Conclusions: Waiting for Gonski (Part 4)

Each report reaches conclusions and offers advice to the panel. The following comments are not a comprehensive analysis of these findings but my conclusions about what is the best advice. I am interested in Australians having a ‘high equity, high quality’ system and my comments are to be viewed from this perspective. The politics of the various schooling sectors/systems interests are challenging for educational and political reformers but if it is agreed that we genuinely want ’high equity, high quality’ there must be a preparedness to accept changed funding arrangements.

The Nous Group report, Schooling Challenges and Opportunities  offers clarity about our current state of play and why Australia is ‘doing well’ educationally:

The answer is: because there is a sizable proportion of schools that are producing very good results, a large number of schools that are not, and a group in the middle that helps balance this out. This is not a glib point. It goes straight to the heart of the equity issue, as there is a strong relationship between socio-economic status (SES) of a school population and its educational results…

What is striking is the strong correlation between the performance of a child and the average SES of all the students that attend his or her school. In other countries, including ‘high equity’ countries like Finland and Canada, such an effect would not be evident. In Australia it is quite pronounced.

The authors make the point that:

…it is noteworthy that a higher proportion of Australian students attend non-government schools than in any similar OECD country other than the Netherlands

Depending on your ideology and personal experience, this can be interpreted in a number of ways. However, the best performing countries are organising differently, Finland being particularly notable.

I do agree with the authors that:

It is possible to have school systems that are both highly equitable and high performing

and (this is of the utmost importance for our future) we must have educational opportunities that do more than just acknowledge:

                                                                                                                    NOUS Report pg 47

Who would argue with the list of conclusions in this report:

                                                                                                                      NOUS Report pg 55

The ‘National Schooling Recurrent Resource Standard’ (NSRRS) explored in by the Allen Consulting Group in, Feasibility of a National Schooling Recurrent Resource Standard, has the potential to provide a mechanism that considers ‘recurrent funding from all sources’ and then:

..could be used by the Australian Government to guide its contribution to both government and non-government school funding, replacing the Average Government School Recurrent Costs (AGSRC) measure. This is the most important potential application of a NSRRS.

                                                                                                                        Allen Report pg viii

 

I believe that most educators are concerned that a diagnostic tool like NAPLAN, which, the authors note is, “at best a partial measure of the broader schooling outcomes contained in the Melbourne Declaration and the National Education Agreement (NEA)”, would be used to allocate funding and consider this problematic.

It is clear, after reading the NOUS Group report, that disadvantage needs to be addressed systematically and there is a temptation to use NAPLAN. This has the potential to undo any benefits to our education system, as a whole, gained by changed funding, as the curriculum narrows and becomes focused on ‘lowest common denominator’ thinking.

Having said that, I understand the logic of using ‘the test’ as one part of the funding equation.

The ACER report Assessment of Current Process Targeting Schools Funding to Disadvantaged Students also supports:

…an increase of funding for Low SES schools may be warranted to support them with the heavy lifting in the improvement of school learning outcomes.

and acknowledges that the non-government sector needs more funding to support students with disabilities.

The Deloitte Access Economics report, Assessing existing funding models for schooling in Australia concludes that:

Improving quality teaching and learning experiences was identified as the most prevalent intervention in the improvement of student performance…

Decentralisation of the delivery of professional development and other specialised programs was also found to be an important driver of continuing improvement

The authors discuss the nature of the teaching profession, payment, status and selection in high-performing countries. For example, only 10% of the applicants make the grade in Finland. It is notable that:

Systems achieving outcomes above Australia’s provide teacher salaries significantly above the national GDP per capita enabling them to recruit the best and brightest students to the profession. Bonus schemes are also in place – for example, in Singapore top-performing teachers can receive bonuses equivalent to 3 months salary.

It would be a flawed strategy to use standardised testing results to pay such bonuses.

 

My conclusions

The NOUS report resounds. Clearly written, well-researched and successful in articulating the issues and potential solutions, I hope the panel reads this report closely and acts.

Australia invests a mere 5.2% of GDP on education, making us the equal sixth lowest out of 31 countries. This must change. Sensible government, centralised solutions can provide funding and some direction but communities need to have the freedom to positively engage with learning, especially in regards to science, our environment and technology. It would be silly to rely on a one-size fits all Australian Curriculum, we need to value learning as a community. We are going to need to be smarter to meet the challenges of the coming decades and educating the populace is a collective responsibility, not just one for teachers.

We can learn much from our Asian neighbours in this regard.

I found it interesting that the Chinese educators I met last year, in Shanghai, were interested in their students becoming more innovative and flexible. Any ill-conceived, bureaucratic  government solution, runs the risk of making innovation more difficult. One imagines more administration and checking off of outcomes to satisfy accountability measures will not assist ‘clever country’ rhetoric to become reality.

How much data do we need to tell us that a well-educated, motivated teacher in an appropriately funded, resourced and supported school, freed from bureaucratic regulation, can give students what they need?

We can all see that the Gonski review is only one piece of the jigsaw. David Gonski and his panel will need much wisdom (and good quality flak jackets one suspects) to steer the best possible course through this minefield. It is important work and needs to be done well, if we are to complete the never-ending puzzle.

 


cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by CeBIT Australia

 

THE REPORTS: WAITING FOR GONSKI (PART 3)

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The views expressed at this site are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer.

4 Comments

  1. Andrew FitzSimons:

    Us public educators are holding our breath. Will Ms Gillard survive long enough to grab the core of the review and really give equity a boost? Ms Gillard is not afraid of difficult decisions, but she has quite a bit on at the moment.

    What is desperately needed at the moment is a sense of renewal. Schools and their communities, principals and their staff acknowledging that the wheel has turned and business as usual will not do. Our unions likewise.

    In NSW the New School Leaving Age [17] is a game changer; enaging those who previously left from the age of 15 is complex and demanding and ‘more of the same’ does not cut the mustard..

    Making this proudly comprehensive school an engaging, digitally alert, focussed on learning, not frightened of youth culturei; s the core of my professional challenge.

    Mr Gonski et al ; we need help!

  2. I agree with your closing sentiments wholeheartedly Darcy. One point of difference though, is that I would not make this concession:
    “I understand the logic of using ‘the [NAPLAN] test’ as one part of the funding equation.”

    In my mind there is simply no logic behind the use of a test that claims to be diagnostic in the allocation of school funds. Such an application of that data inevitably leads to a corruption of capacity of the NAPLAN test to be called ‘diagnostic’. Where schools have the incentive to teach-to-test, and to stream-for-value-added, the resulting use of that data to make claims about ‘reality’ is a sham. I may be showing my rudimentary understanding of testing there, but my other gripe with using NAPLAN to allocate resources to ‘poor performing students’ is that the test is not aligned with the school curriculum for language and literacy, or numeracy (let’s not forget that it’s not!).

    • Darcy Moore:

      I changed my post several times and express serious concerns about using NAPLAN, a diagnostic test, in the way described. So, yes, of course it is worrying. The test is useful for locating areas of disadvantage and perhaps, could be a ‘small’ part of the equation. I suspect the reality is that the data will be used and one can only hope it does not topple our system into something deep, dark and threatening.

      • I can imagine trying to write around that issue – this is such a great post, thank you for this series on Gonski, it has been a reality check.

        As for NAPLAN…I guess I don’t have an alternative to offer, so in that sense using it is justifiable. I just wish they wouldn’t try and take two bites at the cherry – using the exam results to dicate funding AND using them to dictate how we should teach.

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