Today’s Age report showing that private schools dominate entry to Melbourne and Monash universities set off another round of excuse-making from the defenders of public education.
Richard Teese, a leftist education academic at Melbourne University, told The Age that:
Students in public schools came from much wider social backgrounds and the economic cost of further study was a major disincentive.
‘Wider’ here is presumably a euphemism for ‘lower’, which is true on average, but the Cardak and Ryan research showed that for a given ENTER score high and lower SES groups proceed to university at the same rate. It seems it is the marks, not the money.
This requires further rationalisations to explain why students at private schools get better marks:
independent schools were better resourced and more focused on university education
They generally are more focused on university education, and on average spend more per student – $11,208 per student in government schools and $13,049 in independent schools. But money alone can’t explain it – the Catholic schools spend significantly less per student, $8,817 but still, as The Age article notes, send a disproportionate number on to university.
Another Melbourne University academic, Richard James, said that
the middle class had lost confidence in government schools and moved its children to private schools, largely due to funding cuts and closures under the Kennett government. (emphasis added)
Yet an examination of private school market shares in Victoria and nationally suggests that most of the change in Victoria parallels national trends. In 1992 26% of Victorian students were in private schools, increasing to 35% by 2005, a gain of 9 percentage points. Nationally, in 1992 25.1% were in private schools, increasing to 32.9% in 2005, a gain of 7.9 percentage points. This looks like the Victorian changes were largely due to national trends, such as growing affluence and federal policies favouring parental choice.
The problem with the worldview presented in comments in The Age article is that it avoids the issue of structural and organisational problems in the government school sector, shifting blame on to funding issues or the composition of the student body. Particularly the latter factor is likely to explain some of the difference, but not all of it. And given that it is much easier to change how schools are run than it is to change the pool of students from which they draw, management should be the big issue.