Phase 2.0 of Gonski 2.0 is now officially under way, with the announcement of the panel line-up for the Review to Achieve Education Excellence in Australian Schools — and an extension of the reporting deadline from the end of this year to March 2018.
So what exactly are they reviewing? In the official words: “The Review will build an evidence base to ensure funding is used in ways that make a difference to student outcomes.”
This is actually quite a novel approach in the context of Australian school funding policy.
While there have been a few questions raised about some of the panel members’ lack of expertise, the Review certainly presents a valuable opportunity to ensure evidence-based policies and programs are implemented in Australian schools.
A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, whereby the federal government mandates exactly what schools should spend money on as a condition of funding, would be an imprudent attack on school autonomy.
But equally, the Review will be almost pointless if it doesn’t recommend specific cost-effective school investments.
Some school investments are objectively better than others. Many are evidence-based and cost-effective while some other common ones are not.
The panel should ensure it looks to the best sources and types of evidence available, such as high quality, large sample quantitative analyses, while avoiding less rigorous evidence such as case studies and policies for which the effects cannot be isolated.
The Review should conduct a comprehensive analysis of the evidence base of various school investments, and empower schools with the information they need to spend their money most effectively.
There is definitely a strong case for better allocation of school spending: between 2006 and 2015 — despite a 15.4% real increase in total government spending per student — Australia’s PISA and TIMMS results declined significantly.
The government should be commended for finally conducting a review of how to get the most out of its Gonski 2.0 funding.
It would, of course, have made infinitely more sense to do this before deciding to spend an extra $23.5 billion of taxpayer money. But better late than never.
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