Monday, February 06, 2012

Responding to Kevin Donnelly

Yesterday, Dr Kevin Donnelly placed a piece defending the inequitable schools funding model on OnLine Opinion. His purpose was to undermine the credibility of a research paper by Prof. Richard Teese commissioned by all State (except NSW) and Territory Departments of Education for the Gonski Review of Schools Funding. The Teese paper calls a spade a spade. It is very good. The commissioning governments tried to keep it under wraps but it was leaked to the media. The link to Donnelly’s article is here: .
The link to Teese’s paper is here:

Donnelly is a prominent conservative academic much beloved of the Murdoch media and often sought for comment by radio and TV personalities.

I responded to Donnelly’s piece as follows:

I wish to thank Kevin for reminding us that facts should not get in the way of a good story.

I’m not referring to his quotation of that old saying, but to the rest of his article.

Donnelly cites OECD research that “proves” that “Australia is one of the most egalitarian countries in the world”. Note that “in the world” includes the A-Z of the world’s poorest countries, from Albania to Zimbabwe. But let’s look at child poverty across the OECD. In Australia 14% of children live below the poverty line (2008 OECD figures), compared to rates like 3.7% (Denmark) 5.4% (Finland) and 7% (France). In fact (if you don’t mind my saying that Kevin), 24 out of the 34 OECD countries had a lower rate of child poverty than Australia.

Donnelly argues that it is “also the case” that the “current socioeconomic status (SES) model of funding” (through which private schools receive Federal recurrent funds) “is based on need”. Yes, and mothers’ milk comes from mothers. So what? Is Donnelly seriously going to challenge the fact that public schools do the heavy lifting, that as a system, public education has a much larger proportion of socially and educationally disadvantaged students than either of the Catholic and “independent” systems? So why should the cost of educating these students benefit non-government schools?

Even if it could be argued that the Average Government School Recurrent Cost is a fair basis for funding non-government schools, how can he defend the “funding maintained” provision that ensures that no private school will lose funding even if the fact is that they should?

Opposition education spokesperson Christopher Pyne’s seat of Sturt is an example. Nine out of the 14 private and Catholic schools in the Sturt electorate have “funding maintained” status in respect of their recurrent funding from the Commonwealth. For example, St Ignatius College was entitled to receive 56.2% of the Average Government Student Recurrent Cost (AGSRC) in 2008, and is maintained at that level despite the 2009-12 entitlement being only 36.2% of AGSRC. On average, there is a difference of 10.7 percentage points between what these schools’ current real share of AGSRC should be, and the percentage at which they are being maintained by the Commonwealth Government’s unfair funding formula.

Donnelly says that “Australian research also proves that socioeconomic background is not the most influential determinant of educational success or failure…” What research? The speciousness of Donnelly’s fact here is immediately obvious when one looks at this qualifying comment: “…equally as important are factors like student ability and motivation, teacher effectiveness, school climate and the quality of the curriculum”. Only a person with a Doctorate would have the insight to disassociate socioeconomic background from student ability and motivation, and those in-school factors that are determined by where and in what community a school is sited.

Another “fact” cited by Donnelly “is that most of the growth in (private school) enrolments over the last 20 years or so has been in low fee-paying non-denominational schools serving less affluent communities.” Yet the Teese study of changes in enrolment shares over the two decades 1986-2006 demonstrates “that the greatest increase in the proportion of students attending private (including Catholic) schools has occurred in high SES localities, while no increase at all has been registered in low SES localities”.

Donnelly writes that “state and federal governments spend millions every year on programs designed to strengthen educational outcomes, especially in literacy and numeracy, for under-performing and at-risk groups of students.” Here he unwittingly endorses one of Teese’s observations, namely that the government funding of choice, by moving more highly achieving students out of the public and into the private system, creates the need for extra funding to address the resultant increase in low achievement in the public system. Research by the NSW and SA education department, and by Teese in Victoria, shows that low SES students do better in schools where there are higher SES students than in schools where there are concentrations of low SES students.

So, to paraphrase Donnelly, who would have believed that the good Doctor would be at it again, trying to justify educational inequality and privilege?

Posted by mike-servethepeople, Monday, 6 February 2012 1:38:44 PM

(Great cartoons by Simon Kneebone, Adelaide).

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