The discussion around funding for schools continues

Should parent education levels and NAPLAN tests determine school funding?

edu funding

The latest contribution to the discussion around funding for schools comes from Glenn Savage from University of Melbourne, writing for The Conversation, who discusses a new proposal from the Victorian Government to link funding to parent education levels, and NAPLAN results.

An endlessly complicated issue, it’s interesting to consider the ways in which the Victorian government is starting to develop their education policies through, and post, the Gonski years.

Personally I would be concerned about school funding being linked to NAPLAN results as these tests are in themselves controversial. As for parent education levels, as the article states there is plenty of research that has found links between parental education levels and student achievement, but how would this be measured?

Some interesting moves by the Victorian Government, and it will be interesting to see if anything comes of it.

In the discussion following the article it’s also interesting to see some of the opinions and perspectives in response.

I’m sure this discussion will continue – and perhaps is something that never ends?

4 day school week?…

“What a difference a day makes: the argument for a four-day school week”

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In this article from The Guardian Lucy Rycroft-Smith introduces the idea of a shorter school week, and references a recent study in Colorado where shorter school weeks, with longer days, were introduced.

I can’t see this happening any time soon, certainly not in Australia, but it could be an interesting discussion to have. Obviously there would be problems around care for children whose parents work a full 5-day week – as Rycroft-Smith mentions – but in terms of both teacher and student workload, and student engagement, perhaps there is some merit in discussing how the traditional school framework could be adjusted so the time is used more effectively.

The article seems to be mainly considering the possibility for primary aged students, however I think the discussion could be had for all ages. In many secondary schools, senior students often have an afternoon off one day a week, and although this is usually introduced for the purpose of study time, often students use the time to work, or spend time with friends, and therefore it’s not really very effective in terms of the intended purpose. However, perhaps senior students could be considered old enough to decide for themselves how they spend their time? Certainly less students in certain blocks of the week provides time for teachers to plan, collaborate, grade, and complete other tasks that often happen outside school hours.

I would certainly be open to consider how we could structure time in schools more effectively, although I think it would be a messy discussion when you consider how many different stakeholders would be involved; education departments, parents, students, teachers, unions etc.

Single-sex schooling

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This article by Anna Dabrowski was published on The Conversation on July 15 and questions whether there is a place for single-sex schools in the modern educational landscape. It’s fairly brief, but refers to a number of studies that have found no difference in educational outcomes for students when they are separated by gender, and highlights some of the possibly damaging effects of segregation according to gender, particularly as our understanding of gender has developed, recognising it is not necessarily a male/female binary.

Personally, I have never been a supporter of single-sex schooling, it seems inherently counter-intuitive to me. I attended a co-education school and feel that my experiences of interacting with male students, and having to hold my own against them, has definitely prepared me for interactions with males as an adult. The reality is, females are often given less respect and precedence in work places, we often are expected to ‘prove ourselves’ in ways male colleagues don’t have to, and i think this is exacerbated by failing to expose students to these gendered interactions from an early age. Anecdotally, (and I know a lot of people will argue strongly against this – there are a whole range of experiences) I think a lot of females who went to all-girl schools tend to be surprised by how hard they have to fight to be heard when in gender-blended, and often male-dominated work environments, and males from boys schools often assume it to be their right and privilege to be heard first, having been given that opportunity for so many years.

In life we don’t interact in solely male/female spaces, and when considering school as preparation for life, I think that all students interacting and working together makes sense.

Give a Gonski?..

“Give a Gonski? Funding myths and politicking derail school debate”
An article from Glenn C. Savage, published on July 9 on The Conversation

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A brief breakdown of some of the more nuanced aspects of the schools funding debate. Glenn Savage makes some good points about the way that the core of the debate is getting lost amongst the wrangling between the two major political parties. There is surely no doubt by now that the school funding models in Australia need to be reformed, yet neither Liberal or Labor are stepping up to really address education in a real and meaningful way.

Public vs Private & ‘value-adding’

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Yesterday (June 2nd 2015) ‘Private, Catholic schools do add value to student results’ was published on The Conversation by Gary Marks, a professor at the University of Melbourne. It outlines his recent research which has found that so-called ‘private’ schools* do ‘add-value’ to students’ education, particularly when looking at ATAR scores for university entrance. The article is brief, and I found some of the more technical aspects of the discussion a bit confusing, but it is an interesting contribution to a debate that has been building momentum over the past two or three years. Namely, what are the educational benefits that come with paying large amounts of money to educate your child in a non-public school? The article is followed by lots of interesting comments that build in a great deal of complexity to the discussion.

It seems interesting to me that this research has come to a very different conclusion to other recent studies into this same issue. Personally, I am interested to know to what extent Marks’ study accounted for the fact that public schools tend to cater for a much broader range of students – from different backgrounds, with different educational ambitions – and the fact that it is fairly common practice for private schools to encourage lower-performing students to find somewhere else to complete their schooling. Both of these factors are likely to result in a higher average score in private school ATAR results. And if students are shifting from private to public schools before their final years of schooling at year 10, after the year 9 NAPLAN results, surely this will skew comparisons of how students progress from year 9 to year 12. Perhaps a longitudinal study of individual high-performing and ambitious students attending a range of different schools would provide a clearer comparison? I don’t know if this already exists… or perhaps I have misinterpreted aspects of Marks’ argument. It is interesting that in some of the later comments Marks responds that “my general conclusion is that the whole system is mainly driven by student ability with SES having a much less important role”– a very different emphasis to that suggested in the article and certainly in the title.

Also published yesterday in The Age was an article by David Zyngier, from Monash University; ‘Public schools’ good report card on value for money’. Zyngier suggests the reverse of Marks’ argument – that private schools do not significantly value-add. While Marks focused on ATAR scores, the research Zyngier discusses is focused on NAPLAN results.

Obviously this is a vexed issue with all schools invested in showing their families and the public that they are a good choice for students’ education. Increasing numbers of parents are sending their children to private schools, but with more and more research coming out that says public schools are offering an equal, if not better, education, is this trend likely to reverse? Or are the main reasons for choosing a private education less to do with educational benefits, and more to do with social benefits? What do you think about the ‘value-adding’ of private schools compared to private? Is any possible advantage worth the cost of a private education?

*I say ‘so-called’ because of the significant amount of public funding they receive

Making Time for Great Teaching

http://grattan.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/808-making-time-for-great-teaching.pdf

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A report from by Dr Ben Jensen from the Grattan Institute, an “independent think tank dedicated to developing high quality public policy for Australia’s future”. This report looks into how schools can provide teachers with more time, so that they are more able to develop skills and improve their teaching practice. The report makes the case that loading teachers with additional duties or expectations not directly related to teaching, such as yard duty supervision, extra-curricular activities, ineffective professional development and staff meetings results in less time available to teachers to improve their practice and provide the best educational opportunities for students. The report states that “we must be explicit that every time we ask teachers to perform extra activities we are decreasing the quality of teaching and learning in schools”.

I think this is an interesting premise, and it is true that teachers are given a number of extra responsibilities that are not necessarily related to improving teaching and learning in schools. However, I do believe strongly in the value of extra-curricular activities (one example of extra expectations of teachers addressed in the report) as part of a balanced educational experience, and also as an opportunity to develop relationships, two things which I think do contribute to improved educational outcomes.

With all aspects of what we do in schools it is important to stop and ask “how is this improving outcomes for the students?”

For more information about Grattan Institute visit http://grattan.edu.au.