Education Policy – UR Doing it Wrong

For 20 years some Australian school systems have been world leaders in giving schools more autonomy, and in trying to increase competition among them. Many countries are following suit, in the hope that policies to increase school competition will improve student performance. They will not. This is the myth of markets in school education. The reality is that competition does not drive enough parents to schools with higher levels of performance.

Source

About Paul Bamford (aka Gummo T)

Gummo Trotsky is the on-line persona of Paul Bamford. Paul recently placed his intellect at risk of finally becoming productive by enrolling in a Lemonade, Lime & Bitters degree via distance education. He also plays the piano but Keith Jarrett he ain't.
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Paul Frijters
Paul Frijters
8 years ago

hmmm. Just read it. Despite the clear effort put into it, a poorly written report.

The content makes clear the author thinks there is almost no competition in Australian schools and that in fact autonomy has decreased in the last 15 years in Australian schools due to government accountability requirements and the national curriculum. Very odd to then in the abstract say that autonomy and competition have failed. How can something that has not happened have failed?

What this report says to me is that the Grattan Institute needs a more theoretical thinker on their education team to help them make sense of the wilderness of empirical studies.

Patrick
Patrick
8 years ago
Reply to  Paul Frijters

So in fact you and Gummo both happily reinforced their entirely different priors, which suggests to me that this is a very poor paper (and that is, if anything, challenging a weak prior of mine).

Gummo Trotsky
Gummo Trotsky
8 years ago
Reply to  Paul Frijters

How can something that has not happened have failed?

Ah … the good old “It’s never really been tried” defence, beloved of Von Misean free-marketeers and “true communists” alike.

Patrick
Patrick
8 years ago
Reply to  Gummo Trotsky

Gummo, at least try to play the ball.

He isn’t making any statement as to his own beliefs.

You have cited this paper to suggest that competition in schools is irrelevant. The paper does indeed suggest as much, albeit the literature review supporting reads to my inexpert eye like a bibliography with a bit of ideology thrown in.

Substantial chunks of the paper are then devoted to what appears to me to be a wholly different conclusion: proper school competition is too hard to create, so let’s do something else.

Which is basically Paul’s point – the paper doesn’t analyse the effect of school competition so much as analyse an apparent lack of it, from which the author concludes that it must not matter.

conrad
conrad
8 years ago

What it says to me is that they need someone that is both more theoretical and isn’t an economist, otherwise all we will ever get are analyses of the same-old-same-old that we already know have small effects. Next up, the ratio of private vs. public schools, the effect of vouchers, the effect of bonuses for teachers and all the other things that require no knowledge of what is being taught or why.

aidan
aidan
8 years ago

Andrew Leigh posted a link to this article on twitter
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0047272713001291

It would seem to contradict that Australian study.

My problem with this boils down to this:

An education is not the same as a mandarin. If you get a bad mandarin from the supermarket you can purchase another mandarin.

Purveyors of mandarins can compete for business through price, quality, service etc. Your experience of buying mandarins allows for you to choose the best place to purchase them. If their standards drop you can buy your mandarins elsewhere.

it is simply not feasible to do the same thing for education. By setting up a competitive market for schools and telling parents “have at `em” the government is effectively washing it’s hands of any responsibility for improving school quality. Well I call bullshit on that. No way is that good for kids, or for our society.

conrad
conrad
8 years ago
Reply to  aidan

I don’t see how the government is washing its hands of anything, especially because they themselves like to use international league tables etc. to judge how well things are going. It’s just trying something that isn’t going to do much. So if it doesn’t do much, I don’t see why you would worry about it.

Patrick
Patrick
8 years ago
Reply to  aidan

OK, sure. So services basically can’t be subject to competition.

Health, for example, doesn’t strike me as much like a mandarin. If your heart surgeon was a dud, there’s no more supermarkets for you.

What about the design of un-mandarinesque products, like pacemakers or car braking systems? Do the same standards apply to them?

aidan
aidan
8 years ago
Reply to  Patrick

Car braking and pacemakers are testable under controlled conditions.

Most “whole school” testing reveals two pieces of information, one of which we already know, i.e. the socioeconomic background of the students. The other, unknown, piece of info is how much time the kids spend practising tests to achieve higher marks.

