Archive for the 'Schools' Category

Schools and status competition

Ross Gittins thinks that subsidising private schools means subsidising wasteful status competition.

A persistent line of social criticism argues that status competition is wasteful when people pay a premium for something that is not functionally superior but confers greater social status. Gittins uses the example of a a BMW versus a ‘perfectly satisfactory’ Toyota.

The public school lobby endlessly obsesses over a fairly small number of genuinely high-status schools – Sydney Grammar, MLC, Scotch, Ascham etc. Perhaps trying to get your kid into one of these is ‘status competition’ – though it could be just ensuring your kids get the same high standard of facilities at school that they get at home. Ross has a history of being over-confident in inferring motives from behaviour. Read the rest of this entry »

The rise of religious schools

My CIS colleague Jennifer Buckingham has a new paper out today on the rise of religious schools, written up in the Fairfax broadsheets.

It’s full of useful statistics on enrolments over time and surveys the literature and arguments surrounding religious schools, many of which have also been discussed over the years at this blog (I was originally going to be a co-author of this one, but could never make the time).

It finds the evidence against religious schools on sectarianism, intolerance etc to be lacking. This is my reading of the Australian evidence too.

However, while private schools definitely out-perform non-selective government schools on academic performance even after controlling for family characteristics, we can’t yet confidently make such a claim on the religious/values questions that influence some parents in sending their kids to religious schools.

We are not even sure whether religious schools make their students more religious in the long term – the limited and dated evidence suggests not, after controlling for the fact that religious families are more likely to send their kids to religious schools. I am one of the many atheist products of Christian schooling (not that the school influenced this either way).

Why even a good English curriculum should not be a monopoly curriculum

At least at first glance, the draft English national curriculum released yesterday looks reasonably good. I was pleased to see specific reference to apostrophes, and encouraged by a story in this morning’s Age that Julia Gillard is also big on apostrophes:

As a solicitor at law firm Slater and Gordon in the 1980s and ’90s, Ms Gillard would get her staff to chant: ”One cat’s hat, two cats’ hats, where do the apostrophes go?”

She told her biographer, Jacqueline Kent: ”If I got a letter with it done wrong I would draw a cat with a hat at the bottom in the hope it would come back right the next time. They all thought I was kind of strange.”

That Gillard needed to use a primary school mnemonic to teach people working in law firms how to write letters shows how badly English teaching has failed over the last generation.

Though this English curriculum may be better than those currently in use by the states, I am still strongly opposed to the idea of a national monopoly curriculum. What we should have instead is competitive curricula. Each curriculum on offer could be adopted anywhere in Australia, but none would be mandated for every school.

Though there are educational reasons for avoiding monopoly – one size is unlikely to fit all, we need better pressures than politics for innovation and improvement, etc – other stories running in today’s papers highlight the political reasons against monopoly curriculum (this is as much a criticism of the current state monopolies as the national curriculum). Read the rest of this entry »

Do private schools lead to less empathy?

But if a person does their schooling in an expensive private school, plays sport against other private schools, goes on to university with primarily selective and private school graduates, gets a professional job, they might get to know fewer people from different backgrounds, and are less likely to empathise with them.

- commenter Bruce, 23 February

In race relations analysis, this is known as the ‘contact hypothesis’ – that mixing will lead to mutual understanding and improved relations. Under fairly restrictive conditions contact can achieve the desired goals. But absent those conditions contact can have the opposite effect, confirming bad impressions and worsening ill-feeling.

So we can’t be sure that a toffs meets trailer trash school policy would have a positive effect on mutual relations. The poor as an abstract entity may win more empathy than the poor in person. And the rich as a snobbish, privileged presence in the same classroom may inspire more resentment than than the rich as a distant social class.

Whatever the possible outcomes of shared classrooms, analysis of social attitudes by school background suggests that generally where someone went to school doesn’t seem to have a large influence, as the following figures show (all vertical axes show percentages). Read the rest of this entry »

Why are there so few secular private schools?

Surely having LESS complicated hurdles to pass over would help secular private schools and surely encouraging the private sector would help secular private schools, too?

- commenter Shem Bennett, 21 February.

One curious feature of Australian school education is that it has a very large private sector, but few non-government schools are secular. The Independent Schools Association says that 84% of independent schools have a religious affiliation, but this overstates the size of the entirely secular non-government system open to parents wanting a ‘mainstream’ private education.

