Ideas@TheCentre brings you ammunition for conversations around the table.  3 short articles from CIS researchers emailed every Friday on the issues of the week.

How disadvantaged schools can be top performers

Blaise Joseph

22 March 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

In the lead up to the NSW and federal elections, education policy has degenerated into a bidding war between the major parties, as they both promise more and more taxpayer dollars for schools to combat student disadvantage. But despite recent funding increases, there is no evidence results have improved.

However, our new research report shows there are key areas schools can focus on to improve results for disadvantaged students.

In the study, one of the first of its kind in Australia, we identified 18 schools that are achieving above average results despite being in the lowest quartile of disadvantage.

These schools did not receive any more funding than other similarly disadvantaged schools, but achieved NAPLAN literacy and numeracy results consistently above the national average across the three-year period 2015-2017.

We observed lessons and conducted in-depth interviews with teachers and principals at nine of these schools, finding six common themes:

1. School discipline.
2. Direct and explicit instruction.
3. Experienced and autonomous school leadership.
4. Data-informed practice.
5. Teacher collaboration and professional learning.
6. Comprehensive early reading instruction.

These schools illustrate best practice. The challenge is turning this into common practice in the school system.

The success stories of the disadvantaged schools in our study show that — given the right set of policies and practices — students from low socio-economic backgrounds can be high achievers.

No country in the world has succeeded in eliminating education inequity. On average students from disadvantaged social backgrounds perform worse academically than more advantaged students. But we can improve outcomes for our most disadvantaged children if evidence-based school practices are adopted.

And our research proves that helping disadvantaged students succeed is not just a question of how much money is spent, but also how it is spent.

Migrant intake to go outback?

Eugenie Joseph

22 March 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

It seems the federal government has finally decided to ‘do something’ about growing population pressures on Sydney and Melbourne.

Under a new immigration policy, the government plans to: cap permanent migration at 160,000 annually; require more skilled migrants to live in regional Australia for at least three years; and offer international students ‘incentives’ to go to universities in regional areas.

However, will any of this stem the rate of overseas migration to Sydney and Melbourne, which accounts for over 70% of the two cities’ combined population growth?

Only time will tell if the new policy has any noticeable impact. However, there are already serious grounds for doubt.

The idea that we can somehow evenly distribute migrants across Australia may sound nice in theory — but could prove impossible in practice for several reasons.

First, much of the demand for skilled labour is concentrated in the major cities — and there is little that governments can do about it, at least not in the short-term. Governments cannot magically transfer thousands of jobs from Sydney and Melbourne to Tamworth and Bendigo.

Secondly, there is no guarantee that a regional settlement policy will have lasting effects. Many migrants demonstrate a strong preference for the major cities; often because they are accustomed to large cities, or their families and compatriots are based there. Even if migrants are forced to live elsewhere for a certain number of years, presumably they could still choose to settle in Sydney or Melbourne once they obtain permanent residency

And thirdly, the government has flagged a lower cap on the number of permanent migrants only. Temporary migration to Australia remains largely uncapped — and accounts for the majority of migrants who gravitate to the major cities.

This includes international students, who represent a lucrative income stream for Australian universities. Regardless of government efforts to entice students to regional Australia, it is highly doubtful that universities in Melbourne and Sydney would voluntarily cap their intakes of international students.

Of course, it is right for the government not to ignore community concerns about congestion in Australia’s two largest cities.

However, trying to manipulate the geographic distribution of migrants could merely prove the limitations of central planning by governments.

Christchurch brings out best and worst

Jeremy Sammut

22 March 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

The response to the Christchurch atrocity has brought out the best and worst qualities of our public life.

The bi-partisan condemnation of terrorism of all kinds has affirmed Australia’s commitment to basic liberal democratic principles.

The support that has been displayed across the community for the Muslim victims of terror has also affirmed the nation’s commitment to tolerance towards people of all faiths and ethnicities within Australian society.

Unfortunately, there has also been no shortage of indecent efforts to politicise the tragedy.

On the right, Senator Fraser Anning in his putrid pursuit of re-election has obscenely blamed the dead on justifying banning Muslim immigration.

On the left, there has also been a concerted attempt led by the Greens and GetUp! to shift the blame by asserting – with no real evidence – that the terrorist attack was inspired by the so-called ‘hate speech’ spoken on immigration-related subjects by Coalition politicians.

All reasonable people oppose speech that genuinely incites racial hatred, and support laws that make incitement to racially-motivated and all other forms of violence illegal.
But it is a monstrous absurdity to blame the cesspit of internet white supremacist fanaticism on the legitimate statements that mainstream politicians have made about immigration and claim they have “blood on their hands”.

Such politicking not only needlessly and falsely divides us in the face of terrorism, but it also trivialises the real motivations of those who believe killing innocent people is politically justified and offers no sound guide to how the authorities should respond to such evil thoughts, words, and deeds.

It also brings into question a nation’s capacity to operate as a democracy in which citizens are communally trusted to share mutual political rights and freedoms.

As the conservative activist John Ruddick has rightly argued, the idea that the mainstream right wilfully encouraged the tragedy in Christchurch represents an “unprecedented level of spiteful partisanship [that] rips at the fabric of the great liberal tradition and national unity that has characterised the West for two centuries.”