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The Forum > Article Comments > One national prescription is not the medicine to cure schools > Comments

One national prescription is not the medicine to cure schools : Comments

By Peter Barnard, published 12/3/2012

Smarter education needed to teach how students learn.

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There is nothing new about vertical grouping, and it is not a panacea. Nothing is.

The statement that “It seems that investment never tallies with outcomes” fits with the narrative that opposes increased spending on education by using dubious comparisons with other periods and other countries; e.g., Ben Jensen’s statement that education spending increased by more than 40 per cent between 2000 and 2009 but our performance declined (“Funding consensus of school sectors the real test”, The Australian, 3-6/3/2012) and the equally misleading claim that Asian countries spend less per student than we do and get better results.

Government spending per student in Australia actually increased from $8,115 ($$11,731 in current dollars) in 1999-2000 to $13,544 ($14,637 in current dollars) in 2008-09; i.e., by 24.4 per cent in real terms. This is not very different from the real increase in per capita GDP over the same period. The relevance of this is that the salaries of teachers have to keep up to some extent with the general living standards of the population as a whole. In other words, we have to increase spending as the economy grows just to maintain education standards. Does anyone really think we would attract and retain able people in teaching if that 24.4 per cent increase had not occurred and, as a consequence, the top Victorian teacher salary was now around $67,000?

South Korea spends less per student than we do because it is a poorer country. OECD figures show that it actually spends 20 per cent of its per capita GDP on each primary student (compared with our 17 per cent) and 30 per cent on each secondary student (compared with our 23 per cent). Again education spending has to be examined relative to the overall income standards in the country.

Finally, the Australian students who sat their PISA tests in 2009 did not benefit from the “large” expenditure for all of their ten years in school, but for the last one only.
Posted by Chris C, Monday, 12 March 2012 4:26:50 PM
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peter, Like many articles about education you take the most complex and convoluted approach and neglect the obvious and simple (although you do allude to it briefly).

By far the biggest hinderance is unions and governments who are more concerned with equity than excellence. The feminisation of our school system is part of this equity of outcomes approach. Anyone who has seen system wide school testing results knows that girls' results cluster around the middle while boys' results are more speread out. All the talk of equity and emphasis on pedagogy is designed to improve girls' outcomes (the ones in the middle) rather than to foster excellence.

Many teachers in Australia got TER results around 50. This is not high enough. But at the moment teaching is seen as a good job for women who want to have holidays for their kids and as a fallback for many others. Until men return to teaching and bring with them their life long identification with their 'vocation', then things will not likely change. It is people who make systems, and I think our kids deserve full time teachers.

To get the best teachers you also have to make the kids teachable. In many schools, only alpha personality types can thrive because teachers have no means of discipling children except sheer force of personality. If you happen to be an academic type without a forceful personality you will struggle in many schools today. The point being that if we want schools to achieve academic excellence we need academic types staffing them not people more suited to security type jobs.

The simple fact is that not all kids want to learn. So your ideas may be valuable but there are many, many simpler reorms that could achieve much faster results.
Posted by dane, Monday, 12 March 2012 4:29:44 PM
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