“Bloggish debate”

It’s not exactly the burning question of the day, I’d have thought, but the two Andrews (Leigh and Norton) are debating “should public schools be privatised?” on their respective blogs… Andrew Leigh writes:

The idea of a two-way discussion is loosely related to Slate’s Breakfast Table, and is both more in-depth and less democratic than regular blogging. I’m not sure whether or not it will work – but I figured that there’s no harm in occasionally trying something new.

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Posted in announcements, blogosphere, education
26 comments on ““Bloggish debate”
  1. gandhi says:

    I would have thought the question is “Should private schools be nationalised”?

    🙂

  2. David Rubie's cat says:

    It’s hardly a debate. Norton’s entrenched position is that public school is evil, and possibly the greatest mistake, evah! He doesn’t want the kiddies doing their book lurnin in stalinist, union controlled knowledge factories. They get all the wrong ideas! He’d prefer to see a Trotskyist revolution where teh state is smashed and the book lurnin iz all dunz in cottages fur privat lurnin cuz agendaz is teh spoiling dah kidz en makes em want jobs above their stashunz. Nasty unions!(*)

    (* A lot of the output of the CIS seems to be finger pointing at the teachers union, and trying to foment some kind of “crisis in education” when clearly there isn’t one – classical right wing tactics)

  3. David Rubie says:

    Quit it cat, you’re wasting my bandwidth.

  4. mbahnisch says:

    Looks like your cat got a superior public school education, David!

  5. j_p_z says:

    Hmm, I thought this debate was already in progress, but it appears so far it’s only been announced.

    I had two questions (which I’d thought to get answered just by context, but I guess not): how is Australia’s public education system funded? On the federal level, or the state, or locally? Where does the money come from — income tax, sales tax, property tax, other?

    Also: what are some of the problems (real or perceived) with Australian public schools that would prompt a debate like this?

  6. mbahnisch says:

    j_p_z, it’s funded by the states but with a pretty big infusion of federal money – which leads to a lot of arguments as to who should have control over various aspects (ie curriculum, teacher education standards, exams, etc) because the Feds can make “tied grants” under s 72 of the Constitution enabling them to give money to the states with strings attached. The funding isn’t hypothecated but just comes out of the general revenue pile.

    As to what the perceived problems are, that’s a long story and my time is a tad limited right now, so I’ll leave it for someone else to answer.

  7. Katz says:

    To mention this topic j_p_z is to open the wounds of sectarianism.

    Sectarianism was one of the most virulent strains in Australian political life.

    Religious adherence now plays a small and marginal part in most Australians’ lives, but the memory of sectarian hatreds still lives on through the debates over education.

    For a long time the Catholic Church had an ultramontane vision for Australian culture. From the 1870s, secularists began to take over education systems of the Australian colonies. Catholics rejected this and removed their children to be educated by nuns and borthers, of whom there were many, especially from Ireland.

    Secularists and Catholics were at knife-point for the next century or so, until in the 1970s Gough Whitlam funded Catholic schools using a formula that was supposed to be blind to sect, but was not. Since then, more and more private schools, both Catholic and non-Catholic schools have found themselves in receipt of federal funding.

    Parallel to these systemic schools in all colonies were the elite, usually Protestant independent schools. These schools are particularly prominent in Victoria.

  8. FDB says:

    JPZ – part of the answer is agonising about so-called “postmodernist curriculum”, e.g. (and in particular) w/r/t history. Also English and media studies. Classes on txt sp33k and Big Brother, “black-armbanding” of our national history (i.e. looking at the last coupla centuries from an Aboriginal perspective).

    Add to this the regular ulgy-head-rearing of moral panic about basic literacy and numeracy levels, and I’m sure we’ve got much the same grab-bag of 21st-century education problems as any other developed nation. Minus Intelligent Design – there’s only the tiniest fringe of nutcases here who want religion in the science classroom.

  9. David Rubie says:

    I’m no expert on the supposed problems, but I might start the ball rolling as I read a lot of the insane mutterings of the right for entertainment value.

