The government has just released the Gonski review of education and while I have yet to read it and so am relying on news reports it appears to have made a number of obvious errors.
First is that contra the assertions made by the inquiry, there is little relationship between expenditure on education and outcomes. Some years ago I came across a table that neatly summarised this but can’t lay my hands on it now. However, here is some information from an article that On Line Opinion is about to publish tomorrow by retired maths lecturer John Ridd that makes the same point.
It has the following table comparing Australian TIMSS results in 2007 to other countries either selected for their cultural and ethnic comparability – USA and the UK – or because they topped their respective categories – Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong.
|Maths 4th grade||Maths 8th grade||Science 4th grade||Science 8th grade|
|Hong Kong 607||Taiwan 598||Singapore 587||Singapore 567|
|US 529||US 508||US 539||US 520|
|UK 541||UK 513||UK 542||UK 542|
|Australia 516||Australia 496||Australia 527||Australia 515|
The percentages of the GDP spent on education by each of these countries according to the CIA Fact Book is:
Hong Kong 4.5%; Taiwan N/A; Singapore 3%; USA 5.5%; UK 5.5% and Australia 4.5%. Note that the best performing spent the least, and were all Asian.
This confirms my anecdotal observation which is boosted by statistics showing a decline in Australian educational performance over the last 20 to 30 years.
That is that the much cheaper education that I received in the 60s and 70s was superior to what is being delivered now, even though my grade one class had 50 students in it and we wrote on slates .
We have been spending more money since, but only to go backwards.
Second, public education ought to be the province of the state governments, not the federal. The commonwealth should not be wading in with additional monies to prop up state schools. If it wants real reform it should encourage the states to set up a situation where they fund both state and private schools to some extent and allow them to keep some more of the GST so that they can afford to do that.
The extra $5 billion being demanded by the review will merely allow the states to vacate more of their responsibility in education and won’t actually improve the situation.
Third, the Howard Government’s SES system of funding was the most effective and transparent you are likely to get, apart from the fact that it allowed the Catholic school system to allocate resources internally outside of this framework. If it needed simplification, then it needed to bring Catholic schools under the same system as everyone else. Apart from that it worked well.
By relying on income tax returns to determine funding per student the Gonski review is setting up a very messy situation which will effectively fund tax minimisers at a better rate than the rest of us. The SES system, by relying on demographic statistics dodged the tax minimisation trap.
We need reform to education, but this isn’t it. The real problems lie in standards, the capabilities of teachers, the lack of ability of schools to innovate, low expectations of what students can achieve, and a culture that doesn’t rate intellectual performance very highly.
That’s why we are out-gunned by the Singaporeans, the Taiwanese and the citizens of Hong Kong. They’re smarter about education and spend what is required, not more.