Leslie Cannold: Writer, Commentator, Ethicist, Researcher
ARTICLES

PM’s Cheap Answer to School Problems

The education revolution promised by Federal Government continues to piss me off. First it was a computer for every secondary school student; then it wasn’t. These days, the so-called digital revolution means that at some point in the next five years two students will share one computer, if the money to actually install the things and pay for the cost of running them can be found.

It was a stupid promise to begin with. Everyone knows that improved educational outcomes for students begin and end with the quality of the teacher in front of the classroom. Gadgetry is neither here nor there.

But compared to the Rudd government’s more recent emphasis on school report cards, the computer-on-every-desk promise was rocket science.

According to the Government, parents need to be regularly informed of the socio-economic status of children attending their school, and the number who are indigenous or have disabilities. We also need to be informed about class sizes, absenteeism and retention rates, student satisfaction and scores on national tests. We parents need such information, one radio commentator, so we know when its time to “move” our child “on.”

If the parental report card scheme, dubbed SchoolWatch by the Australian Education Union, sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Reports- for-dollars was the Howard government’s brainchild. But just because it’s clever politics, wedging the Liberals tighter than Cinderella’s foot, doesn’t make it sound educational policy.

The central delusion of the plan is the same: that taking and reporting on the temperature of the sick child that is our public school system amounts to a cure.

It doesn’t, though no one can argue with the price: to governments, that is Compared to actually putting more money into the system (Australia ranks 18th among the 30 OECD countries in educational spending) banging on about the importance of schools being accountable is cheaper than chips.

Governments, state and Federal, keep telling me that I have a right to know how my child’s school is performing, and how it compares to others in the area. But trust me, I already know. Like every other parent at my son’s secondary school, I am fully across the substandard level of the facility where for five days of every week my child spends nearly half his waking hours, and the mediocre education he gets there.

How about that: not a single report card required!

So, why don’t I “move him on”? Move him on? Move him on? To where exactly-another underperforming school? That’s my only option as every decent public school in the entire inner city was booked solid this year, just as it was the previous year and the one before that when I first began knocking. Even without report cards, it seems parents know full well where a good education can be found, with those who can paying for it, or moving into the increasingly expensive enclaves that harbor a good public school.

If we want our schools to perform better we don’t need to report on them, we need to invest in them. Paying our teachers better and giving them a workplace rich in support and resources, and poor in bureaucratic busy work, would be a good place to start.

Teachers know it. Parents know it, and Governments do, too. They just don’t want to spend the cash.

Publication History

PM's Cheap Answer to School Problems, The Sun-Herald (Sydney)
07 Sep 2008

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