Leaked school funding proposals. Should we be worried?

The leak of four reform proposals for Australian schooling from a confidential draft of the Green Paper on the Reform of the Federation has triggered panic and confusion across the country. But while the proposals may seem worrying at first glance, they need to be put in context.

In this new piece for The Conversation, I run through each of these draft proposals and explaining that they are not policy announcements but merely the next step in the long, exhaustive White Paper process (which I wrote about here.)  I also detail a worrying fact that seem to have escaped the media, the politicians’ and commentariat’s attention, that  “free” public education hasn’t been free for a long time.

In February this year, the Victorian Auditor General’s Office found “parent payments have become essential to the provision of free instruction in government schools”; “schools are charging parents for items that should be free”; and the Victorian Department of Education, worryingly “has no oversight on what items and how much schools charge parents.”

We need to do away with the myth that public education is free and talk about how government and communities can work together to better support schools and students. Schools have been operating without necessary support for too long. Greater coordination, collaboration and support is urgently required.

UPDATE: Life Matters program on ABC’s Radio National ran a story on these issues two days after the leak (and my article) were published, with myself as one of the guests. Listen here.

What does the education issue paper tell us about potential intergovernmental reforms?

"Released two days before Christmas, you could be forgiven for missing the issues paper on government roles and responsibilities in education that is part of the process in developing the federalism white paper. This is a pity. Because if you wanted insights into the Commonwealth government’s attitude to federalism in education and potential directions this could take, it’s a good place to start."

Click here to read the full article.

Policy innovation and leadership from below

We talk a lot about the importance of innovation in education - as we should.  We talk less about how to foster, sustain and share successful innovations that enhance student learning and engagement. This is a pity. In this recent expert comment article for The Conversation, I discuss the astonishingly blunt and honest comments of Victoria's education chief, outlining why the states rather than the Commonwealth government should drive education policy. It was encouraging to hear a very senior bureaucrat, who has worked at both state and federal levels, concur with my PhD findings on the opportunities our federal system of government offers for innovative and best-practice policy-making, tailored to the needs of their residents.  Could this be the dawn of a new era in education federalism in Australia?

I also spoke recently on Radio National's Drive program on the controversial "IBM school" in Brooklyn, New York. I argue that such innovations, when developed carefully to meet the needs of students at a particular school, can work wonders. Dismissing them as "US-style corporate schools" is a missed opportunity to learn how new models of schooling can improve excellence and equity here in Australia.

Is it goodbye to the "Gonski" reforms?

UPDATE: As I predicted a week ago, "Gonski" is not gone. The Abbott government announced today (2 December) that  it would maintain the Gonski reforms - including the new needs-based funding model - and would honour the funding agreements Rudd and Gillard had made (well, for the first four years at least, with Victoria among others vowing it would continue to fight and negotiate to see the full six years - and full funding amount - covered). It also announced "in principle" agreements with the governments of Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, stating that they would also be funded according to the Gonski model, although with fewer conditions attached. Depending on the details - which are yet to emerge - this could be a closer reflection of the Review's recommendations that the Commonwealth pay greater respect to the states' responsibility and expertise in schooling policy.

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Australia's new federal education minister Christopher Pyne has caused a storm with his announcement that he would seek to undo the Gillard-Rudd government's National Plan for School Improvement (aka "Gonski" reforms). This would include rewriting the funding agreements his predecessors forged with the governments of NSW, South Australia, the ACT, Victoria, Tasmania, and the Catholic and independent school sectors. This is much easier said than done, and thus a most unlikely outcome. For more information on the legal and political barriers facing Pyne, you can read my analysis piece in Crikey, listen to my national radio interviews with the ABC's PM program and the Wire, or catch me on the ABC's current affairs television program The Drum

I'll be discussing the future of the "Gonski" reforms on Radio National's Sunday Extra on December 1 and on Life Matters on Tuesday December 3. Podcasts will soon be available on program websites and my media page.

PS. The Final Report of the Gonski Review of School Funding been removed from the federal education department's websites due to Machinery of Government changes (departmental restructuring), but you can access a copy right here. Enjoy!

