Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Why funding private schools is a smart idea

The school year has only just begun and, already, it's open season on attacking Catholic and independent schools.

With headlines like ''Private schools do not deserve a cent from our public funds'' (The Guardian, 28/1), ''Private schools reap government funding at expense of public schools'' (The Sydney Morning Herald, 28/1) and ''Abbott's Gonski to hit public schools harder'' (The Age, 30/1), parents could be forgiven for thinking that private schools are a drain on the public purse and that they do not deserve financial support.

Wrong. Instead of being a drain on taxpayers' funds, private school parents pay taxes for a public school system they don't use plus school fees. The fact that 34.9 per cent of students around Australia are enrolled in Catholic and independent schools saves state, territory and Commonwealth governments billions of dollars every year.

The savings to the taxpayer represent the additional cost to government if the private school sector closed and students had to be enrolled in state schools.

As noted in the just released Productivity Commission's Report on Government Services 2014, while governments invest on average $15,768 per government school student in terms of recurrent costs, the figure for private school students is only $8546. The reality is that even though Catholic and independent schools enrol 34.9 per cent of state and territory students, such schools receive only 22.4 per cent of what state and Commonwealth governments spend on education in terms of recurrent costs.

Instead of private schools ''draining government schools of much needed public resources'', as argued by Luke Mansillo in The Guardian, the fact that such schools exist frees up funds that governments can then redirect to their own schools.

It should also be remembered that education is a public good and every child, regardless of the type of school attended, deserves government support. School choice is supported by the Gonski review of school funding.

When attacking funding to Catholic and independent schools critics are guilty of perpetuating a number of other myths in addition to the furphy that private schools are overfunded and a drain on the taxpayer.

Jim McMorrow, in a recently released report commissioned by the Australian Education Union, argues that the Abbott government is guilty of financially penalising government schools as a result of restricting the Gonski-inspired funding agreement to four years instead of the six agreed to by the previous ALP Rudd government.

Ignored is that the funding promised by the Rudd government in the final two years, as it was beyond the four years of the budget forward estimates, was hypothetical - in other words an imaginary pot of gold that had as much chance of materialising as Lasseter's Reef.

Luke Mansillo is also wrong to claim that parents are mistaken if they believe that private schools outperform government schools in terms of academic results.

Two researchers from Curtin University, Paul Miller and Derby Voon, after analysing national literacy and numeracy test results (NAPLAN) conclude, ''The results also indicate that test outcomes vary by school sector, with private schools having higher school-average scores. Even after differences in schools' ICSEA are taken into account'' (ICSEA is a measure of a school's socio-economic profile).

Gary Marks, a researcher at the University of Melbourne, makes a similar point when he notes that private schools achieve stronger results compared to most government schools and that, ''even when taking into account differences in ability levels and socio-economic backgrounds of students attending government, Catholic and independent schools, substantial sector differences remain''.

Based on his analysis of literacy and numeracy tests and year 12 results Marks also argues ''attendance at a private school was associated with higher chances of completing school and university even when taking into account differences in socio-economic background''.

And the benefits of a private school education continue many years after leaving university as suggested by research carried out by Nikhil Jha and Cain Polidano of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research.

In their paper the researchers argue, ''wage rates for Catholic school graduates progress with labour market experience at a greater rate, on average, than wage rates for public school graduates. Importantly, we find no evidence to suggest that these benefits are peculiar to Catholic schooling, with similar benefits estimated for graduates of independent private schools. These findings suggest that private schooling may be important in not only fostering higher academic achievement, but also in better preparing students for a working life.''

It is clear that there is a good deal of research arguing that private schools achieve strong results, even after adjusting for students' socio-economic background, and that such schools compared to government schools are underfunded by government.


Leave sex lessons to straight teachers, writes Pyne's reviewer

Kevin Donnelly, chosen to review the national school curriculum, says many parents believe the sexual practices of gays, lesbians and transgender individuals are "decidedly unnatural" and has questioned whether students ought to learn about such relationships at school.

In a book he wrote in 2004, Mr Donnelly also seems to suggest that only heterosexual teachers have a right to teach students about sex.

The book, called Why Our Schools Are Failing, was commissioned by the Liberal Party-aligned Menzies Research Centre. Malcolm Turnbull, who was chairman of the centre at the time, wrote the foreword.

Mr Donnelly uses the book to criticise aspects of state curriculum he believes have contributed to declining standards in literacy and numeracy in Australian schools. He lays much of the blame on "political correctness" and the "left-wing academics, teacher unions and sympathetic governments" that have conspired to infuse state curriculums with politically correct material.

He is also critical of the Australian Education Union for arguing that school students ought to be taught about non-heterosexual relationships and safe-sex practices "in a positive way".

Mr Donnelly wrote: "The union argues that gays, lesbians and transgender individuals have a right to teach sex education … and that any treatment of sexual matters should be 'positive in its approach' and that school curricula should 'enhance understanding and acceptance of gay lesbian, bisexual and transgender people'."

