In yet another of her articles attacking private schools, Jane Caro puts the shift to private schools as down to:
largely anxious middle-class parents who want to separate their kids from the mad, the bad and the sad (and, it seems, the ethnically diverse)
Having a somewhat traditional view of what constitutes good parenting, I think wanting to shield kids from the mad and the bad is worthy of praise rather than condemnation. (And if Caro thinks that a selling point of public schools is the opportunity to spend 5 days a week with mad and bad kids she is not the greatest advocate for her cause.)
Caro’s evidence for concern about ethnic diversity is a re-hash of last year’s white flight stories about white kids leaving schools with large Indigenous enrolments. As I pointed out at the time, if this is happening it probably has more to do with actual social and educational dysfunction among Indigenous students than prejudice.
But what of ethnic diversity in schools more generally? Since the white flight post last year, I have examined 2006 school attended census data on this issue. I used language spoken at home rather than ancestry as a proxy for ethnic diversity, to focus on the groups most likely to be weakly assimilated.
Other non-government 13.65%
Other non-government 13.61%
As can be seen, the two groups make near-identical school choices.
To the extent that diversity is a school value, it’s not clear that either system comes out on top as reliably providing it. The local school model favoured by the public school lobby depends heavily on school catchment areas being diverse. In practice, a local school model will tend not to be highly diverse in income/class, and in many areas will not be very ethnically diverse either. The national statistics on where kids from poor families send their kids to school, cited by Caro, are about the public school system as a whole. They are not descriptive of particular public schools, and therefore tell us little about actual social mixing.
And while the public school lobby frets over religious division, because the major religions are highly ethnically diverse they tend to foster ethnic mixing. For example, the Catholic presence in the Phillipines and Vietman has translated into high rates of private school attendance, and particularly Catholic school attendance, among Tagalog and Vietnamese-speaking households (50% and 40% respectively, compared to a national average of about one-third). China has much weaker Christian traditions, and only 28% of students from Chinese-speaking households attend private schools (with independent schools predominating, presumably reflecting Chinese educational ambition).
I’m not sure that school diversity is necessary to a tolerant society; if this BankWest survey is to be believed parents send their kids not because they believe in social mixing or equity, but because the large taxpayer subsidy they receive helps them finance holidays, renovations and flat-screen TVs. But if ethnic diversity matters, we will get it whichever school system parents choose.