Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Schools and frogs

Why "Schools and frogs"?

 If you place a frog in cool water it will probably sit there. If you place a frog in hot water it will jump out. The metaphor of the boiled frog suggests that if you heat the cool water very slowly the frog will sit there until it is dead.

Until recently, I had always thought government per capita funding for non-state schools was only a fraction of per capita government funding for state schools.

So I was shocked recently to discover that per capita government funding for non-state schools is now very similar to the funding for state schools. And because of different indexation rates for the school sectors,  non-state schools will soon be getting more government funding than state schools. (more...)

How did this happen?

Like the temperature of the water in the pot, total  per capita government funding for non-state schools has been slowly increasing over the last few decades.

The increases have been masked by numerous factors
  • numerous changes over a long period of time have all been small, well-intentioned good ideas ("slowly warming the water")
  • government funding for schools is reported in terms of percentages or total amounts per sector rather than per capita making comparisons difficult
  • historically, non-state schools have always received significantly less total and per capita government funding
  • both state and federal governments are involved in school funding and report separately
  • annual increases in funding have been small ("slowly warming the water")
  • historically, some non-state schools have been in urgent need of support, especially small catholic schools
  • having students attend non-state schools was a saving to government (but this is no longer the case)
  • the rationale that all students are entitled to the educational benefits of taxes paid by their parents
  • no-one within the system has been monitoring the cumulative changes to the way the system works (or doesn't work)
  • ... and so on

What happens at the tipping point?

We have now reached the tipping point. Per capita government funding for all schools is now similar and different indexation rates mean that, from now on, most non-state schools will receive more per capita government funding than state-schools. Who could ever have imagined such a thing?

This will further
Ultimately, it could mean the decline and death of many state-schools and an unaffordable school system. World-wide there is interest in privatising schools as if they can be managed using a market approach. 

So is this another market-based solution?

Genuine market solutions are based on client choice and should result in falling prices and improved quality, but none of these apply in Australia's system of schooling.

Students have no choice. By law they are required to attend a school and the school is chosen by others.

Parent choice is very limited.  Government zoning policies usually mean that many parents can choose any state-school they like, provided it is the local one (remember the Model T?). 

The idea that parents can choose a non-state school for their children is largely an illusion. Parents can apply but the choice to enrol a student belongs exclusively to the school. In fact, this is often entrenched in legislation.

The cost of schooling to both parents and government is increasing rapidly

Price of schooling  = cost to parents (fees, on-costs) + cost to government
  • The cost to parents is considerably higher in non-state schools while the cost to government is now similar. There are no offsets involved except some tax deductions for parents which is an additional cost to government
  • The movement of students to non-state schools results in increased enrolments which incurs the cost of additional facilities often involving increased costs to both parents and government
Quality is not improving. Educational outcomes have flat-lined and rankings are dropping. 

Unlike Finland and Singapore, Australia's two speed schooling is increasing the concentrations of advantage and disadvantage. The net result is poorer overall outcomes.  At state and national levels the "top" performance of the advantaged cannot compensate for the "poor" performance of the disadvantaged. 

Will the frogs respond?

The impact of funding arrangements for Australia's schools has heated up and getting hotter.

Key questions:

  • Are the  decision makers aware of what is happening? And why? (see It is the system!!)
  • Will they "jump out of the present arrangements" and find ways to resource Australia's schools for better outcomes? 

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