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:
- The curriculum is often too influenced by political concerns and of low quality.
- 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.
- 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. Continue reading
Thanks to commenter Sancho for alerting me to the following post, by Sarah Kliff, at the Washington Post’s Wonkblog (via Reading is for Snobs). It had me chuckling all the way to the bottle-o and back on this dreary, rainy Melbourne morning:
Readers ask, we answer! What happens if you don’t pay Obamacare’s tax penalty?
Gene is a self-employed New Yorker who currently purchases his own health insurance. He also is a strong opponent of Obamacare. And starting next year, Gene plans to drop his health coverage in express protest of the health law’s mandate.
“I will cancel my insurance the instant I can no longer be denied insurance for preexisting conditions,” Gene wrote in an e-mail Sunday night. “I will not fill out the special IRS form.”
Gene asked that I not use his last name as he’s talking specifically about disobeying a federal mandate…
“I am especially interested to know what happens, if anything, when my 2013 federal tax return does not include the Obamacare form and when I refuse to comply with any request to produce one?” Gene asked in his e-mail. “Am I correct that if I do not provide the form, there is nothing the IRS can do to me? And if they can do something to me, what is it that they can do?”
To answer these questions, I called up Catherine Livingston. Up until January, she was the health-care counsel in the Internal Revenue Services’s Office of Chief Counsel. She now works as a partner at the law firm Jones Day.
The first thing I asked her was what happens if you don’t send in a form that specifies whether you do or don’t have insurance coverage. That, she told me, isn’t actually clear yet.
I’ll skip over the intricacies of US tax accounting and tax law that follow. What’s interesting to me in this post is Gene’s cunning little plan to avoid paying the $95 tax penalty he might incur by dropping his health coverage:
In an excellent recent piece on his own website, Timothy Devinney looks at how the compensation of Australian Vice Chancellors compares to those of the UK and the US. He gave me permission to re-use his calculations. Below I give you the guts of his story which, if one uses updated figures from the ones he uses, gets you to the realisation that Vice-Chancellors at the GO8 and ‘Technology’ universities get 300% in total compensation of what Vice-Chancellors at comparable US and UK institutions get.
Timothy’s first and main empirical finding is that “Overall, the average compensation of a top 100 US public university president is A$480,409; that of a UK vice chancellor A$456,867; and that of an Australian vice chancellor A$721,607. ”
Now, that sounds like Australian Vice-Chancellors are ‘only’ paid some 155% of the compensation of equivalent US and UK Vice-Chancellors, doesn’t it? Not 300% by a long way. But this is where one should dig deeper into the data (explained in his Footnote 3).
Timothy’s data on the US is on total compensation, so includes bonuses and pensions and side-benefits. His data on the UK includes salaries and pensions. Yet his data on Australia is just salary.
In Australia, the salaries that you find in the annual reports do not capture all the elements in the total compensation package of the Vice Chancellors. It misses bonuses, superannuation and side-benefits. And these are large chunks of the total compensation package.
To start with bonuses, my recent post on the goings-on at QUT already mentioned that the average bonus for the Vice Chancellor plus Deputy Vice-Chancellors there was A$270,000 in 2011. That reflects an average bonus of around 40-50% for that layer of administrators. Continue reading
The book launch tour of Australia ended last week with a visit to the Melbourne Institute, where Deborah Cobb-Clark kindly hosted the last in our marathon-series of 5 launches. They all were a great success, with the publisher actually running out of books for the last one and thus having to scramble for extra copies.
What was memorable about the Canberra and Melbourne launches were that the hosts had read the book and prepared lengthy speeches on it, which of course was very flattering. Andrew Leigh, who hosted the Canberra launch, already put his verdict on his own website and Adrian Pagan, co-hosting in Melbourne, kindly gave me permission to let you see what he made of it in the pdf attached (Adrian Pagan on frijters book).
Of course, neither of these two eminent economists are uncritical praisers of the book I wrote with Gigi Foster, and both speeches draw attention to elements that raised their interest and doubts. Andrew Leigh, a politician now, notes how often we make the kind of strong statements that he can no longer make! Adrian Pagan likes the importance in our work of economic linkages in the explanation of recessions, but he is not quite yet ready to accept our theory of love without a bit more humming-and-ahing. Yet, both are very supportive and complementing, whilst giving their own unique view on the endeavour. Thank you both. We hope to get similar responses in our tour of the US and Europe later this year!
A Spectre is Haunting Australia: the spectre of Corporatism.