    Overall, the basic RWDB approach to education is that state based education is prone to meddling from the left. The natural, self organising education system that any right-thinking culture would spontaneously emerge has been deliberately starved of the education space. Worse than that, atheists and papists dominate the whole deal.

    The right have a perception that there is an “everyone must be a winner” culture, that curriculums and marking schemes have been subverted, that literacy is dropping, that post-modern attitudes to history instill a self-loathing into western culture and the whole deck of cards will collapse in some kind of primitivist drum-circle lead by a hairy, weeping, little red book carrying lipsniger, ripe to be overrun by Islamic hordes.

    It is a crisis, citizens. Despite looking for evidence of the inherent superiority of private education, even Norton (selective statistician par-excellence) can only provide marginal evidence that a private education leads to a superior outcome, and only under very select conditions. This search for evidence that *must exist* is disappointing, but might be a conspiracy lead by teachers unions to hide the relative performance of schools.

    To combat all this muddle headed leftie nonsense, performance based pay has been dreamed up as a kind of wedge to (a) do an end-run around the unions and (b) finally wheedle out the definitive proof that public schools are inherently inferior to private ones. Once this evidence is found, micro religious schools of every whacko persuasion can then be publically funded via vouchers, making the death beasts happy that their particular brand of religion is pandered to and kept away from maoist meddling forever. Steeled in the superiority of overwhelming Aussie-ness, stories about Simpson and his Donkey and the Kokoda Trail (do not mention Ambon or Singapore though), the Islamic hordes will find no purchase and go back to their goats, retreating from Cronulla beach in a humiliating defeat. You know it makes sense.

  10. murph the surf says:

    Here are some answers for j-p-z.
    This is part of an article which is reproduced from an australian newspaper and there is a copy at Club Troppo.
    It is at the following link

    http://clubtroppo.com.au/2007/12/02/the-owl-of-minerva-henry-ergas-on-john-howard/

    “But significant as those headline-grabbing changes are, they should not obscure the deeper shift in the balance between private and public provision that occurred in the Howard years. That shifting balance has consequences which have not yet been fully felt.

    Nowhere is the shift in balance clearer than in education and in health care – two areas where the incoming Government has made expansive promises.

    In education, there has been a marked, though in percentage terms not very large, move in student numbers from Government schools to non-Government schools since 1996. That shift has been reflected in changes in the composition of Commonwealth funding for schools, with the share for Government schools dropping from 42 per cent in 1995-96 to an estimated 32 per cent in 2003-04. At the same time, new criteria have been brought in for allocating that funding as between non-Government schools, with the new allocation criteria placing greater stress on the income levels of the communities those schools serve.

    The growth in Commonwealth funding of non-Government schools has been a cause of continuing and strident criticism, particularly by the public education unions. Non-Government schools, it is said, “skim the cream”, taking the students who are most affluent and easiest to educate, reducing diversity in the public schools and leaving them to handle an ever-tougher pool of cases.

    These criticisms are misleading for at least four reasons.

    First, they ignore the fact that Government schools continue to receive far greater public funding per student than do their non-Government counterparts. Specifically, total government spending on Government schools per Full Time Equivalent (FTE) student (that is, taking account of spending by Commonwealth and State Governments) still substantially exceeds total government spending on non-Government schools per FTE student. Thus, in the 2005 financial year, real Commonwealth, State and Territory Government recurrent expenditure per FTE student in all Government schools amounted to $10,715 compared to $6,054 for non-Government schools, with the funding gap being even larger for non-recurrent costs.

    Second, they overstate, probably greatly, the extent to which Government schools in fact mix (or have ever mixed) students from differing socio-economic groups. In effect, residential zoning means that Government schools tend to have relatively homogenous catchment areas and populations in terms of key socio-demographic characteristics.

    Third, they ignore the extent to which non-Government schools serve children from less affluent families.

