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The Forum > Article Comments > How think tanks are failing us > Comments

How think tanks are failing us : Comments

By Scott Prasser, published 9/2/2012

Think tanks can frequently be engines of class warfare rather than acolytes of enlightenment.

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Good try, but I see no hope that the ideological divide on private vs. public schools can ever be bridged by rational analysis and argument. Let’s face it, in some 60 years of observations since I went through state schooling I doubt whether I have struck a single person who changed their view on the basis of such sensible debate. But there is no reason to despair. Ideological divides have always been at the heart of every major political issue and the sky has still not fallen in.

With education, the issue will eventually disappear as the population of ex-private school students, their parents, their children and so on steadily grows to become a majority of the electorate. To that majority, the proper answer will look as glaringly obvious as it does to me now. The level of funding provided by government out of the taxes paid by the population should be totally decoupled from the nature of the provider of educational services. That is, every student should be supported at an equivalent level of public funding regardless of who runs their school. A necessary concomitant is that parents be allowed, as now, to contribute additional funding to their children’s education according to their means and wishes. Of course, some will still cry ‘unfair’, but they will be a minority. And no child will be deprived of the opportunity for a sound education
Posted by Tombee, Thursday, 9 February 2012 8:24:43 AM
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Scott Prasser says there is no evidence that there is “a campaign to undermine the public education system”.

On the contrary, there is a mountain of evidence (all but one from The Australian alone):
“extensive over-staffing of teachers, inefficient work practices and ‘union’ capture of education expenditure” (IPA, Schooling Victorians, 1992)

Australian education suffers from “provider capture, where the education system, instead of meeting the needs of parents and students, is run for the benefit of the teachers unions and bureaucrats” (“Brave words, but Labor’s policy offers more of the same”, Kevin Donnelly, 28-29/4/2007)

“our schools are owned and run by… militant leftist education unions” and Labor has not used any of its state or territory governments to show that “it has better education policies” (“So much for economic conservatism”, Sinclair Davidson and Alex Robson 26/10/2007)

“provider capture” in which education is run for the benefit of teacher unions (“Brave new words for education revolution”, Kevin Donnelly , 24/12/2007

“provider capture” (“And another thing…” (editorial), 15/2/2008)

“militant” teacher unions (“Performance ranking is key to reform” (editorial, 26/3/2008)

Schools need “rescuing from provider capture” (“Debate will stick to ALP script”, 10/4/2008)
“provider capture” (“Seize day on reform” (editorial), 16/4/2008)

Making Australian education “world-class” requires freeing it from “provider capture” (“Nothing but talk about the revolution”, Kevin Donnelly, 18/4/2008)

Lowering the remuneration of the public sector is one necessary measure (“Recovery lies in savings and public sector wage cuts”, Alan Moran, 14/1/2009)

Spending more money on education makes no difference to student achievement (“Private schools a public good”, Scott Prasser, 22/12/2011)

There are more examples and some useful links here:

Throw in all the references to the supposed “rivers of gold”, “windfall” GST revenue that the states have supposedly “squandered” on supposedly “excessive” wage rises for the public sector, and you get the picture.
Posted by Chris C, Thursday, 9 February 2012 10:22:13 AM
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There is a fundamental contradiction in “the right’s” approach to education funding. On the one hand, it rails against excessive spending in public schools and tell us that spending money makes no difference. On the other hand it remains silent when private school fees double public school expenditure. Surely, if spending money made no difference it has a duty to warn private school parents not to waste their money.

Private schools are increasing their fees by as much as 9.5 per cent, with one school charging $30,820 per student (“No need for school fee hikes: Garrett”, Justine Ferrari, 23/12/2011). Meanwhile, the Institute of Public Affairs, which argued that Victoria’s expenditure of $8,742 (in today’s dollars) per secondary student in 1990-91 was excessive and needed to be slashed (Schooling Victorians, 1992), remains silent while private schools charge almost four times that amount. The Australian and the IPA do not rail against “provider capture” and “militant” private school teachers unions.

(Expenditure per Victorian secondary student in 1990-91– $5,5165 (“Schooling Victorians”, IPA, 1992)
CPI increase from December 1990 to September 2011 – 69.2 per cent
1990-91 expenditure in September 2011 dollars – $8,741.52)

There is also a campaign being run by the Coalition and its allies to frighten private school parents by making them think there is a threat to private school funding (again from The Australian):
“Catholics will rise”, 29/4/2011
“Howard wanted to wean schools off funds deal”, 7-8/5/2011
“Gonski review’s search for a problem to solve in Catholic education”, 12/9/2011
“State slams schools’ fund model”, 5-6/11/2011
“Private schools a public good”, 22/12/2011

Everybody who pays attention knows that there is no threat to private school funding. The Gonski Review will recommend a federal-state cost-sharing needs-based system, probably along the lines of the existing Victorian government system and with the funding more closely linked to the needs of the individual student, and the argument will be about the details; e.g., should the phase-down rate be 40 per cent or 50 per cent? The Coalition will end up with egg on its face.
Posted by Chris C, Thursday, 9 February 2012 10:22:40 AM
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Might it not have been wiser for Chris C to have read the article by Prasser before exploding a couple of diatribes of ideological confusion?
I must admit to some grudging admiration for anyone who has such a comprehensive and ready supply of material on observations of the 'provider capture' in education.

