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.
The key findings of the latest OECD report Education Policy Outlook 2015 – that school funding in Australia is a mess and school performance is stagnant or declining – will be surprising to precisely no-one.
The report says that school funding in Australia “lacks transparency and coherence”, and it is difficult to determine how individual schools are funded. This is despite a “comprehensive and independent” review of school funding which led to the development of a new federal funding model embedded in a new education act, and detailed funding agreements with the states.
It is possible, at least, to now work out how schools are funded if you have sufficient time and interest – but it is not easy. And since the current federal government has decided it will not implement the funding model in full, things will change again from 2017.
A certain amount of complexity in school funding is the inevitable result of having two levels of government providing funding to three distinct school sectors in eight states and territories. It is difficult to envisage how it would be possible to make funding more uniform and consistent in any kind of incremental way that tries to appease all interests. A more coherent school funding system will come about only through a brave and radical change to a student-centred voucher system, in which all children are allocated an individual educational entitlement they can use at any school.
Fortunately, improving the literacy levels of Australian students does not depend on funding reform. It requires one thing only – for teachers to use proven, evidence-based reading instruction in the early years of school and to provide effective interventions for struggling readers. Regular readers of ideas@thecentre will be familiar with this argument.
However, one of the most striking things about the OECD report is how strongly Australia features. Australian governments have been very busy with educational policy reform over the last eight years or so, and their efforts have largely been focused on the right things, from the OECD’s perspective at least, things like increasing school autonomy, improving teacher quality and developing school leadership.
Whether or not Australia’s initiatives to achieve these goals will be effective are, as yet, not known and possibly never will be, since another key finding of the OECD report is that trillions of dollars have been spent internationally on education reform without rigorous evaluation to determine whether they have worked. Australia is no exception.
Dr Jennifer Buckingham is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies.
Is there no escaping the nanny state telling me how to live my life! The Australian summer holidays is a time to relax, overindulge, forget about the problems of the world and watch some cricket. If you were, like us, watching sport on television in regional NSW, SA, NT or Queensland you were forced to endure lectures about, among other things, how you should help someone get home safely if they have been drinking, that sexual preference has nothing to do with playing sport, and that alcohol is bad for pregnant women. The ads were endless and were played during virtually every ad break over the five-day test! there is apparently no money in advertising real products in the country. In the past year or two, regional television ad breaks were populated with short segments highlighting the beauty spots in various regional towns around Australia. These ads were the TV equivalent of muzak – banal and mildly annoying – but as least they were not preaching at me. Every one of the ads this past season undoubtedly had a worthy message, but they are also examples of the subtle undermining of civil society. It is saying that we as individuals, families and communities are not capable of coming to the right conclusions about what behaviour or action is appropriate. The constant chiding and advising diminishes us as human beings. As a parent I knew there was a time when I had to let go and allow my kids make their own decisions, whether I thought they were right or wrong. The state is acting like a parent who never lets go. It assumes we are incapable of making the right decision in any situation whether it be how we drive, how and where we drink, how we communicate with people and how we choose to live our lives. I'm back in Sydney now. The Australian Tennis Open is on and I'm cheering the ads that are trying to sell me fast food, car insurance and phone plans. Whether I make the right choice or not is not the point. The point is that it is my choice.
Jenny Lindsay is General Manager and Student Program Coordinator at the Centre for Independent Studies.
Gary Johns has argued that compulsory contraception is needed to stop women having children and relying on the state to support their families. A better way to address this form of welfare dependency is to bring the outdated parenting payment system into line with modern ideas about women, work and family. Prior to the 1970s, there was no welfare for single mothers. Having children outside of marriage was considered socially unacceptable, and traditional social values were upheld by the draconian policy of forcing unmarried mothers to give up their babies up for adoption. The presumption was that women without breadwinning husbands would be unable to combine child rearing with paid work. Forced adoption was therefore intended to prevent unmarried mothers and their children inevitably requiring public assistance. The social revolution of the 1960s rapidly altered social attitudes to sex, marriage, and children. This led to the introduction in 1973 of the 'supporting mothers' pension, which meant unmarried mothers no longer needed to give up their children for financial reasons. The right of single mothers to receive welfare was hailed by the feminist movement for liberating women from the patriarchal institution of marriage and eliminating economic dependence on men. But, ironically, the state was called on to step into the place of absent husbands and fathers because the sexist presumption remained that women could not combine paid work and motherhood. These days it is increasingly common for women with children – whether married , divorced, or single – to work outside the home. We no longer think that a mother's place is in the home… unless they are on parenting payment! Why should only some mothers choose not to work and receive a guaranteed taxpayer-funded hand out until their youngest child turns eight? Parenting payment is an anachronism. Sole parents should only receive the family tax and childcare benefits that all families qualify for. Those who do not work should receive Newstart and be subject to the mutual obligation requirements designed to encourage the unemployed into work. Stopping the state from 'playing Dad' would remove the incentive to have children – an incentive created by the more generous, and activity-test exempt, parenting payment. This, in turn, would encourage women to take a more responsible attitude to their fertility. A policy that made combining work and motherhood mandatory would promote Johns' objective of ending welfare-dependent parenting without getting into the messy business of compulsory contraception.
Dr Jeremy Sammut is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies.