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.

Continue reading “The first Grattan Institute research paper”

Public transport social capital not dead

A couple of weeks ago Tim Watts got a lot of coverage (here’s the Club Troppo version) for criticising the lack of response – from himself, and from others – to an incident on a tram, where a beggar started threatening and racially abusing a group of young Asian people. Like everyone else on the tram, he felt intimidated. He said the ‘inadequacy of the police response has created a climate in which people are fearful of speaking out’.

While the incident I observed on the number 96 tram this morning didn’t have a racial element, it did show that not everyone responds passively to threatening incidents. After a brief spray of abuse, a young man struck an elderly man, knocking him to the tram’s floor. The offender was immediately challenged by the two men closest to him; he threatened at least one of them but briefly backed off, before becoming aggressive again. But he did not get to carry out his threats, as two other young men tackled him to the floor, and then got him off the tram, pinning him to the ground despite his struggles.

Meanwhile at least two people were on the phone to the police, who acted quickly. The first police car was there in less than 5 minutes, two more police cars arrived shortly afterwards. The thug was arrested and put in the back of a police van. Continue reading “Public transport social capital not dead”

VC actions undermine VC rhetoric

Governments look at what vice-chancellors do, rather than listen to what vice-chancellors say. Last December I pointed out that the government is taking the willingness of universities to enrol additional Commonwealth-supported as evidence – contrary to the verbal claims of VCs – that it does not need to increase funding. I repeated the argument in the Higher Education Supplement this morning.

My article was written a couple of weeks ago, but the Higher Education Supplement’s lead story showed that not only will VCs take more students on the same rates as now, they will also take more students on lower rates. Three universities are reported in the story as planning to exceed their enrolment quota caps. When this happens, they get the student contribution amount but not the Commonwealth subsidy. For many disciplines, that is a third or less of the within-quota funding rate.

So these VCs say 100% of the usual funding rate is too little, but they behave as if one-third of the usual funding rate is enough. If you were a cash-strapped government, which would you believe? Continue reading “VC actions undermine VC rhetoric”

The five stages of language change

When I am in doubt about a point of style or grammar, first I always see what Pam Peters has to say. Her Cambridge Guide to English Usage miraculously foresees almost every question I want answered, and offers sensible suggestions based on Australian usage.

But I am also a big fan of Bryan Garner’s Modern American Usage, the third edition of which I received last week.

The most useful addition made in Modern American Usage‘s 3rd edition is its rating of evolving words and usage not as correct/incorrect but on a scale from new usage to universal acceptance:

Stage 1: A new form emerges as an innovation among a small minority of the language community, perhaps displacing a traditional usage.

Stage 2: The form spreads to a significant fraction of the language community but remains unacceptable in standard usage. Continue reading “The five stages of language change”

Income and tax illusions

The Per Capita think-tank today released a survey of attitudes on tax and spend. The number one point they extracted from the survey results was that ‘Australians want a more progressive tax system’:

95% of respondents believe that low income earners and middle income earners are taxed too much, while only 16% believe that high income earners pay too much tax. However, only 3% of those surveyed feel low and middle-income earners pay too little tax, whereas 53 per cent believe that high income earners do not pay enough.

But as Per Capita itself notes, almost nobody believes that they personally pay too much tax. One reason for this is that many higher-income earners have an erroneous view of how well off they are relative to the community as a whole. In a 2004 paper I reported survey research asking people to place themselves in income deciles. Only 2% of people thought they were in the top two deciles. Continue reading “Income and tax illusions”

Is the PhD a problem?

Louis Menand’s new book, The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University is mostly the ‘backstory’ of American higher education; it is lucid and erudite reporting as readers of his New Yorker articles would expect. He has not set out to be ‘prescriptivist’ (his word). But clearly he doesn’t like the American PhD.

To start with, it’s not clear that the PhD is fit for purpose. It can’t be a qualification for university teaching, since most PhD students are already teaching. Nor do PhDs clearly provide a contribution to scholarship, since many PhD theses are not of high quality (and probably even more are not read except by the student, his/her supervisor, and the examiners). Menand – a Professor of English at Harvard – suggests that ‘if every graduate student were required to publish a single peer-reviewed article instead of writing a thesis, the net result would probably be a plus for scholarship.’

Then there are what Menand calls the ‘humanitarian’ considerations. PhDs take a huge amount of time – though in the US they are nominally 4 years, most people take much longer. Median time to completion is 7 years in the natural sciences, 10 years in the social sciences, and 11 years in the humanities (including time out). Continue reading “Is the PhD a problem?”

Support for ETS slips below 50%

The latest climate change Morgan Poll finds that support for the government’s ETS has fallen below 50% for the first time, and is now at 46%, compared to 50% last November and 55% last August.

This seems to be due to low support (34%) among voters aged 50 or more, as all the other age groups are still at 50% or more.

Though there is no detail on Morgan’s website, a story about the poll in Crikey suggests that the shift is due to the growing partisanship of this issue that I blogged about last month. They don’t give a number for Coalition supporters, but if as Crikey says Labor and Green voters have become more likely to support the ETS, the overall decline must be due to weaker support from Coalition voters.

One curious thing: On the question about whether concerns about global warming are exaggerated the comparisons are all with November poll, omitting any mention of a December poll that asked the same question.

Update: Pollytics has the full results.

How should we deal with union political power?

Earlier in the week, an Age report suggested that negotiations between the parties on political donations and funding laws had broken down over the issue of union affiliation fees to the ALP. The Liberal spokesman on this issue, Senator Michael Ronaldson, was reported as saying:

”It is increasingly clear that the level of union influence means that the reforms are all but dead in the water. And this is a great tragedy for this country.”

But in an Age op-ed Joo-Cheong Tham argues that union affiliation fees to political parties should be exempted from controls on political funding.

A distinction can be made, as he does, between individual or group membership of a political party – implying some general commitment to it – and ad hoc donations. But if the concern is avoiding the threats to ‘integrity’ when ‘holders of public office give undue weight to the interests of their financiers’ (Joo-Cheong’s words), it is not clear that this distinction is a difference that counts in favour of exempting union payments. Continue reading “How should we deal with union political power?”

Goddess of the Market

It’s rare for PhD theses to be turned into good books, but I am glad to report that with Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right Jennifer Burns has beaten the odds. Her book is readable and interesting throughout.


There was one paradox of Rand’s work and legacy that particularly caught my eye after last year’s discussion of liberalism and the emotions. Rand thought that the emotions should always come from rationality; even sex was to be inspired by a recognition of shared values rather than physical attraction (a convenient idea for a woman in love with a much younger man). It sounds like an extreme version of the liberal emphasis on reason and rules over prejudices and passions. Continue reading “Goddess of the Market”