid relative to other fins than Australian teachers. Masters levels are a minimum there for teachers. With better pay and higher qualifications comes more respect. So yes, there are things to emulate from them.
      Of course no-me wants disruptive kids, but it is not as simple as just disruptive kids: we are also talking about disruptive parents and communities. A few newer computers and 12 more school councillers is not going to help. Increasing the amount of money following those kids until you get good schools willing to take them on might. The point remains though: you need to disband the failing schools, not sink money into a bottomless pit.

      I take your point that Gonski talks about the important problems. But will the reforms that bare his name improve things? As I say in the post, the initial signs are ominous.

      • Gummo Trotsky says:

        I’ve just been looking over some sources on the Finnish education system. I’ve concluded, once again (and once again quite dismally) that there’s no way that there’s ever going to be an ‘Education Revolution’ in Australia.

        The impression I’ve formed is that the Finnish educational achievement is as much a product of Finnish culture and the school cultures it fosters as institutional measures such as national curricula etc. A lot of the features of the Finnish education system described in this Wikipedia Article would ever win cultural and political acceptance here in Oz. Some examples:

        Finnish early childhood education emphasizes respect for each child’s individuality and the chance for each child to develop as a unique person. Finnish early educators also guide children in the development of social and interactive skills, encouraging them to pay attention to other people’s needs and interests, to care about others, and to have a positive attitude toward other people, other cultures, and different environments. (original emphasis)…

        Schools up to university level are almost exclusively funded and administered by municipalities of Finland (local government). There are few private schools. The founding of a new private comprehensive school requires a political decision by the Council of State. When founded, private schools are given a state grant comparable to that given to a municipal school of the same size. However, even in private schools, the use of tuition fees is strictly prohibited, and selective admission is prohibited, as well… (emphasis added)

        Neither of those features of the Finnish education system will ever win favour with all the little mes who want to have their cake and eat it: socialisation of the costs of education through tax rebates or ‘education vouchers’, privatisation of the positional benefits of better education for my kids and the personal status that comes with having your kid ‘well educated’ at a private school. And as for the following feature of the Finnish system – well
        least said, soonest mended:

        There are no “gifted” programs, and the more able children are expected to help those who are slower to catch on.

        • Gummo Trotsky says:

          OTOH, it’s not all doom and gloom. If Gonski leads to more schools like this, I ‘d call it an improvement.

        • conrad says:

          Everyone loves the Finnish system, without actually bothering to note that quite a number of other systems get just as good results (e.g., http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trends_in_International_Mathematics_and_Science_Study) despite having a quite different school set ups (some quite like Australia) — although all appear to be from cultures that value education (including primary). The main important difference is captured at the start of your post:”a product of Finnish culture” and you can replace “Finnish” for “Singapore” (which has many elite schools) and so on.

          “Neither of those features of the Finnish education system will ever win favour with all the little mes who want to have their cake and eat it: socialisation of the costs of education through tax rebates or ‘education vouchers’, ”

          Without those private schools that rake in vastly more money than public schools from the private pocket, there would be even less reason to be a teacher in Australia.

        • Patrick says:

          There is a real problem with applying Finland to Australia, and a part of it emerges from the selective admission point. There are studies such as this one: http://www.econ.ucdavis.edu/faculty/scarrell/sortexp.pdf – which if I understand it are basically saying that too broad a range of abilities hurts the ones who need helping the most.

          Which is very intuitive if you’ve ever tried teaching youngish children!

          Unfortunately for Australia in some ways (fortunately in a lot of ways) we probably have a far more diverse school population than Finland, and are thus far more likely to experience this kind of problem.

          Personally I am a big fan of tying government funding to students not to schools, scaling it by socio-economic background, and using technology as much as possible, for example in ‘flipped’ classrooms where the lecture mode happens outside class, relatively intense testing provides teachers with more, more specific and more timely data on actual progress, and classtime is reserved for actual teaching.

          I’d absolutely love my kids’ school to implement this.

          This can also help with things like textbooks. Imho you could nearly do away with primary school maths texts entirely by replacing them with the Khan Academy lectures and some workbooks. After all maths is not different from one country to another let alone from one State to another!

  8. Pingback: Thoughts on Gonski and education reform. | ChristianBookBarn.com

  9. Fed up says:

    “Let me expand on the reasons why i like the idea of a National Curriculum and do think it will lead to good things in the longer run, starting from your point”

    Is there any reason we cannot have a national curriculum that arises out of consultation of experts from the states.

    We must not have, is Curriculum that is developed by politicians. This is not their role.

  10. JJ says:

    Yes these kids are from disadvantaged backgrounds and this is a complex issue, and I agree you can’t rely on the parents and local community to achieve outcomes. Giving these kids a better education is important for their wellbeing and our economy. The question is how.

