Archive for the 'Schools' Category

More racism at government schools

According to the public school lobby, government schools promote ethnic tolerance. But according to a new report on racism and its effects among young Australians, three-quarters of students at government schools in the survey had experienced racism, and that after statistical analysis:

students who attend a catholic school are 1.7 times LESS likely to report experiences of racism than students attending government schools.

Admittedly there were only a few Catholic schools in the survey and we aren’t told anything about the ethnic composition of those schools. Though overall NESB Australians make identical school sector choices as English-speaking Australians, that doesn’t tell us much about any individual school.

However I can think of a couple of plausible reasons why the broad finding might be right. The first is that while the public school lobby focuses on religion as a potential ‘divisive’ force, major religions such as Christianity and Islam are multi-ethnic and so religious identity cuts across ethnic identity. By making a common religious identity more salient, kids at religious schools may focus less on ethnic tribal affiliations.

The second reason is that private schools tend to have stronger discipline, which should reduce racial incidents. Behaviour is much easier to change than attitudes, and so students at schools which police anti-social behaviour effectively are less likely to experience racism even if underlying attitudes are similar to those at other schools.

Educational Standards Institute

In the Des Moore model of one-man think-tanks, Kevin Donnelly has established the Educational Standards Insitute.

I’ve had my disagreements with Kevin in the past, since the conservative ‘standards’ approach easily turns into top-down bureaucratic control of schools. The Coalition-backed national curriculum is an example of how this line of thinking ends in what is likely to be a policy disaster in the long term.

Still, Kevin has had many sensible things to say about the unhappy results of ‘progressive’ education, and I wish this new think-tank well.

School vouchers at not quite as high a price

Julie Novak responds to my cost criticisms of her school vouchers paper.

One important point she makes is that voucher systems would (well, should – we have a counter-example in the higher education voucher scheme) clear away costly ad hoc programs for this and that.

School vouchers at any price?

The IPA’s Julie Novak received good media coverage earlier in the week for her new paper on vouchers.

I’m certainly in favour of school choice. But I’m not convinced that Julie’s proposals – which would cost between $5 billion and $10 billion, depending on various options – represent value for money. Most of it would be spent giving current private school parents the entitlement they would have received had they sent their kids to a government school.

It’s paying people to do what they would do themselves anyway without public assistance. As a classical liberal, I need a lot of convincing that this is a sensible use of taxpayers’ funds (and personally I have difficulty with yet more income redistribution to people with school-age kids).

It is likely to speed up the current trend, by which private schools gain 0.3-0.4% of market share each year. But there are limits on how quickly private schools can expand, and even at triple that rate the majority of kids will still attend government schools for years to come.
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How much power should government funding give?

The Age this morning reported on religious groups mobilising to fight possible changes to anti-discrimination law, which could force religious organisations, including private schools, to end otherwise-prohibited discriminatory practices against people who do not share their beliefs or lifestyles.

In this dispute, I favour religious freedom and believe the current exemptions to anti-discrimination law should be retained.

But ANU academic Margaret Thornton raises a possible complicating issue:

“I think that if private schools receive money from the state, as they do, they should be subject to the law of the land, they should not be able to claim all these exemptions,” she said.

But this kind of argument has huge implications for government’s broader financial relationships with civil society. Should taking any government money give the state total control? (And state governments are minor funding sources for private schools.)
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Would parents use league tables?

The NSW Opposition has landed itself in political trouble for cooperating with a Green proposal to ban league tables of school performance.

School league tables are part of a strange obsession with lists and rankings, which in my view are very rarely of much value (eg here, here, and here).

The public education lobby believes school rankings are worse than worthless, since any ranking system must have those who come last, and we can be pretty sure that public schools will be heavily over-represented in the lower ranks.

Implicit in this worry is an assumption that parents will misunderstand what published school performance data means and rely on rankings based on school academic performance, without taking into account the significant socieconomic factors which influence student results. An Essential Research survey, reported at Pollytics blog, starts to explore this assumption.

Given the choice between assessing a school’s performance by the percentage passing tests, and the improvement shown by students (the school’s value adding), 59% thought that the improvement was the better measure, with 30% going for the percentage passing tests.
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Hayek vs Friedman on school choice

Commenter Robert suggests, regarding my post suggesting Milton Friedman influenced views in favour of competitive curricula on government not delivering school education, that

It could just be that better read classical liberals tend to favour freedom in education (and perhaps freedom in other areas) and it’s not Friedman specific. Is it worth testing whether the effect from Friedman is greater than having read other liberal thinkers?

I’m sorry to report it, as I like and admire Friedman rather than just admire Hayek, but a test comparing Friedman readers and Hayek readers (Hayek being the second most popular classical liberal writer among classical liberals, after Friedman) suggests that Robert is right. Hayek readers are slightly more likely to give the ‘correct’ classical liberal responses to questions on school curriculum setting and funding.

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A Friedman effect on school opinion?

One of the surprising features of the Australian political identity survey results for classical liberals was the large proportion with statist views on education. From a purely ideological perspective, it seems unlikely that a classical liberal could conclude that any monopoly control of curriculum was a good idea, and especially not a government monopoly. And from a purely practical perspective, the public education system isn’t exactly the greatest advertisement for the state as a service provider.

No 20th century classical liberal did more to argue the case for decentralising control of school education than Milton Friedman. So I wondered if the classical liberals in the survey who said that they had read Milton Friedman would have different views on education issues compared to those who had not. It turns out that they do.

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Government and private sectors both closing schools

The 2008 ABS schools data out today illustrates my point that the party in power doesn’t seem to greatly affect the market share of private schools.

In the first full year of Labor in power federally, private schools had an unusually large market share gain of .45%, above the .39% average during the Howard years. Government school enrolments fell in absolute numbers rather than the more usual pattern of recent years of simply growing more slowly than private schools. This was entirely due to government primary schools; government secondary schools recorded an increase in enrolments.

If the number of private schools drops it will actually be continuing a trend in the independent sector, which had a net loss of 1 school in 2008. The state-level data shows clearly that these are net effects. Victoria and NSW gained independent schools, while Queensland and Western Australia lost independent schools.

The government sector lost 18 schools, with NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and the ACT all recording losses.

Could the number of private schools fall?

Citing anonymous sources, The Sunday Age led yesterday with the story that the GFC may cause some private schools to close.

Reference to a company offering fee insurance to parents and schools raises suspicions that, like regular ‘news’ from the Australian Scholarships Group about total school costs (running again in a parallel story yesterday), this story has more to do with clever manipulation of the media by commercial interests and (yet another) slow news Sunday than reporting on real information.

Neverthless, the possibility is real. While the experience of the last recession would suggest that total private school enrolment growth will slow rather than go into reverse, that is across the whole sector, and consistent with individual schools suffering enrolment declines.

Because schools are non-profits often operating on a quasi-charitable basis, many are likely to start the recession under-capitalised and lacking strong trading surpluses. This leaves them vulnerable to a downturn. In the the last recession the number of non-government schools did in fact decrease, from 2,517 in 1990 to 2,499 in 1993.

However, as with enrolments this was a cyclical rather than a structural change. Private school numbers recovered to 2,520 in 1994, and there were 2,728 private schools in 2007. If this is as severe a recession as forecast, I expect we will see a similar dip in numbers and subsequent increase as the economy improves.

Update: After months of stories on the claimed shift to public education, the SMH grudgingly concedes it is not true:

INDEPENDENT schools in NSW have reported an overall increase in enrolments this year, despite having bled some students to the public school system.