Earlier this week Australia received a rude shock when, after participating for the first time in an international reading level test, a quarter of Australia’s Year 4 students failed to meet the minimum standard in reading.
The Australian reports that in some states, such as Queensland and the Northern Territory, the reading level rose to a maximum of just 30 per cent. Significantly, Australia was outranked by seventeen countered, placing us 26th out of 45 participating nations in reading levels.
Maths and science also suffered, with children from 21 countries outperforming Australian students in grade 4 science in the 2011 Trends in International Maths and Science Study. I’ve noticed that for a while now, Liberal Premiers across Australia have declared a war on education and the Arts.
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The Prime Minister’s decision to throw Peter Garrett, the education minister, a lifeline in the form of Brendan O’Connor to manage the school funding review, chaired by David Gonski, proves how sensitive and potentially politically damaging the issue is.
Non-government schools enrolments have surged over the last 15 or so years with much of the increase occurring in low fee paying non-denominational schools in marginal seats that are crucial in any election campaign.
During the 2004 election campaign Mark Latham’s hit list of wealthy private schools proved an electoral liability and when education minister, the now Prime Minister Julia Gillard, assured non-government schools and their parents that schools would not suffer financially as a result of the review.
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Last week on The Punch, conservative education writer Kevin Donnelly laid into a report proposing a new model of universal funding for public and private schools. Here, the report’s author, Jennifer Buckingham from the Centre for Independent Studies, sets the record straight.
School choice means different things to different people. In essence, it refers to the principle that parents should have the right and the means to choose their child’s school, and that this choice should be not be restricted to government schools.
To adhere to this principle, a school funding system must have several key features.
First, it must be child-centred. The amount of public funding provided for the education of each student must be based on their individual needs and circumstances. Second, the type of school attended, whether government or non-government, should not affect the level of funding. Third, students should be able to enrol at any school of their choice. And funding entitlements should follow students.
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In the lead-up to the 2001 federal election, a Labor backbencher from Melbourne’s outer west weighed into the national debate on schools funding.
In a media release headed Howard’s Unfair School Funding Model Must Go, the MP attacked the Coalition Government for the funding arrangements it had introduced earlier that year.
As evidence of the inequity the release pointed out that the model treated elite private schools as more needy than public schools and gave them almost twice the funding per student. That was both “ridiculous and unfair”, the MP said. Fast forward ten years and that backbencher is now our Prime Minister.
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Vitriolic claims that private schools are elitist ignore the fact that public schools can be even more exclusive.
The Wheeler Centre, the Melbourne-based cultural body established to promote debate and literary dialogue, held a public debate last week on the topic ‘Public funding of private schools in unconscionable’. I had the pleasure of being one of the speakers for the negative, along with the ex-Howard Government minister Amanda Vanstone and a Year 12 student from Scotch College, Andrew Elder.
During the debate the issues raised received a fair hearing and the standard of argument was balanced and objective. There was one exception; the Australian crime novelist Shane Maloney who used the occasion, once again, to gratuitously vilify and stereotype Catholic and independent schools.
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It is 222 years since the French Revolution established the principle of the separation of church and state. It is three months since Cyclone Yasi and the Queensland floods ripped $9 billion from our national economy.
In Australia we have an ostensibly secular and progressive government, which also claims to be fiscally prudent. It’s just blown $220 million on a program which is offensive to the principle of state independence from religious influence.
The reason: having avowed her atheism, Julia Gillard is now desperate to appease the Christian lobby. As such, one of the biggest new spending measures in what was unconvincingly billed as a tough-minded post-disaster budget will see chaplains running about in 3500 public schools, filling kids’ heads with what many people regard as fantastic nonsense.
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This wretched Government simply must increase the funding for private schools. The more children we can get into private education, the better we, as a nation, will become.
There has been quite the furore over the figures revealed by MySchool 2.0 – and commentators have rightly pointed out that this Labor Government is using the politics of envy to further its ideological warfare against the wealthy.
Two points about the MySchool data leap out at one:
1. Private school students do not necessarily perform better on the literacy and numeracy tests.
2. It doesn’t matter.
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THE proposal by education guru Ken Boston to shut down failing schools, sack their principals and replace their teachers is the scholastic equivalent of what’s known as “Ben Tre” logic, from the Vietnamese town of the same name where an American major famously reasoned that “we had to destroy the village in order to save it.”
The people who will be the most outraged by Ken Boston’s radical but welcome suggestion, made at an Australian Primary Principals Association forum on Monday, are the self-styled defenders of public education in the Teachers Unions.
It’s time that someone rang the school bell on the intellectual contribution these unions make to the quality of the public education.
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