    This is fundamentally an implementation issue – what will work. The key to this is in leadership. A great Principal with resources creates a great school. http://www.wallacefoundation.org/knowledge-center/school-leadership/key-research/Pages/the-role-of-the-principal-findings-to-support-effective-educational-policy-making.aspx

    There are limited numbers of great Principals with appropriate experience to achieve this. Why should shutting the entire school rather than putting in a great Principal be the way to go? Much more expensive and takes kids out of their local communities.

    I don’t see why closing a school and tagging the funds to the students is likely to help. Which other schools would want these kids? (it would have to be a lot of money for say Melbourne Grammar or some other school to welcome a number of these kids to wear their uniform around the streets – not to mention their disruption of their classrooms).

    Re Finland – of course Australia needs systems that are relevant to our situation and culture. However the interesting thing is that the Finns are already wondering what the next step is – this is quite interesting:
    http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/rearvision/finland-the-real-education-revolution/4228418

    • Paul Frijters says:

      A great principal is not enough: if the community, the parents, the teachers and the kids are not with you, good luck to the brilliant principal.

      You are quite right about Brisbane grammar: good existing schools would indeed need an awful lot of money to accept students who are disruptive elsewhere because of all the hassle they bring. That awful lot of money is thus what it would take to give such a student a normal education.
      Now, of course if you start to attach money to individual students then schools will cream-skim: they will take the ones they believe are most easy to ‘turn around’ and leave the rest in a ‘no hope’ school even at that elevated rate.

      Btw, truly attaching money to difficult kids is not unlike paying others find jobs for people who are unemployed.

      Why do you need the disruption of the normal routine at failing schools? Because the failing has become routine.

  11. observa says:

    My hope is that the National Curriculum will break the political dead-lock over failing schools: that open league tables will start to make it so clear which schools are really bad, that education authorities will bite the bullet and truly let some schools go under, replaced by better ones.

    We know where the bad and failing schools are now so what’s the point of bureaucrats going to great lengths to come up with the same answers with some more esoteric computer models? Why do the well to do educated, particularly leftys, keep thinking they’re going to change the world if they just throw a few more billion Gonskis at education? A fatal attraction to re-education camps I suppose and if at first you don’t succeed knock em down and build shiny some new ones for another great leap forward.

    We know it’s all about values and bad values equals bad schools that only teachers with some higher calling want to knock themselves out over and there’ll never be enough of them to go around. The answer is to fix the bad areas with incentive for the right values. After all that’s what those seeking private schooling or the tightly zoned Clayton’s privates know implicitly and those school results aint about the extra dough spent on them, although there’s a lot more of that from parents with the right values and concomitant incomes naturally. It’s all about lil Johnn’ys peers and their values and unlike the public system of last resort, if Johnny doesn’t want to fit in well his folks are free to take him elsewhere and good riddance.

    It’s the market for housing that sorts out the values and with some of the dearest housing in the world now and the rising cost of private ed, the values set with 2 -4 kids are even selling up in the outer areas to pay high rents in the inner ring areas to get their kids into the well known and tightly zoned Clayton’s privates and they’re saving a bundle, while denuding their vacated suburbs of said higher aspirationals. Meanwhile what happens in the Housing Trust burbs? (we’ll leave the indigenous badlands to the usual imagination because they’re busy with a specially devised, national Dreamtime curriculum anyway)

    Well what happens with public housing is, once you’re fortunate enough to get your butt into one, end of aspiration because the next step up is the private market and that’s a helluva gap and with so many on the waiting list behind you, taking a chance on opportunity somewhere else is out of the question so you’re stuck with the usual dropkicks and junkies who managed to wangle a Trusty in the past. No incentive and a bridge too far and it won’t be long before the new chum and sprogs settle into the ambience of the joint and this is what that long waiting list is aspiring to. All their kids need are some more Gonskis and a Canberra curriculum to get their values humming again. Yes Virginia there…

    So what is really needed? Well we already know that from the successful aspirationals. These people need a restricted secondary market for public housing just the same in order to reward good values and chasten those with bad ones. Forthwith all existing tenants have an imediate 12 months lease with right of renewal just like free market tenants and all qualified prospective tenants are free to bid fot the existing stock upon renewal. That can be with real dollars and reward dollars earned for good tenancy and let the secondary market rip. Under such a scenario a single widow taking up a 3br home couldn’t outbid a single mum with 2 kids and their allocated per capita reward dollars, although there’s nothing to stop 3 qualified singles bidding with theirs. Get the PS out of it and put it in the hands of the private RE agents now with some suitable checks and balances. Also it may be a phase in period is needed whereby existing tenants are allocated extra reward dollars in their bank (assuming no major behavioural or proprty abuse to date) and those dollars are reduced annually over say the next 2 or 3 years to get them used to the new marketplace for their rental property. That’s the best national curriculum you can give them and Bess Price’s mob too if you can pull yer heads out of the Dreamtime.

