We are throwing good money after bad in schools

Jan 23, 2017 by

Kevin Donnelly –

Paul Keating once warned, “never stand between a state premier and a bucket of money”, and incoming NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian provides a striking example when pressuring the commonwealth government to underwrite the Gonski school funding model.

Ignored is that there is no bucket of money — the previous ALP government never funded the final two years of Gonski and, while the NSW budget is in surplus, the commonwealth government is facing years of deficits.

Also ignored is that according to our Constitution the states and territories are responsible for school education and it is their primary responsibility to ensure adequate funding.

There is also the fact, while the Australian Education Union and the NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli argue that investing additional billions will raise standards, no amount of additional spending will improve outcomes.

Despite a record level of investment in education over the past 20 years Australia’s results in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Program in International Student Assessment (PISA) have gone backwards.

The results for NSW students, for example, fell 27 points in the PISA science test, 15 points in the TIMSS Year 4 maths test, 28 points in Year 8 maths, 14 points in Year 4 science and 10 points in Year 8 science.

In a report co-written by the ALP’s member for Fraser when an academic at the ANU, Andrew Leigh, and based on an analysis of literacy and numeracy standards over the period 1975-1998, it’s clear additional investment represents throwing good money after bad.

Such are the disappointing results based on an analysis of the Longitudinal Survey of Australian Youth that Leigh concludes, “the productivity of Australian schools may have fallen over the past three to four decades”. A sentiment re­inforced by the Australian Productivity Commission when it argues that “despite an increase in spending and falling class sizes … student literacy and numeracy have declined in recent years, and Australia (has) fallen behind other high-performing countries”.

It is also clear, as argued in the 2016 OECD publication PISA Low Performing Countries, that once a certain level of investment is reached then additional expenditure is not the solution.

The OECD report states: “Despite conventional wisdom that higher investment leads to greater gains, there is no clear evidence that increasing public spending on education guarantees better student performance once a minimum level of expenditure is reached”.

And at 5.6 per cent of GDP, slightly higher than the average of 5.2 per cent in the OECD, there’s no doubt that Australia has reached the required minimum level with the OECD’s 2016 Country Note describing Australia as achieving “a relatively high expenditure on education”.

The OECD, in a series of ­reports and papers identifying the characteristics of stronger ­performing education systems as measured by TIMSS and PISA, also identifies what needs to be done to raise standards and ­improve educational outcomes.

Source: We are throwing good money after bad in schools

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