Yesterday, a group of us watched Waiting for Superman, a film about the Charter school movement in the US. The Charter school movement is one of the vehicles through which “social venture capitalists “(billionaires like the Waltons, the Broads, and Bill Gates) invest in, and shape to suit their own purposes, public education. Australia does not have a history of private philanthropy comparable to that of the US, but like every American plague, it is about to be visited upon us big time.
Below is an article by right-wing economics commentator Robert Gottliebsen, published online today. (The additional gratuitous and insulting comments are mine.) The current newsletter of his organisation, SVA, provides a link to the recruitment page of Teach for Australia. The Chief Executive of SVA, Michael Traill, was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2010. He established SVA after 15 years as a co-founder and Executive Director of Macquarie Bank's venture capital arm, Macquarie Direct Investment. In that capacity he “helped rescue more than 550 childcare centres from the ABC Learning collapse”, earning him the title of “Childcare ‘saviour’” from the Sydney Morning Herald.
Duncan Peppercorn is an executive director of SVA.
Enough. Read on….
Duncan Peppercorn – an agent for change Robert Gottliebsen Published 3:21 PM, 29 Mar 2011 Last update 10:02 AM, 30 Mar 2011
Applying the management techniques embraced in management consultancy firms, like Bain and Company and McKinsey’s, to the non-profit sector creates a very different outcome to that produced by your traditional social worker. (Now there’s a nice opening stereotype - we all know what “traditional social workers” are like!)
Duncan Peppercorn left the high corporate life for the non-profit sector (Yeah? Sounds like a good guy), with the financial backing of the Macquarie Group Foundation and a series of wealthy philanthropists (Uh oh….) . The organisation he leads, Social Ventures Australia (SVA), helps and advises groups working in education and employment for the disadvantaged. (Double uh oh!)
With the eye of a trained management consultant (Wow! That good huh? Circling like an eagle over us rabbits down below…), Peppercorn points out that the problems in education and in employment for those suffering from disadvantage are concentrated in a series of postcodes, usually on the outskirts of major capital cities (Yes, the man’s a genius! No-one else could have worked that out!!!). He is careful not to actually mention specific suburbs (Far out, all that genius and professional integrity too!), but indicates that if you are addressing the problem, your focus can be narrowed to particular areas (Did a light globe turn on above your head too?) .
And when it comes to education, is the answer huge investments in facilities? (One, two, three…all together now: “No-o-o-!!!”) They may help, (But we know they don’t - that’s why we put in the word “may”) but the only answer that works is the quality of teachers, he says (Lo and behold! Here cometh a man with the wisdom of Solomon) – that’s what makes the difference (We interrupt the sledging to make a serious comment. The research so often quoted by Julia Dullard and others in support of this contention is that of NZ Professor John Hattie. His research conclusion is that “the single greatest in-school influence on student engagement and influence” is the quality of the teacher What neo-liberals and education deformers don’t point out is his important caveat that there may be more important out-of-school influences that he chose not to look at in his study: in his own words, his book isn't about "what cannot be influenced in schools - thus critical discussions about class, poverty, resources in families, health in families, and nutrition are not included - this is NOT because they are unimportant, indeed they may be more important than many of the issues discussed in this book. It is just that I have not included these topics in my orbit” [see http://www.nzherald.co.nz/maori/news/article.cfm?c_id=252&objectid=10582708 accessed 3 June 2010]). So, if you want to help the disadvantaged, the first step is to recruit and train quality teachers (Because, of course, those idiots now teaching them are no good – worse even than those bloody social workers we dismissed earlier).
A second step is to find a way to avoid the poverty trap (Fantastic! At last we’re going to address the real issue in poor educational outcomes namely, the relatively high percentage of Australian children living in poverty), whereby working makes no sense because the reduction in social services benefits offsets the wage income (Oh bugger! This isn’t about education at all. It’s saying that heaps of working Australians prefer bludging off the dole to working. Hell, we’ll either have to raise minimum wages or lower the dole. Hmmm, I can see where this is going…).
One day politicians will wake up to that (Yep, let’s get ‘em to force people into shitty jobs on crap wages by quarantining their dole….OK, so we’re doing that to our indigenous brothers and sisters in the Territory and we plan to do it elsewhere, but what’s wrong with simply slashing the dole and starving them into wage slavery?) but it’s not easy to change because there is an army of people who want the existing system to stay as it is (That’s right, all them teachers and social workers) .
The third step is to find a way to encourage large corporations to employ disadvantaged people to help them avoid the poverty trap (How? Funny, but we seem to have run out of ideas right about here!) .
In his interview, Dr Peppercorn sets out what needs to be done with the precision of a management consultant (Oh spare me, the “precision of a management consultant???”). But he is also, in there, working to achieve change (Wow, a knight in shining armour. But change for whom? Change by whom?) in selected areas. It will be no easy task; and small steps are usually better than trying to change the world with a grand design (Don’t let “them” cotton on to what you’re up to. Stealth and caution, stealth and caution) .
Australia has enormous numbers caught in the poverty trap, and so, it is one of the most important management tasks in the nation (Hang on, it was management tasks that put most of them in that poverty trap!) . And it has a human dimension that those who work for management consultants often miss out on (Now ain’t that the feckin’ truth!) .