I’d say that heart surgeons are probably testable. They do a great many similar operations, and over time their success rates etc might well be useful information. I can easily see however that were this to become a major predictor for income then a surgeon might well choose not to operate on difficult cases so as to “lower their average”. In the same way schools that value a high ranking may well be less inclined to accept students that might reduce their “score”.

Gummo Trotsky
Gummo Trotsky
8 years ago
Reply to  aidan

An education is not the same as a mandarin.

I’m glad you went on to clarify that you meant the fruit and not a mandarin as in “policy mandarin” etc.

Tel
Tel
8 years ago
Reply to  aidan

The problem you are describing is the long time lag between delivery of the goods, and the customer evaluation of those goods. It’s even worse because we have a changing world, so if you were delivered exactly the same as what would have been a quality education in 1900, it won’t be worth as much in 2000 (it would still be worth something).

However, government can’t guarantee a quality outcome in this situation, nor in practice has government been able to deliver quality as the central planners have gradually pushed their way into more and more micro-management of the process. The average government lasts about 6 years, and are mostly driven by political motives. Their judgement of success is feeding their own ideas to future voters.

The time required for the end customer to evaluate their education is probably about 15 years, more than two government cycles, and plenty of time for all concerned to say, “Well, if there’s any problem, that was some past government, nothing to do with us.” These guys will never be held to account for what they do, and they know it.

The only way out is to have as much information available to the public as possible, with regards to examination performance, job placements, successful people who make a note of their educational background, and couple this with a long term reputation system, where the reputation itself is an asset, and is worth money to someone. If the reputation is worth something, people will work hard to look after that.

rog
rog
8 years ago

Studies from OECD suggest public funding of private schooling increases equity.

http://www.oecd.org/pisa/pisainfocus/pisa%20in%20focus%20n°20%20(eng)–v04_FINAL.pdf

Gummo Trotsky
Gummo Trotsky
8 years ago
Reply to  rog

Hmm. Only if you accept “no significant difference between the socio-economic profiles of student populations in private and public schools” as a measure of equity. That’s one big old can of worms to open.

conrad
conrad
8 years ago
Reply to  rog

rog, aside from the fact that “private school subsidies” are so variable across countries it’s hardly a single qualitative group (just look at the mess in the Australian system — I doubt most people would be too fussed about propping up poor religious schools, for example, c.f., rich private schools, and this would have different effects on equity depending on the subsidy), I’m not sure why you’d even bother to cite something that ends up with an open slather correlation-must-be-causation-so-vouchers-are-good argument. Most studies that actually look at this more meaningfully (e.g., having a decent baseline such as before vouchers are introduced and then look at what happens after) find it doesn’t do much. But who cares about real data anyway when one has an a-priori belief that must be correct.

rog
rog
8 years ago
Reply to  conrad

Perhaps you could cite these “more meaningfully” studies?

I’m OK with evidence based policy but wary of any ideological position.

conrad
conrad
8 years ago
Reply to  rog

Sure — you might want to use Google Scholar to look up individual issues if you are really interested, but if you want a nice review on vouchers, then http://msuweb.montclair.edu/~lebelp/LaddSchoolVchrsJEP2002.pdf shows how complicated it gets (and that’s mainly looking at a place where there arn’t good public schools, which would further detract from any positive effects of vouchers). Of course there’s lots of partisan hyperbole you’ll find also, but there is good stuff out there.

rog
rog
8 years ago
Reply to  rog

And here is a meta analysis that finds that vouchers do diddly squat to standards of education.

http://www.ncspe.org/publications_files/OP163.pdf

john r walker
8 years ago

Given that virtually no secondary school in Australia can ignore the constant selection pressure of the HSC (and NAPLAN) results, surely the variations are simply ‘genetic drift’ around a unchanging (and not real good) center?

john r walker
8 years ago

For about twenty years (1981 to 2000) my studio was on Parramatta rd Stamore.
The deregulation of what school most kids attend, back in the 90s created, almost over night, a massive ,very noticeable increase in city traffic around 8.30-9.00 am and around 3 pm. It is not true to say that competition has not had a ‘driving’ effect.