"Forgotten is that many parents would consider the sexual practices of gays, lesbians and transgender individuals decidedly unnatural and that such groups have a greater risk in terms of transmitting STDs and AIDS."

Mr Donnelly was appointed to review the national curriculum by Education Minister Christopher Pyne.

Mr Pyne said he was certain Mr Donnelly would bring a "balanced approach" to the task, along with the other appointee, Queensland academic Ken Wiltshire.

Mr Donnelly was contacted by Fairfax Media but he did not wish to comment.

Opposition education spokeswoman Kate Ellis said Mr Donnelly's views were "extremely offensive, dangerous and extreme" and had "absolutely no place in our schools". A spokesman for Mr Pyne said Mr Donnelly and Mr Wiltshire had been "specifically asked" to ensure the curriculum was balanced and diverse.

Shelley Argent, from the support group Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, called Mr Donnelly's views "ridiculous".

"Children are not created or made or encouraged or recruited to be gay by learning about homosexuality in the classroom," she said.

NSW Teachers Federation president Maurie Mulheron said: "You cringe at some of those statements … You can only assume Mr Pyne is being deliberately provocative."


Ignore the hysteria: it's time we privatised the tone deaf, left-leaning ABC

No media organisation is above criticism - even from a prime minister. That's especially the case when the media organisation in question is funded by taxpayers.

The reaction to Prime Minister Tony Abbott's criticism of the ABC has bordered on the hysterical.

Former ABC managing director David Hill told Fairfax Media Abbott's criticism was "dangerous". The Age's political editor Michael Gordon labelled it "astonishing". The Guardian's Katharine Murphy warned darkly that things might "escalate".

The ABC is not such a faultless organisation that it should be above criticism. As a media outlet totally funded by taxpayers, it deserves much greater scrutiny, and has special obligations to be rigorously fair, balanced and impartial. As an organisation, it has shown itself to be tone deaf when it comes to the legitimate concerns of many Australians, that it leans to the left and is not a welcome home for conservatives or classical liberals - particularly among its salaried employees.

In many ways the ABC has made a rod for its own back. Its defenders are right to argue that it should not be an uncritical cheerleader for Australia, and that it should place the pursuit of truth above nationalism. The ABC was perfectly entitled to report on revelations from Edward Snowden on the growing apparatus of state surveillance in much of the Western world. It was a legitimate news story unquestionably in the public interest, and ignoring it would have done Australians a disservice.

But at the same time as it claims to be a news organisation dedicated to the pursuit of truth at home, it also assures Australians that it is best placed to sell our wares abroad. In bidding - aggressively - for the Australia Network tender, the ABC opted to become a tool of diplomacy on behalf of the federal government. The ABC is set to receive $223 million over 10 years to promote Australia's interests in our region.

That's not an appropriate role for any media organisation - public or private. It hopelessly conflicts its news gathering operation and opens the ABC up to criticism that it undermines Australia's interests through its reporting. That's why it is in the ABC's best interests that the federal government is now considering axing the Australia Network service altogether. The Abbott government should go a step further, and privatise the ABC - but not because it is unhappy with their journalism.

Ultimately the case for reforming the ABC does not rest on one week of reporting. If there was ever a case for a taxpayer-funded state broadcaster, it doesn't exist today. Australians have at their fingertips access to more news from more varied sources than ever before. Online, every niche interest and point of view is well covered. And as private media companies continue to struggle with profitability, the continued lavish funding of the ABC only serves to undermine their business model further.


Tim Wilson: 'total free speech' needed for Human Rights Commission

The Australian Human Rights Commission should not always be "singing from the same song sheet" but include diverse opinions on issues such as free speech and racial slurs, incoming commissioner Tim Wilson says.

Mr Wilson told the Liberal Democratic Party conference in Sydney on Sunday that he was looking forward to energising the commission and would be pushing for "almost total free speech".

The commission needed more diverse voices within it, the commissioner-designate said.

"What we shouldn't have is the commission always singing from the same song sheet. Sometimes differences of opinion can add value and build the integrity of the commission," he said.

Federal Attorney-General George Brandis has directed the Australian Law Reform Commission to investigate laws that unnecessarily encroach on traditional rights and freedoms.

"Clearly one of the first debates we will have is on free speech, and particularly the sensitive area of the Racial Discrimination Act," Mr Wilson said.

The act set the bar far too low in restricting speech, he said. "The limits should only be to the extent that speech conflicts with other human rights, notably when speech explicitly incites and provokes violence against others."

It was unjust that people who felt offended by comments had recourse to laws based on their racial identity, but homosexuals insulted on the basis of their sexual orientation had to wear it, he said. Only removing such a law could address the unjust nature of it.

"Compulsory legal limits on speech based on acceptable conduct can undermine human rights," he said. Public debate as well as government, business and sports codes of conduct and voluntary social norms could be more effective in driving changes towards acceptable speech and behaviour.


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