    Thus, a significant factor in the recent growth in non-Government schools has been the emergence of new, lower-fee independent schools in areas which historically had no non-Government schools (other than Catholic ones) and which have income levels that are relatively low. At the same time, the expansion of Protestant, Muslim and other faith-based schools has provided the option of school choice to a much larger group of Australians than ever before. These schools rarely fit the image of the traditional, elite-oriented, private school, including in terms of the socio-demographic communities they serve. Providing public funding to these schools is far more likely to improve the distribution of educational opportunity than to worsen it.

    Last but not least, the claim that growth in the non-Government sector undermines the public school system ignores the positive impact competition from non-Government schools has on the quality and effectiveness of Government schools. There is considerable international evidence to show that subsidies that follow students are good not only for non-Government schools but also for public schools, who find that they must raise standards to prevent shortfalls in enrolment. Unfortunately, State and Territory governments do not release the data needed to replicate here the studies that have been undertaken overseas, but there is no reason to think that the Australian pattern would differ from that elsewhere.”

  11. silkworm says:

    Murph, I see you are determined to continue the culture wars with your Howardist rhetoric.

    “In education, there has been a marked, though in percentage terms not very large, move in student numbers from Government schools to non-Government schools since 1996. That shift has been reflected in changes in the composition of Commonwealth funding for schools…”

    As usual for a Howardista, you’ve got it the wrong way round. Public support for private schools followed where the Commonwealth money went.

    There is no inherent reason why private schools should be better than public schools, given the same level of funding.

  12. murph the surf says:

    Silkworm , please read the original article. I haven’t advanced any argument- just provided a link to an article from Club Troppo.
    J-p-z asked a question about education funding and perceived problems in some schools.

  13. FDB says:

    “the whole deck of cards will collapse in some kind of primitivist drum-circle lead by a hairy, weeping, little red book carrying lipsniger, ripe to be overrun by Islamic hordes.”

    Marvellous!

  14. Katz says:

    Yes, I second FDB’s delight at DR’s lampooning of right-wing moral panic. DR’s mind-forged monsters are shared by the neo-liberal right and by the conservative right.

    Education is thus one of the issues that keeps two warring wings of rightism together.

    Why is that?

    Private schools usually sail under a religious or denominational flag, which is (except for your Raghead schools) a Very Good Thing in the minds of conservatives.

    But on the other hand, Private Schools are perceived to be more efficient “value adders” than Government Schools in the vital task of maximising ENTER Scores (the gold standard of tertiary entry). Thus private schools are seen to be the great engines of upward social and economic mobility

    Of course, both Rights are Wrong. Private schooling usually cures kids of religion. And educational outcomes of private schools v govt schools is patchy, especially when it is recognised that private school kids drop out of university at a higher rate than their govt school counterparts.

  15. pablo says:

    Gandhi asks the question as to whether all private schools should be nationalised. Probably a bit late in the day in OZ but this was effectively done in NZ a bit after the place became a dominion in 1907.

  16. j_p_z says:

    Thanks folks, for the background on this. Education debates are always pretty interesting. (btw, from what I can tell, your method of funding schools from overall state/federal pools sounds in general like it’s a lot more practical and sane than the crazy-quilt funding approaches we have over here; but then, of course, that is where histories differentiate.)

    Here’s my simple one-stop-shopping suggestion: forget the public/private dichotomy, and allocate distinct responsibilities along the state/federal divide. (Don’t you already do something like this with the universities?) Like so:

    Let’s say that the feds agree to fund schools that serve both of the more-expensive extreme ends of the bell curve: the magnet schools for gifted kids, and the schools for kids with disabilities and special needs. The states agree to fund the generalized 80% in between, with a couple of different styles and levels available, since the smaller state governments are presumably more flexible and responsive to local concerns. For anyone who’s dissatisfied with the bulk of this approach, there’s also a small number of vouchers available, if you can show reasonable cause in a reasonable sort of hearing. (standards TBD)

    The federal schools can have whatever control of the curriculum the feds like (traditionalist, post-modern, whatever), so long as they produce continuing high results and have objective admissions standards (by exam only; no legacies, etc.). A high amount of prestige is attached to these federally-funded schools, and if they aren’t churning out their fair quota of high achievers, then they lose their federal status. In return, the feds agree to stop telling the states what to do with the schools for regular folks. Same amount of money is being spent all around, it’s just distributed differently, and has different kinds of strings attached. Since the system is (shudder!) diverse, there’s less reason to quarrel, because there’s something to be found for everyone. No privatization needed.

