Mr PYNE: Please answer the bloody questions!

What a great job Jane Caro is doing trying to examine and counter the guts of Christopher Pyne’s arguments . This article: Pyne Picks The Easy Target On Schools | newmatilda.com does a great job of  setting out Pynes rationale clearly  so it can be held up to examination.

If Jane is right (and, unlike me, she has had the dubious pleasure of direct engagement with Pyne) he believes that:  (if I might paraphrase)

There is no education equity problem in Australia and the differentiated learning outcomes (up to 3 years between students from high SES and students from very low SES schools) doesn’t mean there is inequity at all.  What it means is that

  • the teachers in these schools are bad teachers and should have been dismissed
  • Principals don’t have enough autonomy
  • teachers do not have enough independence
  • parental involvement in these schools needs to be improved as do governing councils for schools.

Now having laid this out – using Pyne’s own individualistic lens on schools Caro addresses each and every point.

I am motivated to write this article not because I don’t support Caro’s excellent analysis but because, in addition to her points there are some other powerful arguments that could – no should – be part of this hard-to-have debate.  So here I am summarising some of  Caro’s arguments and, in the best tradition of  building on the ideas of others, adding a few that I also think need an airing

Caro paraphrased:  The idea that all the worst teachers have somehow ended up concentrated in all the disadvantaged schools is just too quirky to be believable.

On the other hand , what if Pyne was correct?  Wouldn’t this prove that we had gross education inequity because all the bad teachers had been sent to all the poor schools?  How outrageous.  How dare he say this and not admit there is an equity issue!

In fact, I have been pushing for greater transparency around the distribution of neophyte and high quality teachers for years because it is true that  poor schools are hard-to-staff schools.  This doesnt mean the teachers in these schools are bad teachers – not at all.  But it may mean that the staff team is made up of a high proportion of brand new teachers who are still learning to some extent  and should be given lots of support and development.  I know of schools in the NT where over 80% of teachers were new to teaching – the best principal in the world would struggle to support all these new teachers to the level that is needed.  Hard-to-staff poor schools are also more likely to have high teacher turnover and, as Caro notes, principals who are new to level.

So if I were having this debate with Pyne I would be more inclined to say:

Low SES school outcomes may well be impacted by the fact that they have a higher ratio of inexperienced teachers,  neophyte principals and higher that usual turnover and this must be addressed through greater support.  This is an equity issue – it is about equal opportunity to learn.  School autonomy is highly likely to make this worse not better.  Systems should be held accountable  for ensuring that all school have access to a rich mix of teachers and a stable staff team – a mix that includes a fair share of those that are more experienced and capable.  Now we have professional standards for teachers with advanced teacher status – it would be possible to monitor this

Caro’s Response: Parents who are themselves products of unequal schooling, who are struggling and time poor and who are lacking in school valued social capital can never contribute to schools in the same way that parents at the other end of the spectrum can – education is meant to compensate for home background, give access to socially powerful knowledge beyond the access of all families not be limited by it.

Now to be fair Caro says this much better than I have here without the insidious overtones of unintended classism.  I strongly agree with Caro on this matter, but I would also be bursting to say to Pyne:

“But the decade plus long years of overfunding for non government schools and the unfettered promotion of parent choice has created the situation where, in many school communities, most of the families with the school valued social capital, the time, and the  confidence to participate  effectively in school decision making have taken their children out.

You have endorsed policies that have created this segregated unequal playng field and now you are telling parents it is up to them.  Universal compulsory secular schooling was set up by Australian federation visionaries to oversome this difference not to reinforce it.

By admitting that parents in these schools don’t do for the school and their children what parents in rich schools do you are admitting that your pro-choice policies have created inequality in the ability of the parent community to add value”.

So I have this little  discussion in my head , chuffed that I have shown Pyne how even his own arguments demonstrate school inequality.  But then I stop.

Who am I kidding?  You see trying to have a rational argument with Pyne is like trying to nail jelly to the wall!

Those who watched Pyne on Q and A , might have noted that every time someone tried to get him to acknowledge something that was obvious he used sleight of hand techniques to avoid responding.  When asked about Gonski he said – its not about money but his whole position is about money – not for low SES schools but about maintaining monetary privilege for the high SES schools.

He doesn’t engage in logical debate and I don’t know how one can have a meaningful discussion when someone refuses to address the arguments put to him.

But I really really would like to know what Pyne might say – if able to stick to topic- to this argument:

“Mr Pyne, you say that the cost of implementing Gonski is not $5 billion, and not $6.5 billion, but $113 billion.  This must mean that in order to apply the resource standard and the equity resource weightings we need an additional $113 billion.  This must mean that the funding inequities are much much worse than even Gonski protagonists realise.

In fact according to your figures things are SO UNEQUAL that we will never never ever be able to afford to use Government funds to provide Government schools with the funds that match – in funding weighted for equity – the level of government  funding available to non Government schools.  So how is this not a grave and urgent equity problem?

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