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.

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.

Does NAPLAN need an overhaul?

Since 2008, Australia has had a national assessment program for literacy and numeracy (NAPLAN), providing objective, nationally-comparative 'point in time' data to governments, schools, parents and the public on how students and schools are tracking on these essential learning foundations.

It replaced standardised literacy and numeracy tests at the state level that had been in place for almost 20 years but were difficult to compare and were not available to the public or external researchers.

NAPLAN is not an authoritative, holistic assessment of the capacity or quality of a student, teacher or school. Nor is it a high stakes test - students are not penalised for poor performance and NAPLAN results do not effect the remuneration of individual teachers.

NAPLAN is a diagnostic tool to assist school leaders and policy makers deciding how to allocate resources and tailor programs and strategies to maximise learning for their students. It also provides objective "snapshot" data to parents and teachers on how individual students are tracking, and an extra piece of information - objective data - to assist them deciding which school to send their kids, rather than relying solely on visits, advertising materials, at times sensationalist media and hearsay.

While NAPLAN's objectives are very worthy, misconceptions over the test and an over-emphasis on it by a small minority of parents and schools has raised serious concerns.  I joined Senator Penny Wright on ABC television's News Breakfast program on 28 March to discuss the Senate Inquiry into these concerns. Here's the segment and the report.  I also discussed whether MySchool be abolished on ABC's Radio National on March 7.

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

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.

 

Can the "Gonski" reforms survive the federal-state squabble?

It's the question on everyone's lips and one that Maralyn Parker and myself were discussing on Radio National's Life Matters program. We were both optimistic about the reforms we agreed were vitally important, but differed in our perspectives of the best-case scenario. Here's the podcast. If you'd like to read more on the Gonski Review of School Funding and proposed education reforms from an intergovernmental and public policy perspective, you're most welcome to click here for some things I prepared earlier.

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.

Live, radio interview on SBS’s French program.

The conversation will take place Tuesday 29June, around 11:30am (en francais, bien sur). The lovely Daniele Kemp and I will talk mostly about my book and Australian multiculturalism. To tune in, click here. If you prefer English – or the written word – you can pick up a copy of my book from Readings. (Other options are Melbourne Uni bookshop, Amazon.com, or direct from Australian Scholarly Publishing).  PS it’s lovely to be home.

UPDATE! In a lovely surprise I was joined at the microphone by the celebrated and oh-so-sweet French chef Gabriel Gaté. 

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!

Live, national radio interview on my book this week!

I’ve been invited on SBS’s French radio program on Friday 11 September to discuss my new book: Many Hopes, One Dream: the Story of the Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria. Tune in at 11am to listen live or download the podcast here.

Don’t forget that ticket sales to book launch will close 11 September.  Don’t miss out! $38 gets you a seat at the formal, celebratory dinner with an impressive line up of speakers, including James Merlino, Victorian Minister for Multicultural Affairs and George Lekakis, Victoria’s Multicultural Commissioner. Former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser will also be appearing. Call the ECCV on (03) 9349 4122 or email eccv@eccv.org.au More info here.