  12. observa says:

    Dr Jarrett is saying there are elements to our traditional culture that we must change if we are to stop the violence that is destroying us, and she is right. Things are much worse now than the old days because of the grog, the drugs and the awful welfare dependency that is sucking the life out of us. There are elements of our culture that are really good and should be kept, but we should be prepared to do what everybody else in the world has done and change our ways to solve the new problems we have now and that our old law has no tools to solve.

    Bess Price

  13. observa says:

    You had to shake your head at Pommy Conservatives recently telling Public Housing tenants they had to bunch up to try and solve their housing problem. Imagine some PS type walking into your joint and telling you with all those spare rooms you had to take in a boarder or 2. Laughable, except if you’re the PS needing the wisdom of Jove, or the benevolent dictator to implement such a marvellous rationing thought bubble. For rational intelligent folk we use the marketplace to make the millions of individual decisions and tradeoffs that are required, at the same time enjoying our flybuys and reward points freely floating around out there.

    The BIL was just telling me how he bought an Ipad Mini with sis’s flybuys she earns as a quango PS exec, after enjoying a weekende in Hobart too. Such things are above the great unwashed it seems although in SA with around 23000 on the PH waiting list, while they watch certain elements with bums on seats trash a dwindling stock with horrendous maintenance costs, some reward points for the 4 weeks bond and the ability to bid for a seat at the table might arouse the odd enthusiast, particularly if they’d prefer to spend their meagre incomes on housing, rather than the beer, smokes and pokies, etc. Trash the joint and you’re going to have to find those bond and reward dollars all by yourself in real dollars, rather than going cap in hand with some heart tugger to get another bond out of Jove again.

    Private RE agents have some remarkable IT tools at their disposal nowadays to manage the rational intelligent marketplace for the majority and that allows them efficiencies to handle a lot more properties for absentee landlords than in the past. They can walk around at an inspection and call up the original property photos from the cloud and compare to the present state and a picture’s worth a thousand words chum. Any tenant who thinks they can fall behind in the rent, or not keep the property up to scratch, or want’s to bother the landlord for a light bulb or tap washer change will soon find themselves on the outer for the next lease renewal, because there are plenty of tenants who know the drill. The same agents who can manage any restricted secondary market without all that PS red tape and with those readily accessible cloud pics can rotate inspections with another agent for consistency of umpiring. Don’t like the 2 umpire system then pay up front for a third umpire ruling and you’ve done your dough or reward dollars if you lose the appeal.

    Not hard to think of ways and means for the RE agents to reward good tenancy and manage a secondary restricted market accordingly with some of the best PH approaching the free market in a continuum, thereby removing that leap at present and as some move up into the free market others are feeding in at the cheaper end of the PH sector. Whether the education set want to nuance the process and tack on some penalty points for not getting the kids to school, etc, well that’s up to them, but fundamentally it’s time to get the basics right and not keep pissing dough up against the wall on those who don’t want to hear the message.

  14. observa says:

    A good news story but we still need incentive for the parents to lift their game and that doesn’t mean fortunate NSW PH tenants in inner city Sydney being able to pay $62/week for their flat and renting out the car parking spaces to business people for $250/week. There’s only one way to capture that economic rent going begging .

  15. Catching up says:

    I think you will find, schools are working very hard to get parents involved. At my granddaughter school since she has started, there has been homework set each night. Homework that requires the parents help. I believe this is the reason for such homework. Yes, mum and GD sit down together, and complete the work. Now in first time, she is quickly moving to where she can do it on her own/. Plus, that the parent knows exactly where their child is at.

    I think one will find under Gonski, there will be support within the schools for the kids, whose parents take no interest. This is important.

    From my reading, it is an wholistic approach to education.

    Yes, the primitive people have it right, it takes a community to educate and raise a child.

    • Patrick says:

      I think Gonski will lead to more money being spent on schools, and about the only conclusive fact from the research available is that, above a level which we passed most of a century ago, there is no correlation between money and results.

      So I have no faith at all that it will lead to better schools, in fact I wonder if Paul Fritjers is too optimistic about it.

      • conrad says:

        Actually, there’s reasonable evidence to show in that in the long term, if you pay teachers well (who are most of the costs), you will end up with a better cohort going into teaching. In places like Aus and the US, for example, which pay teachers at a medium and poor level, respectively, you get piles of morons going into teaching. Alternatively, there are countries in Euroland that pay teachers well, and they get smart students still entering teaching. If these sorts of effects are tiny, then the main thing it is saying is that teacher competence doesn’t have a big effect on student outcomes,

  16. Catching up says:

    If there is no connection between education standards and money, why do parents waste so much send their kids to private schools.

    Yes, throwing money at education is not the answer. It is how the money is spent that counts,.

    Gonski addresses that.

    • conrad says:

      Parents send their kids to private schools for any number of reasons that are not particularly related to educational standards. These include religion, attitude to discipline, not wanting their kids to hang around other types of kids etc. .

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