Are independent public schools are good idea? Marking the federal Coalition's education policy.

A quick expert comment piece I wrote for the Election Watch website, putting the Coalition's long-anticipated education policy - including the controversial Independent Public School proposal - under the microscope.

If you'd like to know more about Independent Public Schools you can listen to my interview on the topic on Radio National's Life Matters program where I'm joined by the author of a report into Western Australia's initiative.  I also strongly recommend the latest book by Brian Caldwell, an academic guru on the subject and former Dean of the University of Melbourne's Education Faculty. (Disclaimer: I just discovered that he devoted two pages to discussing and endorsing my research on Victoria's 'self managing school' reforms and the influence of federalism.) A lovely compliment. Mine is the only study of these reforms from an intergovernmental perspective and you can read it here

School chaplaincy program returns to the High Court. This is good and unsurprising

This week we learnt that Ron Williams, the parent from Queensland who objected to federal government funding for school chaplaincy programs at his kids' school and other public schools, is returning to the High Court. He is challenging the Financial Framework Legislative Amendment that the federal government brazenly rushed through (in just a hours with support of all political parties) in response to the High Court's judgment on this matter last year. In a victory for federalism, the High Court had vehemently rebuked the federal government for exceeding its executive powers under the Constitution and for its unwarranted intrusion into state domains. This verdict put into question not only the chaplaincy program, but hundreds of other federal spending programs as well and was a major driver of the recently dumped "local government" referendum to extend Commonwealth spending powers.

As I argued last year in a paper (pp. 4-5) to the Australian Political Studies Association Conference, it was only a matter of time before this legislation was taken to the High Court, and if the Pape verdict and previous Williams verdict are anything to go by, it will most likely be struck down as unconstitutional. If this occurs, the federal government will be chastised and forced to reformulate the Chaplaincy program, among others, as tied grants with the states.

School autonomy - sorting myth from fact

More autonomy for schools is an education policy being championed by both Labor and the Coalition in the lead-up to the federal election. But does it result in a better education system?

In an extended election piece for The Age, education editor Jewel Topsfield takes a look at increased school autonomy. In doing so, she draws on an analytical piece I wrote on independent public schools published on Election Watch, in which I reassured folks on twitter that the Coalition is not planning to privatise public schools but rather grant them extra autonomy. I also explain that increased school autonomy, while controversial, has been on reform agenda since the Whitlam government days and all states have introduced elements of it to varying degrees. Topsfield's piece also refers to the Grattan Institute's recent and excellent report The myth of markets in school education. Interestingly, a fact she cites from this report - that the Kennett government devolved 93 per cent of Victoria's school education budget to individual public schools (on page 25 if you're interested) contains a footnote linking to my earlier research on these 'Schools of the Future' reforms and their ongoing relevance! (NB Once you click this link on Election Watch you'll need to scroll down a page or so to read my material education policies.)

Binning the local government referendum was a good idea

The announcement of a September 7 federal election means the referendum on local government financing cannot proceed on the same day. I argue (along with most federalism and constitutional scholars) that this is a good thing.

The proposed constitutional change was dressed up as a harmless update and feel-good recognition of local government. But it was completely unnecessary and posed a hornet’s nest of accountability problems with potentially deleterious affects on local governance, services and infrastructure.

Read more here, in my article published on The University of Melbourne's Election Watch website.

What is the future of Gillard's school reforms now that Rudd has returned as Prime Minister?

On the evening of June 26, just four days before the arbitrary end date of negotiations with state governments on the National Education Reform Agreement on which the Commonwealth Labor government's school reforms depend, Australians got a new (well, re-instated) prime minister when Kevin Rudd replaced Julia Gillard after a vote by caucus. In this analysis piece for The Conversation, I analyse what the change of prime minster might mean for the reform process.