    All I ask in return is front-row seats for the big annual rubgy match between nerdy Melbourne Federal High and those scruffy state underdogs, the St. Kilda Krushers.

  17. Katz says:

    All I ask in return is front-row seats for the big annual rubgy match between nerdy Melbourne Federal High and those scruffy state underdogs, the St. Kilda Krushers.

    That wouldn’t be rugby Japerz.

    That’d be footy.

  18. wpd says:

    “recurrent expenditure per FTE student in all Government schools amounted to $10,715 compared to $6,054 for non-Government schools, with the funding gap being even larger for non-recurrent costs.”

    The figures are misleading. Students in Government schools are spread across the state. Queensland, for example, has approximately 250 ‘one or two teacher schools’. Expenditures on children attending those schools and other small schools are well above the average. Private schools tend to be in areas where ‘economies of scale’ become possible and likely.

    Children with disabilities are over represented in State schools. The greater the disability the greater the likelihood of attending a State institution. Catering for those children at enormous expense again distorts the figures.

    There are also costs of curriculum development, in-service education for all teachers etc that are picked up by the State.

    The raw figures don’t tell anything like the true story.

  19. murph the surf says:

    Sorry wpd but you seem to be agreeing with the writer .
    Recurrent expenditure must exclude many of the items you mentioned- like the examples of one or two teacher schools . The establishment costs aren’t being included.

    The costs are great as you state and they have said that non recurrent costs are even greater.
    This would include the costs for special facilities for disabled and remote students ?

    So if I understand your argument the figure for the government students, as measured by FTE should be even greater ?

  20. j_p_z says:

    Yes, Katz, but I am inventing a new sport called “rubgy” that combines elements of Gaelic football and Swedish massage. It also has its own theme song…

    Eleanor Rubgy
    Picks up the ball on a field
    Where a touch-down has been…
    Lives in a dream…

    Imagine a stadium of soccer hooligans all chanting THAT.

    Go ahead, laugh. They laughed at Fulton, too. And now nobody in these woe-begotten Maoist schools is even taught who Fulton WAS anymore, let alone Stephen Sondheim… There was a point here somewhere, but now I’m too busy humming “They All Laughed” in my head, and remembering a particularly charming live rendition of it… So the meaning escapes.

  21. FDB says:

    Katz – I may be slow on the uptake, but I reckon I’ve just deciphered your moniker. Not who you are, mind, but what type of person. No doubt a pretty satisfied one with the outcome of certain national contests. 😉

  22. Katz says:

    I’m keeping a lid on it FDB.

  23. FDB says:

    LOL.

    Watch me when Freo get a sniff (maybe 2025?). I’ll have to get a special steel lid fabricated.

  24. wpd says:

    “Recurrent expenditure must exclude many of the items you mentioned- like the examples of one or two teacher schools”

    Why?

    “So if I understand your argument the figure for the government students, as measured by FTE should be even greater ?”

    If fairness was the criteria – then yes.

  25. Katz says:

    FDB, Dockers Barrackers could learn from Geelong fans how to endure suffering.

  26. FDB says:

    “FDB, Dockers Barrackers could learn from Geelong fans how to endure suffering.”

    Well there’s no doubt you’re the experts, but I reckon we’re doing okay. Factor in the shameless media bias in our 2-team town out west, as against being able to grieve together relatively unmolested.

    But yeah, fingers crossed we don’t have to wait as long as the GFC.

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