Monday, November 09, 2015

Funding isn’t everything when it comes to improving school results

As the U.S. example also shows

The Mitchell Institute report published last week showing wide disparities in educational outcomes and attainment among Australian students could not have come at a better time for the ‘I Give a Gonski’ campaign.

The report provides new data confirming what is already well-known – students from low socioeconomic backgrounds on average start school developmentally behind their more advantaged peers, have lower literacy achievement, are less likely to complete school or participate in further education, and are more likely to be unemployed.

The report has been widely interpreted as providing undeniable proof that the huge increases in government funding promised by full implementation of the ‘Gonski’ funding model are necessary. Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull is now apparently open to the idea that our children need this massive funding boost for education. Unfortunately, given government debt levels, it will be our children’s children who pay for it.

The ‘Gonski’ funding model is held up as the great hope for Australian education. It is viewed as the result of rigorous research and expert analysis and believed to objectively represent the ideal funding levels that will finally deliver the ultimate educational prize of equity.

If only that were true. The funding model commonly known as ‘Gonski funding’ is really the Better Schools model devised by the last federal Labor government. It is inspired by the model proposed in a funding review by a committee led by David Gonski in 2012 but there are some important differences. The Better Schools model, now rebadged as Students First, is as much a product of political negotiation as educational analysis. The high dollar figures attached to the model represent political decisions: that no school would lose even one dollar of funding in a new model; that the federal government would carry 65% of the extra funding burden rather than the 35% suggested in the Gonksi report; and that the funding would be phased in over 6 years, putting the crunch years outside of both the budget and electoral cycle.

For many people, the integrity and evidence-basis of the funding model is irrelevant. As long as it means more money for their school, they don’t much care. Governments, however, should care. They should be concerned about whether an extra $7 billion dollars a year is necessary to achieve improved educational outcomes or whether a lesser sum would do the job if spent in ways that are likely to have the greatest benefits.

The relationship between funding and achievement is not linear. Funding increases will produce better education only up to a point, beyond which further increases are marginal at best. There are also other factors in play, including the ability of schools to use funding effectively. Some schools have reported improvements in educational outcomes in just one year as a result of the extra money that began to flow into schools in 2014. This is great news for those schools and their students. But funding was not the only thing that changed – schools were also given significant flexibility in how they used the funding. Education unions have been quick to play up the impact of the funding increase but reticent to acknowledge how such results might also support moves to greater school autonomy.

The in-school factors most likely to improve educational outcomes do not require funding increases in the realm of $7 billion a year. Literacy is a perfect example of why large scale studies consistently fail to find a strong positive relationship between expenditure and student achievement. Billions of dollars have been spent on policies and programs to improve literacy in Australian schools over the last decade yet, as the Mitchell Institute report found, 28% or 73,000 Year 7 students still do not meet the minimum benchmark for literacy.

Literacy is the fundamental skill in education; reading ability is strongly associated with every other indicator or measure from school attendance through to employment. Making sure every child in every classroom has evidence-based reading instruction in the early years of school would do more to improve literacy levels than anything else and is less a function of funding than good policy by governments and strong leadership by principals.

The question is not whether school funding should increase in some schools and keep pace with educational demands in others. The question is whether a long-term commitment to the unprecedented funding levels prescribed by the so-called Gonski model can be justified.


Australia Tops Education Marks In Global Prosperity Report

Australia's education system has been ranked the best in the world by a new report into global prosperity.

The Legatum Prosperity Index, assembled by the Legatum Institute, bills itself as "a uniquely multi-dimensional picture of the world’s nations," ranking 142 countries in economy, entrepreneurship and opportunity, governance, education, personal freedom, safety and security, health and social capital.

Australia is ranked seventh in the overall prosperity ranking, but was awarded top marks for education. The education ranking was determined through analysing data around class size, girls to boys enrolment ratio, secondary and tertiary enrolment, perceptions that children learn and satisfaction with educational quality.

Aside from the chart-topping rank in education, the rest of Australia's marks were hardly impressive. Australia ranked fourth in social capital -- which includes volunteering, charitable donations, helping strangers, trust in others and marriage -- ninth in personal freedom and 10th in governance, but failed to crack the top 10 in any other category.

We ranked 12th in economy, 14th in entrepreneurship and opportunity, 15th in health and 15th in safety and security.

Australian ranked seventh overall out of the 142 countries, the third year in a row we have occupied the #7 spot.

The top positions were, predictably, dominated by Scandinavian nations. Norway topped the list, followed by Switzerland and Denmark, but our trans-Tasman neighbours New Zealand now occupy fourth spot on the global prosperity index.