About half the schools in the no religious affiliation group are Steiner or Montessori schools. Take out ‘special schools, international schools, Indigenous schools’ – descriptions of the content of the ‘other’ category – and it looks like government schools have the general secular market almost to themselves. My analysis of census figures shows that only just over 10% of children whose parents say they are atheists, agnostics or have no religion are attending non-government schools, less than a third of the general rate of private school attendance. Read the rest of this entry »

If cost was no obstacle, most students would attend private schools

The independent schools don’t have the Australian Education Union’s propaganda talents, and so their interesting survey on attitudes towards private schools received very little coverage. There was a story in the print version of The Australian, but nothing online that I can find.

The UMR Research poll shows just how successful the AEU’s funding disinformation has been. A majority of respondents believe that private schools get the same public funding as government schools (25%) or more funding than government schools (33%). In reality, private schools get about half the public funding per student that government schools receive.

This error contributed to muddled responses on policy issues. Two differently-worded questions on whether private school students should receive the same funding as government school students received different levels of majority support (66%/58%). However, after being told the correct funding levels only 21% of respondents thought that the federal government should give private schools more funding, with 45% opting for current levels. Due to ignorance about the status quo, some respondents who supported same levels of funding in the earlier questions presumably thought that their reply meant no change or a cut in spending on private schools, rather than an increase.

Of those respondents with kids at a government school (an unspecified number, unfortunately) 42% said that if fees were not an issue they would prefer to send their kids to a private school. Read the rest of this entry »

Does My School change parental opinion on schools?

Much of the fuss over the My School website and league tables is based on a fear that parents will over-react to information that is only a very partial account of a school’s activities. As Pollytics blog reports today, Essential Research has started to explore parental reaction, though with only 242 people in the sample some caution is required.


Question: After seeing the information on your school or your children’s school, do you now have a higher or lower opinion of the school?

For clear majorities of both government (68%) and private (58%) parents, My School made no difference to their opinion. Almost identical proportions (16%/17%) said that they had a lower opinion as a result. However more private school parents (22%) than government school parents (15%) said that they had a higher opinion as a result of My School.

Of course a lower opinion doesn’t necessarily mean that parents will move their kids, but this survey suggests that My School will put some pressure on a modestly-sized minority of schools.

Justice, need, and choice: arguments for private school funding since the 1960s

Associate Professor Craig Campbell has form for dubious use of ‘neoliberalism‘ as an explainer. Twelve months ago I took Campbell and his co-authors of School Choice to task for making a similar claim about the influence of ‘neoliberalism’ on schools policy.

My argument that private school policy has deep roots in Australian political and educational history, long predating ‘neoliberalism’, is supported by a new history of the state aid debate, Graeme Starr’s Variety and Choice: Good Schools for All Australians, published by the Menzies Research Centre.

Despite Starr’s title, his book suggests that neither variety nor choice were very important arguments in the revival of state aid to non-government schools in the 1960s. Rather two other arguments dominated the state aid debate, justice and need. Read the rest of this entry »

Private schools gain market share despite downturn

As the GFC took hold in late 2008, some people were predicting a trend back to government schools. ‘Parents abandon private schools as downturn bites’ said a SMH headline.

I was sceptical, predicting a moderation in the trend to private schools rather than a reversal of the trend. In my view, religious diversity, discipline issues, growing affluence, and increased long-term importance of education will all, other things being equal, continue to favour private schools for the foreseeable future. Cyclical events like recessions may temporarily affect the affluence factor, but will not change the basic trend.

The preliminary 2009 schools data, released today, supports my scepticism about a trend back to government schools. Despite a small economic downturn, Catholic schools grew at more than twice the rate of government schools, and independent schools grew at around 5 times the rate of government schools.

Overall, private schools gained .24% of market share. Consistent with my prediction of a moderation rather than a reversal this is below the long-term trend. The annual average private school market share gain was .39% during the Howard years.

The first Grattan Institute research paper

The Grattan Institute has released its first report, an analysis of student progress measures by Ben Jensen. It argues that ‘value-added’ measures – that is, how much students improve between NAPLAN tests – are a more useful way of assessing a school’s performance than simply looking at its absolute results.

The report meets Grattan’s claims to be ‘objective, evidence-driven and non-aligned’. It is well-researched, uses data, and presents ideas that could easily be adopted by either major political party. While the media played up its differences with the about-to-be-launched My School website, it’s hard to imagine that Julia Gillard would have any fundamental objection to the ideas presented. And that was pretty much how she handled it today:

From what I’ve seen of the reports of the Grattan Institute work, they are saying that this is a good start but they are wanting to see more. Of course we are going to keep building on this website year by year as we get more results from national testing, more results on Year 12 retention, more results on vocational education and training pathways and attendance at school.

Read the rest of this entry »