Why I'm optimistic about school funding reform after COAG's 'no deal'

School funding reform was the big ticket item at the most recent Council of Australian Government's (COAG) meeting, held 19 April. The state and territory leaders failed to reach an agreement with Prime Minister Gillard on her National Plan for School Improvement, itself a response to the landmark Gonski Review of School Funding. As I argue in this piece for The Conversation, far from constituting failure, but opens up the opportunity for deeper, bilateral negotiations and flexible agreements with each state, with additional time for getting the details right. You can also read my piece for The Drum, published the morning of the COAG meeting, on why agreement on this was unlikely (Hint: the offer from the Commonwealth contained big question marks). Finally, if you missed me on ABC News24 discussing the COAG meeting as it was underway, you can catch it here. Ditto joining Radio National's 'Outsiders' Segment on Sunday Extra. It has been a real privilege to join the national conversation on such critical reforms and share my research on the institutions and processes underpinning them.

UPDATE: On 23 April NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell announced it had reached 'an historic agreement' with the Gillard Commonwealth government on reforms to school funding, which would occur in partnership. Some of my early thoughts can be read in this Conversation article, alongside eminent education policymakers Carmen Lawrence and Jim McMorrow. I also spoke at length with ABC 774 Melbourne and SYN FM radio about the prospects of agreements with the remaining states and territories.  Additional analysis found in podcast links on my publications page.

 

Policy made on the fly is likely to flop

Click here to read my latest article, published by The Conversation. It's on best practice policy making and discusses some recent duds. Here's a peek:

"The exacting set of processes suggested by the policy cycle does not guarantee perfect governing, but as Bridgman and Davis state, it does reduce the chance of “howling errors”, such as a revenue raising tax that fails to raise revenue and destabilises a government already under attack."

Joining The Conversation on politics, policymaking and education

The Conversation, a newish national online publication combining 'academic rigour with journalistic flair' has recently published two opinion articles of mine. The first, 'Hard-headed politics', discusses the role of experts in the policy making process using the controversial expert panel on asylum seekers as an example. The second piece, 'State stoush', is my latest on the landmark Gonski Review, outlining the challenges that lie ahead for any Australian government wishing to reform education arrangements. Of course, you can find these articles, and many more, by clicking the 'publications and media' link.

Ignoring the Gonski Review's recommendations

My response to the Australian government’s much anticipated, two-year review into school funding. I highlight the fact that the government and all commentators have regretfully ignored the review’s central conclusions. Read it here on the ABC’s Drum Unleashed website.

Update: Misha Shubert, federal political editor for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald newspapers discussed and quoted my article in her opinion piece. I also had the privilege of chatting on ABC radio about the Gonski review and other educational policies.

Is the Education Revolution finally here?

Here’s a piece of mine on the University of Melbourne’s 2010 Federal election blog, which gathers commentary and analysis from academics and postgraduate students.

This week Prime Minister Gillard announced a suite of radical policies that will do far more to improve student learning than any school hall or national curriculum ever could.  Performance bonuses for teachers and schools; Teach Next, which moves passionate professionals into teaching careers; and an Australian Baccalaureate to complement state high school certificates. Combined with earlier initiatives such as the MySchool website which compares school performance and profiles across the country; and last week’s promise to hand more power back to principals and parents, we have a real revolution.  Not just of schooling policy, but Labor policy….

Read the rest of this piece here, or my commentary in earlier education policies here.

Unleashed opinion on Labor’s school empowerment policy

My contribution to the election policy debate was published on the ABC’s Drum Unleashed website.

I show that the Prime Minister’s proposal is a good one, giving schools around the country a taste of Victorian schools have had for almost a decade – the power to govern themselves.  I argue that the ability to innovate and transfer successful policies such as this is a virtue of federalism that we should enhance.

A (funding) revolution has started?

Fancy an opinion article on school funding that moves beyond the old debates?

Then click here to read this piece of mine published by the ABC’s ‘Drum Unleashed’.

UPDATE: It’s midnight and I’ve just finished an interview with ABC Radio (Newcastle) for their Drive program. It will be aired in a few hours, which is 9 June in the afternoon for east coast Australians. Gotta love those time differences!