Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Stop Playing on Schools Funding Fears and Get On With Gonski

Labor Party candidate Maxine McKew with a fan....
Labor Party candidate Maxine McKew with a fan. During the 2007 federal election campaign for the NSW seat of Bennelong at which she defeated the sitting Prime Minister John Howard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Maxine McKew, Vice-Chancellor's Fellow at University of Melbourne, The Conversation: http://theconversation.edu.au

Howʼs this for a radical thought to start the week - a robust contest of ideas around how we educate Australian students to an internationally competitive standard.

Too quixotic?

Perhaps, but it would be a lot more useful than the juvenile contest of fears on display in the Federal Parliament last week.

The Prime Ministerʼs “Jack the Ripper” charge against Tony Abbottʼs initial suggestion (later modified) that government schools were the recipients of excessive largess from the commonwealthʼs coffers.

It was yet more evidence that our national debate is more shrill than sane.

As educators around the country consider the worrying and further delay in the federal governmentʼs response to David Gonskiʼs Review of Funding for Schooling Report, it might be time for the political class to take a deep breath and consider whatʼs at stake.

While Australia has a relatively high-performing system, the achievement of our students since 2000 has been in decline at all levels. Weʼre losing the ascendancy on reading, and maths and science literacy, and there is a 2-3 year learning gap between our best and most disadvantaged students.

So concerned is NSW about this equity gap that Barry OʼFarrellʼs Liberal Government is already pursuing a “Gonski-plus” approach to funding with financial loadings for the disadvantaged students who are over-represented in government schools.

If OʼFarrell gets it, whatʼs Abbottʼs problem?

Clearly understood in the state that manages the nationʼs largest education sector is the importance of building on success - the substantial investment that Julia Gillard made as Education Minister when she directed $1.5 billion to the states through a National Partnership agreement for investment in low socio-economic status schools.

This is the story that Federal Labor should be telling - in some cases shouting it from the solar-panelled rooftops of those BER-funded libraries.

The data from the states is not as comprehensive as it should be but every state education director-general can point to their success stories - turnaround schools in some of our poorest postcodes where ambition and academic excellence are as prized as they are in, dare I say it, “the big independent schools in established suburbs” that the Prime Minister sees “as a great example.”

Maybe itʼs time the PM had a chat to Alan Jones. Not the Sydney talk show host but the principal of Marsden State High School on the southside of Brisbane. The surrounding suburbs arenʼt flash and the starting point for the students that Marsden teaches - many from low income Indigenous, Pacific Islander and African families - is anything but promising.

Many come from families where parents or caregivers struggle to provide basic nutrition. Some teenagers end up doing most of the parenting of younger siblings. In other households chronic disruption, even domestic violence is the norm.

But given this socioeconomic dynamic, you wonʼt find a trace of defeatism in Jones or among his teaching team. As he says, “the more impoverished your community, the higher the expectations need to be.”

To read further, go to: http://theconversation.edu.au/stop-playing-on-schools-funding-fears-and-get-on-with-gonski-8978?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+28+August+2012&utm_content=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+28+August+2012+CID_c1c50e259f9f8b65ea6d301b521499c0&utm_source=campaign_monitor&utm_term=Stop+playing+on+schools+funding+fears+and+get+on+with+Gonski
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