Jokey song about boomerangs banned by ABC

We read:

"A 936 ABC Hobart listener complained that an offensive song was played on the Weekends program.

Complaint Finding Status: Upheld against 7.1 ABC Editorial Policies (11 April 2011)

Audience and Consumer Affairs response:

The broadcast of the song ‘My Boomerang Won’t Come Back’ was not in keeping with the ABC’s editorial standards for harm and offence; there was no editorial justification for playing it.  The song was not on a regular ABC playlist but was aired because it was requested by a listener.  This error was due to staff not being familiar with the track’s lyrics.  The ABC apologised to the complainant, removed the track completely from the system and took steps to ensure that this would not happen again."

The song was actually written by an Englishman and there is virtually nothing authentically Aboriginal in it.  It is just a bit of imagination.  Listen to the song below:

The full words are here:

An excerpt:

"My boomerang won't come back
My boomerang won't come back
I've waved the thing all over the place
Practiced till I was black in the face
I'm a big disgrace to the aborigine race
My boomerang won't come back"

ALP's memory loss

Michael Potter

Those of us with long enough memories will remember the ALP carrying on at great length in the years around 2002 that the Howard government was the "highest taxing government in Australia's history". Unfortunately enough, it was true.

Imagine, therefore, my surprise when I saw that Anthony Albanese, a Shadow Minister, arguing on Friday that Howard "spent" too much money on tax cuts.

The gall of it was astounding. Not only did it contradict the arguments of the ALP at the time, it also contradicted the arguments of Craig Emerson as recently as 2011 that taxes were at record highs under Howard. And of course, it murdered the definition to talk of tax cuts as "spending".

Mr Albanese was arguing that some of funds that were "spent" on tax cuts instead should have been spent on infrastructure. Great idea. What we really need is more A-class infrastructure such as the ALP's pink batts, the Coalition's Alice to Darwin railway, the Magnesium smelter near Rockhampton (remember that one?) - funded by both the Coalition and the ALP - or the ALP's National Broadband Network with net costs that are $22 billion more than the market-based alternative.

If this wasn't enough, on Monday we had Tony Burke, the Shadow Finance Minister, arguing  that current tax levels are currently too low compared to 2002. We've been over this territory before: comparisons can easily be made to any year; my suggestion is to compare to 2011: if we do this, we must have a tax cut of $40 billion.

Mr Burke was also contradicting the many arguments by his party that taxes were too high in 2002.

Instead of this nonsense, if we are to compare tax levels, they should be done to averages across years, and on that basis the current tax level is well above the 10 year average and about equal to the 20, 30 and 40 year average.

In truth, the ALP was on a winner with its earlier arguments that taxes were too high in and around 2002. They should stick to that argument and not try to put it into the memory hole.


Australia plans for Asian 'dining boom' as food exports surge

A falling currency and a dry spell in the United States have helped Australian food exports jump by a quarter to an annual $26 billion, an outcome likely to please policymakers eager to find signs of life in non-mining sectors.

Australia has entered its 25th year of uninterrupted growth, but its $1.6 trillion economy has slowed as it shifts from exporting natural resources to other areas such as construction, manufacturing and tourism.

Now the talk is of a "dining boom" for Australian farmers as Asian consumers move up the food chain to more expensive meat and dairy products.

"The Chinese are transitioning from a carbohydrate-based diet to a protein-based one; at present that protein is mainly coming from pigs and chickens, but beef will become increasingly important," agribusiness bankers at National Australia Bank said in a note.

"Dairy also looks set to be a winner, especially if we can replicate the kind of success New Zealand dairy has had in China."

Meat exports alone jumped 43 per cent to $14 billion in the year to June, helped by US production falling because of drought, the Australian Food and Grocery Council said in a report.

The export surge allowed the Australian Agricultural Company , the nation's biggest listed beef producer, to flag a return to profit. The company will post half-year results this month.

The Reserve Bank of Australia kept interest rates steady earlier this month after cutting them to an all-time low of 2 per cent in May, reducing the foreign exchange value of the Australian dollar.

The steep 15 cent fall in the Australian dollar over the past 12 months has made local producers much more competitive in the global food market.

Recent free-trade agreements signed with China, Japan and South Korea also promise to improve access to Asian markets and reduce tariffs on Australian foods.

Australian wine too has been in demand with annual exports up 18 per cent, according to the Australian Food and Grocery Council report.

Australia's Treasury Wine Estates, the world's biggest standalone wine maker, forecasts the Asian market will be the largest single contributor to its profits by June 2017.


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