More evidence-based education policy is needed

Blaise Joseph

09 June 2017 | Ideas@TheCentre

BJ school fundingIf you asked any of the key players clamouring for more money in the Gonski 2.0 rumpus at the moment for (a) evidence that more funding will improve student outcomes, or (b) evidence-based policies the extra money should be spent on, you would likely receive a blank sheet of paper in reply.

While the federal government, the opposition, the Greens, the states, and the Catholic system will all admit funding isn’t the only important education issue and more money by itself will not improve student outcomes, this is certainly not reflected in the way they are approaching the Gonski 2.0 debate.

This is an endemic problem in Australia’s education system: investments are not necessarily informed by evidence and teaching practices are not subjected to rigorous evaluation.

A recent report from the Productivity Commission details the current issues with the education evidence base. The report identified a number of gaps in existing education data, most notably a lack of evaluation of school policies and programs. This particular gap means less accountability, making it difficult to identify best practice and subsequently turn this into common practice.

It is important the federal and state governments carefully read and respond to the report. It behoves Australia’s school system to invest in evidence-based practices that are cost-effective in boosting results — for the sake of both student achievement and fiscal responsibility.

The Gonski 2.0 plan risks getting the process back to front: the government committed to spending an additional $18.6 billion over the next 10 years and commissioned David Gonski to look at how the money can best be spent. In other words, they decided how much to spend before thinking about what it should be spent on.

As Sir Humphrey Appleby said: “Government policy has nothing to do with common sense.”

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