Quality Education – No Longer a Right in Australia?

Our federal politicians and their conservative think tanks want us to imagine a society where quality education is no longer a right.

A user pays society where the more you pay, the greater your educational opportunities.  Where wealthy students access a broad curriculum, individualised attention from teachers, smaller class sizes, well maintained and modern classrooms with access to cutting edge technologies, sporting facilities and performing arts spaces.

Children from poorer families could access a no-frills state provided education but with inferior facilities and a narrow curriculum focusing just on the basics.

To avert the risk that  people with the capacity to pay would try to get a free ride from state provided education, a levy would be imposed on higher income earners who choose to access state education. This would discourage all but the most economically disadvantaged from attending state schools.

Last week, the Centre for Independent Studies released a report by Jennifer Buckingham called ‘School Funding on a Budget’

The report contained 8 recommendations:

1.  Review the federal government funding

2. Abolish the federal department of education

3. Reduce the cost of state and territory bureaucracy

4. Remove mandatory class size maximums and eschew further class size reductions

5. Education bursaries for low-income students to attend non-government schools

6. Charge high-income families to attend government schools

7. Reduce the oversupply of teachers by elevating entry standards to teaching degrees

8. Decentralise teacher employment and make it easier to dismiss ineffective teachers

The report is based on some flawed assumptions.

The first assumption is that we need to reign in spending because we need to reduce our budget deficit. Here’s what the IMF has to say about Australia’s budget deficit.

bugetdeficit

source: FactsFightBack.org.au

The report also assumes that higher income families who send their children to public schools are getting a free ride. This ignores the fact that parents are already contributing to their children’s public education not only through our tax, which structured so that those who earn more pay more, but through the voluntary fees that public schools charge.

Buckingham claims education research shows increasing class sizes would have no effect on learning while allowing huge savings on teacher salaries. But again, that claim is not well supported. This paper from David Zyngier at  Monash University  rejects that notion. His literature review of 112 studies showed only 3 that suggested class sizes don’t have an impact on learning.

The Thatcherite view that there is no society seems to have been embraced by the Centre for Independent Studies, the Commission of Audit, and our current federal government. Perhaps they prefer to think of us living in an economy.

Following their recommendations may well save money but, if we look at the social consequences, the benefits don’t add up.

Saving money on education will leave us all poorer.

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