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Sep 7, 2016

Did the Productivity Commission really bag education funding?

Was the Productivity Commission attacking higher levels of education funding in its new report? No -- its focus was quite different, and missed by most of those who commented on it.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

The Productivity Commission draft report on the national education evidence base certainly caused a stir yesterday. NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli, a strong Gonski education funding reform supporter, immediately attacked it, saying it was out of date and told us nothing we didn’t already know. Commentator Jane Caro, a staunch advocate for shifting funding from private to public schools, also criticised it on social media. The Australian, which during the election campaign ran a perverse and absurd campaign claiming there were no economic benefits to education funding, seized on the report to gleefully claim “$10bn in school funding fails to lift student results“. Education Minister Simon Birmingham, chuffed at the apparent support it provided for the Liberals’ “no point in increasing education funding”, gleefully backed it. Far-right Centre for Independent Studies researcher Jennifer Buckingham used it to attack what she calls “the education establishment“.

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7 thoughts on “Did the Productivity Commission really bag education funding?

  1. Rocky Mylar

    I wonder how much the results of education (as compared to training) can be assessed in those that have yet to leave school and contribute to society. Surely we should be evaluating after 5 or 10 years in the workforce.

  2. JennyWren

    For anyone interested in Australia’s current state of education, I would heartily suggest two books; “Beautiful Failures” by Lucy Clark and “Children Who Fail in School But Succeed in Life” by Mark Katz. The first is a beautifully written quest by a journalist whose eldest child was crippled by anxiety and refused to engage in school. Clark sets out to find out how the education system allows more than 30% of our kids to slip through the cracks, 30% make it through barely and only the last third are able to game the system and ‘thrive’. The second is by US Clinical Psychologist Katz who examines 5 of his long term clients who faced challenging school environments and negative educative experiences to thrive in later life. Katz is determined to find out what qualities they possessed to allow them to rise above their inauspicious beginnings and hopefully apply them directly to struggling kids still in school. Essentially our education system is broken. There are already calls to abandon religious, private and selective schools in favour of the Finnish model, which concentrates on the child’s wellbeing and ignores academic results. They then end up on top of the world’s education ranking system, above those Asian countries that drive their children to suicide by comparison!

    1. Itsarort

      I’d say simple probability, as usual, is behind these charming but incredibly selective rags to riches stories. However, I’m keen for the Finnish model; that would be a nice pay increase for public teachers of over 20%.

  3. tomasso

    If you asked me, I would have said that nowadays many state school teachers don’t give a shit about NAPLAN. In the earlier days they may have tried to game it.
    Many private schools see NAPLAN results as marketing opportunities, even telling the slower kids to stay away on test day. Tom.

  4. bushby jane

    I can’t see what Morrison is going to get out of this report, it is too hard to understand; it seems to basically agree with the Gonski conclusions. Who are the Productivity Commission, why are they considered the last word on everything?
    Interesting comment JennyWren.

  5. Jim Spithill

    The infographic in the PC draft report claims a 24% in total government spending on schools, and a 14% increase in spending per student, in the last 10 years. Meanwhile the ABS CPI inflation calculator shows a 26% increase between June 2006 and June 2016. So government spending on education is not even keeping up with inflation. Does anyone give a Gonski about this?

    Jim Spithill

  6. Hunt Ian

    Yes, Bernard is absolutely right: the response from the “Australian” to Birmingham is politically driven and repeats claims already shown to be baseless. Yes, putting more money in is not enough, it must also be put into improving the qualifications of teachers and into helping students who struggle for one reason or another. The PC does not explicitly mention Gonski but it could have. And it suggested that the results from Gonski be monitored.
    Yes, it is hard to say when and how schooling is becoming “more efficient.” The neo-liberal economist then tries towage a wand and demands that schools ape business and engage in continuous cutbacks, doing “more with less,” like all properly run businesses. These dreamers forget that it does not always work. Public music is being treated like this. Support for the wider public is withdrawn so that only those who can afford to pay can attend public performances of music. Soon publicly funded orchestras will be asked to do “more with less”, so that the SSO or ASO, to name some good ones, will in the end only be able to perform chamber music, if that.
    The Australian school system will benefit from more Gonski funding, and no further funding of private schools. The PC says the results should be studied. We should know that Gonski really does close the gap between poorly performing students and better performing ones, if it does. It should not be a matter of blind faith. It is a pity that the Turnbull government is the least likely to not have blind faith in the “virtues” of small government and running everything, as if it were a business, however foolish and destructive this has been. Perhaps the PC could come up with useful suggestions as to actual empirical study of the outcomes of “doing more with less” rather than the so-called “evidence based” reports that government produces, which look at “evidence” that is only a projection from more or less crude neo-classical fantasy of how the economy works.