However, if the confusion presented in these two responses to the Prasser analysis, represent the opposite view to '“the right’s” approach to education funding' any “ campaign to undermine the public education system” would hardly be necessary.

The point is that too much of the debate on performance of Australian education is lost in a fog of right or left ideology.
The clear evidence from Australia and abroad is that large inflexible state run monopoly education systems do not perform as well as locally managed schools - who are more directly accountable to parents and local communities.

Parents are not fools and this is why so many are reluctantly prepared to meet the extra cost of sending their children to non-government fee paying schools.

The pressing debate is around how to give children in government schools a better education.

Clearly parents who opt for the expense of school fees are saying that the problem is about how the schools are managed not how they are funded.Indeed, reducing numbers in the non-government sector would result in a funding crisis for government schools. Parents who pay fees already reduce the overall education cost to the community by about 40% per pupil - and they pay taxes,which in part go to funding government schools they do not use.

I would also be interested to know how Chris C is so confident in what the Gonski report will say. What does Chirs C know that has not been revealed for those of us among the great unwashed? Or it Chris C giving us the further benifit of more uninformed opinion?
Posted by CARFAX, Thursday, 9 February 2012 12:02:48 PM
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I read the article before I composed my responses.

They were not diatribes, though the attacks on teachers over the last several decades could be so described. The diatribes are those that use untrue and derogatory language:
“The schools are simply a racket and a rort for teachers who use it as a fully salaried system of outdoor relief.” (Peter Ryan, “Teachers fail to get the point”, The Age, 1/8/1992)
“The perks and privileges of this cosseted profession were absolutely sacrosanct.” (“A lesson in anarchy”, Herald Sun (editorial), 19/11/1992)
“Schools…appear to be run more for the benefit and convenience of their employees than for their users.” (Claude Forell, “A reckoning unions had to have”, The Age, 25/11/1992)

I submit many letters to the editor, and it was fairly easy to search my computer for the phrases “provider capture” in the letters I sent and thus find the titles and dates of the articles to which I was responding. I also did some research years ago on the campaign against the government sector by the IPA and its allies. I could find hundreds of examples, but that would be overkill.

There was no confusion in what I posted. I gave evidence of the ongoing attacks on public education and the ongoing silence regarding private school fees by those who say money makes no difference in public schools and spending on public schools is excessive.

We do not have a “large inflexible state run monopoly education system” in Victoria, and have not had one for over 40 years. So much of the discussion on education assumes NSW is Australia. It is not. Our schools gained curriculum autonomy progressively after 1968. We have had locally elected parent-majority school councils since 1975. We have had locally selected principals since the 1980s. We haven’t had a state zoning system since the 1980s, except that schools without room to take all-comers are allowed to impose a zone. We have had locally selected senior staff since 1992. We have had locally selected teachers since the 1990s. We have had local budgetary control since 2005.
Posted by Chris C, Thursday, 9 February 2012 1:51:55 PM
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I agree a lot is lost in the “fog of right or left ideology”. That is why I put “the right” in inverted commas because things are a lot more complex than left and right, but sometimes shorthand is needed.

If society wants a better education system,
1) it will pay at least the best teachers as well as it did 35 years ago in order to keep them teaching; (
2) it will restore teachers’ professional judgement in the running of schools that existed 30 years ago;
3) it will provide the class sizes and teaching loads that allow them to get on with their jobs as it did 25 years ago;
4) it will abandon the building of mega education factories of 2,000-plus students in which the individual student is lost;
5) it will halt the recycling of the failed 1970s fad of the open classroom behind the slogan of “flexible learning spaces”;
6) it will not fall for fads like SOSE, introduced by the Liberals in the 1990s, but will maintain separate academic disciplines like geography and history (restored by Labor in 2005) in schools;
7) it will cease placing educationally unqualified people with six weeks training in sole charge of disadvantaged classes under the slogan of “Teach for Australia”.
That’s not the full list, but it is a fairly demanding one to be getting on with.

I am confident that I know what the Gonski report will say, not in detail, but conceptually, because I can read the policy signals, the political signals and the spirit of the age, which has been going in one direction for 40 years. Society has been “freeing up” over that time. My Funding Review Submissions give more detail:
Posted by Chris C, Thursday, 9 February 2012 1:52:23 PM
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